Last Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots had an incredible back-and-forth contest that ended in a 31-24 victory for the Seahawks and unlike so many forgotten HBO shows (Vinyl, Luck, John in Cincinnati) managed to live up to the hype. That hype was fueled mostly by “NFL circumstantial evidence” aka “sports narratives.”
Bill Belichick vs Pete Carroll, Pete Carroll vs his old team, rematch of Super Bowl 49, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, Jeremy Lane vs his ACL and left arm. And while the game could certainly be a Super Bowl preview between perhaps the best team in either conference, it may have not been between the two best teams in the NFL.
If you think FootballOutsiders has anything to say about it, then today’s game between Seattle and the Philadelphia Eagles may actually be between the two best teams in the league.
After 10 Weeks, the Eagles and Seahawks are ranked first and second in DVOA, respectively. Philadelphia has a reasonable but considerable lead over Seattle (30.2% to 23.6%) despite the fact that they’re only 20th on offense. That’s because the Eagles somewhat quietly have the number one defense and special teams units in the NFL so far, according to DVOA. Which I know sounds crazy given the standings (Philly is in last place in the NFC East, three games behind the leading Dallas Cowboys) but is supported by the Eagles’ balanced and deep pass rushing corps; Jim Schwartz’ defense is getting pressure on the quarterback on 23.1% of dropbacks, first in the NFL; their 25 sacks is tied for sixth-most in the league despite not having a player with more than five sacks individually — Brandon Graham has five, Fletcher Cox and Connor Barwin each have four, nine other players have at least one.
Don’t be surprised if longsnapper Jon Dorenbos gets a sack on Sunday.
Last week, Seattle was third in DVOA while the Patriots were just fifth despite basically everyone from ESPN to anyone with a Geocities blog saying that they were far and away the NFL’s best team. (New England remained fifth after the loss.)
Now the Seahawks have their best opportunity of the year so far to get back into first place in DVOA, and for those of us who actually give a shit about the metric, hold onto it for what would be their fifth straight DVOA title — an almost surreal, and for me euphoric, possibility in the salary cap era.
Seattle has gotten to this point with a more balanced three-headed unit that is 11th on offense, fifth on defense, and 13th on special teams. They’ve also got a fearsome pass rush with Cliff Avril and Frank Clark (as Jacson Bevens noted on Twitter, no teammate duo has more combined sacks than those two) and rank fourth in sacks with 29. They could improve on total pressure however, as the Seahawks rank 14th in pressure rate at 17.1%.
As fans, we’d like to see that improve with the return of Michael Bennett in a week or two, and expect that it would. We also hope that Seattle’s run game improves from their current rank of 22nd in DVOA with the return of Thomas Rawls coming on Sunday against Philly, and him expected to get considerable snaps while getting spelled by CJ Prosise on third down. Hopefully that duo and a healthy Russell Wilson can improve them on the ground over the final seven games. And then there’s the offense line, which is the fourth-worst unit in the NFL at pressure allowed, at 20.1%. The best hope there is that George Fant is a massive upgrade over Bradley Sowell, that right tackle gets fixed somehow, and that Germain Ifedi and Justin Britt will only get better week-to-week at new positions. Finally, that the defense only gets more stout with the returns of Kam Chancellor, Mike Morgan, and Bennett. One is already back, the other two aren’t far away.
Almost all of those factors will get tested on Sunday at home against the number one team in DVOA. If Philadelphia wins, it gives them a substantial road win (they’ve lost four straight on the road) and an opportunity to show everyone why they’re deserving of high praise from an advanced analytics site. A loss, and the Eagles drop to 5-5 and have a really difficult road to get to the playoffs, guaranteeing that they’ll still be in fourth place in their own division with six games to go.
For Seattle, a loss doesn’t drop them in the NFC West standings, or even from the number two seed in the NFC. So they’ve got that going for them. But it would expose vulnerabilities, especially vulnerabilities at home, where Wilson is supposed to be unshakeable after October. A win gives them five victories over teams ranked in the top 9 of DVOA (New England, Atlanta, Miami, and Buffalo would be the others) and should really establish them as the best team in the NFC, if not the NFL.
There is a lot less narrative in this game than the one last week, but on paper, this may be a more premier matchup and could even have bigger playoff implications. Will we see these two teams meet again in the playoffs? A Seahawks win would make that very difficult for the Eagles, but if it goes the other way, then it could definitely get interesting.
Seahawks vs. Eagles Preview
Some video and comparison between the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks headed into the game this weekend.Posted by Field Gulls: For Seattle Seahawks News and Analysis on Friday, November 18, 2016