To Russell Wilson,
Thanks for everything!
Beyond comprehension still, the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning/defending/current Super Bowl champions. The phrase "Does not compute" comes to mind, which coincidentally was coined in the 1960s television show My Living Doll starring Julie Newmar. But while "current" and "present" champions is still true, it's those other words, "reigning" and "defending" that cause offseason "stir," "fervor," and "speculation.'
There are more NFL seasons to play. This league will not actually last forever (but Seattle will forever be the 2013 champs) but as of now, there's another season to start preparing for. Another championship to win.
Mike Chan already addressed followups of Super Bowl winners since realignment, with no team repeating since the '04 Patriots, but I also wanted to take a look at a different kind of champion: The best kinds.
The Seahawks of the last two years in toto are one of the best two-year teams in NFL history, by DVOA. They have finished first in DVOA in both 2012 and 2013, while accumulating four playoff wins and a championship. In addition to that, the 2013 defense was ranked as the 16th-best ever by historical DVOA estimates and as the 20th-best pass defense of all-time. (Yours truly disagrees vehemently with this decision, it can be no worse than top five.)
As a well-balanced team on offense, defense, and special teams, the 2013 Seahawks rank as the 13th-best overall team by DVOA in NFL history, while the 2012 version ranks as the 18th-best. Only the 61-62 Packers and the 68-69 Chiefs also represent back-to-back teams making the top 20 of all-time list.
So rather than just look at teams of recent seasons, how about the best teams of all-time? How did they do in the year after their Super Bowl win and also in the next 5, 10, or 15 years? Seattle could be a one-year wonder the likes not seen since The New Radicals or they could be onto something very special. Could we be seeing our first repeat since 2004 and our first Seapeat ever?
Here are five teams that were really damn good, what happened the next year(s), and what the Seahawks need to avoid if they are going to Seapeat in 2014.
'91 Redskins (14-2, Super Bowl champion)
DVOA: 56.9% (1st all-time), 27.2% Offense, -21.1% Defense, 8.6% ST, 30.3 PPG Off (1st), 16.3 PPG Def, (1st)
Two years after he was a sixth round pick, Mark Rypien became the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins in 1988. No small task, as the Redskins had won the Super Bowl in 1987, but Rypien went to the Pro Bowl in two of the next four years and was Super Bowl MVP after the 1991 season. Football Outsiders ranks it as the greatest season of all-time, with top 50 all-time finishes on offense, defense, and special teams.
Despite having a very average strength of schedule (17th by DVOA), Washington's season was pretty fresh and breezy, easy peesie. Only the Dallas Cowboys provided any sort of test that year (Of course, Dallas would win three of the next four Super Bowls) and most wins came in blowout fashion. They forced a turnover in all 19 games, including 14 turnovers forced in three playoff games. However, they went 9-7 in 1992 and were bounced in the divisional round of the playoffs by the 49ers.
What went wrong?
If most team success is highly dependent upon quarterback performance, than the fall of the Washington Redskins after 1991 can be Rypiened up in a nice little package. Four years into his career, Mark Rypien was 33-13 as a starter with a passer rating of 88.5, 84 touchdowns, 48 interceptions, 7.9 Y/A...
Put it this way: Four years into Troy Aikman's career, he was 27-27 as a starter, 76.4 rating, 54 touchdowns, 60 interceptions and 6.9 Y/A.
But in 1992, Rypien threw 13 touchdowns and 17 interceptions over a full season. Art Monk was now 35, '91 Pro Bowl RB Earnest Byner was 30, '91 leading receiver Gary Clark was 30, cornerback Darrell Green was 32 (meaning he only had 11 more years left.)
You don't put up a season like 1991 without some kind of perfect storm and that also means that you're not likely to repeat. In addition to Rypien falling off and the team getting older, they also went to having the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL and they saw their special teams performance dip to 20th by DVOA; As we know, special teams are quite volatile year-to-year and unpredictable. Brian Mitchell led the NFL in punt return yards in 1991 (600) and had two touchdowns but that dipped to 271 yards in 1992.
The perfect storm was just too perfect, and Joe Gibbs decided that three Super Bowl championships was enough when he retired following the disappointing '92 season. Washington had to start rebuilding and they are now in their ninth coach since Gibbs retired (including Gibbs for four years) with 12 different quarterbacks leading the team in passing over the last 21 years.
To summarize: The Redskins were +261 in point differential in 1991 and over their last 22 seasons, they are -674.
Moral of the story: Without stability at quarterback and head coach, as well as aging veterans at key positions like wide receiver, running back (as well as a defense that probably overachieved considering) it's hard to maintain success like that. However, it was also Gibbs' third championship, so there was a dynasty.
They just saved the best for last.
Like... really, really last.
'85 Bears (15-1, Super Bowl champion)
DVOA: 45.3% (5th all-time), 12.5% Offense, -26.8% Defense, 6.1% ST, 28.5 PPG Off (2nd), 12.4 PPG Def, (1st)
Though I wouldn't say it's as reliable as DVOA in the "DVOA era" that starts in 1989, Football Outsiders did come out with Historical DVOA estimates. That's where we get these numbers for the '85 Bears, though I take them with a grain of salt... As I suppose you should do with all DVOA rankings.
In 1968, Bob Gibson threw 13 shutouts, which is the most all-time since 1916. Only old timers Pete Alexander and George Bradley had more (16) but Alexander had 45 starts that year and Bradley had 64 starts when he pitched those shutouts in 1876. Gibson posted his numbers in just 34 starts and finished with an ERA of 1.12.
To this day, an absolutely insane number, even in a dead ball era.
The '85 Chicago Bears are what Bob Gibson would look like if he were a football team.
Between Week 6 and Week 12 (seven games) they never allowed more than 10 points in any single game. During that stretch, they allowed just 6.42 points per game with two shutouts. Over the course of the entire season they only allowed five teams to get more than 10 points. Over one three-week stretch, they won by a combined scored of 104-3.
If that wasn't enough, they won their first two playoff games by a combined score of 45-0. Yes, two more shutouts. The Super Bowl contest was a no-contest, 46-10 win over the Patriots.
Chicago went 14-2 the next season and made the playoffs in five of the next six years, but didn't make another appearance in the Super Bowl until 2006. The Bears had success in the following years but the team that most kids grow up learning was "the greatest team of all-time" still fell short of expectations following their incredible season.
What went wrong?
Despite the fact that defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles after the Super Bowl win, the defense was still great in 1986. They won 14 games and actually allowed fewer points per game (11.7) then they did in '85. The Bears held opponents to 10 points or less in 10 regular season games and 20+ points just three times. But there were still some key losses.
Leslie Frazier (six interceptions in '85) hurt his knee in the Super Bowl and never played again. Richard Dent was in the beginning of a Hall of Fame career, but '85 was really his high point. It was the best season of linebacker Otis Wilson's career by far, and the '85/'86 seasons overall were also a peak for guys like Dave Duerson and Dan Hampton. Not that they didn't continue to have good careers, but again, perfect storms.
Walter Payton was 33-years-old in 1986, an amazing accomplishment to still be that effective.
Despite his fame and high draft status (fifth overall), Jim McMahon was not a great quarterback. Not once did he make more than 13 starts in a single season, not once did he throw for more than 15 touchdowns, not until his 10th season did he complete 60% of his passes in a season (when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.) He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1985, he was usually good for a couple touchdowns on the ground, injuries may have set him back here and there, but McMahon's job was to not put the defense in a bad position and to not get in the way of Payton.
But he was not a "franchise" quarterback.
To summarize: The Bears have had 15 leading passers since 1986 and that includes the last five years under Jay Cutler. The "shuffle" they did at QB in the 15 or so years prior to that was quite impressive, including names like Dave Krieg, Erik Kramer, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, and Chad Hutchinson.
Moral of the story: Repeating is hard. It's harder when you don't have stability, despite the fact that Mike Ditka was still in the early stages of his career. They lost Ryan as the defensive coordinator, Frazier as the top corner, didn't have a true franchise quarterback, and Payton near retirement. Even with Mike Singletary in the middle of the defense until 1992, Chicago just wasn't the same by 1987. Also, great players feed off of one another and are aided when playing next to one or two great players, so when one falls, the rest can be in a position to take a step back as well. Imagine Richard Sherman without Earl Thomas or Russell Wilson without Marshawn Lynch.
An x-factor to their success may be linebacker Wilber Marshall. Pro-Football-Reference ranks him as the most valuable player of the 1986 season, but he went to the Redskins in 1988. (Yes, Marshall got to be on both the '85 Bears and the '91 Redskins.)
'07 Patriots (16-0, Lost Super Bowl)
DVOA: 52.9% (2nd all-time), 43.5% Offense, -5.8% Defense, 3.6% ST, 36.8 PPG Off (1st), 17.1 PPG Def, (4th)
'10 Patriots (14-2, Lost Divisional)
DVOA: 44.6% (6th all-time), 42.2% Offense, 2.3% Defense, 4.7% ST, 32.4 PPG Off (1st), 19.6 PPG Def, (8th)
New England's non-dynasty dynasty is arguably better than their dynasty-dynasty.
The Patriots may have won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, and 2004, but their most dominating regular seasons were in 2007 and 2010; the 2007 team of course being a David Tyree catch away from probably winning the "GOAT" award. However, I don't think that one catch should preclude them from inclusion in this study since they really weren't a "worse" team due to one loss to the New York Giants. What if they had lost to New York in the regular season but beat them in the Super Bowl and still went 18-1?
They just picked the wrong day to lose to Eli Manning. (Don't we all?)
These are two of the greatest seasons in regular season history, but New England still didn't win a Super Bowl in '07 and '10, not to mention: '05, '06, '08, '09, '11, '12, and '13. So...
What went wrong?
Well, 2008 is easy to figure out. Tom Brady made 11 pass attempts and though they made a valiant effort to get to 11-5 with Matt Cassel, they also ran into the "Wildcat" buzz saw of the Miami Dolphins and missed the playoffs for just the third time in Bill Belichick's reign of terror.
It's also weird to think about how just five years ago, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, Junior Seau, Richard Seymour, Deltha O'Neal, Sammy Morris, Randy Moss, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Lamont Jordan, and Heath Evans all still played for the Patriots. You think Belichick doesn't know how to rebuild every single season?
By 2010, the team had ousted Moss after four games, upped the workload of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, added Danny Woodhead through free agency after the New York Jets released him, and started using these two tight ends in their offense. Did you really appreciate the fact that in Brady's second season back with a mostly-new supporting cast, they had hardly lost a step at all on offense from where they were in 2007? Perhaps the greatest offense of all-time?
Unfortunately, the one guy with the formula was Rex Ryan, and the Jets beat the Patriots in two out of three games, including the divisional round of the playoffs.
They bounced back the next year to go 13-3 and again welcomed the opportunity to lose to the wrong Manning in the Super Bowl. Back in the AFC Championship again in 2012, they were without their star skill player in Rob Gronkowski and lost a lead to the Baltimore Ravens. Back in the game again in 2013, with another major overhaul on offense, they ran into the right Manning and still lost.
To summarize: The Patriots are stupid good and have somehow found a way to not win a Super Bowl in the last 10 years, despite being the best team in the NFL over that period of time.
Moral of the story: Every team is susceptible to injury, even the best franchise run we've seen since probably the San Francisco 49ers from '81-'98. They lost their best player in 2008 and found a way to compete. They lost their best skill player for most of 2013 and found a way to compete, and that was even after losing players like Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Woodhead. They saw Moss fade away into the background and didn't lose a beat. They've seen countless icons in New England history get released, traded, non-tendered, walk away in free agency and retire, and it doesn't seem to even matter.
They are the model franchise while also being the perfect example that even when everything goes right, it can still go wrong.
'96 Packers (13-3, Super Bowl champion)
DVOA: 41.9% (6th all-time), 15.2% Offense, -19.3% Defense, 7.4% ST, 28.5 PPG Off (1st), 13.1 PPG Def, (1st)
Football Outsiders says that the '61/'62 Packers were the best two-year run in NFL history, but I'm not that interested in them since the Super Bowl didn't even exist yet. Why did things exist before the Super Bowl? Why did anything exist prior to the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl?!
Not only did Green Bay win the NFL championship in sixty-one-and-two but they also won the first two Super Bowls in sixty-seven-and-eight. The '62 team had the third-best estimated DVOA of all-time and the '61 team was fourth. But as much as you gotta admire Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi, it's Brett Stavre and Mike Holmbardi that I'm interested in because it's more recent, more relevant, and easier for me to wrap my head around.
In the fourth year of the Favre/Holmgren era, the Packers went 11-5 and finished top six in scoring offense and defense. They held a 27-24 lead against the Cowboys in the fourth quarter, but Dallas took the lead and the win on Emmitt Smith's second and third touchdown of the game. However, you could see that with Green Bay, the table was set.
In 1996, eight of their 13 wins were by more than 20 points, they won by an average of 15.4 points per game, finished first in almost any relevant category, and won their three playoff games by an average of 17.3 points per game.
Brett Favre was only 27, and many of their relevant players were under 30. Guys like Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens, Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, Desmond Howard, Mark Chmura, LeRoy Butler, and not including Darren Sharper, whom they'd add in the 1997 draft. Even Reggie White had a few more good years left in him.
If history has taught us anything about NFL dynasties, the '96 Packers should have been the first of several Super Bowl championships for Favre and Holmgren, but it wasn't meant to be. Despite a quick re-appearance in '97, they wouldn't return to the title game until over a decade later.
What went wrong?
Bennett was the team's leading rusher in 1996 but a preseason Achilles injury in 1997 forced him to miss the entire season. That didn't really matter though, as Levens was even better, rushing for 1,435 yards. Freeman and Brooks both put up over 1,000 receiving yards with Favre, who led the NFL in touchdown passes for the third straight year.
As said earlier, Sharper was added to the defense and he became a player that if he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame, he'll be very close.
Green Bay went 13-3 again, won the NFC again, but lost to the Denver Broncos. But they weren't nearly as dominating as their selves of just a year ago, despite individual accomplishments; The Packers had a +140 point differential in 1997 but that's nothing compared to their +246 the year before.
They were still first in DVOA, but only by a thread: Green Bay was 29.7%, Denver was at 29.6%.
The Packers were just an 11-5 wild card in 1998, Holmgren left for the Seahawks, they missed the playoffs in '99 and '00, Favre was actually past his statistical prime already, and they shuffled between hot and cold until Aaron Rodgers finally got them back to the promised land in 2010.
To summarize: Green Bay has finished with a top three scoring defense five times in the Super Bowl era, and they have won the Super Bowl in four of those seasons. They went from first in scoring defense in '96 to fifth in '97. It seems like a small difference, but maybe it's the biggest difference of all.
Moral of the story: It's not crazy to think that defense wins championships. In fact, all the numbers I've ever studied support that theory. It's not that offense-first teams haven't or can't win titles, but even a lot of those teams seemed to have underrated defense.
Favre may have contained all the flash in '96, but actually Green Bay finished third in offensive DVOA and were led by a great defense that finished first. That small slide from first to third the next year may have been the sliver of hope that John Elway needed to helicopter through for a championship in 1997.
They really weren't that good again on defense until '09-'10, when they finally got back to the Super Bowl.
If Seattle is going to maintain relevance for the next 10-15 years, they'll want to make sure that while they're taking care of Russell Wilson, they aren't slippin' on d.
Moral of the morals of the stories
- Maintain stability at your most important position: Quarterback.
We want to believe that Wilson is just beginning a Hall of Fame career, but we aren't there yet. I believe. You likely believe. There's nothing in Wilson's history that suggests he won't be great for another 10-15 years. But even Dan Marino peaked in his first five years and never made it back to the Super Bowl after 1984. Luckily, this is not a Mark Rypien situation.
- Maintain stability at head coach.
Pete Carroll is one of the oldest in the league, but I have a hard time believing that retirement is anywhere near his mind right now. Carroll is 62. Gibbs returned to coaching at 64 and stayed on for four years. He's one of the oldest and yet most youthful coaches I've ever known.
- Defense is king and requires a lot of moving parts, so you must keep replacing good players with good players. You can't expect the same good players to be good for good.
Frazier was hurt in the Super Bowl and never played again. Richard Sherman's injury was scary but likely not a threat to even his 2014 season. However, it's still a reminder that anything can happen. In addition to that, there's no way that Seattle can keep all of their good players and remain under the cap. This is why good drafting is key, and so far that hasn't been a problem.
But even then, Schneider and Carroll have had some bad picks in retrospect. All franchises do.
Following the New England plan, draft picks are quantity and quality, but mostly quantity. A top five pick is great but only if you use it right. This season, a Hall of Fame player will be drafted after the top 31 picks. Will Seattle pick that player? It might also need to be a position we don't think we need, like a starting cornerback.
And unlike the Buddy Ryan situation, the Browns did not hold out for Dan Quinn, which allows the team to maintain stability at defensive coordinator. For at least one more year.
- Good players feed off good players. If the Seahawks sign Earl Thomas to an extension and let Sherman walk in a year or two, will they lose a step? How much so? Or, does the presence of Thomas and Kam Chancellor allow many players to succeed in that position? If the team doesn't have Red Bryant and Chris Clemons next season how much will that effect Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin?
- Injuries suck but are real and the only thing you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The Patriots have seen this as much as any team in the last five years, but they've still been one of the most successful. "Rebuild" every single season, even when you win the Super Bowl.
- It's possible that it will never be this good again.
There's a reason that it's called "the peak." The Seahawks are not going to be the best team for the next one hundred years. We don't even know if they'll be the best team for the next one years. They've never been this good before and so next year, it would be surprising if they weren't worse off. That doesn't mean they won't defend their title, it just means that they have to keep fighting to get better.
Even when they're the best.