Secondly, although my numbers pointed to a SEA edge I did not see that coming. The game notched a 1.5 on the Excitement Index, the lowest of any SB in the data (since '99). The next lowest were the TB-OAK 2002 game and the BAL-NYG 2000 game, each at 2.7. There weren't many decisions to analyze because the game got out of hand so quickly, but I'll go over the little we can learn from last night.
Overall, the game hinged on the fundamentals. SEA's defense was faster, bigger, stronger. Even a layman like myself could tell SEA won because of lots and lots of individual matchup victories. They made tackles at first contact. Guys shook their blocks lightning fast. They swarmed to the screens, caved the pocket, and covered the receivers in stride. There weren't many blitzes or scheming contrivances. Instead it was plain old physical football. The only wrinkle I noticed was that SEA played more cover/man 2 than we expected, but that's not exactly something Manning shouldn't normally be able to handle.
Pete Carroll challenged a first down ruling on SEA's first drive. A 1st down at that point of the game at the opponent 13 is worth .76 WP. A 4th and 1, assuming the FG, is worth .66 WP. If a 3rd quarter timeout typically costs around .03 or .04 WP in a close game, a 1st half timeout is going to worth a fraction of that. The only other cost is the possible loss of one of the team's two challenges, and with the recent automatic replay rules for scoring plays and turnovers coaches rarely run out of challenges and cannot challenge a late critical play. So for the sake of argument, let's say the total cost of the timeout and challenge is .02 WP. With an outcome leverage of .10, SEA would only need a break-even success probability of 20% to make the challenge worthwhile. Call the total cost .03 WP, and the break-even is 30%. On tv it was pretty clear Wilson was short of the conversion, but the thing with ball-spot challenges is that even if you don't get the conversion the challenge is upheld and you can sweeten the spot for a possible 4th down attempt.
John Fox's challenge of a screen pass that was ruled an incomplete forward pass falls in the same category. A ruling of a turnover would give DEN a .31 WP, but upholding the call would give them a .22 WP, good for a .09 leverage value. The same math applies here. DEN would need just a 22% to 33% success probability to make the challenge worth it. The replay showed it was clearly a forward pass, so I wonder what kind of access to replays the coordinator staffs in the booths had.
The Bot had a slow night. Denver had a 4th and 2 on their own 43 early in the game which the numbers favored going for it, but it was very close to the point of indifference.
Both of SEA's early 4th downs resulted in FGs, and both were good decisions.
DEN went for it on 4th and 2 on the SEA 19 late in the second quarter. They were already down 22-0 by then, so going for it on 4th and forever would have been smart. With 2 yards to go it was an easy decision. It didn't work out in DEN's favor but it was a good call.
After that, things got out of hand. But as Josh Levin from Slate pointed out, why did DEN punt on 4th and 11 from the SEA 39 down 29 points with 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter, only to have to try an onside kick later in the quarter down 28.
My thought was, what about an onside kick to start the 2nd half, a la the Saints 4 years ago? Too expected these days, I suppose.
The Big Plays
In terms of WP swings, the 2nd biggest play of the game was the first snap of the game, which sailed over Manning's head for a safety. Safeties are bigger scores than many think--worth 3.3 Expected Points--because of the value of the subsequent possession. And that particular safety wasn't of the run-of-mill variety where the offense is backed up against its goal line. DEN was at the 14-yard line. In total it was worth .09 WPA.
The biggest play of the night was Wilson's deep floater to Baldwin for 37 yards, worth .10 WPA.
The next play was the Chancellor interception, worth .07 WPA. After that, Harvin's big sweep run was .06, and then a couple of Wilson's critical 3rd down completions round out the top plays. The stop DEN made on 3rd down that set up SEA's challenge discussed above was up there too. At the time, it kept the Broncos in the game behind by just 5.
Malcolm Smith was deserving. The SEA defense clearly won the night, and Smith led his squad with 14.6 +EPA and 9 'Success Plays'. He was also 3rd in +WPA and Tackle Factor.
Wilson would have been a defensible choice too. Overall he had .17 WPA and 15.0 EPA, no sacks, no interceptions, and an 8.2 AYPA. None of the RBs made a dent in the game last night on either side.
If you're wondering, Manning finished with -.19 WPA and -15.3 EPA. Brutal.
Why was SEA snapping the ball with up to 7, 8, 9 seconds left on the play clock in the second half? Those seconds add up fast. I realize it didn't end up mattering, but we were all probably thinking the same thing before the lights went out last year.
Not that it mattered, but I was a little surprised that SEA kept passing and scoring at the end of the game. Maybe there's still more than a little bit of the college coach left in Carroll.
Congratulations Seattle Fans
It's not often that the best team in the NFL is also the champion, but there's a pretty strong case that SEA lays claim to both in 2013. SEA's defensive ascendancy began 3 years ago, and they're still young. Most teams with all-world defenses have struggling offenses. In the zero-sum age of a hard salary cap, it's very hard to be good on both sides of the ball for more than a year. When you combine a great defense with even an average offense, you've got a championship contender. But when you've got an above-average offense you've got a juggernaut.
Oh, and the commercials sucked. Again. Except I kinda liked the Jaguar ad. But I'm a car nut.
92 days until the draft.