I can't tell you if Matt Hasselbeck will struggle this week. I can not tell you whether the Seahawks will win or lose. Football Outsiders readers might note that the hosting Seahawks own the better DVOA of the two. That and home field advantage predict a Seahawks victory, and maybe Seattle will be victorious. I wouldn't base my hopes on DVOA, but, then, what is there to base our fears off of?
None of that matters. It's perception, a step down from DVOA.
Football is the most unpredictable of professional sports. Some of that is because of the short season. Some of that is because the relative dearth of meaningful information we can gather about a football team. Most of it is that football, unlike any other game I can think of, lacks any kind of singular, defining matchup. There is no pitcher-batter interface. No center-center matchup. There is no regular, repeated ability we can be sure will persevere.
This Sunday, Seattle will start 22 men and San Diego will start 22 men. Through the course of the game, other players will rotate in. At some point, Colin Cole will match up against Nick Hardwick. If Hardwick is pass blocking, and the Chargers run a play-action, seven step drop, for one snap, we will see how Hardwick and Cole compare accomplishing that task.
Meanwhile, all around them, the game state, down and distance, and play of their teammates will influence how we perceive Cole and Hardwick's performance.
Cole and Hardwick make a living sacrificing their bodies, and though neither may be injured, both's health will, thoughout the game, be in a constant state of flux. One snap, Cole might be winded, or he might have taken a leg whip in the pile and be a little gimpy, and on that snap, Cole will be a fundamentally different player. He might be slower, weaker, and even if only a tiny bit, it factors.
And so, for one snap, a never-again Colin Cole will face a never-again Nick Hardwick. The two will struggle, one attempting to rush the passer, the other, defending the passer. Hardwick will hand off, Rivers will drop, receivers will run routes, other offensive linemen will block, and every Charger, every Seahawks will influence Hardwick-Cole. When it's done, we will know who was better. We will know who won a battle that will never be duplicated.
Right now, people see the Chargers as an erstwhile contender, still good but fading, and the Seahawks a collapsing franchise, not yet recovered. They see Philip Rivers as a franchise quarterback and Matt Hasselbeck a former franchise quarterback. None of that is necessarily untrue, but it's just perception, not fact, not something to base a prediction off of.
The game will be decided by millions of unique interactions we can not possibly anticipate. Will Norv Turner stick with the run, or will he adjust and pass first? What kind of runs will he call and in what situations? When he does pass, what plays will he call? If Legedu Naanee runs a post pattern, can Kelly Jennings cover that? How about an out, or a double move, what specifically can Jennings do against Naanee, what is he good at, when will he have safety help, how much time will Rivers have in the pocket on any particular pass, who will be in his throwing lane, where will the tip fly--
When the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, it was called one of the great upsets in sports history. It was, in a way. I am not advocating complete and utter football agnosticism. Football teams share enough traits that we can broadly measure things like passing game efficiency, running game efficiency, ability to force turnovers. Broadly.
What I am arguing is this: Football is not about points or yards or turnovers. It is about one snap covering a slant. It is about one snap stuffing the fullback in the hole. It is about designing a coverage scheme to protect third and seven. Do we know for sure that Seattle will be good at defending third and seven on this snap, at home, from a 3-3 against a three wide receiver, "I" formation?
No, we don't. And as such, if we do not know the component abilities of the Seahawks and Chargers, if we can not be sure which of those abilities will be challenged, if we can not anticipate what game they will play, what snap by snap matchups will decide this game, or if Jennings can cover Naanee on a double move on third and two, we can't possibly know who will win this Sunday.
And we can't. Football is not nine innings of fastballs and line drives. It's not tallest man rebounds. It's intricate and messy and unpredictable and fluid and a battle in the trenches one second and a foot race up the sideline another. So, in light of an unknown future, I only have one more thing to say: