When the New Orleans Saints visit the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, there will likely be a ripple effect across the NFC playoff picture. With the lead for the NFC's No. 1 seed on the line, here's a look at the effect of various outcomes:
Seahawks win: Seattle currently has the best record in the NFC and a win here would not only maintain that lead, but it would create a two-game lead over New Orleans and Carolina ... AND Seattle will have beaten both teams head to head (Carolina in Week 1). That would, in effect, create a three-game lead for the Seahawks for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. How important is the No. 1 seed? Since 1998, at least one of the No. 1 seeds from the AFC or NFC has made it to the Super Bowl in every season except 2008, '10 and '12. Both No. 1 seeds made it in 2009 (New Orleans and Indianapolis).
Seattle would also claim a playoff berth and garner a three-game lead in the division over San Francisco, which they beat head to head in Week 2. With the win, Seattle could clinch the division title with a win or tie at San Francisco in Week 14. The win would give them the title on overall record (12-4 at worst vs. 11-5 at best for San Francisco). The tie would give them the title as Arizona could not catch Seattle, and the best San Francisco could do is tie Seattle at 11-4-1, but Seattle would have a better head to head record at 1-0-1 vs. the 49ers (0-1-1).
New Orleans losing would put them neck and neck with Carolina in the division at 9-3 with two head-to-head matchups ahead (Week 14 and 16). Both teams would be 3-0 in the division. New Orleans has a slight edge in conference record (7-1 vs. 7-2). The loss would put the Saints' hold on the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye at major risk with a chance to fall to the No. 5 seed and to have to travel on wild-card weekend.
Saints win: New Orleans would jump to 10-2 overall and 8-0 in the conference. The Saints would also step into the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC as they would equal Seattle's record and would have a head-to-head win over the Seahawks. A win here and at least a split with Carolina and winning their other two remaining games (at St. Louis and against Tampa Bay) would give New Orleans the division title and a first-round playoff bye at minimum, and the No. 1 seed with one Seattle loss after this week.
If Seattle stumbles this week, the Seahawks fall to 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the NFC. They would only have a two-game lead over San Francisco heading into a Week 14 clash with the 49ers, but they do have a head-to-head win over San Francisco. The likely biggest issue for the Seahawks with a loss is they will no longer control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. As Seattle has historically played very well at home and struggled on the road, home-field advantage could prove critical for the Seahawks advancing in the playoffs.
It's safe to say the outcome of this game will bode well for the winner in the weeks to come, and at tiebreaker time at the end of the regular season.