In the 2013 NFL season that preceded the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl 48 victory, Seattle was the most efficient team in all of football, ranking 1st in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) on defense and 7th in DVOA on offense, not to mention 5th in DVOA on special teams. That was a special team with the Legion of Boom in all its glory. The pass defense ranked 1st in the NFL in DVOA at -34.2% (effectively 34% stingier than the league average) and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor became household names in the Emerald City (no disrespect intended to Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, or Byron Maxwell). The offense was balanced with a pass attack ranked 8th in DVOA and a run attack, led by Marshawn Lynch, ranked 7th in DVOA. Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson efficiently steered the offense with the 13th best QBR in the league.
2019 Seattle Seahawks
Fast forward to the present 2019 Seahawks that are the 9th most efficient team in the league. Only the breakdown isn’t so balanced.
The offense ranks 3rd in DVOA at 20.9% but the defense ranks 27th in DVOA at 7.4%. When measuring defense, negative numbers are good, positive numbers are bad. This Seahawks D is 7.4% worse than the average defense in the NFL. And this version of the Seahawks defense is equally susceptible to the run or the pass, ranking 22nd and 21st in DVOA, respectively.
Meanwhile, in his 8th season, Russell Wilson is making a strong case for league MVP. Wilson ranks 1st in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement), 1st in YAR (unadjusted), 3rd in DVOA, and 1st in QBR. As one might expect, Wilson’s performance thus far this season has propelled the Seahawks to the most efficient passing offense in the NFL and with it a 7-2 record. But with all of Wilson’s magic, the Seahawks’ current odds to win the division stand at 11.9% and the odds to make the wildcard stand at 51.6%.
Part of the skepticism of the Seahawks’ chances of making the playoffs lies in the strength of schedule so far. Wilson and the offense have faced the 27th most difficult schedule in the NFL, while the porous defense has faced the 22nd most difficult schedule. According to an ESPN analysis, the Seahawks’ strength of schedule thus far ranks 25th by DVOA. Beginning this coming Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks will face the 2nd most difficult schedule for the remainder of the season.
The Seahawks have beaten just one team with a winning record, the Los Angeles Rams on a missed last-second field goal by the Rams, and have victories against opponents with a combined 13-39-1 record. Those include a 1-point win over the winless Cincinnati Bengals in week one at home and a 7-point win two weeks ago in Atlanta against the Falcons where a thirty-eight-year-old Matt Schaub who hadn’t played an NFL game in three years torched the secondary for 460 yards. The two losses came at the hands of the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens at home, teams with a combined 13-3 record.
The counterarguments are that, well, a win is a win and you can only play who is on your schedule. Both are true, but how you win matters too. The next five games, all against teams with winning records, will define the season. The Hawks will get a bye week following the Monday night game at the 49ers then go on the road to face the Philadelphia Eagles, come home for the Minnesota Vikings, go to LA for a rematch with the Rams and finish up with a visit the Carolina Panthers for what has been a difficult tilt in years past, regardless of the Panthers record.
To have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the Seahawks need to hold serve at home against the Vikes and get at least one road win against either the 49ers, Eagles, Rams, or Panthers, preferably two. Anything less than 8-6 heading into the two-week homestand against the Arizona Cardinals and the 49ers would probably see Seattle on the outside looking in. The fun part is that you have to actually play the games.