The Seattle Seahawks are a day from a day away from playing in their second Super Bowl in franchise history. It will be the seventh appearance for the Denver Broncos, though it has been 17 years since their last one.
I'm not sure what kind of role "experience" will play, if any. If you ask me, it's a bit overrated. Though John Fox has coached in a Super Bowl and Peyton Manning has played in two and won one, that has nothing to do with the 2013 Seahawks. A lot of coaches have coached in a lot of games, a lot of players have played in a lot of games, but more often than not, at the of the day the best team will win.
Consider the last eight years.
Quarterbacks with prior Super Bowl experience are 2-5 in the last eight Super Bowls, and those two wins are Eli Manning over Tom Brady (who of course had played in four prior Super Bowls) and Ben Roethlisberger over Kurt Warner (who had played in two previous Super Bowls.) So the only repeat Super Bowl winners came in games where both were Super Bowl veterans. (Have I said Super Bowl enough?)
Coaching experience isn't much different.
Mike Tomlin lost to Mike McCarthy.
Bill Belichick lost to Tom Coughlin.
Mike Holmgren lost to Bill Cowher.
And that wasn't even the first time that Holmgren lost a Super Bowl to a coach that hadn't himself won a Super Bowl. It was back in 1997 that Holmgren led the Green Bay Packers to their second consecutive championship game and the team he was facing was just about the saddest bunch of sads in Super Bowl history.
The Denver Broncos.
But John Elway's non-heroics in his previous three Super Bowl appearances wouldn't matter that day. Mike Shanahan's lack of Super Bowl experience was inconsequential that year -- hell, he hadn't even won a playoff game in his career until '97.
When it's your day it's your day, and experience is meaningless. I believe that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFL and that's why I think they're about to get - it - on. Here are some statistical reasons why based on how a few players played this season and on their matchups in Super Bowl XLVIII, plus a special message from me to Seattle and Denver fans for the finale.
(Part one of "Stats that say we're going to win" can be found here.)
I thought, "Hey I can leave, I can leave" but now I know I was wrong, cause I missed you -- 96
Dun-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh Dun-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh Dun-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh -- STATMAN!
It's an interesting case study to look at Tate and try to assess his value. From an outsiders perspective, what do you see? A second round pick that has been disappointing, topping out at just 898 yards as a career-high this season. And the truth is that it's not... wrong.
Tate has topped out at 898 yards and in this offense, there is a good chance that he will never be a high-volume, 100 catch, 1,400-yard receiver. However, he is talented enough to convince a different team that if they sign him to number one receiver type money and then give him 150 targets, that he will start to produce those kinds of numbers.
On 150 targets with his catch rate of 68% this season, Tate would have 102 catches. Given his average of 14.6 yards per catch over the last two seasons, that would give him 1,489 yards, and all of a sudden we are seeing a "number one receiver," whatever that means.
So in the question of: How much do the Seattle Seahawks really want to commit to a player that they haven't been using nearly as often as a team like, say, the Cleveland Browns would? It's a tough one to gauge, but if you're only asking me, "Is Tate a bad motherflipper?" then I only have one answer.
Yes, that dude will flip your mom like Donkey Kong.
(If you're mom is Princess. OMG you're a celebrity!)
Tate led all NFL receivers in two key categories this season: YAC per reception and missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus. As Danny has mentioned before -- after the Seahawks acquired also-good-at-avoiding-tackles Percy Harvin -- this becomes even more amazing when you consider that Tate doesn't get "number one receiver" targets.
On 93 targets, 64 catches, and 68 punt returns (to be fair), Tate had 21 missed tackles (a "missed tackle" includes both broken tackles and tackles avoided by being shiftier than a back alley snuff peddler chatting with Nicolas Cage) and 7.9 yards after the catch per catch. (Drew Davis of the Atlanta Falcons had 8.8 YAC/c but on only 12 catches.)
(Davis is the Nick Foles of wide receivers -- stop making me add you as a caveat.)
(Is this enough parentheses for you?)
In re-watching some games this year, I was reminded just how valuable Tate was as a punt returner, and it's fair to say that he was the difference in several games. It's been an added wrinkle to a player that is limited on an offense that simply limits their overall pass attempts -- though we don't know whether that will always be the case. But Tate had less than 40 receiving yards in seven of 16 games this year, and he has had just 5 catches for 44 yards in two playoff games.
And yet somehow he's still managed two missed tackles. In last years postseason, he had five missed tackles, good for second among wide receivers despite playing in just two games and more than twice as many as third place Greg Jennings, who had two. (Michael Crabtree had six in three games.)
On only 45 catches and no punt returns last year, Tate had 16 missed tackles, which was third-best in the NFL. First place was Harvin, who had 22 even though he missed basically the entire second half of the season. Tate had 13 missed tackles in 2011 and on a mere 35 catches -- giving him basically a missed tackle once every three catches.
Of course, when we are talking about missed and broken tackles, there is only One True God. No, not Cage, it's what you put in a cage... The Beast.
This season, Marshawn Lynch had 75 missed tackles, which was a mere 17 more MTs than second-place Adrian Peterson. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard combined for 390 carries (Lynch had 301) and only had 49 MTs together. He had 66 more missed tackles than Ray Rice.
Here's a cool picture:
In the playoffs this year, Lynch has more MTs than the next three players combined, and those players are Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, and Frank Gore. Gore played in 39 more snaps than Lynch and has a quarter of the number of missed tackles. In last season's playoffs, Lynch had eight MTs on just 36 carries.
He was second in MTs last year with 58, behind Adrian Peterson's possibly-best-ever-season-by-a-running-back, and he had 52 the year before that.
When you start to ask yourself how this offense can be so effective despite the fact that for long stretches of time it does not look effective, missed tackles, elusiveness (see Russell Wilson's scrambling ability) and broken tackles are one of the major reasons why. This season, Lynch and Tate led their respective positions in MTs by a considerable margin and combined for 96 of them.
Add in Harvin and you've got yourself a new kind of stew going. Last year, those three players -- Lynch, Tate, Harvin -- combined for 96 MTs.
Somebody get Champ Bailey an old school mixtape from 1997 featuring Puff Daddy cause, "I'll be missin' youuuuu."
(This year, Demaryius Thomas had 10 MTs, Eric Decker had eight, and Wes Welker had five. Knowshon Moreno had 21 and Montee Ball had 19. So those five players on Denver combined for 63 missed tackles, or, 33 fewer than Lynch and Tate.)
Ooooh, baby baby, push it real good -- 39
Statistically speaking, it is not super likely that Seattle will sack Peyton Manning. If they get one, they've done the expected job. The Seahawks did go to work last offseason though to improve their pass rush and hopefully improve on their sack total of 36, and they did do that -- as a team they had 43 sacks this year. Not bad.
But if you watched Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril get after it this season, it certainly feels like a lot more than that. That's probably because these guys are consistently shrinking the pocket and putting quarterbacks under pressure, even if they've been eluded a time or two.
The Rams' Robert Quinn, possibly the best defensive player in the NFL this year, had 51 quarterback hurries on 849 snaps. Bennett had 39, respectably only 12 fewer than Quinn, but he was part of a rotation that ended up having him on defense for just 617 snaps. Of the top 23 players in QB hurries this season, only Robert Ayers (of Denver, coincidentally) played fewer snaps than Bennett.
Quinn had one QB hurry for every 16.64 snaps, while Bennett had one for every 15.82 snaps.
The biggest difference was that Quinn was able to finish more often (19 sacks compared to 8.5, a large margin even when snaps are taken into account) but Bennett was still around the QB at about the same rate as the best defensive player in the game as of 2014. Bennett had 17 QB hits, just four less than Quinn.
PFF is currently giving Bennett the highest grade of any 4-3 DE in the postseason, because he leads that group in stops, and is tied with Ayers for the most QB hurries at eight. He's also tied with Avril and Shaun Philips (also of Denver) with two sacks apiece.
Bennett and Avril also combined for 10 forced fumbles this year (with Avril mastering the "strick," a strip+sack) and Bennett recovered three fumbles, including one for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
There are a ton of good "strength versus strength" matchups in this game (it's almost as if both of these teams are good?) but the Denver offensive line versus the Seattle defensive line is one of the more underrated in terms of importance. Yes, the Broncos have a great offensive line. No, I don't expect a ton of sacks. But Bennett is one of the best in the NFL at getting behind the line and shrinking the pocket.
To not expect him to get to pushin' is just silly.
My milkshake brings all the boys to the DYAR - 8
Big games call for big plays from big players, and few skill players had better seasons than Demaryius Thomas. Meanwhile, there might not be a more famous football player in the world right now than Richard Sherman. Those two likely will not face off against each other for the entirety of the game, but how Thomas and Eric Decker perform could easily dictate how many points the Broncos score. And how good their chances are of winning;
Thomas had under 50 yards just twice this season, and the Broncos were 0-2 in those games. They are 15-1 when Thomas has 50 yards. In last years playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he was held to three catches and 37 yards.
Which is probably why you won't see him on Sherman for the whole game. Sherman has walked the walk.
PFF has tracked 29 cornerbacks that have played at least 25% of their team's defensive snaps in the postseason and Sherman is sixth in snaps (134) but where does he rank in yards allowed? Catches? Touchdowns? Well... He hasn't allowed a touchdown, or a yard, or a catch.
He's only been thrown at twice in two games, meaning that exactly 50% of the passes thrown towards Sherman in the playoffs have made my pants explode. Of course, I'm talking about his pass deflection interception against Colin Kaepernick, though Kaepernick says that would've been a touchdown if he had only thrown it one more yard.
Well, then go learn to throw, Kap. If you thought that Sherman was overrated, you would've gone after him. Am I wrong or do you need to turn down your Beats to hear me?
"That cornerback isn't as good as he thinks he is. Should we put one of our top two receivers on him and just keep attacking? Seems like a good gameplan."
"Oh, no no no. No way. We wouldn't want to do that, you idiot. Let's try something harder."
Out of 29 corners with at least 45 postseason snaps, Sherman is the only one to not allow a catch.
Comparatively speaking, Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have generally been praised for their postseason play, and they've combined to allow 12 catches on 19 targets and 115 yards allowed with two pass deflections. When you lump Sherman together with Byron Maxwell, you get this:
Two catches allowed on 10 targets for 39 yards and three pass deflections.
Presently, Walter Thurmond has more pass deflections (1) than Bailey (0) despite playing in 33 fewer snaps. Now, that's just a number and the sample size is small and I'm cherry-picking for fun because it doesn't mean that Thurmond is better than Bailey.
But I'm comparing our nickel corner to the guy that's possibly going to cover our best receiver.
So when D. Thomas lines up on Sunday, whether he's facing off against Sherman or Maxwell, he's likely going to be getting his toughest test of the season. Against Vontae Davis and the Colts, Thomas had four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, though that was the one game that the Broncos lost while Thomas went over 50 yards.
Against Alterraun Verner and the Titans, Thomas had seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Against Logan Ryan and the Patriots, he had four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, and Denver lost.
Thomas played great against the Chiefs, going over 100 yards in both wins, but Kansas City's best corner is Sean Smith and he allowed five touchdowns this year. Their next best is Marcus Cooper and he allowed five touchdowns too. Brandon Flowers allowed four.
Sherman and Maxwell combined to allow four.
Brandon Browner allowed two and Thurmond allowed zero.
Decker had a great game in Denver's loss to the Colts, going for 150 yards and a touchdown, but was held to one catch for five yards in the loss to New England and two catches for 42 yards in the loss to San Diego. Can either Decker or Thomas have a good game against the Seahawks and if they don't have a good game, can the Broncos win going to their other receivers?
It's hard to imagine that a player like D. Thomas won't be getting at least eight targets -- he averaged 8.62 targets per game. Decker averaged 8.43.
Twenty receivers (wideouts and tight ends) had at least eight targets in a game against Seattle this year. The median DYAR for that group? Eight. This would suggest that Julius Thomas and Wes Welker are critical for Denver's chances, but at this point they hardly qualify as under-the-radar threats. Denver's best bet would be to find the open man rather than try to force the ball to any one guy. Fortunately, for Peyton Manning, that has rarely been a problem.
One should usually expect that in a loss, a quarterback might actually tend to have more yards because he's forced to throw it more; Passing yards rarely correlate to wins and not once in NFL history has the QB with the most passing yards in the regular season won a Super Bowl. In the case of Manning, it seems more like if you cut off the head, Denver is left grasping for air. They are 3-2 when Manning is held to less than 300 yards and that includes an underwhelming win over the Jacksonville Jaguars when he had 295 yards and the season finale against the Oakland Raiders after he crushed it and made an early exit with 266 yards and four touchdowns.
In any "typical" scenario that finds Manning passing for less than 300 yards in the Super Bowl, it would be safer to bet on the Broncos losing than winning. There is no team in the NFL more equipped to cover D. Thomas and Decker than the Seahawks are, and FO ranked them in the top seven against every single type of skill player: WR1, WR2, all other WR, TE, and RB.
Come on, Seattle, you know I want it. The thing that makes me... what the twelves go crazy... for (warm it up)
And they're like (our corners) are better than yours
Damn right, they're better than yours
They could teach you, but they'd have to (sign you in free agency, which isn't likely, this isn't really rhyming or fitting the song but I'm going with it.)
The Seahawks that I used to know - 38 will no longer = 0
I was talking on the phone to my dad the other day and naturally we were talking about the Seahawks. I shouldn't say "naturally" as if we have always bonded over football, because that's certainly not the case, especially after many years of football futility, but naturally in the sense that the team is "water cooler talk" right now. I knew that my dad had attended some games at the Kingdome, but I really didn't know how often, or for how long.
"Were you pretty excited when the NFL came to Seattle back in 1976?"
"You're talking to an original season ticket holder."
I think a lot of us probably have fathers that were original season ticket holders (or you are old enough to have been there yourself). If the NBA came back into town next year, how many among us would go out and buy a ticket, or five, or 41? Despite how many people in this city feel slighted by the league, I wouldn't disparage the players. I wouldn't disparage "the Sonics" for it. The new team would have nothing to do with the old team, and the excitement of being able to root for an NBA team again would definitely compel me to attend a game.
But would I have any hope of actually winning?
"So when you were going to the Kingdome some 38 years ago, did you think to yourself that maybe in four or five years this team could actually compete for the Super Bowl?"
"I think we were mostly just excited to have a football team to root for moreso than actually thinking about winning."
That's good, because the initial version of the Seattle Seahawks were pretty effing terrible. However, they were already 9-7 by their third season and Steve Largent had emerged as one of the best receivers in the league. Even Jim Zorn was getting recognition as perhaps one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks. I can only imagine that when you're new and losing most of your games, you're just happy to be participating, but once you start to win a little bit, a "little bit" isn't nearly enough.
Unfortunately the team wouldn't make the playoffs until their eighth season, after Dave Krieg had taken over for Zorn, and despite appearing to be only one win away from the Super Bowl in 1983, they had no idea that they were actually another 22 years away from it. Would it have made it any easier if you knew? If in 1976 they had handed out fliers around the Kingdome that said, "Settle in motherf---ers, it's gonna be awhile!"? Were you just in it to be in it, or like Guy Fieri, were you in it to win it in a minute?
76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, you made it.
I barely had the patience to type that out, let alone wait the 30 years it took to go from expansion to a Super Bowl appearance. And therein lies the key word: appearance. Because making a Super Bowl is awesome and it gives you at least a little something to hold onto throughout the years, but winning it is what truly matters and everything that led up to that moment washes away once you hoist that Lombardi Trophy.
At the end of every season there are 31 losers and only one winner and immediately the only thing that matters for that team is that they are the champions. Does anyone talk about how the Baltimore Ravens won last season only after a miraculous play against the Broncos in the divisional round?
Do we talk about how the New York Giants have only won two recent Super Bowls by the hair of their chins after two catches that they might only complete one out of every 10 times?
How about the fact that the New England Patriots dynasty might not ever even exist if it wasn't for one play in a snowy game against the Oakland Raiders that many people called "bullshit" on? Do you people say "Well, the Patriots wouldn't have won their first championship if it wasn't for the tuck rule"? Maybe a few select people, but those people have absolutely zero argument once New England retorts with simply saying, "Scoreboard."
In 1979, the Steelers beat the Houston Oilers in the AFC Championship game but partly due to the fact that the refs missed an obvious (in replays) touchdown catch by Mike Renfro. This coming seven years after The Immaculate Reception -- and though that Steelers team did not go on to win the Super Bowl, they did win four in the next seven years. Perhaps the Immaculate Reception was just the birth that allowed that team to grow.
Even the '99 Rams, perhaps viewed as the greatest offense, if not greatest overall team of all-time, might not have won the Super Bowl if not for a controversial call in the NFC Championship. And even when they made it to the final game against the Tennessee Titans, they only won by a nose.
Many of us in Seattle know the feeling of losing when you sure didn't feel like losers.
Though the league can come out after Super Bowl XL and say, "We blew it" it really doesn't change a thing. Not a single damn thing. The Steelers are the winners of Super Bowl XL, and as much as it pains me to say, I can't say it a different way than that; Not even "The Steelers are the winners of Super Bowl XL*" would matter a single iota.
You can't truly ever strike or asterisk away history.
But the Seahawks enter Super Bowl XLVIII as the best team in the NFL and have won all of their games fair and square. Fans of certain opposing teams can come up with their not-at-all-clever nicknames like "CheatHawks" and "Seadderall" or "PEDHawks" (SERIOUSLY NONE OF THESE ARE EVEN PUNS) or what have you, but all those fans can really do is watch our team in the Super Bowl fighting for a championship.
And if they win, if they beat the Broncos and stand on that podium to accept the Lombardi, it's over. That's the end of it. The Seattle Seahawks will be champions of the 2013 NFL season until the end of time. No asterisks, no excuses, no caveats, just rings.
38 seasons of football without a Super Bowl title, 37 seasons of baseball without a World Series, and 35 years since an NBA team that doesn't exist anymore won this city's only professional championship in the three major sports. Winning this game isn't something that the city simply wants, it's not even something that it needs, but I would argue that it's something Seattle has earned. We've seen enough and we're ready to win one.
It wasn't long ago that the Broncos were four-time Super Bowl losers.
In the 1997 season, Denver had a two-game lead in the AFC West at 9-1, but they stumbled down the stretch and lost the division to the Kansas City Chiefs. They crushed the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs and were headed to Kansas City.
It was 0-0 in the second quarter when the Chiefs made a field goal but had it negated by a holding penalty. The re-try from 44 yards hit the crossbar and the Broncos got the ball back and marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead. Kansas City had several opportunities to take the lead near the end of the game, but it wasn't meant to be.
Denver had to go to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship, and the Steelers had beaten them just a month earlier 35-24. The Broncos held a 24-21 lead and had the ball without much time left, facing third-and-five. If Pittsburgh could make one third down stop, they'd get the ball back with a little time left and only down a field goal, but Elway completed a first down pass to Shannon Sharpe and that was enough to end the game. Maybe the Steelers were the better overall team, but on that day it wasn't meant to be.
In the Super Bowl, Denver had to face the 13-3 Green Bay Packers, the defending champions and perhaps the best team that season. They had just come off of a 23-10 win over the 49ers in San Francisco and were hot to trot all over the no-luck Denver Broncos. At that point, Elway's Super Bowl track record spoke for itself and when it spoke it just made the "Wah waaahhhh" trombone noise.
Pro-Football-Reference's win probability chart for that game had Green Bay at 80% likely to win at the start and it was tied at 24-24 with less than two minutes to go. Of course, Denver went on to win 31-24, but I'd say the game wasn't decided on Terrell Davis's one-yard go-ahead touchdown, but a play in the third quarter.
Tied at 17 and facing third-and-six, Elway scrambled and picked up a first down, spinnin' like a Petey Pablo t-shirt on his way down. It's the most iconic play in the Broncos history and one of the most memorable we've ever seen in the Super Bowl. Elway got up and screamed and the Denver fans in the crowd went wild. This was going to be their day and the Packers were hopeless from there on out. Brett Favre had won one the year before and this time, it wasn't meant to be.
I want the Broncos fans to hear me when I say this and understand where I'm coming from if you watched your team win the Super Bowl for the first time almost 20 years ago:
It's not meant to be.
This is our year, this is our team, and 38 years of frustration is about to explode all over MetLife Stadium. I love stats and I love applying them to the game of football where they're applicable, but I've also got a heart. I also believe that sometimes destiny intervenes. I also get to have my "John Elway moment."
A new era of Seahawks football and Seattle fandom is about to begin.