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Super Bowl Rundown

Each week we rundown every game using our advanced play-by-play statistics to examine exactly how each game was won and what it means going forward. Our expected points added (EPA) analysis assigns a net point value gained or lost to every single play so we can see exactly on which types of plays teams excelled or failed, and ultimately where games were won. The EPA while each team was on offense gives a more representative measure of offensive efficiency than real life score by separating offensive success from advantages gained or lost by defensive stops, takeaways, and scores. View our complete stats for every play type each week on the Games page.

(13-3) #1 Seahawks 43 - 8 Broncos #1 (13-3)
Offensive EPA: SEA (14.2) - (-19.5) DEN

Sometimes, a blowout can actually be mostly explained solely by one offense doing extremely well or extremely poorly. But the Super Bowl result can almost equally be attributed to both the Seahawks offense having success and the Broncos offense struggling. The Seahawks net passing (16.4) didn't get nearly the credit it deserves. Their normal pass plays were solidly above average, and it was combined with completely avoiding any sacks or interceptions. Seattle also had great kick returns (6.0) mostly due to Percy Harvin's return touchdown. Their overall offensive efficiency would have been even higher if not for 2 late failed 4th down conversions (-4.7) that they attempted in garbage time. The Broncos overall net passing (-3.3) was bit poor mostly due to their 2 interceptions (-10.1) including the very costly long pick-6. Denver also struggled with poor rushing (-2.8), the fumbled snap (-2.7) for a safety, and turnovers (-7.2) from a Demaryius Thomas fumble and 2 failed 4th down attempts of their own. The 5 plays below alone accounted for about 23 points of the 35 point difference the Seahawks won by.

Impact Plays:
1st Qtr 4:26 SEA 3rd & 5 on DEN 43, D.Baldwin 37 yard catch (3.2 EPA)
2nd Qtr 3:36 DEN 3rd & 13 on SEA 35, M.Smith 69 yard INT TD return (-7.9 EPA)
3rd Qtr 15:00 SEA P.Harvin 87 yard kick return TD (5.6 EPA)
3rd Qtr 6:08 DEN 1st & 10 on SEA 44, D.Thomas fumble recovered by SEA (-3.6 EPA)
3rd Qtr 3:11 SEA 1st & 10 on DEN 23, J.Kearse 23 yard TD catch (3.0 EPA)

A Seahawks Dynasty?

The fact that Seattle won the Super Bowl with such a young roster has many questioning whether the Seahawks could possibly become the latest NFL dynasty and compete for more Super Bowl victories year in and year out. While the Seahawks have now finished in the top 3 of our ratings in consecutive seasons, a single dominant game does not really mean that Seattle is now the premier team in the NFL, or even necessarily better than the Broncos overall. With that said, the Seahawks are well positioned in terms of the salary cap to compete as well as any team next season. However, after that, they face very long odds of keeping together a dominant team.

Seattle currently has the benefit of very cheap rookie contracts on several key players, including Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and K.J. Wright who are all set to become free agents in 2015, and Russell Wilson who would hit free agency in 2016. Since franchise quarterbacks usually re-sign a year early, the Seahawks will be forced with either huge salary cap hits or significant free agent losses following next season. The total value of these 4 players at their current salaries compared to the salaries they will command as free agents could easily be $40 million, almost a full third of a team's total salary cap. In the modern salary cap NFL, it is nearly impossible to keep a dynasty together for long unless a team has signed an elite quarterback to a long contract at a big discount. That likely won't be the case for the Seahawks.

Seattle's only real hope of keeping the team very successful past next season would be to continue their incredible run of successful draft picks. That may be a possibility, but it seems unlikely as most intensive studies seem to indicate that the NFL draft is largely governed by luck rather than a real skill gap between different front offices. Further complicating matters is that in the modern NFL, even the best team in the league faces long odds of winning the Super Bowl in a given season, which brings us to the next hot button issue following the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning's Legacy

How will this Super Bowl result affect Peyton Manning's legacy? First, we need to define what a legacy is. There are 2 reasonable ways to rank players, teams, or most anything in sports: by how good they are, or by how successful they have been.

If we try to rank quarterbacks by how good they are, then we must remember 3 facts that the media routinely ignores. The first is the issue of judging a quarterback by his team's results. Even the best quarterbacks are typically paid no more than 20% of a team's total salary, so even though it is not a simple 1 to 1 comparison, it is unreasonable to assume that a quarterback has significantly more than a 20% share of responsibility of his team's fortunes. If a top tier quarterback is underpaid, it can positively affect a team's performance, but the scale of that success is more a measure of the underpayment than the actual quality of the quarterback.

The second fact is that in estimating the quality of players, it makes no sense to weight certain individual games (playoff games or Super Bowls) more heavily than entire seasons, unless the player has more control over those games. Not a single scientific study has shown more than a sliver of evidence for the existence of some players being more clutch than others. It is an extremely large stretch to just assume that some players are better in big games than others, and that those games should be weighted more heavily than others in analyzing players. Tom Brady was "extremely clutch" until he failed to win a championship in his 5 latest conference championship appearances. If if happened to be cold and windy in the Super Bowl, "experts" would be spending countless hours talking about how Manning's loss was due to the weather, when in reality it would have made no difference.

Finally, people vastly underestimate how easy it is for a good team to win a Super Bowl. The past 2 seasons, we have retrospectively re-calculated our Super Bowl odds to find out what odds the teams actually came into the season with in hindsight. We found roughly the following odds for teams depending on where they ranked in our ratings:

1st: 26%
2nd: 15%
3rd: 11%
4th: 7%
5th: 6%

Even a team that managed to be the best in the league every single year would only win the Super Bowl about every 4 years. A team that managed to be the 3rd best team in the NFL for an entire decade on average finds themselves with only a single Super Bowl victory over that time. Keep in mind, these figures represent the current salary cap NFL. Prior to the mid-90's, the best teams in the league winning the Super Bowl was more common because salary differences created a wider range in quality of teams. Many people forget this fact and assume that very good teams should still win several Super Bowls. Through most of his career, Peyton Manning's teams have probably often been among the best 8 teams in the league or so, but even accomplishing that feat for over a decade as his teams have on average only results in slightly more than 1 Super Bowl victory. So in essence, Manning's results are only slightly below expectations.

If we try to rank quarterbacks by how successful they were rather than how good they are, then we have a very easy task of counting Super Bowl wins, perhaps awarding some lesser value to accomplishing lesser goals, and everyone would agree on how much a Super Bowl affected a legacy. But for some reason, rather than choosing 1 of the 2 reasonable ways to rank something in sports, people almost always seem to try to force some sort of combination of the 2 that, itself, makes no sense whatsoever. More often than not, such hodgepodge rankings are usually talked about in terms of "legacy" or "how the public will view the player", essentially in order to deflect the blame from the fact that the ranking system doesn't make sense in the first place. If the debate is formatted in terms of "legacy", then the person doing the ranking doesn't have to take responsibility for the fact that the rankings don't reflect anything at all other than "other people's misinformed opinions."

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