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Seahawks need better first half in second half of season

Jeff Fogle
VSiN City newsletter

The slow-starting Seattle Seahawks begin their stretch run Thursday night in Arizona. An upset loss might already cripple their playoff hopes. Details, plus a ND/Miami preview and NBA “market” Power Ratings today in VSiN City.

NFL: Seattle still in need of a wake-up call as the second half of its season begins tonight in Arizona
There are a few things you need to know about the Seattle Seahawks that haven’t been very well-publicized amidst the hustle and bustle of “what are this week’s point spreads?” and “how is my fantasy team looking?” 

First, Seattle has been a horrible “first half” team this season, consistently dragging its heels before getting things going. Even in the games they win!

First Half Scores
Seattle 3, Green Bay 0 (no offense, but at least a dog cover)
Seattle 6, San Francisco 6 (as a big favorite)
Tennessee 9, Seattle 7
Indianapolis 15, Seattle 10 (embarrassing)
Seattle 10, LA Rams 10 (tight dog cover)
NY Giants 7, Seattle 3 (another embarrassment)
Seattle 21, Houston 21 (non-cover as a favorite)
Washington 7, Seattle 2 (embarrassing again)

That’s a straight up record of 1-4-3 through eight first halves, even though Seattle was favored five times. The ATS record depends on your line in Tennessee. Clear misses when they were home favorites over SF, Indy, Houston, and Washington. Struggling at the NYG after a bye week was awful, but the Seahawks did rally for an easy full game win. 

While it’s great to kick into a higher gear in the third and fourth quarters…there’s no reason to sleepwalk through the first two.

That schedule shouldn’t strike anyone as particularly challenging. Sure, road games at Green Bay, Tennessee, and the LA Rams are far from auto-wins. But everybody has some tough games on their slate. Jeff Sagarin of the USA Today currently ranks Seattle’s schedule as dead last in toughness. That’s #32 out of 32 teams. 

To this point, we have horrible first-half records against an easy schedule. And we have a 5-3 full game record in the standings for a playoff contender…against that easy schedule. Now, wrapping up our preview prelude…

Seattle’s schedule after the Arizona game is BRUTAL!

Atlanta
At San Francisco (probably easy, but might see Garappolo)
Philadelphia
At Jacksonville
LA Rams
At Dallas
Arizona (nice ace in the hole finale, if they’re still at the table)

That’s FIVE playoff contenders floating on the horizon…none of whom will likely be positioned to take the week off at the time the games are being played. If you go 5-3 against the easy part of your schedule, how are you going to do better than that against the tough half? Even matching 5-3 might not be enough because 10-6 could just miss in the competitive NFC this season. 

It’s not like Seattle has sparkled against quality so far. They did score an important win in LA against the Rams. Otherwise, losses to Green Bay, Tennessee, and Washington, with a somewhat fortunate win over Houston thanks to poor clock management from the Texans.

Entering Thursday’s matchup, Seattle is NOT performing like a playoff caliber team. They need to get things figured out quickly because a bunch of dangerous threats lie in wait. 

Seattle (5-3) at Arizona (4-4)
Las Vegas Line: Seattle by 6, total of 41
Estimated Market Power Ratings: Seattle 82, Arizona 73 

The market keeps pricing Seattle as a playoff caliber team because of stubbornness, and the fact that the Seahawks do have stretches where they look like their old selves. Arizona is not nearly as good as that 4-4 record suggests, which its Power Rating makes clear. They won OT games over Indianapolis and San Francisco, two dregs of the league. 

Yards-per-Play
Seattle: 5.6 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. #32 ranked schedule)
Arizona: 5.1 on offense, 5.2 on defense (vs. #26 ranked schedule)

Seattle would sink down to equality against a league average schedule. Arizona would sink down to where you probably already mentally have them. At least both teams are playing defense. Seattle’s offense has a lot to be embarrassed about (particularly in first halves) in context. The only time they topped 10 points in the first two quarters was against Houston’s shorthanded defense.   

Key Passing Stats 
Seattle: 7.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 17 TD’s, 7 interceptions thrown
Arizona: 7.2 yards-per-pass attempt, 11 TD’s, 9 interceptions thrown

Might as well bring Drew Stanton up here. He’ll be Arizona’s starting quarterback with Carson Palmer hurt. When Stanton made eight starts back in 2014, his numbers in those categories were 7.1 YPPA, 7 TD’s, and 5 INT’s. So…there may not be that big a drop-off. When age caught up with Palmer, it may have just turned him into Stanton. Better numbers for Seattle…but not enough to lay such a big number on the road. 

Pass Defense 
Seattle: 6.7 yppa allowed; 9 TD’s allowed, 8 interceptions
Arizona: 6.9 yppa allowed; 14 TD’s allowed, 8 interceptions

Arizona has the slightly more vulnerable pass defense. That disadvantage could be magnified if Stanton has trouble playing to his past standards. He didn’t impress last week, as Arizona’s passing line was 15-30-1-201 in a grinding win at San Francisco. Seattle is more likely to shut Stanton down than Arizona is Russell Wilson.  

Impact Defense 
Seattle: 35% third down pct-allowed, 14 takeaways, 23 sacks
Arizona: 46% third down pct-allowed, 9 takeaways, 18 sacks

This paints Arizona’s defense in a much less favorable light, and is the reason Seattle is -6. Both stop units are doing okay in yards-per-play and pass defense. But, Arizona falls apart on third downs and loses its aggressiveness when playing quality. That’s why they lost 33-0 in England to the Rams, 34-7 at Philadelphia, 28-17 to Dallas, and 35-23 at Detroit. 

Ultimately, the question handicappers will be asking here is whether or not Seattle represents “quality” in its 2017 form. Arizona gets squashed by teams who know what they’re doing (and has to battle too hard against those who don’t). 

The “market score” off a line of 6 and 41 is Seattle 23.5, Arizona 17.5. That’s kind of a mid-point of the madness because Seattle is capable of running away and hiding (as they did in the second half vs. Indy and the NY Giants) if Arizona keeps playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL. But, if Arizona is going to bring 100% intensity against anybody through the rest of this season, it’s going to be in a home game against a blood rival. 

Maybe think about Seattle in the second half if the first half is close?  

College Football: Stat preview of #3 Notre Dame (8-1) at #7 Miami (8-0)
Now we continue our three-day series of previews for the college football matchups this weekend featuring top 10 teams going head-to-head. Yesterday we crunched the numbers for #1 Georgia at #10 Auburn. Tomorrow brings #6 TCU at #5 Oklahoma.

Notre Dame (-3) surely realizes THIS is the game they have to win impressively if they’re going to earn an invitation to the Final Four. Even though the Irish are #3 now, there aren’t any impressive hurdles yet to climb with only Navy and Stanford up next. There’s no conference championship game for an Independent. A loss, and Notre Dame is very probably toast. A close win, and its position is precarious.  

Yards-per-Play
Notre Dame: 6.7 on offense, 5.0 on defense (vs #14 schedule)
Miami-Fla: 6.8 on offense, 4.6 on defense (vs #31 schedule)

Notre Dame hasn’t been a weekly TV staple for casual fans. But its schedule grades out very well thanks to battles with Georgia, now-respected Michigan State, USC, NC State, and even beating Boston College looks better now than it did at the time. Combine that with all the soft schedules played by national powers…and the Irish’s schedule cracks Jeff Sagarin’s top 15. Miami has a very impressive differential considering its schedule strength. Pretty tight after you mentally adjust for the schedule. Not yet a reason that Notre Dame is laying three on the road. 

National Rushing Rankings
Notre Dame: #1 per carry, #5 per game; #33 per-carry defense, #30 per-game defense
Miami-Fla: #17 per carry, #55 per game, #39 per-carry defense, #67 per-game defense

This is where market respect for Notre Dame kicks in. Sharps pay attention to the point of attack. The Irish have a fantastic rush offense, and are facing a vulnerable rush defense. It’s not like Miami is a sieve. But, Miami isn’t great…and it might take “great” to slow down Notre Dame’s backs (and a QB with legs). (Georgia has a great rush defense and won that nailbiter in South Bend)

We need a quick digression here to talk about offensive styles. The most extreme differences in our feature games this week involve Notre Dame and Miami. Notre Dame is a run-heavy attack, ranking #25 in the country in rush emphasis at 61%. Miami actually passes more than it runs, and ranks #107 nationally in rush emphasis at just 46%. The key to handicapping Notre Dame is evaluating how well its opponents can stop the run. Much less important against Miami, who passes more than half the time even though they’re undefeated (which means they’d REALLY be pass happy playing from behind). 

Let’s briefly run the numbers for our six featured teams this week (as found at the great stat site teamrankings.com)…

Rush Emphasis
Georgia 71% (#6 nationally, #1 of non-triple-option offenses)
Auburn 64% (#18)
Notre Dame 61% (#25) 
TCU 57% (#36)
OU 53% (#63)
Miami 46% (#107)

Georgia/Auburn is going to be smash mouth football because both teams emphasize the ground game. Miami’s going to throw the rock around.

Passing Stats
Notre Dame: 6.1 yards-per-attempt, 13TD’s, 4 INT
Miami-Fla: 8.1 yards-per-attempt, 19 TD’s, 7 INT

Miami is much better on a per-play basis. But, they’re also more likely to throw an interception. Notre Dame is very clearly a “safety first” team this season, using dinks and dunks to complement the run game. If head coach Brian Kelly has finally learned that lesson, then the Irish are going to matter for a few more years. 

Impact Defense 
Notre Dame: 35% third down pct-allowed, 19 takeaways, 20 sacks
Miami-Fla: 38% third down pct-allowed, 20 takeaways, 28 sacks

Notre Dame has played an extra game, so its disadvantages in takeaways and sacks are slightly worse than they seem (though, those are quality numbers against a tough schedule). Miami does get after people defensively. Both teams are stingy on third downs. Key question for handicappers: is Miami going to turn the aggressiveness that gets sacks and turnovers into shutting down ND’s running game? Answer that, and you’ve got your pick.

Intangibles? Yesterday we talked about the potential for Georgia to play it “too” safe trying to protect its #1 spot. Notre Dame can’t even afford risking that mindset because there’s no margin for error in its situation and a big result is mandatory to achieve its dream. Both teams should bring peak, fearless intensity. There is a chance for a “wear down” from Miami because they played a physically tough game with Virginia Tech last week, and will be battling at the point of attack again here. It’s basically part two of an eight-quarter war for the Hurricanes. Notre Dame’s defense took the week off vs. Wake Forest last week in a way that isn’t likely be repeated.  

The scenario “beyond the numbers” would be Miami’s defensive front either being unable to stop ND’s rushers, or wearing down eventually and being unable to do that in the second half. That would necessitate a somewhat frantic passing attack that could lead to turnovers playing from behind. Miami had 3 giveaways against the Hokies last week in a double-digit win. The market is already giving Notre Dame some credit for this at the road favorite price. But, turnover differential causes margins to blow up in ways that point spreads can’t always account for.

We should also mention that the Over/Under of 57 is giving both offenses the benefit of the doubt. That’s a 30-27 market projection! The safer approach is usually best if both teams are moving the ball in a shootout. That favors Notre Dame, as would its likely ability to run clock with a fourth quarter lead if they have one. 

NBA: Updated estimate of “market” Power Ratings
We update our estimate of “market” Power Ratings in the NBA on Thursdays, to help set your mood for the weekly TNT doubleheaders. (Tonight: Cleveland at Houston and Oklahoma City at Denver…it will be great watching the aging Cavs’ defenders trying to guard the court-spreading Rockets!) Remember that there’s a lot more day-to-day flux in this sport because of scheduling dynamics and the tendency for star players to miss games here and there for injuries or rest breaks. 

92: Golden State
84: Cleveland, Houston, Oklahoma City
83: San Antonio
82: Boston, Toronto, Washington, Minnesota, Portland 
81: Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia, Denver, Utah, Memphis, LA Clippers
80: Charlotte, Detroit, New Orleans
78: Orlando
77: Indiana
75: Dallas, LA Lakers, New York 
74: Brooklyn 
73: Atlanta, Chicago
72: Phoenix, Sacramento

The market is always changing on the fly for injuries and one-night fatigue disadvantages. Our “snapshots” taken on Wednesday evenings will get you in the neighborhood, but might looks slightly askew on any given night. 

Hope you caught Gill Alexander’s interview with Senthil Natarajan of Nylon Calculus Wednesday on “A Numbers Game.” A high-level discussion of NBA analytics. Here’s a link to an audio-boom version. Senthil’s article on the Orlando Magic had just been posted online as Gill was introducing the segment. Here’s a link to that article

Back with you Friday to recap Seahawks/Cardinals, to preview TCU/Oklahoma, and there’s a good chance we’ll also be introducing some early season college basketball ratings from VSiN’s Greg Peterson. You can check out the many conference previews Greg has already written for 2017-18 college hoops by clicking here

If you haven’t had a chance to sign up for the FREE weekday subscription to VSiN City, please click here to do so. You also get links to handy sports betting sheets from the South Point that are about to become extremely helpful for college basketball. 

Click here to subscribe to our popular Point Spread Weekly magazine. This lengthy football betting resource costs just $69.99 for the rest of the season, and is loaded with stats and trends.

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