Behind the paywall at ESPN Insider this week, FootballOutsiders’ Aaron Schatz is sharing the 30 best offenses, defenses, special teams, teams, and players in the DVOA era. On Monday, we found out that the 2005 Seattle Seahawks ranked as the 17th best offense in the era, which now goes back to 1987 and gives us a 30-year window.
30 years, 30 teams, you get it.
That’s a pretty good ranking considering that there are only 32 teams in the NFL right now, which means over a 30 year period you’re looking at about 900 total teams — give or take with the expansions to Carolina, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Houston. I think it was also a safe bet to any Seahawks fan that at least the franchise’s 2013 iteration on defense would rank even higher.
Indeed, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks were ranked as the eighth-best defense of the last 30 years by DVOA standards, checking in at -27.4% with postseason included. Schatz notes that the Seahawks did it against the second-easiest regular season schedule for any defense that year (Yes, they are accounting for the fact that those teams had to face Seattle’s dominant defense) but continued dominance in the playoffs where they held three opponents to an average of 13.3 PPG, including the historically-great Denver Broncos’ O.
In terms of revealing the top seven on an Insider article, I have to point out that FO does not put their DVOA numbers behind any paywall and all of this information can be freely had at FootballOutsiders.com/stats/teamdef. I go to Football Outsiders every single day and you should frequent it also if you’re into stats. In the interest of not re-writing what Aaron already did though, I’ll just give a couple general notes and tell you that if you want to find out who else Seattle is behind, spend some time on FO.
If you think that the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs and 2000 Baltimore Ravens are ahead of the Seahawks, then you’d be correct. They finish second and third respectively in these rankings. The Ravens had the best run defense of the era, the Bucs had the best pass defense of the era. Baltimore faced a lot of bad offenses that year but held opponents to 2.7 YPC and it was their postseason dominance (23 total points allowed in four games) is what vaulted them up to the top three. Tampa Bay allowed 10 touchdowns and intercepted 31 passes in 2000, allowing a passer rating of 48.4. They also faced a top offense in the Super Bowl (the Raiders, technically second-ranked offense that year in points and DVOA) and dominated.
Those teams won the Super Bowl, as did five of the top eight teams, including the Seahawks, but the number one defense of the DVOA era ... didn’t even make the playoffs.
The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles went 10-6, finishing first in yards allowed, turnovers forced, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, net yards/pass attempt allowed, yards per carry allowed, fumbles forced, and third in interceptions. Reggie White had 15 sacks, Clyde Simmons had 13 sacks, Jerome Brown had nine sacks from the defensive tackle position, Eric Allen and Wes Hopkins had five interceptions each, and six players finished with at least 100 tackles.
Offensively however, the Eagles were led by Jim McMahon, who had previously been the QB on the Super Bowl-winning 1985 Chicago Bears, a team that had a defense that very well may be better than ‘91 Philly once DVOA goes back two more years. But McMahon was a disappointment for the Bears for a number of reasons, including his long history with injuries, and that didn’t change with the Eagles when he was 32. At one point he was hurt and replaced with Jeff Kemp, who had been released by Seattle earlier that season after he had thrown 12 interceptions over his five starts. Kemp led Philly to a come-from-behind victory over the Giants that eliminated New York from playoff contention and kept the Eagles in it with two games to go.
They lost to the Dallas Cowboys the following week though, and that was all she wrote.
The 1991 Eagles featured five Pro Bowl players — three of whom were first team All-Pros — but zero such accolades on offense and fell short of the postseason despite winning seven of their last eight games. Had they beaten the Cowboys and gone on to the playoffs, they would have faced the Bears, a team that lost to Dallas 17-13 in the wild card round. The Cowboys then got eaten alive by the Detroit Lions — yes, the Detroit Lions — but I think Philly’s defense could have given them a much better chance against Barry Sanders, Erik Kramer, and Willie Green. And then that sets us up for possibly the greatest conference championship game of all-time.
The 1991 Washington Redskins are considered by some to be the greatest team ever, with a total DVOA of 56.9%. The ‘91 Redskins defense finished 10th in these same ranking and the offense clocked in at 20th on Monday. They also had the number one special teams unit in the NFL in 1991 by DVOA, and it wasn’t even close, so I imagine the special teams is considered historically-great as well.
In their first meeting that season on Monday Night Football, Washington won 23-0. However, that game included yet another backup QB when Pat Ryan came in for an injured McMahon after only six passes. Ryan, a 36-year-old who spent 12 years as a backup on the Jets with only 19 starts to his name and having not played at all in 1990, came into the game against one of the best teams of all-time and went 4-of-14 with three interceptions. It’s not amazing that the Eagles lost 23-0, it’s amazing that they lost by only 23 points.
Philly beat Washington 24-22 in the season finale, though half the game was played by backup QB Jeff Rutledge, who went 6-of-16 for 100 yards. Maybe no team could have ever beaten Washington in those playoffs, but certainly the Eagles are the team we would have wanted to see in that matchup. And that’s that story.
The 2013 Seahawks defense is one of the best we’ve ever seen, and certainly a top-five defense from the last decade, if not number one. The 2015 Denver Broncos have their case as well, so it’s not just era-dependent in terms of why Seattle ranked outside the top seven. But what really matters for them, that definitely still matters to fans of the Eagles, is that not only did the Seahawks make the playoffs -- they won the whole damn thing.