First-half scoring: What's the difference?

In his Sunday notes column, NFL.com senior analyst Michael Lombardi made it a point to review an underappreciated statistic: first-half point differential.

While the numbers rarely are quoted, the reasons why they're so important are pretty obvious.

Comebacks are tough in the NFL, and building an early lead allows a defense to dictate more. When an opponent cannot afford to grind out yardage and must pass to get back into a game, then the leading team can get more aggressive and chase the quarterback.

Lombardi presented a chart that breaks down first-half scoring differential, showing how crucial it is to making the playoffs. Only one team outside of the top 12 made the tournament. The Baltimore Ravens finished 16th and earned a wild-card entry. The Pittsburgh Steelers finished fifth, but didn't advance.

The New England Patriots led the NFL with a margin of 146 points. The AFC East champs were up an aggregate 52 points after the first quarter, which was tied for third. But the Patriots scored a remarkable 92 more points in the second quarter.

The New Orleans Saints were second with an 83-point margin (oddly a minus-21 for the first quarter), and the Green Bay Packers were third a distant third at 70 points.

But the Patriots were doomed in the playoffs against the Ravens, who built a 24-0 first-quarter lead and were ahead 24-7 at halftime. Not helping was that Tom Brady was without slot receiver Wes Welker.

The New York Jets were eighth in first-half scoring differential with a 67-point margin. They were a plus-29 for the first quarter and a plus-38 for the second quarter.

The formula didn't necessarily work for the Jets in the playoffs. They led the Cincinnati Bengals 14-7 at the half in the first round and won, trailed the San Diego Chargers 7-0 at the half in the second round but escaped and took a 17-13 lead into the third quarter against the victorious Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship.

The Miami Dolphins were near the middle of the pack at minus-6. Of the top 20 teams, only the Saints allowed more first-quarter points than the 68 the Dolphins surrendered for a minus-11 differential.

The Buffalo Bills were a peculiar case with a minus-38 that ranked them tied for 19th. They posted an impressive differential of 30 points in the first quarter even though former head coach Dick Jauron liked to kick off when winning the coin toss. But for the second quarter, the Bills were a minus-68.