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Checkdowns: YPC Differential Leaders

Wilson's rushing prowess has powered Seattle this year

Wilson's rushing prowess has powered Seattle this year

Last season, the Seahawks posted the best ANY/A differential in the NFL. In fact, it was the 9th best ANY/A differential of any team since the merger, and Seattle wound up becoming the 5th team in the top ten in that statistic to win the Super Bowl.

You heard all about Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and the great Seahawks pass defense, and it’s not as though Russell Wilson was flying under the radar, either. But this year, the Seahawks are recording even more extreme statistics in a different differential stat.

Yards per carry is super overrated: Danny Tuccitto did a nice job revealing that just a couple of days ago. But hey, I love trivia, so let’s move on.

Seattle ranks 1st in the NFL in yards per carry (5.08). Marshawn Lynch is at 4.2 YPC on 132 carries, but it’s Wilson’s 7.6 yards per carry average on 52 carries that sets the Seahawks apart. But the defense — so unstoppable against the pass in 2013 — ranks 1st in this metric, too. Seattle is allowing just 3.19 yards per carry this year; if it holds, that would be the best mark since the 2010 Steelers.

Combine, though, is where the Seahawks really stand out. Seattle has a 1.89 YPC differential, defined as YPC for the offense minus YPC allowed for the defense. How good is that? If it holds, it would be the 2nd best mark since 1950: [click to continue…]

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Over at Five Thirty Eight, I look at whether the Broncos pass offense, or the Seahawks pass defense, is more immune from regression to the mean.

 As a general rule, elite offenses are further from league average than great defenses, so offensive regression isn’t as likely as defensive regression. It helps, too, that research has shown offenses to be more consistent from year to year than defenses. All else being equal, we would expect the Broncos to be the more likely team to repeat last year’s brilliant performance.But all else isn’t equal. Denver produced 2013’s record-breaking numbers while playing defenses from the AFC South and the NFC East; those will be replaced this year by the AFC East and the NFC West, divisions that present much more formidable challenges. That’s a significant change.

According to Football Outsiders, Denver played the third-easiest slate of opposing defenses in 2013. Based purely on adjusted net yards per attempt, the average defense Manning faced last year was 0.44 ANY/A below average, and that’s after adjusting those defenses’ ratings for the fact that they played Manning. Only Alex Smith and Robert Griffin III faced more cupcakes. Last year, Manning didn’t Omaha against a single defense that ranked in the top eight in strength-of-schedule ANY/A; this year, he’s set to face six opponents that ranked in the top eight in that metric in 2013.

You can read the full article here.

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In the Super Bowl era, there has been just one team that was both the youngest in the league and one of the five best teams in football: the 2012 Seattle Seahawks. As friend of Football Perspective Neil Paine recently pointed out, being young and great has historically been a good predictor of teams that have become dynasties. Consider the table below. It captures every team since 1966 that ranked amongst the five youngest teams by Approximate Value (AV)-weighted age and had at least 12 Pythagenpat wins, adjusting everything to a 16-game schedule.1

TeamYearPyth WinsAV-wtd ageAge Rank
PIT197213.525.65
DAL199212.626.42
DAL199312.426.74
STL199914.226.65
CHI200112.426.55
SDG200612.626.55
IND200712.826.74
SEA201212.625.81
SEA201313.1263

There are seven unique teams on this list, not counting the two repeaters. When trying to predict what’s going to happen with the Seahawks, there are two different ways to look at this list. The first looks good for their dynasty potential. The first two teams on the list, the ’72 Steelers and the ’92 Cowboys went on to win multiple Super Bowls. The closest comparison in terms of age also looks pretty good. Teams used to be younger, so the best comparison probably isn’t the ’72 Steelers, who were even younger by age but were only the fifth-youngest team in 1972, but the ’92-’93 Cowboys. They are the only other team on this list to be so young and so good.

Of course, even the Cowboys had a pretty short run. Their stay at the top was nothing like the ’70s Steelers or ’80s Niners, who were also quite young.2 Free agency helped to minimize their time on top. The ’90s Cowboys were the first great team in the free agency era. Players gained full freedom of movement only in the year after their first Super Bowl. Plan B free agency allowed limited movement starting in 1989.

Free agency and the salary cap help to explain the path of the other four teams on the list. They point towards a more cautious prediction about the Seahawks’ dynasty hopes. Between them, the ’99 Rams, ’01 Bears, ’06 Chargers, and ’07 Colts won one Super Bowl and played in two others. Within three years of their great-and-young season, only the Chargers were significantly better than league-average.

These more recent examples may do a better job of predicting the Seahawks future success. Before the beginning of full free agency in 1993, good-and-relatively-young teams appear to have generally followed a clear and sustained upwards trajectory over the long term. Since then, however, success has generally been less sustainable. The table below looks at teams’ strengths over time according to PFR’s Simple Rating System.3 Here I’ve made the cutoff any team that was in the five youngest teams in a given year and also had a SRS rating of at least 6. The table shows the trend in strength for the previous season and the following three seasons.

TeamYearSRS (t-1)SRS (t)SRS (t+1)SRS (t+2)SRS Wins (t+3)AV-wtd ageAge Rank
PIT1972-3.6108.26.814.225.65
BAL1975-8.78.69.85-8.825.95
SFO1981-6.26.2-2.48.712.725.83
NOR1987010.11.54.6-1.3264
DAL19924.49.99.610.19.726.42
Average-2.828.965.347.045.325.943.8
TeamYearSRS (t-1)SRS (t)SRS (t+1)SRS (t+2)SRS (t+3)AV-wtd ageAge Rank
DAL19939.99.610.19.72.426.74
IND1999-5.46.17.9-3.81.225.61
STL1999-2.311.93.113.4-3.326.65
IND20006.17.9-3.81.2726.33
CHI2001-6.37.9-5.3-3.5-8.226.55
BAL2003-2.16.36.1-1.89.326.43
IND20031.2711.410.85.926.54
SDG2004-6.89.19.910.28.826.52
BAL20046.36.1-1.89.3-6.726.73
SDG20059.19.910.28.8526.85
JAX20064.87.56.8-2.5-6.526.52
SDG20069.910.28.856.626.55
SDG200710.28.856.64.826.42
IND20075.9126.55.92.926.74
SEA20120.812.21325.81
SEA201312.213263
Average3.349.095.864.952.0926.413.25

One surprising pattern in these data is just how infrequently young teams won in the past. From 1966-1992, only five teams were among the five youngest and still had an SRS of at least 6. Since 1993, it’s happened 16 times. In the past, teams had more of an opportunity to gradually build strength. So it looks like there was a greater share of young teams building for something and old teams trying to stay on top. Since 1993, the standard deviation of team ages is about 20% smaller than it was before that. In the last ten years, the standard deviation is about 30% smaller than it was before 1993. The ages of rosters are more compressed than they used to be.

The other thing to take away from these tables is the dropoff in years 2 and 3 since full free agency. For the pre-1993 teams, the good-and-young teams held much of their value. After starting at an average SRS of 8.96, they were still at 7.04 two years later and then 5.3 three years later. Since 1993, teams have deteriorated more quickly. From an average of 9.09, the more recent high quality young teams fell to 4.95 two years later and all the way to 2.09 three years later.

Since there are only five teams in the pre-1993 group, we want to be careful with interpreting too much into the earlier data. It’s possible that the ’72 Steelers and ’81 Niners are anomalies. At the same time, the success three years later is skewed downwards by the ’75 Colts, who would have been much stronger in ’78 if they had a healthy Bert Jones.

With the bigger set of more recent teams, the clear takeaway is that in the current era, even very good and young teams are just slightly better than average than three years later. The Seahawks may buck this trend, but they probably won’t. With Russell Wilson to sign and long-term cap hits for players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, they’re more likely to have a brief run than a long one.

Another alternative may be available, though. If Wilson makes the leap into the Brady-Manning class (he may) and Pete Carroll turns out to be a truly elite coach (also possible), they may be able to fashion a New England-kind of dynasty. That sort of dynasty is not really built on youth. Consider the aging patterns of the last five teams of the decade.

healy age

The ‘60s Packers, ‘70s Steelers, ’80s Niners, ‘90s Cowboys all showed the same pattern of being relatively young and then progressively aging during their runs. On the other hand, the Patriots show an entirely different pattern. They’re the only dynasty to actually not age as their run progressed. They started old and stayed old through their Super Bowl years. While the Seahawks are starting off younger than those Patriots teams, excellence at QB and coach still offers them their best hope of building a dynasty in the current NFL. The benefits of being young and good are much more fleeting than they used to be.

  1. My AV-weighted age calculations are very similar to Chase’s, but not always exactly the same. For example, I have Seattle third in 2013, while he has them second. We both had Seattle at 26 years, but I have Cleveland also at 26, instead of 26.1. []
  2. They were the third-youngest team in 1981, their first championship year. []
  3. I thank Bryan Frye for sharing his SRS dataset. []
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Predictions in Review: NFC West

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Last week was the AFC West; this week, the NFC West.

Let’s begin in Arizona, where I actually got one right.

Questioning the Narrative on Larry Fitzgerald, June 20, 2013

The conventional wisdom was that Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a bounce-back year in 2013. That view was widely-held: in fact, I caged a lot of my negative Fitzgerald comments with caveats, as it felt like criticizing Fitzgerald was just something football writers didn’t do. Fitzgerald was one of the game’s best wide receivers when Kurt Warner was under center, and it felt wrong to argue with folks who wanted to give him a pass for the mediocre numbers he produced with John Skelton/Ryan Lindley/Kevin Kolb. With Carson Palmer in Arizona in 2013, the expectation was a big year for Fitzgerald. Instead, he produced 82 passes for only 954 yards, although he did score 10 touchdowns.

For the second year in a row, Fitzgerald failed to lead his team in receiving yards per game, with Andre Roberts (2012) and Michael Floyd (2013) instead earning those honors. So what’s happened with Fitzgerald? I have no idea, but he’s certainly not the same player he was during the Warner/Anquan Boldin days. And while the touchdowns made sure he wasn’t a complete fantasy bust, he gained just 22.2% of all Cardinals receiving yards in 2013, somehow falling short of his 23.6% mark in his miserable 2012 season. [click to continue…]

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The Best Scoring Defenses In NFL History

Head of the LOB

Head of the LOB.

Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks and their fans on winning Super Bowl XLVIII. With the win, Seattle has confirmed its status as one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. The Seahawks defense produced a game for the ages on Sunday: facing Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and one of the greatest offenses ever, Seattle’s defense outscored Denver’s offense, 9-8. Led by Malcolm Smith, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, the Seahawks stamped their claim with the ’85 Bears, ’00 Ravens, and ’02 Bucs as one of the greatest defenses of the last 30 years.

But today, I want to look at which defenses were the best in regular season history, and see where Seattle stacks up. Bill Barnwell had an interesting post during Super Bowl week. He used the statistical measurement known as the Z-Score to show that Seattle was the tenth best defensive scoring team in NFL history. Don’t be too confused by the idea of a Z-score: in English, this just means that Seattle’s defense — and yes, I am going to conflate the concepts of defense and points allowed throughout this post — was 2.2 standard deviations above average in points allowed, one of just ten teams to ever produce such a result.

So how do we get there? Well, Seattle allowed 14.4 points per game during the regular season. The league average was 23.4 points, which means that Seattle’s defense was 9.0 PPG better than average. The standard deviation of points per game among the 32 NFL defenses in 2013 was 4.08 points per game; therefore, Seattle has a Z-score of 2.20, because the Seahawks allowed points at a rate that was 2.20 standard deviations better than the mean.

Today, I wanted to do the same analysis but adjust for strength of schedule, by deriving offensive and defensive SRS grades. Of course, Pro-Football-Reference has published offensive and defensive SRS grades for awhile, but I decided to crunch the numbers on my own and see if they matched up with what Neil and Mike did (they did). For the uninitiated, SRS stands for Simple Rating System, which is simple to understand but a bit complicated to derive. The SRS is simply margin of victory (or, in the case of offenses and defenses, margin of production above league average) adjusted for strength of schedule. The key is using an iterative process, where, in Excel, we adjust the ratings hundreds of times; after all, to adjust for SOS, you have to adjust for the SOS of each opponent, and the SOS of each opponent’s opponent, and so on.

The table below shows the top 200 scoring defenses since 1932. Here’s how to read the 2002 Bucs line. That season, Tampa Bay allowed 9.4 points per game less than league average. The average defense the Bucs faced — using the iterative method to derive SOS grades — was 0.4 points above average. Therefore, Tampa Bay is credited with an adjusted rating of 9.8 PPG better average. The standard deviation of defensive ratings in the NFL in 2002 was 3.45, giving the Buccaneers a Z-score of 2.83, the highest ever. The table below is fully sortable and searchable, and shows the top 200 defenses. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl XLVIII Denver/Seattle Preview

Before we get to my preview, I want to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

Last week, I went into the film room and recapped the preseason matchup between these two teams. Today, I’m going to analyze the six — yes, six! — different matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle Pass Defense vs. Denver Pass Offense

I’ve written many glowing articles about the Seattle pass defense, and we all know about the Broncos record-setting offense. Super Bowl XLVIII is the greatest offense/defense showdown since 1950 and the greatest passing showdown ever. Denver’s pass offense is historically great, and Seattle’s pass defense is historically great. But beyond being a great defense, there are reasons to think the Seahawks present a particularly tough challenge for Manning and company. [click to continue…]

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Are Teams Afraid To Pass Against Seattle?

The Legion of Boom May Be Harmful To Your Offense's Health

The Legion of Boom May Be Harmful To Your Offense's Health.

We know that the Seahawks pass defense is historically good, but the title of this post sounds like it was written by a Seahawks homer, right? I mean, who else besides a green-and-blue fanboy (or maybe Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas) would write something as absurd as “Seattle’s pass defense is so good that teams are afraid to throw on them!!!”

The thing is, it’s kind of true. Seattle faced only 568 pass attempts (including sacks) during the regular season, the sixth fewest in the NFL.  Some of that is due to the Seahawks pace on offense and dominance of a defense that prevented sustained drives; even still, opponents passed on “only” 57.4% of all plays against Seattle.

Seattle ranked below average — 18th — in percentage of pass plays faced, but there’s a reason I put only in quotes. Seattle held an average lead over every second of game play this year of 5.6 points, the third best mark in the NFL. Denver and San Francisco were the only teams to play with larger leads, and they ranked 6th and 7th in percentage of plays faced that were passes. This is hardly a newsflash — teams generally throw often when trailing — but that wasn’t the case with 2013 Seahawks.

When Steve Buzzard used the Game Scripts data to determine defensive pass identities, he found that teams were more hesitant to pass against Seattle (once adjusting for the score and strength of schedule) than against any team in the league. I thought it would be interesting to take another crack at measuring this effect. We can use the score differential after each of the four quarters of the game to determine how many pass attempts (as a percentage of total plays) a team *should* face. [click to continue…]

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SB XLVIII Is The Best Offense/Defense Super Bowl Ever

This year, the Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game, 14.5 points more than league average. Seattle, meanwhile, allowed just 14.4 points per game, 9.0 points better than league average. That means this is a true clash of the titans in one sense: when the Broncos offense is on the field against the Seattle defense, the two units will have been a combined 23.4 (difference due to rounding) points better than average during the regular season.

As it turns out, that’s the greatest disparity between any two units in Super Bowl history. One nice aspect of comparing a team’s offense to an opponent’s defense is that you don’t need to adjust for era, since a high (or low) scoring environment will equally help and hurt each pairing. You can simply subtract Seattle’s 14.4 PPG average from Denver’s 37.9 PPG average to get that same 23.4 PPG difference. The table below shows the differential between each team offense and opposing defense — measured by points scored and points allowed per game — for each of the 48 Super Bowls. That means the Denver/Seattle battle will replace Super Bowl I for the greatest offense/defense showdown in Super Bowl history.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 1966, the Kansas City offense faced the Green Bay defense in Super Bowl I (hyperlinked to the boxscore at PFR). The Chiefs quarterback was Len Dawson, and Kansas City averaged 32 points per game that year. Meanwhile, the Packers allowed only 11.6 points per game, providing a difference of 20.4 points. In Super Bowl I, however, the Chiefs lost to the Packers, 35-10. This is the first time since Super Bowl XXV that the number one scoring offense is facing the number one ranked scoring defense, but frankly, the Bills/Giants showdown pales in comparison to this one. The difference there was nearly ten points narrower than the Denver/Seattle disparity. [click to continue…]

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It’s Carroll-Harbaugh X! Okay, the Whats Your Deal Bowl may not have quite the hype of Brady/Manning XV, but don’t tell that to folks on the West Coast. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are longtime rivals who have managed to alienate 31 other fanbases in the NFL. For the record, Harbaugh holds a 6-3 record over Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in the NFL. Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, the site of the NFC Championship Game.

Let’s begin our preview by analyzing each team’s passing offense:

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre.

Picking between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson feels like an exercise in hair-splitting. Over the last two seasons, these two have nearly identical passing numbers, ranking 4th and 5th in ANY/A. Kaepernick was slightly better last year, Wilson slightly better this year, and then Kaepernick has been better in the playoffs. By ANY/A standards, this is a complete wash.

What about the weapons? That’s one area where it at least appears like the 49ers have the edge. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are legitimate stars who combine to give Kaepernick three versatile weapons on every play. A healthy Percy Harvin changes things for Seattle, but with Harvin declared out for the game, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller represent a clear downgrade from the 49ers bunch.

But remember, when we look at the passing statistics of Kaepernick and Wilson, those numbers already incorporate the quality of each quarterback’s targets. After all, a quarterback’s ANY/A or NY/A averages are not mere reflections of the passer, but of the passing offense as a whole. On the other hand, Kaepernick hasn’t had those three players together for most of his career. In fact, the trio has only been available in 7 of Kaepernick’s 28 career starts. In 10 starts, only Crabtree and Davis were on the team, and in another 10, Kaepernick had just Boldin and Davis.1 The table below shows Kaepernick’s numbers as a starter depending on the availability of his three weapons: [click to continue…]

  1. There was also one start, against Indianapolis, where both Crabtree and Davis were out. []
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Cap Space Versus Production For DEN/NE/SF/SEA

It’s not much of a stretch to say that the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, and Seahawks, and are four of the best organizations in the NFL. Over the last two years, these four teams are the only to win 23 games in the regular season or 26 games if you include the playoffs. In the salary cap era, being an excellent team means managing the salary cap well. And, broadly speaking, managing the cap well means finding good values for cheap and making sure the players you spend a premium on deliver commensurate production.

So is that true for New England, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle? The invaluable Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap has salary cap data for each team in the league, which can answer half the problem. But how do we measure production? I decided to use the ratings from Pro Football Focus, since the website provides a rating of every player on every team (although I excluded special teamers from my analysis today).

One note about PFF data, which comes from Nathan Jahnke, a writer at the website. As he explained to me, PFF’s ratings are not necessarily designed for comparisons across positions. For each position, zero is average, but the magnitude a player’s rating can get to is somewhat dependent on the position they play. For example, PFF has never had a safety over a grade of +30, while five 3-4 DEs hit that mark in 2013. For my purposes today, this is not a big concern — it just means view the graphs with an understand that these are not designed to be the perfect way to compare a player. But in general, I think they work well. (And, of course, don’t think that just because Brandon Mebane has a higher rating than Russell Wilson that it means PFF thinks Mebane is a more valuable player.)

To avoid people using my graphs to scrub data and steal the hard work put in by by Over The Cap and Pro Football Focus in assembling the salary cap data and player grades , I have decided not to label either axis with salary information or player ratings. Just know that the X-axis (that’s the horizontal one) is for salary, and players on the left are cheap and players on the right are expensive. The vertical or Y-axis shows the PFF grades from worst (on the bottom) to best on top). Note: to compare across teams, I have used the exact same dimensions for both axes across all four graphs. [click to continue…]

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By all accounts, this was an underwhelming quartet of games played on The Best Weekend in Football. Last year, the division round gave us an incredible Russell Wilson comeback where the Seahawks scored three fourth quarter touchdowns before falling short against the Falcons and the Peyton Manning-Joe Flacco-Rahim Moore classic. Seattle won this year but in boring fashion, and Broncos fans undoubtedly prefer this year’s rendition of Neutral-Zone-Infraction to last year’s heartbreak. In 2011, the 9-7 Giants pulled off the rarest of upsets: outclassing the 15-1 Packers and winning a game as huge underdogs while managing to look like the better team in the process. The day before, Alex Smith lead the 49ers in a home upset over the Saints in one of the more exciting playoff games of our generation. In 2009 and 2010, the brash Jets won road games as heavy underdogs in convincing fashion against the Chargers and Patriots. This was the halcyon era of the Mark Sanchez-Rex Ryan Jets, also known as years 3 and 2 Before The Buttfumble. In 2008, the Ravens (over the Titans), Eagles (Giants), and Cardinals (Panthers) all won as road underdogs. The year before, the Giants shocked the Cowboys before that was our Tony Romo-adjusted expectation, and the Chargers won as 11-point underdogs in Indianapolis preventing a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning upset (no such road bump this year).

In some ways, the results this weekend were a good thing. Perhaps we will remember this as the year the division round of the playoffs felt like eating a salad – a bit unsatisfying at the time, but better for us in the long term. No one would complain about seeing more Andrew Luck — actually, maybe some of us would — but getting an AFC Championship Game of Manning and Brady just feels right. We have become so accustomed to seeing fluky teams like the Chargers make runs that we’ve forgotten that it can be very good when the results match our intuition. Back in April I said that the Patriots and Broncos were on a collision course for the AFC Championship Game, although my reasoning wasn’t exactly spot on (“the key to their success is keeping Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola healthy, although the Patriots will be fine as long as two of them are on the field.”)

But it’s not as if I had some special insight: as noted by Will Brinson, the 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Broncos were the four teams with the best preseason odds. No one would complain about seeing more from the Saints and Panthers, but I don’t think many would argue with the idea that the 49ers and Seahawks are the two most talented teams in the league. A few years from now, there won’t be much we remember from the division round. But I have a feeling it set up two conference championship games that will be very memorable. [click to continue…]

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Division Preview: New Orleans at Seattle

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride.

On the surface, this does not appear to be a very even matchup. In home games in 2013, Seattle outscored opponents by 15.4 points per game, an average that includes the loss to Arizona. In road games during the regular season, the Saints were outscored by 4.6 points per game. Both of those averages, of course, include Seattle’s 27-point demolition of the Saints in Seattle just six weeks ago. The 20-point difference between Seattle’s average home margin and the New Orleans’ average road margin — which, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to call the “projected MOV” — is very high, even by historical standards.  In fact, only 20 playoff games since 1950 featured a game with a larger projected MOV.

The table below shows the 50 playoff games with the largest projected MOV since 1950, measured from the perspective of the home team. For games since 1978, I’ve also shown the pre-game points spread. The largest projected MOV came in 1998, when the Vikings hosted the Cardinals in the playoffs. That year, Minnesota outscored teams by 23.6 points per game at home, while Arizona was outscored by 9.1 PPG on the road. Those numbers combine for a projected MOV for Minnesota of nearly 33 points! The game took place during the division round of the playoffs and the Vikings were 16.5-point favorites. You can click on the boxscore link to see the PFR boxscore for the game, which Minnesota won, 41-21.

YearHomeRoadHm PD/GRd PD/GProj MOVRdSpreadBoxscorePFPAW/L
1998MINARI23.63-9.1332.75D-16.5Boxscore4121W
1991WASDET22.88-7.530.38C-14Boxscore4110W
1973MIACIN21.86-6.7128.57DBoxscore3416W
1991WASATL22.88-426.88D-11.5Boxscore247W
1999STLTAM24.63-226.63C-14Boxscore116W
1969MINCLE24.29-1.8626.14CBoxscore277W
1978DALATL14.75-11.2526D-15Boxscore2720W
1987SFOMIN20.29-4.1324.41D-11Boxscore2436L
1979PITHOU20.38-424.38C-9.5Boxscore2713W
1950RAMCHI23.5-0.1723.67DBoxscore2414W
2008CARARI15.38-7.8823.25D-10Boxscore1333L
1999STLMIN24.631.3823.25D-7Boxscore4937W
1977RAMMIN18.86-422.86DBoxscore714L
1997DENJAX22-0.3822.38W-6.5Boxscore4217W
2011NORDET23.25122.25W-10.5Boxscore4528W
2007NWEJAX21.5120.5D-13.5Boxscore3120W
1996PITIND15-5.3820.38W-8Boxscore4214W
1996CARDAL16.5-3.7520.25D3.5Boxscore2617W
1996DENJAX14.38-5.8820.25D-12.5Boxscore2730L
1979PITMIA20.380.2520.13D-9.5Boxscore3414W
2004ATLSTL6.88-12.8819.75D-6.5Boxscore4717W
2011GNBNYG18.75-0.8819.63D-8Boxscore2037L
2007NWESDG21.51.8819.63C-14Boxscore2112W
1989SFOMIN14.88-4.3819.25D-7.5Boxscore4113W
1985CHIRAM19.50.2519.25C-10.5Boxscore240W
1969MINRAM24.295.1419.14DBoxscore2320W
1969DALCLE17.29-1.8619.14DBoxscore1438L
2009NWEBAL18.38-0.6319W-4Boxscore1433L
1973MIAOAK21.862.8619CBoxscore2710W
1998NYJJAX16.38-2.518.88D-9Boxscore3424W
2012DENBAL16.13-2.6318.75D-9Boxscore3538L
2005SEAWAS16.75-1.8818.63D-8.5Boxscore2010W
1985MIACLE13-5.6318.63D-10.5Boxscore2421W
1979SDGHOU14.63-418.63D-8Boxscore1417L
1977DALMIN14.57-418.57CBoxscore236W
1998MINATL23.635.2518.38C-11Boxscore2730L
1998DENMIA14.63-3.2517.88D-13.5Boxscore383W
2011SFONYG16.75-0.8817.63C-2Boxscore1720L
1999JAXMIA13.63-3.8817.5D-8Boxscore627W
1954CLEDET21.674.1717.5CBoxscore5610W
1991HOUNYJ15.63-1.7517.38W-9Boxscore1710W
2001PITBAL14.5-2.7517.25D-5.5Boxscore2710W
1963SDGBOS12.86-4.2917.14CBoxscore5110W
2012BALIND9.38-7.6317W-7Boxscore249W
1997SFOMIN15.38-1.6317D-11.5Boxscore3822W
1998DALARI7.75-9.1316.88W-7Boxscore720L
1969OAKHOU13.71-3.1416.86DBoxscore567W
1967OAKHOU21.714.8616.86CBoxscore407W
1996GNBCAR18.882.1316.75C-12Boxscore3013W
1988CINSEA15.38-1.3816.75D-6.5Boxscore2113W

[click to continue…]

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Still number one.

Still number one.

After 15 weeks, I wrote that Seattle’s pass defense looked to be one of the most dominant since the merger. With the regular season now over, and the Seahawks getting ready for their first playoff game, I wanted to revisit this question and slightly tweak the methodology.

We begin with the base statistic to measure pass defenses, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.  Team passing yards and team passing yards allowed, unlike individual passing yards, count sack yards lost against a team’s passing yards total. So to calculate ANY/A on the team level, we use the formula (Passing Yards + 20*TD – 45*INT) divided by (Attempts + Sacks).  The Seahawks allowed just 3.19 ANY/A this year, which was 1.20 ANY/A better than any other defense this season.  In fact, it was so good that it enabled Seattle to easily post the best ANY/A differential (offensive ANY/A minus defensive ANY/A) in the league, too.  The Seahawks 3.19 average is the 4th best average in the least 20 years (behind only the 1996 Packers, 2002 Bucs, and 2008 Steelers). But what makes Seattle’s accomplishment more impressive is the passing environment of the NFL in 2013.

When I graded the Seahawks three weeks ago, I defined the league average ANY/A in the customary way: the ANY/A average of the passing totals of the league as a whole. This time around, I decided it would be more appropriate to (1) exclude each team’s own pass defense when calculating the league average, and (2) take an average of the other team’s ANY/A ratings, as opposed to taking an average of the totals. In 2013, the other 31 pass defenses allowed an average of 5.98 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. That means Seattle allowed 2.79 fewer ANY/A than the average team this year: that’s better than every defense since 1990 other than the 2002 Bucs.

Next, I calculated the Z-Score for each pass defense. The Z-Score simply tells us how many standard deviations from average a pass defense was. The standard deviation of the 32 pass defenses in 2013 was 0.95, which means the Seahawks were 2.93 standard deviations above average. That’s the 4th best of any defense since 1950.
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New York Times: Post-Week 15, 2013

This week at the New York Times, I look at the dominant Seattle pass defense.

As the passing revolution overtakes the N.F.L., football fans have become immune to the avalanche of falling records. Teams are averaging 239 passing yards per game and completing 61.3 percent of passes, metrics that would be single-season records. Peyton Manning is on a pace to break the single-season record for passing yards and passing touchdowns, and there was discussion last week that he was not even the most valuable player in the league. Josh Gordon set records for receiving yards in a two-, three- and four-game stretch this season, and the Cleveland Browns lost each of those games. You can forgive fans for not being impressed by gaudy passing numbers when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles starts the season with 19 touchdowns and no interceptions.

The league average Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this season is 5.97, which would also be an N.F.L. record. (The previous high was 5.93, set last season.) The Seahawks have allowed just 3.40 ANY/A, easily the best in the league (San Francisco and Carolina are second and third at 4.62 and 4.73). But since the ANY/A league average has been rising for years, we cannot just compare Seattle to teams of yesteryear. We also need to measure how far from the league average each pass defense has performed.

The simplest way to measure deviation from the average is to measure the standard deviation among all pass defenses in the N.F.L. In 2013, the standard deviation of the ANY/A ratings of the 32 teams is 0.93. As a result, Seattle’s pass defense is 2.76 standard deviations above the 2013 mean of 5.97. If the Seahawks can maintain that level of dominance, it will rank as the fourth best season since 1970.

By this method, the top pass defense was fielded by Tampa Bay in 2002, the year the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. In 2002, Tampa Bay allowed 2.34 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt; that season, the league average was 5.35 and the standard deviation was again 0.93. As a result, the Tampa Bay pass defense was 3.22 standard deviations better than average. In the postseason, the Buccaneers allowed just three touchdowns while scoring four touchdowns on interception returns.

You can read the full article here. Below are the top 75 pass defenses from 1950 to 2012 using this formula:

YearTeamANY/ALGAVGSTDEVvalue
2002Tampa Bay Buccaneers2.345.350.933.22
1988Minnesota Vikings2.155.020.893.21
1970Minnesota Vikings0.724.161.182.91
1982Miami Dolphins1.224.761.332.66
1985Chicago Bears2.744.860.92.37
1974Pittsburgh Steelers1.593.910.982.36
2008Pittsburgh Steelers3.175.71.092.33
1977Atlanta Falcons1.093.551.062.32
1980Washington Redskins2.364.871.082.32
2005Chicago Bears3.375.340.862.28
1998Miami Dolphins3.575.310.762.28
1965San Diego Chargers2.443.920.662.26
1969Minnesota Vikings0.964.671.652.24
1973Pittsburgh Steelers0.583.891.482.23
1987San Francisco 49ers3.215.040.832.19
1965Green Bay Packers2.315.011.242.19
2003New England Patriots3.265.20.892.18
1963Chicago Bears0.814.871.872.18
1986Chicago Bears2.634.961.072.17
1952Los Angeles Rams1.313.120.862.1
2006Baltimore Ravens3.645.380.832.1
1997San Francisco 49ers3.525.160.782.1
1962Green Bay Packers1.395.011.742.08
2010Green Bay Packers4.095.730.792.08
2001Cleveland Browns3.35.190.912.08
1961San Diego Chargers0.913.851.432.06
1994Dallas Cowboys3.765.380.782.06
1956Chicago Cardinals0.653.881.572.05
1991Philadelphia Eagles2.995.181.072.05
2004Buffalo Bills3.665.630.962.04
2009New York Jets3.485.651.062.04
2007Indianapolis Colts3.985.520.762.03
1969Kansas City Chiefs1.764.231.232.02
1990Pittsburgh Steelers3.245.291.022.01
1950Cleveland Browns0.493.151.331.99
1991New Orleans Saints3.065.181.071.99
1971Baltimore Colts1.673.931.151.96
1996Green Bay Packers3.125.141.031.96
2009Buffalo Bills3.575.651.061.95
1995San Francisco 49ers3.915.410.771.95
1964Washington Redskins2.314.61.181.95
2012Chicago Bears4.35.930.841.94
1997Green Bay Packers3.655.160.781.93
1967Green Bay Packers1.284.321.61.9
2008Baltimore Ravens3.645.71.091.9
2000Miami Dolphins3.295.211.021.88
1999Tampa Bay Buccaneers3.495.180.91.88
1986San Francisco 49ers2.954.961.071.87
1960Buffalo Bills2.24.0611.86
1975Oakland Raiders1.214.041.521.86
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The Early Returns On Mike Shula Are Not Good

The Panthers ran a slow offense against Seattle

The Panthers ran a slow offense against Seattle.

Tom Brady and the Patriots ran 89 plays in week one. Chip Kelly’s Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half. The Denver hurry-up offense picked up 510 yards, and would have run more than their 68 plays had Peyton Manning stopped throwing touchdowns and prematurely ending drives.

But if it seemed like week one was played at turbo speed, you probably didn’t watch the Seahawks-Panthers game. Carolina finished with a league-low 49 offensive plays. For those who didn’t closely monitor the coordinator situation in Carolina, here’s a bit of background. Rob Chudzinski was the Panthers offensive coordinator the past two seasons. His team’s inconsistent play and poor record drew ire from some fans, but the overall impressive nature of the Carolina offense landed him the top job in Cleveland. With head coach Ron Rivera on the hot seat, he simply promoted quarterbacks coach Mike Shula to offensive coordinator. Here’s what my buddy and Footballguys.com co-writer Jason Wood had to say about the change back in June:

Mike Shula last called plays in the NFL in 1999, his final season coaching under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay. Since then, Shula is better known as the guy who preceded Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and less for his abilities as an NFL offensive difference maker. In spite of his limited recent experience, … it was his relationship with and tutelage of Cam Newton that made him the obvious choice for the OC position.

Schematically, Shula is keeping the foundation of Chudzinski’s offense in place, but in an effort to expedite the pace he has simplified the terminology. By doing so, Cam Newton can get in and out of the huddle far faster and the Panthers can try to dictate tempo in a way that was impossible a season ago. Cam Newton explained in a recent interview, “Twins Right, Key Left, 631 Smash M sounds completely different than Twins Right Tampa…It comes out of your mouth faster. You get in the huddle, it’s the same exact play.”

The early returns on the up-tempo offense are not good — how did the team run just 49 plays against Seattle? Carolina was one of the few teams to have success on the ground in week one — the Panthers rushed for 134 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, placing them in the top six in both metrics. And while Cam Newton didn’t have a great game, he completed 70% of his passes, which usually leads to lots of plays. How does a team that runs well and throws only seven incomplete passes score just 7 points and get limited to 49 plays? As it turns out, Mike Shula bears some of the blame.
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Wilson does his best Roethlisberger.

Wilson does his best Roethlisberger.

On the surface, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger have almost nothing in common. Wilson was an undersized, overlooked, third-round pick, while Roethlisberger was a first round pick who is one of the most physically imposing quarterbacks in NFL history. But both players had pretty similar rookie years in a couple of respects.

In 2004, Roethlisbeger went 14-0 as the Steelers quarterback. Pittsburgh finished last in pass attempts that season, but Roethlisberger ranked 7th among quarterbacks with a 6.9 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average. In 2012, Wilson went 11-5 as starter, the Seahawks ranked 32nd in pass attempts, and Wilson averaged 7.0 ANY/A, the 8th-highest mark in the league. Both teams were powered by great defenses and running games, and for a long time, Roethlisberger carried the label of game manager. He also appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two of them.

Wilson threw 393 passes last season, an average of 24.6 per game. The NFL average was 34.7 pass attempts per game, which means Wilson averaged 10.1 fewer attempts per game than average. I looked at 146 different quarterbacks with at least 50 starts since 1960 and noted how many passes they attempted in their first 16 starts. As it turns out, only four of them — Tom Flores, Chris Chandler, Joe Ferguson, and Roethlisberger — were farther from league average (on the minus side) than Wilson.

In Flores’ case, he was the starter for the Raiders in 1960 but he split time with Babe Parilli: they were essentially running a quarterback-by-committee in Oakland, so that explains why Flores didn’t throw many passes.

Twenty-eight years later, a similar situation unfolded in Indianapolis. Gary Hogeboom started the season, but was quickly benched for Jack Trudeau. Once Trudeau suffered a season-ending knee injury, Chandler took over, but Hogeboom still had 13 or more pass attempts in five of Chandler’s starts.
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Yesterday, I previewed Saturday’s games with um, mixed results (skip the Denver-Baltimore preview and just read the San Francisco-Green Bay breakdown twice). Let’s take another crack at it by examining Sunday’s matchups.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (+1) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3), Sunday, 1:00PM ET

An offense where the star eats Skittle is a young one

Did you know Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles?

Once again, Atlanta is tasked with facing a dominant wildcard team. Is this the year Matt Ryan finally silences his critics?

Atlanta is only a one-point favorite, just the seventh time a home team has been given such little respect this late in the season since 2000. Home teams are 3-3 when underdogs or small favorites over that span in the divisional conference championship rounds, although one of those losses came by the Falcons in 2010 against the Packers when Atlanta was a 1.5-point favorite. But let’s focus on these two teams, because the stats might surprise you.

Russell Wilson edges Matt Ryan in Y/A (7.9 to 7.7), AY/A (8.1 to 7.7), and passer rating (100.0 to 99.1), despite having a significantly worse set of receivers. Ryan does have the edge in NY/A (7.0 to 6.8) but the two are deadlocked in ANY/A at 7.0. Both quarterbacks led four 4th quarter comebacks this year, and Wilson led 5 game-winning drives while Ryan led six. Considering one quarterback has Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez, and the other is a 5’10 rookie, I consider this pretty remarkable.
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Checkdowns: Deja vu for the Falcons?

Mike Smith's team either just converted a 4th-and-1 or won another one-point game.

Mike Smith's goal in 2013 is to face a bad #6 seed for a change.

Much has been written this season arguing that the Falcons are not as good as their 13-3 record. Conversely, the Seahawks have emerged as a favorite among some in our advanced statistical community: Brian Burke ranks Seattle as the third most efficient team, Aaron Schatz ranks them number one, and Pro-Football-Reference ranks Seattle second in the SRS behind only the Patriots.

Here’s a quick way to summarize the Falcons-Seahawks game on Sunday: Atlanta won two more games than Seattle this season but the SRS says that the Falcons are 5.7 points worse than the Seahawks. That’s based on the fact that (1) Seattle has outscored opponents its by 2.9 more points per game than Atlanta outscored its opponents this year, and (2) Seattle faced a schedule that was 2.8 points per game harder than Atlanta’s schedule.

How often does it happen that a home team in the playoffs won 2+ more games than its opponent but was at least 5 points worse than that opponent in the SRS? This is just the second time such a matchup has occurred in the last 10 years… and the first involved the 2010 Falcons. In fact, this scenario has only unfolded five times since 1970:

YearBoxscoreTmOppRdSRS TMSRS OPPSRS DIFFWIN TMWIN OPPWIN DIFFPFPAW/L
2012BoxscoreATLSEAD6.512.2-5.713112
2010BoxscoreATLGBD611-5131032148L
1999BoxscoreTENBUFW17.2-6.2131122216W
1982BoxscoreRAINYJD5.310.7-5.48621417L
1976BoxscoreRAIPITC8.515.3-6.813103247W

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Season in review: AFC and NFC West

AFC East and NFC East Season in review
AFC North and NFC North Season in review
AFC North and NFC South Season in review

In the case of the AFC West, a picture can say a thousand words.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Pre-season Projection: 8.5 wins
Maximum wins: 13 (after weeks 10 through 16)
Minimum wins: 9 (after weeks 3, 5 )
Week 1 comment: Watching Peyton Manning work his magic was a thing of beauty on Sunday night. The less John Fox touches this offense, the better, but I think everyone in Denver already knows that.

Once Peyton Manning proved that he was healthy and back, the AFC West race was effectively over. Officially, that happened in the week 6 comeback over the Chargers. That win only made them 3-3, but here is what I wrote then: According to Advanced NFL Stats, Denver is the best team in the league. Their remaining schedule is absurdly easy, so I’m going to perhaps prematurely give them a two-win bump. Their week 15 game in Baltimore may be for a bye, and I now think Denver is the favorite.

Kudos to Brian Burke’s model for correctly identifying how good the Broncos were early in the year. After week 9, I pegged Denver at 12 wins, and wrote: As a matter of principle, projecting a team to finish 7-1 is never advised. But this seems to be a good place to make an exception.

The next week, I bumped them to 13 wins, and never moved off that number. They got a late Christmas present from Manning’s old team, and now the AFC playoffs will have to go through Denver.

San Diego Chargers

Pre-season Projection: 9 wins
Maximum wins: 9 (after weeks 1, 2, and 4)
Minimum wins: 6 (after weeks 10 through 13, 16)
Week 1 comment: Unimpressive on Monday Night Football, but the schedule lines up for them to succeed. Philip Rivers is still elite, so expecting them to only go 8-7 the rest of the way is probably more of a knock on them than anything else. A healthy Ryan Mathews back will help.

The Chargers schedule was ridiculously easy, but they lost to the Browns, Saints, and Panthers, and couldn’t beat the Ravens, Bengals, or Bucs. The decline of Philip Rivers from elite quarterback to throw-it-out-of-bounds master is depressing, and it’s easy and probably appropriate to point the blame at the general manager. Going into 2013, San Diego will have a new head coach and GM, and we’ll see if that is what was needed to resurrect Rivers’ career.

It’s not easy to remember, but the Chargers were actually 3-1. At that point, I wrote: An unimpressive 3-1 team with a struggling offensive line. I really wanted to keep them at 8 wins, but their schedule is too easy and Philip Rivers — even in a down year — is good enough to lead them to a .500 record the rest of the way.

But by the time they were 3-4, I had already started with the “I can’t think of anything positive to say about the Chargers right now” comments. I summed up the Chargers season after week 13, when I wrote: This team started 2-0 but hasn’t beaten anyone but the Chiefs since then.

Of course, San Diego being San Diego, the Chargers did finish with 7 wins, but it was another disappointing season for the franchise. It’s hard to think back to September, but Vegas really did project the Chargers to win this division.
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Week 16 Power Rankings

What’s the point of power rankings now that there is just one week left in the regular season? If you’ve asked that question, you are implicitly saying that power rankings serve a purpose earlier in the year! If you want to see the playoff picture, I laid that out earlier this week, so I’ll assume you’ll be staying on this post for the snark.

I was on the Seahawks’ bandwagon a couple of weeks earlier than most, but they’re now #1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings and third in Advanced NFL Stats’ Efficiency Rankings. Seattle is also first in Pro-Football-Reference.com’s SRS Ratings; the Seahawks are second in the NFL in points differential, behind the Patriots, but a much tougher schedule was enough to close the gap there. Now that Richard Sherman is cleared to play in the postseason, Seattle is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They may not have home field advantage in the playoffs, but they do have my Coach of the Year.

Here’s the week 17 schedule along with my projected winner:

Road Team Home TeamTimeProj Winner
Tampa Bay Buccaneers@Atlanta Falcons1:00 PMAtlanta Falcons
New York Jets@Buffalo Bills1:00 PMBuffalo Bills
Baltimore Ravens@Cincinnati Bengals1:00 PMCincinnati Bengals
Houston Texans@Indianapolis Colts1:00 PMHouston Texans
Chicago Bears@Detroit Lions1:00 PMChicago Bears
Green Bay Packers@Minnesota Vikings1:00 PMGreen Bay Packers
Carolina Panthers@New Orleans Saints1:00 PMCarolina Panthers
Philadelphia Eagles@New York Giants1:00 PMNew York Giants
Jacksonville Jaguars@Tennessee Titans1:00 PMTennessee Titans
Cleveland Browns@Pittsburgh Steelers1:00 PMPittsburgh Steelers
Miami Dolphins@New England Patriots4:25 PMNew England Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs@Denver Broncos4:25 PMDenver Broncos
Oakland Raiders@San Diego Chargers4:25 PMSan Diego Chargers
St. Louis Rams@Seattle Seahawks4:25 PMSeattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals@San Francisco 49ers4:25 PMSan Francisco 49ers
Dallas Cowboys@Washington Redskins8:20 PMWashington Redskins

That leaves us with the final week 17 standings:

TeamRecWinsPrvWinDiffRemSOSRemHGComment
Atlanta Falcons13-2141300.5001Mike Smith says the Falcons will play to win this game. I believe him.
Houston Texans12-3131410.6250The best season in Texans history will be secure with a win in Indianapolis in week 17.
Denver Broncos12-3131300.1251The best team in the AFC? With a win at home against Kansas City, the Broncos will finish the year on an 11-game win streak.
New England Patriots11-41212-10.4381A home win against the Dolphins will mark just the second time Bill Belichick's Patriots have gone undefeated in the division.
Green Bay Packers11-4121210.5000Winning in Minnesota is going to be difficult, but the Packers need a win to secure a much-needed bye.
San Francisco 49ers10-4-111.511.510.3131The 49ers can salvage a strong season by winning at home against Arizona; a loss and the team is in a full-fledged free fall.
Seattle Seahawks10-5111100.4061A Super Bowl championship? The coach of the year? The rookie of the year? Seattle might end up with all three in a couple of months.
Chicago Bears9-6101000.2500The Bears rooting for the Packers is one of the weirder twists of week 17.
Indianapolis Colts10-5101000.8751A magnificent season in Indianapolis is capped by the return of Chuck Pagano this weekend.
Baltimore Ravens10-5109-10.5630The Ravens plugged the leak against the Giants, but week 17 against the Bengals will be more like a pre-season game.
Washington Redskins9-610900.6251The Redskins entered the year with the least hype in the NFC East; they may end the year with the division crown.
Cincinnati Bengals9-610910.5631In a meaningless game, I'll take the home team. A.J. Green and Geno Atkins will give the Patriots trouble in round 1.
New York Giants8-791000.2501The only team the last three years to start 6-2 and miss the playoffs? The 2010 Giants. The 2012 Giants may soon join them.
Minnesota Vikings9-69810.7501I doubt they can do it, but if they beat the Packers and Texans in back-to-back weeks, they will have earned their playoff berth.
Dallas Cowboys8-781010.5630Tony Romo is closing in on 5,000 yards, Jason Witten set the single-season record for catches by a tight end, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer have double digit sacks, and the Cowboys still need to win in Washington to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers7-88900.3131It's 2006 and 2009 all over again for the Steelers. Another playoff absence that leaves more questions than answers for Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Rams7-7-17.56.5-10.6880Sam Bradford and the passing game haven't improved significantly, but the defense is above-average. Add some weapons and this team can compete in 2013.
Miami Dolphins7-87700.7500Cameron Wake is having the best season by a player you don't hear about.
Carolina Panthers6-97710.3750Cam Newton ranks 1st in yards per completion, 2nd in Y/A, 6th in NY/A, and 10th in NY/A this year. He's also added over 700 rushing yards.
San Diego Chargers6-976-10.2501In sixteen seasons as head coach, Norv Turner has made the playoffs just four times.
New Orleans Saints7-87600.4381The Saints have allowed the most yards of any team through 15 games in NFL history; they're only 282 yards allowed from the record.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers6-96810.8130Can the Bucs end the season first in rushing yards allowed and last in passing yards allowed?
New York Jets6-967-10.3750Just. End. The. Season.
Buffalo Bills5-106600.4381C.J. Spiller is closing in on the highest YPC average of any player with 1200 yards in league history.
Tennessee Titans5-106610.1251Chris Johnson joined Eddie George and Earl Campbell as just the 7th running back with 6800 rushing yards in his first five seasons.
Cleveland Browns5-1055-10.5630It's been a typical rookie season for Brandon Weeden, which just looks bad in 2012. A difficult decision faces Cleveland management in the offseason.
Arizona Cardinals5-105510.7190From Kevin Kolb to John Skelton to Ryan Lindley to Brian Hoyer. In case you didn't figure it out, it's been a rough year in the desert.
Detroit Lions4-1144-10.6251Calvin Johnson goes for 2,000 yards and Matt Stafford goes for 700 pass attempts as the Lions try to knock the Bears out of the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles4-1144-10.6250The Andy Reid era is going to go out with a whimper, with the Eagles losing 11 of their final 12 games.
Oakland Raiders4-114400.3750Terrelle Pryor or Matt Leinart? This is what the Raiders-Chargers rivalry has come to.
Jacksonville Jaguars2-1322-10.3750It's been a rough season in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars did put a scare into the Patriots on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs2-1322-10.8130The Chiefs are one loss away from securing the #1 pick. I think Peyton Manning will make sure of that.
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Seattle’s HFA

As usual, Aaron Schatz provided some interesting information in his weekly DVOA recap. He was looking into Seattle’s home/road splits, and found that the data support what you already know:

[W]hen you look closer at home-field advantage over a period of several years, almost every team generally has the same home-field advantage, which in DVOA works out to about 8.5% on offense and 8.5% on defense. Teams will see their home-field advantage bounce up and down if you only look at things in eight-game periods that coincide with specific seasons, but if you put together six or seven years of data you are going to end up close to 8.5% difference most of the time. The biggest exception seems to be the four NFC West teams, which over the last decade have enjoyed the four largest home-field advantages in the league. And of those four teams, the biggest exception by far is Seattle.

I don’t doubt that Seattle is a much better team at home than on the road. But here’s the question on my mind today: is Seattle much better at home because, well, they’re much better at home…. or because they simply get more favorable home games than the average team? That might sound like the same thing, but Jason Lisk has done a bunch of research on home field advantage as it relates to climate and distance between the teams.

The table below shows the distance each team has traveled this season. The “road” column represents how many miles the team has traveled when they were the road team while the “home” column shows how many miles their opponents had to travel. Note that I excluded the Patriots/Rams game in London, but instead pro-rated their half-seasons to eight games.

Teamroadhome
San Francisco 49ers2202423317
Oakland Raiders2317722505
Seattle Seahawks2305921130
San Diego Chargers2075520135
Arizona Cardinals1905819569
Miami Dolphins1798118038
New England Patriots1231117764
New York Jets1084617280
Carolina Panthers906714109
Denver Broncos1493313480
St. Louis Rams1298013248
Dallas Cowboys1482613057
Houston Texans1316812705
New Orleans Saints1153912592
average1255812562
Atlanta Falcons876312016
Minnesota Vikings886511633
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1376611493
Buffalo Bills1284511336
Kansas City Chiefs1198710982
Green Bay Packers801310776
Baltimore Ravens891610642
Cincinnati Bengals780110270
Jacksonville Jaguars126079948
Detroit Lions106158659
New York Giants98988416
Chicago Bears99067167
Tennessee Titans94817141
Indianapolis Colts66087090
Pittsburgh Steelers96426792
Cleveland Browns91986784
Washington Redskins72306022
Philadelphia Eagles99925878

Seattle is the most isolated team in the NFL. Now if an expansion team was place in Vancouver or Portland, my guess is that such a team would fare no worse against Seattle than the Giants do against the Eagles or the Jets against the Patriots. But right now, no one is all that close to the Seahawks:

NFL Map

There are also climate issues at play here. Think of the coldest NFL cities — Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, New England, Denver, Kansas City. They all play in divisions with other cold-weather teams. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are playing teams from California, Arizona, or Missouri in their division. The climates are significantly different. Climate effects are very real but also very complicated, so that’s best left for another day.
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Week 14 Power Rankings

Richard Sherman exhibits the proper form for 'You Mad Bro?' in sign language.

It’s time to take Seattle seriously. On Sunday, the Seahawks had a “name your score” game, the type of matchup college football powerhouses regularly use to beef up their statistics. The Seahawks defense took over the game, posting the 10th highest fantasy performance ever, but the offense wasn’t too shabby, either. Seattle rushed for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Russell Wilson completed 7 of 13 passes for 148 yards.

Brian Burke now has the Seahawks 4th in his power rankings. Aaron Schatz has Seattle second overall, and even had them first before the Patriots blew out the Texans on Monday Night. Seattle is third according to the SRS, too. Seattle is better on offense than you think: the Seahawks rank 8th in ANY/A and 11th in NY/A and 4th in rushing yards and 5th in rushing first downs. Seattle is 15th in points scored and 14th in PFR’s Expected Points Added, but they’ve done all this despite facing a pretty difficult schedule filled with good defenses.

Defensively, they’re in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed, rushing first downs allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed and EPA. The Seahawks are 4th in NY/A and 2nd in ANY/A allowed, while ranking 7th in turnovers forced, 3rd in yards allowed and 2nd in points allowed.

They’re really good and really balanced. Are they a Super Bowl contender? Absolutely. So what about that 8-5 7-6 record according to Packers fans? Well, Seattle lost by 4 in Arizona, by 6 in St. Louis, by 7 in San Francisco, by 4 in Detroit, and by 3 in Miami. They were leading in the 4th quarter in every game except the 49ers loss (trailed by 4 late in the game) and the Rams loss (intercepted in Rams territory in the final minutes). They’ve lost some close games in the 4th quarter and dominated most of their other opponents. They’re one of the best teams in the NFL. Obviously they’re even better at home, but if New England defeats San Francisco this week, the entire landscape of the NFC playoffs will change.

If the 49ers lose in Foxboro, the Seahawks control their own destiny for the division title since they host the 49ers in week 16. And if the Packers lose one of their final three games, the Seahawks would control their own destiny for the 2 seed, which would mean a bye and a home playoff game — or possibly two, if Matt Ryan and the Falcons lose like everyone expects. Essentially, Seattle fans can dream about this scenario:

— New England wins at home against San Francisco (the Patriots are 5-point favorites)
— Green Bay loses in Chicago (or in Minnesota or at home against the Titans)
— Seattle wins in Toronto, which would be their last road game of the year if…
— Seattle beats San Francisco and St. Louis at home and…
— The Falcons lose to the Giants or 49ers or whichever team they face in the second round of the playoffs

There are a lot of “ifs” and “ands” but they’re in as good a position as I can ever remember an 8-5 team being. Of course, even as the 2 seed they would likely have to beat Green Bay and then either New York or San Francisco to get to the Super Bowl, so I wouldn’t book tickets to New Orleans just yet.

[As always, the number of wins I’m projecting each team to finish the season with is in column 3. The fourth column – PWIN – shows how many wins I projected last week, and the difference column represents how many wins I added or subtracted this week. The “RSOS” column stands for the remaining SOS for the team, based on the number of projected wins I’m giving to each of their opponents. The “RHG” column stands for remaining home games.]

TeamRecWinsPrvWinDiffRemSOSRemHGComment
Atlanta Falcons11-21314-10.4582According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Panthers had a 62% chance of winning against Atlanta.
Houston Texans11-2131300.5632That's your classic 'burn the tape' game. Houston still controls their own destiny for the #1 seed.
Denver Broncos10-3131300.3962Guess what? I still think the Broncos win 13 games this year.
New England Patriots10-3131210.4272But so will the Patriots. We could have three 13-3 teams in the AFC and no one else with more than ten wins.
Green Bay Packers9-4111100.4581Aaron Rodgers leads the league in sacks for the second time in four years.
Seattle Seahawks8-5111010.5002Russell Wilson will get some Rookie of the Year votes if the Seahawks get 11 wins.
San Francisco 49ers9-3-110.511.5-10.5831Aldon Smith is a monster. He's got Michael Strahan's "record" in sight. But at New England and at Seattle are brutal tasks.
Baltimore Ravens9-41011-10.6462When the Ravens were 9-2, I wrote "I still don't believe in this team, because they aren't going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week."
Chicago Bears8-51011-10.4171The Bears took care of business early in the year, giving themselves some margin for error later on. Finishing against Arizona and Detroit gives them a safety net
Indianapolis Colts9-4101000.6041If it didn't look like they were going to play Baltimore, I'd say picking against the Colts will be the easiest call of the playoffs.
New York Giants8-510910.5831There are no easy games left, but I'm not ready to bet against the Giants.
Pittsburgh Steelers7-6910-10.4792This team suffers so many inexplicable losses, Mike Tomlin has to bear some of the blame.
Dallas Cowboys7-69810.5002Huge game for the Cowboys to beat the Bengals. Wait, if they won, it couldn't have been a huge game, right?
Washington Redskins7-69810.4171NFC East race is going to be fascinating. Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins combined for the comeback win to keep Washington alive.
Cincinnati Bengals7-689-10.5001Just when I start to get on their bandwagon, the Bengals did the unthinkable and blew a lead against the Cowboys.
New York Jets6-78710.3751The Jets proved that they can beat the worst teams in the league. The Titans are right on that border, so Monday Night will be interesting.
St. Louis Rams6-6-17.57.500.5211Incredible job by Jeff Fisher this year. Rams can make the playoffs if they run the table.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers6-778-10.5521I did not see that coming; blowing a big lead, at home, against Nick Foles, means this team is farther away than I thought.
Miami Dolphins5-87700.4582Miami gets to host in-state rival Jacksonville and division rival Buffalo the next two weeks. Unfortunately, it's another meaningless december for the Dolphins.
Minnesota Vikings7-67610.6561I thought the Vikings were done, but Adrian Peterson took over against the Bears.
San Diego Chargers5-87610.3752Keep Norv!
New Orleans Saints5-867-10.4582Drew Brees leads the league in both passing touchdowns and interceptions.
Buffalo Bills5-867-10.5422One loss away from clinching their 7th consecutive losing season. They get to expand their internationl reach in Toronto this weekend.
Carolina Panthers4-96510.3541That's the type of team Carolina could be. I don't think Ron Rivera can save his job, but his team was well-prepared against Atlanta.
Cleveland Browns5-86510.6461Cleveland won by 23 points. That's kind of a big deal, since the new Browns have only won by so many points once before.
Tennessee Titans4-956-10.4582Titans did a great job against Andrew Luck, but could not come away with the win. Next up? Mark Sanchez.
Detroit Lions4-95500.5632Only interesting thing over the next three weeks is whether Calvin Johnson can break Jerry Rice's record.
Philadelphia Eagles4-95410.5632Keep Andy!
Arizona Cardinals4-945-10.5312From 4-0 to 4-12.
Oakland Raiders3-104400.3331This was going to be a one step backwards type of season with a new regime; the question is will they ever take two steps forward?
Jacksonville Jaguars2-113300.5211Fought valiantly for a bad team that's been killed by injuries and lacks talent just about everywhere. Of course, their opponent was the Jets.
Kansas City Chiefs2-113300.5631Chiefs-Raiders this weekend with the #1 pick on the line.
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This is a starting NFL quarterback in an NFL uniform. Welcome to 2012.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were drafted as franchise saviors, and have been expected to start on opening day for months; more recently Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami won starting jobs. Then, last night, Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson had beaten Matt Flynn in the Seahawks quarterback battle. Barring injury, we’ll see five rookie quarterbacks starting on opening day for the first time since 1950 (and likely ever). Before Wilson, we were already in record territory, as no more than three teams have ever started the season with rookie quarterbacks since 1950 (and likely ever). In 1969, Roger Staubach, Greg Cook and James Harris were week one starters for the Cowboys, Bengals and Bills. The year before, Greg Landry, Dewey Warren, and Dan Darragh started for the Lions… Bengals and Bills. And in the AFL’s inaugural season, three teams fielded rookie quarterbacks. But on average, less than one rookie quarterback has started a team’s opening game each season since the merger.

Last year, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were opening day starters, and their success (along with the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) have undoubtedly made teams become more willing to start rookie quarterbacks. In fact, the youth movement goes beyond just this year’s class: in addition to Newton and Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert will be second-year quarterbacks starting in week one this season. That’s another record, breaking the seven such quarterbacks in 2000. Remember 1999, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL Draft? Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Daunte Culpepper were all high first-round draft picks, and all were sophomore starters in 2000. Shaun King, fresh off a strong late-season run for Tampa Bay, joined the group in week 1 of the 2000, as did Jeff Garcia in San Francisco.

What’s the explanation? Luck, Griffin, and Newton were uber elite talents who were too good to sit. Wilson legitimately won the Seahawks job in training camp and preseason, a rare event in any era for a rookie quarterback. But the rest of the group — Weeden, Tannehill, Dalton, Gabbert, Ponder, and Locker — seem to signal a shift in NFL philosophy. The table below lists all quarterbacks drafted in the top 40 — but not in the top 5 — since 1970, and the first year in their career when they started for their team in week one:
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2011 Age-adjusted team rosters

Measuring team age in the N.F.L. is tricky. Calculating the average age of a 53-man roster is misleading because the age of a team’s starters is much more relevant than the age of a team’s reserves. The average age of a team’s starting lineup isn’t perfect, either. The age of the quarterback and key offensive and defensive players should count for more than the age of a less relevant starter. Ideally, you would want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.

That’s not easy to do for the 2012 season, but we can apply one method to last year’s rosters. Using Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value system, it’s simple to calculate the weighted age of every team last season, by weighing each player’s age proportionately to his percentage of contribution (as measured by the Approximate Value system) to his team.

Let’s take a look at the (weighted) average age of each offense last season:

Offense

RkTeamAvg Age
1Seattle Seahawks25.7
2Tampa Bay Buccaneers25.7
3Denver Broncos25.9
4Jacksonville Jaguars26.0
5Cleveland Browns26.1
6Pittsburgh Steelers26.2
7Cincinnati Bengals26.3
8San Francisco 49ers26.4
9Green Bay Packers26.4
10Buffalo Bills26.5
11Dallas Cowboys26.6
12Miami Dolphins26.6
13Arizona Cardinals26.7
14Oakland Raiders26.7
15Philadelphia Eagles26.8
16Carolina Panthers26.9
17Chicago Bears26.9
18Minnesota Vikings27.1
19New York Giants27.1
20Baltimore Ravens27.3
21St. Louis Rams27.3
22New York Jets27.3
23Detroit Lions27.4
24Washington Redskins27.4
25Kansas City Chiefs27.6
26New Orleans Saints27.6
27Houston Texans27.7
28San Diego Chargers27.7
29Tennessee Titans27.8
30Atlanta Falcons28.1
31Indianapolis Colts28.4
32New England Patriots28.4

An offense where the star eats Skittle is a young one

It’s not too surprising to see Seattle at the youngest team in the league last year, and they look to have a young offense again in 2012. The Seahawks will get younger at quarterback if either Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson replaces Tarvaris Jackson. At wide receiver, Sidney Rice (26 in 2012), Doug Baldwin (24) and Golden Tate (24) are the projected top three, although the team just added 29-year-old Braylon Edwards. Marshawn Lynch is still just 26, and the Seahawks added Utah State’s Robert Turbin in April’s draft. The offense line, anchored around LT Russell Okung (25) and C Max Unger (26), has all five starters under the age of 30, as are both Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow, Jr..

The Patriots, meanwhile, featured the league’s oldest offense last season. We all know about Tom Brady (34 in 2011) and Wes Welker (30), but Brian Waters (35), Matt Light (34), Logan Mankins (29), and Deion Branch (32) made were older members of the Patriots’ supporting cast. New England has a pair of young tight ends (Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez) and young running backs (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen), but the rest of the offense remains old. Obviously Brady and Welker continue to play at a high level, but the team didn’t wasn’t focused on age when it added wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (32).
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