By: Jackson Safon
Welcome to the third and final part of my statistical analysis of the Super Bowl! If the last 2,000 or so words has gotten you down about the Seahawks’ chances in Super Bowl XLVIII, the next 1,000 will get your hopes up as defense is where we make our money.
The Broncos defense is in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed and points allowed, but the question often raised is, are these yards and points only allowed because their opponents are always playing catch-up? This does in fact seem to be true, as the Broncos are in the top half of the league (although just barely) in defensive DVOA. Furthermore, in weighted DVOA, which as a reminder, reflects how teams are playing at the end of the season, they are in the top 10. Some would argue that the Broncos played against a somewhat easy defensive schedule, but over half of their games were against teams in the top half of the league in offensive DVOA. In these games however, the Broncos played rather poorly, allowing 27 points per game. One of the issues for the Seahawks will be that the Broncos are a top ten defensive unit in terms of stopping the run in both yards allowed and DVOA. This could be problematic, as if the Broncos can stop the run with only seven in the box, the Seahawks will struggle mightily on offense. The Broncos are 21st against the pass however in DVOA, so that is an area Russell Wilson and the passing attack will simply have to exploit in order to have a chance in the big game.
Terrance Knighton has been a beast on the inside for the Broncos defense
Here it is. A long time coming. I mentioned earlier that the Broncos have the sixth best offensive DVOA since the creation of this system in 1989, but the Seahawks have the seventh best defensive DVOA in the same time period. Additionally, while the Broncos offense has regressed to the mean somewhat over the second half of the season, the Seahawks defense has actually gotten better as the season has progressed. Their defensive DVOA for the whole season was -25.8% (remember, since positive numbers represent more scoring, defensive DVOA is better when it is negative), but their weighted DVOA was -30.0%. While the gap between the rest of the league and the Broncos offense dropped to less than one percent after DVOA was weighted, the Seahawks defense actually increased their gap on the rest of the league in terms of defensive dominance. Not surprisingly, the ‘Hawks had the best ranked pass defensive DVOA, as well as lead the league in pass yards allowed, total yards allowed, and interceptions. They were the best defense in the NFL this season. Period. End of conversation. Not only were they dominant, they seemed to get up for the bigger games. The Seahawks allowed 14.4 points per game over the course of the season, but in their nine games against top 20 offenses, they only allowed 13.67 per game. And in their four games against top 10 offenses, the allowed a mere 8.5 points per game. That is barely over one score. For an entire game. Against top 10 offenses.
Look for Michael Bennett to have a big impact on disrupting Manning's rhythm.
So now that most of the stats have been hashed out, it is time to do some true comparison and to determine who has the pure, statistical advantage. The Broncos offensive DVOA when weighted is 27.1% and the Seahawks defensive DVOA when weighted is -30.0%. This gives the Seahawks an advantage of 2.9% so far. The best part about the Broncos offense vs. the Seahawks defense is that it is strength on strength. The Broncos had the best passing season in the history of the NFL, and the Seahawks pass defense is one of the best in the history of the NFL. The Seahawks weighted, offensive DVOA is 8.7%, and the Broncos weighted, defensive DVOA is -5.6%, which gives the ‘Hawks another advantage, this time of 3.1%. Those are definitely good gaps, but what I think brings the two teams a bit closer together is the fact that it is strength on strength on both sides of the ball. In addition to the Broncos offense and Seahawks defense being the Yin and Yang of each other, the Broncos defense and ‘Hawks offense are the same. The Broncos have a top 10 run stopping unit, and the Seahawks’ have one of the better running games in football. Because of this, the game could be determined by which team more successfully goes away from their strength, whether that be the Broncos running game or the Seahawks’ passing game.
My final note is not a statistical one but a matchup one: weather. Adverse weather can come in different forms, whether it be rain, wind, cold, snow, or whatever else. I think rain and cold are two elements that are sort of a wash, and don’t give an advantage to either team. Wind and snow however are much more powerful elements and could change the game completely. I believe snow would give the advantage to the Broncos, because their strength is offense, and snow generally helps offenses. The reason being it is much harder to cut in snow, and since offensive players know where they are going, it can be hard for defensive backs to keep up in the snow. Wind on the other hand would be a massive advantage for the Seahawks. While the Broncos have shown the ability to run the ball, their strength is obviously in the passing game, and that is a place where wind can do a ton of damage. Just look at the Sunday Night Football game in November where the Broncos lost to the Patriots. The wind was swirling the entire night (trust me, I was there), and it was such a big factor that in overtime, Bill Belichick chose to take the wind instead of the ball after winning the coin toss. In that game, Peyton Manning had his worst game of the year by far, throwing for only 150 yards on 36 attempts. He played terrible and his receivers were having a tough time locating the ball in the wind as well. To reiterate: snow is bad and wind is good.
Just remember, in any game, and especially a game as big of the Super Bowl, fluky plays can happen. We have seen it before in the Super Bowl with plays such as the David Tyree catch-on-the-helmet and the crazy holding in the end zone for a safety against the Patriots in 2012. Whether it be crazy penalties, or tipped balls, or fumbles at the goal line, anything can happen and when one of these plays does happen, you can pretty much through all these stats out the window. Because of that, I believe the most important statistic in this game will be turnovers. Winning the turnover battle will be key, but also making sure to win the turnover battle when the Seahawks are in their own and their opponents 20-yard line. It is going to be an amazing game.
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