This season, the Denver Broncos are like the top six billed actors on Gilligan's Island and every other team is "and the rest..." Every time you think a team has started to establish itself as a favorite, they show their true colors. And that color is 'diarrhea olive drab green.'
Division leaders went 3-5 in Week 8, with the Broncos, Patriots, and Cardinals looking like the only solid teams at the moment. At this moment. New England was 2-2 a month ago and Arizona feels more like one of those 'Jeff Fisher Titans' teams that might go 13-3 but ... come on. When you look around at all 32 teams, you're gonna see a lot of candidates for Super Bowl contention pop in and out, and maybe even Denver isn't invincible.
The Broncos play on the road in six of the next eight weeks and yes, there's still a chance that the Seahawks can finish first in DVOA for the third year in a row.
This week, out of the top eight teams in DVOA, only two teams were victorious: Denver and Seattle. The Ravens, Packers, Colts, Eagles, Cowboys, and Chargers all lost, closing the gap between whatever they are and whatever the Chiefs, Dolphins, Patriots, Lions, and Bengals are. So where does that leave the Seahawks?
Well, they remain as the only team to beat the Broncos this season. They've proven that they're capable of beating anyone in the NFL and not just on "any given Sunday" but on many given Sundays. Seattle has played shorthanded, again, with the loss of a middle linebacker who was playing like a genuine All-Pro candidate, a starting tight end who plays a more critical role than most realize, a starting corner, and an unexpected change of direction at wide receiver.
And this past week, the Seahawks went into Carolina for the third year in a row -- with largely the same players and coaching philosophies on both sides in all three games -- and won for the third year in a row. That seems like "old hat" but winning three straight road games in any environment, especially at an east coast team with considerable talent, is anything but routine. Even if it is becoming a routine.
When it comes to deciding on who the second best team in the NFL is right now, Seattle is a candidate. They're a very strong candidate. If you're saying "No!" it's because you're focusing on their three losses instead of focusing on who their relative competition is for the title. Fans of every other good team except for the Broncos, are asking the same questions of themselves. Do you think that Cards fans have a sudden burst of confidence in their team after decades as a "floater" in the standings? Or that the Packers and Cowboys are quite happy with themselves right now?
With a win over the Raiders in Week 9, the only team in the league without a win, the Seahawks would be 5-3 in the first half and possibly just a game back of Arizona; the Cards play in Dallas this week. By Week 12, when they play Arizona in Seattle, they could be in position to take a strong hold on the NFC West with a win.
As of now, the Seahawks could be better, but when it comes to other teams being better than them, I'm not sure there is more than one that actually is. (And they beat that team.)
Some advanced stats to ponder for y'all:
Seahawks at Panthers, Win Probability Chart (via Pro-Football-Reference)
Kelvin Benjamin's leaping 51-yard grab over Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas wasn't just shocking and stunning, it was also quite valuable. Where you see the red figure "32.5%" is when it happened, making it the most valuable play of the game and giving Carolina a 75% chance to win the game shortly thereafter. However, both team's inability to score touchdowns instead of field goals kept the game extremely close throughout and it would be the first team to get six that would win.
That team was not the Panthers.
Play of the game
As Carl Winslow might say, "It's a rare condition, this day in age" to score the game's only touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Luke Willson's 23-yard score with :53 seconds left ended the game with virtual certainty, especially since it gave the Seahawks a critical 4-point advantage instead of three. The way that Cam Newton and the offensive line played on the final series however, it wouldn't have mattered either way.
Dope (good) and Dope (bad) (chart via Advanced Football Analytics)
As Danny Tanner might say, "Whatever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy" and Marshawn Lynch, of course.
The good kinda dope - Greg Scruggs
Greg Scruggs?! Indeed.
Getting extensive playing time for the first time all year after missing 2013 with a torn ACL, Scruggs went back to flashing that short-term brilliance he sometimes displayed as a rookie in 2012. Scruggs played 31 snaps, more than Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams, and had a tackle, a QB hit, and a QB hurry. As of now, it seems like Scruggs is the true second fiddle to Brandon Mebane and because of his youth and unknown potential, could actually just become the top defensive tackle on the team.
Also, if you've seen him on Twitter you'd know that he seems like a really dope dude.
Hella dope - Marcus Burley
Marcus Burley?! Yep.
While the lasting image of Sherman is getting "Jamin'd" by Kelvin and for Tharold Simon, seeing a ball bounce right off his chest, Burley didn't embarrass himself on Sunday when he made a leaping interception to remind folks that this used to be the best secondary in the NFL.
It still could be again.
Hurley Burley was targeted four times, allowing two catches for 20 yards and that pick. He's gotten extensive playing time this year out of nowhere after being dealt to Seattle from Indy for a sixth round pick and it's really looking like he was worth it. Maybe Burley isn't starter material but as he's shown, he doesn't need to be to be valuable.
It's worth noting that other than the dropped pick, Simon did more than could have been asked of him. Simon was targeted once all game, no catches (for either him or the receiver) and three tackles.
I'm not gonna call him a dope, but ... - Marshawn Lynch
Before the game, Jay Glazer revealed the not-actually-breaking news that Lynch probably wouldn't be with the Seahawks next year. I believe he definitively said he wouldn't, but that's just stupid. Especially by Glazer's standards. Anything could happen between now and then.
Lynch had 14 carries for just 62 yards, with 25 yards coming on a single carry. He had 13 carries for 37 yards otherwise.
But Lynch got really poor marks in the passing game as he was targeted four times and made one catch for two yards. One of his targets was for a touchdown but he couldn't hold onto the football and it became an interception instead. That was one of two drops by Lynch.
Consider that he didn't have a drop all season and he only had one drop in all of 2013, so this was an especially poor game for a guy who was kind of in the news before the game for another slight negative that he's "beefing" with the front office. There's a season to be played before next season, so let's hope that it's not actually a distraction.
But Lynch seemed kinda distracted.
Inside Outsiders DVOA Update (via Football Outsiders)
As Zach Morris might say, "It's alright cause I'm saved by the" fact that almost every other good team lost this week.
Green Bay's embarrassing loss to New Orleans drops them from three to five, opening the Seahawks to jump up one spot to number three. Seattle looks like they're a hot point behind the Ravens but it wouldn't take much to close that gap, honestly. They're deficit from the Broncos is very considerable, and it's not like they have to worry about winning the DVOA title, but I do worry about it, okay? Don't you judge me.
It's not that they couldn't overcome it though. The Seahawks second half performance in 2012 helped them overcome an even unlikelier rise to the top of DVOA and if Denver falters in their second half road schedule, the gap between the teams could pull an "Alec Baldwin."
Aka, it could always be closing.
According to DVOA, the Pats and Cowboys are overrated while the Chiefs are a sleeping giant. I've been thinking to myself lately that Kansas City seemed like they might actually be a better team this year than thy were in 2013. Despite a really shitty passing offense and forcing just five turnovers on defense, the Chiefs have two legit running backs and one of the top pass defenses in the league.
Seattle travels to KC in Week 11 and that game will start to feel like a "must win" because five of their next six games are against NFC West teams. How's that for backloaded? And yet, what do you not see in the top 12?
Any other NFC West team except for the Hawks.
Week 9 opponent - Oakland Raiders
As Cory Matthews might say, "When this boy meets" the Raiders.
"When this boy meets" The Oakland Raiders.
Seattle's remaining schedule is pretty easy based on DVOA standards. As mentioned briefly, their toughest remaining two games are against KC (4) and Phi (6) but the other seven games are all against teams ranked 18th or lower in DVOA, the second-worst of which is Oakland at 28th overall.
Even though they are 0-7, Football Outsiders believes that there could be four teams worse than the Raiders, including the Rams team that already beat the Seahawks. So it's not like it's necessarily a given. (But god damn it, it better be a given.)
Oakland is surprisingly ranked 10th in special teams but 27th on offense and 25th on defense. Their offensive ineptitude is heavily mired in the worst rushing attack in the NFL. They are ranked 32nd in rushing for DVOA, 32nd in rushing yards, and 32nd in rushing touchdowns.
DeMarco Murray has rushed for well more than twice as many yards as the Raiders have as a team.
Oakland signed Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year deal in the offseason and he's currently the worst running back in the NFL: 24 rushes for 56 yards. Luckily he's not the starter, but unluckily Darren McFadden hasn't been much better. His 4.0 yards per carry is decent but he's not heavily utilized anyway because the Raiders are bad and he's not good enough to be relied upon to lift them.
Rookie QB Derek Carr has nine touchdowns and five interceptions, not bad for his first season and playing with one of the worst teams in the league, but four of his touchdowns came in a single game against the Chargers. Given his adversity, perhaps Carr could become great with a greater offensive line and skill players. But we don't play in potentials, we play in the present.
Presently, the Raiders offense sucks.
Another surprise in Oakland, like their special teams, is the run defense. They're ranked 12th in DVOA for run defense and eighth in yards per carry allowed. However, they're 29th in pass defense DVOA and that's probably where Wilson will be attacking early to work to build up a lead if all goes to plan. Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson could be in for a treat.
Per FO, the Raiders are 31st against number one WRs, 25th against a number two, and 31st against all other wide receivers.
At this point, the Seahawks might back off in the passing game. The Raiders have faced the second-fewest number of pass attempts this year and the most rushing attempts. With Wilson's scrambling this season, Seattle is first in yards per carry.
People get antsy when I say that the Seahawks should win a game. Well, come on, let's be serious. The Seahawks should absolutely win this game. They should win it by 20. They should be able to take Wilson out by the fourth quarter. Maybe they'll lose but that definitely should not happen. If it does, someone done fucked up and that's what could happen, but definitely not what should.
"When this boy meets" the Raiders.
Russell Wilson stats update
This week: 20-of-32, 199 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 77.5 passer rating, 6.21 Y/A, -37 DYAR (24th), six rushes for 35 yards, one fumble
As Darkwing Duck might say, "This. Is. Dangerous."
Football Outsiders notes that in the red zone, Wilson was 2-of-6 for nine yards and an interception. But I think we all know that if Marshawn Lynch had caught the pass thrown to him, it would be a touchdown instead of a pick and that changes a lot.
For what it's worth, Wilson is posting a passer rating of 81.0 in his last three games, tossing three touchdowns and two interceptions with 6.65 yards per attempt. However, one of those games was arguably the best of his career and this past week maybe he's at 2 TD/0 INT instead of 1/1 with a fraction of an inch difference. But I rarely like to deal in "What if's" so I'll still say that this was not a great game for him. It's the 7th-worst Y/A of his career, 8th-worst passer rating.
Wilson is now 3-0 in his career in Carolina with 71.11% passing, 3 TD/3 INT and a rating of 92.8. He's rushed 16 times for only 54 yards.
This season: 135-of-207, 65.2%, 1,490 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 7.2 Y/A, 98.1 rating, 44 rushes for 362 yards, three touchdowns, six fumbles
Anyone else that's semi-obsessed with Wilson posting great stats should hope that he goes hard in the Clink against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. With one great performance, Russell can hit the midway point on par with expectations and then some. Not only will he be playing against one of the worst pass defenses in the league, but he'll do so at home; Wilson has a 107.7 career rating in Clink compared to a 94.0 on the road.
Wilson has the second-highest home QB rating in NFL history for a player's first three official seasons, behind Kurt Warner.
This career: 644-of-1007, 64%, 204.2 yards per game, 63 TD/22 INT, 7.9 Y/A, 100.1 rating, 234 carries for 1,390 yards, eight touchdowns, 5.9 Y/A, 24 fumbles
Wilson just had his ninth career fourth quarter comeback, which tied Jim Zorn for the third-most in franchise history. It was his 12th career game-winning drive, which surpassed Zorn for third. By the way, Zorn played in 126 games with Seattle and Wilson has played in 39.