The Seattle Seahawks are one win away from not having to pack their bags again until the month of February.
With a win or a 49ers loss, Seattle will wrap up the top overall seed in the NFC and try to ride their perfect home record all the way to New York and a spot in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle is so good at home that not only are they 6-0, but they've won those six games at CenturyLink Field by an average score of 33-14. They've already whipped arguably the next two best teams in the NFC (New Orleans and San Francisco) in Seattle by a combined score of 63-10.
With a stifling defense, punishing offense, and the NFL's best home field advantage, is there anyone that can stop Seattle from marching straight to a shot at the Lombardi trophy?
It just so happens that there is.
As we look at the NFC contenders, let's take New Orleans and San Francisco out from the start. Obviously, any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday. Al Pacino taught us that much. After all, the Bucs and Titans managed to play close games in Seattle, so the Seahawks can be beaten there by a good team. Still, given the way both clubs performed in their big shot at the bird of the conference, it's fair to set them aside for the moment.
Carolina is tempting option. They played a slobber knocker with Seattle in Week 1. The Seahawks ground out a 12-7 victory in Charlotte, despite taking a beating from the Panthers' running game. The problem with Carolina is that they are just 4-3 on the road this year. They average less than 20 points a game, down a full touchdown from their home output. They may not be the best bet, though they have arguably the second-best team in the conference.
The Packers have to come off the board early simply because no one has any idea what kind of shape Aaron Rodgers will be in. If he's playing and is 100 percent, they'll be a scary opponent. With Rodgers, they put 28, 30 and 19 points against good defenses on the road (San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore respectively). Still, needing two wins just to get into the playoffs and not knowing how Rodgers will look, the Pack gets tabled for now.
Chicago has to run a gantlet just to sniff postseason play. They likely have to win their final game of the year against the Packers just to make the postseason. While Chicago can certainly put up points anywhere, their defense has been a mess away from Soldier Field. On the road, the Bears allow an average of 32 points a game. That's more like the Monsters Inc. of the Midway.
Not to be dismissive, but when it comes to the Cowboys we all know what happened the last time Tony Romo went to Seattle in a playoff game.
Yeah, I'm just not going there. Dallas is 2-5 on the road this year. Just cross them off too.
That leaves one team in the NFC who plays well on the road and can hang points on anyone.
The Philadelphia Eagles haven't clinched a playoff spot yet, but if they do, no one is going to want to face them. Not even the vaunted Seahawks.
Philly is 5-2 on the road this year, scoring better than 32 points a game in the process. OK, sure. Their defense allows roughly two million points a game on the road (or 29ish. Whatever.), but should they topple the aforementioned Cowboys in Dallas in Week 17, they'll have earned a home game in the postseason and a likely four seed in the NFC.
The Eagles could be headed to Seattle for the second weekend, and they'll bring with them the third-best offense in football. What makes them particularly attractive as an upset pick in Seattle is that no team in football is more effective at running the ball. While the Seahawks are credible against the run, their backbone is a stout pass defense. If they have a vulnerability on the ground, Philly would be exactly the team to exploit it.
The Eagles lag well behind the Seahawks on defense and special teams, but for one afternoon LeSean McCoy could certainly put a scare into the home team. Moreover, if any coach was likely to come up with a novel approach to solving the unsolvable riddle that is the Seahawks defense at home, it would be Chip Kelly. When not hampered by injuries to the quarterbacks, his offense has been potent week in and week out.
Beating the Seahawks isn't going to be easy, and identifying Philly as the most likely upset candidate isn't the same thing as predicting them to win. If recent history has taught us anything, it's that the best team rarely wins in the playoffs. The NFL postseason is all about matchups, getting hot, and just plain dumb luck.
The Eagles already have some matchup advantages and they are certainly hot. All they need now is a little luck.