Seattle and Washington is the most compelling matchup of the opening weekend, pitting two rookie quarterbacks and teams that are surging into the postseason, as both are a combined 13-1 after November 4th.
Thus, we’ll start with this matchup as we take a look at the playoffs by examining the teams, as well as the most similar types of matchups in the past for insight. To find similar teams and matchups, I went back to all playoff teams since 1990, and found similarity with past playoff teams based on record, power rating by the simple rating system, offensive and defensive yards per play, and turnovers. I normalized the yards per play each year, to compare how far above or below average a team was, because yards per play have been rising over the last twenty years.
No matchup or team will be identical to the past; each will have some differences we could point to. In this case, both of these teams are at the leading edge of using pistol formation plays that place pressure on the opponent and utilize a young quarterback to make decisions both in the running and passing game. The main difference between these teams is that the Seahawks defense is much better in 2012. However, Seattle has to play on the road.
To find the most similar matchups, I took the top 20% of playoff teams most similar to this year’s version, and found the matchups where two of them played each other at the same venue (in this case, Seattle comparable teams at Washington comparables).
Five matchups show up as reasonably similar in some ways, and they show why Seattle moved to a field goal favorite. First, though, a look at where the two teams finished.
Seattle Seahawks: 11-5 record, +12.2 SRS (2nd), 5.8 yards per play (9th), 5.1 yards per play allowed (6th), +13 Turnovers (5th)
Washington Redskins: 10-6 record, +3.4 SRS (tied for 11th), 6.2 yards per play (1st), 5.9 yards per play allowed (26th), +17 Turnovers (3rd)
Now, to the most similar matchups, where Seattle types went on the road and won four out of the five.
1. Green Bay at Philadelphia, 2010, wildcard round. I wrote about how Seattle’s momentum going into the playoffs was likely not a factor, and we should just look at their overall resumé. Well, the most comparable team since 1990 is Green Bay from two years ago, another wild card that came in with a stellar point differential and ranked highly on both sides of the ball. Philadelphia, like Washington this year, was the NFC East champ after they rallied past the Giants, were very efficient offensively and avoided turnovers (remember that, Eagles fans?), and had a middling defense.
2. Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 2005, wildcard round. Another promising sign for Seattle as the second best comparable also features a wildcard team that went on a run, beginning with an offensive team that relied on an opportunistic defense and winning the turnover battle. Kimo Von Oelhoffen also met Carson Palmer’s knee in this one, something Washington will not want to duplicate.
3. Indianapolis at San Diego, 2008, wildcard round. The only home team to win in a similar type game. The Colts weren’t as good defensively, but had been on a run like Seattle to enter the playoffs. San Diego was only 8-8 but had a superior point differential and were rated highly in yards per play, like Washington this year.
4. Baltimore at New England, 2009, wildcard round. Baltimore, a team with a strong running game and defense, went on the road and pounded the New England Patriots, a team built on offense and winning the turnover battle. New England had just lost Wes Welker in the previous week, a factor in the struggles of the Patriots’ offense.
5. Baltimore at Miami, 2008, wildcard round. The year before, with a rookie quarterback, another Ravens wildcard team went on the road and won in convincing fashion against a team with the hot “wildcat” offense that also relied on an extremely good turnover margin to win the AFC East.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]