The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks paraded through the city last week to cheers of adoration from the 12th Man, who lined the streets by the hundreds of thousands.
But before they paraded through Seattle the Seahawks paraded through the 2013 NFL season as a rare and titillating powerhouse of offensive efficiency and defensive muscle that was statistically predestined to win the Super Bowl.
The 2012 Seahawks began to display the rising statistical temperature of champion over the final several weeks of the season, and with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm, no less. With just a slight improvement in a couple key areas, they would be nearly unbeatable.
These statistical signatures were the reason we confidently picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season. They lived up to and even exceeded statistical expectations during the season.
So we confidently picked them to upset record-setting Peyton Manning and the favored Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, despite Denver’s sexy profile and widespread acclaim as the likely winner.
Again, Seattle lived up to and even exceeded statistical expectations, with a frighteningly dominant 43-8 victory over the Broncos.
In fact, the Seahawks were the closest thing to a statistically inevitable champ that we’ve seen since 1996, when the Green Bay Packers finished the regular season No. 1 in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring differential, Offensive Passer Rating, Defensive Passer Rating and Passer Rating Differential.
Seattle was an easy bet, even as underdogs, to win outright over Peyton Manning’s Broncos. After all, as our Quality Stats proved all year, Seattle was the best team in football, superior to Denver in most phases of the game.
We laughed when so many people picked the inferior Broncos to beat, perhaps even handily, the superior Seahawks. The reality is that it would have been close to a statistical miracle for Denver to win – a fact that long-time CHFF readers, especially our Insiders, were well aware.
But football fans and pigskin “pundits” were seduced, as they so often are, by the allure of sexy offense. Forget the fact that sexy offenses on imbalanced teams rarely if ever win championships. Instead, the usually go down in flames against teams that may not be as sexy, but that like the 2013 Seahawks are statistically built like rugged champs.
And few champions in recent history, were easier to identify than the 2013 Seahawks. They had the all the statistical hallmarks of a champ, when measured by our Quality Stats, each of which has a direct Correlation to winning Super Bowls.
In fact, Seattle finished the regular-season No. 1 in an incredible 10 of our 23 Quality Stats. Here’s a look back at a powerful parade statistical dominance by the 2013 Seahawks.
Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 1
We size up every team across the board each week in all our indicators. Seattle ran the table pretty much No. 1 wire to wire. When you finish the season No. 1 in 10 of 23 Quality Stats are you a statistically dominant powerhouse the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in recent years.
Quality Standings – No. 1 (7-3)
The Seahawks faced seven Quality Opponents in the regular season, winning four of those seven games. They of course added a perfect 3-0 against Quality Teams in the postseason. They outscored those 10 Quality Opponents by a double-digit average (25.3-14.9).
Defensive Passer Rating – No. 1 (63.4)
Seattle fielded the best pass defense the NFL had seen since 2009 (Jets 58.8; Bills, 61.1). The Seahawks were 20.7 points better than the league average pass defense (84.1).
Passer Rating Differential – No. 1 (+39.0)
The Seahawks dominated the aptly named Mother of All Stats, so named because it has consistently identified champions throughout NFL history: Seattle becomes the 27th team since 1940 to lead the league in PRD and go on to win a championship. Put another way, 36 percent of all NFL champs since World War II were No. 1 in this single indicator.
Nearly 60 percent of all NFL champs finished No. 1 or 2 in the indicator. Super Bowl runner-up Denver was No. 2 this year in Passer Rating Differential.
We're not sure any stat in all of North American sports (not directly pegged to scoring) is so effective at identifying champions.
Defensive Real QB Rating – No. 1 (57.6)
We constantly tout the importance of passer rating on both sides of the ball. But passer rating measures only a QB’s ability to pass the ball. Our own Real QB Rating measures all aspects of QB play: passing, as well as running, fumbles, sacks, rushing TDs.
Once again, Seattle was the best in football, nearly 8 points better than the second-ranked Bills.
Real QB Rating Differential – No. 1 (+33.4)
We call Passer Rating Differential the Mother of All Stats because of its high correlation to victories and to championship success.
But there is one stat even better, with the Highest Correlation to Victory of any stat other than final score. It’s called Real QB Rating Differential, and it’s so important we’ve dubbed it the Perfect Stat.
- Teams that won the battle of Passer Rating Differential went 205-50 (.804) in 2013
- Teams that won the battle of Real QB Rating Differential went 219-36 (.859) in 2013
Both results were consistent with historic results, though we have them going back only few years for Real QBR.
Regardless, in either case, the champion Seahawks were the best team in football in the Perfect Stat, too, 5.22 points better than the second-ranked Broncos.
Defensive Hog Index – No. 1 (6.67)
The Defensive Hog Index is another indicator that consistently sticks a statistical tattoo on NFL champs, at least in its brief history. It’s our measure of the performance of every defensive front in football.
The Seahawks field the best defensive front in football and, probably more importantly, were among the league’s best at pressuring the passer (No. 3 in Negative Pass Play%).
We introduced the Defensive Hog Index in 2007. Since then, three of seven champions finished the season No. 1 – the most dominant D Hogs in football. That’s 43 percent of NFL champs with the best d-line in football, for those of you keeping score at home.
Sure, it’s a small sample. But it’s what we have.
More importantly, it supports our assertion that winning in the NFL is all about passing well on offense – and making it tough for opposing QBs to pass well when you’re on defense. Five of the last seven champs finished in the Top 3 in forcing Negative Pass Plays, forcing a sack or INT, in other words (as a percentage of opponent drops packs).
The only real outlier among the last seven champs was, rather surprisingly, the 2012 Ravens. But their D Hogs proved to be largely dominant in the postseason.
Six of the last seven champs forced a Negative Pass Play (sack, INT) on more than 10 percent of opposing dropbacks. The 2013 Seahawks were the best among them, with a 12.83 NPP%.
Defensive Rusher Rating – No. 1 (69.8)
The ability to run the ball and stop the run in the NFL is largely overrated. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how well you run or stop the run. The game is won and lost in the air.
The history of the NFL is filled with great running teams that lost because they couldn’t win the air war; and filled with poor running teams that won because they dominated in the air.
With that said, the Seattle defense added to its dominance with the pass defense AND the best run defense in football.
Total Team Yards Allowed – No. 1 (5,628)
The box scores of NFL games, not to mention postgame analysts, quickly tell us who gained more yards of offense. They then play it off as if they’re telling us who actually won the territorial battle.
The reality is that yards gained on offense and allowed on defense are only part of the story. They ignore all the “hidden” yards in an NFL game: namely yards gained on special teams and on defense.
So we created Total Team Yards, Total Team Yards Allowed and Total Team Yards Differential this year to tell the full story.
And Seattle excelled minimizing opponent yards in many phases of the game: not only who they No. 1 in total defense (4,378), they were No. 2 in punt return yards allowed (just 82 all year) and, interestingly, No. 1 in INT return yards.
Opponents returned picks for just 21 yards this season – a great tribute to the hidden but unspectacular way in which Russell Wilson’s efficiency and, dare we say, “game management,” aids the bigger cause.
For a little perspective, the QB-challenged Jets surrendered a league-worst 411 yards in INT returns, nearly 8 percent of the total they surrendered on defense all season (5,359).
Most so-called analysts rate teams by yards of offense and yards allowed on defense: “Team X is No. 1 in defense because they allow the fewest yards.”
These are fairly unreliable indicators of team success because, among other reasons
Defensive Real Passing YPA – No. 1 (4.84)
The Seahawks held opponents to a league-low 4.84 yards everytime they dropped back to pass. For a little perspective, two NFL teams (Eagles, Vikings) produced a higher average per attempt each time they RAN the ball.
Basically, it was nearly impossible to pass the ball downfield against the Seahawks this year – a fact the world saw first hand when the great Peyton Manning himself, fresh off the greatest passing season in history, produced just 5.6 Real Passing YPA in the Super Bowl.
That average was 2.2 yards below Denver’s regular-season Real Pass YPA average.
Relativity Index – No. 2 (+12.2)
This indicator measures how well you play relative to the quality of your opponents. The Seahawks were No. 2, just a 0.47 PPG shade behind the Denver Broncos.
However, if we include postseason results, the Seahawks actually jumped past the Broncos in this indicator, largely by virtue of their dominant performance in the Super Bowl.
Total Team Yards Differential – No. 2 (+1,478)
Only the Broncos, powered by their record-setting offense, finished ahead of Seattle in this indicator (+1,766).
But, as we knew all season, the Broncos were largely imbalanced: a historically good offense paired with a mediocre to substandard defense. Seattle was balanced everywhere, great defense and good to great offense.
Intelligence Index – No. 3 (+5.94)
Seattle earned a well-deserved reputation this season as perhaps the toughest and most physical team in football.
They were also one of the smartest teams in football, according to our Intelligence Index, which helped us pick up ATS winners at an alarming rate this year.
As we’ve shown over the years, yards are a fairly poor measure of any team. One, it doesn’t tell us what teams do with those yards.
So we introduced Scoreability and its defensive partner, Bendability, as ways to measure how effective teams are at turning yards into points (or, defensively, how hard they make opponents work for those points).
Point in the context of a touchdown, the Seahawks needed just 91.1 yards of offense to score the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point. Opponents needed 132.2 yards of offense to score the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point.
Our Intelligence Index measures the difference between those two numbers and helps us separate smart, well-coached teams from dumb, poorly coached teams.
Our efficiency indicators essentially encapsulate how well teams play in situational football: do they win the turnover battle, convert third downs, convert in the red zone, avoid stupid penalties and win the battle of field position via special teams or other means. We consider it a measure of coaching and team intelligence.
Hence, the Intelligence Index.
Rusher Rating Differential – No. 3 (+21.3)
Only the Panthers (+24.4) and Chiefs (+23.1) were better than the Seahawks overall at winning the ground war. However, as we’ve seen throughout history and again in 2013, running the ball well is not good enough.
NFL games and championships have always been won by the teams that dominate in the air, regardless of how well or how poorly they run the ball.
Bendability – No. 3 (18.95 Yards Per Point Allowed)
Seattle was No. 1 up and down the board in most defensive indicators, including the most important, scoring defense.
But they might have been even better if they were a little more efficient: the Seahawks were a mere third in Bendability, once again behind the Panthers (20.0 YPPA) and Chiefs (19.3 YPPA).
With Carolina’s Bendability, the Seahawks would have surrendered only 219 points this season.
Offensive Passer Rating – No. 5 (102.4)
Why were we so confident of a Seattle victory in the Super Bowl? It rested largely on two facts:
One – Seattle was clearly superior in every measure defensively
Two – The gap in passing efficiency, the deciding factor in almost every NFL game, was very, very narrow.
In fact, at a 102.4 Offensive Passer Rating, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense finished the year just four spots and 12 points behind the Broncos on the OPR list.
Real Quarterback Rating – No. 5 (91.0)
As noted above, Real QB Rating measures all aspects of QB play, while passer rating measures only passing.
Once again, the Seahawks were among the very best in the NFL at QB efficiency, much like they were with passing efficiency.
Scoreability – No 5 (13.01 Yards Per Point Scored)
Seattle was among the most efficient teams in the NFL, requiring just 13 yards of offense for each point scored. (See also Bendability and the Intelligence Index above.)
Real Passing YPA – No. 6 (6.97 YPA)
It’s a good season when a team averages around 7.0 gross passing YPA. Our indicator includes the impact of sacks, and counts them as attempts. So it measures net, or “Real” Passing YPA.
Wilson and the Seahawks might not have been considered a big-play passing attack, but they averaged more yards each attempt than teams like Matt Stafford’s Lions, Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers, Tony Romo’s Cowboys and Tom Brady’s Patriots.
Offensive Rusher Rating – No. 14 (91.1)
Seattle was considered a great running team and Marshawn Lynch is certainy one of the most exciting and powerful ballcarriers the NFL has produced in years, if not decades.
But the reality is that Seattle ran the ball often: 509 attempts, second most in the NFL. But Seattle did not run particularly well: their 14 rushing TDs, 10 fumbles and 4.3 YPA were all middle of the pack in the NFL.
But as we know, winning in the NFL is not about running the ball well. It’s about passing the ball well. And a high number of rush attempts, coupled with a high average per pass attempt, are the classic NFL formula for championship success. It’s the formula Seattle rode all the way to a Super Bowl victory.
Total Team Yards – No. 15 (7,106)
The Seahawks were merely average generating yardage in all phases of the game, including just 27th in kick-return yards. But coupled with their offensive efficiency and a great defense, the combination proved more than enough to win it all.
Offensive Hog Index – No. 22t (19.0)
Football tradition tells us that games are won and lost in the trenches. There is obviously SOME truth to this statement.
But the reality is that winning is only partially about what happens up front. The Seahawks fielded a bottom-half offensive line this year and were among the worst in football at protecting the quarterback.
Seattle suffered a Negative Pass Play on 11.42 percent of dropbacks, a surprising 28th league wide.