There is an old Chinese Proverb (are they coming out with new ones, like Now That's What I Call A Chinese Proverb, Vol. 2,356?) that says: "If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time."
The Seahawks must play. If they don't, I feel like we will be up-in-arms about their forfeit of a playoff game. Almost everyone except for Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung know the rules of the game. The stakes are advancement in the playoffs, so those are pretty high. The quitting time is either when the clock says 00:00, or if you're the Cardinals, when you're down by four touchdowns. The Chinese have definitely nailed it, but that only comprises the game itself. As far as modern day sports are concerned though, we need to also analyze the past results in an effort to predict as best we can future outcomes.
"Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand."
And also: "Shit, I drafted LeSean McCoy over Adrian Peterson!!!"
For me, baseball is where I obsess over stats and football is where I obsess over viewing. I just absolutely love watching NFL football, as long as Mark Sanchez isn't involved. But my own obsession with stats in general make me want to consume more when it comes to football. Regular stats are great, but the older you get, the more you realize that yardage is so dependent upon many other factors, not unlike a meaningless RBI in baseball. I still use the numbers, mind you. I still respect the hell out of Adrian Peterson's 2,000+ yards and Calvin Johnson's ridiculousness, but we can do better than only recognizing those kinds of numbers. In fact, I am trying to do better. Don't become complacent and so set-in-your-ways that you can't adapt with the ever-changing world around you, that's a good way to find yourself as a computer whiz in the eighties that tries to get a job at Microsoft today because "I know everything about MS-DOS!"
I don't pretend to know everything that Football Outsiders and their reasoning behind DVOA and other statistics. Not even close. But involve me and I'll understand. Or even better, I'll get the gist of it, okay? For that reason, I've somehow managed to get Football Outsiders founder and current ESPN analyst Aaron Schatz to join us for a Hangout tomorrow evening. He's going to tell us why the Seahawks are so damn good, or at least he better do so in our house! In all seriousness though, if DVOA and Weighted DVOA have anything to say about it, and I imagine that Schatz would agree with those statistics, then Seattle is most definitely the best team in the NFL and one of the hottest teams in the last 20 years. I may not know much about the formula and the numbers yet, but Schatz does and he's going to tell us all about it. So be sure to come join us tomorrow at 6 PM PST.
As a primer to that, I want to give you all the fun Football Outsiders numbers I can, and if you are a Seahawks fan, yes they are really damn fun. Seattle has work to do before winning it all, but they've at least put together the best season in franchise history... by some measures. Here are the end-of-season stats per FO:
DVOA per the FO Glossary:
DVOA: The main statistic used on Football Outsiders, DVOA breaks down the entire season play-by-play, comparing success on each play to the league average based on a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality. While it can be used as a measure of total team performance, it differs from other power ratings found throughout the Web because it can be broken down to analyze team effectiveness in any number of ways: down, quarter, rushing vs. receiving, location on field, passes to backs vs. passes to receivers, and so on. Read the article METHODS TO THE MADNESS for more information. DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, although we use the same letters to refer to defensive rankings which are adjusted to take into account the quality of offensive opponents. When not adjusted for opponent, this stat is called VOA.
The Seahawks finished first with a DVOA of 38.3%, which ranks as the sixth-best DVOA in the numbers history, which dates back to 1991. In fact, it was the 1991 Washington Redskins that posted the best DVOA of all-time: 56.9%. You're probably wondering how many of the top five won the Super Bowl that year:
The '91 Redskins and the '96 Packers did. The 2007 undefeated Patriots did not, the 2010 Patriots did not, and the '95 49ers did not. An interesting thing about the 1995 49ers is that they went 11-5 despite being 1st in scoring offense, 2nd in total offense, 2nd in scoring defense, and 1st in total defense. By all measures, this is the best team in football right? But they went 11-5 and then lost to the Packers in the playoffs. The 49ers lost five games by a combined 15 points, and two of those losses came when Elvis Grbac was starting for an injured Steve Young. (Though Grbac was great in his three wins that year.) They could be one of the great teams of all-time, but the 49ers simply fell short and that's more important than being great.
It also wouldn't be so shocking if the Seahawks fell short, since the Broncos and Patriots of this season, also posted a DVOA in the top ten all-time. However, they're well ahead of any other NFC team, so hopefully the Seahawks can at least face the Broncos or Patriots.
Another thing that the Broncos and Seahawks have in common is year-to-year improvement. Seattle jumped from 19th in DVOA in 2011 to 1st this year, a jump of +39.8%, fourth best all-time. Denver jumped by 48.3%, second best of all-time. The 1999 Rams jumped by 43.8% and won the Super Bowl, so there's something.
- Seattle finished with a Weighted DVOA of 46.6%, making them one of the hottest teams at the end of the regular season ever.
Weighted DVOA: A version of DVOA that gives recent games more weight than games early in the season to try to get an idea of how teams have improved or declined over time.
- Seahawks offensive DVOA of 18.5% is ranked 4th in the NFL (an improvement from their ranking off 22nd last season) a defensive DVOA of -14.1% (4th in the NFL) and 5.7% on special teams (3rd in the NFL.) They aren't just the only team in the league to be top four in all three categories, or top five in all three categories... no other team is top ten in all three categories. The Bears are far and away the best defense (-26.8%) but the 49ers are second at -14.3%, the Texans are third at -14.2%, and Seattle sits at -14.1%. How close of a margin is that? I'll ask Mr. Schatz!
- Seahawks have an "Estimated Wins" total of 13 and the 4th hardest schedule in the NFL.
- ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.
- 2012 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
The Broncos have 14.7 Estimated Wins, and the Patriots have a total of 13.4, placing the Seahawks third in
It would appear that Seattle's only area of some concern is punt returns, but they come out with excellent numbers in kickoffs, kick returns, and Jon Ryans. Leon Washington returned 41 punts for 356 yards, no touchdowns, and an average of 8.7 yards per return. Last season, Washington had the exact same number of punt returns, but for an average of 11.3 yards per return. He actually has no punt return touchdowns in his career, except for that one against the Browns that never happened.
(The Redskins are 27th in Special Teams, but 16th in Weighted Special Teams DVOA)
Fourth overall but apparently a touch worse in recent weeks. Curious as to why? Me too, we'll find out!
The Seahawks are 3rd against the pass and 12th against the run, which I believe is an improvement on the run from a few weeks ago after facing Adrian Peterson and falling in yards per carry average like a ton of Adrian Peterson's. Seattle's "Variance" (Measuring consistency on defense) is last in the NFL, meaning (I think) that they are "all over da place!"
Richard Sherman's masterpiece of a season helps contribute to Seattle finishing first against number one wide receivers. They finish 10th against a #2, 10th against "Other" WRs, 17th against TE (their biggest issue last season), and 9th against running backs catching the football.
See, I can use technical scientific terms too. In fact, Seattle's weighted offense of 31.2% is tops in the NFL. Better than the Patriots, Broncos, and Packers. I guess 170 points in four games can do that. The Seahawks are 4th in passing DVOA and 1st (yes, AP, first) in rushing.
The NFC West was by far the best defensive division in the NFL, so put that into your bong and light it up, Washingtonians.
Here is definitely an area that I could use Schatz help on but you can get the idea. The Seahawks rank 3rd in run defense as far as "Power Rank" but 22nd in Stuffed Rank, 22nd in 2nd Level Rank, and 20th in Open Field Rank. I wonder if AP going off makes a big difference in the open field?
The Seahawks ranked 21st in adjusted sack rate (Rams were 3rd, FYI) and generated 36 sacks.
(Redskins are 17th in run blocking on defense, 25th in adjusted sack rate.)
Interesting enough, running back carries against Seattle (299) were the fewest in the NFL. They get run at up the gut 49% of the time, and an abnormally-high 21% off of right tackle, towards the left defensive end. Only the Steelers were run against on that side more often.
According to FO, Seattle opponents start at their own 24.20 yard line, best in the NFL. Seattle was the top scoring defense, and 2nd in the NFL in
yards points per drive allowed (1.40), 2nd in touchdowns per drive, and 5th in punts forced per drive. The Seahawks were 6th in turnovers forced per drive and 5th in interceptions per drive. Interestingly, they were only 12th in yards allowed per drive, giving up 29.86 per.
Offensively, they weren't as good as their defense, but still pretty good.
The Hawks were 7th in Drive Success Rate, which "measures the percentage of down series that resulted in a first down or touchdown." 6th in yards per drive, 7th in points per drive, 6th in touchdowns per, and 6th in interceptions per. Worst number on offense? 18th in fumbles per drive at 0.43. The Redskins were 1st in the NFL in turnovers per drive on offense, Seattle was 8th.
Washington also had the fourth best Drive Success Rate in the NFL.
Put it all together, and the Seahawks were a top four team in NET difference between offensive and defensive drives, 2nd in the NFL in NET difference of points scored and allowed, 6th in Drive Success Rate NET difference.
At this point, the Seahawks have vaulted up to have a 10.3% chance to win the Super Bowl, fourth-best in the league. Pretty incredible when you consider that Seattle almost certainly has to travel throughout the playoffs, and a consideration as to why the 49ers have a 14.3% chance to win it all.
The Broncos and Patriots are far ahead (26.2% and 24.3% respectively) but that has a lot to do with being the best teams in the AFC by a wide margin. Better chance to make the Super Bowl = Better chance to win the Super Bowl.
There is an 8.1% chance, per FO, that Pete Carroll meets up against the team that fired him and sent him sobbing to National Championships at USC: The Patriots.
It was covered on Field Gulls recently why Sidney Rice might be better than the numbers show. Football Outsiders ranks Rice 14th in DYAR and Golden Tate 18th in that category. Explained on FO:
Wide receivers are ranked according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the performance on plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.
Tate is FOURTH in DVOA and Rice is seventh. Why? I can't wait to dive into this further with Schatz.
What else is interesting? Anthony McCoy is 10th in DYAR and 2nd in DVOA for tight ends.
The Seahawks are 3rd in run blocking, but only 20th in pass blocking. My fingers are getting tired. Seattle's Adjusted Line Yards for run blocking off of the right tackle is 1st in the NFL. (4th off left tackle, 21st up the middle.) They run off of left tackle more than any team in the NFL at 24%.
Well click that link if you want to see how he ranks for Quarterbacks. (6th in DVOA, 8th in QBR, 8th in DYAR)
You could spend a lot of time researching the Seahawks and the NFL and delving deeper into what makes Seattle so good this year and where they have room for improvement. Reading it though and understanding it are two entirely different modes of beast. I look forward to hearing Schatz, the mastermind of it all, explaining what it means and how Robert Griffin lines up against Wilson (RG3 is 11th in DYAR,
6th 8th in DVOA) and what it's going to take for the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, etc.
I've really enjoyed my hangouts with Jacson (especially the after dark one-on-ones that nobody else is invited to, wink) but this is lining up to be the most informative and helpful one yet, a perfect way to start the playoffs.
Make sure you're reading Football Outsiders and go ahead and get some questions ready for Schatz. Confucius say: Kenny is dumb, but by tomorrow, maybe he is less dumb.