By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin (@footballfacts)
The great American poet Huey Lewis once proclaimed: “New York, New York is everything they say and no place that I’d rather be.”
Alicia Keys and Frank Sinatra had a few famous words on the topic, too.
We expect the 12th Man will be humming any of those tunes this year, as Super Bowl XLVIII, and quite possibly the Seattle Seahawks, land in the Big Apple for America’s Big Game.
Don’t book your tickets for New York City just yet, Seahawks fans. But it wouldn’t hurt to start tucking away a few pennies to pay for the flight.
The Seahawks produced the statistical profile of a champion in 2012, doing both all the little things and big things right, before finally succumbing on the road to the Atlanta Falcons, 30-28, in the divisional playoffs.
It took something of a miracle 18-second drive and a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal with 13 seconds left for the 13-3 top-seeded Falcons to finally defeat 11-5 surging wildcard Seattle.
All in all, it was a pretty impressive season, statistically and otherwise, for a Seattle team led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Nobody expected the undersized third-round draft pick would turn into a star overnight and become one of the most effective passers and quarterbacks in football in his first year.
There’s no reason to believe Wilson won’t improve in 2013. Coupled with Seattle’s many other strengths, it gives the Seahawks the look of a champ-to-be, with a legit shot to both reach and even win Super Bowl XLVIII in February.
There are concerns, of course: the road is never kind to the Seahawks, who year after year boast the longest travel schedule in football thanks to their isolated outpost in the Pacific Northwest.
As a result of that issue, and other factors, Seattle boasts the NFL’s greatest disparity in performance at home and on the road – especially against the spread, as CHFF Insiders are aware.
Even in the breakout season of 2012, Seattle was 8-0 at home but 3-5 on the road, though those road performances clearly improved later in the year.
We also have concerns about Seattle’s draft, which produced few early picks or A-list talents. And it takes only one bad draft to kill a team for years.
Still, there was a lot to like about Seattle in 2012, and may be even more of it to like in 2013.
So here are six reasons why the Seattle Seahawks can reach, and win, Super Bowl XLVIII.
1. Pete Carroll’s crew was the smartest team in football in 2012
Smart teams win games. They also consistently beat the spread, too. We’ll be tracking the surprising impact intelligence has on performance ATS each week this season at CHFF Insider.
(CHFF Insider is for folks who bet on NFL games and who are seeking a statistical edge, or who otherwise want to know the stats that separate winners from losers in pro football. You can also customize your Insider homepage for your favorite team, whether Seattle or any other NFL club.)
Here’s the best part for Seattle fans: the Seahawks were the smartest team in football in 2012, the team that consistently performed the best overall in situational football, which we highlighted this offseason.
Pete Carroll seems to have a rep as an intellectual lightweight by the standards of NFL coaches – a rep more defined by his goofy “players’ coach” and “pumped and jacked” persona than by that of a great tactician.
But the onfield performance of his Seahawks in 2012 said otherwise: Seattle was the smartest, most well-coached team in football last year.
We looked at the onfield intelligence of each NFL team earlier this off-season, as measured by overall performance in both of our efficiency indicators, Scoreability and Bendability.
The Seattle Seahawks topped the list, narrowly edging out the team-wide intelligence and efficiency of those habitual masters of situational football in New England.
Seattle was No. 1 in Bendability (defensive efficiency) in 2012, at 20.12 Yards Per Point Allowed. The Seahawks were also No. 8 in Scoreability (offensive efficiency), at 13.62 Yards Per Point Scored.
The spread between the two of +6.38 was the largest in the NFL – making Seattle the most intelligent, most well-coached and most efficient team in football in 2012.
2. Seattle’s offense proved frighteningly explosive
The Seahawks were historically explosive in December, with what might have been the best three-game scoring stretch in NFL history in the heart of December.
Seattle beat up Arizona and a fairly good defense, 58-0, in Week 14. They followed up that performance with a 50-17 win at Buffalo. Then there was a great 42-13 beatdown of the eventual NFC champ 49ers (more on that game, below).
During that run, Seattle became the first team in 62 years to score 50+ points in consecutive games, and just the third team, period, to pull of that explosive feat.
Keep in mind that the only other teams to score 50+ points in consecutive games were the Giants and Rams of 1950 – an expansion year in which these great offensive teams enjoyed the luxury of padding their stats against third-rate franchises like the first-edition Baltimore Colts, who were so bad that they folded at the end of the season after surrendering 38.5 PPG.
The 2012 Seahawks did it in the model NFL built for parity. They became one of just 15 teams to score 50+ points twice in a season, whether consecutively or otherwise.
For a little perspective:
Hall of Fame gunslinger Dan Marino’s Dolphins scored 50+ points just once in his career, in a 52-14 win over the Jets in 1995.
The Greatest Show on Turf Rams scored 50+ points only once, in a 57-31 win over the Chargers in 2000.
Future Hall of Fame legend Peyton Manning’s teams scored 50+ points only twice, in a 55-21 win over the Saints in 2003 and a 51-24 win over the Titans in 2004.
Bottom line: it's tough even for even the greatest quarterbacks or offensive teams to turn out 50 points in a game.
The 15 teams in NFL history to score 50+ twice in one season:
- 1948 Cardinals
- 1958 Colts
- 1960 L.A. Chargers
- 1961 Oilers
- 1963 Chargers
- 1967 Raiders
- 1989 Bengals
- 1979 Patriots
- 2007 Patriots
- 2012 Patriots
- 2012 Seahawks
- 1950 Rams (three, two consecutively)
- 1950 Giants (three, two consecutively)
- 1966 Cowboys (three)
- 1969 Vikings (three)
3. Oh, the defense was pretty damn good, too
Let’s not forget the defense was actually the team’s best quality: Seattle finished the 2012 season No. 1 in scoring defense (245 PA), surrendering 28 points fewer than the No. 2-ranked San Francisco 49ers.
Seattle was also No. 4 in total defense and No. 1 in Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency. No team in football made opponents work harder to score points.
The Seahawks were also extremely stout in the Quality Stats that matter most: No. 3 in both Defensive Passer Rating and Defensive Real Quarterback Rating.
4. The Seattle Seahawks physically crushed the rival San Francisco 49ers
There’s a very good chance the NFC title will come down to who claims supremacy in the stout NFC West, the Seahawks or 49ers.
San Francisco, of course, represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last season. But this is still a battle that might work out in Seattle’s favor.
The teams split their 2012 series with one win each. But while San Francisco earned a narrow 13-6 victory at home in a Thursday night Week 7 game, the Seahawks were dominant at home, cruising to a 42-13 win in Week 16, with so much on the line.
The 29-point margin was easily San Francisco’s biggest loss in the Jim Harbaugh Era.
It was no contest: Seattle raced out to a 21-0 lead by the second quarter with two rushing TDs by Marshawn Lynch and a special teams score.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, meanwhile, easily outplayed his young-gun compatriot Colin Kaepernick.
Wilson threw 4 TD passes and posted a 119.1 Real Quarterback Rating, to just 1 and 74.2 for Kaepernick.
(You can see every performance top to bottom in every indicator all year long, including Real QB Rating, on our Quality Stat "Big Boards" at CHFF Insider.)
Over the course of two games, the Seahawks outscored the 49ers nearly 2 to 1, with a total margin of 48-26.
5. Russell Wilson is a winner who has “It”
We were on the Russell Wilson bandwagon early last year, declaring him the NFL’s best rookie quarterback back in November.
The NFL at the end of the day, meanwhile, is a very simple game: you win when your quarterback plays more efficiently than the other team’s quarterback.
And young stud Wilson gives the Seahawks an advantage over most other NFL quarterbacks on a level playing field. But that field is tipped in his favor when he’s paired with a defense as stout as the Seattle unit we described above.
Wilson and the Seahawks were an elite team in every one of our key Quality Stats that measure QB play:
- No. 5 in Offensive Passer Rating (100.6), right ahead of Matt Ryan’s Falcons, Tom Brady’s Patriots and Drew Brees’ Saints.
- No. 6 in Real Quarterback Rating (93.3), one spot behind Brady and the Patriots and one spot ahead of Ryan and the Falcons
- No. 7 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (6.92), one spot behind Brady and the Patriots and one spot head of the Alex Smith-Colin Kaepernick 49ers.
Perhaps just as important as the tangible and elite statistical production are the intangibles: Wilson has the look, demeanor and attitude of a winner. A guy who has the elusive “It” that always seems to surround the great quarterbacks.
Cold, Hard Football Facts writer Jonathan Comey defined Wilson’s elusive “It” quality in great detail last week right here.
6. Seattle is a leader in the most important stats in football
We call Passer Rating Differential the Mother of All Stats because it so consistently identifies champions: 26 of 73 (36%) NFL champions since 1940 finished No. 1 in PRD; 44 of 73 (60%) finished in the Top 3.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, including the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. But year in and year out, PRD is deadly effective at identifying champions and champion-caliber teams.
Seattle was No. 2 in PRD last year, at +27.1. There’s no reason to believe, at least not yet, that they’ll fare any worse in that indicator in 2013.
Meanwhile, we introduced a new indicator here in the 2013 offseason that may prove even more powerful than Passer Rating Differential.
It’s called Real Quarterback Rating Differential, our measure of all aspects of quarterback play. Seattle was also No. 2 in this indicator in 2012, at +26.8. Again, there’s no reason yet to expect a fall off in this indicator.
Teams that won the Real QB Rating Differential battle in 2012 went 218-37 (.855), the highest “Correlation to Victory” over any indicator.
In fact, the top 102 performers in Real QB Rating Differential last year went a nearly perfect 101-1. If you want to know what wins and loses NFL games, there you have it: it's efficient QB play above all else and by a wide margin.
Real QB Rating Differential is so effective at separating winners from losers that we’ve dubbed it the Perfect Stat.
Seattle, as we reported last week, produced six of the Top 100 performances in 2012 in Real Quarterback Rating. The Seahawks not only went a perfect 6-0 in those six games, but they outscored their opponents better than 3 to 1, by an average margin of 38-12.
It’s all adds up to a deadly statistical combination that makes Seattle perhaps the most dangerous team in football in 2013.
Starting humming those tunes, 12th Man. "I want to be a part of it, in old New York ... "