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Russell Wilson Will Do It Himself, Thank You

When Russell Wilson and J.D. McKissic connected for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia in Week 13, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback tied the NFL record for the most passing TDs in the fourth quarter in a single season with 15, set by Eli Manning in 2011. The TD pass also sealed a 24-10 victory over the 10-2 Eagles — the Seahawks’ most impressive win of the season. Seattle improved to 8-4 on the year to move back into a playoff position and now owns an 80 percent chance of making the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL projections. Wilson was stellar in the final quarter on Sunday, going 5-8 on his passes with a scorching-hot passer rating of 122.4. It was yet another impressive display by Wilson, whose remarkable fourth-quarter performances have become so frequent, they are almost expected at this point.

The Seahawks have based the majority of their success over the past few years on their defense and the “Legion of Boom,” which has been one of the most feared units in recent memory. But as the team continues to deal with major injuries on the defensive side, it’s Wilson and the offense that Seattle has relied on. While Wilson’s performance through the first three quarters has been just OK, his fourth-quarter heroics are among the best in the league. Since Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have kept up with the Seahawks QB in the final 15 minutes of the game.

In the first three quarters of a game, Wilson’s touchdown to interception ratio is 2.5, according to the ESPN Stats & Information Group. Come the fourth quarter, that ratio balloons to 4.2.

The much-deserved hype of Philadelphia sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz and the longevity of New England’s Tom Brady have left Wilson as the forgotten man when it comes to talk of MVP. Wilson may not be having the best statistical season of his career, but after he outdueled Wentz on Sunday, the Seahawks QB earned the right to be at the forefront of the conversation based on how important he is to his team.

Of the five players — all quarterbacks — with the best odds of winning the MVP, according to Ladbrokes, Wilson leads the league in total accrued yards — rushing and passing — and total offensive touchdowns responsible for, and he is second only to Brady in the number of first downs he’s been responsible for.

Russell Wilson’s offense transcends the Eagles’ defense

Comparing Ladbrokes’ top five MVP candidates

Russell Wilson Seattle 2 1 1 23
Carson Wentz Philadelphia 3 1 7 10
Tom Brady New England 1 3 2 8
Jared Goff L.A. Rams 13 10 10 5
Drew Brees New Orleans 11 15 6 2

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information Group, Ladbrokes

What’s evident about all the other quarterbacks is that they’ve received some of the best protection from their offensive lines: Every quarterback except for Wilson has received top-10 pass protection.1 The Seahawks’ offensive line ranks 23rd, meaning Wilson has had to scramble for his life on multiple occasions. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Wilson has attempted 95 passes outside the pocket, which is the most in the league and 31 more than the quarterback with the second most, Blake Bortles.

The poor offensive line play also hasn’t helped the Seahawks’ ground game, which is all but nonexistent this season. On the surface, the Seattle rushing attack looks perfectly mediocre with an average yards per rush of 3.90 — good enough for 22nd in the league. But if you isolate the guys who are paid to run (as in, not throw), the Seattle rogues’ gallery of running backs — Chris Carson, Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy, someone named Mike Davis — has collectively averaged 3.19 yards per carry. That’s not only the worst in the NFL this season, it ranks 537th among 543 team seasons since 2001.

All this means that the burden is completely on Wilson to move the chains and keep his team in the game — making this Wilson’s most important season. The 2013 champion Seahawks were built on Wilson, a stifling defense and the Beast Mode rush attack. Of those things that aren’t Wilson, one is injured and the other plays in Oakland. And yet, Seattle could all but seal its playoff spot with a win in Week 14 over Jacksonville, which would improve its chances of making the postseason to 92 percent,2 according to our Elo prediction model. Wilson would also boost his MVP credentials significantly by defeating the Jaguars’ defense, which leads the league in total defensive expected points added. If the Seahawks do prevail and make the playoffs, you won’t need to guess who’s responsible.

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Readers

Week 13 in our NFL predictions game — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — saw the readers suffer three heavy losses that started on Thursday night, by predicting that Washington would beat Dallas. They were wrong and lost 15.7 points in the game. The readers then lost 11.1 points by being less confident than our Elo in Baltimore’s victory over Detroit. And the last of the double-digit losses for the readers came on Sunday night when the Seahawks upset the Eagles, which gave readers a loss of 12.8 points. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. The readers gained 10.7 points by being less confident than Elo in the Bears’ chances against the 49ers, and then 10 points in predicting a win for the Vikings on the road against the Falcons.

Make sure you get your Week 14 predictions in early, and thanks for playing.

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 13

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 13 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

CHI 72% CHI 62% SF 15, CHI 14 +10.7
ATL 61 MIN 51 MIN 14, ATL 9 +10.0
LAR 57 LAR 69 LAR 32, ARI 16 +6.7
PIT 66 PIT 73 PIT 23, CIN 20 +2.0
NE 73 NE 80 NE 23, BUF 3 +1.2
OAK 71 OAK 75 NYG 17, OAK 24 +0.2
JAX 75 JAX 79 IND 10, JAX 30 +0.1
KC 62 KC 60 KC 31, NYJ 38 +0.0
TEN 66 TEN 68 HOU 13, TEN 24 -0.7
LAC 89 LAC 89 CLE 10, LAC 19 -1.6
MIA 57 MIA 55 DEN 9, MIA 35 -4.1
NO 66 NO 64 CAR 21, NO 31 -4.2
GB 63 GB 59 TB 20, GB 26 -5.4
BAL 60 BAL 51 DET 20, BAL 44 -11.1
PHI 52 PHI 61 PHI 10, SEA 24 -12.8
DAL 61 WSH 53 WSH 14, DAL 38 -15.7

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.


  1. Percentage of plays the offense controls the line of scrimmage on dropbacks

  2. Independent of other Week 14 games.

Daniel Levitt is a former sports intern with FiveThirtyEight. He now runs the journalism newsletter and job board Inside The Newsroom.