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The StatHawk, Divisional Playoff: 12 Myths Busted

That thing you're thinking about Saturday's game? Probably false. Think a different thing instead.

Gravity's a bitch
Gravity's a bitch
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Myth One: The Panthers will be out for revenge for the 34-14 drubbing they took here in the NFCCG nine years ago.

A grand total of one (1) player from that team remains with Carolina -- Thomas Davis, a veteran linebacker, who was a rotational rookie in 2005. He will be seeking to personally avenge his loss to the... zero Seahawks who remain from Seattle's 2005 roster.

Careers are short, tenures are short. Too easy. Next.

Myth Two: The Panthers are on fire, having won five games in a row.

Their record is on fire, let's give em that. Let's check with something more predictive than wins and losses. Here is their wDVOA evolution over the past five weeks:

Week 13: 28th, -25.8

Week 14: 24th, -20.8

Week 15: 25th, -16.7

Week 16: 25th, -11.7

Week 17: 21st, -6.7

Ah, seems like they're also lighting Football Outsiders on fire, that's good. Despite narrow home wins over Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

But why should just the last five games determine a team's "heat" anyway? Why not the last 10, during which Seattle is 9-1 with one close road loss to a winning team, while Carolina is 5-5, with home losses to Atlanta and New Orleans and three losses by 18 or more points?

And what if the Hawks were just as on fire, or even on fire-r? What then?

What if Seattle's DVOA had gone from 19.3 to 32.8, from fifth in the league, to first? (Which is a harder move than climbing from 28th to 21st.)

No, it's not obvious that one team wins the five-game heat check. There's plenty of evidence that both teams are rolling. Probably just better to judge them based on their last half-season or full season of work, if anything.

Myth Three: The 2014 Panthers are the equivalent of the 2010 Hawks.

Commonalities: Division champ with losing record. Inconsistent QB with health concerns. Negative point differential.

Differences: everything else.

2014 Panthers 2010 Seahawks Snarky remarky
Expected W-L 7.1-8.9 5.5-10.5 bad
Point differential -35 -97 soo bad
Y/P, offense 5.2 4.9 sooooo bad
Times allowing 30+ points 6 8 every other game
Total turnovers 23 31 mostly picks (still heart u matt)
Kick return touchdowns 1 4 yay what something positive
Passer rating differential -3.3 -17.6 explains The Year Of Tarvaris

The 2010 Hawks were such a mess.

To sum it up, the 2014 Panthers are a far more complete team, with consistent defensive prowess, a better quarterback, but also zero Marshawn Lynches on the roster. So maybe they'll outperform the 2010 Hawks' divisional showing in Chicago. And not get blown out.

Myth Four: It's hard to defeat the same team four times in a row, so that benefits Carolina.

First of all, the two teams who met in October aren't even composed of the same humans -- let alone the teams from 2012 and 2013. Turnover's not just something you put a cherry in.

Second of all, three of the wins have already been recorded. Winning one game against a team is probabilistically easier than winning four straight. No matter the talent disparity.

Third of all, that talent disparity exists. If the teams were evenly matched, the myth above would be more convincing. If you start with a coin in hand, the odds are 1 in 16 that it will come up heads four times in a row.

But Seattle is objectively the better team in 2014. So not only has heads already come up three times, it's also weighted toward heads, with one more toss left.

Ninety seconds of research told me that the Patriots -- a good team -- won four straight games against the Jets in 2011-2012 and six straight against the Dolphins in 2010-12. Ninety more seconds revealed that the Panthers themselves have won four straight against the Buccaneers, a team over which they enjoy a talent advantage. Should we expect that to have a bearing on the teams' first meeting in 2015?

Myth Five: Seattle had the bye and will be rusty as a result; meanwhile, Carolina played more recently, so the Panthers have momentum.

Math and History, a duo second in career efficiency only to Death and Taxes, disagree strongly.

No. 1 seeds are 34-14 since the 12-team playoff format began.

No. 2 seeds are even better: 36-12.

Playing that extra week to keep the rust off has helped the "fresher" lower seeds gather precious momentum and waltz into the home fields of the "rusty" bye-week teams -- only to come away with victories 26 times in 96 trips. That's a .271 winning percentage.

I'll take the rust, with a side order of rust, please.

Myth Six: Russell Wilson takes way better care of the ball than Cam Newton.

Actually the two guys are pretty even by dropbacks/giveaways (what I call "Ball Insecurity Rate") since RW joined the league.

Newton: 1629 dropbacks, 60 giveaways. 1629 divided by 60 is a 27.15 Insecurity Rate.

Wilson: 1525 dropbacks, 55 giveaways. Behold, a 27.73 Insecurity Rate.

Cam's not a turnover machine. He actually has protected the ball as well as the uber-cautious Wilson, over the last three seasons.

Myth Seven: Kelvin Benjamin beat the LOB last time and the torrid rookie is set up to do so again.

Benjamin's DVOA and VOA are both negative.

He's 67th out of 87 qualifiers in DYAR.

His 50 percent catch rate is bad. It's 79th among players with at least 50 receptions. PFF has him tied for second in drops.

And he's fourth in targets. Newton will be misthrowing at him all day long, and Benjamin will be miscatching the ball. If 16 games of data are any clue.

I love Kelvin. He netted me tons of fantasy points this year, for an eighth-round draft pick. [PLEASE CARE ABOUT MY FANTASY TEAM] But he is not a good receiver. At this stage in his career. Could he have a good day, or a great catch again?

Sure! That could happen, again. Why not.

Myth Eight: The Hawks have been unbeatable at the Clink in the postseason for a decade.

Since Seattle lost a wild-card game to the Once and Future L.A. Rams following the 2004 season, the Hawks are perfect at home in the playoffs.

Down went the Skins and Panthers in January '06. A year later, Tony Romo lost his job as field-goal holder. Then, in '08, another loss here for the Skins, who must think of the Hawks as a rival, which is totes adorbs.

Beastquake happened (we have proof) and so did last season (just press play on your console or laptop, the XLVIII Champs DVD is in there). So many wins!

All together, that's seven victories against zero losses over the last decade. Seattle is invincible. Yay?

Except that in '07, '10, and twice in '14, the opponent had the ball in the final 90 seconds of play, driving, in Hawks territory, with a chance to tie take the lead.

There's a giant chasm between unbeatable and unbeaten. The Hawks are the latter.

Myth Nine: Carolina's offense is terrible.

Panthers are:

They do some things well. And some things poorly. Cam's having some trouble, as Myth 11 will confirm shortly. The Panthers aren't great. But they're also not terrible.

Myth Ten: Their offense is meh, so the Panthers lean on a stout run defense to get the job done.

Overall, Carolina is tough on that side of the ball. They're ninth in weighted DVOA, which captures some of their better moments of the past five weeks.

But they're 22nd in Football Outsider's rush D rankings, and have faced the fifth-easiest slate of offenses. They're 16th in rushing yards allowed, which giving up the seventh-most rushing TD's.

Opposing backs average 4.5 YPC against Carolina. That's the fourth-most in the league.

Many props are given to the Panthers' defensive line, and deservedly so, but their run defense is mediocre at best.

Myth Eleven: Cam continues to progress as the Panthers' run game takes over, mimicking the Hawks' success formula.


Cam was at or above league average in so many categories last year: Y/A, AY/A, Completion%, TD%, QB rating.

Now? Below average in all five. 32nd league-wide in completion percentage, 33rd in advancedfootballanalytics' AYPA, 31st in QB rating. Not above average. Not good.

His legs aren't making up for it, either. Every year since 2012, he's seen a drop in total rushing yards and yards/carry and rushing touchdowns.

Myth Twelve: Up against a vociferous CLink, the Panthers' young OL will surely fold.

The CLink was 12th in the league in forced false stats in 2012, 3rd in 2013 and 30th (yep) in 2014. You know how I love charts.

2012 2013 2014
Opp. False Stats (NFL rank) 10 12 5
Opp. Delay of Game (NFL rank) 4 6 2
Total (NFL rank) 14 (3rd) 18 (1st) 7 (31st)

A storm of pre-snap penalties no longer rains down upon Seattle's opponents. The noise is oppressive and surely plays a part in play-calling, but teams have adapted.

That being said, Newton's never played here. It's possible that his inexperience will matter. But a) the dude played a big college game or two, and b) I wouldn't count on any advantage showing up in the penalty ledger come Saturday night.