Sports by Numbers: Russell cannot carry Seahawks
Patrick McCullough | Thursday, September 18, 2014
On Sunday, the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks lost to the Chargers by a score of 30-21.
While a differential of nine points may not seem like a significant amount, it is the first time that the Seahawks have lost by two possessions since the Cowboys handed them a 23-13 loss in November of 2011. That is a span of 46 regular season and playoff games, which is a remarkable reflection of just how dominant the Seahawks have been.
Over the span of multiple seasons, a given team’s record in such games is often right around .500. Thus, when a team wins a majority of one-score games, it is considered lucky. Monday’s game between the Colts and Eagles ended with a field goal as time expired, while Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Vikings was 30-7, yet both games count as losses for one team. While simply looking at the quantity of losses does not reflect accurately on the quality of a team’s play on a week-to-week basis, by trying to account for the difference in scores we can better judge the performance of a team. Likewise, over the span of multiple seasons, a given team’s record in such games is often right around .500. This is the Seahawks first ‘convincing’ loss in 46 games, if convincing means a defeat by more than one score.
To paint this run of dominance in perspective, the last so-called dynasty of the NFL, the 2003-2004 New England Patriots, lost games in both the 2003 and 2004 seasons by multiple scores. While the Patriots did not have any convincing losses in the 2007 season and subsequent playoffs, they only managed a streak of 27 straight games from 2006-2008.
From 2012-2013, the Patriots have a total of two convincing losses, both of which were in the playoffs, before they lost to the Dolphins 33-20 in Week One of this year. Likewise, the Broncos have lost two games by more than one score over the past two years, in February’s Super Bowl and to the Patriots in Week Five of 2012. The only other team to lose only one game by more than one score last season was the Chargers, which suffered a 27-17 loss to the Raiders on Oct. 6.
All four of the aforementioned teams managed to win at least one playoff game last year. The Patriots, Chargers, and Broncos all had exceptional seasons from the quarterback position with Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, respectively. This should not be a surprise, as it is generally accepted that in the NFL an elite quarterback is needed in order to have legitimate championship aspirations. Championship-caliber teams are more likely to perform better on a week-to-week basis, and thus lose fewer lopsided games. The stark difference between the Seahawks and the three other aforementioned teams is that the Seahawks do not have an elite or even a very good quarterback. Instead they relied on their dominating defense. In terms of points allowed, the Seahawks have been the stingiest defense in each of the past two seasons.
If we look at all Super Bowl champions since the 1997 season, all but two have had two or less convincing losses. The only teams to have more are the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants with five and four, respectively.
More often than not, the number of losses by more than one score is a measure of strength of a team’s quarterback and consequently, the strength of the team. The two greatest quarterbacks of the past 15 years, Peyton Manning and Brady, show an exceptionally low tendency to lose by more than one score. For instance, the last time that the Patriots lost by more than one score in the regular season, prior to Week One of this year, was in Week Nine of 2010 to the Cleveland Browns. However, that accomplishment is marred by the fact that the team has not won a Super Bowl since 2004, while it have suffered two blowout losses in the playoffs since its last championship. In fact, Brady has not lost more than two one-score games in which he started in a regular season since 2005. The last time that Peyton Manning has lost more than two one-score games in which he started in a regular season was in 2009.
In the NFL, is it all but a given that a team needs an elite quarterback to seriously compete for a Super Bowl. The Seahawks do not have an elite quarterback to carry them from week-to-week, which makes their long stretch of games in which they have not been beaten by a significant margin quite an accomplishment and speaks to the quality of the team as a whole.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.