Stats & Info: NFC North

Stats to know: NFL MVP candidates

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
Wire photosAaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Tom Brady each has statistics that are MVP-worthy.
Quarterbacks have dominated The Associated Press NFL MVP award in recent years, but this season there is a strong candidate to become the first non-offensive player to win since Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants did so in 1986.

Below are some of the key statistics about the favorites for MVP:

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers could add to the MVP award he won in 2011. A key component of his performance was his ability to be highly productive and avoid mistakes.

Rodgers threw 25 touchdown passes without an interception in home games. That is the most in one season in NFL history -- 2 times as many as No. 2 on this list, Steve Young (10 in 1987).

Rodgers threw at least two touchdowns and had no interceptions in all eight of the Packers' home games. That streak of eight is two games longer than anyone else’s. Peyton Manning had a six-game streak of two touchdown passes without an interception comprising the final two home games of 2010 and his first four home games in 2012 (he missed 2011 after undergoing surgery).

Rodgers has a record streak of ball security at home that is still alive. He has thrown 418 passes at Lambeau Field, dating to 2012, without having one intercepted, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. No. 2 on this list is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, 288 passes from 2002 to 2004.

Rodgers had 38 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season, the best ratio in the NFL and the best of his career.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo led the NFL in Total QBR this season (82.7), and the QBR leader has won the MVP in three of the previous four seasons.

Romo led the NFL in completion percentage this season (69.9 percent). He passed less often than in 2013 and was more effective, aided by the Cowboys’ improved rushing.

Romo had career highs in completion percentage, Total QBR and touchdown-to-interception differential (plus-25).

In contrast to Rodgers’ effectiveness in home games, Romo led the Cowboys to an 8-0 record on the road this season and had a Total QBR of 88.9 away from home. His Total QBR, completion percentage (70.6) and passing touchdowns (20) on the road led or tied for the lead in the NFL this season.

Romo was the best quarterback after halftime this season, with a Total QBR of 89.6 in the second half and overtime, by far the highest in the NFL.

Tom Brady
After throwing four touchdown passes in his first four games, Tom Brady threw 28 in the next 10 games and posted the highest Total QBR (85.2) in the NFL in Week 5 through Week 15. In the 12 games after the Patriots' 2-2 start, Brady threw 29 touchdowns (to seven interceptions) and had an 80.8 Total QBR.

Brady has won the AP MVP twice (2007 and 2010), and his statistics this season weren’t far off those from 2010.

Brady attempted more passes to Rob Gronkowski than to any other receiver this season, and the two connected for 11 touchdowns.

Brady led the NFL with a Total QBR of 87.8 against the blitz this season.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck had the most touchdown passes in the NFL (40) and the third-most pass yards this season (4,761; Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger had 4,952 each).

Luck became the eighth player in NFL history to throw 40 touchdown passes in one season.

He accounted for 77.4 percent of the Colts’ offense this season, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.

Luck was 6-0 against the AFC South this season and was more effective in divisional games than games against other opponents.

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing this season with a franchise-record 1,845 yards. Before this year, the most in Cowboys history was 1,773 by Emmitt Smith in 1995.

Murray rushed 392 times, 80 more than any other player this season and tied for the seventh-most in one season in NFL history.

He accounted for 36 percent of the Cowboys’ yards from scrimmage, the highest percentage in the league. Second was Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears, 34 percent.

Murray rushed for 100 yards in each of his team’s first eight games, the longest streak to begin a season in NFL history. That broke the record of seven, set by Jim Brown in 1958.

With Murray doing most of the work, the Cowboys ran the ball on a league-high 48 percent of plays this season, compared with 34 percent in 2013.

The last running back to win the AP MVP award was Adrian Peterson in 2010.

J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt makes his biggest impact on defense, but the Houston Texans’ star scored three touchdowns on offense this season. Watt became the first player in NFL history with at least three offensive touchdowns, two defensive touchdowns and a safety in one season.

His 47 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage led the NFL. Watt had 20.5 sacks this season, the same total he had in 2012. He is the first player with 20 or more sacks (a stat that became official in 1982) in two seasons.

Watt recorded 53.9 percent of the Texans’ 38 sacks this season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only Tim Harris of the 1989 Packers accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s sacks.

Watt had 30.5 disrupted dropbacks, the most in the NFL. Disrupted dropbacks include sacks, interceptions, defended passes and batted passes. Second to Watt is Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs with 27.

Lions-Cowboys NFC wild-card preview

December, 31, 2014

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys face the Detroit Lions in the NFC wild-card round Sunday.
The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys meet in the postseason for the first time in 23 years Sunday. Here are the matchups to watch, top stats to know and a little-known fact that might be bad news for the Lions.

Matchup to watch No. 1
It all starts with the Cowboys’ dominant run game against a stout Lions rush defense, with first down being the key to victory.

The Cowboys did not make their first-down plans a secret this season. They ran the ball on 68 percent of their first-down plays (71 percent with DeMarco Murray on the field). That is 8 percentage points higher than that of the next closest team and 18 percentage points higher than the NFL average.

Dallas ranked first in yards per rush (4.9) and sixth in yards before contact per rush (3.0) on first down this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cowboys’ 1,573 yards rushing on first down is the highest total by a team in a single season since the 1981 Cowboys (1,633). Nine teams, including the Lions, rushed for fewer yards on all downs combined than the Cowboys did on first down alone in 2014.

On the other side of the ball will be a stingy Lions defense that allowed an NFL-low 3.3 yards per rush on first down. Only three teams have allowed fewer yards per rush on first down in a season in the last five years.

The decision by appeals officer Ted Cottrell to overturn Ndamukong Suh's one-game suspension could have a huge impact on first-down rushing in this game. The Lions allowed 2.95 yards per rush on first down with Suh on the field this season. They allowed 4.59 yards per rush on first down without him.

Overall the Lions allow 0.8 fewer yards per rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks significantly more often with Suh on the field (30 percent of dropbacks vs. 20 percent in 2014).

Matchup to watch No. 2
Sunday’s game features two of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL.

Since the beginning of Dez Bryant’s rookie season in 2010, no QB-WR duo has more touchdowns than Tony Romo and Bryant’s 53. The next closest pair is Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson with 47.

Johnson has a history of torching the Cowboys' secondary. In three career games against the Cowboys, Johnson has 26 more targets and 354 more receiving yards than Bryant had in the same games.

Much of that is buoyed by Johnson’s performance in the Lions’ thrilling win over the Cowboys in Week 8 of the 2013 season. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown in that matchup, including six receptions for 134 yards during a fourth-quarter comeback. The performance was 7 yards shy of the NFL record for receiving yards in a single game (336 by Flipper Anderson in 1989).

Despite the huge difference in targets, Bryant has the edge over Johnson in touchdowns when these teams play. Bryant also led the NFL and set a Cowboys single-season franchise record with 16 receiving touchdowns this season.

Romo, the top quarterback in terms of total QBR in 2014, will need to be at his best targeting Bryant against the NFL’s No. 4 QBR defense.

Top stats to know
1. This is the third meeting between the Lions and Cowboys in the postseason. The home team won each of the previous two meetings. Detroit won in the 1991 divisional playoffs while Dallas won in the 1970 divisional playoffs.

2. The Lions have not won a playoff game since that 1991 divisional game against the Cowboys. They have lost seven straight playoff games, one shy of the longest postseason losing streak in NFL history.

3. Romo is 1-3 as a starter in the postseason. Should the Cowboys lose, Romo’s 1-4 record would be tied for the worst among the 73 quarterbacks to start at least five playoff games since the 1970 merger.

Did you know?
Including the playoffs, Stafford is 0-17 in his career in road games against teams that finished the season over .500. The most recent examples are a 10-point loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 and a 25-point loss to the New England Patriots in Week 12.

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.

Bears have issues with pass on both sides

December, 17, 2014
Even though the Chicago Bears are eliminated from postseason contention, they got some national attention on Wednesday.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the team is planning a starting quarterback switch from Jay Cutler to Jimmy Clausen. The Bears have not made an announcement related to a potential move.

Cutler posted a 6.8 Total QBR and was sacked seven times in Monday night’s loss to the Saints. It was the second-worst quarterbacking performance of the week, better than only Johnny Manziel.

It was also the second time in six weeks that Cutler posted a Total QBR below 7.0 and the third time in that span in which he had a Total QBR lower than 25.

Cutler had a 59.0 Total QBR through Week 11, which ranked 15th-best in the NFL. His Total QBR since then is 43.6, which ranks 21st.

The cash value of Cutler’s contract this season is $22.5 million. That’s the highest in the NFL for a player who leads the league in both interceptions (18) and turnovers (24).

Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps. The average NFL quarterback averages a turnover for every 65.3 snaps.

The replacement
Clausen hasn’t started a game since the 2010 season and the reason is likely due to his ineffectiveness then. Clausen went 1-9 as a starter for the Panthers that season. In those 10 games, he threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions, posting a league-worst Total QBR of 11.0

In fact, that Total QBR is the lowest season-ending QBR for a quarterback for any of the nine seasons in which that stat has been tracked.

Far from the only thing wrong
The problems for the Bears have been magnified in recent weeks because of the team’s struggles.

The other big issue they’re currently dealing with is that they can’t stop anyone. They lead the NFL with 409 points allowed.

Their defense added a league-leading 7.6 expected points per game in 2012. Last year they fell all the way to 30th, costing the team about 6.6 expected points per game. They are again 30th this year, costing the team about 7.3 expected points per game.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed 67.6 percent of their passes against the Bears this season, the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL. Their 3,811 passing yards allowed are the second-most of any team. They’ve allowed 33 touchdown passes, most in the NFL.

Teams have exposed the Bears secondary with intermediate-length passes. The Bears have allowed 48 completions on throws 11 to 15 yards downfield, the most in the NFL. Opponents have completed 59 percent of passes thrown at least 11 yards downfield, the worst percentage for a defense this season.

Opponents are putting up big numbers outside the numbers. They've allowed 18 touchdowns on such throws, one fewer than the team with the most, the Steelers.

NFL, NFC North

Top stats to know: Saints at Bears

December, 15, 2014

Getty ImagesQuarterbacks Drew Brees, left, and Jay Cutler face off in Chicago on "Monday Night Football."
The New Orleans Saints travel to Soldier Field on Monday to take on the Chicago Bears (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Saints control their own destiny in the NFC South, but they face a Bears team that has won five straight home games on "Monday Night Football." Here are the top stats to know about Monday’s matchup:

Brees near 4,000-yard mark
Saints quarterback Drew Brees enters the game just 17 passing yards shy of 4,000 this season. He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards each season since he signed with New Orleans in 2006, already the longest streak in NFL history.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback to reach the 4,000-yard mark in at least five consecutive seasons.

Bears defense struggling
The Bears have allowed an NFL-high 29.1 points per game in 2014, on pace to be the second-most points allowed by Chicago in a single season. The only season with more? Last season (29.9 points per game), coach Marc Trestman’s first year with the team.

And don’t blame pace of play for the Bears' troubles. Chicago also ranks last in the NFL in opponent points per drive (2.48) and percentage of opponent drives ending in touchdowns (27 percent).

Cutler closing in on Bears record
Although Jay Cutler has struggled with turnovers in 2014 (NFL-high 21 entering Monday), he has also found the end zone. Cutler ranks among the top 10 league-wide with 26 touchdown passes this season, three shy of Erik Kramer’s team record set in 1995.

Cutler’s career high of 27 was set in 2009, his first season with the Bears after being acquired in a trade from the Broncos.

Ingram rolling on the road
Mark Ingram
Brees may be the face of the Saints’ offense, but running back Mark Ingram has been the go-to player for New Orleans on the road of late.

Ingram has rushed for at least 100 yards in two straight road games and is trying to become just the fourth player in team history to top the 100-yard mark in three straight games on the road. The last Saints player to do it was former pro bowler Deuce McAllister in 2003 (five straight).

Back in prime time
This will be the 11th time that the Bears have appeared on "Monday Night Football" since the start of the 2010 season (most in the NFL over that span), and a win over the Saints would give Chicago multiple wins on MNF for the third straight year.

Not to be outdone, New Orleans is making its ninth MNF appearance since 2010, tied with the Jets and Chargers for the second-most league-wide over that span.

Despite their frequent appearances on MNF, tonight marks the first meeting between the Bears and Saints on "Monday Night Football" since the series debuted in 1970.

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.

Megatron leads another Lions comeback

November, 27, 2014

AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiCalvin Johnson lived up to his Megatron nickname against the Bears
The Lions spotted the Bears an 11-point first quarter lead, but outscored Chicago 31-3 from the second quarter on to win 34-17. It’s a familiar story for the Lions, who have three double-digit comebacks this season, tied for the most in the NFL.

The win gives the Lions back-to-back wins on Thanksgiving for the first time since winning four straight from 1997-2000. The Lions are now 8-4 for the first time since 2000.

For the Lions, this game represented a return to form for the Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection. Meanwhile, for the Bears, it was more of the same away from Soldier Field.

Megatron is Back

After combining for 117 yards the last two weeks, Johnson tallied 146 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 11 receptions.

The performance gives Johnson 10,052 career receiving yards. He became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards (115 games), passing Torry Holt, who accomplished the feat in 116 games.

Johnson was a weapon for Stafford against the blitz. Stafford, who had a season-high 390 passing yards, completed 14 passes for 200 yards against the blitz, both career highs. Ten of those completions went to Johnson for 137 yards and both touchdowns.

The Stafford-to-Johnson connection had struggled in the previous three weeks. Stafford completed just 43 percent of his passes when targeting Johnson since the star receiver returned from an ankle injury. Thursday, Johnson was targeted a season-high 16 times and he caught 69 percent of those targets.

What went wrong for the Bears

The Bears started off strong, leading 14-3 after the first quarter. It was the first time the Bears had scored in the first quarter since week five. However, it all fell apart in the second quarter when they were outscored 21-0.

Chicago’s defense continued its road struggles. In the Bears last three road games, they allowed a combined 140 points (46.7 points per game), including being outscored 80-7 in the second quarter.

The 10-point halftime deficit led to the Bears abandoning their run game. The Bears attempted just one rushing play in the second half and finished with 13 rushing yards. That ties the fewest rushing yards by a Bears team since the 1970 merger.

Without a running game, the Bears' offense failed to make big plays. Jay Cutler attempted a career-high 13 screen passes, while he completed three of 12 passes at least 11 yards down the field. The approach put the Bears in five third downs of at least 18 yards, the most by any team in the last two seasons.

NFL, NFC North

In 2011, NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns and six interceptions in 502 attempts, leading the league in Total QBR (87.1) and touchdown-interception differential (plus-39, higher than all but three other quarterbacks' touchdown totals).

A Stats & Info panel selected it as the third-best season ever in October 2013, and Rodgers has been almost as good this year.

Just as in 2011, Rodgers' touchdown-interception differential (plus-17) not only leads the league, but is a higher total than all but three quarterbacks' touchdown totals. Rodgers has one interception in 211 attempts this season (0.5 percent of passes), best in the league among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

Rodgers has thrown at least three passing touchdowns and no interceptions in four straight games, tying Tom Brady in 2007 for the longest streak in NFL history (according to the Elias Sports Bureau).

Someone has to catch Rodgers' touchdowns, and he has a pair of wide receivers whose production rivals any duo in the league.

Randall Cobb (eight touchdowns) and Jordy Nelson (six) have at least twice as many combined touchdown receptions as all but three other sets of wide receiver teammates.

Rodgers is the only quarterback in the top three in completion percentage, touchdown-interception differential and QBR targeting wide receivers this season.

When Rodgers gets to the red zone, he has found Cobb to be a very effective option.

Cobb has seven touchdowns on 12 targets (58 percent), the highest percentage of any player with at least seven targets. Though Cobb leads all wide receivers in touchdown catches, it's Nelson whom Rodgers relies on the most.

Nelson has 72 targets, more than the next two Packers receivers combined (Cobb and Davante Adams, 71).

Only Antonio Brown has more yards than Nelson, who has been almost unstoppable along the right sideline. Rodgers is 21-of-27 for 379 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions targeting Nelson along the right sideline.

The chart illustrates the success Rodgers and Nelson have had on downfield throws along the right sideline, a precise window that they’ve perfected this season.

The duo has combined for 10 completions for 286 yards and three touchdowns on those throws, all league highs. Rodgers is averaging 17.5 yards per attempt on those throws overall, almost 2 full yards more than any other quarterback (Charlie Whitehurst, 15.6).

NFL, NFC North

Top stats to know: Vikings at Packers

October, 2, 2014

AP Photo/Morry GashAaron Rodgers has won almost 88 percent of his home division games since becoming a starter.
Week 5 of the NFL season kicks off in Green Bay tonight where the Packers (2-2) host the Minnesota Vikings (2-2).

This will be Aaron Rodgers 17th regular season home game against a division opponent and only two times has the visitor come away with a victory.

Only Tom Brady has enjoyed more intra-division home success than Rodgers since the league expanded from six to eight divisions.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are 1-11-1 in their last 13 road games against NFC North opponents and 1-8-1 on the road overall since last season.

Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is listed as questionable on the injury report as he recuperates from an ankle injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s 41-28 win over Atlanta.

If Bridgewater does not start the game, the nod would likely go to Christian Ponder. Ponder would be the third Vikings QB to start a game this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a team had three different starting quarterbacks in its first five games of a season was the 2010 Steelers, who started Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch and Ben Roethlisberger.

Bridgewater became the fifth QB in the Super Bowl era to throw for 300 yards and no interceptions in his first career start. The most recent player to do it was Robert Griffin III in 2012.

Last week, Bridgewater targeted Jarius Wright 10 times, more than two times any other receiver (Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Chase Ford were all targeted four times).

The Vikings receiving corps is dropping passes 7.4 percent of the time this season, more than any other team (the New York Giants are second at 7.2 percent).

On the flip side, when they do catch it, they show the ability to get away from defenders after the catch. Minnesota’s 7.96 yards after the catch is second in the league, trailing only the Cincinnati Bengals (8.79).

Aaron Rodgers is the most deadly third-down passer in the NFL since he became the Packers starter in 2008, throwing a TD pass on 7.9 percent of his third down attempts. Drew Brees is second over this span, throwing a TD pass on 7.6 percent of his attempts on third down.

Jordy Nelson is quickly turning into the most dangerous wide receiver in the NFL. This season he leads the league in receptions (33), receiving yards (459), targets (49) and first down receptions (24).

Defensively, the Packers allow their opponents to convert almost 53 percent of their third down attempts this season, the worst percentage in the NFL.

In addition, they allow 176.0 rushing yards per game, most in the NFL.

Quick Hitters
• The Vikings have not won consecutive games since winning their final four games of 2012.

• Minnesota had 558 total yards of offense last week, its highest total since gaining 605 in Week 6 of the 2004 season.

• The Packers have won seven straight games in the month of October, the longest active win streak by any NFL team in a single calendar month.

• Green Bay has scored at least 23 points in each of its last 15 games against the Vikings.

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.

Bears' victory comes after steep climb

September, 15, 2014
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes to help the Bears catch the 49ers.
In Week 1 it was the Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 2, on Sunday night, it was the Chicago Bears.

For the second time in two weeks, a team that trailed 17-0 in the first half mounted a rally and pulled out a highly improbable victory.

On Sunday night, on the possession after the San Francisco 49ers took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, the Bears’ win probability dipped to 5.2 percent. The Bears finished that drive with the second of Brandon Marshall’s three touchdown catches, making the score 20-14 and improving their probability of winning to 20.3 percent.

The first snap after the ensuing kickoff was the game’s biggest play in terms of win-probability swing. Kyle Fuller’s interception of Colin Kaepernick’s pass boosted the Bears’ chances of winning by more than 25 percentage points.

The Bears’ win probability surpassed 50 percent on Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the next play, and the Bears never had less than a 45 percent likelihood of winning in the final 13 minutes.

Less is more
Whether it’s because the Dallas Cowboys win more often when Tony Romo passes less, or it’s that Romo passes less when the Cowboys are winning, there’s no denying Romo has performed better when he throws fewer passes. In his career, his win-loss record, touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR are much better when he attempts fewer than 30 passes in a game.

Romo threw 29 passes Sunday in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. He completed 66 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times and averaged 6.1 air yards per pass. His Total QBR was 63.

Total QBR is a metric on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 being average. Even when Romo throws 30 or more passes, he performs at a level above the NFL average.

Don’t blame Saints’ offense
The New Orleans Saints have posted an NFL-high plus-30.3 offensive efficiency this season. But their defense and special teams have combined for a minus-34 efficiency, the worst in the NFL. Efficiency accounts for the impact of each play on a team’s potential point margin.

Five other teams since 2006 have posted a worse defense/special teams efficiency in their first two games, and four of them finished under .500. But there might be some hope for New Orleans -- the 2007 New York Giants finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl.

Top stats to know: Packers at Seahawks

September, 4, 2014

Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesGreen Bay returns to Seattle for the 1st time since the "Fail Mary" game in Week 3 of 2012 season.
The 95th NFL season kicks off tonight with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks hosting the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are seeking to become the ninth team to repeat, and the first since the 2003-04 New England Patriots. However, each of the last eight defending Super Bowl winners have failed to win a single playoff game and the last two missed the playoffs altogether (New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens).

The last Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game the following season was the 2005 Patriots, who defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card round before losing to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Playoffs.

Sleepless in Seattle
The Packers return to Seattle for the first time since the infamous “Fail Mary” in Week 3 of the 2012 season.

The game was decided on a disputed 24-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate as time expired that was ruled shared possession by the replacement referees when replays seemed to show the ball had been intercepted.

In that game, Aaron Rodgers was sacked a career-high tying eight times (2009 vs Vikings), including seven when facing four or fewer pass rushers. In fact, since becoming the Packers full-time starter in 2008, Rodgers has taken the second-most sacks (223) in the league.

Rodgers vs Seahawks Defense
This game features two of the league’s premier units. Since Rodgers became the starter in 2008, the Packers have scored the third-most points in the league.

The Seahawks rode the NFL’s best pass defense to a Super Bowl, allowing the second-lowest Total QBR of any team in the last four seasons.

Both Rodgers and the Seahawks defense excel on perimeter passes. Rodgers has a +79 TD-Int differential on throws outside the numbers since 2008, while only five other quarterbacks have 79 total touchdowns on those throws.

Seahawks Secondary
Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary anchored the top ranked defense and made life hard on opposing quarterbacks and receivers. Last season, opposing quarterbacks recorded a Total QBR of 29.0, lowest in the NFL.

One of the keys to this unit is Richard Sherman, who signed a four-year deal with the team in the offseason worth $40 million guaranteed, making him the fourth-highest paid defensive player (based on guaranteed money) in the league behind J.J. Watt, Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden.

Sherman has been the most disruptive corner in the NFL since entering the league. He’s had 48 passes broken up or intercepted over the last three seasons, the most in the NFL. Joe Haden is next with 47 such plays.

Penalties were on the rise in the preseason, which could hurt the Seahawks. No team committed more defensive holding, defensive pass interference or illegal contact penalties than the Seahawks last season.

Impact of the 12th Man
CenturyLink Field has been a huge advantage for Seattle the last two seasons, where its won 17 of 18 games, including playoffs (the only loss was to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 last season). The Seahawks’ 15.8 PPG differential at home is the highest in the NFL since 2012.

One reason for this dominance has been the crowd. According to Guiness World Records, the noise level at CenturyLink Field during Seattle’s Week 13 game against the New Orleans Saints last season reached 137.6 decibels, the loudest crowd noise recorded at an outdoor stadium.

For reference, a jet engine from about 100 feet away reaches 140 decibels and can cause permanent hearing damage after extended exposure.

Because of that noise, Seahawks opponents have combined for 21 false starts in Seattle, tied for fourth-most in the league over the last two seasons.

• The Packers have made the playoffs each of the last five seasons and have won the NFC North each of the last three seasons.

• Green Bay allowed 26.8 PPG last season, its second-most allowed since the 1970 NFL merger. Only the 1983 Packers (27.4 PPG) allowed more.

• Percy Harvin gained 137 all-purpose yards in Super Bowl XLVIII, including an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown. Harvin played only 59 offensive snaps for the Seahawks last season, with 42 of those coming in the playoffs.

• The Seahawks defense led the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways last season. The last team to do that prior was the 1985 Bears.

Can Bridgewater handle freezing temps?

May, 12, 2014

AP Photo/Frank Franklin IITeddy Bridgewater has never started a game in freezing temperatures.
The Minnesota Vikings took Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round and he is expected to compete for the starting job in training camp.

The Vikings do have two quarterbacks on their roster -- Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel -- but neither rank higher than 25th in Total QBR among qualified quarterbacks since 2009.

Bridgewater’s ability to handle pressure in college bodes well for his success at the next level. He ranked third in completion percentage when under duress among quarterbacks from BCS Automatic Qualifying (AQ) schools, and only Brett Hundley had a higher completion percentage against five or more pass rushers among AQ quarterbacks.

His accuracy also earned him high grades among pro scouts. Bridgewater led all AQ quarterbacks in overall completion percentage last year despite having an average target distance of more than nine yards downfield.

Yet there is one lingering question about his transition to the Vikings: How will Bridgewater adapt to the cold weather in the NFC North?

The Miami native played college football at University of Louisville and did not start a single game in freezing temperatures while in college.

The coldest game that Bridgewater ever started was a 34-degree game against Connecticut on Nov. 24, 2012. Louisville lost that game 23-20 and Bridgewater had a 55.1 Total QBR, which was well below his season average (77.3).

In addition to Bridgewater’s inexperience in cold temperatures, he has a below-average hand size (9.25 inches), which could make it difficult to grip the ball when the temperature drops.

The average hand size for all quarterbacks measured at the combine since 2008 is 9.55 inches. Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Nick Foles all have hands larger than 10 inches.

With the Vikings playing their home games outdoors for the next two seasons, in addition to away games at Green Bay and Chicago every season, Bridgewater’s ability to adapt to cold temperatures could have an impact on his long-term success.

NFL free agency: Numerical needs (NFC)

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 NFC team heading into free agency.

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys: defensive line/Safety
The Cowboys were one of three teams to allow 5.0 yards per rush between the tackles last season and one of four teams to allow 1,000 yards before initial contact on those rushes.

The Cowboys have allowed the second-highest completion percentage on passes at least 15 yards downfield over the past four seasons (47 percent). The Cowboys haven’t ranked higher than 24th in a season since 2009.

Philadelphia Eagles: safety/cornerback
The Eagles allowed the third-most yards after the catch last season (2,256), trailing only the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.

The Eagles had trouble handling passes in the middle of the field. They allowed 15 touchdowns to five interceptions on passes outside the field numbers and ranked 25th in completion percentage allowed on those throws last season.

New York Giants: offensive line, defensive line
Giants rushers were first contacted in the backfield on 21 percent of their rushes last season, highest in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, the Giants had the lowest percentage of rushes with contact in the backfield in 2012 (11 percent).

The Giants recorded a sack on only 4 percent of dropbacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers last season, which ranked 29th in the league. New York’s four-man pass rush has been far less effective since the Giants’ last Super Bowl win when it had the third-highest sack percentage in the NFL.

Washington Redskins: defense, wide receiver
The Redskins allowed the second-most points last season. Most of the key players on that defense are unrestricted free agents. Of the seven players who played the most defensive snaps, four are free agents or likely to retire.

On offense, Washington could reinforce its receiving corps. Wide receivers Santana Moss and Josh Morgan are free agents next season. Pierre Garcon had a productive season, but the five other receivers currently under contract combined for only 51 catches and caught less than half of their targets.

NFC North
Chicago Bears:defense
The Bears allowed the worst completion percentage and defended the second fewest passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield last season. Safety Major Wright and cornerback Charles Tillman enter the offseason as free agents.

The Bears’ defensive line was unable to stop opposing rushers from getting to the second level last season, allowing more yards per rush before first contact than any team in the past five seasons. The Bears also allowed the most rush yards after contact last season.

Detroit Lions: wide receiver, defensive back
Lions receivers dropped a league-high 46 passes last season. The drops accounted for 7.5 percent of their total targets, also highest in the NFL.

On defense, the Lions allowed 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions on passes intended for wide receivers last season. The plus-11 differential was tied for third worst in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers: safety, defensive line
Packers safeties failed to record an interception last season. The Packers were the only team without an interception from a safety.

The Packers have also yet to find a pass rusher to complement Clay Matthews. Matthews has 38.5 more sacks than the next highest Packers defender since he entered the league in 2009, despite missing 11 games over the stretch.

The Packers’ rush defense wore down toward the end of last season, allowing 5.5 yards per rush over the last seven games of the season after allowing only 3.8 in their first 10 games.

Minnesota Vikings: Defensive End
Free agent Jared Allen has accounted for a third of the Vikings’ sacks since joining the team in 2008. Allen has led the team in sacks each season since his arrival.

Three of the Vikings’ top six defenders in snaps played are free agents. Jared Allen (1,024 snaps, second on team) and Chris Cook (707, sixth) are unrestricted free agents, and linebacker Erin Henderson (824, fourth) was cut in February.

NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: defensive end, offensive tackle, wide receiver
The Buccaneers recorded only 6.5 sacks last season by players lining up as a traditional defensive end (end of line, hand in dirt). That was worst among any 4-3 defense and second worst in the NFL among all defenses (the Washington Redskins had 5.5).

On offense, the Buccaneers averaged 3.1 yards per rush outside the tackles last season. Only the Giants had a worse average (2.9 yards per rush).

Buccaneers quarterbacks struggled getting the ball to their receivers. They ranked in the bottom three in the league in both completion percentage and drop percentage when targeting wide receivers last season

Atlanta Falcons: pass rush, offensive line, tight end
In their first season without John Abraham, the Falcons struggled to get pressure on the quarterback. The Falcons sacked or put quarterbacks under duress on 22.4 percent of dropbacks, the second worst rate in the NFL.

On the other side, Matt Ryan was pressured on an NFL-high 203 dropbacks last season. The Falcons' line lacked continuity. No Falcons offensive line combination played more than 36 percent of the team’s snaps together.

Also of note: Tony Gonzalez accounted for 91 percent of the Falcons’ tight end receiving yards since joining the team in 2009. It took six other tight ends to account for the final 9 percent.

Carolina Panthers: wide receiver, defensive back
Only Joe Flacco had a worse completion percentage on throws 15-plus yards downfield than Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s 28 percent.

Steve Smith has been Newton’s favorite target on those passes, but he will be 35 years old by the start of next season.

On defense, the Panthers recorded an NFL-high 60 sacks last season, but when they were unable to get pressure, the secondary was unable to prevent completions, as noted in the chart on the right.

New Orleans Saints: defensive back, linebacker, tackle
Four players who played at least 360 snaps in the Saints’ secondary last season are either free agents or have been cut. Those players accounted for 47 percent of the Saints’ secondary snaps last season.

Saints linebackers defended or intercepted six passes last season, tied for fewest in the NFL (Falcons).

On offense, the Saints averaged 3.4 yards per rush outside the tackles in 2013, half of what they averaged in 2012. Both of the Saints’ starting tackles from last season are free agents.

NFC West
San Francisco 49ers: wide receiver, tight end, defensive line

Only three 49ers (Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree) caught touchdown passes last season. Every other NFL team had at least six players catch a touchdown.

On defense, Justin Smith has anchored the 49ers’ rush defense for years, but the 34-year-old could use some help. The 49ers allowed 4.0 yards per rush with Smith on the field last season, a number that has increased in each of the past three seasons.

Cardinals: outside linebacker, coverage linebacker/safety, tackle
John Abraham recorded 11.5 of the Cardinals’ 22 sacks from players lined up at the outside linebacker position last season, with no one else recording more than four. But Abraham will be 36 by the start of the 2014 season.

The Cardinals sent five or more pass rushers on half their dropbacks last season, the highest rate in the NFL. When Arizona blitzed, it was vulnerable to tight ends, allowing 12 touchdowns to them with no interceptions.

On offense, the Cardinals traded left tackle Levi Brown to the Steelers last season and replaced him with Bradley Sowell. With Brown at tackle, the Cardinals allowed pressure on 24 percent of dropbacks, below the league average (26 percent). With Sowell at tackle, the Cardinals allowed pressure 28 percent of snaps.

St. Louis Rams: quarterback, outside wide receiver, offensive line
The Rams’ top offensive line unit played only 295 of the team’s 968 snaps together last season (31 percent). Only three units played a lower percentage of their team’s snaps in the NFL last season.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is 18-30 (.378) in his career as a starter and has never posted a Total QBR over 50.3 in a season.

The Rams finished with eight 30-plus yard pass plays from wide receivers last season, second fewest in the NFL. Their 2013 first-round pick, Tavon Austin made 31 of 40 receptions from the slot last season.

Seattle Seahawks: offensive line, defensive line
Russell Wilson was pressured on 37 percent of his dropbacks this season (including playoffs), third highest among qualified quarterbacks. The Seahawks didn’t have a single five-man offensive line unit play more than 20 percent of the team’s snaps together this season.

On defense, the Seahawks pressured opposing quarterbacks on 31 percent of dropbacks last season, best in the NFL (including playoffs). Among the seven Seahawks linemen with at least 500 snaps, only Brandon Mebane is under contract past next season.

49ers ride Kaepernick's legs past Packers

January, 6, 2014

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato Colin Kaepernick already is among the all-time leaders in postseason rushing yards by a quarterback.
The San Francisco 49ers’ 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers was the second game of the weekend’s Wild Card round to be decided on the final play of the game.

In the win over the Packers on Sunday, Colin Kaepernick rushed seven times for 98 yards. He had three rushes for 31 yards on third down (converting two), including an 11-yard third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson.

The scramble increased the 49ers’ win probability by 19.8 percentage points, to 84.8 percent. It was the the largest win probability swing in the game.

Kaepernick’s rushing against the Packers increased the 49ers’ win probability by a total of 36 percentage points, the second-greatest increase attributable to a quarterback’s rushing in a playoff game since 2006. First is Kaepernick in last season’s playoff win against the Packers.

Strength vs strength
During the regular season, the San Diego Chargers boasted the NFL’s second-best road offense, adding 12.5 expected points per game; the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense added an NFL-high 11.3 expected points per game at home. EPA uses the result of every play to evaluate what each unit contributes to a team’s net scoring margin.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Chargers’ strength came out on top, as the offense added 8.2 expected points. This was only the second instance of the Bengals’ defense having a negative EPA at home this season.

Saints' running game delivers
The New Orleans Saints rushed for 185 yards in their win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday after averaging 92.1 rush yards per game in the regular season.

When running the ball in the regular season, the Saints added -1.6 expected points per game; on Saturday, the Saints added approximately 7.0 expected points on the ground. Had the Saints had a rushing performance similar to their regular season averages, and everything else had remained the same, they would have lost in Philadelphia.

Colts had (almost) no chance
Only one team since 2006 has successfully overcome a lower probability of winning a playoff game than the Indianapolis Colts did in their game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After the Chiefs received the second-half kickoff and scored a touchdown for a 38-10 lead, the Colts’ probability of winning was 0.86.

Andrew Luck completed 17 of 24 passes with three touchdowns in the second half to spark the Colts’ rally. He finished the game with a 93.5 Total QBR.

The only other team to win a playoff game after having a lower win probability was the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs. Trailing by seven with less than 90 seconds left, the Ravens forced the Denver Broncos to punt and took possession with a win probability of 0.74 percent. Jacoby Jones scored on a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and the Ravens won 38-35 in overtime.