Stats & Info: NFC West

Cardinals-Panthers NFC wild-card preview

January, 1, 2015
Jan 1

AP Images/Ross D. FranklinCam Newton and the Panthers host the Cardinals in the NFC wild-card round Saturday on ESPN.
The Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals in the opening game of wild-card weekend, which airs Saturday at 4:20 ET on ESPN.

This is the second postseason meeting between the teams, with the Cardinals winning 33-13 in Carolina in the 2008 NFC divisional playoffs.

Top stats to know
Both the Panthers and Cardinals enter the playoffs under unlikely circumstances.

The Panthers are the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after having a seven-game winless streak during the regular season (0-6-1). However, they were one of four teams to go undefeated in December this season.

The Cardinals may have to start Ryan Lindley, who has one career win, at quarterback if Drew Stanton is unable to play. According to Elias, Lindley would be the seventh quarterback to start a playoff game with one or fewer regular-season wins. The last quarterback to win a playoff game under such circumstances was Gifford Nielsen of the 1979 Oilers.

This will be the sixth wild-card playoff game between teams with a four-game difference in the win column. The team with fewer wins has gone 4-1.

One way the Panthers could continue that trend is by exploiting the Cardinals' defensive strategy.

Matchups to watch
Cam Newton and Greg Olsen vs Cardinals blitz
Under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals have blitzed on the highest percentage of dropbacks (46 percent). The strategy works as the Cardinals have allowed the fifth-fewest points the past two seasons, but it does leave them vulnerable against tight ends.

The Cardinals have allowed 25 touchdowns to tight ends the past two seasons, most in the NFL, and 17 have come when blitzing.

Greg Olsen set career highs with 84 receptions and 1,008 yards this season, ranking third among all tight ends in receptions and second in yards.

Olsen caught all five of his targets from Cam Newton last season against the Cardinals, but Newton finished the game 10-of-20 with zero touchdowns, three interceptions and seven sacks against the blitz.

Cardinals' deep passing vs. Panthers' improved defense
The Cardinals attempted an NFL-high 158 passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield this season, and connecting on them has been key.

The Cardinals have completed 39 percent with eight touchdowns and one interception on such passes in wins, but have completed 32 percent with three touchdowns and four interceptions in losses.

The Panthers made changes to their secondary prior to Week 14, promoting rookies Tre Boston and Bene' Benwikere into key roles. Since then, the Panthers have intercepted a league-high five passes on throws 15 or more yards downfield.

Did you know?
Under the current playoff format (since 1990), every NFL team has played in at least one wild-card game. The Cardinals (3-0) and Panthers (2-0) are two of the three teams (Houston Texans, 2-0) that have not lost a wild-card game in that time.

Wilson’s legs, decisions make him elite

December, 12, 2014
AP Photo/Michael PerezRussell Wilson has the Seattle Seahawks looking like Super Bowl contenders.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks are back to their dominant selves with three straight impressive wins against the Cardinals, 49ers and Eagles.

Although the defense has played a large part in the Seahawks’ recent run, Wilson’s return to form should not be overlooked. During the last three games, Wilson has played a bigger role in Seattle’s rushing game and has taken more time to find open receivers. Wilson’s ability to make plays with his legs and make the right decisions places him in a class of his own.

Wilson at his best when scrambling
Wilson leads the league again in scrambling this season, which is nothing new. Wilson led the league in scramble yards last season and was second to Robert Griffin III during his rookie season.

Although Wilson’s scrambling success might not be breaking news these days, his increased efficiency should be. Wilson has increased his yards-per-carry average on scrambles each season in the league.

Seahawks’ zone-read success starts with Wilson
Last season, Wilson and the Seahawks found their zone-read somewhat contained. Although Wilson still averaged a notable 4.6 yards per carry on his zone-read attempts, that average was down from 7.8 the year before.

Seattle ran 75 zone reads in the first seven games this season, with Wilson keeping 13 times. The Seahawks' success in Week 10 against the Giants, however, appears to have reignited the scheme. During the last five weeks, Wilson has kept the ball on 17 zone-read plays, averaging 8.7 yards per carry.

Wilson has rushed for five touchdowns on zone-read carries this season, more than in his previous two seasons combined and matching the total of every other quarterback in the league this season.

The king of extending the play
Wilson’s running ability makes him an unusual quarterback for opposing defenses to prepare against each week.

The Seahawks’ quarterback averages 2.9 seconds before his passes, the most in the league this season. Wilson has thrown 71 passes this season with at least four seconds before the throw. After Wilson, the next two quarterbacks on that list are Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck.

Simpler approach = improved passing?
Wilson is on pace for his most passing yards in a season, along with his best touchdown-to-interception ratio.

A change in philosophy could be the reason for Wilson’s improved passing numbers this season. Since his rookie year, Wilson’s average throw distance has declined each season, while the Seahawks’ yards after the catch have increased. The shift in focus has also dropped his interception rate each season.

No offense, no problem for Cardinals

December, 12, 2014
The Arizona Cardinals have won 11 games for the first time since 1975, tying a franchise record for most wins in a season. It’s their most wins since moving to Arizona.

With the win over the St. Louis Rams, the Cardinals all but clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2009. It becomes official as long as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles don’t end their game in a tie this weekend.

The Cardinals have double-digit wins in consecutive seasons for the second time in franchise history (1974-76). Their 21 wins over the last two seasons ties their most in a two-year span in franchise history (1975-76).

No offense
The Cardinals and Rams both failed to score a touchdown. It’s the first NFL game without a touchdown by either team since Week 15 of the 2012 seasons when the Oakland Raiders won 15-0 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cardinals are the first team this season to win a game without scoring a touchdown.

It's the first win for the Cardinals without scoring a touchdown since 2004 Week 17 against the Buccaneers.

The Rams are the first team since the 2011 Dolphins to not allow any touchdowns in three straight games. The Rams won their previous two games by a combined score of 76-0.

Lackluster QB play
Shaun Hill struggled to solve Arizona’s standard pass rush Thursday, completing 8-of-18 passes for 123 yards, two sacks taken and an interception.

The Cardinals’ 12 interceptions when sending standard pressure are the fifth-most in the NFL. The Cardinals sent a DB rusher on 14 of Hill’s 43 dropbacks Thursday, resulting in 4-of-14 passing for 14 yards. It is the highest percentage of dropbacks in which the Cardinals sent a DB rusher in a game this season.

Drew Stanton had just 109 passing yards before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury. If Stanton can’t play next weekend, Ryan Lindley is likely to fill in for the Cardinals. That’s potentially bad news for the Cardinals. Lindley has the worst Total QBR (9.1) in the NFL over the last three seasons (minimum 200 action plays).

Seahawks' defense too much for 49ers

November, 28, 2014
The Seattle Seahawks are back to their old ways -- winning with defense.

For the second straight game, the Seahawks did not surrender a touchdown. They’re the first team to do that this season and it’s the first time the Seahawks haven’t allowed a touchdown in consecutive games since 2005.

It’s no surprise that the Seahawks' defense was led by Richard Sherman, who had multiple interceptions for the fourth time in his career. Sherman now has 23 career interceptions, eight more than any other player since entering the league in 2011.

The Seahawks are now 3-0 against the 49ers when Sherman has an interception and 0-4 against them when he doesn’t have an interception.

The Seahawks' defense held Colin Kaepernick to a season-low 121 passing yards. For just the second time in his career -- both against the Seahawks -- Kaepernick had multiple interceptions with no passing touchdowns.

Kaepernick snapped a streak of 18 straight games with a passing touchdown, which was tied with Steve Young for the longest streak in 49ers history.

The 49ers' loss snaps a five-game home win streak against the Seahawks, but Kaepernick and the 49ers have struggled against the Seahawks.

The three points for the 49ers are their fewest in a game since Week 2 of last season, when they lost 29-3 in Seattle.

The 49ers have scored fewer than 20 points in all five of their games against the Seahawks (including playoffs) with Kaepernick as their starting quarterback. They have just four total touchdowns in those five games. Kaepernick has three passing touchdowns and nine interceptions in those games.

Kaepernick was 4-of-15 passing deeper than five yards downfield in Thursday’s game for 37 yards and two interceptions. His eight off-target throws at that distance are tied for the most in a game in his career.

Top things to know: Seahawks at 49ers

November, 27, 2014

AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Seahawks and 49ers will go face-to-face on Thanksgiving night

The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers rekindle their rivalry on Thanksgiving night at 8:30 ET. One of these two teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl each of the last two seasons, but both trail the first-place Cardinals by two games in the NFC West.

Here are some of the top things to know for the Thanksgiving nightcap.

Home sweet home

The home team has won all five meetings since the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in 2012, including the Seahawks' victory in the NFC Championship Game last season.

Wilson and the Seahawks have struggled to score in San Francisco, averaging just 11.5 points per game in their last two road meetings. That’s compared to an average of 31.3 points in their three home meetings.

In fact, in each of those five meetings, the road team failed to score more than 17 points.

Crabtree vs. Sherman: The Rematch

This is the teams’ first meeting since Richard Sherman’s passionate postgame interview criticizing Michael Crabtree following last season’s NFC Championship Game.

Crabtree has zero touchdowns in nine career games against the Seahawks, and he has caught only 49.2 percent of his targets with six drops. Against other opponents, Crabtree has a 64.0 percent career catch rate.

Sherman shut down Crabtree in their last meeting. Crabtree did not catch a pass on the right side of the field, where Sherman typically patrols.

However, Sherman has not made as much of an impact on the stat sheet this season. The brash cornerback has just one interception this season after leading the league with eight last season.

San Francisco second-half struggles

The 49ers' offense is averaging just 20.7 points per game this season, the lowest total in the Jim Harbaugh era. The offense has been fine in the first half of games, scoring 155 points, seventh best in the NFL, but it has scored just 70 points in the second half. Only the New York Jets have fewer second-half points.

Colin Kaepernick in particular has struggled late in games. In the first half of games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 70.9 Total QBR. His numbers plummet in the second half, as he’s thrown just four touchdowns with four interceptions and a 40.3 Total QBR.

The second-half trend was also an issue in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers were up 10-3 at halftime of that game before losing 23-17. Kaepernick went 11-for-19 with a passing touchdown and two interceptions in the second half of that game.


Power Rankings: Another top-10 matchup

November, 25, 2014

Bill Haber/APColin Kaepernick’s performance has dropped off in the second half of games this season.
The top two teams in the weekly NFL Power Rankings (the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers) play Sunday, but there’s another top-10 matchup taking place this week that has major playoff implications.

The San Francisco 49ers (No. 9) host the Seattle Seahawks (No. 7) on Thanksgiving night. Neither team has looked as strong as it did last season when they met in the NFC Championship, but the 49ers’ offensive struggles this season have them looking like the odd team out this season.

Colin Kaepernick is 1-3 in his career against the Seahawks (including playoffs) with a 36.9 Total QBR. With two games against them in the next three weeks, can Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense figure it all out in time?

Red-zone woes
The 49ers are averaging 20.7 points per game this season, their lowest since 2010, the last season before Jim Harbaugh took over as coach.

One of the biggest weaknesses for the 49ers’ offense has come in the red zone. The 49ers have scored a touchdown on 40 percent of their red-zone drives this season, worst in the NFL. Nine times this season the 49ers reached the red zone and failed to score.

Vernon Davis, who had eight red-zone touchdowns last season, has been targeted once in the red zone this season. Davis led the 49ers in red-zone targets last season but is tied for fifth this season.

Kaepernick has no rushing touchdowns this season after he scored seven in the red zone his first two years as starter.

Late-game struggles
Another key factor in the 49ers’ offensive problems has been a failure to move the ball in the second half.

The 49ers have scored 155 points in the first half of games this season with a plus-39 scoring margin. They’ve scored 70 points in the second half, better than only the Jets (64 points), with a minus-39 scoring margin.

It is especially rough in the fourth quarter, where the 49ers have scored three touchdowns this season, one of which was on defense. Blaine Gabbert has as many touchdown drives in the fourth quarter as Kaepernick this season.

This trend of poor second-half play is a continuation from the 2013 NFC Championship against the Seahawks. The 49ers blew a 10-3 halftime lead in that game as Kaepernick was 11-of-19 with two interceptions in the second half.

Home sweet home?If history is any indication, the 49ers could have the edge Thanksgiving night. The home team in the Seahawks-49ers rivalry has won all five times (including playoffs) since the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson. The road team has not scored more than 17 points in a game in that stretch, averaging 11.2 points per game.

Cardinals reminiscent of 2012 Ravens

November, 21, 2014

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington has helped the Arizona Cardinals overcome the loss of Carson Palmer and maintain the best record in the NFL this season.
One of the teams in Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals showdown is following a tried-and-true Super Bowl formula.

A productive running back and a quarterback who isn’t afraid to throw deep have complemented an excellent pass defense, just like in a recent Super Bowl season. No, not the Seahawks again. It's the Cardinals who look almost identical to a recent Super Bowl champion -- the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

On the ground
Start with the running back. Andre Ellington has accounted for 28.5 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage this season, third most in the league.

Ellington’s versatility is reminiscent of Ray Rice during Baltimore’s Super Bowl season. Rice also was responsible for over one quarter of the Ravens' yards from scrimmage, and (like Ellington) was equally capable of making an impact as a receiver.

In the air
With Ellington as the focal point of the offense, the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to throw down the field, regardless of the quarterback.

Sixteen percent of Arizona’s pass attempts have been thrown at least 20 yards downfield, fourth highest in the league and the same percentage as the 2012 Ravens (second highest in the league).

Carson Palmer’s injury has left Drew Stanton as Arizona’s signal-caller for the rest of the season.

But Stanton has been impressive throwing downfield so far this season. He’s completed 10 of 25 downfield attempts (40 percent) for 325 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions despite facing the Lions (second in QBR allowed), 49ers (sixth) and Broncos (14th).

Those numbers look similar to what Joe Flacco did in Baltimore’s postseason run. Flacco was 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) for 504 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions during the Ravens’ four-game playoff stretch.

On defense
If Stanton stays hot and the Cardinals put up points, Arizona’s elite pass defense can hold up against teams throwing to catch up. The Cardinals have allowed a 45.4 QBR this season, fourth best in the league and right on par with the 2012 Ravens.

No team in the league has a better QBR allowed when targeting wide receivers than the Cardinals (55.8), the only team below 60.

The Cardinals’ pass rush diverges from how Baltimore pressured opposing quarterbacks.

Arizona has sent extra rushers on 42.2 percent of dropbacks this season, second most in the league. The Ravens blitzed on only 28.7 percent of opponents’ dropbacks.

Though they went about it in different ways, the result was largely the same. Quarterbacks haven’t been comfortable against the Cardinals, who pressure (sack, under duress or hit while throwing) on the 12th-highest percentage in the league (26.8 percent).

Baltimore’s 2012 rank in pressure percentage? Eleventh.

Neither defense had problems stopping the run. The Cardinals have allowed 3.5 yards per rush this season, fifth best in the league. The 2012 Ravens also allowed fewer than 4.0 yards per rush (3.99).

And special teams, too!
The similarities don’t stop at offense and defense. Even the Cardinals' special-teams unit resembles the 2012 Ravens, a group that played a critical role in the 34-31 Super Bowl victory, when Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-6.

The Ravens’ special teams contributed 1.75 expected points per game, fourth best in the league. The Cardinals’ special teams have contributed 1.71 points per game, seventh in the league.

Top stats to know: 49ers 31, Rams 17

October, 14, 2014
The St. Louis Rams looked poised for an upset through the first 29 minutes of their "Monday Night Football" matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.

But then the 49ers team that has been to three straight conference championship games turned its game up a notch. And the Rams couldn’t keep up.

The 49ers have won three straight games. The Rams have lost three straight.

The big play: Lloyd’s touchdown catch
Brandon Lloyd’s 80-yard touchdown reception just before halftime was the turning point in the game, turning a 14-3 deficit into a much more manageable 14-10.

It was the second touchdown catch of at least 80 yards in Lloyd’s career. He also had an 89-yarder from Tim Rattay against the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Lloyd’s nine years and 18 days between 80-yard touchdown catches is the longest gap in NFL history.

The previous mark was eight years, 326 days, set by Steve Smith Sr. earlier this season.

The Lloyd catch was the longest touchdown pass for Colin Kaepernick as either a pro or collegiate quarterback.

Boldin’s favorite foe
Anquan Boldin had seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. His eight touchdowns in 16 games against the Rams are his most against any team.

Boldin’s teams are 12-4 all time against the Rams.

Boldin’s touchdown catch was the sixth this season by Kaepernick from outside the pocket, the most in the NFL.

Davis a non-factor in second half
On a night in which the Rams honored their “Greatest Show on Turf” Super Bowl-winning team from 1999, Davis looked like Kurt Warner for a half, completing 11 of 14 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Davis was 10-for-28 in the second half for only 99 yards and threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the final minute to put the game out of reach.

The 49ers pass rush entered Week 6 last in the NFL in pressure percentage and had five sacks all season but matched that total in one night. Excluding two spikes, Davis was sacked or put under duress on 20 of 45 dropbacks in the game.

Did you know?
The 49ers have won seven straight "Monday Night Football" games, the second-longest active streak behind the Seattle Seahawks (nine). Kaepernick is 4-0 as a starter on "Monday Night Football."

The Rams have lost six straight "Monday Night Football" games, the longest active streak in the NFL.


Top stats to know: Seahawks 26, Broncos 20

September, 21, 2014
The Seattle Seahawks won their Super Bowl rematch with the Denver Broncos, but it wasn’t easy.

The Seahawks survived Peyton Manning’s late-game comeback attempt by never letting Manning get possession in overtime.

What are the stats you need to know from this one?

Wilson wins with his legs
Five of Russell Wilson’s six pass attempts during the game-winning drive came from outside the pocket. He completed three of them for first downs. Wilson also rushed four times for 21 yards on the drive, earning two first downs via scrambles.

With the win, Wilson is now 2-0 versus Manning in head-to-head matchups. He’s also 2-0 versus Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, giving him an elite trio of unbeaten marks.

The Elias Sports Bureau also noted that Wilson joined Daryle Lamonica, Danny White and Matt Ryan as the only quarterbacks to win at least 17 of their first 18 home starts.

A first for Lynch
Overtime touchdowns are not common, so perhaps it’s not surprising that this was the first overtime touchdown of Marshawn Lynch’s NFL career.

Lynch has now scored a touchdown in seven straight games.

Seahawks thwart Broncos after the catch
The Broncos could not get anything going with screen passes on Sunday. Not counting his 3-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas in the fourth quarter, Manning completed 5 of 6 screen passes for a total of 2 yards. Broncos receivers had a combined 1 yard after contact on those receptions.

They also thwarted Manning’s deep throws
Manning was 3-of-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown on balls traveling 15 or more yards downfield. He was also 3-of-9 on passes of that length in last year’s Super Bowl against the Seahawks.

Manning has completed 50 percent of such attempts against all other teams since the start of last season.

Keeping Britton Colquitt busy
The Broncos punted eight times Sunday, tied for their most in a game since Manning joined the team in 2012.

The Broncos have punted 18 times in their first three games (6.0 per game) this season after averaging just more than four punts per game last season.

Did you know?
The Seahawks concluded the first Super Bowl rematch to go overtime with a 13-play overtime drive. The last team with an overtime drive for a touchdown lasting 13 plays or more was the 2006 Giants, a 31-yard Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress touchdown pass against the Eagles.

The loss dropped the Broncos to 0-3 in overtime games with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. The year before Manning’s arrival, Tim Tebow went 4-0 in overtime for the Broncos.

Super Bowl rematch hinges on receivers

September, 17, 2014

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks shut down the Broncos ability to run after the catch in last year's Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos have a rare opportunity. Only five teams have had a chance to avenge a Super Bowl loss against the reigning champion the following season.

The Super Bowl winners hold the slight 3-2 advantage in the rematches, but Manning & Co. will look to create more space for the offense to shine this Sunday in Seattle.

Breaking Free (After the Catch)
During Denver’s historic regular season in 2013, the Broncos led the league with 2,583 yards after the catch.

But as the Broncos short-passing game went to work during Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks secondary shut down all running lanes after the catch.

Denver was limited to 3.6 yards after the catch on short throws (10 yards or fewer downfield), its lowest total of the season.

Seahawks Starvin’ for More Harvin
After Seattle gave a healthy Percy Harvin 11 touches on opening night (on which he averaged 9.1 yards per play), Harvin only saw three touches in Week 2, including his disputed 51-yard touchdown run.

In Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin only needed four plays to terrorize the Broncos. His kick-return touchdown to open the second half stretched the score to 29-0. His other three touches in the half netted 50 yards.

Peyton Poise vs. Potential Pressure
Manning excels against the blitz. Since 2006, when ESPN began video tracking, only Aaron Rodgers has a higher Total QBR against the blitz than Manning (74.2).

The Seahawks, who are usually great at forcing pressure without the blitz, struggled to get to the quarterback in San Diego last week. Seattle pressured Philip Rivers on only 12 percent of his dropbacks, by far the Seahawks’ lowest pressure percentage since last season.

Since the start of 2013, no defense has pressured the quarterback more than the Seahawks (31 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).

Searching for a Running Game
Last February, neither team’s running backs found much success, as they combined for a measly 2.5 yards per rush in the Super Bowl (highlighted by 0.2 yards per rush for the recently-promoted Montee Ball).

Unfortunately for Ball, not much has changed this season as he's had little room to run. Among 48 qualified running backs, Ball’s 1.26 yards before contact per rush ranks 43rd this season.

The Seahawks stumbled upon similar rushing problems in San Diego. After Marshawn Lynch unleashed Beast Mode for 110 rushing yards and two scores in Week 1, the beast went into hibernation. He ran only six times in Week 2, despite a strong 6.0 yards per rush average.

Takeaways the Turning Point
Since the start of last season, the Seahawks lead the league in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (+19). During that span, Seattle is 13-1 (including the playoffs) when winning the turnover battle.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are one of four teams yet to commit a turnover this season. Those teams are a combined 7-1 through two weeks.

In last year’s Super Bowl, the Seahawks dominated thanks to a plus-4 turnover margin as they intercepted Manning twice and recovered two fumbles.

Kaepernick's success leads to big payday

June, 4, 2014

Harry How/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick has a reported $61 million guaranteed to celebrate.

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year extension with the 49ers Wednesday reportedly worth more than $110 million, including a $61 million guaranteed. That would be the most guaranteed money among current NFL contracts, besting Matt Ryan’s $59 million.

The deal is an extension of Kaepernick’s cap-friendly rookie deal. Last season, the 49ers committed only $2.85 million of cap space on quarterbacks, fifth-lowest in the NFL. That figure will now be among the highest in 2014 and beyond.

Is Kaepernick worth the money, though?

Postseason success
Since making his first start in Week 11 of 2012, Kaepernick is tied for the fourth-most wins among quarterbacks (17) and has the third-best Total QBR (69.6), trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Kaepernick has been even better in the postseason, posting the best QBR (82.7) since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least three postseason starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kaepernick is also the sixth-youngest quarterback to start multiple conference championship games.

Kaepernick has been successful in the playoffs despite playing most of those games on the road. He is already 3-1 in road playoff games in his career. All other 49ers quarterbacks have combined to go 2-9 on the road, which includes Joe Montana (1-3) and Steve Young (0-3).

Areas of strength
Kaepernick’s rushing ability might be the most well-known aspect of his game. Last season, he ranked in the top four among quarterbacks in rush yards, yards per rush, rush touchdowns and rush first downs.

In the postseason, Kaepernick’s 507 rush yards are 87 shy of the most in NFL history by a quarterback, a mark currently held by former 49er Steve Young.

Kaepernick isn’t all legs, though, as he ranks sixth in yards per pass attempt since making his first NFL start.

Kaepernick has been at his best passing when facing the blitz. Opponents have sent five or more pass rushers against him on 38 percent of his dropbacks the past two seasons, highest in the NFL. His 75.2 QBR in those situations is third in the NFL, throwing 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Only Tom Brady (31 TD, 2 Int) has a better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions in that time.

Areas of improvement
Despite all this early success, Kaepernick still has areas of his game to improve, most notably passing from the pocket.

Kaepernick completed 61 percent of his passes in the pocket last season, a regression from his first year as a starter in 2012. His struggles inside the pocket were more pronounced this postseason, as he completed 54 percent of his passes, while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions.

The other big area for concern for Kaepernick is his performance against the 49ers top rival, the Seattle Seahawks. He's just 1-3 in his career against the Seahawks, including the loss in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick has just five losses against all other opponents.

With the Seahawks locking up Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas this offseason, as well, beating Seattle will continue to be a tough task for Kaepernick and the 49ers.

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.

Are the Pacers the Seahawks of the NBA?

February, 7, 2014
The Indiana Pacers have the league’s best record this season (38-10). The Pacers boast the NBA’s top defense and one of the brightest young stars in Paul George.

The way the Pacers were built, coupled with their performance this season, is similar to the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks.

Years in the making

Neither the Seahawks nor Pacers were built overnight. The bases of each team were built through the draft, and supplemented through trades and free agency.

Paul George was taken 10th overall in 2010. Lance Stephenson was taken in that same draft with the 40th pick. Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger were both taken with the 17th pick (Hibbert in 2008, Granger in 2005).

Add those players to trade acquisitions George Hill and Luis Scola, plus free-agent David West, and you have a formidable, deep team.

The Seahawks were built in a similar fasion.

Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were all taken in the third round or later. Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin were acquired in trades.

Key pass rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were signed this past offseason, luxuries the Seahawks could easily afford because of the money they saved by using their late-round draft picks well.

Cheap star power

Hitting on a lower draft pick can lead to cheap production, freeing up money for other players. The Seahawks hit big with Wilson. The Pacers hit big with George.

Wilson cost only $681,085 against the Seahawks’ salary cap in 2013. There were 53 quarterbacks with a higher cap value in 2013, including Wilson’s backup, Tarvaris Jackson.

George’s cap hit for the Pacers this season is just more than $3.2 million. There are 189 players that count for a bigger hit against their team’s cap, including Granger ($14.0 million), who has averaged 8.2 points per game this season.

Win with defense

The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, allowing 14.4 per game. The Seahawks’ defensive efficiency was also best in the NFL (+7.2 expected points added per game).

The Pacers have allowed the fewest points per game in the NBA this season (90.2) and the fewest points per 100 possessions (93.9).

Looking ahead

The Pacers host the Portland Trail Blazers tonight (ESPN, 7 Eastern). The Blazers average 107.7 points per game this season, the most in the NBA.

This isn't the first time this week that the top scoring offense in a league has met the top scoring defense. In Super Bowl XLVIII, the Denver Broncos had the top scoring offense in the NFL.

That game worked out well for the defense, as the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8.

Doug Clawson contributed to this post.

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014

Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Malcolm Smith recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown in Seattle's victory.
Their first defensive snap resulted in a safety. Their first offensive drive produced points. Their kickoff return to start the second half was a touchdown.

In all phases of the game, the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in winning Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.

Seahawks’ defense locks down Broncos
The Seahawks forced the Broncos into their worst offensive-efficiency performance of the season. The Broncos’ offense contributed minus-21.6 points to their net scoring margin, their first game this season with a negative offensive efficiency. They entered the Super Bowl as the only team without such a game this season.

The first-snap safety was only part of the Broncos’ offensive difficulties. Peyton Manning averaged 8.2 yards per completion (league average in 2013: 11.6 yards). Malcolm Smith returned one of Manning's two interceptions for a touchdown. It added up to the Seahawks’ second-best game in terms of defensive efficiency this season, behind their shutout win against Eli Manning and the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 15 (plus-24.3 points).

The performance in the Super Bowl crowned the Seahawks’ season-long stretch of defensive supremacy. They finished the season with the league’s best defensive efficiency, contributing 7.2 points per game to their net scoring margin (the next closest team: Cincinnati Bengals, 4.7). Of those 7.2 points, an NFL-high 6.3 per game were on pass plays. The Seahawks’ defensive efficiency on pass plays Sunday equaled 14.3 points toward their scoring margin.

The Seahawks' defensive efficiency in the Super Bowl was the best in a postseason game since the 2009 wild-card round (the Baltimore Ravens contributed 23.1 points against the New England Patriots).

But the Seahawks dominated in every phase, not just defense. Their offense had zero turnovers, allowed zero sacks and limited negative plays to three. The Seahawks converted 7 of 12 third-down plays.

And their special teams added a touchdown on Percy Harvin’s return of the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.

Manning struggles, Wilson reverses field
Manning's 24.4 Total QBR in the Super Bowl was his lowest in a game this season and the worst in a Super Bowl since the Chicago Bears' Rex Grossman in 2006 (7.1).

Russell Wilson posted a 88.1 Total QBR, the second-highest in a Super Bowl since 2006 (Joe Flacco had a 93.4 last year), and it snapped Wilson's streak of six games with a Total QBR of less than 50.0. Wilson's Total QBR in his first two postseason games this season was 34.3.

Wilson completed 7 of 8 passes for 82 yards and six first-downs on third-down plays.

Game was out of hand early
The Broncos' first play from scrimmage, a safety, resulted in a 4.7-point hit to the team's offensive efficiency.

After Manning's interception that Smith returned for a touchdown with 3:36 left in the first half, the Broncos' win probability dropped to 3.5 percent. It never rose to more than 5 percent.

The Broncos ran 41 offensive plays with a win probability below 5.0 percent. They ran 19 such plays the rest of the season.

Seahawks dominate with all-around effort

February, 2, 2014
ESPN Stats & InformationFor the fourth time in the past five Super Bowl matchups, the top defense has defeated the top offense.
The Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl in franchise history and it came in dominating fashion.

Their 35-point victory over the Denver Broncos is tied for the third-largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.

The Seahawks got the job done on defense and special teams. They're the second team with a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown, kickoff return touchdown and interception return touchdown in a Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens accomplished the feat in Super Bowl XXXV.

Malcolm Smith
Malcolm Smith was named Super Bowl MVP, the first defensive player to win the honor since Dexter Jackson for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Smith is the third linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP, joining Ray Lewis for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV and Chuck Howley for the Colts in Super Bowl V.

Smith is the first player in Super Bowl history with an interception return touchdown and a fumble recovery in the same game. He also added nine defensive tackles and one special teams tackle.

The history
The Seahawks are the 19th different team to win a Super Bowl and the first team to win the Super Bowl in a season in which they had or shared the league’s best record since the 2003 New England Patriots.

The NFL’s No. 1 team in scoring defense is now 13-3 all-time in Super Bowls. They’ve won four of five Super Bowls when facing the No. 1 scoring offense.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the fourth quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his second NFL season, joining Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.

Inexperienced quarterbacks have gotten the better of experienced ones of late. The last four matchups between a starting quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl and one with previous Super Bowl experience have been won by the quarterback with no previous experience.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (62 years old) is the third-oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, trailing only Tom Coughlin (65) and Dick Vermeil (63). He’s the third coach to win a Super Bowl and win an AP national title in college football, along with Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson.

The Broncos became the first team with five Super Bowl losses. They extended the losing streak by AFC No. 1 seeds in Super Bowls to four games.

Peyton Manning’s 12 postseason losses are the most in NFL history, surpassing Brett Favre. The past six reigning MVPs who were quarterbacks lost their Super Bowl appearance that season.

Other stats of note
In the loss, Manning and Demaryius Thomas both set Super Bowl records. Manning set the record for most completions in a Super Bowl with 34. Thomas set the record for most receptions in a Super Bowl with 13.

Manning is the third quarterback ever to throw multiple career interceptions returned for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Wilson is the fifth quarterback ever with at least two passing touchdowns, 200 passing yards and a 70 percent completion rate in a Super Bowl win, joining Drew Brees, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana and Phil Simms. Wilson is the only one of those quarterbacks to not win the Super Bowl MVP award.

Manning is the sixth straight regular-season MVP to lose in a Super Bowl appearance during that same season.