Falcons-Seahawks: Better record against better numbers

"Nothing to sweat, guys. We'll beat 'em with analytics." (AP photo by Matt Slocum(

"There's nothing to sweat, guys. We'll dazzle 'em with analytics." (AP photo by Matt Slocum)

Two sets of numbers are at play in the run-up to Falcons-Seahawks. There are your basic W’s and L’s — quoth Bill Parcells: “In the NFL, you are what your record says you are” — and the Falcons were 13-3 in the regular season to Seattle’s 11-5. But more advanced analytics exist, and nearly all suggest that a road team with a lesser record and a rookie quarterback should win Sunday.

“On a play-to-play basis, Seattle has been a much better team that Atlanta,” said Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders. “That doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to play out on the field.”

“Back in 2010, when Atlanta was the No. 1 seed, all the advanced metrics said Green Bay was the No. 1 team in the NFC,” said Chase Stuart of Football Perspective. “Seattle fits that mold a little bit.”

The Falcons tied with Denver for the NFL’s best record. According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the Falcons were the league’s 10th-best team. Seattle was the best. Said McCown: “The Seahawks were top four in offense, top four in defense and top four in special teams.”

What of the Falcons’ glossy record? McCown: “They were the second-worst 13-win team ever.”

Stuart: “They’re different sides of the coin. Seattle was better than its record, and the Falcons weren’t as good as theirs.”

Some of this has to do with strength of schedule — “Atlanta had the 27th-hardest schedule in the (32-team) league,” McCown said — and some with the Falcons’ inability to win big while winning. In a Football Perspective post, Stuart pointed to the Simple Rating System employed by Pro-Football-Reference, where he used to work, that combines degree of difficulty with margin of victory and noted that Seattle ranks first in the NFC to the Falcons’ fifth.

Wrote Stuart: “This is just the second time such a matchup (where a team that won two more games than its opponent but finished five or more points worse in the SRS) has occurred in the last 10 years … and the first involved the 2010 Falcons (in the aforementioned 48-21 loss to Green Bay). In fact, this scenario has only unfolded five times since 1970.”

How did those first four games go? The team favored by advanced metrics lost twice, Stuart noted, but both bore asterisks: One was the Titans’ Music City Miracle kickoff return against Buffalo, and the other was a 1976 AFC title game victory by Oakland over Pittsburgh, which was missing both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.

About here, you might be saying: What do a bunch of pencil pushers know about a man’s game like football? Well, the older I get, the more fascinated I am by advanced analytics in all sports, and lately I’ve corresponded with enough analysts to know they don’t fit the profile of geeks gone wild. Said McCown: “We’re not living in our mother’s basement. We have our own houses.” (Although McCown’s personal blog is titled, archly enough, “From Mom’s Basement.”)

In November, the sabermetric baseball community was a-dither over the American League MVP balloting, which saw old-school numbers (Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown) trump new-age analytics (Mike Trout and his WAR total). As an interested layman, I see Falcons-Seahawks in that same vein. And, just for the record, I’d have voted for Trout.

McCown: “We project Seattle to win, but my personal feeling is that Atlanta will give them a close game. I think it will be low-scoring.”

Stuart: “I don’t think Atlanta is a bad team — it’s probably the eighth-best team in the league. I would agree that the passing game is better than it was in 2010, but from afar, this looks like the same average defense. Everyone thinks Seattle is really balanced, pretty good at everything, kind of like San Francisco last year … I think it’s a very, very close game, but I’d probably pick Seattle.”

But wait. Remember that part about the rookie quarterback? Russell Wilson isn’t to be confused with Aaron Rodgers just yet, is he?

Stuart: “I don’t think there’s that fear factor you get with (facing) other quarterbacks. So yes, Atlanta might be in a better position in that regard.”

OK. That makes me feel a bit better about my stated belief that these Falcons will win the Super Bowl. (In both advanced metrics and real life, you can’t win it all if you lose your first playoff game.) And what does Football Outsiders think of the Birds’ prospects?

McCown: “We give them a 7.1 percent chance (of winning the Super Bowl, which is sixth best of the eight teams standing). Me, I’d say their chances are closer to 15 percent.”

By Mark Bradley

180 comments Add your comment

dtanner

January 11th, 2013
7:55 am

Joe

January 11th, 2013
7:56 am

I’d say more like 98% this weekend and 30% on the superbowl

Joe

January 11th, 2013
7:57 am

and ohhh so close

Reebok

January 11th, 2013
8:03 am

If the Falcons win, it will be because the ‘Hawks rookie QB makes some game changing mistakes.

FalconJim

January 11th, 2013
8:04 am

First!!

Sounds like a bunch of “gobbledygook” to me. Falcons win BIG….mark it down, Mark!!!

Call It Like It Is

January 11th, 2013
8:07 am

Well if they don’t win this year against a rookie qb and against a team that just had an emotionally draining game last week, and a team that has to fly across the country and play on our field, than the dirty birds just need to hang it up. And with that being said Arthur needs to shut the heck up about a new dome. If you want to be the man, you got to beat the man.

Joe Football

January 11th, 2013
8:17 am

Sinking feeling for the Falcons and this confirms it….
Mark, hasn’t the the team that has finished first or second in DVOA won the SuperBowl the last 10 years?

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
8:20 am

Loud Crowd, Falcons win in a “statement” game.

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
8:22 am

Falcons 34
Seahawks 0

GTT

January 11th, 2013
8:28 am

Want to will win it. Hope the Falcons want to bad enough. If the Giants game team shows up they win, if the Panthers and Bucs team shows up sayonara.

the senator

January 11th, 2013
8:29 am

listening to Toronto sports talk this morning…they laugh at the Falcons, call them a fraud…Canadians know what they are talking about.

tmd39

January 11th, 2013
8:29 am

Loud crowd? In Atlanta? Seahawks 24-10. And Reebok, if you’re banking on Wilson making enough mistakes to tilt the game in Atlanta’s favor, I don’t think you’ve watching him enough. He doesn’t make many mistakes.

Michael

January 11th, 2013
8:35 am

Go Falcons!, hope you whip the Seattle Slimeballs

Hackjobs

January 11th, 2013
8:42 am

It comes down to this: In the games where the Falcons were supposed to roll this year, they played it close (OAK, Carolina, Arizona etc.). In games where everyone said that they didn’t have a chance, that they weren’t as good as the other team, they came out and make a statement. They walloped the Giants, they forced two future hall-of-fame QBs into horrendous games, and they made Mike Vick look like Mike Vick.

It will be a good game, but I think they will get it done.

12thManFlyBy

January 11th, 2013
8:42 am

All of this “home-dome-will-be-louder” nonsense cracks me up. Not sure if you’ve heard in the ATL, but the CLink is the loudest in the league. Russel can handle it. PLUS: How many seats still available to be scooped up by well-to-do Seattlites?
Good luck out there (mostly to TGonz), you’ll need it, Falcon fans.
Seahawks 27 – Falcons 17

brad

January 11th, 2013
8:51 am

it’s matt ryan. he always chokes in playoff games.
they will lose a close game 27-24

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
8:56 am

The CLink will be silent on Sunday.

FALCONS 34

Seahawks O

Mask of False Bravado

January 11th, 2013
8:56 am

the senator

January 11th, 2013
8:29 am
listening to Toronto sports talk this morning…they laugh at the Falcons, call them a fraud…Canadians know what they are talking about
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Bring on the Argos!!!

breakerbaker

January 11th, 2013
9:02 am

@12thMan…Are you saying Seattle fans don’t understand that they’re supposed to shut up when the Seahawks offense is on the field? As for how many seats are “available,” about 1,000 more than are available for the Packers-Niners game (a game that’s about 18 hours sooner and in a stadium that’s about 3,000 seats smaller).

Trey

January 11th, 2013
9:03 am

Seahwaks only beat Wash because RG3’s knee gave out. They were down 14-0. Everyone is high on them because they blew out some crap teams late in the season. I don’t see a scary game at all. I think the falcons win this game rather easily. I also expect asante to once again make a hit and fall down and go out. lol

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
9:04 am

After the Falcons beat them down,
the Seahawks will wish they were in The Canadian Football League.

brad

January 11th, 2013
9:05 am

ryan will c h o k e as he always does
dude can’t win in the playoffs.

MatthewH

January 11th, 2013
9:09 am

Mark,
If they were the second-worst 13 win team ever (as quoted in the article), who was the first?

breakerbaker

January 11th, 2013
9:11 am

I know Seattle’s a good team, but honestly nothing I saw from them last week–and nothing I saw from the Falcons when playing good teams this year–make me all that concerned that the Falcons will show up. I don’t when I have felt more confident (about a 7 of 10) about an Atlanta (Braves/Falcons/Hawks) playoff outcome–I was pretty sure they were going to lose to both the Packers and the Giants in the last two years.

breakerbaker

January 11th, 2013
9:11 am

I know Seattle’s a good team, but honestly nothing I saw from them last week–and nothing I saw from the Falcons when playing good teams this year–make me all that concerned that the Falcons will show up. I don’t when I have felt more confident (about a 7 of 10) about an Atlanta (Braves/Falcons/Hawks) playoff outcome–I was pretty sure they were going to lose to both the Packers and the Giants in the last two years.

206iccness

January 11th, 2013
9:12 am

Falcons fans are AWESOME!!! These are the most irrational statements I’ve seen on the comments board of an article all year!

Get ready to be shocked ATL.

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
9:13 am

Seattle and brad will choke as usual,

FALCONS 34
seahawks 0

baddaytoquitsmokin

January 11th, 2013
9:14 am

This game has me more worried than (if ATL wins) the next one will. Seattle’s mobile quarterback can cause the same problems that Cam Newton caused (200+ yds rushing and 500+ yds passing in two games), and the Falcons’ defense could be in for a long afternoon. Seattle’s defense is as good as any that ATL has played this season and has bigger DBs. The Falcons could use some semblance of a running game (PLEASE don’t come down to 4th &1!!) and have to win the turnover battle. Jet-lag is real but overrated and may be a factor late in a close game; the crowd will be a factor if they can keep the levels up — a couple of false-starts or time-outs due to noise would be a good thing. This game is very winnable if the Falcons-that-played-the-Giants show up, but if the Falcons-that-played-the-Bucs show up, well…

The 12th Falcon

January 11th, 2013
9:14 am

FALCONS WIN !

FALCONS WIN !

George Stein

January 11th, 2013
9:25 am

I tend to go with the objective metrics, too. However, Chris Clemons won’t be playing Sunday. Were the metrics accounting for that?

Note: How in the hell are we going to stop Lynch?

HadEnoughBS

January 11th, 2013
9:26 am

If the Falcons o-line protects Ryan, the Falcons win. People talk strength of schedule. BS. The Rams, Cardinals, Chargers. Washington was a joke without RGIII and they jumped ahead 14 zip. Try catching up with Marshawn Lynch. BS. When the SeaHawks get behind they won’t catch up with the Falcons. Not by Wilson’s arm and their wide receivers.
Back up the Brinks truck. Best bet of the weekend! Falcons.

12thManFlyBy

January 11th, 2013
9:27 am

@breakerbaker
ATL fans are funny. Can’t sell out your own stadium for a playoff game. Because you know your quarterback is going to have a record-breaking Sunday (only qb to choke 4 times in a row in the playoffs), and Lynch will drag your whole team into the end zone.

12thManFlyBy

January 11th, 2013
9:29 am

@George Stein:

Bruce Irvin had 8 sacks, without starting, and is a rookie. Clemmons being out is almost a blessing in disguise. The O-Line won’t see him coming…

Legion of Boom

January 11th, 2013
9:34 am

This one will be close but i love to see falcons fans being wayyyy overconfident like “the 12th Falcon” it just makes it so much sweeter when THE REAL 12th man wins. But in all honesty this will be a close hard fought game i would not be shocked if the falcons won but i just don’t think the falcons can hang with Seattle for 60 mins, i can see a couple early scores but the Hawks D is relentless and the falcons are a finesse team they can’t withstand the kind of punishment Seattle D brings, in the end Seattle wins 24-17 and on to Green Bay see you in the ship

breakerbaker

January 11th, 2013
9:39 am

I think there’s a reasonably good chance that the Falcons D swarms and slows down Lynch long enough for the offense to put points on the board. I wouldn’t guarantee a 2-score lead at the end of the first quarter, but if that happens, I don’t see Lynch playing the same role he was able to play in the comeback last week. When the Falcons jumped out to two score leads against teams early this year (Broncos, Saints–twice, Philly, Giants, Detroit) those who were able to mount any kind of a comeback–only one of those games was eventually lost–did it through the air. Wilson is a very good rookie QB, but I would (obviously) much rather be in a position on Sunday where he has to beat the Falcons through the air.

Mask of False Bravado

January 11th, 2013
9:40 am

Bruce Irvin will be neutralized via screen and misdirection. He will made to look the fool when it’s not a stright dropback.

breakerbaker

January 11th, 2013
9:45 am

@12Man: If you’re counting on the Falcons simply not being prepared for Irvin, then you’re setting yourself up for shocking disappointing. My guess is that they try to expose Irvin’s side with the run and with screens to Quizz. I don’t know whether it will work or not, but Irvin, while he put up respectable pass rush numbers, was a liability in the running game this season. And even as a pass rusher, there must be a reason he wasn’t starting on the other side of the line to compliment Clemons. I’m honestly not sure what that reason was. Do you know? Because those numbers would seem to warrant a shot.

beanster

January 11th, 2013
9:52 am

Falcons are going to need some big plays on D. Close game but Samuel will be the difference maker when the rookie QB cracks under pressure. 23 – 17.

Jason

January 11th, 2013
9:56 am

12thManFlyBy-
Bruce Irving benefited from Chris Clemmons occupying double-teams. Him being out is a huge plus for Atlanta. Also, Lynch hasn’t practiced for two days in a row.

Atlanta is about to exorcise three years worth of demons Sunday. Look for our disguised coverage packages to confuse the rookie – who, in the Dome, in a playoff atmosphere, will look like a rookie – and the Falcons win by 10. This is not the Atlanta team of last year, Russell Wilson is not 2010 Aaron Rodgers. The people that are picking the Hawks are paying attention to the wrong things. I can’t wait for this game, people. I might even RISE UP.

Bazooka Joe

January 11th, 2013
9:56 am

Seahawks are a fraud. We will expose them this weekend and that will be the end of the talk about how great Wilson, et al are. Yawn, wake me up when we play a real team (in 8-9 days).

Latte-Sipping Emo Hipster

January 11th, 2013
9:56 am

You Seagulls fans are funny! Bruce Irvin will never touch Matt Ryan, while Wilson will get his bell rung all afternoon. Have fun seeing your team get spanked in the loudest stadium in the NFL!

12thManFlyBy

January 11th, 2013
9:58 am

@breakerbaker
Because we also had Clemmons to play that position…? I am not going to be “shocking disappointing,” that’s for sure. (Hawks are one of the best D’s, if you haven’t heard) And Irvin “a liability in the running game…?” What kind of running game will he have to worry about on Sunday? Turner? Hilarious.

Bazooka Joe

January 11th, 2013
9:59 am

Seattle aint tough….. bring your little candy ___ on down son. We’ll show you how its done down south and then you can go home and try to incorporate some of the lessons for next year.

Legion of Boom

January 11th, 2013
9:59 am

If the falcons D is able to slow Lynch down i would be very surprised, they have been terrible this year is run D, Seattle runs a very complex run game with the zone read blocking scheme and other than maybe Witherspoon i just don’t think Atlanta can stop or even slow Lynch in this one. yes they get Abraham back but not at 100% i don’t think he will be a factor. If the Falcons are going to win this game it will be thru the air, lots of screen plays to Quizz and Tony Gonzalez will have to come up big matched with good up front protection for Ryan and win time of possession that’s the only winning ingredient i see for an Atlanta win….however i don’t think that will happen, Seattle D will abuse Roddy White and Julio Jones and Kam Chancellor will be waiting to lay anyone and anything out over the middle while Earl Thomas patrols the deep ball hawking. My bold prediction for this one is Bruce Irvin comes up big with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble on Ryan. After all said and done Lynch rolls for 100+ and 2 scores while Russell Wilson manages a clean game for 183 thru the air and 1 TD to Golden Tate while Longwell adds a late insurance FG to keep it a TD lead and the Legion of Boom slams the door

Legion of Bubble Gum

January 11th, 2013
9:59 am

OMG, my Chickens of the Sea are going to WIN BIG in Atlanta! Wow, I just don’t see us losing, like, EVER!!!

Maybe I should switch to DECAF?? No way, bro, not until the SeaSquawks WIN THE SUPERBOWL!!!

T&AM

January 11th, 2013
10:04 am

@George Stein

Lynch has a grand total of 95 yds combined from the 2010 and 2011 games…. thats how you stop him…

Legion of Boom

January 11th, 2013
10:04 am

Bazooka Joe

Cmon man lets keep it honest at least, Seattle aint tough? Seattle is a fraud?? dude your just making yourself look stupid and either your just havin some fun trash talking or you have absolutely 0 football knowledge

jo

January 11th, 2013
10:13 am

Saw the impressive Seachickens last weekend. Was NOT impressed at all. Their offense scored 17 points (other on a wounded RG3), their defense gave up a lot of points before RG3 went lame, Wilson fumbled but was bailed out by a 1 in a 100 bounce to Lynch…on and on and on we go. Seattle is pretty good….but they will lose 27-19 as they are not GREAT.

jo

January 11th, 2013
10:15 am

Falcons D was getting stronger as the season wore on (except Carolina and TB when the whole team didnt show up).

DawgDad

January 11th, 2013
10:16 am

“But more advanced analytics exist, and nearly all suggest that a road team with a lesser record and a rookie quarterback should win Sunday.”

Which only serves to prove if you work hard enough and long enough and add a flair of creativity eventually you can cook up some stats to support your talking points. If Abraham, Moore, Samuel, and Robinson are healthy/effective and Ryan takes care of the ball the Seahawks will have their hands full, to say the least.

The Falcons have bided time all year waiting for this game. When they needed to step up with resolve – well, they looked pretty darn tough, just ask the Broncos, Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, and Saints.