Sunday, April 21, 2013

Starting Matters On The Road

Pete Carroll loves to emphasize finishing. He was giddy when reinforcing the message after falling behind early in Washington during the playoffs, only to come roaring back. He even scoffed at a question on the radio about getting off to faster starts, saying he never talks about starting fast. History would tell Carroll to take another look at that stance.

The Seahawks have now played 37 seasons of football. They have exactly two seasons when they have had a winning road record (2005, 1984), and even then, each team only managed five road wins. Only twelve teams in franchise history have even finished with a .500 record. The franchise's overall road record is 110-179 for a winning percentage of 0.381. Not great. It is, however, rather typical for West Coast teams. There was a nice article written by Scott Kacsmar about how NFL teams perform on the road based on their time zone. In it, Kacsmar reviews the road record of every NFL team since 2007 and breaks out their performances by a number of axes. Care to guess the cumulative winning percentage of West Coast teams when traveling on the road from 2007-2011? It is 0.381.

Kacsmar goes on to examine the impacts of early starts vs. late starts and the data suggests the travel matters more than the start time. Pacific time zone teams traveling to the East Coast lost 74.6% of the time in the five seasons between 2007-2011, compared to a league average home winning percentage of 57.2%. The facts are, road games outside the Pacific time zone are very tough to win for teams on the West Coast.

I was curious how important fast starts were to winning these games. It turns out, pretty important if you are a Seahawks fan. In the three years Carroll has been coaching in Seattle, the team is 1-12 when trailing by even a single point at halftime. Overall, the franchise is 23-144 when trailing at halftime for a winning percentage of 0.138.  Conversely, when the team is tied or ahead on the road at halftime, they are 7-4 in the Carroll era and 87-35 overall (.713 winning percentage). If the Seahawks can manage a halftime lead on the road of even one point, their winning percentage rises to 0.753.

How the Seahawks start certainly appears to have a significant impact on whether they finish with a victory. Encouraging news for Seattle fans is that Carroll's 2012 Seahawks set the franchise record for most games where the team was either tied or ahead after the first quarter (14). In 14 of the team's 16 regular season games, they were either tied or ahead. They led after the first quarter in half their games, and went 7-1 in those games. They were tied or ahead at halftime in 12 of their 16 games, tying a franchise mark. So while Carroll may not emphasize fast starts, his team looks to be well-suited to them.

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