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SB Nation’s Jon Bois shows Seahawks are “Least Volatile” team in NFL over 30 years

“Seattle went 16 years between truly bad seasons” as the latest Chart Party points out

BIG3 - Week Nine Photo by Christian Petersen/BIG3/Getty Images

SB Nation’s resident trickster god and nutty professor Jon Bois posted Tuesday a new edition of “Chart Party”, his series of visual art experiments playing with graphs and other sports data oddities. Previous pro football related Chart Parties have featured “Scorigami”, the nearly century-old art of stumbling onto NFL final scores that never happened before (of which Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the modern master), and the imponderable roster stalemate the Cleveland Browns faced last year when after suffering numerous injuries their best quarterback Terrelle Pryor was also the only decent player their QBs could throw to, and also that time Matt Cassell threw the worst pass in NFL history.

If you’re not familiar with Bois’s work on this web site, he also back in 2014 wrote the voluminous alternate-history epic called The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles: A Three-Million-Yard Football Odyssey, and earlier this summer explored the evolution of existence and game design in the futuristic, philosophical 17776. After you’re finished reading the post you’re reading now, and watching the embedded player, clear your calendar until the NFL season kicks off and absorb all this fantastic free content—oh, and don’t forget Bois’s storytelling documentary showcase Pretty Good, which is the best.

Anyway, the latest Chart Party purports to deal with “The History of the NFL, 1987-2016” but is more specifically a study of continuity and consistency for the league’s teams over that time span. Of interest to readers here, Bois discovers that the Seahawks are the least volatile pro football team.

Much though you may wish to use this to rebut a prevailing narrative about Seattle as a team amidst turmoil, internecine fighting and possible cultural collapse, he’s actually talking about its average difference in year-over-year wins for the past 30 seasons. The resulting graphs are kind of like FiveThirtyEight’s all-time NFL ELO index, except less interactive but way more fun and editorial:

Precisely, that difference is measured as an average change of 2.03 wins per season, a big difference from the most erratic team, the Carolina Panthers, who swing by an average of 4.52 wins a year.

Stability in this sense isn’t necessarily a good feature. For example, the Oakland Raiders, who didn’t have a winning season from 2003 until 2016, are ranked third (or 30th in terms of volatility). Indeed, as Bois writes on the chart, “For a very long time Seahawks fans could count on between 7 and 9 wins”—bracketing an 18-year segment of the period from 1987 to 2004 when the franchise’s win total fell outside that range just five times.

But as Bois also highlights, “Seattle went 16 years between truly bad seasons” marked by the dips at 1992 and 2008. And as we remember more freshly, the Seahawks have won 10 or more games each of the past five seasons, so they’re in a moment of more fruitful consistency, and have three conference championships since 2005 and eight division titles since 2004. As we’ve explored before here, Seattle’s most recent last place finish was all the way back in 1996. Pretty good indeed!

This should all be familiar historical territory for Seahawks fans, but it’s nice to see it displayed so clearly, and be able to compare it so readily to the rest of the NFL clubs. Other interesting nuggets from the graphs:

  • The Buffalo Bills are notorious for losing four (4) Super Bowls in a row, but did you know they also finished with the exact same losing record three (3) years in a row twice (2ce?) in an eight (8) year stretch from 2006 to 2013?
  • Bois doesn’t narrate this video, so the whole thing is “silent” apart from its smooth-jazz soundtrack, but even if you treat the notations on the charts as “chatter” the Browns segment is so depressed it passes almost as quietly in its entirety as the actual period when Cleveland football was dormant for nearly five years in the 1990s.
  • Bahaha
  • The only two times a team’s record dropped by 10 wins in one season BOTH happened to Houston—but to different franchises!
  • The San Francisco 49ers’ curve looks kind of like a cross section of the San Francisco Bay geography, only if instead of all of America east of the Oakland Hills, the rest of the continent fell into the ocean.
  • Remember what I said about the Bills? The Los Angeles/St.Louis/Los Angeles Rams did that three different times, only if instead of consecutive seasons with the same record they went from bad to worse and worse.
  • Is Jim Miller, the quarterback responsible for the Chicago Bears’ sudden spike in 2001 (that 11-2 season for Miller accounts for the vast majority of Miller’s 15 lifetime wins against 12 career losses), the sober version of former Niners passer Jim Druckenmiller?
  • The Atlanta Falcons anecdote Bois chooses is more brilliant—and more Falcons—than any 28-3 joke you could ever make.

Look at the still images of the graphs for all 32 NFL teams at the post’s original home here.