By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Super-Powered Mathlete
In the past 24 hours or so since the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8, most of the pundits were claiming how this victory proved once again how "defense wins championships." This narrative makes a striking difference of what these taking heads were saying before kickoff, when it seemed almost like a birth right for Peyton Manning to earn his second Super Bowl ring.
So what made this shift of thought, from thinking that the 606-point offense couldn't be stopped to thinking that defense still controls the roost in spite of the recent offense-favored rule changes?
As usual, the John Kerry-esque flip-flopping comes from a lack of understanding for the Cold, Hard Football Facts. The keys to championship victories didn't change overnight. Actually, they've never changed at all through the years.
Here's the truth: balance wins championships. That requires both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Seahawks did that better than any team, ranking first in nine of our 23 Quality Stats. This includes the Mother of All Stats, Passer Rating Differential. By winning Super Bowl XLVIII, the 2013 Seahawks became the 28th champion since 1933 (when the NFL first implemented the Championship Game) to finish first in Passer Rating Differential. Perhaps more notably, 60 of the 81 champions (74.1 percent) finished in the top 4 in PRD. This usually speaks to efficiency on both sides of the ball.
However, PRD sometimes does not tell the whole story. The Broncos, who seemed in all three aspects of the game, actually ranked second in PRD. Denver finished with the league's best Offensive Passer Rating, but its 84.47 Defensive Passer Rating is actually worse than the 84.05 DPR held by the league collectively this season. Only 12 NFL champions owned a negative relative passer rating in the postseason. Compared this to Seattle's 20.66 Relative DPR, which is the fourth-best from any Super Bowl champion, and it's clear which team provided more balance in the passing battle.
Of course, the Seahawks brought in a better run game on both sides of the ball, according to our Rusher Rating Differential. They also owned the better special teams. For example, Seattle allowed 91 punt return yards in 19 games, with 57 of those yards coming in a Week 17 win against St. Louis. That means just 34 punt return yards allowed in the other 18 games. That's championship quality.
Even before anybody can hit the film room, only to find out how Denver's flaws didn't match up well against the Seahawks, the clear favorite was established. There's a reason why this author and this publication picked the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XLVIII since the outset of September. This super team for Seattle owned the most efficient and balanced team in the league.
But did the Seahawks surpass even our expectations? Even the statistical and film match-ups favored Seattle, they didn't suggest that the Seahawks would win by 35 points and limit a 600-point offense to a meager eight-spot. The 43-8 was a clear shot, but it was also an artistic masterpiece of football dominance that's only worthy of the truly great teams.
Let's see where the Seahawks stand in among the best, at least in the Super Bowl era.
Test #1: Relative Scoring
As we already said when assessing the statistical humanity, the best scoring offenses generally tend crash and burn at some point in the postseason. Here's when a strong defense tends to help out. Clearly, the Broncos collapsed in meager and pathetic fashion, as their 29.9-point drop from regular season average to Super Bowl total ranks at the worst in nearly a half-century. Having even an elite defense might not have been enough.
Peyton Manning didn't play his best, but like in past notable playoff collapses, his teammates didn't really help him out. The receiving corps that was supposedly suppose to confuse the Legion of Boom couldn't get open, save for underneath routes that fall right into the Seattle tackling wheelhouse. The offensive line couldn't hold up to the league's best Defensive Hogs.
When talking about this domination, the first taking point shouldn't be about Manning. After all, his 17 playoff advancements (six first-round byes, 11 wins) in 15 years as a starter and the 10th-ranked postseason passer rating still puts him among select company. Instead, the focus should be firmly placed on the Seahawks. A 29.9 relativity rating for the scoring defense is simply astounding.
While we don't have the Relativity Index for every year in the Super Bowl era, we can do some quick math to see each champion's scoring offense and scoring defense holds up relative to the league points per game average. Check out the following table.
Super Bowl Champions, by Points per Game
|Year||Champ||W-L||Teams||Points PG||Rank||Allowed PG||Rank||Diff. PG||Rank||League PPG||Relative PPG||Relative PAPG|
Seattle became the sixth Super Bowl champion with -9.0 Relative Points Allowed per Game or better. Of those six teams, they rank third in Relative Points Scored per Game. That total shows better balance than several champions with one historically dominant unit. Check out this list:
- 1966 Packers: 2.2 Relative PPG, -10.1 Relative PAPG
- 1971 Cowboys: 9.6 Relative PPG, -3.5 Relative PAPG
- 1975 Steelers: 6.0 Relative PPG, -9.0 Relative PAPG
- 1985 Bears: 7.0 Relative PPG, -9.1 Relative PAPG
- 1991 Redskins: 11.3 Relative PPG, -5.0 Relative PAPG
- 1994 49ers: 11.3 Relative PPG, -1.8 Relative PAPG
- 1998 Broncos: 10.0 Relative PPG, -2.0 Relative PAPG
- 1999 Rams: 12.1 Relative PPG, -5.7 Relative PAPG
- 2000 Ravens: 0.1 Relative PPG, -10.4 Relative PAPG
- 2002 Buccaneers: -0.1 Relative PPG, -9.5 Relative PAPG
- 2009 Saints: 10.4 Relative PPG, -0.2 Relative PAPG
- 2013 Seahawks: 2.7 Relative PPG, -9.0 Relative PAPG
The Seahawks have the sixth-best "weaker unit" in scoring, relatively speaking. That suggests this Seahawks team might be among the best in the Super Bowl era, but they fall short of the teams that truly standout of both sides. The 1975 Steelers and 1985 Bears held a 6.0 advantage or better on both offense and defense in relative scoring.
On another note, there are three other Super Bowl champions who hold a 6.0 advantage or better on both sides of the ball: the 1972 Dolphins, 1984 49ers and 1996 Packers. Not even the 2007 Patriots (15.1 RPPG, -4.6 RPAPG) did this, despite their dominant 16-0 regular season. However, two NFL champions who lost in the Super Bowl fulfilled this: 1968 Colts and 1969 Vikings.
Test #2: Relative Passer Rating
While the 2013 Seahawks failed to stand out among the best Super Bowl champions in relative scoring, they certainly will standout more in passer rating. We already prefaced the team's dominance on both sides, so let's check out the team performed on a relative basis.
Super Bowl Champions, by Passer Rating
|Year||Champ||W-L||Teams||OPR||Rank||DPR||Rank||PRD||Rank||Avg PR||Rel OPR||Rel DPR|
As you can see, the Seahawks were dominant on both sides of the ball. This team was the first Super Bowl champion since the 1996 Packers to hold a 18.0 advantage or better on both offense and defense. Let's lower the threshold to a 15.0 advantage and check out the list:
- 1966 Packers: 37.9 Relative OPR, -18.1 Relative DPR
- 1972 Dolphins: 23.4 Relative OPR, -16.1 Relative DPR
- 1975 Steelers: 23.9 Relative OPR, -20.0 Relative DPR
- 1991 Redskins: 23.8 Relative OPR, -15.3 Relative DPR
- 1996 Packers: 20.7 Relative OPR, -19.6 Relative DPR
- 2010 Packers: 16.7 Relative OPR, -15.0 Relative DPR
- 2013 Seahawks: 18.3 Relative OPR, -20.7 Relative DPR
Here's where we can gain a true appreciation for the Seahawks. Qualifying as one of seven champions with such dual-sided domination, we can at least consider the Seahawks to be one of the most efficient Super Bowl champions ever. The dominance is truly rare.
There are some teams who didn't win the Super Bowl who accomplished this (1967 Rams, 1975 Bengals, 1975 Vikings, 1976 Lions, 1987 49ers), and most of them came in the offensive starved 60s and 70s. The four teams went a combined 0-3 in the playoffs, and the Lions even went 6-8 for some reason. Meanwhile, the 1987 49ers also went one-and-done, subject to one of the biggest upsets ever. It's amazing to see how these teams are largely forgotten due to the playoff upsets.
The 2013 Seahawks definitely gave a lasting impression with their 43-8 thrashing of a historic offense. It was the perfect way to call to attention how their all-around dominance makes them one of the best champions ever. Put them right up there with the 1966 Packers, 1972 Dolphins, 1975 Steelers, 1984 49ers, 1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins and 1996 Packers as the best teams of the Super Bowl era to win it all.
This team has a quarterback who performed as anybody in his first two years, a running game that can control the game, and a defense that might be one of the ten best over the past half-century. Better yet, when they had a chance to cement their legacy on the sport's biggest stage, they put together one of the most beautiful and impressive beatdowns forever.
Years down the road, when you look back at Super Bowl XLVIII, don't think about the wasted hopes of an epic finish. Think about how the Seahawks officially put their stamp on the history books as one of the best teams we'll ever see.