What happens if Seattle plays well, nearto its potential, but still misses the playoffs?
This is the ultimate what could go wrong, and it’s unfixable: Bad luck.
The 2006 Seattle Seahawks scored 6 fewer points than their opponents. Poor performance against a weak schedule earned them the 25th ranked DVOA. But they squeaked into the playoffs thanks to the lucky/clutch leg of Josh Brown. Brown notched 4 game winning field goals, 2 of 50+ yards. In the first round of the playoffs, they pulled out a can’t-win victory after Tony Romo botched the hold on a 19 yard field goal. The 2006 Seattle Seahawks were very lucky.
The NFL’s 16 game schedule creates a playoff-like environment. It’s an exciting format, but also susceptible to the caprice inherent in any small sample. While the game themselves create a representative sample size, wins and losses do not. And wins and losses are all that matters. In the last 10 years, only twice has every team that finished in the top 10 in DVOA also made the playoffs. Their misfortune took many forms:
Bad Fumble Luck: Recovering your own team’s fumbles and the fumbles your team forces is largely luck. Where the ball bounces, who wins possession in the pile—but the outcome, a fumble lost or recovered, greatly affects the outcome of the game.
Bad 3rd Down Luck: Football’s down and distance system makes 3rd downs especially important, but over the course of a single season, a team can simply be unlucky at converting third downs or unlucky at preventing them.
Close Losses: The best indicator of future success is the blowout, but winning by 40 points is still but one win. Good teams with bad records often suffer the other half of the Hawks’ miracle 2006.
There’s other less researched factors in which luck plays a part, but the point here is that no matter a team’s construction, its talent, execution or ability, luck will play a very large part in its record. The Seattle Seahawks could miss the playoffs entirely courtesy bad bounces, bad timing and bad breaks—and there’s no way to predict it, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.