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Seahawks win 90-percent of their games when Russell Wilson’s passer rating hits 110

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
i do this once every game deal with it
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All good little posts begin with a stout disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: Passer rating is flawed. It is descriptive rather than predictive. It can make good quarterbacks look great, competent quarterbacks look incompetent, and it’s too rough of a metric. Doesn’t even take sacks or mobility into account. And what about drops?

That being said, if you want a shortcut stat that’s accessible, you could do a lot worse. Yards/attempt is probably better, but passer rating is a good-enough 35,000-foot metric. That’s why a little investigation into Russell Wilson’s rating, and how it correlates to the success of the Seattle Seahawks, is always on-topic here at the Gulls of Field.

Full disclosure: the idea for today’s brief statistical incursion was brought on by Wilson finishing with a gorgeous 119.7 QB rating on Sunday at MetLife, only to find out that doesn’t even crack Wilson’s top 20 regular-season performances. (Okay fine, it’s his 21st-best. For future reference, here’s his complete game log, arranged by rating.)

The Seahawks are 60-25-1 in the regular season since Wilson entered the league. A .703 winning percentage. Very shiny. Their success is often thought, by outsiders, to be driven by several extra-Wilsonian factors:

  • Pete Carroll’s coaching acumen
  • The Canton-level talent on the defensive side for Seattle
  • The offensive weapons at Wilson’s disposal, i.e. Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin
  • An unsavory concoction of faux crowd noise, luck, and favorable refereeing decisions.

(On the last one, you have to be fucking kidding me with that shit. Yet people do the kidding anyway. L’enfer, c’est les autres.)

What we’re going to find out -- spoilers!! -- is that the relationship between Wilson’s passing acumen and the team’s win-loss record is a lot tighter than many imagine. Perhaps even tighter than you’d imagined. Until five seconds ago.

Seahawks W-L percentage, by Wilson rating tiers

Under 50: .167 (1-6)

50-70: .625 (5-3)

70s: .563 (4-3-1)

80s: .600 (6-4)

90s: .692 (9-4)

100s: .778 (7-2)

110s: .818 (9-2)

120s: .833 (5-1)

130 and above: 1.000 (14-0)

When Wilson is terrible, the team has virtually no chance. When he’s bad, the team wins at a lower rate than usual. When he’s good, the team wins more. When Wilson is great, the team can’t be beat.

That sure looks like correlation. Still, I’m going to group those tiers a little more broadly. Not to deceive you, but to get to the point more efficiently.

Seahawks W-L percentage, by larger QB rating tiers

Below 90: .500 (16-16-1)

90-110: .727 (16-6)

Above 110: .903 (28-3)

Wilson’s career rating is 99.3. When he’s within 10 points of his career average, the team wins 72.7 percent of the time. Let that sink in. The PC-RW Seahawks are a .703 team, overall, all else being equal. When Wilson is who he is, they’re a .727 team. When he’s better, they win more; when he’s worse, they lose more.

Rephrasing: Seattle wins 5 out of 10 times with meh/bad Wilson, 7 out of 10 times with regular Wilson, and 9 out of 10 times with good/great Wilson.

Carroll might well have approached this round of team-building, his third in the NFL, by trying to avoid over-dependence on quarterback play. He turned a bunch of late-rounders and undrafted free agents into the best defense of the decade. He trusted them to ballhawk their way to a lead, to save wins with the clock winding down, to disembowel opponents for fun. He knew how hard it could be to get one’s hands on a true franchise quarterback. He initially sought out competent -- not transcendent — at the signalcaller spot, by hiring Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, and Matt Flynn, only to have Wilson land in everyone’s happy lap.

So now he has that coveted rare gem, the franchise quarterback, whose performance drives wins and losses. Carroll has the locomotive. For better and for worse.

Fortunately for aficionhawkos such as you and me, it’s been for better, far more often than it’s been for worse.