NFC Wild Card Preview

NFC Wild Card Preview
NFC Wild Card Preview
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Danny Tuccitto (SEA-WAS) and Rivers McCown (MIN-GB)

While the narrative for the majority of the season was that the NFC had most of the best teams in the NFL, thanks to injuries in Chicago and ... well, whatever the heck happens to the Giants every season, the actual playoff field is fairly weak by our numbers. Atlanta, which won't be playing just yet, is a historically weak No. 1 seed. Washington, which nosed out Dallas and the Giants for the NFC East crown, was 3-6 and left for dead after Mike Shanahan's famous "evaluating players for next year" comments. While they rebounded handily in the second half of the season, they're still without Brian Orakpo and finished in about the 36th percentile since 1991 when it comes to DVOA for 10-win teams. Minnesota was left for dead at least twice. With Percy Harvin finally placed on IR with a recurring ankle injury, and a streak where they lost four of five in the middle of the season weighing down their record, they seemed an unlikely playoff team at the start of December. What followed was, well, Adrian Peterson. Still, even with his brilliant performance down the stretch, Minnesota's 2.0% DVOA puts them in the bottom 19 percent of all 10-win teams since 1991. Neither of these teams are juggernauts, and they are facing two of the three teams in the NFC this weekend that we see as strong contenders for the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, Seattle has been much better at home this season (though we explained away some of that a few weeks ago) and Minnesota did just put the moves on Green Bay to make it to the dance in the first place. So maybe the obvious answers aren't necessarily the correct ones.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. Any game charting data that appears with an bold asterisk appears courtesy of the ESPN Stats & Information Group and is complete through the end of the season. Other game charting data (such as defensive back coverage stats) is roughly 85 percent complete.

For a scouting perspective, make sure to also check out Andy Benoit's NFC Film Room.

Minnesota at Green Bay

Vikings on Offense
DVOA 0.3% (15) -7.3% (8)
WEI DVOA 0.9% (14) -6.7% (11)
PASS 0.3% (22) -8.1% (7)
RUSH 7.8% (6) -6.4% (14)
RED ZONE -15.3% (22) -0.8% (14)

Packers on Offense
DVOA 19.5% (3) 3.1% (21)
WEI DVOA 19.0% (4) 6.4% (23)
PASS 40.6% (3) 14.8% (24)
RUSH -0.8% (13) -13.4% (7)
RED ZONE 42.5% (2) 14.3% (28)

Special Teams
DVOA 4.7% (5) -0.2% (18)
MIN kickoff +2.5 (11) 0.0 (17)
GB kickoff +7.9 (5) -1.5 (18)
MIN punts +4.0 (12) +2.5 (10)
GB punts -0.1 (16) +9.7 (7)
FG/XP +9.5 (2) -11.8 (31)

All readers can click here for in-game discussion on our message boards. If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

You may remember this game from such weekends as the last one. There are a couple of key personnel difference in this one: Randall Cobb and Charles Woodson will both be back in the fold for Green Bay. Cobb has been Aaron Rodgers' most effective receiver this year, and Woodson will enable some more complex schemes even though it's likely he'll be playing limited snaps.

On the Vikings side, most of the talk is about playing through pain. Adrian Peterson apparently has an abdomen injury, which is strange considering that he is actually a robot. Christian Ponder is dealing with an elbow injury that limited him in Thursday practice, and is expected to gut it out. Ditto for cornerback Antoine Winfield and his broken hand.


When these teams last met, in the long ago time of last Sunday, Adrian Peterson happened. He has happened in both games against the Packers this year, in fact. The main difference between the two games was that Christian Ponder had a 59.2% DVOA in Week 17's triumph and a -37.3% DVOA in Week 13's loss. Minnesota's passing offense has had back-to-back positive DVOA's the past two weeks for the first time since Weeks 5 and 6, but Ponder on the whole has had a fairly lackluster season. Ponder is still very much in the embryonic stage of development when it comes to the deep passing game; Minnesota is here because they managed to mask a lot of his deficiencies over the course of the season through play-action, defined reads that limited the field, and swing passes out of the backfield.

Minnesota will continue to feed Peterson until the game situation dictates otherwise. Out of two-back sets, which the Vikings used in 37 percent of situations this year*, Minnesota averaged 6.5 yards per rush. Against Green Bay last week, they notched 6.1 yards per rush with two backs on the field. Opponents had successful plays in short-yardage situations against Green Bay only 51 percent of the time, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NFL, so B.J. Raji is doing his part to keep the line of scrimmage stuffed. The Packers have dropped safeties in the box and even tried some 5-2 sets against the Vikings in their two match-ups, so this isn't a schematic problem -- it's a personnel one. Green Bay does not have to limit Peterson to win the game, but if they do manage to contain him, this game probably turns into a rout.

One of the big questions our kahuna asked on the Bill Simmons podcast this week was how the Vikings were going to take advantage of the fact that Green Bay gives up a 16.3% DVOA to No. 1 receivers. Well, the answer isn't Michael Jenkins, but it might be Jarius Wright. Wright finished the year with just over 200 total snaps, but has been seeing about the same number of snaps as Jerome Simpson over the last month of the season. (Jenkins sees more snaps than either of them because he is a motion blocker in a majority their 12-personnel sets.) Wright has begun to absorb most of Percy Harvin's role in the offense, even seeing time as the designated trick swing pass guy off play-action. He was heavily involved in last week's win, and he'll have to be a big part of the game plan in a positive way on Sunday for Minnesota to advance.

How inconsistent is Ponder's deep ball? Before their win in Houston in Week 16, his last completed pass that traveled more than 15 yards downfield was in Week 10. Yes, from Week 9 to Week 15, Ponder was 1-of-23 on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, with three interceptions. The most famous of his three long conversions last week, which Matt Bowen broke down here, came on a three-man rush. And as Kevin Siefert pointed out earlier this week, Green Bay did not really throw the hounds at Ponder on third down last week. Expect to see that change, especially now that Charles Woodson is back.

Other than Peterson, Minnesota doesn't really have a talent edge that they would look to exploit in this game on offense. The Packers did an exceptionally poor job on passes to opposing running backs this year (22.8% DVOA allowed, 27th), but Peterson has never really been effective catching the ball -- he notched a -15.4% DVOA on receptions, 33rd among NFL backs. However, former second-rounder Toby Gerhart was sixth among running backs in receiving DVOA, so one way the Vikings could generate some big plays is to involve him just enough to where they could run some screens for him.

Woodson's return will allow the Packers to use more of their favorite package: the 2-4-5. Green Bay has ran that on just 36 percent of defensive snaps this season, as compared to 61 percent in 2011. The main increase has come in the form of dime packages, which the Packers used on 32 percent of snaps this season and hardly used at all in 2011 (seven percent). That's a big deal because, statistically, they have been much better out of the 2-4-5 over the past two seasons. Even during their abysmal defensive season in 2011, they allowed just 2.2% DVOA and 6.3 yards per play while running the 2-4-5. This season, they've allowed only 4.5 yards per play out of it. While that's not an optimal formation to run against Peterson and company, it's clearly the best one that Green Bay has.

Ultimately, if you are a Minnesota partisan and want reasons for optimism beyond AP, you are rooting for Ponder's improvement over the past two weeks to not be a small sample size illusion and to instead be the norm going forward. If you need a narrative to attach to it, call it the marriage bump. While Minnesota's run game is designed to take advantage of Green Bay's run defense, they're still going to need a handful of big plays with the arm rather than the legs if they're aiming to keep pace with the Packers.


The narrative would say that only one question really matters: can Minnesota get pressure on Aaron Rodgers with just four men? Green Bay's overall effectiveness in the passing game was down this year, yes, but a fundamental change in how the Packers have fared this year is that Rodgers' 2011 script completely flipped. Last year, the more pass rushers you sent at him, the better his yards per pass was. (6.2 yards per pass against three rushers, 8.5 against four, and 9.0 against five.) This year, Rodgers had 11.0 yards per pass against three rushers, 6.9 against four, and 5.4 against five.* All the shuffling on the offensive line has certainly taken its toll, as have the injuries in the receiving corps.

Minnesota's defense has the same basic split: 9.2 yards allowed while rushing three, 6.1 yards allowed while rushing four, and 4.7 yards allowed while rushing five. However, despite spending more time in their 4-2-5 nickel package this year (52 percent) than in their base 4-3 (42 percent), Minnesota blitzed more often out of the 4-3. Against the Packers, who base out of 11-personnel, the Vikings will almost certainly be spending 65 percent or more of the snaps in the nickel. They should probably be sending more blitzes than they normally would in this one.

Greg Jennings' return to full health is something that should concern the Vikings. Jennings had been hampered by a groin injury and is just now rounding into form, as he posted 87 DYAR alone in Week 17. While it's true that his big numbers against Minnesota last week were partially due to his role in the slot in that game, if Green Bay has a pair of receivers repeatedly beating man coverage, this game becomes a Hopeless Boss Fight for the Minnesota defense. Minnesota was dead-last in DVOA allowed to No. 2 receivers (38.6%) this year.

Minnesota's defensive rebound has mostly been keyed around their pass rush. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have both shown, at times, that they can take over an individual game this season. Jared Allen is still Jared Allen. Harrison Smith has been the victim of improper spacing in an up-and-down rookie season, but he shows terrific instincts when he's actually near the ball. Chris Cook had promising numbers early in the season (58 percent Success Rate, 5.6 yards per pass allowed) before breaking his arm and being placed on IR with a return designation. Since he's been back, he's been a bit of a target. The rest of Minnesota's pass defense isn't anything special.

Schematically, you'll see a lot of Cover-2 from the Vikings, who are very much a zone team at this point. Green Bay will probably go back and heavily attack the right side of the field: 24 of their 38 attempts last week were on that side, and teams throwing against Minnesota threw to the right 41 percent of the time this season. If Green Bay dares to leave the 11-personnel formation, Minnesota can be attacked in their base set with twin-receiver packages. They almost never motion a cornerback to follow to that side, leaving favorable matchups against Smith or Jamarca Sanford in space. Seattle, most notably, abused that in Week 9 by throwing wide receiver screens to Minnesota's side of the field out of twin sets with 21-personnel.

Oh, and Green Bay might try to run the ball too sometimes. It will purely be for show given their problems at the running back spot, where Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, and now DuJuan Harris have combined for very little in the way of yardage. Harris did post some solid small sample size DVOA (31.1%), but expect the Packers to eschew the run against the seventh-ranked run defense by DVOA this year. There are more enticing match-ups in the passing game.

Green Bay probably won't move the ball at will, especially if Minnesota's pass rush is breaking through the leaky offensive line. But barring Rodgers spending another day running for his life, the Packers should be able to carve up the Vikings secondary for a second straight week.


Minnesota finished the season fifth in special teams DVOA, but a lot of their seasonal value has been sidelined with the loss of Percy Harvin. Minnesota finished in the top five of our special teams metrics on kickoff returns, but Harvin's absence has left them considerably less explosive. Marcus Sherels has been the main returner in his absence. Of course, if Minnesota relents to Peterson's requests and actually puts him on special teams, well, that could take care of the missing explosiveness. Greg Zuerlein got all of the rookie kicker hype this season for the length of some of his field goals, but Blair Walsh was the best kicker on field goals and extra points this season not named Sebastian Janikowksi. The Vikings have solid coverage units and a punter who is known more for his words and actions than his performance.

Green Bay employs Mason Crosby. Say what you will about the accuracy of kickers being a week-to-week proposition in general, but his inaccuracy this season has to weigh on his coach's mind in any close decision on fourth down. If David Akers weren't busy being so terrible that he might lose his job to Billy Cundiff, the Packers would have had the worst field-goal kicking in the league. Randall Cobb's explosive returns have dried up a bit with his full-time role on offense, but kicking to him is still a frightening proposition. Even if he's not back there, Jeremy Ross put in a few solid returns in Week 17.


Peterson has spent this season defying all common logic, but unless Week 16 and 17 marked the sudden berth of Christian Ponder, Legitimate NFL Quarterback, logic will correct course here and send the Vikings home. It should be a closer game than the point spread indicates, however.

Seattle at Washington

Seahawks on Offense
DVOA 18.5% (4) 1.8% (17)
WEI DVOA 31.2% (1) -2.0% (13)
PASS 37.4% (4) 4.4% (14)
RUSH 16.7% (1) -2.5% (22)
RED ZONE 28.7% (4) -3.8% (12)
Redskins on Offense
DVOA 15.3% (6) -14.1% (4)
WEI DVOA 16.1% (5) -9.5% (7)
PASS 29.3% (6) -18.1% (3)
RUSH 16.3% (2) -8.1% (12)
RED ZONE 25.2% (5) -32.1% (2)
Special Teams
DVOA 5.7% (3) -4.0% (27)
SEA kickoff +8.5 (5) -3.6 (22)
WAS kickoff +9.1 (4) +0.6 (15)
SEA punts +12.0 (6) -4.3 (23)
WAS punts -3.0 (19) -13.8 (29)
FG/XP +1.9 (11) +1.2 (14)

All readers can click here for in-game discussion on our message boards. If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

Given the vast difference in DVOA, it would be a stretch to call this a game between evenly matched teams. However, although they might not be "evenly matched," Washington and Seattle are still a "match" in the Catholic Match Girl sense. Whether we're talking advanced stats or old-fashioned wins and losses, both enter the playoffs with a ton of momentum. Washington and Seattle have won a combined 12 games in a row, and are among the top three in difference between total and weighted DVOA. (Cincinnati is the other "hot" playoff team.) The Seahawks have had a DVOA above 20% in seven of their last nine games, while the Redskins have passed that threshold in six of their last seven. Late-season momentum doesn't mean much in the playoffs, but discounting momentum as an explanation for victory after the game doesn't change the fact that both teams are riding high entering the game.

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As the season progressed, the Seahawks' incorporation of pistol and (especially) zone-read concepts into its pro-style attack made these two offenses more and more similar to the naked eye, as well as the one in the sky. Indeed, Pete Carroll's impetus for making said changes was watching the Redskins on tape back in September. Given that Mike Shanahan spent most of his career running a West Coast offense, it's safe to say that both defenses are well-accustomed to practicing against the offenses they will be facing on Sunday. To boot, Washington and Seattle both got gameday experience having to defend Cam Newton's take on the zone-read earlier this season. (Seattle also got to face Colin Kaepernick.) As was the case when various branches of the Bill Walsh coaching tree faced off in the playoffs of yore, familiarity means both teams will know what's coming; execution will be what wins the day.

Although the two quarterbacks are as different as they come in terms of size, speed, and arm strength, they're as similar as their respective offenses according to the stats. Robert Griffin ranked 11th in passing DYAR and eighth in passing DVOA this season; Russell Wilson ranked eighth and sixth. In rushing DYAR, Wilson ranked second, and Griffin ranked fifth. In ESPN's Total QBR, which combines both passing and running, Griffin ranked sixth and Wilson ranked eighth. And let's not forget that their statistical similarities actually began nine months ago when they finished one-two in this year's Lewin Career Forecast, only 120 projected DYAR apart.

One final parallel between these teams is the redemption story being written by both head coaches. Carroll flamed out in his previous NFL stops, with a rah-rah style better suited for college kids than pro veterans. Shanahan won Super Bowls with John Elway and Terrell Davis, but ceased winning playoff games without them. Lo and behold, allow Carroll to rebuild an NFL roster with college players, or give Shanahan an elite quarterback and late-round, zone-reading tailback, and long-elusive NFL success triumphantly emerges. Sometimes, being a jack of all trades really is worse than being a master of one.


Seattle has one of the most balanced attacks the DVOA era (1991-2012) has ever known; an offense predicated on strategic variation and quality over quantity. From a personnel standpoint, only Minnesota and San Francisco are postseason offenses exhibiting as much variety. Based on the game charting we've completed so far (over 85 percent of Seattle's total plays), the Seahawks line up in 11 personnel (i.e., one running back, one tight end) a plurality of the time (36 percent), but they use each of 12, 21, and 22 over 10 percent of the time. What's interesting is that their success rate is about 45 percent in all four personnel groups, and adding a second tight end doesn't tip off running plays as much as it does for most teams.

In terms of quality over quantity, the Seahawks offense ranks fourth in DVOA after embarking on the fewest drives in the league (162). Among our individual player stats, Wilson ranks sixth in DVOA having had the fewest pass plays of any 16-game starter (429). Furthermore, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Anthony McCoy all rank much higher in DVOA (i.e., value per play) than DYAR (i.e., total value). Essentially, this unit makes the most of limited opportunities.

This focus on efficiency leaves its fingerprints all over Seattle's DVOA splits, which show few, if any, situational weaknesses. The Seahawks rank in the top quartile of NFL offenses in running (No. 1), in passing (No. 4), on first down (No. 3), on second down (No. 7), on third/fourth down (No. 4), in the red zone (No. 4), in red zone passing (No. 4), and in red zone running (No. 3). Of note, however, is that, despite being mediocre overall, Washington's defense ranks in the bottom quartile for only one of the splits I just mentioned: 28th in red zone rush defense. Otherwise, they're as consistently average as Seattle's offense is consistently great.

Somewhat surprisingly, clear situational advantages also elude the Seahawks vis-à-vis the Redskins when it comes to strategic tendencies. For instance, Seattle ranked second in play-action passing frequency (35.2 percent)*, but Washington was one of the few defenses this season that didn't allow appreciably greater yards per play on play-action passes than on traditional passes. Similarly, the Seahawks ran the ball behind tackle more often than any team in the league (45 percent), but the Redskins defensive front seven ranked sixth in left tackle ALY and 15th in right tackle ALY. In addition, although Wilson ranked second in rush DYAR for quarterbacks, Washington ranked 11th in rush DYAR allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

With that said, there are a handful of situations that the Seahawks can exploit to great effect on Sunday. In the running game, although (again) it's an elite-versus-mediocre matchup overall, Washington's front seven probably won't be getting much penetration on Seattle's offensive line. The Seahawks ranked No. 1 in stuffed rate, while the Redskins ranked 26th. More importantly, Seattle ranked fourth in power success rate, while Washington ranked 31st. In short yardage, advantage Seahawks.

In the passing game, a constellation of tendencies works heavily in Seattle's favor, so you might see it early and often this weekend. Namely, Seattle (via Wilson) threw passes from outside the pocket more often than any other offense in the league (26.9 percent of all passes)*, and were one of only eight offenses more efficient on those throws than on ones from inside the pocket. In contrast, Washington had one of the few defenses that was actually less efficient on out-of-pocket throws.

Now, combine that with the following: Per ESPN Stats & Information Group data, Washington blitzes a defensive back 15.8 percent of the time, and Seattle ranks dead last in yards per play in the face of one (3.6).* Also, according to our own preliminary game charting, DeAngelo Hall was the worst starting cornerback in the league, with a 41 percent defensive success rate in coverage and 10.1 yards allowed per pass.

Put all of this together, and it doesn't take much imagination to envision a scenario whereby Darrell Bevell sends Wilson on a slew of designed rollouts to (a) counteract the Redskins blitz, and (b) take advantage of Hall's deficiencies in man coverage behind that blitz.


Like Seattle, Washington lines up with one running back on the field about 60 percent of the time. However, unlike Seattle, they seem to tip off their single-back runs: In 11 personnel, they run it 36 percent of the time, nearly half as often as when they're in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends).* Furthermore, Seattle's defense uses their base 4-3 personnel about 10 percent more often than Washington uses their base 3-4, so the Redskins won't benefit from running against nickel and dime as much as Seattle might.

That doesn't necessarily mean Washington is doomed to struggle in the running game on Sunday. In fact, given a matchup that's more favorable than most people realize, efficient running is probably their only path to winning. The Redskins offensive line ranked seventh in ALY, whereas the Seahawks front seven ranked 21st. In stuffed rate, Washington was third-best, while Seattle was 11th-worst. If Alfred Morris gets past the initial mass of humanity, he's got a favorable matchup at the second level (fifth vs. 22nd).

Most importantly, though, the Seahawks front seven has two weaknesses that align perfectly with Redskins run tendencies. Nearly one in five carries by a Washington running back goes to the outside right, which was the second-highest frequency in the league, and Seattle's front seven ranked 22nd in defending such runs. In addition, Griffin finished fifth in rushing DYAR among quarterbacks, and the Seahawks ranked 21st in DYAR allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

Contrast these situational matchups in the running game with those in the passing game. First, there's the obvious: Seattle owns the No. 3 pass defense DVOA, and the league's best cornerback tandem in Richard Sherman (62 percent defensive success rate, 6.6 yards allowed per pass) and Brandon Browner (62 percent, 5.3 yards). Pierre Garcon may have re-emerged as Washington's No. 1 wide receiver (twice as many targets as Josh Morgan over the final five games), but he's unlikely to find success against a duo that's spearheaded the top-ranked pass defense DVOA against opposing No. 1 wideouts.

Less obvious is that Griffin and the Redskins aerial attack has soared when opposing defenses blitz, but the Seahawks blitz fairly rarely. Specifically, Washington was No. 1 in yards per play against five or more rushers (8.8), but only seven defenses sent five or more rushers less often than Seattle (23 percent of pass plays).* Washington also ranked first in yards per play when the opponent blitzed a defensive back, but this week's opponent only does so at a league-average frequency.

Really, to find any statistical advantages for Washington's passing game on Sunday, you have to grasp at straws. As was the case with Seattle's offense (remember, they're a Catholic match), Washington's features out-of-pocket throws (fifth-highest frequency). Theirs aren't nearly as efficient in relation to in-pocket throws (24th in yards per play difference), but then again Seattle's defense is even worse at defending them (29th).

More promising is the general trend involving Seattle's home-road splits on defense. As FO's Aaron Schatz detailed in his Week 16 DVOA analysis, the Seahawks defense historically has been much worse on the road than at home, and this season has been no exception. What's encouraging for Washington's passing game is that, while Seattle's run defense has been equally good regardless of venue in 2012 (-10.3% DVOA at home, -10.0% DVOA on the road), their pass defense has been 42.1 percentage points worse on the road (+4.0%) than at home (-38.1%). This is what's driven Seattle to have the highest defensive DVOA variance in the league. So, if the Redskins pass offense is to find success this weekend, it will likely be due to the great pass defense that boarded the plane in Seattle alighting as a mediocre unit in Washington, D.C.


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Seattle will have a clear special teams advantage on Sunday, but it doesn't have as much to do with Leon Washington as you might think. Yes, the Seahawks ranked fourth in kickoff return points added this season, but the Redskins were actually slightly above average in kickoff coverage. Washington was far worse in punt coverage, but then again Seattle was far worse on punt returns. The key for Washington (the Redskins) bottling up Washington (Leon) will be the play of Lorenzo Alexander and Reed Doughty, two of this season's most prolific special teams tacklers. Alexander's 21 special teams tackles and 16 return stops led the league, with most of that coming in kickoff coverage, where he also ranked first in both categories. Doughty did most of his damage in punt coverage, tying for second in both tackles and stops.

No, the role of special teams in this game is likely to be a passive one, mostly involving nonexistent Redskins returns. Both of Seattle's coverage units ranked in the top six, whereas both of Washington's return units ranked in the bottom 11. Seattle also limited opponents to a league-worst average starting field position (24-yard line), so the bottom line here is not to expect any 50-yard scoring drives from the Redskins.

The good news for Washington, however, is that they've played much better lately on special teams. The Redskins' weighted DVOA ranked 16th, which is a quantum leap from their overall ranking of 27th. After two horrendous games in Week 1 (-30.3% DVOA) and Week 4 (-30.6%), things improved considerably -- cutting Billy Cundiff helped -- to the tune of 2.1% DVOA over the next 11 games. Unfortunately, that improvement would be even larger if not for the -20.1% game DVOA they posted in Week 17 with their season on the line. It was as if all the early season ghosts reconvened for a haunting at the absolute worst time: They allowed 26.0 yards per punt return to Dwayne Harris, DeAngelo Hall muffed a punt, and Kai Forbath missed a 37-yard field goal. But then again, momentum doesn't mean much, right?


We've presented a few touching narratives, and a veritable cornucopia of situational stats to give you as detailed a sense of this game as possible. In the end, though, the view from 30,000 feet will probably prevail. According to DVOA, Seattle was the best team over the course of the season, and about 30 percentage points better than Washington whether we heavily weight recent games or not. As Vince noted in his ESPN Insider piece this week (linked earlier), teams with a DVOA advantage of 20 percent or more in their playoff matchups have won 72.3 percent of the time since 1991 (73.2 percent for a similar weighted DVOA advantage). That alone gives Seattle the historical edge.

But let's take that a step further. Seattle is not just a team with a massive DVOA advantage; they're a No. 1 team that failed to win their division, and therefore has to go on the road for a Wild Card round game. How have similar teams fared? Well, it only happened twice in the previous 21 years, and both won by at least two scores: The 2008 Philadelphia Eagles beat the Vikings 26-14 in Minnesota and the 2009 Baltimore Ravens beat the Patriots 33-14 in Foxboro. Neither team ended up making the Super Bowl, but their playoff exits came at the hands of Super-Bowl-bound teams. The Eagles lost the NFC Championship game in Arizona and the Ravens lost their next game to the 14-2 Colts in Indianapolis. So maybe a championship run isn't preordained for this year's Seahawks; whatever their ultimate fate, it will include a win on Sunday if history is an omen.


DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a rolling average of the last five games. Note that even though the chart appears in the section for when each team has the ball, it represents total performance, not just offense.


9 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2013, 12:11am

1 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

Washington Home DVOA vs Seattle Road DVOA
Offense - Washington: 18.6%, Seattle 10.7%
Defense - Washington: -0.8%, Seattle -1.0%

The way you think about the match-up is how much you trust or believe in the Seattle home/road differences.

4 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

As a Washington fan, Seattle's home/road splits are the only thing giving me hope, but I'm not optimistic.

On the bright side, the pleasure of watching RGIII, and making the playoffs while simultaneously eliminating Dallas, has made this season a thoroughly enjoyable one. In fact, to me, any playoff success this year is just gravy. It would be a little annoying to have the last three playoff trips ended by the same team, but this Seattle team is one that should probably make it to the later rounds.

5 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

I think the Seahawks road splits are more 10am v 1pm v 5pm splits, and omfgwtf is with this weather!? splits.

With the early games, it seems the Seahawks take a full half to get going, being that there are professionals on the other side half a football game generally isn't enough. I think this also continues into a MNF advantage particularly when compounded with the natural homefield advantage that the Seahawks enjoy. I think they may still have the highest win percentage on Monday nights.

Seattle doesn't drop below 30 for most of winter, and it is fairly unusual for it to be above 80 in the early fall. It's also located in a rainshadow so it's not particularly humid. Virtually the entire country is much hotter and much colder for much of the year.

I don't know what the weather is in DC, but if its generally east coast frozen hell, it has to help. Otherwise I think you're going to see a generally better version of the Seahawks.

No matter how the game turns out, this could be the start of a intra-conferance rivalry given that both teams seem to be on upswing; which might be fun.

3 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

Forecast is 26 degrees and clear but with a chance of snow beginning around halftime.

Should make for a great setting.

7 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

"As different as they come in terms of size, speed, and arm strength"? Does Griffin have a lousy arm? I'd say in size, Griffin is significantly taller but thinner. Both are very quick, but Griffin is a bit faster, and they both have great arm strength. There are plenty of differences between the QBs and teams without having to invent more.

8 Re: NFC Wild Card Preview

The Seahawks have shown themselves to be dramatically better on the road the last for road games versus the first four road games. This statistical observation is confirmed by the masked eye observation that Russell Wilson rapidly learned how to play on the road as the season progressed. The first for road games occurred while the playbook was still limited as the coaches tried to limit the opportunities for costly mistakes by a rookie QB. During the bye week the coaching staff decided Russell Wilson had earned their trust and the playbook was opened up. The Seahawks road DVOA since then and since the pistol formation was added is much better than the full season stats. My prediction is Seahawks 27 Redskins 13.