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If I were John and Pete (Part One)

John Schneider and Pete Carroll Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Starting with the 2012 season, the Seattle Seahawks have won four NFC West titles and finished second in their division five times.

Over the last nine years, Seattle has made the playoffs eight times and has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl twice.

The team has one Lombardi trophy to show for their efforts – and ALMOST brought home a second one . . .

Excluding the Patriots and maybe the Packers and the Chiefs, it seems reasonable to assume that every other team in the league would happily trade their results over the last nine seasons for Seattle’s.

For context:

  • The Patriots and the Seahawks are the only 2 teams that have made the playoffs eight of the last nine years. Green Bay and Kansas City have made the playoffs seven times during that span. No other team has made the playoffs more than five times.
  • Seattle’s eight playoff appearances matches the rest of the NFC West combined.
  • New England has made it to the Super Bowl four times over the last nine seasons. Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, and Kansas City have each made it twice. Six other teams have made it to the Super Bowl once, leaving 21 of the 32 teams without a Super Bowl appearance since 2012.
  • Only 4 teams have won more division titles than Seattle has since 2012. Three of them were mentioned above – New England (8), Green Bay (6), and Kansas City (5); the other one is Houston (5).
  • Seattle is the ONLY team in the NFL that has not finished lower than 2nd place in their division over the last nine seasons.

And . . .

  • Seattle is the ONLY team with a winning record each of the last nine seasons.

If I were John and Pete, I would look at that list of accomplishments and consider patting myself on the back a little bit.

After all, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate success, and Seattle has been consistently successful over most of the past decade.

Narrowing the focus to just the last 3 seasons (because “recency bias” is a thing):

  • Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City, and Baltimore are the only teams to make the playoffs all three years. Of those four teams, Kansas City is the only one to make it to the Super Bowl.
  • Since 2018, the six slots in the Super Bowl have gone to 5 different teams with the Chiefs being the only team to get there twice.
  • Seattle has NOT been to the Super Bowl over the last 3 seasons.

If I were John and Pete, that last point would be the salient one.

Still . . .

Seattle has had a great run over the last nine seasons - unquestionably the best stretch in their forty-five seasons of existence

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Right?

—|—

FACT: Since 2012, the Seahawks’ record of 98-45-1 trails only the Patriots who notched 105 wins against 39 losses during that same period.

Let that sink in for a moment . . .

. . . and maybe for a couple moments more.

As most followers of the NFL know, New England has been the league’s “gold standard” for the last two decades, having won 17 division titles, 9 Conference Championships, and 6 Lombardi trophies since 2001.

Looking only at the period from 2012 to 2020, the Patriots have won 8 division titles, enjoyed 7 first-round byes, captured 4 Conference Championships, and brought home 3 Lombardi trophies. Yet New England’s combined record over the last nine years is only 6-1/2 games better than Seattle’s.

Rounding out the Top 5, behind New England (105-39) and Seattle (98-45-1), are Kansas City (93-51), Green Bay (90-52-2), and Pittsburgh (90-53-1). New Orleans comes in at #6 with a record of 88-56.

The Rams join the list at #13 with a 74-69-1 record.

For some perspective, that means that the #2 team in the NFC West finished 24 games behind Seattle over the last nine seasons. Twenty-four! That’s an average of almost 3 games per season.

The Cardinals were 27-1/2 games back with a 70-72 record from 2012-2020.

Then there are the Niners whose 67-76-1 record puts them in the cellar of the NFC West, 31 games behind the division-leading Seahawks.

Thirty-one games behind the division leader sounds pretty bad, right?

It should.

It is.

But the Niners don’t really have anything to be ashamed of, because:

  • The 31-game gap between Seattle and San Francisco is actually the third smallest gap between the top and bottom teams in any division; and
  • The gap between the #2 Rams and the #4 Niners is a mere 7 games which is the smallest gap in the league – BY FAR. The second smallest such gap is the 16-1/2 games that separates the #2 Eagles and #4 Giants in the NFC East.

Plus, the 67-76-1 record the Niners posted from 2012-2020 was #20 overall which makes the NFC West the only division with all four of its teams in the Top 20.

Way to go, NFC West !!!!

The obvious implication here is that the NFC West is the strongest division in the NFL, and it is silly to even doubt that.

(12s everywhere are undoubtedly nodding in agreement right now.)

But do the numbers support that belief?

? ? ? ? ?

Yes! Yes, they do!

  • Since 2012, the NFC West has been the BEST division in the league with a combined record of 309-262-5 which means that, as a group, the teams in the NFC West are 47 games over .500 over the past nine seasons. Forty-seven!
  • The NFC North is second-best over that span with a record of 295-276-5; nineteen games over .500.
  • The AFC East and the AFC West are in a dead heat at 297-279; eighteen games over .500.
  • Both the NFC South (289-286-1) and the AFC North (287-284-5) are 3 games over .500.
  • The NFC East (266-308-2) and the AFC South (255-321) are the only divisions with losing records over the past nine seasons, having finished 42 games under .500 and a 66 games under .500, respectively.

Factoring in recency bias, here are the division records over just the last 3 seasons:

  1. NFC West: 104-87-1 – still #1 (17 games over .500)
  2. AFC North: 100-89-3 – up from #6 (11 games over .500)
  3. NFC North: 99-90-3 – down from #2 (plus 9)
  4. AFC West: 99-93-0 – still #4 (+6)
  5. NFC South: 96-96 – still #5 (dead even, playing .500 ball)
  6. AFC East: 94-98-0 – down from #3; tied with the AFC South (minus 4)
  7. AFC South: 94-98-0 – up from #8; tied with the AFC East (also -4)
  8. NFC East: 78-113-1 – down from #7 (and 35 games under .500 in only 3 seasons)

Looking at the division rankings, there are a number of things that stand out, but the most obvious one is that the NFC West is the class of the league – its teams are 17 games over .500 over the past three seasons and 47 games over .500 over the past nine.

Considering only the combined division records can be a little misleading though - especially when trying to determine division STRENGTH from top to bottom.

Looking at the season-by-season breakdowns for the NFC West helps explain why.

The following list shows: (1) The year; (2) Where the division finished in relation to .500; (3) Where Seattle finished in relation to .500; and (4) Where the other three teams in the division finished in relation to .500.

  • 2012: +6 | +6 | +0
  • 2013: +20 | +10 | +10
  • 2014: +10 | +8 | +2
  • 2015: +6 | +4 | +2
  • 2016: -16 | +5 | -21
  • 2017: +4 | +2 | +2
  • 2018: -4 | +4 | -8
  • 2019: +13 | +6 | +7
  • 2020: +8 | +8 | +0

Looking at that list a different way:

  • In six of the nine seasons (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020), Seattle was further above .500 than the rest of the NFC West combined.
  • In two of the other three seasons (2013 and 2017), the Seahawks matched the other three teams in the division.
  • 2019 is the only season when the rest of the division performed at a higher combined level than Seattle did on its own – and that was by a single game.

If I were John and Pete, I would look at those season-by-season breakdowns and I would wonder what people would think of the NFC West if Seattle were just an “average” team.

None of this is to say – or even imply – that the other three teams in the NFC West are “bad.” In fact, since 2012, the Rams, Cardinals, and Niners are a combined 211-217-4, and while being 6 games under .500 might sound bad, it is actually the best mark in the league.

Here is the league-wide breakdown:

  1. NFC West: Top team: +53 | Bottom 3 teams: -6
  2. NFC North: Top team: +38 | Bottom 3 teams: -19
  3. AFC West: Top team: +42 | Bottom 3 teams: -24
  4. NFC South: Top team: +32 | Bottom 3 teams: -29
  5. AFC North: Top team: +37 | Bottom 3 teams: -34
  6. AFC East: Top team: +66 | Bottom 3 teams: -48
  7. NFC East: Top team: +12 | Bottom 3 teams: -54
  8. AFC South: Top team: +18 | Bottom 3 teams: -84

Splitting the divisions down the middle – top 2 vs. bottom 2 – tells a similar story:

  1. NFC West: Top 2 teams: +58 | Bottom 2 teams: -11
  2. NFC North: Top 2 teams: +54 | Bottom 2 teams: -35
  3. NFC South: Top 2 teams: +39 | Bottom 2 teams: -36
  4. AFC West: Top 2 teams: +62 | Bottom 2 teams: -44
  5. AFC East: Top 2 teams: +70 | Bottom 2 teams: -52
  6. NFC East: Top 2 teams: +15 | Bottom 2 teams: -57
  7. AFC North: Top 2 teams: +63 | Bottom 2 teams: - 60
  8. AFC South: Top 2 teams: +14 | Bottom 2 teams: -80

And, to complete the process, here is how things line up if the worst team in each division is isolated:

  1. NFC West: Top 3 teams: +56 | Bottom team: -9
  2. NFC North: Top 3 teams: +40 | Bottom team: -21
  3. NFC East: Top 3 teams: -12 | Bottom team: -30
  4. NFC South: Top 3 teams: +35 | Bottom team: -32
  5. AFC West: Top 3 teams: +52 | Bottom team: -34
  6. AFC East: Top 3 teams: +60 | Bottom team: -42
  7. AFC North: Top 3 teams: +58 | Bottom team: -55
  8. AFC South: Top 3 teams: +0 | Bottom team: -66

Notice anything “significant” about those three lists?

Want a hint?

Look at the order of the divisions . . . and think back to the original hypothesis about the NFC West being the strongest division in the NFL.

  • The bottom 3 teams in the NFC West are at least 13 games better than the bottom 3 teams in any other division;
  • The bottom 2 teams in the NFC West are at least 24 games better
  • The last-place team is at least 12 games better

If I were John and Pete, I would consider pouring myself a drink to celebrate the fact that the Seahawks absolutely OWNED the strongest division in football for the better part of the last decade.

But then I would remind myself that the Patriots won twice as many division titles since 2012 and three times as many Super Bowls and I would leave the liquor in the bottle.

Because division titles and Super Bowls are the goal.

I would still feel pretty darn good about the accomplishment though.

—|—

What makes the accomplishments of teams like Seattle and New England so noteworthy is the consistent, sustained, success. The NFL is, after all:

  • A league that appears to derive pleasure from PARITY;
  • A league that seems determined to limit both dynasties and perpetual “also-rans”; and
  • A league where almost every team can at least semi-legitimately believe that “This is our year!”

Consider the following:

TEAMS OVER / UNDER .500 IN EACH DIVISION

  • The AFC South is the only division with an unequal distribution of teams over .500 (1) and teams under .500 (3) over the past nine seasons. Every other division has two teams on each side of .500 since 2012.
  • Houston won their division in 2018 and 2019. Had they finished the 2020 season with a record of 6-9-1 (or better) instead of plummeting to 4-12, all eight divisions would have had two teams over .500 and two teams under .500.

TEAM-SEASONS THAT ENDED WITHIN ONE GAME OF .500

  • Since 2012, the league’s 32 teams have combined for 288 “team-seasons” and nearly ONE THIRD of those (91) resulted in a record between 9-7 and 7-9 (i.e. within a game of .500).
  • With the exception of Jacksonville, every team in the league has at least one season since 2012 in which they finished with a record of 9-7, 8-8, or 7-9.

TEAM-SEASONS THAT ENDED WITHIN TWO GAMES OF .500

  • From 2012-2020, there have been 143 team-seasons that ended within two games of .500 (i.e. between 10-6 and 6-10) which is only one team-season shy of 50%.
  • Only three teams have finished a season within two games of .500 fewer than three times over the past nine seasons.
  • Twenty-three teams have finished within two games of .500 at least FOUR times since 2012 – Buffalo and Miami have done so eight times each, and an additional six teams have finished within two games of .500 six times.

DIVISION TITLES and FOURTH-PLACE FINISHES

  • League-wide, 24 of the 32 teams have won at least one division title over the past nine seasons with 19 teams winning more than one division title and 13 of them winning three or more.
  • Since 2012, twenty-five teams have finished in fourth place in their division; 21 have done so more than once, and 14 of the 25 finished in last place at least 3 times in the last nine seasons.

SECOND & THIRD-PLACE FINISHES

  • Exactly HALF of the teams in each conference have finished 2nd in their division at least three times since 2012.
  • Only 4 teams have failed to come in 2nd at least once – and one of those four was New England which finished 1st eight times and 3rd once; the other three were Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Washington.
  • 29 of the 32 teams have finished 3rd in their division at least once over the last nine seasons with 14 of the 29 having done so three or more times.

LOSING SEASONS

  • 30 of the 32 teams have had at least one losing season since 2012; and one of the other two (Pittsburgh) finished 8-8 three times. Only Seattle has had a winning record each of the last nine years.
  • 26 of the 32 teams have had at least two losing seasons over the past nine seasons and 21 of the 32 have had at least four.
  • Nearly 1/3 of the league – 9 of the 32 teams – have had 6 or more losing seasons since 2012.
  • Six teams have had at least 7 losing seasons. The Browns and the Jaguars lead the pack, having each accomplished the feat eight times. They are followed by the Jets, the Giants, the Raiders, and . . . the Bucs.

If I were John and Pete, I would honestly look at the last nine years and I would think that I had done a pretty darn good job! And why not? Numbers don’t lie and the numbers clearly show that Seattle has been KILLING IT since 2012.

Right?

—|—

Here is a final number: ONE

That is the number of teams from each conference that reached the Super Bowl the last nine years without the benefit of a first-round bye.

ONE.

From each conference.

Baltimore got there as the 4-seed in 2012. Tampa Bay got there as the 5-seed this year.

Every other team that made it to the Super Bowl over the last nine seasons, including Seattle (twice), was either a #1 or a #2 seed and had a first-round bye.

And, just to underscore the importance of this . . . As of this year, each conference now only gets ONE first-round bye instead of two.

If I were John and Pete, I would be in my office right now with a cot in the corner and a mini fridge full of Diet Coke plugged in under my desk because there is A TON of work to do and precious little time in which to get it done.

______________________________________

Alright, here is the challenge for the FG Community:

Imagine that you are John and Pete and YOUR GOAL IS TO WIN MULTIPLE LOMBARDI TROPHIES OVER THE NEXT FIVE SEASONS. How are you going to go about it?

I have my own thoughts, which I’ll share when I post Part Two of this series.

I want to know what YOU think.

What would YOU do if you were John and Pete?