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Seattle Seahawks Shadow Season: Learning to Hate the Denver Broncos

Seahawks fans haven't had the joy of rivalry in a long time. The NFC West as we know it has only existed since 2002. During that time, it's been consistently one of the weakest divisions in football. The Seahawks have dominated it. Winning the division four times, compiling a .643 winning percentage, and so consistently stomping its NFC West rivals, compiling an even more dominating .678 Pythagorean win percentage*. That's what happens when you never lose by more than 17 points and win by 20 or more points 12 times.

So there hasn't been much rivalry to speak of. San Francisco was supposed to be Seattle's rival after 2006, but Seattle responded in 2007, crushing them 47-3 over two games, and crushing Alex Smith under Rocky Bernard. Maybe now the Cardinals are Seattle's rival, but the two teams have never been good at the same time. Most Seahawks fans house more enmity towards the Pittsburgh Steelers than the Cardinals. A fact that was clear this last Super Bowl. Despite the fact the Pittsburgh was only incidentally culpable for Super Bowl XL.

Much to everyone's delight, an old foe has returned to supply a rivalry like no other in team history: the Denver Broncos.

Yes, the Denver Broncos. A team that has dominated Seattle even more than Seattle has dominated the NFC West. Few teams have ever been as despised by Seahawks fans as the Denver Broncos. They owned the Seahawks. John Elway's charisma converted wayward Seattle fans. They played in a beautiful stadium with prestige and character. Seattle played in the Kingdome. They competed in the playoffs and won two Super Bowls. Seattle drafted Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer.

Finally Seattle has a shot to make a comeback that will put 1995 to shame. The Broncos traded their first pick in the 2010 draft for Seattle's 2009 second round pick. That's right. And it's probably gonna be good. Maybe you're a Massey-Thaler guy and think getting a good pick is its own kind of curse. Not for a team that needs premium talent at left tackle, quarterback, defensive end and defensive tackle, because there's bricklayers and there's gladiators, and in the arena it pays to be elite, not consistently above average.

Projecting a team's record might not make the best analysis, but for the sake of fun, let's have a go. Pro Football Prospectus projects Denver to win 4.9 games in 2009, and gives the Broncos a better chance of winning three or fewer games (27%) than seven or more games (23%). Denver was a little lucky last season, so that's part of their regression. They played a very easy schedule last season and will play one of the toughest schedules in football this season. Denver also was not very good in the first place (See AFS and FO). But the real reason Denver is likely to crumble is it traded Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton. Not literally, but effectively. Cutler is one of the best young quarterbacks in football. Orton is a journeyman that defied expectations and was mediocre last season overcoming the sub-Grossman, neckbeard standard he had set.

The Broncos are going to tank, and Seahawks fans will glory in their failure.

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Any NFL fans knows that the quarterback is important. How important? I thought this quote from Brian Burke was instructive.

In theory, good a run defense should make a pass defense better. And the stats suggest it does. The correlation between defensive running efficiency and passing efficiency is 0.20. Some of that correlation has to do with the fact that superior defensive athletes are superior against both the run and the pass. But some of it should also be due to the game theory aspect.

(In comparison, offensive running and passing efficiency correlate at 0.13. I think the difference is that there is a lot more variance in offensive passing than in other facets due to the focus on a single player’s ability. The quarterback’s contribution is so critical to passing in ways that aren’t applicable to the other aspects.)