Game Preview: Seahawks at Patriots
by Scott Kacsmar
Call it a Super Bowl XLIX rematch, or a Super Bowl LI preview, but Week 10's matchup between the 5-2-1 Seahawks and the 7-1 Patriots on Sunday night is one of the most interesting games on the 2016 schedule. In a season that has been lacking in great teams, these two might be the best each conference has to offer. The outcome of this game could also go a long way in determining if the Seattle DVOA dynasty continues, or if the Patriots score a huge win as they gradually climb toward the top spot in our rankings. Remember, the Seahawks are the only team to lead the league in DVOA in four straight seasons, and we feel confident that would be the case even if DVOA was tracked back to 1950.
Currently, this year's Seattle team ranks third in DVOA (20.6%), with the Patriots (19.3%) close behind at fifth. However, the Patriots are 7.5-point home favorites this week, and Bill Belichick is 12-4 after the bye week since 2000. Seattle is coming off a physical (and slightly controversial) 31-25 win over Buffalo on Monday night. The only other time the Seahawks were 7.5-point underdogs in the Wilson era was at San Francisco in Week 7 of the 2012 season. Seattle lost 13-6, but at that point the Seahawks were not yet the annual contender that we have come to expect.
If the Patriots cover in style, then they could end one of the greatest streaks in NFL history, because no one has been able to blow out the Seahawks in the Russell Wilson era. Seattle has led or been within one score in the fourth quarter of 96 consecutive games (including playoffs), the longest streak in NFL history. The second-longest streak belongs to the 2008-2012 Packers at 69 games. Seattle's last blowout loss was 24-0 in Pittsburgh in Week 2 of the 2011 season. A big part of Seattle's DVOA dominance is the lack of poor performances over the course of a 60-minute game. Sure, Seattle has had bad halves, and even bad 56-minute starts, but by the final snap, the Seahawks have always given themselves a chance to win each game for multiple seasons now. Wilson was this competitive for two different colleges, and Pete Carroll had a similar run for years at USC, so this is not that surprising.
A trip to New England on a short week is arguably as difficult as any of the games Seattle has faced during this streak. If last year's NFC divisional round meeting in Carolina, against a 15-1 No. 1 seed, was the previous toughest matchup, then it should be noted that Seattle trailed 31-0 before rallying for a 31-24 final, barely keeping the streak alive with a late touchdown. At least this game is going to be at night instead of 10 a.m. Pacific time.
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Over-analysis of the stats between these teams is not necessary through eight games for each, especially when Wilson has been dealing with several injuries and Tom Brady has only started the last four games. Both teams rank in the top 10 in special teams, but you can probably give a slight edge to New England there. If there is indeed a Super Bowl LI matchup between these two, which was my personal preseason prediction, then we'll have more data to go on then, but for now, let's just look at some of the more interesting numbers that this matchup presents.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The strength vs. strength matchup, according to DVOA, is clearly New England's No. 3 offense against Seattle's No. 6 defense. Specifically, the passing game is where to watch since it is unlikely that the Patriots will do much damage on the ground with LeGarrette Blount against the No. 3 run defense. For reference, in Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots ran the ball 19 times for 60 yards, while Brady dropped back 51 times. Seattle must get Brady off his spot with a strong pass rush, which was successful at times in that game before Cliff Avril left with an injury following Brady's second interception.
Brady with Avril on field: 15-23 passing, 106 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT, 24.8 QBR. No Avril: 22-27, 214 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, 97.7 QBR. Coincidence?
— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) February 4, 2015
Avril is having a big season with 9.0 sacks, but the Seahawks will be without Michael Bennett on the other side this week. Believe it or not, Brady's 2016 pressure rate has actually been slightly higher than that of Wilson's this season. Both offenses rank in the bottom six in pass pressure rate, according to SIS charting. Brady has been able to handle the pressure well these last four games, though Seattle is easily the best defense he will have seen yet.
Third down is always a key area to watch. I still contend that New England's fourth-quarter comeback never takes off in the Super Bowl if Brady does not step up to hit Julian Edelman on a third-and-14 for 21 yards. Safety Kam Chancellor, who is expected to return from injury this week, popped Edelman on that catch, but the receiver held on anyway on a game-changing play. Over the last three games, the Seahawks have allowed offenses to convert 31-of-53 (58.5 percent) third-down plays. Brady has converted 59.0 percent of his third-down dropbacks this season, and he is averaging a blistering 14.43 yards per pass on 35 third-down passes.
Running back Dion Lewis could return to action this week, but James White has done very well as the receiving back for the Patriots. In Super Bowl XLIX, Shane Vereen's 11 receptions for 64 yards were a good complement to the running game, and that could be another way that New England tries to attack this defense. The Seahawks are still vulnerable to tight ends (23rd in DVOA), which is a big issue when dealing with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Gronkowski leads the NFL with 22.0 yards per reception, and since Brady's return, he is averaging 118.3 receiving yards per game. Bennett is always a threat in the red zone with the attention paid to Gronkowski. With Edelman in the slot and Chris Hogan as the designated deep threat, this offense has a variety of ways to attack a talented defense like Seattle's.
The Patriots also are not beating themselves this season. While New England has six fumbles lost, the three starting quarterbacks have yet to throw an interception on 249 attempts. Only the 1960 Browns (nine games) and 2008 Redskins (eight games) made it through the first eight games of a season without an interception before New England. Seattle has just eight takeaways this season, including six interceptions.
New England has scored at least 27 points in each of Brady's four starts this season. Despite the tough defensive matchup this week, scoring in the upper 20s at home seems reasonable. Just how large of a point total the Patriots can hang on Seattle could determine whether this becomes the first blowout for the Seahawks in the Wilson era.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Well, we won't be wondering where the handoff to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line is this time. Once again, the much more volatile matchup between these teams is the Seattle offense (14th in DVOA) against the New England defense (18th). Perhaps the biggest difference between this year's Seattle team and those from 2012 to 2015 is the lack of production in the running game. The Seahawks are 23rd in rushing DVOA after ranking between first and seventh in each of the previous four seasons. Yes, Lynch's retirement and Thomas Rawls' injuries are two big problems, but the further decline of the offensive line and Wilson's leg injuries have also slowed things down.
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Wilson has been one of the most prolific rushing quarterbacks in NFL history, but he is averaging 6.8 rushing yards per game in 2016 after averaging 38.0 yards per game in his first four seasons. We don't have the updated numbers for 2016 yet, but I would imagine that Wilson is using his legs less than ever before, trying to play the game from the pocket more. In fact, ESPN had a graphic on Monday night's broadcast that showed that Wilson is not leading the league in out-of-pocket passes like he usually has in his career. While Wilson has passed for at least 225 yards in each game this season, he has just seven touchdown passes and a measly 2.6 percent touchdown rate (previous career average: 6.1 percent).
This has led to an inconsistent scoring offense, though things were on point against Buffalo last week. While the Seahawks shockingly never even targeted a tight end in their Super Bowl XLIX loss, Wilson-to-Jimmy Graham has been very effective this season. Graham made two one-handed touchdown catches against Buffalo, and even if he is the second-best tight end on the field on Sunday night, he should be a factor as the Patriots play their first game after trading linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland.
New England has been mediocre by DVOA's standards against each receiver type, but weakest against tight ends (24th) this season. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett still make for a formidable trio of wide receivers. While Wilson went bombs-away in the Super Bowl with the unknown Chris Matthews accounting for 109 yards, I would expect a more controlled attack this week, similar to what Wilson did from the pocket in a 2012 victory over the Patriots.
The scoring lulls for Seattle this season are a definite concern when playing a red-hot offense. Seattle has scored fewer than seven points in three first halves this season, and only went on to score 21 points in those three games combined (1-1-1 record). Despite another mediocre DVOA ranking, the New England defense continues to excel in points allowed under Bill Belichick. In fact, the Patriots have allowed two fewer points than the Seahawks (134) this season, good for No. 2 in the NFL. Neither of these teams has allowed more than 25 points in a game this season.
New England is about the last place where a team can afford to fall behind. Since 2001, the Patriots are 99-1 at home when leading by at least eight points at any time in the game. Last year, the Eagles ended that winning streak at 94-0 after turning a 14-0 deficit into a stunning 35-28 win in Week 13. If you think a fourth-quarter comeback is likely, then think again. Since 2001, fourth-quarter comeback opportunities (down 1 to 8 points with possession) are 1-49 (.020) in New England. You should have a good idea of the owner of the one win.
Given that the Bengals and Steelers (with Landry Jones at quarterback no less) were able to hang within a score of these Patriots in the fourth quarter, I think Seattle's no-blowout streak continues this week. However, I could also see New England still covering after a late field goal for a 27-17 win. The Seahawks have not lost by more than 10 points in their last 91 games, which is another NFL record. The next closest active streak is 19 games by Denver. The Patriots will take a win any way they can get it, but a domination of the Seahawks could be a major statement that this team is prepared to run the table the rest of the season.
We'll leave you with a look at the Seattle streak of 96 games without a blowout. Seattle is 65-30-1 (.682) during this streak, and has allowed 18 fourth-quarter comebacks and 20 game-winning drives during the 30 losses. There were only 13 games in which Seattle did not hold a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime. There have only been three games in which Seattle was unable to have an offensive possession while down by one score in the fourth quarter, including two games in the final month of the 2015 season.
|Seattle Seahawks: The Record-Setting 96-Game No-Blowouts Streak|
|G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note||G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note|
|1||9/25/2011||ARI||W 13-10||3||49||1/11/2014||NO||W 23-15||8|
|2||10/2/2011||ATL||L 30-28||-||Down 30-28 w/1:49 left||50||1/19/2014||SF||W 23-17||6|
|3||10/9/2011||@NYG||W 36-25||11||51||2/2/2014||DEN||W 43-8||35|
|4||10/23/2011||@CLE||L 6-3||-||Down 6-3 w/3:05 left||52||9/4/2014||GB||W 36-16||20|
|5||10/30/2011||CIN||L 34-12||-||Down 20-12 w/4:45 left||53||9/14/2014||@SD||L 30-21||-||Down 27-21 w/3:04 left|
|6||11/6/2011||@DAL||L 23-13||-||Down 13-6 to start 4Q (no poss.)||54||9/21/2014||DEN||W 26-20 OT||6|
|7||11/13/2011||BAL||W 22-17||5||55||10/6/2014||@WAS||W 27-17||10|
|8||11/20/2011||@STL||W 24-7||17||56||10/12/2014||DAL||L 30-23||-||Blown lead w/3:16 left|
|9||11/27/2011||WAS||L 23-17||Blown lead w/6:18 left||57||10/19/2014||@STL||L 28-26||-||Down 21-13 w/14:54 left|
|10||12/1/2011||PHI||W 31-14||17||58||10/26/2014||@CAR||W 13-9||4|
|11||12/12/2011||STL||W 30-13||17||59||11/2/2014||OAK||W 30-24||6|
|12||12/18/2011||@CHI||W 38-14||24||60||11/9/2014||NYG||W 38-17||21|
|13||12/24/2011||SF||L 19-17||-||Blown lead w/2:57 left||61||11/16/2014||@KC||L 24-20||-||Blown lead w/13:41 left|
|14||1/1/2012||@ARI||L 23-20 OT||-||Tied 20-20 in OT (3-and-out)||62||11/23/2014||ARI||W 19-3||16|
|15||9/9/2012||@ARI||L 20-16||-||Blown lead w/4:59 left||63||11/27/2014||@SF||W 19-3||16|
|16||9/16/2012||DAL||W 27-7||20||64||12/7/2014||@PHI||W 24-14||10|
|G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note||G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note|
|17||9/24/2012||GB||W 14-12||2||65||12/14/2014||SF||W 17-7||10|
|18||9/30/2012||@STL||L 19-13||-||Down 19-13 w/3:09 left||66||12/21/2014||@ARI||W 35-6||29|
|19||10/7/2012||@CAR||W 16-12||4||67||12/28/2014||STL||W 20-6||14|
|20||10/14/2012||NE||W 24-23||1||68||1/10/2015||CAR||W 31-17||14|
|21||10/18/2012||@SF||L 13-6||-||Down 10-6 w/11:58 left||69||1/18/2015||GB||W 28-22||6|
|22||10/28/2012||@DET||L 28-24||-||Blown lead w/0:20 left||70||2/1/2015||NE||L 28-24||-||Blown lead w/2:02 left|
|23||11/4/2012||MIN||W 30-20||10||71||9/13/2015||@STL||L 34-31 OT||-||Led 31-24 in 4Q, down 34-31 in OT|
|24||11/11/2012||NYJ||W 28-7||21||72||9/20/2015||@GB||L 27-17||-||Blown lead w/9:28 left|
|25||11/25/2012||@MIA||L 24-21||-||Led 21-14; MIA GWD w/0:00 left||73||9/27/2015||CHI||W 26-0||26|
|26||12/2/2012||@CHI||W 23-17 OT||6||74||10/5/2015||DET||W 13-10||3|
|27||12/9/2012||ARI||W 58-0||58||75||10/11/2015||@CIN||L 27-24 OT||-||Led 24-7 to start 4Q|
|28||12/16/2012||@BUF||W 50-17||33||76||10/18/2015||CAR||L 27-23||-||Blown lead w/0:32 left|
|29||12/23/2012||SF||W 42-13||29||77||10/22/2015||@SF||W 20-3||17|
|30||12/30/2012||STL||W 20-13||7||78||11/1/2015||@DAL||W 13-12||1|
|31||1/6/2013||@WAS||W 24-14||10||79||11/15/2015||ARI||L 39-32||-||Blown lead w/8:41 left|
|32||1/13/2013||@ATL||L 30-28||-||Blown lead w/0:08 left||80||11/22/2015||SF||W 29-13||16|
|G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note||G#||Date||Opp.||Result||Won By||Note|
|33||9/8/2013||@CAR||W 12-7||5||81||11/29/2015||PIT||W 39-30||9|
|34||9/15/2013||SF||W 29-3||26||82||12/6/2015||@MIN||W 38-7||31|
|35||9/22/2013||JAC||W 45-17||28||83||12/13/2015||@BAL||W 35-6||29|
|36||9/29/2013||@HOU||W 23-20 OT||3||84||12/20/2015||CLE||W 30-13||17|
|37||10/6/2013||@IND||L 34-28||-||Blown lead w/8:55 left||85||12/27/2015||STL||L 23-17||-||Down 23-17 w/0:17 left (no poss.)|
|38||10/13/2013||TEN||W 20-13||7||86||1/3/2016||@ARI||W 36-6||30|
|39||10/17/2013||@ARI||W 34-22||12||87||1/10/2016||@MIN||W 10-9||17|
|40||10/28/2013||@STL||W 14-9||5||88||1/17/2016||@CAR||L 31-24||-||Down 31-24 w/1:12 left (no poss.)|
|41||11/3/2013||TB||W 27-24 OT||3||89||9/11/2016||MIA||W 12-10||2|
|42||11/10/2013||@ATL||W 33-10||23||90||9/18/2016||@LARM||L 9-3||-||Down 9-3 w/1:53 left|
|43||11/17/2013||MIN||W 41-20||21||91||9/25/2016||SF||W 37-18||19|
|44||12/2/2013||NO||W 34-7||27||92||10/2/2016||@NYJ||W 27-17||10|
|45||12/8/2013||@SF||L 19-17||-||Blown lead w/0:26 left||93||10/16/2016||ATL||W 26-24||2|
|46||12/15/2013||@NYG||W 23-0||23||94||10/23/2016||@ARI||T 6-6 OT||-||Tied after 2nd OT poss. (missed FG)|
|47||12/22/2013||ARI||L 17-10||-||Blown lead w/2:13 left||95||10/30/2016||@NO||L 25-20||-||Blown lead w/12:24 left|
|48||12/29/2013||STL||W 27-9||18||96||11/7/2016||BUF||W 31-25||6|