Which New York Jets opponents will turn out to be substantially less difficult than we currently expect?
Seattle Seahawks (Week 14, @ Seattle)
2019 record: 11-5 (.688) – 7th
2019 net points: +0.4 (14th)
2019 scoring: 25.3 (9th)
2019 scoring defense: 24.9 (22nd)
2019 offensive DVOA: 5th
2019 defensive DVOA: 18th
2019 overall DVOA: 8th
Seattle is an interesting projection. On one hand, the Seahawks’ No. 8 ranking in overall DVOA backs up their 11-5 record that ranked seventh-best in the league. On the other, it can be suggested that they were an incredibly lucky team that is due to crash back down to Earth. The Seahawks went 10-2 in one-score games (margin of 8 points or less), tying them for the most one-score wins ever accumulated in a single season. Ever!
Despite going 11-5, Seattle only outscored its opponents by seven points, which ranked 14th in the league.
Pete Carroll’s defense was mostly to blame for that lackluster margin. Seattle’s defense ranked 18th in DVOA and 19th in points allowed per drive.
In particular, it was the Seahawks’ poor run defense that held the unit back, thus contributing largely to dragging the entire team down to an average level of performance. Seattle’s run defense ranked 26th in DVOA, 28th in yards per attempt allowed (4.9), and 30th in touchdowns allowed (22).
As of right now, it looks like the Seahawks will be even worse in that phase. Only two notable front-seven players were added – Bruce Irvin (who played in Seattle from 2012-15) and Benson Mayowa. Irvin is 33 years old and just contributed to a historically awful run defense in Carolina. Pro Football Focus graded him as the eighth-worst EDGE against the run out of 61 qualifiers. Mayowa is a situational pass-rusher with a mediocre track record against the run.
Not only did the Seahawks fail to add any help for their run defense, but they may also have lost three of their best run-stoppers. Defensive tackles Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson are headed to Jacksonville and Buffalo, respectively. They were each ranked in the top-25 out of 109 qualified interior defensive linemen in PFF’s run defense grade. Jadeveon Clowney, perhaps the most ferocious run-stopping edge defender in the league, remains unsigned.
It is extremely concerning that the main detractor holding Seattle to a pedestrian scoring margin is now poised to be a substantially larger issue than it already was.
The offensive line is another major concern. Seattle’s elite offensive performance (5th in DVOA) is a tremendous testament to Russell Wilson, who almost single-handedly lifted his offense to that status as he had to overcome immensely detrimental protection. I found Seattle’s offensive line to rank 25th in the league, five spots worse than any other playoff team. Wilson probably would have won his first MVP if not for Lamar Jackson‘s record-setting year. Credit is also due to Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, and Seattle’s top-10 wide receiver group.
Like the run defense, not much was done to fix this unit.
The Seahawks may have made some additions by subtraction, as they allowed right tackle Germain Ifedi, right guard D.J. Fluker, and swing tackle George Fant to walk in free agency after combining to allow 104 pressures (15 sacks), but their plans to replace those players are not any more promising. Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Shell will compete at right tackle. Ogbuehi, a first-round pick in 2015, has not started since 2017 as his struggles relegated him to the bench in Cincinnati and Jacksonville. Shell was a liability for the Jets.
At right guard, it’s 2019 fourth-round pick Phil Haynes against 2020 third-round pick Damien Lewis.
The center position features a battle between free agent signee B.J. Finney (Steelers) and incumbent starter Joey Hunt. Finney played well in Pittsburgh, but it was only in spot duty (1,025 snaps and 14 starts over 4 seasons). Hunt replaced injured starter Justin Britt (who is currently unsigned) and struggled mightily over his 10 regular season and playoff starts.
Left guard Mike Iupati was re-signed after posting a career-low overall grade (60.3, 37th percentile among guards) as he heads into his age-33 season.
Long-time stud Duane Brown remains penciled-in at left tackle. Brown has yet to fall off from elite status, but he will turn 35 years old in August before heading into his 12th NFL season. He missed four games last season, the third time in four years that he missed at least a quarter of the regular season.
This is not a promising picture. The Seahawks would already be due for a regression to the mean even if they returned the exact same roster. With their two greatest weaknesses only becoming bigger problems, it is tough to imagine them replicating their 2019 success.
Seattle does have a couple of things going for them. Wilson is the obvious one. The Seahawks have never had a losing record in eight seasons under Wilson’s leadership, and have won at least 10 games in seven of those eight seasons.
Strength of schedule is the other. While Seattle did win an abnormal amount of close games, it did have the league’s second-hardest schedule based on DVOA. The Seahawks went 4-4 against eight .500+ teams that had a combined winning percentage of .703, so they only should have been expected to win 29.7% of those nine games, or 2.4 in total. Taking four of those eight is impressive. They were inches away from a fifth against San Francisco in Week 17, which would have shaken up the entire NFC playoff picture.
Carroll and company had no issue taking care of the weaker foes, going 7-1 against non-winning teams. Perhaps a softer schedule could help Seattle make up the ground lost from regression in close game luck.
Ultimately, though, I think the Seahawks are going to win somewhere from 7-to-9 games this year. After enjoying historically solid luck, they are in position for a major step backward, and they did nothing but increase the likelihood of that happening by failing to address their greatest weakness on each side of the ball.
To boot, Seattle may not have as much of a home-field advantage when the Jets come to town if fans are not allowed into the stadium (or not at full capacity).
All dynasties must fall. Seattle’s time may be arriving.