Stats & Info: AFC East

Top stats to know: Patriots rout Colts

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
The fourth meeting between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts since Andrew Luck joined the NFL was quite similar to the first three, though more was at stake in this one.

The Patriots routed the Colts 45-7 to advance to the Super Bowl, where they’ll face the Seattle Seahawks. The 38-point margin of victory is the largest in Patriots postseason history and the third-largest in a conference championship game.

The Patriots will play at University of Phoenix Stadium for the first time since their Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.

The history
The Patriots will be making their eighth Super Bowl appearance, tied with the Cowboys and Steelers for most all-time. They improved to 17-4 all-time at home in the postseason and 4-0 in the AFC Championship Game as the No. 1 seed.

Bill Belichick set the NFL record for postseason wins by a head coach with his 21st victory, one more than Tom Landry. His six Super Bowl appearances tie Don Shula for most all-time.

Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and surpassed Peyton Manning’s mark for career postseason passing yards. He’s the first quarterback to win 20 postseason games. Brady will tie Mike Lodish’s record of six Super Bowl appearances.

Brady was 21-of-28 for 174 yards and three touchdowns on throws 10 yards or less downfield.

The Patriots are the third team to notch consecutive 20-point wins in postseason against the same opponent. The other two are the 49ers over the Vikings in 1988 and 1989 and the Colts over the Broncos in 2003 and 2004.

Difference-maker: LeGarrette Blount dominates

LeGarrette Blount had a career-high and Patriots record 30 rushes, netting 148 yards and three touchdowns.

Blount now has a Patriots team record seven postseason rushing touchdowns.

He had four against the Colts last season. He’s the first player in NFL history with multiple postseason games with at least three rushing touchdowns.

Three of his Blount’s five best yardage games in his career have come against the Colts, including these two playoff games.

Luck struggles, gets little help
Luck completed 12 of 33 passes. His 36.3 percent completion percentage is the lowest by a quarterback with at least 30 pass attempts in a playoff game since Trent Dilfer completed 11 of 36 (30.6 percent) for the 1997 Buccaneers against the Packers

Luck was 3-of-17 with an interception on passes thrown more than five yards downfield and 2-of-13 when targeting wide receivers.

Despite not taking a sack, Andrew Luck was pressured on 47 percent of his dropbacks Sunday (17 of 36), the highest single-game percentage of his career. Luck went 4-of-15 passing when under duress Sunday.

The Patriots blitzed on only two of Luck’s 36 dropbacks.

Luck is the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era to lose by 15 or more points in three consecutive postseasons, joining Jake Plummer.

A look at the season through Total QBR

December, 31, 2014

Below are 10 need-to-know facts about the 2014 regular season from the perspective of ESPN’s Total QBR.

(1) Tony Romo finished the regular season with the highest Total QBR in the NFL. This is the first time since 2006 (the first year of Total QBR) that Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady did not lead the league in Total QBR.

(2) Aaron Rodgers finished 0.1 points behind Tony Romo for the top spot in Total QBR, marking the closest race for No. 1 since 2006.

(3) Experience matters in today’s NFL; Every player ranked in the top 10 in Total QBR has been in the league at least seven years. Conversely, four of the bottom five qualifying QBs in Total QBR are either in their first or second year in the league.

(4) Seven of the top eight players in Total QBR have won at least one Super Bowl. Tony Romo is the only player in the top eight without a Super Bowl ring, and Russell Wilson is the only player ranked outside of the top eight (he ranks 12th) that is a champion.

(5) The top eight players in Total QBR have combined for 60 postseason appearances (includes this season) and 68 playoff wins. The other 22 qualified players have 31 postseason appearances as starters and 20 playoff wins.

(6) Eli Manning had the largest increase in Total QBR (+34.4) from 2013 to 2014 among players with at least 200 action plays each of the last two seasons. Manning ranks seventh in Total QBR this season after ranking 27th last year. He set career highs in Total QBR, completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception differential in 2014.

(7) Josh McCown had the largest decline in Total QBR (-49.4) among that group of players. After throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception last year, McCown was one of two players with at least three more interceptions than touchdowns this season (Blake Bortles was the other).

(8) The average Total QBR this season was 56.0, the highest in a season since QBR was first calculated in 2006.

(9) The team with the higher Total QBR won 85.7% of its regular season games this season. That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential and NFL passer rating.

(10) Looking ahead to the playoffs, defense wins championships. Since 2006, three teams that went on to win the Super Bowl had a quarterback ranked in the top 10 in regular season QBR. All but two of those Super Bowl Champions were ranked in the top 10 in opponent QBR, including five in the top 5. The Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks are the three playoff teams ranked in the top five in opponent QBR this year.

Top stats to know: Dolphins 16, Jets 13

December, 1, 2014
The Miami Dolphins struggled, but kept their game with the New York Jets within striking distance long enough to be able to pull it out at the end.

The Dolphins improved to 7-5 and created a six-way tie for the final AFC playoff spot with their 16-13 win.

The Jets are 2-10, tied for their second-worst record through 12 games in franchise history. Their 10 losses are tied for their most in Rex Ryan’s tenure as head coach.

Streak snappers
The Dolphins were 0-5 in games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter and 0-3 in games decided by one score prior to Monday night.

They also snapped their five-game "Monday Night Football" losing streak.

Dolphins sink ground-and-pound in second half
The Jets rushed for 210 first-half yards, the most by a team in any half this season.

But the Dolphins' defense limited the Jets to only 67 second-half yards on the ground, slicing their 7.2 yards per carry average from the opening half to 3.4 in the final 30 minutes.

Tannehill gets it done
Ryan Tannehill threw for 235 yards on 25-of-35 passing. He has completed at least 70 percent of his pass attempts in each of the past five games (tied for the third-longest streak in the last 10 seasons).

Among those who have never had as long of a streak: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Steve Young and Dan Marino. Each of them had streaks of four straight games.

Tannehill converted on two key third-and-7 plays to extend the Dolphins’ final drive.

Tannehill was able to stretch the field in the quarter thanks to the Jets not sending pressure. Tannehill was 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter when New York sent a standard pass rush, but 0-of-2 when the Jets blitzed.

Folk’s big misses
Usually-reliable Jets kicker Nick Folk went 2-for-4 on his field-goal attempts, with the misses coming from 48 yards and 45 yards, the latter in the fourth quarter with the score tied.

Folk was 18-for-21 on field goals from 40 to 49 yards over the past two seasons entering the day.

Missed chances were a theme for the Jets in more ways than one. Their defense dropped two potential interceptions. They've had five such drops this season. Only the Bengals have more (8).


Top stats to know: Dolphins at Jets

December, 1, 2014

AP Photo/Lynne SladkyRyan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins are in control of their own playoff destiny entering Monday.
The Miami Dolphins look to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race as they visit the New York Jets tonight on "Monday Night Football." Here are the top stats you need to know about the game:

Tannehill’s improvement
After putting up average QBRs in his first two seasons (50 in 2012, 46 in 2013), Ryan Tannehill has a QBR of 58 this season. Two of the reasons for the improvement have been taking care of the football and making an impact rushing the ball. Tannehill’s plus-12 touchdown-to-interception differential is a vast improvement from the plus-6 he totaled from 2012-13. He also leads AFC quarterbacks with 276 rush yards.

In each of his past four games, Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes. That is something that neither Dan Marino nor Bob Griese ever did for the Dolphins (minimum 15 attempts).

If Tannehill can throw for 211 or more yards Monday night, he’ll become the fourth Dolphins quarterback with 10,000 career passing yards, joining Jay Fiedler and the aforementioned Marino and Griese.

Can Dolphins break MNF losing streak?
This is the 13th time the Dolphins and Jets will meet on a Monday night (Jets lead 7-5). Only the Raiders-Broncos (17 meetings) and Redskins-Cowboys (16) have been more frequent "Monday Night Football" opponents.

Tannehill is 0-2 on "Monday Night Football," losing twice last season at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay. In those games he had three touchdown passes, four interceptions and a Total QBR of 40.

The Dolphins have lost five straight Monday night games since their last victory in 2009. That win came against the Jets. Miami’s streak is tied for the second-longest active losing streak on "Monday Night Football" with the Minnesota Vikings. The only team with a longer streak is the St. Louis Rams, who have lost six straight games since their last Monday night win in 2004.

Geno faces tough test in return to starting lineup
Geno Smith will replace Michael Vick as the Jets' starting QB for Monday's game. The Jets' Total QBR of 25.9 this season ranks 31st in the NFL and is better than only the Jaguars' (21.8).

Unfortunately for Smith, the Dolphins have allowed the second-lowest Total QBR (40.3) in the league this season, behind only the Bills (39.6). One of the strengths of Miami's defense is protecting against the big pass play. Miami opponents are just 8-41 on throws of at least 20 yards downfield.

Stats to know: Packers 26, Patriots 21

November, 30, 2014
The gap between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots is small and such that the game will come down to which team gets just a little something extra.

On Sunday, the Packers jumped out early thanks to help from a couple of unlikely sources and then held off the Patriots to win, 26-21.

The Packers have won four in a row, eight of nine overall, are 6-0 at home, and are 3-0 against the AFC East this season.

The Patriots lost for the first time against the NFC North since their first game against that division in Week 6 of 2002 to the Packers. Their streak of 14 straight wins against the NFC North was the longest since the creation of the division in 2002.

Rodgers airs it out early; given time to throw
Rodgers had two touchdown throws and no interceptions, giving him 20 touchdown passes and no interceptions at Lambeau Field this season.

Rodgers has thrown multiple touchdown passes without an interception in six straight home games. The only quarterback who can match that is Peyton Manning, who had a six-game streak spanning the 2010 and 2012 seasons.

Rodgers aired it out early and often against the Patriots' defense, throwing 14 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half alone. That matched the most such attempts for Rodgers in a game this season. Rodgers’ 282 yards passing were his third-most in any half of any game in his career.

Rodgers was given strong pass protection Sunday, as he was pressured (sack or duress) on only six of his 43 dropbacks overall (14 percent) and on just two of his 25 first-half dropbacks (8 percent).

On average, Rodgers has been pressured on 23 percent of his dropbacks this season.

Rodgers also adapted well. He was off target on four of his first eight pass attempts, with all four being overthrows. He was off-target on only two of his final 30 pass attempts.

Packers' pass offense more than just Nelson’s big plays
Jordy Nelson joined Randall Cobb as the only Packers teammates to have at least 10 touchdown receptions in the same season with his 45-yard score (his NFL-best sixth touchdown catch of at least 40 yards this season).

But with Nelson often covered by Darrelle Revis, Rodgers looked to other options. Of his first 140 passing yards, 122 went to rookies Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers. Adams finished with 121 receiving yards and had a career-high 90 yards by the end of the first quarter.

Sack attack intact
The Packers' first sack of the game came late in the fourth quarter and led to a Patriots’ missed field goal.

The Packers have now recorded a sack in 32 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

The Packers picked their spots when to blitz as the game went along, sending extra pass pressure on six of Tom Brady’s 20 second-half dropbacks (they blitzed on 10 of 16 in the first half).

The Patriots averaged only 4.4 yards per dropback in the second half after averaging 9.3 in the first half.

Top stats to know: Patriots 43, Broncos 21

November, 2, 2014
This matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning was among the least competitive of their 16 meetings.

The New England Patriots continued their roll, routing the Denver Broncos, 43-21.

The Patriots, who had more points at halftime (27) than the Broncos had allowed in any game this season, are now 3-0 in regular-season matchups against teams that beat them in the previous year’s AFC Championship Game.

Brady improved to 11-5 all-time when Peyton Manning was the opposing starter.

Streaks extended
The Patriots have won five straight games overall, 14 straight regular season home games and 34 straight home games versus AFC teams.

Brady has won 42 straight home starts against AFC teams.

Brady brilliant again
Brady threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns. His 22 games with at least four touchdowns ranks fourth all-time. Manning is the all-time record holder with 33.

Brady was 4 for 9 for 85 yards on throws at least 15 yards downfield.

In the first four weeks of the season, Brady completed only 22 percent of his throws of that length. Since then, he's completed 63 percent of those throws, the highest percentage of any qualified quarterback.

Brady now has 51,451 passing yards, passing John Elway for fifth all-time.

Brady completed nine passes for 105 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. It was Gronkowski’s 51st career touchdown reception, passing Randy Moss and Ben Coates for second-most in Patriots history. Stanley Morgan holds the record with 68.

Gronkowski is tied for the second-fastest to 50 touchdown receptions, doing so in 59 games (same as Moss). The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Lance Alworth holds the all-time record (he got to 50 in 54 games).

Brady has completed 75 percent of his throws to Gronkowski the last five weeks. In the first four weeks of the season, he completed only 12 of 26.

All of the success Brady has had can be seen in his Total QBR. He ranked 28th in the NFL with a 46.5 Total QBR through four weeks. The last five weeks, he's tops in the NFL at 89.1.

Why you can’t always measure a team by its yardage
The Broncos amassed 472 yards of offense against the Patriots, their second-most in any game this season.

But six of their drives ended with either interceptions or turnovers on downs.

The Patriots, who entered the day with an NFL-best 60 points off turnovers, scored on the drives that followed both of Manning’s interceptions.

Manning sets marks in defeat
The big deficit forced the Broncos into an offense that was almost entirely pass-exclusive.

Manning finished with 438 passing yards, his 14th game with at least 400 yards. That broke the NFL record he previously shared with Dan Marino.

Manning also set an NFL mark with his 14th straight game with multiple touchdown passes.

His 47 straight games with a touchdown pass is tied with Johnny Unitas for the third-longest streak in NFL history, seven shy of Drew Brees’ NFL mark.

Top stats to know: Patriots at Chiefs

September, 29, 2014

Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesTom Brady is poised to become only the sixth player in NFL history with 50,000 passing yards.
The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs will meet for the fourth time on "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET on ESPN) as Week 4 of the NFL season comes to a close. The Patriots have won all three previous MNF meetings.

Overall, New England is 11-3 on "Monday Night Football" since 2005, the second-best record over this span (min. 10 games), behind only the Chicago Bears (12-3).

Tom Terrific
Tom Brady is 219 yards shy of 50,000 for his NFL career.

When he reaches the milestone, he’ll join Brett Favre (71,838), Peyton Manning (65,778), Dan Marino (61,361), Drew Brees (52,284) and John Elway (51,475) as the only players in league history to reach this mark.

Terrible Tom
That milestone might not come as easily as one might think, as Brady has really struggled this season.

He has either overthrown or underthrown his receivers on 27 percent of his pass attempts. That is the highest percent of off-target passes in the NFL this season.

One reason for this might be the losses of guard Logan Mankins (traded to Tampa Bay) and longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (retired before the season).

Brady’s been under pressure (sacked, hit while throwing or under duress) at a higher percentage each season since offensive tackle Matt Light retired before the 2012 season.

Short is better for Smith
Last week against the Dolphins, Alex Smith threw for only 186 yards, but he still had three passing touchdowns with no interceptions. One reason for his success was his ability to keep his throws short.

Over the first two weeks for the season, Smith completed 58 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. He averaged 5.9 yards per attempt with his average pass traveling 8.1 yards.

Against Miami, he completed 76 percent of his passes while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt on his passes that traveled an average of 2.9 yards.

Quick hitters
• Tom Brady has thrown 42 touchdown passes in his career on "Monday Night Football," the most in the NFL since the start of the 2002 season.

• Brady is completing 84.6 percent of his passes to Julian Edelman this season and 51.1 percent to all other players.

• This is the Chiefs' first home game on "Monday Night Football" since Week 8 of the 2011 season, when they beat the Chargers 23-20 in overtime.

• Kansas City has lost four straight home games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL, behind only the Raiders (five).

• Since starting the 2013 season 9-0, the Chiefs are 3-8 in their past 10 games including the playoffs.

Top stats to know: Bears at Jets

September, 22, 2014

AP Photo/Tony AvelarThe Chicago Bears have provided solid protection for Jay Cutler in 2014.
The Chicago Bears and New York Jets meet for the second time on Monday Night Football (8:30 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Here are the statistical angles of note for tonight’s game.

Bearing down
The Bears were staring at an 0-2 start but outscored the San Francisco 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter last week in a 28-20 win.

It was the first time they won a game after trailing by at least 17 points since 2006 against the Arizona Cardinals – which is also the game then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green uttered the famous postgame words, “The Bears are who we thought they were.”

Through two games, the Bears have been outscored by 20 points in the first half. They’re plus-25 in the second half.

Protect the quarterback
The Bears’ Jay Cutler has had much better protection to start this season. In two games, he’s been sacked on 3.4 percent of his dropbacks, continuing a positive trend for the past few seasons.

He’s feeling the heat much less overall, facing duress on 12.5 percent of his dropbacks in two games – best in the league entering Week 3. For context, Peyton Manning led the league in this category last season, facing duress on 14.9 percent of his dropbacks.

Cutler will be making his 70th start with the Bears. His record with Chicago is 40-29 (.580).

The Jets enter this game tops in both rushing offense (179.0 YPG) and rushing defense (52.5 YPG). The Jets are the first team to hold that distinction after any week of an NFL season since the Vikings ended 2007 leading in both categories.

That would appear to be bad news for a Bears defense that allowed 193 rush yards in Week 1 and 129 in Week 2. Defending the run has been a major issue for Chicago, ranking at or near the bottom of every defensive rushing category since the start of last season.

Odds and ends
• The Bears are in a stretch that will see them play four of five games on the road. They host the Green Bay Packers next week, then play the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons on the road.

• The Bears are 11-3 on Monday Night Football since 2006. They won both of their appearances last season (Week 9 at Green Bay and Week 14 against Dallas). They appear twice this season with the second game coming in Week 15 (host the Saints).

• Geno Smith is making his second career start on Monday Night Football. In Week 5 last season, he went 16-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-28 win at Atlanta.

Is AFC East now wide open?

September, 9, 2014

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsAfter losing to Miami on Sunday, New England is alone in last place in the AFC East.
The New England Patriots were ranked as the No. 3 team in the Week 1 NFL Power Rankings behind the Seahawks and Broncos. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ AFC East rivals were all ranked in the 20s.

With Week 1 in the books, the Bills, Dolphins and Jets are all 1-0 and the Patriots sit at 0-1. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots are in sole possession of last place for the first time since Tom Brady became quarterback.

Is this just a Week 1 mirage, or is there reason to believe the AFC East is more wide open than originally seemed?

Week 1 Rank: 3
Week 2 Rank: 7

The Patriots lost their opening game for the first time since 2003, and could potentially fall to 0-2 (they play at Minnesota) for the first time since 2001. Week 2 of that season would be when Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots quarterback.

Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks ever since, but time may be catching up to him.

In Week 1, Brady attempted 18 passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield and completed only two. The 16 incompletions on those attempts were the most in game by a passer since 2006.

Although Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown in the game, his impact was limited.

Brady completed only four of 12 attempts to Gronkowski, the duos lowest completion percentage in a game with more than five targets.

Week 1 Rank: 21
Week 2 Rank: 22

It might have been against the Raiders, but Geno Smith did complete a career-high 82.1 percent of his attempts in Week 1. Smith was able to do so by keeping it short, with his average pass traveling 4.5 yards downfield, second lowest of the week.

The Jets ranked 30th with a 33.2 Total QBR last season and still finished the season 8-8. Smith playing smarter will help the Jets hang onto the ball, and will give their group of capable running backs – led by former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson – a chance to shine. The Jets gained more rushing yards in Week 1 (212) than they did in a game all of last season.

Week 1 Rank: 22
Week 2 Rank: 15

The Dolphins were able to take down the Patriots in Week 1 with a strong rushing attack. Miami’s 191 rushing yards in the opener was more than it had in any of its games last season.

Maybe more importantly for the Dolphins’ success, Ryan Tannehill was sacked only once in Week 1. Last season, Tannehill played in 16 games and was sacked multiple times in 14 of them.

Week 1 Rank: 29
Week 2 Rank: 23

The Bills could be the biggest Wild Card of the AFC East. The Bills had one of the most disruptive defenses in the NFL last season, especially on passing plays, trailing only the Seahawks in opponent Total QBR.

The Bills’ big weakness last season was their offense as rookie EJ Manuel struggled to stay healthy.

In Week 1 Manuel completed a career-high 72.7 percent of his passes, including 5 of 7 of his attempts thrown at least 15 yards downfield. Last season Manuel ranked 33rd completing those passes (38.1 percent).

Top stats to know: The 2014 Buffalo Bills

July, 21, 2014

Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesThe Bills are counting on Sammy Watkins for big numbers in 2014.
NFL training camps are opening and SportsCenter will be on hand at select teams as they get ready for the upcoming season. Monday, we pay a visit to the Buffalo Bills.

Here are some statistical takes on 10 topics sure to come up throughout the day.

1. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. Their last playoff game was a loss to the Titans in the 1999 Wild Card Playoffs (a.k.a. the Music City Miracle). Their last playoff win was in the 1995 Wild Card Playoffs against the Dolphins. The only teams without a playoff win from 1996 to 2013 are the Bills, Lions, Browns, Bengals and Chiefs.

2. The Bills have lost at least 10 games in five straight seasons, tying the franchise record from 1967 to 1971. Over the last six seasons, the Bills have finished in last place in their division five times. That’s tied with the Browns and Redskins for the most last-place finishes in that span.

3. The Bills traded from the No. 9 pick to the No. 4 pick to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins, giving up their first-round pick and fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to the Browns.

Currently, Buffalo is the only team that doesn’t own its first-round pick in the 2015 draft. However, the Bills got a conditional mid-round pick in 2015

4. Watkins is the 19th WR drafted in the top five in the Common Draft Era. The previous 18 averaged just 38 catches for 569 yards and 3.5 touchdowns as rookies. Only one of them had 1,000 yards as a rookie (A.J. Green – 1,057 yards in 2011).

5. EJ Manuel was 4-6 in his 10 starts last season. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranked 28th in the NFL in the Total QBR (rating of 42.3 on the 0-100 scale). His 10 starts were third most ever for a Bills rookie quarterback behind Joe Ferguson (14 in 1973) and Dennis Shaw (12 in 1970).
E.J. Manuel
6. Manuel’s biggest problem might have been against the blitz. He completed only 41 of his 85 passes when blitzed, giving him the league’s second-worst completion percentage against it (48 percent) (Case Keenum – 46 percent).

Manuel was also bad on third down, completing only 48 percent of his passes (second-worst in NFL) for 5.2 yards per attempt (worst in the NFL). That’s one reason the Bills converted on only 34 percent of their third down attempts (29th in NFL).

7. While the Bills passing attack struggled (194 yards per game, 28th in NFL), the rushing attack averaged 144 yards per game, second-best in the league behind the Eagles. The Bills called run plays on 45 percent of their snaps, the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Seahawks and 49ers.

C.J. Spiller (933 yards) and Fred Jackson (890 yards) were the only teammates to each run for at least 800 yards last year. They’ll both be pushed for playing time by Bryce Brown, acquired in a trade with the Eagles this offseason.

8. The Bills defense was the inverse of the Bills offense last year: good against the pass and bad versus the run. Buffalo had the league’s 28th-ranked run defense, allowing 129 yards per game on the ground, and the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing only 204 yards per game.

The Bills held opponents to the lowest completion percentage in the league (55 percent) and the second-lowest Total QBR (36.0). That might be a tough feat to repeat after losing safety Jairus Byrd, their best defensive back and 2013 franchise player, in free agency.

9. Another problem for the Bills defense is the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso to a season-ending torn ACL suffered this offseason. Alonso is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He ranked third in the NFL with 159 tackles last season, 32 more than any other rookie and 77 more than any other Bills player.

Alonso also played all 1,089 snaps for the Bills defense last season, the seventh most defensive snaps of any player in the NFL.

10. The Bills were second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks last season. Mario Williams (13.0), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10.0) became the first trio of teammates with double-digit sacks in a season since the 2000 Saints (La’Roi Glover, Darren Howard, Joe Johnson). In two years since signing a massive free agent deal ($39.4M guaranteed) with the Bills, Williams is tied for sixth in the NFL with 23.5 sacks and has played a team-high 1,839 defensive snaps.

NFL free agency: Numerical needs (AFC)

March, 11, 2014
ESPN Stats & Information’s video analysis data has revealed needs that may not be apparent through traditional statistics.

Here’s a team-by-team look at areas of need for each AFC team heading into free agency.

AFC East
Buffalo Bills: offensive line, linebacker/safety
Bills quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 33 times when facing four or fewer pass rushers last season. When opposing four-man rushes pressured Buffalo quarterbacks, the Bills’ 23.8 completion percentage was worst in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ rush defense allowed 1.8 yards after contact per rush last season, fourth worst in the league. The Bills allowed 36 rushes with at least 5 yards after contact. Only the Browns (37) had more.

Miami Dolphins: offensive line, wide receiver/tight end
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-leading 58 times last season, the most of any quarterback since Jon Kitna in 2006.

The Dolphins also rushed for 37 first downs inside the tackles, 12 fewer than any other team.

Tannehill threw four touchdowns and 13 interceptions on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield last season. Tannehill’s minus-nine TD-Int differential on those throws was the worst in the league.

New York Jets: wide receiver, quarterback, pass rush
There have been 116 different 1,000-yard seasons posted by receivers in the past seven seasons. None has been by a Jet. Free agent Jeremy Kerley gained 523 yards last season to lead the Jets, the lowest total of any team leader.

The Jets (59.0 percent) were the only team whose quarterbacks completed fewer than 60 percent of throws 10 yards or fewer downfield. Geno Smith completed 58.9 percent of short throws, worst of any quarterback who appeared in at least nine games.

On defense, the Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league at least than 6.5 percent. One of their best pass-rush specialists, Calvin Pace, (10 sacks last season) is a free agent.

New England Patriots: defensive line/linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver
After losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo by Week 7, the lack of depth in the Patriots’ front seven was exposed. Undrafted defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano hadn’t played a snap before 2013 but each played more than 600 snaps last season.

Over the last 11 weeks of the season, the Patriots ranked 27th in yards allowed per rush and 29th in yards allowed per game.

In the secondary, Aqib Talib is an unrestricted free agent. Talib tied for a team-high 14.0 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) last season. Since Talib’s first game in New England (Week 11 of 2012), no Patriot has more interceptions than his five.

Talib (819 snaps) and Steve Gregory (813) ranked second and third respectively in defensive snaps played among New England’s secondary. Gregory was cut in February.

On offense, Julian Edelman is an unrestricted free agent after posting 105 catches last season (fourth in NFL). Edelman’s 70.5 catch percentage was best in the league among 60 wide receivers with at least 75 targets.

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals: linebacker, defensive end, offensive line
Bengals defenders had 26 tackles for loss on rushing plays last season, eight fewer than any other team. Sixteen teams had at least twice as many tackles for loss on rushing plays as the Bengals did.

A pair of impact Bengals are free agents, one on each side of the line. Defensive end Michael Johnson had 25 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) over the past two seasons, 12th among defensive linemen.

Offensive lineman Anthony Collins played in 15 games last season, with quarterback Andy Dalton’s sack percentage jumping from 3 percent with Collins on the field to 7 percent with Collins off.

Cleveland Browns: wide receiver, running back, defensive back, defensive line
Browns wide receivers had 24 drops last season (6.6 percent of targets), the most of any team in the league. Josh Gordon was excellent, but he didn’t get much help, as the chart on the right shows.

Seven different Browns players led the team in rushing in a game last season. Among that group were Gordon and fellow receiver Travis Benjamin and defensive back Josh Aubrey.

On defense, the Browns forced eight fumbles last season, the only team with less than 10. Cleveland’s secondary and defensive line forced three combined fumbles, half as many any other team.

D’Qwell Jackson (1,105 snaps) and T.J. Ward (1,073) ranked first and second in defensive snaps played last season. From 2010-13, Jackson and Ward posted at least 100 tackles five times (including both last season), something no other Brown did over that span.

Baltimore Ravens: running back, wide receiver
The Ravens averaged 3.1 yards per rush last season, worst in franchise history. Baltimore was one of two teams (Jacksonville) to average fewer than 2.0 yards per rush before contact last season.

Baltimore wide receivers caught 55 percent of targets last season, 27th in the league. Baltimore was one of five teams without a wide receiver recording more than 40 catches on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers: defensive line/linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver
The Steelers' defense allowed 6.5 yards per rush outside the tackles last season, the second highest average in the league and more than double what it allowed in 2012. Pittsburgh was the fifth team in the past five seasons to allow at least 5.0 yards before contact per rush outside the tackles.

On offense, The Steelers averaged 3.5 yards per rush last season, fourth lowest in the league. Pittsburgh is the only team to have ranked in the bottom four in yards before contact per rush in both 2012 (1.7, last) and 2013 (2.0, 29th).

The Steelers have five wide receivers under contract for next season. Antonio Brown set career highs with 110 catches for 1,499 yards and nine touchdowns.

The other four combined for eight catches for 84 yards last season. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are both free agents.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts: wide receiver, defensive line, defensive back
Colts receivers dropped 8 percent of third-down targets last season, the highest drop percentage in the league. Reggie Wayne’s return should help, but even Wayne dropped three of his 18 targets on third downs before being placed on injured reserve.

On defense, Robert Mathis was outstanding for the Colts last season but didn’t have much help. Mathis recorded 13.5 sacks when the Colts sent four or fewer rushers, more than the rest of the Colts combined (9.5).

Mathis forced six fumbles when Indianapolis sent standard pressure, He was the only Colt to force one in those situations.

Two of the three Colts defenders who played at least 900 snaps (Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis) are free agents, as well as Cassius Vaughn (393 snaps).

Jacksonville Jaguars: quarterback, defensive line, offensive line
Jaguars quarterbacks posted a league-worst 23.8 Total QBR last season, the second time in the past three seasons Jacksonville has had the league’s worst QBR. The Jaguars have a 24.7 Total QBR since drafting Blaine Gabbert (2011), the only team below 30 during that span.

The Jaguars averaged 1.7 yards before contact per rush last season, worst in the league and one of only two teams below 2.0.

On defense, Jacksonville’s 20 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers was tied for 10th-fewest in the league last season, despite using standard pressure more often than any other team (82 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).

Houston Texans: quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker
Texans quarterbacks handled the blitz worse than any team in the league last season. Houston’s Total QBR against at least five pass rushers was 20.9, worst in the NFL.

On defense, the Texans intercepted seven passes last season, fewest in the NFL and less than half of their total in both of Wade Philips’ previous two seasons as defensive coordinator. Houston intercepted three passes intended for wide receivers, less than half of any other team’s total.

Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays (both free agents) were the only two Texans’ inside linebackers to record at least 500 snaps last season. Brian Cushing (315 snaps) missed nine games with a left leg injury.

Tennessee Titans: cornerback, defensive line
The Titans' defense allowed six receiving touchdowns by wide receivers last season, with only the Dolphins allowing fewer (five). But top cornerback Alterraun Verner is a free agent.

The Titans' rush defense allowed 4.0 yards per rush inside the tackles last season, 11th in the league.

However, Tennessee allowed 1.7 yards after contact on those rushes, 23rd in the league. The Titans allowed the fourth-fewest yards before contact per rush last year, but defensive lineman Antonio Johnson (363 snaps) is an unrestricted free agent.

AFC West
Denver Broncos: defense, running back
Forty-four percent of Denver’s defensive snaps last season were logged by players who are restricted or unrestricted free agents, including five of seven Broncos with at least 650 defensive snaps.

Three of the four secondary snaps leaders are free agents. Shaun Phillips (team-high 10 sacks) and Wesley Woodyard (second on team with 83 tackles) are also unrestricted free agents.

On offense, Broncos free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards last season, 12th in the league. Moreno played 671 snaps -- more than fellow running backs Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined.

Kansas City Chiefs: defensive back, wide receiver
The Chiefs allowed 6.4 yards after the catch per reception last season, worst in the league. The Chiefs also share a division with the Broncos (first in yards after the catch) and Chargers (fifth). Defensive snap leader Kendrick Lewis is a free agent.

On offense, Chiefs wide receivers ranked among the league’s least-productive units last season, ranking last in receptions, receiving yards and first downs.

San Diego Chargers: cornerback, defensive line, outside linebacker
The Chargers' defense allowed 9.1 yards per attempt to wide receivers last season, highest in the league. Richard Marshall was one of two cornerbacks to play at least 600 snaps for the Chargers last season and is a free agent.

The Chargers put opposing quarterbacks under pressure on 19 percent of dropbacks with a four-man pass rush last season, the second lowest rate in the league. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 7.9 yards per attempt against San Diego’s standard pass rush, fifth worst in the league.

Oakland Raiders: defensive line, cornerback, offensive line
The Raiders had a league-low 12 sacks with four or fewer pass rushers last season, 21 behind the league-leading Panthers. Fifteen teams had at least twice as many sacks with a standard pass rush as Oakland did.

The Raiders also allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a league-worst 69.1 percent of passes targeting wide receivers last season.

On offense, Raiders quarterbacks were under duress on 32 percent of dropbacks last season, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Tackles Jared Veldheer and Tony Pashos are free agents. Veldheer is the team leader in snaps played over the past four seasons (3,184), but missed the first 11 games of 2013 with a triceps injury.

All eyes on Watkins at Clemson Pro Day

March, 6, 2014

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd keyed the Clemson Tigers' success this past season.
Plenty of scouts will put pencil to paper today as they check out Clemson’s Pro Day.

Teams looking for help at wide receiver need look no further than the Tigers’ Sammy Watkins – who was a big-time play-maker during his collegiate career. Of his 27 career receiving touchdowns, 21 came on plays of at least 25 yards.

The average pass thrown to Watkins this past season traveled just 4.7 yards downfield. As his career has gone forward, Watkins has been targeted closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.

In 2013, Clemson did whatever they could to get him the ball, targeting him behind the line of scrimmage 65 times last season, 14 more than any other AQ player.

At the NFL Combine, Watkins measured 6’1” and ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash. That combined with his production in college was enough for Scouts, Inc. to rank him as the fourth-highest player on the board. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are in agreement that he is the best wide receiver available – with both projecting him to go at No. 5 to the Oakland Raiders.

Watkins’ quarterback Tajh Boyd was a consistent performer in college as well and finished his career as the ACC leader in 300-yard games, touchdown passes and touchdowns responsible for.

Boyd also showed improvement each season as his yards per attempt and completion percentage climbed in each successive year.

The deep ball was one of Boyd’s specialties as he completed 54.7 percent of passes of at least 20 yards. That ranked highest among all BCS-AQ quarterbacks – nearly five percentage points better than the next two closest: Blake Bortles of UCF and Marcus Mariota of Oregon.

Although he was productive in college, Boyd’s height is one reason why he is just the 11th-ranked quarterback according to Scouts Inc. 54 players threw at least 20 passes in the NFL last season, and just seven of them were 6'1" or shorter. Of course one of those was Russell Wilson – who recently won the Super Bowl.

Postseason struggles for Brady, Belichick

January, 20, 2014

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Bill Belichick are one of the most successful quarterback-head coach duos in NFL history. But they have not had the same success in recent years.
Next year will be the 10th season since the Patriots’ run of three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. Their last Super Bowl-winning campaign came in 2004.

What loss means for Tom Brady
Tom Brady is .500 (8-8) in postseason games since New England's loss in the 2005 divisional playoffs at Denver. Before that game, Brady was a perfect 10-0, which included winning three Super Bowls.

In his postseason career, Tom Brady has a 2-4 record when facing a Manning as the opposing QB and a 16-4 record against all other starting quarterbacks.

But is it all on Brady? Consider that in Brady's first 10 playoff games (when the Patriots were 10-0), the defense allowed an average of 15.8 points per game and got a sack every 13.2 dropbacks.

In his past 16 playoff games, the defense has allowed an average of 22.9 points per game and got a sack every 18.2 dropbacks.

The Patriots have allowed 20 or more points in six straight playoff games.

But even with all of the negative trends, it's important to remember that Brady still owns the record for most postseason wins by a QB in NFL history. The next-closest active quarterback is Peyton Manning with 11.

Bill Belichick's successes and failures
Since New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots' playoff performance has fallen short of their lofty regular-season standard.

In the past six seasons, the Patriots have a .750 winning percentage in the regular season compared to a .444 winning percentage in the postseason.

Bill Belichick’s 19 postseason wins as a head coach are one shy of tying Tom Landry for most all time. He could have arrived there sooner, however; the Patriots have lost six of their past 10 postseason games.

Defense is what Belichick is known for, and the defense is what failed them against the Broncos on Sunday.

New England gave up 507 yards to the Broncos, the most they've allowed in a game -- regular season or postseason -- under Belichick.

The Patriots became one of six teams since the AFL-NFL merger to lose consecutive AFC Championship Games, and just the second in the past 25 years. The division rival Jets in 2009 and 2010 were the last to do so.

Of those six teams, only one -- the Raiders -- made the AFC Championship Game the next season. And that Raiders team went on to win not just the AFC Championship but the Super Bowl too.

Seahawks defense pounces on 49ers' lapses

January, 20, 2014

Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports Richard Sherman (25) and the Seahawks flexed their strength in the second half
In earning their spots in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks (the NFL’s top scoring defense) and the Denver Broncos (the league’s top scoring offense) rode their strengths to victory in Sunday’s Conference Championship games.

The Seahawks, trailing 10-3 at halftime, made 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick pay for his second-half lapses. The Broncos inflicted the worst postseason thrashing on a Patriots defense in at least the past eight seasons.

Seahawks’ defense rises, Kaepernick’s QBR falls
Entering Sunday’s NFC Championship game, Colin Kaepernick had an 85.4 Total QBR in the playoffs, the highest total since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least five postseason starts. Behind strong running (eight rushes for 98 yards), Kaepernick posted a 96.8 first-half Total QBR, his strongest first half in a playoff game in his career. His best first half had been 88.2 against the Falcons in the NFC Championship last year.

Here’s how his QBR fell apart:

    6:38/3rd: Kaepernick hits Anquan Boldin for a touchdown for a 17-10 lead. QBR: 96.2

    10:17/4th: Kaepernick takes a delay of game penalty and loses a fumble on a sack on the next play. QBR: 83.3

    7:44/4th: On his next pass, he throws an interception to Kam Chancellor that leads to a Seahawks field goal. QBR: 69.7

    0:30/4th: His final interception in the end zone seals the game. QBR: 65.1.

Kaepernick’s erratic second-half play was forced by a revived Seahawks defense. In the first two quarters, the Seahawks defense contributed -3.5 points to the team’s scoring margin, its third-worst first-half mark this season. In the second half, the defense contributed 4.6 points to the scoring margin. The 8.1-point difference is tied for the Seahawks’ second-largest positive swing from a first to a second half (27.4 in Week 4 against Houston and 8.1 in Week 14 against San Francisco).

Kaepernick’s second-half QBR of 27.0 is his worst performance in a half of any playoff game in his career. His previous low was 39.4 in the first half of the Super Bowl last season.

Manning sets QBR Standard in Rematch
Sunday’s AFC Championship game differed considerably from the season’s first meeting between the Broncos and Patriots. Perhaps the most significant difference was the performance of Peyton Manning.

He had a 28.1 QBR in Week 12, a 34-31 overtime loss by the Broncos. On Sunday, with more at stake, Manning posted an 88.8 QBR – not only enough to eliminate the Patriots, but also enough to set a standard against a coach regarded for his defensive acumen. That 60.7 change in QBR was the greatest QBR increase in a rematch game against a Bill Belichick-led defense in the QBR era.

Since 2006, a quarterback has started against the same defense twice in a season 664 times (not including the rare third matchup in a season – such as in Sunday’s NFC Championship game). Looking at all QB-opponent matchups, QBR drops 3.2 points on average from the first to the second meeting.

Quarterbacks have fared worse against the Patriots. Against a Belichick-coached defense, opponent QBR in a rematch has dropped 8.8 points on average, more than 2 times greater than the league average.

Before Sunday, Peyton Manning had faced the same opponent twice in the same season 27 times (since 2006). In the rematch game, Manning’s QBR rose 5.0 points on average, the fifth-highest average change among QBs who have had at least 10 rematches in that span.

Two of the dynamics entering the game were defenses historically improving against a quarterback the second time around and Manning typically improving against a defense in a rematch. But the magnitude of Manning’s improvement and the Patriots’ deterioration would have been hard to predict.

Sunday’s game was the Patriots’ worst defensive effort in the playoffs in terms of points contributed since 2006. The defense contributed -14.5 points to the Patriots’ scoring margin against the Broncos.

In all three games in which the Patriots faced a starting quarterback for the second time this season, he improved his Total QBR from the first matchup, the first time that happened in a Patriots season in ESPN’s data set (since ’06). New England lost all three games.

With his improvement in his second game against the Patriots, Manning surpassed Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins, who had a 29.8 QBR followed by an 82.2 this season for a 52.4 point improvement.

Keys to victory: Broncos 26, Patriots 16

January, 19, 2014

Peyton Manning made it look easy for most of the day against the Patriots.
This time, the New England Patriots didn't have enough time to catch up to the Denver Broncos. Denver's ball-possession strategy was key in beating New England in the AFC Championship Game.

The Broncos advanced to their seventh Super Bowl, their first since the 1998 season. They will try to win their third Super Bowl title.

Broncos hold on and don’t let go
Denver won this game by sustaining long drives. It gained 507 yards on offense, held the ball for 35:44 and had zero turnovers. The 507 yards were the most allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached team.

The Broncos had a pair of scoring drives of seven minutes or longer. They had only one such drive all season entering this game. It came in last week’s win over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning perfect in one way, great in other ways
Peyton Manning threw for 400 yards with two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only two other quarterbacks have had a playoff game in which they hit all those benchmarks -- Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXIV and Drew Brees in the 2010 and 2011 NFC wild-card round. Manning and Brees are the only quarterbacks to have three postseason games in which they threw for at least 400 yards.

The 400 yards were a Broncos team record for passing yards in a postseason game.

Manning, 37, will become the second-oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, trailing only Broncos team president John Elway.

How good was Manning in this game?

He was 8-for-8 for 116 yards, eight first downs and two touchdowns when using play-action. He established Demaryius Thomas as his top target early and often, connecting on seven of his first eight throws to Thomas for 134 yards. He was 7-for-9 for 186 yards on throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.

Manning was rarely pressured. He was under duress on only three of his 43 dropbacks. The Patriots' pressure percentage -- 7 percent -- was their lowest in a game this season. Their previous low was 17 percent against the Bills in Week 1.

Manning improved to 5-10 in games against Tom Brady, but he has won five of his past nine.

This one was a decisive victory.

Patriots, Brady could never catch up
The Patriots fell behind and could never do enough on offense to make up the deficit. Their run game could not match what it had done to get to this point.

New England ran 12 times between the tackles, netting 42 yards (3.5 yards per carry). In their previous three games, the Patriots averaged 5.8 yards per carry when rushing between the tackles.

Brady tried to go deep to get points in a hurry, but that didn’t work. He was 1-for-5 in the first three quarters on throws at least 21 yards downfield. He also could not replicate Manning’s success with Thomas with his go-to guy, Julian Edelman.

Brady was 4-for-7 throwing to Edelman in the first three quarters for only 27 yards. Edelman finished with 10 catches, but they were not enough to overcome Denver's dominance.