In a roundabout way, Sunday night’s victory by the 49ers, which came after San Fran blew a 28-point lead to the Pats before emerging with a 10-point win, has helped the NFL avoid an exercise in dot-connecting that could have begun with the Packers-Seahawks replacement-ref debacle and ended with the Seahawks landing in the Super Bowl.
A loss by the 49ers would have opened the door for the Seahawks to steal the NFC West, by beating the Niners next Sunday night at home and then taking down the Rams, also in Seattle. The difference for the division title, if the Niners beat the Cardinals in Week 17, would have been the win that the Seahawks didn’t deserve in Week Three.
And here’s where it gets even more interesting. One loss by the Packers in their final two games (vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota) would have allowed the Seahawks to catch the Packers at 11-5. The tiebreaker for the bye week would have been — you guessed it — the head-to-head outcome from Week Three.
So without many crazy things happening, the Seahawks could have finished as the No. 2 seed. If Seattle had held serve in the divisional round, and if the Falcons had been upset at home in their playoff opener, Seattle would have hosted the NFC title game.
The Seahawks still are highly likely to nail down a wild-card berth, and unlike past Seattle teams they could possibly win on the road in January. But it’s far less likely for any postseason success by the Seahawks to feel tainted, given that they won’t be getting the No. 2 seed via the lingering taint of the final game of the referee lockout.
That said, there’s still a chance that the win the Seahawks shouldn’t have earned will provide the difference between getting in to the playoffs and not getting a shot at a championship.