Seahawks vs Broncos, Super Bowl XLVIII: 4 stats that say Seattle is about to win their first championship

Otto Greule Jr

Drops, turnovers, and Percy Harvin. There's plenty of reasons to like Seattle's chances, but here are just a few.

The Seahawks are a little more than a week and a little less than a week-and-a-half away from their second Super Bowl in franchise history. If you really put it into context:

Seattle is going to the Super Bowl for the second time in less than a decade, and they did it with two different head coaches, two different general managers, two different quarterbacks, basically an entire new team. Pete Carroll's plan to revitalize the franchise may have sounded just like what any coach would say on the day that he's hired.

We want to bring a Super Bowl (many of them) to this team! Well, prove it!

*proves it*

THANKS!

However, there's still one more game to go, one more win necessary. The future is bright, but the present is blistering. If you lose, however, you're back with the other 31 teams that didn't win. Not to downplay everything that's happening right now or the important of winning the NFC, because all of that is amazing and special...

But we only remember the champion.

Here are four stats about the Broncos and Seahawks that tell me we might just do that.

At the Dropa, Dropacabana - 27

We're all aware by now that Peyton Manning had a pretty good season, but could it have been better? For all his efforts, all his talents, and all his weapons, isn't the single-season record for touchdowns and yards enough? Should we have expected 6,000 yards and 60 touchdowns?

Maybe.

Pro Football Focus notes that Manning's receivers dropped 43 passes this season. Since most of the major sports outlets don't track things like dropped passes, you may not know whether that's good, bad, or average, and after all, didn't Manning throw more than anyone else? Shouldn't he have more drops, on average?

Not really.

Manning's 659 attempts were most in the NFL and the 43 dropped passes he had to endure were only the third-most for any one quarterback, so it stands to at least one side of reason that Denver's receivers did better than expected. Matthew Stafford had to watch 58 drops on 634 attempts and Tom Brady suffered 53 on 628.

Name Attempts per drop
Matthew Stafford 10.93
Tom Brady 11.84
Peyton Manning 15.32

On first glance, it certainly appears that Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas did a better job for Manning than one could expect. However, what if we expanded our sample size out to some quarterbacks that weren't among the league leaders for having their passes dropped.

Joe Flacco had 18.6 pass attempts per drop.

Philip Rivers had 22.62 pass attempts per drop.

Drew Brees had 26 pass attempts per drop.

Carson Palmer had 28.6 pass attempts per drop.

And Russell Wilson? He had 29.07 pass attempts per dropped pass.

All told, Seattle receivers had just 14 dropped passes on 407 attempts. In fact, if you add in last year's totals as well, when the Seahawks dropped 24 passes, they'd still have fewer dropped passes for Wilson in the last two years than Manning had this year, but on 800 attempts.

Name Targets Drops Targets per Drop
Wes Welker 109 10 10.9
Demaryius Thomas 138 9 15.3
Eric Decker 135 8 16.8
Golden Tate 93 3 31
Doug Baldwin 73 2 36.5

All told, the big three in Denver combined for 27 drops this season.

In addition to Wilson's big two, he had three drops from Jermaine Kearse on 38 targets, and one drop from Stephen Williams on one target, plus one from Zach Miller on 51 targets and two to Luke Willson on 26 targets.

The Broncos' Julius Thomas dropped four passes on 88 targets (22 per drop) and one to Virgil Green. Receiver Andre Caldwell had two drops on 29 targets. How many drops can Denver afford in the Super Bowl against the best secondary in the NFL?

According to PFF, Welker has two already in the postseason, Demaryius Thomas has one, Caldwell has one, and Julius Thomas has two.

Conversely, Zach Miller has caught all four targets in the postseason, Baldwin has caught eight of 10, Kearse has caught three of six, and Tate has caught five of 10 with the only drop.

The Seattle receivers are like a Katy Perry pop song with 350,000,000 views on YouTube (Catchy) while the Denver receivers are more like a mid-90's Bart Simpson ad campaign. (Butterfingers? I don't know man, who cares if the joke is good? WE'RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!)

They say the neon green lights are bright on BroaDVOA - 58.3%

If you've been here all year long, you know I've been tracking Football Outsiders' playoff odds and DVOA all season long. If you haven't been here all year long, Welcome! Snuggle up and stick around awhile. Oh crap, sorry I told you to "snuggle up" that's probably not very appealing to us strong, football men. :(

But seriously, thanks for stopping by and do come by 12 times a day so that we can have better numbers than all the other SB Nation blogs, including Niners Nation. Doesn't that sound nice??

The Seahawks have been a top dog in the Super Bowl odds for most of the year, eclipsing the Denver Broncos for best odds to win the whole dang thing probably around the time they beat the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. We've been the odds-on favorites for the NFC for quite awhile, but then we started to gain more traction to rise above Denver once it looked like homefield advantage was a virtual lock. The Broncos were always going to have a better chance until then, because they play in the weaker conference and would have an easier road to the Super Bowl, up until the best homefield advantage in the NFL was all-but-officially sealed.

Then it was ours for the taking, and now with only two viable candidates remaining FO has given Seattle a 58.3% chance to win. But what does that mean? From FO:

The playoff odds report plays out the season 50,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. The probability that a team will be given a win is based on an equation which considers the current Weighted DVOA ratings of the two teams as well as home-field advantage.

However, there isn't any homefield advantage in the Super Bowl, so how do they account for that? I asked founder Aaron Schatz, and he told me that they simply run the equation twice, with each team getting homefield advantage in either simulation and then average out the results.

Where do their respective DVOA ratings stand?

TEAM DVOA RANK OFF
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEF
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
DEN (DVOA through Week 20) 33.1% 2 32.8% 1 -0.6% 14 -0.3% 18
DEN (WEI DVOA through Week 20) 28.2% 4 29.6% 3 -4.2% 13 -5.6% 26
SEA (DVOA through Week 20) 38.6% 1 7.5% 11 -25.2% 1 5.9% 5
SEA (WEI DVOA through Week 20) 46.4% 1 6.6% 9 -29.3% 1 10.5%

4

Culled right from their Week 20 DVOA ratings, you can see that Seattle has a distinct advantage in overall DVOA (+5.5%) but Weighted DVOA is off-the-charts at +18.2%. What can we derive from that?

Remember, Weighted DVOA puts more weight into the previous eight games. The Broncos special skill is obviously offense, and they had a historic one. Over their last eight games, including playoffs, Denver has scored 32.25 points per game. However, over their first 10 games of the season, the Broncos averaged 39.8 points per game. It's also worth noting that 51 of their points in the last eight games came in one game against the Tennessee Titans.

If you throw out their best game and their worst game (20 points in a loss to the Chargers) over the last eight, then they are averaging 31.16 points per game in the other six and just 25 points per game in the playoffs. If you had to choose a Denver offense that was preferable -- the first 10 games or the last eight games -- you'd have to choose the first 10 games.

What about the Seattle defense that we keep hearing about?

Over their last eight games, the Seahawks are allowing 13 points per game, which is lower than their league-leading 14.4 points per game in the regular season. Over the first 10 games of the year, they allowed 15.9 points per game. If you had to choose a Seattle defense that was preferable -- the first 10 games of the last eight games -- you'd have to choose the team we are seeing right now. The one with Byron Maxwell, and Bruce Irvin, and the one that integrates Malcolm Smith a little bit more.

We have heard a lot about how the Broncos defense is playing better now than they had before, despite not having Von Miller. Well, Weighted DVOA certainly supports that theory, showing an improvement in Denver's ranking on defense...

And they are still separated from Seattle's Weighted DVOA by 25.1%.

Manhattan Special Teams - #11

As you can see above, the Broncos are 18th in Special Teams overall yet just 26th in Weighted Special Teams. But how could that be? Returned Trindon Holliday is amazing (don't forget the historic game he had in the playoff loss to the Ravens last year, breaking records for return yards, longest postseason punt return, longest postseason kick return, and becoming the first player to return a kick and a punt for a touchdown in the same playoff game), Matt Prater missed one field goal all season, and punter Britton Colquitt is a Colquitt.

From that perspective, Denver should be a top five special teams unit, but there's a lot of hidden numbers, stats, and lesser-known facts about that dirty, mysterious, under-appreciated part of football, isn't there?

Holliday was only available to the Broncos last season because the Houston Texans cut him during the season. Why would they do that, when Holliday was averaging 9.2 yards per punt return? Because you can teach a man to fish, but you can't horse a fish to water? Wait, no, that's not it.

You can lead John Elway to water, but you can't stop him from gulping the entire lake in one fell swoop with his pelican jaw?

No, I got it; Trindon Holliday is the new Az-Zahir Hakim. You can't teach a man to run faster than the devil, but you also can't teach him how to properly catch a ball.

Holliday had one punt return and one kick return for a touchdown this season, one of only two players (Jeremy Ross was the other) to do that. I mean, hell, only 12 players in the entire league returned a punt for a touchdown this season and only six returned a kickoff. It's an incredibly rare accomplishment, and for his career, no other player since 1970 has a higher Special-Teams-Touchdowns-per-Game rate (5.3) than Holliday. He's an incredibly dangerous player, and Seattle will have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't break one off in our butts during the Super Bowl.

So why did Denver rank 28th in punt returns (per FO) and not have an off-the-chart rating for kickoff returns? Because overall, the unit is a mistake-driven lovefest not seen since the likes of Mr. Bean at 12:30 AM on PBS.

As noted by Fox News two weeks ago before the playoffs, the Broncos had a special teams mistake in each of their last six games, including: Welker not getting Tony Carter away from the punt that touched him against the Patriots in overtime, a 108-yard kickoff return by Knile Davis, a 95-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington, an offsides penalty against the Chargers on a punt during their Thursday night loss to San Diego that allowed them to keep a drive alive, a 50-yard punt return negated by a penalty, and a Colquitt punt blocked in the season finale.

In addition to that, Holliday touched the ball 61 times this season, and fumbled it five times.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks rank in the top five in special teams, overall. Why?

Football Outsiders ranks them fifth in punt returns thanks to Tate, who didn't have a touchdown on special teams but did setup some short fields thanks to some magnificent returns, fourth on punt coverage in front of the leg of Jon Ryan and the rocket of Lockette, and sixth on kickoffs. They were also a solid eighth on field goals with Steven Hauschka, who was unsuccessful on just two of 35 attempts.

The only thing that Seattle struggled with on special teams? Kickoff returns. The best kickoff returner in 2011 and 2012? Percy Harvin aka #11.

The team ranked 29th in kickoff coverage? Yeah, it's the Denver Broncos.

So if you were to make a bet on who was going to make a big special teams mistake, which team would you bet on? What if you were to make a bet on which team would have a better chance of containing the returner? The Broncos were also below-average on punt coverage. What about a bet on which player was most likely to score a special teams touchdown?

Man, I know who I would bet on. I just wish there was some place out there that would take bets on the Super Bowl, but it doesn't seem like there is. Oh well.

Harlem Nocturnovers - Eight

If you know two things about me, know this:

- My girlfriend's name is Annette. As in, "I'm going to watch A-Netflix movie by myself again, tonight"

- I preach winning the turnover battle more than anything else in football.

When Wilson fumbled away the first play of the game, I wasn't even thinking about points in that moment. It sounds like nonsense, but I was literally just thinking to myself "We need to tie the turnover battle" before I was even thinking about tying the score. Teams so rarely win games when they lose the turnover battle.

Seattle won the game, but also ended up winning the turnover battle 3-1. They obviously would not have not have won the game without those turnovers, and even if the Navorro Bowman play had stood as a fumble recovery, it wouldn't have given the Niners a lead in the turnover battle nor would it have netted them any extra points or kept the Seahawks from scoring any less than they did.

Out of 47 Super Bowl champions, only four of them lost the turnover battle in the big game. That's just 8.5% of all Super Bowl winners: The 2005 Steelers (yeah) lost it by one, the 1988 49ers lost it by one, the 1979 Steelers lost it by two, and the 1970 Baltimore Colts lost it by three.

Only eight of the 47 Super Bowl winners ended up tying the turnover battle, so overall, 74.4% of the teams that won the Super Bowl also won the turnover battle. Going a step further, only two of the last 37 Super Bowl winners had a negative turnover differential throughout the playoffs (the '84 Niners and the '99 Rams).

So what does that mean for these two teams?

The Seahawks are currently +3 in the playoffs, having won the turnover battle in each of their two games.

The Broncos are currently -2 in the playoffs, having not forced a single turnover yet. They were -2 against the Chargers and there were no turnovers in the AFC Championship. How could Denver lose the turnover battle against San Diego and still win rather easily?

That's a question for the books, because their whole season in terms of turnovers makes little sense.

The Broncos were ranked 17th in turnovers, 16th in takeaways, and 14th in turnover differential. What was their turnover differential after 16 games? 0. That makes them -2 over their 18-game season, including playoffs, and yet here they are in the Super Bowl at 15-3.

They have forced just 10 turnovers over their last 10 games. The Seahawks have forced 22 turnovers in that time. Denver is -1 in TO margin over that time, Seattle is +14, and that includes their -3 performance against the Bucs that was 10 games ago. They are +17 over their last nine games.

So what advantage could that give the Seahawks? Either a big one or not an advantage at all! Because somehow the Broncos have lost the turnover battle in eight of their 18 games, but they are 5-3 in those games. That seems like a surprisingly good record, but let's not forget that that means they have lost the turnover battle in all three of their losses and it would certainly stand to reason that out of either of these teams, they are a lot more likely to lose the turnover battle.

And their five wins while losing the turnover battle were against: Oakland, Jacksonville, San Diego, Kansas City, and San Diego. Their three losses were to Indianapolis, New England, and San Diego.

Does anyone think they can afford to lose the turnover battle to a team like Seattle and still win? Or at least, win easily? Don't forget that the Seahawks haven't lost by more than a touchdown since the middle of the 2011 season and in case you forgot when you were dating your last check, it's 2014 now.

I think that's plenty of reason for now, to believe that Seattle is on the brink of something very special.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to Annette. (I'm thinking of proposing.)

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