Through the first 11 weeks of the 2020 NFL season, the Seahawks have been in a heated battle for the NFC’s first overall seed in the playoffs. The value of the top seed in the conference has grown with the expanded postseason format, making it the only seed that grants a first round bye. But with COVID-19 likely to force more scheduling conflicts and subsequently more format changes, as well as a lack of any sense of a home field advantage amidst a pandemic, Seattle’s climb to the top of the NFC may be all for naught.
As late into the season as we are now, the NFL is running out of options if a game needs to be postponed for longer than a few days due to COVID-19. Most teams have exercised their bye weeks already, with the Buccaneers and Panthers set to be the final two teams to get time off next week. NFL owners have approved a contingency plan that would add one more team from each conference to the playoffs if any important games are canceled, which would consequently force each conference’s top seed to forfeit their bye and instead play against the lowest seeded team in the first round.
Such an outcome has felt like an inevitability, but now it seems we may be getting closer to it finally becoming a reality as the Ravens-Steelers matchup, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, is now unlikely to be played this week with Baltimore shutting down its facility until Monday. That’s a game that has legitimate playoff implications, meaning it falls under the umbrella of the NFL’s aforementioned contingency plan.
If this is heading towards yet another postseason expansion, the first overall seed in each conference loses nearly all of its value. It’s a nice achievement for a team, and perhaps it still matters to the few organizations that are allowing fans to attend their games, but the lack of a bye or any real perk other than not having to travel during the playoffs leaves teams fairly disincentivized.
No matter where you’re seeded, it’ll take three wins to get to the Super Bowl with no true home field advantage at stake. That especially applies to the Seahawks as it grows more likely by the week that fans won’t be allowed in Lumen Field at any point this season. At home or on the road, Seattle would be faced with the same circumstances: three wins, little-to-no fans, just relatively neutral football.
At that point, one could make the argument that the most beneficial outcome for the Seahawks would be to lose out on the NFC West crown and wind up with the fifth seed and a matchup with the winner of the dreadful NFC East. I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched to say that any of the wild card teams the Seahawks would potentially face if they won their division - eighth seed included - would be a far greater threat to them than whoever makes it out of the NFC East.
Of course, this isn’t something the Seahawks are concerning themselves with. They’re focused on winning a division and working their way to the NFC’s best record, whatever may happen. That said, it’d be hard not to feel somewhat slighted to accomplish such a feat for very little payoff in the end.