It was the day after the parade that Mack Strong, who knows a thing or two about football, said this on KJR:
"A lot of things have to go in your favor in order for you to get to the Super Bowl. [...] Usually you have a season where the ball kinda bounces your way, you get lucky with injuries -- guys just make plays that you don't necessarily count on. [...] And boy I tell you what, that was just the perfect storm for the Seahawks this year."
If you click here and scroll to the 1:00 mark, you can hear all this yourself. Including when Strong calls the end of the Panthers game a "microcosm of the whole season. [...] Things just kind of go your way." You'll remember that the Seahawks, backed up against their goal line, forced a timely fumble and ran out the clock to win the season opener in Charlotte.
But was it really that kind of year for Seattle? Charmed, I mean? Ehhhh. The overall picture tells a different story.
We'll get there. Because Mack's right, of course -- when it comes to the 2005 team. Those guys benefited from several turns of unusually good fortune. Witness:
A) All the key players stayed healthy in the regular season. Jones, Alexander, Hutchinson, Hasselbeck, Tatupu, Trufant, Wistrom, Jurevicius, Tobeck, Strong himself -- those ten guys combined to miss zero regular-season games. Yeah, zero. If you made a list of the twelve most important Seahawks from that year, you would probably put those ten on it. And they were indestructible.
B) The Hawks feasted on an embarrassingly bad NFC West to finish 13-3. That year, the other three teams went 9-21 outside the division, getting outscored by 231 points in the process.
C) On an auspicious 11/27/2005, the visiting Giants self-destructed, committing 11 false-start penalties and missing three (!) game-winning field goals. New York finished 11-5 when 12-4 might have been enough to claim HFA.
Without all three of those things happening in the same season, the 2005 Hawks probably don't make it to Super Bowl XL, let alone win it in convincing fashion as they did, with the early tone-setting TD catch from D-Jack and the 175 yards receiving from MVP Jerramy Stevens.
(I'll take "Jokes That Are Funnier This Month Than Last" for $400, Alex.)
Anyway. 2005 Hawks: caught some lucky breaks. 2013 Hawks: to be determined. That's why wGIFF exists.
The soon-to-be-unveiled Weighted General Index of Football Fortune (or wGIFF) will demonstrate to this jury (you) that good luck and favorable circumstances did not play a significant part in ushering the Seahawks (world champions) to Super Bowl XLVIII. And that therefore, it is reasonable for Twelves (you again) to expect more title game appearances, cuz these guys don't need luck on their side.
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First, I identified five components of a football season where luck plays a significant role.
1. Significant injuries
2. Overtime record
3. Schedule toughness
4. Fumble recovery rate
5. Fluke scoring plays
(Chance also obviously extends to penalties, weather conditions, minor injuries, last-second Marques Colston brain farts, and plenty of other instances. I found those categories exceedingly hard to measure, so they were not computed into wGIFF.)
Next, I weighted each of the components by importance. Injuries and OT record and scheduling receive the strongest coefficients. Fumbles recovered and fluke scoring plays make up the second tier of importance. I am welcome to being talked into a different set of numbers.
"Starter Games Lost To Injury/Suspension" x 3
This received triple weight, as its yearly distribution appears to be influenced by luck. I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but the data don't lie: some years, lots of key guys get hurt. Some years they don't.
"Overtime Record" x 3
Even good-to-great-teams should not be expected to win much more than half their OT games. There's a reason the game went into overtime in the first place: the teams played to a tie, and are thus close to evenly matched on that day. Then, consider that one well-executed play, or one fluke bounce, can easily lead to the clinching score. If a team goes 2-0 one year in extra time, nobody should be surprised to see them go 0-2 the following year. Because overtime luck directly impacts the final W-L record, it also received triple weight.
"Schedule Toughness" x 3
Playing the 2013 Texans and 2013 Vikings is not the same thing as playing the 2012 Texans and 2012 Vikings. But the schedule-makers don't know that in the winter before a new season. Sometimes you get lucky and face weak opponents who should have been tough; sometimes the inverse happens. Sometimes you get fur backup quarterbacks, Ty Detmer in the snow and a double helping of Ken Dorsey -- and sometimes you get Romo-Brady-Rodgers in a single month.
"Fumble Recovery Rate" x 2
Teams can be good at forcing turnovers. I see no reason, however, why such a skill, if it exists, should extend to fumble recovery statistics. Since these type of bounces help decide games, I view a high fumble recovery rate as a sign of good luck, and not repeatable.
"Fluke Scoring Plays For and Against" x 1
This is where we file random crap like blocked punts being returned for TD's instead of the kick rolling out of the end zone or out of bounds. Such plays can impact a final score, or not. We'll never know what would have happened if Jeron Johnson had been awarded a TD against the Colts at 0:14 of this video. Probably half the time, that play results in six points. General bad scoring luck goes here.
Note: I decided on these weights before calculating the Seahawks' wGIFF. Otherwise it would be cheating, which is apparently bad, according to "morality."
As the final step, and the most arbitrary one, I assigned an subjective -- but defensible -- number to each category, with 10 representing the "Luckiest Outcome" and 0 the "Unluckiest Outcome." The total is then divided by 12 (the sum of all coefficients) to produce a final wGIFF between 0 and 10. The higher the wGIFF, the luckier the team.
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All The Pretty Numbers
With the ground rules out of the way, to the table! Let's compare the 2005 and 2013 Seahawks.
|2005 raw number||2005 luck score x coeff.||2013 raw number||2013 luck score x coeff.|
|Games lost to injury/suspension||27 to 31||8 x 3 = 24||67 to 78||3 x 3 = 9|
|OT record||1-1||5 x 3 = 15||2-0||7 x 3 = 21|
|Schedule toughness||30th per PFR and FO metrics combined||9 x 3 = 27||13th per PFR and FO metrics combined||4 x 3 = 12|
|Fumble recovery rate||20/35, .571||7 x 2 = 14||29/53, .547||6 x 2 = 12|
|Fluke scoring plays||see below||8 x 1 = 8||see below||4 x 1 = 4|
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Explaining the scores
2005's score is above 7. That's high. A 7.33 is 46.7 percent luckier than you'd reasonably expect going into a season. In standard deviations, that's probably a lot, as someone with a statistics background could tell you, and probably will in the comments. 2013's score, meanwhile is near average. Pedestrian, perhaps. Not lucky, for sure; but not unlucky either. Here are additional details for each category.
Depending on who you count as a starter, the 2005 Hawks lost between 27 and 31 starter games to injury. Darrell Jackson sat out 10 games, which is 10 more than all other offensive starters combined. (Walter Jones was held out of the regular-season finale out of precaution, and awesomeness.) Various minor injuries across the defense took guys out for a handful of games here and there. Not a single Seahawk was suspended during the season.
As for the 2013 team, injuries would have ravaged it -- if not for its outstanding depth. The Dallas Morning News conducted a report from which I lifted a raw number of 44 starter games lost for Seattle. (Here's the full story.)
But that 44 is misleading. It doesn't include 15 games missed for Percy Harvin, who's a starting-level talent. Nor does it include starting FB Michael Robinson's seven-game hiatus. Nor the three four-game suspensions to Bruce Irvin, Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner.
In an effort to be fair, I left M-Rob and Bruce off the list and settled for an official number of 67 starter games missed. That figure places the Hawks in a tie for the seventh-highest amount in the league, accounting for other teams' suspensions, and a solid 3 in the injury category.
If you want to read more on how overtime games are basically a coin flip, this blog post on advancednflstats.com is particularly enlightening. Its conclusion after examining every overtime game from the last decade: the stronger team has no advantage. OT results are heavily luck-driven.
The new overtime rules might have an impact here going forward. It'll be interesting to see what the data reveal a decade from now.
This year, PFR placed Seattle ninth in schedule strength. FO said 17th. The Hawks also played in the toughest division in football, which went 30-10 against the rest of the league.
Looking back at 2005, PFR tabbed Seattle 29th in SoS that year, while FO honored the Hawks with 32nd place. As discussed earlier, the NFC West was unusually stinky mid-decade. Not the Hawks' fault! But they were dealt a lucky hand nonetheless.
Fumble recovery rate
I went with a scale of 50 percent = 5 and 67 percent = 10. Hence the 6 and 7 awarded to the two squads.
Fluke Scoring Plays
As these are highly subjective, and their effect on final results is debatable, I weighted them less heavily. Perusing through the 2005 season, play by play, led to several gems.
I found four instances of bad fortune affecting scoring plays: a Matt Schaub 2-point conversion was successful. He was the backup to Michael Vick in Atlanta that year, but he found Alge Crumpler for a bonus point in Week 2. Josh Brown famously hit the upright at Washington as time expired; the Skins would prevail in OT to drop the Hawks to 2-2. Another blocked FG in Week 15 and a second-half opening KO return touchdown against the Rams in Week 5 round out the unhappy scoring plays.
The Seahawks went 3-1 in those games, with only the Brown miss in D.C. affecting the W-L record.
On the other hand, there were 13 instances of what I'd call good fluky fortune sprinkled throughout the season. Some were scoring plays themselves. For example, Andre Dyson found the end zone five times in his seven-year career, and two of them came in a single game during his single season as a Seahawk. Yes, I'm referencing the 42-0 snow game in Philadelphia. Yes, these are the highlights. Yes, you're welcome.
Another moment whose timing was fluky good: Jordan Babineaux's 25-yard interception return with 14 seconds left, made on his own half of the field, that set up Brown's game-winner against the Cowboys. It wasn't a scoring play per se, but it made a game-winner possible.
I could go on. Shawn Alexander logged an 88-yard TD in Week 9. But there's a 2013 to cover. And it shaped up as a comedy of scoring errors that benefited the Seahawks' opponents.
Research on pro-football-reference.com shows that there was only one field goal block returned for a TD in all of 2013. Further research shows that there was only one fumbled field goal attempt returned for a TD last year. Both of those happened to the Seahawks. Seattle went 1-1 in games featuring those plays.
The Hawks benefited from some timely rare scoring plays as well -- Michael Bennett's right-place-right-time fumble recovery that went for a TD early against the Saints. Golden Tate's half-the-day's-offense scamper for 80 yards in St. Louis.
But the play that tips the scales toward generally unlucky is the decisive play in Seattle's only home loss this year. As you watch this replay, consider that Byron Maxwell tips the pass in question. Ninety times out of a hundred, that ball bounces away from a helpless Michael Floyd. Ten times it continues toward him, but he probably only completes the grab on half of those. If he's fortunate. History will record a touchdown on the play, without an asterisk for luck. Shame.
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Conclusion Which I've Already Spoiled Above
In retrospect, Mack Strong is totally right. About the 2005 team. On which, after all, he is an expert. Do consider, however, that the 2014 Seahawks will likely enjoy as good or better fortune in the areas of health, suspensions, ball bounces and opposition strength than they did in the season that culminated in the happiest of happy endings.
They likely won't improve on a 1.000 winning percentage in overtime. They likely won't recover more than 29 out of 53 fumbles. But they also likely won't see two field goal attempts returned for touchdowns, or lose over four seasons' worth of starters to injury and suspension. All those things happened.
And still, they won the Super Bowl. That also happened.