Mile High Report: The Seahawks and Broncos entered the Super Bowl as #1 and #2 respectively in DVOA, yet the Seahawks won by 35. What were FO's predictions like heading into the game, and how have you explained the outcome?
Football Outsiders (Tom Gower): In our Super Bowl preview, we had Seattle's great defense roughly canceling out Denver's great offense, while Seattle's offense had an edge over Denver's defense and Seattle had the better special teams unit. While we thought the line rightly indicated a close game, Seattle should have been favored.
As to what happened, there are a couple of things going on. First, it's normal for teams to experience variations in performance around their mean. Seattle almost lost to the 2-14 Texans, and would have if Matt Schaub hadn't tried to force a throw. Denver just had their worst game of the season at the worst possible time. If they'd done it in October like the 2012 Ravens (lost 43-13 to the Texans), nobody remembers it.
Beyond that, there are many things specific to a Denver-Seattle matchup we can talk about that everybody else talked about after the game, like Kam Chancellor nullifying the crossing routes, Earl Thomas' range over the top, Peyton Manning not hitting the deep outside throws to force the Seahawks to back off, the Broncos line getting manhandled, etc. I don't have any unique insight on those, and I'm not sure how many of them apply to prospective opponents outside of Seattle. The Broncos did have a couple real problems, but those showed up in other games too. I'll get to the biggest one in a couple questions, but kick coverage was one that showed up in a big way in February.
MHR: Peyton Manning is 38 years old, but hey, he just broke every record ever at 37. What's the oldest a quarterback has played in the NFL with starting success?
FO: The best old quarterback season is by Brett Favre, who posted his career best DVOA in the season he turned 40. Granted, that was with the 2009 Vikings, who had a good defense and Adrian Peterson. Still, by our numbers, it's the best season by a guy who won back-to-back-to-back MVPs earlier in his career.
Warren Moon had an above-average year, ranking 11th with a passing DVOA of 13.1%, in his age 41 season with the 1997 Seahawks. That was down from his peak years, but it's still a good year. There's also Vinny Testaverde, who had a league-average DVOA at 41 with the 2004 Cowboys. Those guys are the exception rather than the norm, but they show what's been done before.
MHR: Seahawks players including Richard Sherman have called the NFC Championship Game a year ago their "real" Super Bowl. How much better was the NFC than the AFC by FO's standards in 2013?
FO: A fair amount. The average NFC team had a DVOA of 3.5%, the average AFC team -3.6%. The difference came throughout the rankings. Our top four teams had the Broncos behind the Seahawks but ahead of the Panthers and Saints. The bottom four teams were the Redskins, followed by the Texans, Raiders, and Jaguars. (San Francisco was seventh in our rankings, though based on our weighted rankings there wasn't much a difference between them and Carolina at the end of the season.)
MHR: How did the Broncos' defense compare in 2013 with Von Miller in the lineup and without him?
FO: I feel like I should spend a lot more time shouting this from the rooftops, so here it is: In the games Von Miller played last year, the Broncos pass defense DVOA ranked sixth in the league. In the games Von Miller missed last year, the Broncos had the worst pass defense in football. The run defense was still good without him-slightly better, even-but the secondary got lit up. Chris Harris played well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had an outstanding season by our charting numbers, though when he did get burned it sometimes went for big yardage. The rest of the secondary had too many problems, especially once Rahim Moore went down.
Go back to the Super Bowl. If there's one story that was undercovered, it was Seattle's success on third downs in the first half. Wilson to Kearse for 12 yards on third-and-9. Wilson to Tate for 9 yards on third-and-7. Wilson to Baldwin for 6 yards on third-and-4. Wilson to Baldwin for 37 yards on third-and-5. Pass interference on Tony Carter to convert third-and-4. Get a couple stops in there instead of allowing all those conversions, and maybe Smith's pick-6 isn't the backbreaker it was.
Aqib Talib for DRC is probably about an even swap, but DeMarcus Ware is an upgrade over Shaun Phillips, Bradley Roby is a really talented player, and T.J. Ward is a guy who could really have a big impact. With them, maybe Peyton Manning won't have to win every game on his own if Miller is slow to recovery from his torn ACL or misses time for any other reason.
Big thanks again to Tom Gower of Football Outsiders for taking the time. These answers are so good I almost split them out into separate posts each! Let us know your take on FO's analysis in the comments.