Every week boatloads of TV hours are spent analyzing and predicting which teams will win, who could go 16-0, who could finish 0-fer 2009, whether or not wearing a Yankees hat is a sign that Tom Brady is slipping, etc. So I just really wanted to do it, too! Stats are sparsely thrown out to support a prediction here and there, but generally per-game stats are used for these analyses. It is my opinion that a team’s average production per possession, and that team’s comfort level with playing at different game paces are much more telling predictors of winners and losers(check out my article on possession analysis).
I count offensive possessions by adding up all the ways a team can end an offensive drive. Those would be punts, turnovers, offensive touchdowns, field goals, and fourth-down failures. I’m not too interested in kick and punt returns yet, but those are obvious keys to winning and will be taken into account some day.
Thus far in 2009, teams are averaging about 10 possessions per game, with a standard deviation of 0.8 possessions. So I’m going to define a slow-paced team as one that gets less than 9.2 possessions per game, and medium-paced team as one between 9.2 and 10.8 possessions, and a fast-paced team as one that gets more than 10.8 possessions.
Through 5 games, Seattle has followed the league norm pretty closely, with 10.4 possessions per game. This weekend the Seahawks take on the Arizona Cardinals, the fastest-paced team in the league at 11.3 possessions per game. In its two wins this season, Seattle crushed the Rams and Jaguars, two teams that have more in common than sucking. The Rams and Jags play almost exactly at the league average pace, while two of Seattle’s losses—Indianapolis and San Francisco—were to teams that play at extreme paces (SF 11, IND 9). The only other loss came to an average-paced, one-loss Bears team, where the Seahawks were playing without starting QB Matt Hasselbeck and held a lead with 2 minutes to go. The point? Though the sample size is small, the Hawks seem to play better at average paces. Yeah, I know SF and IND have an 8-2 combined record, versus the 2-8 record tallied by the Rams and Jaguars, so here’s where I’ll look at points per possession.
The only fast paced team the Seahawks played was the 49ers. Their opponent this weekend, the Cardinals, play at a faster pace but match offensive efficiency with the Niners. In terms of defense, the Cardinals are giving up more points per possession than SF, and the game is at Seattle’s Qwest Field. Oh, and The SF game was backup quarterback Seneca Wallace’s first start this season, and not a good one. Hasselbeck is probable for the game tomorrow.
Scoring more points per possession and giving up less than the Cardinals should nullify the fact that the Seahawks lost to their only other fast-paced opponent. Playing at home, likely with Hasselbeck, the Seahawks win 24-17.
By week 11, when we can be more sure about the stats teams are producing, I hope to a more complete weekly prediction.