Denver Broncos (15-3) vs Seattle Seahawks (15-3) at MetLife Stadium
The big matchup in this game is Denver’s offense vs. Seattle’s defense. Because the media loves hyperbole, the Broncos’ offense is being billed as one of the top offenses of all time, while the Seahawks’ defense is being billed as one of the top defenses of all time. Only one half of that hyperbolic statement is accurate. The Broncos are one of the greatest offenses of all time. It can be tough to compare across eras, but they’ve scored the most points in a single season in NFL history. The Seahawks ranked #1 in points allowed this season, allowing 14.4 points per game, but I don’t think they’re in all-time great territory. There’s some team that allows that few points pretty much every season.
The Seahawks might not even be the best defense in the NFL. Points per game allowed isn’t the end all of defensive statistics. I feel the statistic rate of moving the chains allowed is the best way to determine how good a defense (or an offense) has played because the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). It also does a good job of lessening the value of inconsistent things like turnovers and return touchdowns.
The Seahawks finished the regular season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential allowed at 66.29%, very good, but hardly all-time great status like the Broncos’ offense. After two playoff games, the Seahawks are now at 66.73% in terms of rate of moving the chains allowed, which makes sense because teams’ schedules obviously get tougher in the playoffs.
The Broncos, meanwhile, finished the regular season, first, by far, moving the chains at an 81.09% rate. However, after two playoff games, that number is even higher, as they are now moving the chains at an 81.62% rate. They’ve punted just once in two playoff games. Granted, they haven’t played tough defenses in either game, but that’s still incredibly impressive. The Seahawks can slow them, but they won’t be able to stop them. I think Richard Sherman has a good chance to shut down one side of the field (contrary to popular belief he doesn’t shadow #1 receivers and will not shadow Demaryius Thomas in this game), but Peyton Manning has plenty of other weapons and he knows how to use them. The Broncos will probably be in the 20-27 point range so the Seahawks will have to keep up.
Can the Seahawks keep up? Well, the Broncos defense is not nearly as good as their offense. The Broncos finished the regular season 20th in rate of moving the chains against, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 71.86% rate and now they are at 72.24%. The Seahawks, meanwhile, finished the regular season 13th in rate of moving the chains, moving the chains at a 72.35% rate, and now they are at 71.64%. They’re not a great offense, but they’ll be able to move the chains on this defense, especially with Percy Harvin back for the Seahawks and Von Miller and now Chris Harris out for the season for the Broncos.
In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Broncos are at 9.38%, including playoffs, while the Seahawks are at 4.91%. That suggests this line should be around 4.5 in favor of Denver instead of 2. Why are the Broncos significantly better than the Seahawks in this category in spite of their identical records? Well the Seahawks have been much more reliant on winning the turnover battle as they are +23 on the season, including playoffs, while the Broncos are -2. Winning the turnover battle tends to be a tough thing to do on a consistent basis, so the fact that the Broncos have been able to win without winning the turnover battle, while the Seahawks have had more issues doing so works in Denver’s favor. Seattle is going to find it much harder to pick off Peyton Manning than any other quarterback in the league anyway.
That being said, I’m not crazy about Denver for two reasons. One is that aforementioned injury situation with Harvin, Miller, and Harris. Two, rate of moving the chains differential doesn’t take into account strength of schedule and the Seahawks have had the much tougher schedule this season. The Seahawks finished the regular season with a 17th ranked strength of schedule, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Broncos finished with a 31st ranked strength of schedule. The Broncos also played two easier playoff games than the Seahawks, coming out of the easier AFC. I hate not having a confident pick for the Super Bowl, because obviously it’s the biggest game of the year, but I’m only a little bit confident in the Broncos.
Denver Broncos 24 Seattle Seahawks 20
Pick against spread: Denver -2