Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Oct 2013

ESPN: Best to Come for Surging 49ers

Remember early in the season when it looked like the 49ers were struggling? They've quietly reestablished themselves as contenders, and help for their receiving corps and pass rush could be on the way.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 29 Oct 2013

21 comments, Last at 12 Nov 2013, 8:41pm by Ian Chapman


by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/29/2013 - 3:28pm

Unfortunately (and the same of course goes for KC and DEN) no matter how much the Niners surge, one of them or the Hawks is going to be the 5 seed. And both have such soft schedules that it's likely to come down to just a couple of games. Niners need to either win vs. both NO and SEA (which sets them up to beat out Seahawks via strength of victory even if both go 14-2), or at least win vs. SEA with SEA losing to NO (probably gives SF the 2 seed on the same tiebreaker).

But SEA gets NO at home while SF has to go on the road, and if SF loses to SEA they're basically locked into a wildcard (as SEA could lose an additional two games and still beat them on head to head).

Strange as it seems it looks like we're set to have 2 of the 4-6 best teams in the league each needing 3 road wins to reach the SB.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Tue, 10/29/2013 - 5:06pm

I think you also need to look at the Niner's schedule and who they have yet to face (and where) vs Seattle.

Let's look at the comparitive schedules from weeks 1-8:


GB(28-34,W), @Sea(3-29,L), IND(7-27,L), @StL (35-11,W), HOU (34-3,W), ARZ(32-20,W), @TEN(34-17), @JAX/London(42-10)

Note that four games were played at home and four on the road (and really the Jax game is almost a bye no matter where it's played). The only good team of the bunch that SF has beaten is GB and that was at home, and that was down to the wire. The two teams that were supposed to be on the Niners level (Sea and Indy) both destroyed the Niners.

By comparison look at Sea:

@Car(12-7,W),SF(3-29,W),JAX(17-45,W), @HOU(23-20 OT,W), @IND(28-34,L), TEN(13-20,W), @ARZ(34-22,W), @StL(14-9,W)

Notice that not only has Seattle played one more road game, but they've played four road games in the past five weeks...the hardest road schedule NFL scheduling allows. Not only that but Car (by DVOA) is a good team and have shown it recently, and Seattle destroyed SF head to head. Sea did lose to Indy, but dominated much of that game...and on the road. Unlike what SF did when they faced Indy at home. The TEN and ARZ score are misleading. Sea did much better against ARZ (on the road no less) than SF did, and did about the same against TEN score notwithstanding (there was a fluke play at the end of the first half that gave TEN a ten point swing).

Now let's see what both teams have left:

SF is currently on their bye. When they get off it, they face:


That's four road games. What's more, while Washington isn't as good as people expected, Carolina is for real, and New Orleans definately is. Teams typically don't beat New Orleans in New Orleans. It might not quite be Clink or Arrowhead, but it's close. By the time the Niners to face Sea at home, Seattle should be at full strength.

By contrast, let's look at what Seattle faces:

TB, @ATL, MIN, -bye-, NO, @SF, @NYG, ARZ, STL

Notice that five of the last eight are at home (and frankly teams don't beat Seattle in Seattle) and crucially the most important matchup for both teams (New Orleans) happens at home for seattle vs on the road for san fran. I suspect that will be the difference right there.

by Nick Bradley (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 7:47pm

also notice that Seattle has looked absolutely terrible in 4/5th of their road games and should be by all rights 1-4 on the road.

Carolina fumbled the game away in the open field
Schaub 'schaub'd' the game away
The Rams went out of their way to p**s away the Monday nighter.

to be honest, I've never seen a team with such a stark home-road differential in my life...

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Thu, 10/31/2013 - 12:18am

Seattle won the Carolina game not just on the scoreboard,but statistically as well. Also remember that Seattle left points on the board. Seattle was well within scoring range when Pete decided to simply kill the clock and walk away with the win. I also note that Carolina is a GOOD team. Look at the DVOA, don't take my word.

At the time the Texans were considered a possible Superbowl team, and Schaub was playing out of his mind as was the Texan defense. I also note that after the first half, Seattle completely shut down the Texans. They didn't score a single point after halftime. Yes, it was a game where Seattle didn't look their best, BUT THEY WON.

I won't excuse how Seattle looked on Monday Night but again THEY WON. Next to Seattle, the Niner's schedule has been relatively cush. Seattle has had to deal with 4 road games out of the last five (only the NYGiants have had to do the same and they went 1-4 during this). 2 of these were 10am starts, and one was being a road time on a Thurs Night game.....and even then, Seattle played the Cardinals much better than San Fran did (and San Fran was at home).

I also point out that both teams lost to Indy, but Seattle looked much better in comparison...esp when you consider that Seattle was on the road and San Fran was at home.

Of course Seattle is almost invincible at home, but Seattle finds a way to win Road Games this season, and ultimately that's all that matters. Finding a way to win.

by Rhombus (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 4:10am

With all the strength of schedule analysis I'm seeing for the 49ers and the Seahawks, I have yet to see one critical point: the 49ers are playing much better football than Seattle has been, for the last 5 weeks. The 49ers are a better team. That means that Seattle is more likely to drop a game against an "inferior" team, like they almost did against the Rams, the Texans, and the Panthers. They will lose a game that no one expects them to. If I were to guess, I'd say they're going to hit a three-game losing streak against the Saints, Niners, and Giants late in the season. But that's only a guess. The only games I see as a complete slam dunks are the TB and MIN games.

And let's not keep saying that Seattle is invulnerable at home. They have had plenty of close calls that could have gone either way, this season and last. If the season continues the way it has, the 49ers will win this division. Not by the small difference in strength and schedule, but by virtue of being the superior team.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 12:43pm

Even as a 49ers fan I think that much of this is a stretch, I fully expect the Seahawks to improve with the return of Okung. That allows the guy currently playing left tackle to slide back to guard, which upgrades two spots, and then Harvin comes in.

Plus New Orleans are similar to Seattle, great at home and mortal on the road. If the niners are going to win the division it will probably be on some sort of tiebreaker and I have no idea who is likely to come out ahead there. Of they'd slipped up against the Rams it might be a different story but they dodged that bullet.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 1:47pm

This is a lot of wishful thinking from a Niners game based on one putrid game. No one disputes that the Seattle game against the Rams was putrid. However, the Rams are the absolute worst matchup for the Seahawks right now.....and lest you forget, the Seahawks won anyway.

Basically Seattle has to survive until they get their line back which should be in two weeks. Who to they face in that period? Tampa Bay at home. I think even with Seattle as it is, they win that one, and Altanta on the road. Unlike the Rams, Atlanta has an anemic pass rush at best, and that means Atlanta will probably lose.

I also urge you to take of the niner-eyeshades and look at both teams and both games on a play by play basis. DVOA has done this. San Fran has performed well in DVOA, but Seattle is a clear #2 in the NFL. That tells you overall "who has been playing better football".

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 1:47pm

Sorry, I meant to say from a Niners fan based on one putrid game.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 2:06pm

I agree with some of this but his point wasn't based on one proof game, it also took account of how the niners have improved recently. As the season progresses weeks two and three should fall out of weighted DVOA and the niners might start to look much stronger, especially if Manningham and Crabtree are in decent form, plus they expect Aldon Smith back. It could look different as the year winds down but yes, Seattle are in the driver's seat right now.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 2:31pm

Yes, the Niners have improved recently frankly in spite of Kaepernick and not because of it largely by rediscovering their identity through Frank Gore. Like I said before, good for the Niners, but Seattle hasn't been declining in DVOA, and while San Fran has been improving, it's easy to forget how putrid the Niners were around week three (and it was an overreaction...the Niners are better than what they showed in weeks 2 and 3).

My point is that while Seattle's offense has been suspect, this is fully shown and accounted for in DVOA. San Fran in DVOA has a better offense, no question, but to say (outside of one admittedly putrid game) that the Niners have been playing better when analyzed play by play is simply not the truth. In fact Seattle's defensive DVOA improved from the Monday night game and it should have.

I am not saying that the Niners aren't on a winning streak and aren't playing well. However, the way I see it, the Niners are in almost exactly the same position that Seattle was in last year. Like last year, I expect the division to be in doubt until the very last game of the season.

by samueljames (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 4:38pm

Home / Road splits past 2.5 seasons

15-4 / 10-11 (think of how easy this could be 9-12)

San Francisco
16-3-1 / 15-5

It is so frustrating as a 49ers fan knowing how much better they have to be than the Seahawks in order to get home field in the playoffs. IMO the Seattle home field advantage is one of the most lame things about the NFL. The 49ers, Rams and Cardinals and to a lesser extent the whole NFC are playing against a stacked deck every single year. Can anyone think of an MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL or MLS or any sport for that matter where a team has that big of advantage? On a neutral field there is no question who would be the favorite in a SF-SEA game.

by Nick Bradley (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 7:54pm

Its an asymmetric advantage -- its not like in San Francisco or Green Bay, where both teams have to deal with swirly winds or the deep cold.

Seatlle turns off the sound when they're on offense, while the other team can't call complex passing plays.

their las home loss was to the 49ers in 2011, in a goofy game that the 49ers should have lost (concussion late-hit on KWilliams after he fumbles a punt).

by samueljames (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 5:06pm

I mean... come on dude. The 49ers were without:
HOF/GOAT MLB - P. Willis
All-Pro OLB - A. Smith
All-Pro WR - M. Crabtree
All-Pro TE - V. Davis
Starting NT - I. Williams
Starting WR - M. Manningham
Starting FS - E. Reid

Absolutely none of this is accounted for in DVOA. Do you think had these players played the 49ers might have potentially fared better in weeks 2-3? Hence improving there DVOA? DVOA also does not account for the SEA home field advantage, what's crazy is that if all those players were playing SEA would probably still be the favorites if the game was played at C-Link!

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 7:01pm

I think the split of the last 2.5 seasons is a tad convenient don't you? How about we look at the home road split more recently...say the last full season (last 16 regular season games) when both the Niners and Seahawks had the SAME starting QBs (Kaep and Wilson respectively):

SF (home/away): 6-1-1/5-3
Sea (home/away): 8-0/6-2

When you look at it with both current starting QBs, SF is good but Sea is simply better both at home AND on the road.

If you just look at this season, San Fran is 3-1 at home and 3-1 on the road. This is extremely good. However Seattle is 3-0 at home, but an extremely impressive 4-1 on the road. This is better.

I also note that San Fran was basically healthy when they faced Seattle, but Seattle really hasn't been fully healthy since week 2 (and not even though most of the game against San Fran). Seattle is 7-1 anyway.

I'd say the DVOA measure for both teams right now is fair.

by Nick Bradley (not verified) :: Wed, 10/30/2013 - 7:50pm

that doesn't make any sense -- Seattle got a 'real' quarterback 24 games ago and that should be the baseline.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Thu, 10/31/2013 - 12:11am

No. Seattle wasn't the same team in the first half of 2012 and for that matter neither were the Niners, so taking the last 16 games is completely fair. That's when Kaepernick became the Niner's QB.

Look Niner fans, stop trying to chop it up favorably. Either use the last 16 games (reg season) which at least is a head to head comparison, or just talk about this season.

by Curt Sampson (not verified) :: Thu, 10/31/2013 - 11:12pm

This is coming from someone who has chopped up everything to be favorable for the Seahawks. Someone that discounts the amount that SEA's home field helps out their offense and defense; a statistic that is very hard to decipher in my opinion although you could look at it in the fact that SEA averages 31.3 pts at home compared to 22.2 pts away and a defense that allows 11 pts at home compared to 19.4 pts away. Deciphering a handicap that other teams play with at SEA could reasonably be placed at 10 considering that SEA's opponents on the road are within less than a field goal of beating them.

Comparatively the 49ers are a much more consistent team in places that are to their disadvantage. Most agree that Candlestick isn't that hard of a place to play. Its just not. Green Bay owned it for years in the 90s and various teams have been able to win there over the years without it being too difficult which makes it easier to look at the quality of the team calling it home. The 49ers average 26.75 pts at home and 27.75 pts away. They allow 19.5 at home and 16.75 pts away. So the 49ers are averaging wins by a TD at home and wins by 11 on the road.

I find it hard to believe that DVOA is taking into account the size of SEA's homefield advantage and thus isn't necessarily a great stat to go by when analyzing the difference and advantages between SEA and SF. What's funny to me is that last year's SEA@SF game was a perfect example of a 49ers win at home.

This is not to mention certain flawed statements in analysis as in "49ers are winning in spite of Kaepernick." This one is ridiculous considering Kaepernick has posted a 75.2 QBR throughout the season and has posted the best two games out of any QB in the NFL the last two weeks. If anything, the statement could be said about Seattle's Russell Wilson. Wilson has only posted two QBR games that are above what Kaepernick averages and those two games were against opponents SEA hosted, TEN and JAC, in which Kaep outdueled him in those QBR scores as was posted above.

Another flawed comment "The 49ers were basically healthy in week 2" is laughable as well. I'll be the first one to say that SEA was no where near full strength either in week 2 as Clemons and Harvin were out and Bruce Irvin was suspended. Cliff Avril was also coming off a hamstring injury as well. But to say that the 49ers were basically healthy is clearly off the mark. We could first mention the injured Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham leaving a WR corps of Anquan Boldin and some other guys who had barely played at this level (Marlon Moore was listed as the #2 WR in Wk 2.) Let's mention that starting NT Ian Williams went down in the 1st Qtr of said game with a broken ankle. (Game was 0-0) Let's mention 40th overall pick, Tank Carradine was still not activated. CB Eric Wright wasn't activated either. To say the 49ers were basically healthy is just wrong and ignorant.

The funniest thing though is the "chop it up favorably" comment considering that right afterwards Chapman chops it into a favorable outcome for a Seattle argument. Seattle's best arguments are that they beat SF 29-3 and that they lost to Indy on the road compared to SF losing to them at home. SF can argue that they are a more consistent team, home and away, and that some of their best players haven't been on field for a majority of the season.

Both fanbases have real reasons to be rooting against each other considering a loss by SEA gives the 49ers an upper hand and even a better control over their destiny; a loss by SF would put the 49ers in the position of hoping that SEA would lose to a losing team on the road (hasn't happen since @MIA last year) or losing at home (hasn't happened since vs SF in '11). To me, they both have a 50% chance of winning the division in my opinion.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 2:06am

1. I discount QBR. There is far too much 'wiggle' factor built into that for me to accept it as valid. I'll use the FO measurements (replacement value) or even the flawed (but objective) QB Rating. I note by both those traditional standards Kaep doesn't look nearly so good (ESPN has a hard-on for QBs that run, hence Kaep's QBR).

2. There is a very distinct difference in DVOA when Seattle is home vs away. Need I remind you, that Seattle's current DVOA has five road games and only three home games? I also note that your Jax game was "away" and Seattle's Jax game was at home. That will skew things a bit doncha think?

3. The article was are talking about flatly tells us that the 49ners are winning in spite of Kaep. The 49ners are winning on the back of Gore...which again I say good for the Niners, but it is what it is.

4. You (and a lot of Niner fans) seem to insist on adding in data that simply isn't relavent any more. The Niners are a different team under Kaep then under Smith, just as the Seahawks since week 8 of last season have also been a completely different team. Yes, Seattle plays much better at home, but the inconvenient fact is that Seattle since the midpoint of last season has an impressive record on the road...at least as good as that of the 49ners.

5. Did you miss the fact that starting LT Okung didn't play past the first qtr either? If you don't think that hasn't been important, then you haven't been paying attention. Boldin did play in week 2 and was completely shut down. Neither team was at full strength, but while the Niners had some pieces off the board, I'd argue Seattle had more off the table then. Kaep still looked like a deer in the headlights...as did his team. Again, it is what it is.

6. I have said that San Fran is a more consistant team. DVOA agrees (but San Fran is fairly variable as well altough Sea is more). However, when you add it all up, at least this year (and probably the last half of last year as well), Seattle overall is simply a better team. Do better teams always win? No. It is the way to bet usually.

7. I also would say that San Fran has had a much easier and kinder schedule so far not just in opponents, but when they occure on the schedule and WHEN and WHERE they are played. San Fran has not had to face four road games in five weeks. Seattle did...and went 4-1.

8. Frankly the division and seeding is probably going to come down to the following things:
a. San Fran has to play New Orleans at New Orleans. The Superdome isn't quite Arrowhead or the Clink but it's close. I think San Fran probaly loses that one.
b. New Orleans has to play Seattle in Seattle and on Monday Night. Seattle likely wins that one.
c. Seattle is a much better team than the one that went down to the 'stick the last time, and will be at full strength. That applies to the Niners too. If Seattle wins in San Fran, Seattle probably wraps up the division then and there.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 10:26am

This crap has become really dull. Please go back to field gulls.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 8:41pm

Four words (regarding "going back to Seagulls....a site I don't visit fwiw):

I. Told. You. So.

by Bill Walsh's Holy Ghost (not verified) :: Thu, 10/31/2013 - 9:36pm

I must begrudgingly admit that SEA is the better team, both last year and this. However, the football gods don't always pay attention to DVOA and a bad bounce or two could literally swing the whole NFC.

I haven't been overly impressed with Wilson this year and their OL hasn't played well. Yes, Harvin is coming back but will he stay healthy? Has SEA actually learned to win on the road or have they just been fortunate?

SF seems to be getting a little better each week and help at WR cannot come soon enough. I'd still like to see a better pass rush and hopefully we will get to see A. Smith this year again.

Regardless, I think the last few weeks as these two teams match up again should be great to watch.