It started with an unlikely run in 2012.
The Seattle Seahawks were 6-5, they were still figuring things out with Russell Wilson, there were better teams like the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, Packers, Falcons, Texans, and Ravens. They had a quarterback, or a defense, or both. The Seahawks couldn't consistently get Wilson and the defense to have a good game on the same day. Wilson was absent against the Rams and Niners, the defense dropped leads against the Lions, Dolphins.
And then, like the protagonist stepping into the second act, something happened ...
DVOA wasn't really at the forefront of a lot of our minds in 2012, but that's only because there wasn't much to pay attention to for Seattle. It's not as though we bandwagon on Football Outsiders when they're kind to our favorite teams -- I'm sure a time will come when the Seahawks are not ranked all that highly, and we'll have to respect that or it degrades what just happened -- but certainly when someone says "you're good" before anyone else does, you take notice.
I don't know what kind of hill Seattle had to climb in order to finish first in DVOA in 2012, but they needed every bit of the "perfect" they got in order to go from a 24-21 loss in Miami to climbing over Denver for their first first-place-finish in DVOA history.
Seahawks DVOA: 38.7%
Broncos DVOA: 36.5%
Over the final five weeks, Seattle went 5-0, beat two teams in the top six of DVOA (Bears finished 6th, 49ers finished 4th), beat the Cardinals by 58, the Bills by 33, the Niners by 29, and forced 14 turnovers. The Seahawks had the fourth-hardest schedule in the NFL, the Broncos had the 31st-hardest. Denver went 5-0 over the last five games, the Patriots went 4-1, but they both beat some bad teams, and not by as many points as Seattle beat good teams.
But even that climb in 2012 seems more likely than the one they just put together.
In 2013, the Seahawks were basically poll-to-poll winners of DVOA:
Seahawks DVOA: 40%
Broncos DVOA: 32.7%
A dominating season from a dominating team that fittingly ended in a dominating Super Bowl victory over Denver. It was tough to know what to expect from Seattle in 2014 because we had never witnessed a football championship before. We had heard tales of failure from defending champions, that the shorter offseason and the bigger target on your back, repeating was nigh impossible in this current iteration of the NFL. None of the last eight Super Bowl winners had won a playoff game the following season, four had missed the playoffs entirely, and none of them were particularly close to a repeat.
Even the 2011 Green Bay Packers, an apt comparison to these Seahawks, went 15-1 in their defense season before getting blown out by the New York Giants in the division round. But at least they actually stayed as the best team in the league.
So too, despite an impossible late-season climb, have the Seattle Seahawks.
Football Outsiders DVOA Finale (via Football Outsiders)
The Seahawks dropped as far as seventh in DVOA this season. They were 6-4 and nothing short of winning out against a slate of playoff hopefuls plus a mini-collapse from the Broncos would get them their third straight first-place in DVOA.
Somebody get me Al Michaels on the phone so I can tell him, "Yes, I do believe in them."
After 10 games, Seattle was sixth in offense, ninth in defense, and 23rd in special teams. Denver was first at 31.5%, followed by the Packers, Ravens, Dolphins, Patriots, Chiefs, and then the Seahawks at 15.1%. Maybe it's difficult to understand what exactly the "percentage" means, because DVOA is still mysterious to many, but it's not hard to see with only about 1/3rd of the season left to go, Seattle was well behind Denver, and had six other teams to climb over.
Then they beat the Cardinals, and jumped over Kansas City.
1. DEN 35.6%
2. NE 25.7%
3. GB 24.5%
4. BAL 22.4%
5. MIA 19.1%
6. SEA 18.5%
Then they beat the 49ers, and jumped over Miami.
1. DEN 34.6%
2. NE 25.3%
3. GB 23.9%
4. BAL 21.6%
5. SEA 21.4%
Then they beat the Eagles, and jumped over two teams.
1. DEN 35%
2. NE 26.3%
3. SEA 25.6%
They beat the 49ers again and everything remained about the same, with the Broncos falling by 1.8%, but following a second win over the Cardinals and Denver's loss to Cincinnati, there was astonishingly only a small gap to make up:
1. DEN 29.2%
2. SEA 28.9%
The jumps in rankings for the units were smallish -- up to fourth in offense, fourth in defense, and 21st in special teams -- but the Broncos drop, despite the fact that they won five of their last six games, was enough to open the door for Seattle to become the second team in DVOA history to finish first three years in a row, after the Dallas Cowboys did so from 1992 to 1994. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl in '92, '93, and '95.
Denver didn't really have much of a chance to affect the final standings, as evidenced by the fact that they beat the Oakland Raiders 47-14 and still fell to second.
Because beating one of the worst teams at home isn't as impressive as beating a team that was 12th in Weighted DVOA going into Week 17, holding them to 245 yards, and forcing three turnovers. The Seahawks truly took over the lead in DVOA in the "closing seconds" of the season, having outscored the Rams 14-0 in the final quarter of the final game. Without that, their streak of DVOA championships would have ended at two.
Instead, it lives on. Truly unbelievable.
Seahawks vs Rams Win Probability Chart (via Pro-Football-Reference)
St. Louis gave Seattle fits in a way that only St. Louis can do. Just as the fourth quarter approached, the Rams may have even been getting the better of the Seahawks. Then Jordan Hill happened.
Word is getting around to other teams: Don't let Jordan Hill happen.
Seattle had three straight possessions in the first half that ended in: Downs, Interception, Fumble, but the defense easily held the St. Louis offense and then the Seahawks bided their time and won the second half 20-0. The Rams final four drives ended in: Interception, Interception, Fumble, Downs.
Play of the Game
Hill's line-of-scrimmage interception was good for a 22.1% swing in Seattle's favor and set the offense up for their first touchdown of the game to take a 13-6 lead. Shaun Hill gained a little momentum on the following drive and had 1st-and-10 from the STL 43, but Bruce Irvin picked him off and returned it 49 yards to essentially end the game and give the Seahawks the number one seed.
Tops and Flops (Advanced Football Analytics)
- Hill had 5.5 sacks, 13 tackles, and an interception in the final six games. The second-year pro out of Penn State has quickly emerged as a favorite to make an impact on the defensive line next year and beyond. The bye week should give him enough time to return from an injury he suffered on Sunday.
- The Rams already-bad offensive line got worse with an injury to Joe Barksdale and it showed. Five Seahawks had at least a partial sack, including Hill, Cliff Avril, Kevin Williams, Bruce Irvin, and O'Brien Schofield. Hill and Irvin both added an interception. Irvin also had a forced fumble and a touchdown. The mysterious Irvin finishes the season with 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, one forced fumble, and 37 tackles. We talk a lot about the team locking up 2012 draft picks Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, but Irvin's going to be a consideration as well. Let's not forget he went before Wagner and Wilson, and some might say he could develop into a pretty integral player. If he isn't already.
- Paul Richardson set a career-high in yards for the second week in a row, this time catching five passes for 60 yards. He also had two kickoff returns, including one that went for 32 yards. Kevin Norwood caught two passes for 34 yards and forced two broken/missed tackles. I still think the Seahawks should/will add another high-impact wide receiver, but Richardson and Norwood provide ample hope should it be another Harvin situation.
- Robert Turbin has a very decent 21 carries for 91 yards in the last two weeks. He finishes the season with 4.2 yards per carry, but after three seasons he doesn't have a rushing touchdown. That's not really a "concern" because you should be giving all your potential scoring-touchdowns to Marshawn Lynch, but it is interesting nonetheless just because it's a truth.
His 231 career carries without a rushing touchdown is an NFL record. Previous record was 221, by Brian Leonard, who is currently still "active" without a touchdown, but he didn't have a carry this year.
- I think offensive line is clearly going to be a priority again this offseason. Stopping Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn isn't going to get any easier, but the guys who are doing it sure could get better.
Russell Wilson stats finale
In Week 17: 17-of-25 for 239 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, 9.56 Y/A, 81.9 passer rating, six rushes for seven yards
Wilson failed under duress several times during this game, throwing a pick, fumbling, and taking a costly sack when it seemed like he gave up too soon. It was definitely one his poorest games of the year, but he did complete five passes over 20 yards.
Wilson's third regular season: 285-of-452, 3,475 yards, 20 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 95 passer rating, 7.7 Y/A, 118 carries for 849 yards and six touchdowns
- Wilson does become the first QB in NFL history with a passer rating of 95+ in each of first three seasons.
- He is one of five players with at least 20 touchdown passes in each of first three seasons.
- He's the first QB in the Super Bowl era to have a Y/A of 7.6 or better in each of his first three seasons.
- Only one QB in NFL history had more than one season with more than 20 TD passes and 10 or fewer interceptions in each of his first three seasons: Wilson, who has three such seasons.
Wilson's three-year regular season career: 36-12, 63.4% completions, 9,950 yards, 72 touchdowns, 26 interceptions, 98.6 passer rating, 7.95 Y/A, 207.3 Y/G, 308 carries for 1,877 yards and 11 touchdowns, 29 fumbles, 115 Rate+, 118 Y/A+, 115 TD%+, 110 INT%+
- The last four numbers correlate to how Wilson has been on average compared to the rest of the league's quarterbacks over the last three years, with 100 being average. Wilson has been above average in every notable category in every season of his career, with the exception of sack%, which has been below-average in all three seasons.
- His 72 touchdowns is the seventh-most ever through three seasons. All six players ahead of him did have considerably more interceptions.
- His passer rating is third-best, after Kurt Warner and Otto Graham.
- His Y/A is fourth-best since 1951.
- His 36 wins is three more than any other QB. Definitely a team effort, but Wilson has a lot to do with those 36 wins.
- Wilson's 1,877 rushing yards is second-most by a QB in the modern era through three seasons behind Cam Newton's 2,032 yards.
But of course, Wilson has his eyes now on a much bigger prize. Can he do what Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Ben Roethlisberger couldn't and win a second Super Bowl in his first three seasons?
They've practically accomplished the unthinkable already by getting homefield advantage, how hard can a repeat championship be?