Will Special Teams continue to be a strength for the 2012 49ers?
Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders posted their 2012 DVOA projections today. Although DVOA still thinks the 49ers are the favorite to win the NFC West division -- putting the percentage likelihood of a division crown at 45% -- it expects the 49ers to go about 8-8, with a mean projection of a mere 7.5 wins.
This will undoubtedly come as a shock to 49er fans and to NFL fans more generally. How does a dominant 13-3 team suddenly become a mediocre 8-8 team? Schatz realizes how strange this sounds, and he even made a video that addresses precisely why DVOA projects the 49ers to do so poorly.
One of the reasons why the 49ers are expected to do more poorly is that, in general, Special Teams success appears random. Field goal kickers' accuracy swings wildly from year to year (in general). And because kicking teams, coverage teams, and return teams have so much personnel turnover, it's difficult to predict how well those units will function year-to-year. In making his generalization, Schatz is just reading what the numbers have shown him over the years.
But is the apparent "randomness" of special teams play something that should affect the 49ers' win total? There's one guy who'll have a significant say in the matter: the 49ers Special Teams coach / secret weapon Brad Seely. Follow me after the jump to see what a difference this coach makes.
The short answer to whether a regression on Special Teams will make the 2012 49ers drop down to 8-8 (or thereabouts) is a resounding no. Even DVOA thinks the 49ers will play well on Special Teams. DVOA expects the offense to play 8 percentage points worse in 2012 than they did in 2011 (dropping from 18 to 26 in overall ranking). It also projects the defense to play 13.4 percentage points worse in 2012 than they did in 2011 (dropping from 3rd to 10th). DVOA expects the Niners special teams to stay strong, however, maintaining their 3rd overall rank from 2011 through the 2012 season.
This might seem a strange conclusion given the general randomness that affects special teams. But this expectation is well founded. The 49ers are bringing back Brian Jennings, Ted Ginn Jr., David Akers, and Andy Lee. But, arguably more importantly, they still have Brad Seely, who is the closest antidote to special teams variability that there is in the league.
Seely has been coaching special teams in the NFL for 21 consecutive years. He was with the Colts from 1989 to 1994, the Jets in 1994, the Panthers from 1995 to 1998, the Patriots from 1999 to 2008, then the Browns in 2009 and 2010, and finally with the 49ers in 2011. Although Football Outsiders see Special Teams as largely random, Seely's special teams units have never ranked worse than 19th, and have been in the top 8 in 12 of his 21 seasons. In fact, his units have only been below the league average in 2 of those 21 seasons. That's an incredible run of success. I've even included a handy chart (below) that catalogs just how awesome Seely's units have been over the years, per DVOA.
Obviously we were all devastated by the special teams miscues that led to the 49ers loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship game. And at cut-down day, the 49ers lost a couple of special teams stalwarts in Colin Jones and Rock Cartwright. But do you think that we should affect the 49ers special teams to be as dominant in 2012 as they were in 2011? Hit up the comments to let everyone know what you think.