The NFL’s 2020 regular season is in the books. The Seattle Seahawks completed the season 12-4, winning the NFC West title and earning the conference’s No. 3 seed to the playoffs. Seattle opens the postseason Saturday when it hosts the Los Angeles Rams in the first round.
But with the playoffs about to begin the question everyone wants answered about the Seahawks is this: Are they a championship team?
The team believes it is. “I definitely feel like we have the ingredients,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who knows a little something about championship squads, said following Sunday’s 26-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. “I think the biggest thing for us is to do it consistently and do it at a high level for the whole game.”
But do the Seahawks profile like potential champions?
In an effort to answer that question I examined past championship teams. It was a balancing act figuring out how far back to look. One needs a large enough sample size to be significant, but one also has to take into account that the NFL has been evolving into more of a passing-offense league every year, meaning what may have been successful 10 years ago may not work today.
Therefore, I decided to go back five years and look at the previous 10 Super Bowl participants. What were those teams’ characteristics? How were they at scoring and preventing points? How did they do against the run and pass? How were they in the red zone? How many penalties did they commit?
I found three characteristics that pretty much all those teams shared: scoring points, converting third downs and turnover margin. Of those 10 teams nine finished in the top five in the league in scoring, nine were in the top nine in the league in converting third downs, and nine were in the top 11 in turnover margin. the one anomaly in all three cases was the 2015 Denver Broncos, who compensated by having a defense that was elite at pretty much everything.
How do the Seahawks stack up in those three categories? Seattle finished eighth in the league in scoring, 20th in third-down conversions and 10th in turnover margin. So two of the three categories are in championship range.
But wait, the Seahawks transformed dramatically during the course of the season. Through nine games Seattle’s defense was a mess, and the Seahawks were allowing so many passing yards that even the 1920 Everett High School football team, which passed the ball just eight times in winning the national championship game, would have gained yards through the air against the Seahawks. Since then Seattle’s D has become one of the league’s best. Meanwhile, the opposite happened on the other side of the ball, as the Seahawks came back to earth on offense after being lights out through the first half of the season. It all shook out to Seattle going 6-1 over its final seven games.
How do the numbers look during that stretch? Over their last seven games the Seahawks averaged 24.1 points per game, which would rank 18th in the league. That’s not a good development. Despite the diminished scoring output Seattle has been better on third downs (41.6%), but that was a small improvement that only moves the Seahawks up to 15th. Seattle is a plus-3 in turnovers over that period, which would rank eighth in turnover margin per game. Overall those numbers don’t cut it.
Has Seattle’s defense been Denver-caliber good over the past seven weeks, thus negating the offensive regression? In many ways it has. Seattle’s points allowed per game (15.0) would rank first in the NFL, while yards allowed per game (293.4) and sacks per game (3.4) would rank second. The one area that Denver dominated where Seattle doesn’t is again on third down, as the Seahawks allowed a 44.7% conversion rate over their final seven games, which was better than the first nine, but would still only move the team up one spot in the rankings to 26th.
There are other circumstances that need to be acknowledged. Scoring decreased league-wide as the season progressed, so Seattle is surely not the only team whose defensive numbers late in the season are better than they were early in the campaign — or whose offensive numbers have taken a hit. The Seahawks also headed into the final six games with the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule as determined by opponent winning percentage. And the potential unavailability of defensive stalwarts Jamal Adams and Jarran Reed after they picked up injuries Sunday further muddles the picture.
The conclusion? Recent history suggests the Seahawks have a tough road ahead to be a championship team. If it’s going to happen, Seattle needs the offense from the first half of the season to re-emerge, and the Seahawks need to be a whole lot better on third down on both sides of the ball.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.
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