Stats & Info: NFL

Does Russell Wilson outplay "Super" QBs?

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
3:32
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ESPN Stats & InformationWinning games while having a lower QBR than your opposing starter doesn’t happen often, unless you are Russell Wilson.
A lot has been made of the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson having a 10-0 record against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. Is this due to Wilson elevating his play against some of the best in the league or is another factor the driving force behind this pristine record?

Does Russell Wilson play better in these games?
No, he does not. He doesn’t really play any worse either. Including the postseason, Wilson has now started 55 games in his career with 10 of them against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. In those 10 games his QBR is slightly worse than in the 45 games against non-Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

He must be outplaying his opposing starter
In only five of the 10 games has Wilson had a higher QBR than his counterpart.

Winning games while having a lower QBR than your opposing starter doesn’t happen often, that is, unless you are Russell Wilson.

So what is the driving force?
Largely it has been the contributions of the Seahawks defense. In the 10 games in which they have faced a Super Bowl-winning quarterback they have held the group to a collective QBR of 47.4, well below their collective QBR of 72.4 against every other defense in the league (since 2012). To put it another way, they made that group of quarterbacks who have won a combined eight Super Bowls look like the 2009 version of Jay Cutler (he finished that season with a 47.4 QBR).

They also own the running game on both sides of the ball (even if you exclude the quarterback's contributions to the running game, which is accounted for in QBR). If you combine the contribution of the defense stopping opposing rushers and the contribution of the Seahawks runners other than Wilson, it comes out to just about a field goal per game in the Seahawks favor.

Special teams have also gone in the Seahawks favor in these matchups to the tune of over two points per game.

These small differences add up as there have been a few close calls in the 10 games, including:

•  The “Fail Mary” game against Green Bay where the Seahawks won by two points

•  A 24-23 win over New England in Week 6 of 2012 (the last matchup between the two Super Bowl participants)

•  Seattle’s 26-20 overtime win over Denver in Week 3 this season

•  Seattle’s comeback against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game

Put all of this together and you can see that it is truly a team effort from Seattle to be 10-0 against former Super Bowl winning quarterbacks during Wilson’s tenure - much more than it is Wilson simply “raising his game” or “outplaying” his opposing quarterback.

Seahawks' D in midst of an impressive run

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
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The turning point in the Seattle Seahawks' season was undoubtedly their 24-20 loss to Kansas City in Week 11. The Seahawks allowed a season-high 190 rushing yards, including 159 to Jamaal Charles, and fell to 6-4 with a 56 percent chance of missing the playoffs, according to numberFire.com.

Since that loss, Seattle has won eight straight games and is riding a defense that -- when healthy -- is looking a lot like its defense at the end of last season.

What might not have been widely understood is how average Seattle’s defense was in its first 10 games. The Seahawks’ defense ranked 13th in efficiency during that time and was costing the team about 1.2 points per game.

Fast-forward eight games, and Seattle is in the midst of one of the best defensive stretches in the last few seasons. The Seahawks are holding opponents to 9.8 points per game and have an NFL-best 10.3 defensive efficiency since the start of Week 12.

For context, Seattle held its opponents to 11.5 points per game and averaged a 10.6 defensive efficiency rating per game in its final eight contests of the 2013 season/postseason, which was capped off by an impressive defensive outing (21.6 efficiency rating) against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Opposing quarterbacks have struggled to solve Seattle’s defensive puzzle. Each quarterback the Seahawks faced during their eight-game winning streak posted a QBR at least 27 points below what he had entering the game. That includes Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton in the playoffs.

Although Seattle has not faced a daunting set of quarterbacks during that time, the Seahawks made bad quarterbacks look worse and above-average quarterbacks look bad.

In fact, until meeting Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, Seattle had held seven straight teams to a Total QBR below 31. Since the start of 2006, no team had held seven straight opponents to a QBR that low.

One difference in limiting these QBs has been the play of the secondary. In the past eight games, including the playoffs, Seattle has the most interceptions (seven) and is tied for the fewest completions allowed (12) on throws of 15 yards or longer.

So what has changed in the past eight games?

First, Seattle’s starting lineup finally got healthy. In six of its past eight games, Seattle started the same 11 players on defense. In the two games with a different lineup, cornerback Tharold Simon was the only differing starter.

This consistency coincided with the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a turf-toe injury. Wagner’s first game back was against Arizona, the start of Seattle’s eight-game winning streak. During that streak, the Seahawks have led the league in almost every defensive category.

Upon Wagner’s return, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told ESPN.com’s Terry Blount: “It was great to have him out there. I went up to Bobby and said, ‘Geez, I didn’t realize what a factor you are.’ He is one of the heartbeat guys for this club.”

Even Carroll’s praise might be understating Wagner’s impact. With him on the field, Seattle is holding opponents to a 36.8 Total QBR, compared with a 60.3 Total QBR without him.

Seattle’s defensive resurgence also coincided with the return of Kam Chancellor from injury and the improved health of others in the secondary.

Will the Seahawks’ defense continue its suffocating play in the Super Bowl?

The health of the unit, so important in the team’s late-season surge, might be in question as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are battling injuries. Seattle’s ability to overcome the injuries -- and Tom Brady’s efficiency against Seattle’s defense -- might determine how the game unfolds.


Blount's production comes at a low cost

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
9:49
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Matt Slocum/AP PhotoIn two playoff games against the Colts, LeGarrette Blount has seven rushing touchdowns.
A key component of managing a roster is finding value in how resources are allocated, both in draft-pick management and navigating free agency. It’s hard to argue that the New England Patriots haven't done that with LeGarrette Blount -- not once, but twice. His production has been inconsistent (matching his career path), but given the minimal investment in Blount’s services, the Patriots have found good value.

It took two games against the Indianapolis Colts for Blount to become the Patriots’ all-time leader in playoff rushing touchdowns (seven). Between those performances were two playoff games in which Blount had a combined eight rushes for seven yards.

The Patriots signed Blount for the veteran minimum before Week 12, and he had 12 rushes for 78 yards in his first game back in Foxborough, a 34-9 win against the Lions. Blount stepped up his production down the stretch with the Patriots, ranking 13th in the league in rushing yards since Week 12 (including playoffs). Only DeMarco Murray and C.J. Anderson (eight) had more rushing touchdowns since Week 12 than Blount (six), a solid return given that his 2014 salary-cap hit ranks 155th among running backs.

Low-cost acquisition
In 2013, New England traded the rights to running back/return specialist Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick (which turned out to be defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, who is out of the league) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Blount, an undrafted free agent signed by the Tennessee Titans and claimed off waivers by the Buccaneers before the 2010 season.

Blount’s 944 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns led the Patriots in 2013 (including playoffs), with a 5.2 yards per rush average that trailed only Andre Ellington (5.5) among qualified running backs.

Blount capped his successful year with a 24-rush, 166-yard performance against the Colts in New England’s 2013 divisional playoff win before the Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Blount signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost $4 million, but was released after 11 games.

Tough to tackle
The numbers support Blount as a key contributor in New England’s Super Bowl game plan. No back in the league has been harder to bring down than Blount: He averaged an NFL-best 2.6 yards after contact per rush in the regular season.

One common theme for the teams that beat the Seahawks this season has been a successful ground game. Each of the four teams to beat Seattle rushed at least 27 times and for more than 100 yards.

Seahawks, 2003 Patriots share similarities

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
3:30
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Wire photosTy Law was All-Pro in 2003 for the Patriots. Richard Sherman was All-Pro this season for the Seahawks.
Russell Wilson leads the 2014 Seattle Seahawks into Super Bowl XLIX in his third season as a starter, just as Tom Brady led the 2003 New England Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his third year starting. But that’s just where the similarities begin between the 2014 Seahawks and 2003 Patriots ...

No. 1 seed in conference
The 2003 Patriots finished the regular season 14-2 and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The 2014 Seahawks finished the regular season 12-4 and were the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Both teams started slowly. The 2003 Patriots were 2-2 before winning their final 12 regular-season games. This season's Seahawks were 3-3 before they won nine of their last 10 regular-season games.

Accurate quarterbacks
Tom Brady threw 23 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in 2003, a ratio of 1.92. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL.

Russell Wilson threw 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, a ratio of 2.86. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL.

Dominant defenses
The Patriots allowed 14.9 points per game in 2003, the fewest in the NFL and their second fewest in franchise history.

The Seahawks allowed 15.9 points per game this season, the fewest in the NFL and their third fewest in franchise history.

Both defenses relied on shutdown cornerbacks. Ty Law was first-team All Pro in 2003 for the Patriots, and Richard Sherman was first-team All Pro this season for the Seahawks.

Unheralded receivers
Deion Branch led the Patriots with 57 receptions in 2003, which tied for 42nd in the NFL.

Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks with 66 receptions this season, which tied for 42nd in the NFL.

The 2003 Patriots ended their season by winning Super Bowl XXXVIII, the same way the 2014 Seahawks hope to end their season in Arizona.

Lynch has second gear after first contact

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
9:16
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Kirby Lee/USA TodayMarshawn Lynch’s average yards after contact is higher in the postseason than in the regular season.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 157 yards and totaled 183 yards from scrimmage in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers to lead the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

Both totals were career highs for Lynch and highly valuable in a game Russell Wilson posted the second-worst Total QBR (13.6) of his career.

Lynch will look to cap a career-best season with another big performance in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots.

Better than ever
Lynch has rushed for 1,000 yards and scored double-digit touchdowns in every full season he has played with the Seahawks, but the 2014 season has been his best.

Lynch scored a career-high 17 touchdowns in the regular season, 13 rushing and four receiving. Lynch had five receiving touchdowns in the first seven seasons of his career.

Although he gained more yards from scrimmage in 2012 (1,786) than he did in 2014 (1,673), he made the most of his touches this season. Lynch gained a first down on 26 percent of his offensive touches this season, the highest of his career.

Of course, Lynch is best known for his physical running style. He averaged 2.53 yards after contact on 280 rushes this season. ESPN Stats & Info’s yards-after-contact data goes to 2009, and in that time there have been two instances of a player rushing 200 times and averaging more yards after contact –- and that includes Adrian Peterson’s MVP campaign in 2012.

Key to the Seahawks
Since joining the Seahawks during the 2010 season, Lynch has led the NFL in rushes (1,346), rushing yards (5,930) and rushing touchdowns (54).

As Lynch goes, so do the Seahawks. Including playoffs, the team has gone 39-11 (.780) in games Lynch scores a touchdown and is 14-0 when he scores at least twice. When Lynch doesn’t score, the Seahawks have gone 16-18 (.471, including playoffs), and that doesn’t include the one game Lynch missed since Seattle acquired him (a loss).

Lynch has averaged 107 yards from scrimmage, including 90 yards rushing, in Seahawks wins in his career. In losses, he has averaged 74 yards from scrimmage, including 62 rush yards.

That success has been magnified in the postseason, where Lynch has exceeded his regular-season averages. In nine postseason games, Lynch has averaged 5.0 yards per rush, compared with 4.4 in the regular season. The increase almost exactly matches his increase in rushing yards after contact from the regular season to the postseason.

Lynch has 815 career yards rushing in the postseason, which ranks 13th all time. He needs 77 yards to pass Larry Csonka and move up to eighth. If Lynch does so, he’ll be behind six Hall of Famers (Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen and John Riggins) as well as former Super Bowl and NFL MVP Terrell Davis.

Seahawks' trends equal Patriots' openings

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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The New England Patriots’ game plan seemingly changes week to week based on their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

In the divisional playoffs, the Patriots went an entire half without handing off the football to a running back. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots rushed 40 times for three touchdowns.

The Seattle Seahawks provide the Patriots their biggest challenge to date. The Seahawks led the NFL in points and yards allowed the last two seasons, the first team to do so since the 1985-86 Chicago Bears.

So how should the Patriots’ offense approach the Seahawks’ defense?

Avoid the right
Richard Sherman has lined up on the offense’s right on 99 percent of his snaps this postseason, and his presence has made passing to that side a problem for opposing offenses.

When targeting receivers outside the right numbers against the Seahawks this postseason, opponents are 6-of-17 (35 percent) with a touchdown (Randall Cobb) and three interceptions (two by Sherman). Of the six completions, four were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

On passes to the rest of the field this postseason, the Seahawks have allowed a 68 percent completion percentage and two touchdowns and have one interception.

When the Patriots played the Seahawks in 2012, Tom Brady was 3-of-10 with a touchdown and an interception throwing outside the right numbers.

At the time, Sherman was in his second year and emerging as a star. Brady didn’t avoid him much then, but he might this time if the divisional playoffs are any indication.

In the divisional playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens used inexperienced cornerback Rashaan Melvin almost exclusively on the left side (59 of 60 snaps). Brady threw 34 of his 50 passes left of the hashes.

Ground game is key
Running against the Seahawks is key, as they allowed 139 yards on 33 rushes on average in their four losses this season (an average of 73 yards on 22 rushes in 14 wins).

The Seahawks’ rush defense is strong, however, ranking second in yards per rush allowed (3.4) in the regular season. The Seahawks are particularly strong after contact, allowing a league-low 1.35 yards per rush after the first hit.

Against punishing runners such as Jonathan Stewart and Eddie Lacy this postseason, the Seahawks have softened up, allowing 2.27 yards per rush after contact. That’s good news for the Patriots, as LeGarrette Blount led the NFL with 2.57 yards per rush after contact this season.

Feed Gronk
The Patriots know where not to throw the ball, but to whom should they throw? Rob Gronkowski (naturally).

Gronkowski was the Patriots’ leading receiver this season and has a touchdown in five straight games, but going beyond that, tight ends have given the Seahawks’ defense issues this season.

The Seahawks allowed 11 touchdown passes to tight ends in the regular season, tied for third-most in the NFL, with six coming in their four losses.

Seattle ranked 22nd in Total QBR on passes targeting tight ends this season. It ranked first in passes directed toward running backs and wide receivers.

No one gets more help than Russell Wilson

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
9:24
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Joe Nicholson/USA TodayRussell Wilson has more wins than any other quarterback the last three seasons.
The Seattle Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl in one of the most improbable comebacks in playoff history. Russell Wilson completed his final five passes, including a game-winning 35-yard touchdown in overtime to Jermaine Kearse.

Before the final five minutes and overtime, however, Wilson was abysmal. He threw a career-high four interceptions and became the second player in the Super Bowl era to win a postseason game with that many picks. Through three quarters, Wilson had a 0.2 Total QBR, and although he increased that number to 13.6 with his late-game heroics, Wilson finished the game with the lowest Total QBR in a postseason win since 2006.

This is not the first time that Seattle has won despite Wilson’s inefficiency. In fact, since 2012, Wilson’s first year in the league, the Seahawks have 15 wins in which their quarterback posted a below-average Total QBR, five more than any other team in the NFL. That includes both of Seattle’s NFC Championship wins during that time.

How unlikely is Seattle’s three-year run given Wilson’s QBR?

Expected wins for quarterback
In 2011, Alok Pattani, a senior analytics specialist in ESPN's Stats & Information Group, outlined a concept of expected wins for a quarterback based on his QBR in a game. The basic premise is that a player’s QBR in game can be interpreted as the expected win percentage for the team given that level of QB play. So a team whose starting quarterback has a QBR of 20 in a game would be expected to win about 20 percent of the time; a player with a QBR of 80 should win about 80 percent of the time, on average.

Wilson’s 13.6 QBR against the Packers equates to .136 expected wins, meaning the Seahawks won .864 more games than expected, given their quarterback play. By aggregating the difference between a player’s actual wins and expected wins over a given period of time, we can determine which quarterbacks are winning or losing more than expected based on their play alone.

Since Wilson entered the league, he has a 63.7 Total QBR in the regular season and playoffs, which ranks eighth among 31 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson deserves credit for his above-average QBR during that time, but does that equate to a 42-13 (.764 win percentage) career record?

Based on Wilson’s game-level QBRs in the last three seasons, he has almost 10 more wins than expected. No other player has six more wins than expected during that time.

Expanding the data set back to 2006, no quarterback has been aided more by his teammates over a three-year span than Wilson. Joe Flacco from 2010 to 2012 was the next closest in terms of added wins (8.4) during any three-year period.

So how have Wilson and the Seahawks been able to defy the odds? One word: defense.

In the last three seasons, the Seahawks have contributed 4.4 points per game to their net scoring margin on defense, by far the best defensive efficiency in the NFL. Only Alex Smith (2.1) and Andy Dalton (2.1) have had defenses that contributed more than two expected points per game in their starts during that time.

Seattle’s defense has a knack for playing its best when Wilson and the offense are at their worst. Since the start of 2012, Wilson has had 22 games with a QBR below 50, including 15 wins. In those games, Seattle has held its opponents to an average QBR of 34.0 and has had a per-game defensive efficiency of +7.3. In Wilson’s games with an above-average QBR, the Seahawks have allowed a 45.7 average QBR and have had a +2.4 defensive efficiency rating.

No one can take away Wilson’s NFL-leading 42 wins since the start of the 2012 season, the most by any player in his first three seasons (including playoffs) in the Super Bowl era. But much of his success has been a result of his teammates; he has had the benefit of playing with the most dominant defense in the NFL and the league’s leading rusher, Marshawn Lynch, in the past three years.

Should the Seahawks beat the Patriots, Wilson could become the youngest player in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowls. As he is on the verge of making history, remember, no other quarterback has received more help from his teammates over the last three years than Wilson.

So the Seahawks’ current run of success hasn’t come about despite him, but it hasn’t come about solely because of him either.

Can Patriots learn from Packers' defense?

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
9:19
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson had one of his worst games Sunday, facing a defensive plan he rarely has seen.
Russell Wilson ultimately came through for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday with his game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

Before that pass, however, Wilson was in the midst of one of the worst games of his career. His 13.6 Total QBR is his second-worst single-game mark.

The Green Bay Packers played defense against Wilson in a way most teams haven’t, so what can the New England Patriots take away from the Packers’ game plan?

Make Wilson a pocket passer
Wilson has been one of the most prolific and successful quarterbacks out of the pocket this season and in his career. But in the NFC title game, Wilson threw 27 of his 29 passes -- including all four of his interceptions -- from inside the pocket, and was limited to 10 rushing yards on three scrambles.

Since entering the NFL in 2012, Wilson has 89 more passes from out of the pocket than any other quarterback, and he hasn’t thrown an interception on such passes in his past 32 games. He also leads the NFL in scrambles (153) and scramble yards (1,264) since he entered the NFL, averaging 9.8 yards on scrambles this season.

For all of his success, Wilson is still a below-average pocket passer. His Total QBR on passes from in the pocket is 3.7 points lower than the league average, whereas his QBR on passes from out of the pocket is 4.4 points better than average.

Wilson can’t extend plays as easily in the pocket and has to depend more on his receivers’ route-running. Seahawks wide receivers rank 29th in yards and 31st in receiving touchdowns this season.

But how did the Packers keep Wilson in the pocket?

Most teams attempt to blitz Wilson, doing so on 36 percent of his career dropbacks. Only Jets quarterback Geno Smith (38 percent) has been blitzed more frequently in the past two years.

The Packers went the other direction, sending four or fewer pass-rushers on 81 percent of Wilson’s dropbacks Sunday. That’s the highest percentage Wilson has faced this season and the highest he has faced since the 12th game of his career.


One of the few times the Packers did choose to blitz Wilson was on his game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

Another effect, maybe unintended, was that the Packers pressured Wilson on 24 percent of his dropbacks Sunday, the lowest percentage against Wilson this season.

Wilson seemingly thrives when under duress: He has been pressured on 36 percent of his dropbacks in his career, easily the highest in the NFL in the three seasons he has been in the league, and is 22-2 in such situations. He’s 20-11 when taking pressure below his average. (Records include the postseason.)

Besides the Packers' five sacks of Wilson, one of the few times they pressured him was on Seattle's successful two-point conversion attempt toward the end of regulation.

Patriots, Seahawks share statistical bonds

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
9:21
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The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks each have some similar statistical threads in their journey to Arizona and the Super Bowl. With the help of the Elias Sports Bureau, here's a quick run-through:

1. Overcoming losses in Kansas City
The Patriots and Seahawks both lost to the Chiefs this season. According to NumberFire, they had less than a 50 percent chance to make the playoffs at the time of their respective defeats. Both teams proceeded to reel off big winning streaks (Patriots at seven; Seahawks at eight and counting).

By the way, the Chiefs became the fifth team to beat both Super Bowl participants in a season in which it missed the postseason. They're the first to do so since the 2000 Redskins.

2. Emptying out bag of tricks
Both were aided by crucial trick plays in the playoffs to continue their run. For the Patriots, Julian Edelman’s touchdown pass to Danny Amendola tied the divisional playoff game against the Ravens –- his first NFL career pass. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on a fake field goal against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game –- punter Jon Ryan’s first career touchdown pass.

3. Two-touchdown comebacks en route to Super Bowl
Both of the trick plays mentioned above aided big comebacks. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this will be the first Super Bowl matchup between teams that overcame a deficit of at least 14 points in that postseason.

4. Pete Carroll vs. former team
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the fourth coach to face his former team in the Super Bowl (the others are Jon Gruden, Dan Reeves and Weeb Ewbank). Carroll coached the Patriots for three seasons, from 1997 to 1999.

Carroll shares something with Patriots coach Bill Belichick: age. Via Elias: This will be the first Super Bowl matchup of head coaches age 60 or older.

5. Russell Wilson youngest since Tom Brady
Per Elias: 26-year-old Russell Wilson will become the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls, breaking the mark set by . . . Tom Brady (who was 28). The quarterbacks have had similar starts to their careers, as noted in the graphic atop this article.

6. LeGarrette Blount and 'Beast Mode'
Via Elias: LeGarrette Blount is the first player to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game after starting the season on a different team since Marshawn Lynch did it in 2010.

Lynch leads the NFL in yards after contact since he was traded in October 2010 from Buffalo to Seattle. No back has averaged more yards after contact than Blount since his debut at the start of that season.

This season, they rank 1-2 in yards after contact per rush, including the playoffs. Lynch averages 2.55; Blount averages 2.48.

7. Seattle looking to go back-to-back
The Seahawks are seeking to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in a decade. They have to do it against the previous franchise to win consecutive titles: the Patriots, who did it in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

8. No. 1 seeds
Under the current playoff format, which began in 1990, this is the fifth time in which both No. 1 seeds in the respective conferences reached the Super Bowl. It’s also the first time it has happened in consecutive years (the Seahawks and Broncos were No. 1 seeds last season). Good news for the Seahawks: The NFC has won each of the four previous times there has been a matchup of No. 1 seeds.

Top stats to know: Patriots rout Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difference-maker: LeGarrette Blount dominates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: Seahawks' comeback

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
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The Seattle Seahawks went from all but done to on the way to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks staged an epic late-game comeback to beat the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime.

Seattle scored twice in a 44-second span, survived a game-tying field goal with 14 seconds left, and won in overtime on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse.

Wilson and Kearse will be viewed much differently now than they would have been had the Packers protected their 16-point halftime lead and 12-point cushion with 10:53 remaining.

Prior to the game-winning touchdown, Wilson was 0-for-5 with four interceptions when targeting Kearse, who has now caught a touchdown in four straight playoff games.

ESPN's win probability data gave the Packers a 94.4 percent chance of winning at halftime (when leading 16-0) and a 96.1 percent chance of winning with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter (leading 19-7). But it's the Seahawks who advanced to the Super Bowl.

The history
This will be the Seahawks' second straight Super Bowl appearance and third overall.

They are trying to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since the 2003 and 2004 Patriots and the first NFC team to do so since the 1992 and 1993 Cowboys.

The Seahawks have won nine straight playoff home games, tied for the third-longest postseason home winning streak in NFL history. They are 26-2 at home over the last three seasons and are 11-2 at home in playoff games in franchise history.

Seattle is now 10-0 over the last three seasons against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl in their careers. Wilson is now 3-0 as a starter against Aaron Rodgers.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Seahawks are the first team to give up the fewest points in consecutive seasons and make the Super Bowl each season since the Dolphins in 1972 and 1973. They are also the first No. 1 seed to make consecutive Super Bowls since the Buffalo Bills in 1990 and 1991. The last NFC team to do that was the Redskins in 1982 and 1983.

Winning in spite of themselves
The Seahawks won despite …

• Leading in regulation for only 71 seconds.

• Trailing by 16 points at halftime. It is the largest halftime deficit overcome in a conference championship game and the third-biggest deficit overcome at any point in a conference title game since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.

• Trailing by nine points at the end of three quarters. They are the first team to win a conference championship game in which they trailed by more than seven points entering the fourth quarter.

• Committing five turnovers, their most in a game since December 2010, when they had five against the 49ers.

• Wilson throwing four interceptions, the most he’s thrown in any game in his career. Teams are now 2-42 (.045) in postseason games in the Super Bowl era when they throw at least four interceptions. The only other team to win such a game in that time was the Bills, who beat the Jets 31-27 in 1981 despite four interceptions from quarterback Joe Ferguson.

Wilson's QBR of 13.6 is the lowest by a starting quarterback in a postseason win in the 97 postseason games for which we have QBR data (starting in 2006).


Key to comeback: Zone-read
Through the first three quarters, the Seahawks’ zone-read rushing game hadn’t generated much production.

Seattle had seven zone-read rushes for 28 yards at the end of the third quarter, all by Marshawn Lynch.

In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had 85 yards on zone-read rushes, including 16 yards and a touchdown with 2:13 left by Russell Wilson that cut the Packers' lead to 19-14.

An unlikely touchdown
The Seahawks’ first touchdown came on a fake field goal with 4:44 left in the third quarter, with Jon Ryan throwing his first career touchdown pass to offensive lineman Garry Gilliam.

It was Gilliam’s first career reception.

Ryan is now 3-for-3 completing passes in his career. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that he's the first punter to throw a touchdown pass in a postseason game in the Super Bowl era.

Stat of the Day
The game-winning touchdown is the second overtime touchdown in an NFL conference/league championship game. The other was by Alan Ameche in the 1958 NFL championship between the Colts and the Giants. That game is often referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" in NFL history.
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NFL

Top stats to know: Bears hire John Fox

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
4:22
PM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesFox becomes the Bears third head coach since 2012, taking over for Marc Trestman
The Chicago Bears hired John Fox as head coach on Friday.

It’s just the second time in the Bears team history that they've hired a coach with previous head coaching experience. In 1956, Chicago hired Paddy Driscoll as coach, who was a "player-coach" with the Chicago Cardinals from 1920-22.

It does not include the three different times George Halas returned to the sidelines after his initial coaching tenure from 1920-29. He owned the team from 1920-83 and had four different stints as head coach

So what do the Bears get with John Fox?
Since Fox became a head coach in 2002, he has led his teams (Panthers and Broncos) to the playoffs seven times and went to the Super Bowl with each team.

The Bears have made the playoffs just four times in the last 20 seasons, which also included a loss to the John Fox coached Panthers in the 2005 Divisional Round.
While the Bears can expect some improvement this season based on Fox's history, it's what he does in his second year with a team that should have Chicago excited.

He took the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his second season in Carolina, and won 13 games in his second season in Denver.

Fox has a knack for turning a defenses around. The Bears are coming off of two of their worst defensive seasons in terms of points allowed per game in franchise history.

They allowed 27.6 points per game this season and 29.9 points per game last season. The Panthers and the Broncos ranked among the worst defenses in the league before his arrival. They ranked in the top 10 during his tenure.

The Bears have rarely had success under new head coaches
Since the merger, the Bears have hired nine head coaches and none of them have had a winning season in their first season.

The last time the Bears hired a coach that led them to a winning record in his first season was the aforementioned Paddy Driscoll in 1956.

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NFL

Blame the CBA for the rise in early entrants

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
3:13
PM ET

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsThe 2014 NFL Draft had a record 98 early entrants, though only 62 percent were drafted
Why are so many college football players leaving early?

Thursday is the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. The last few years have featured a precipitous rise in the amount of players to declare early, with a then-record 73 early entrants in the 2013 NFL Draft smashed by the 98 who entered the draft with eligibility remaining last year. The number will likely dip a bit this year, but more than 75 players have already declared entering the day of the deadline.

Though the pool of early entrants has grown, the rate of those players getting drafted has dropped. In 2009, 89 percent of the 46 underclassmen who declared were drafted. In 2014, 98 underclassmen declared and only 62 percent were drafted.

What caused this rise in early entrants?

The influx has coincided directly with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the 2011 lockout. Because first round picks are receiving just a fraction of what they did prior to the new CBA thanks to the rookie wage scale, players have an increased incentive to "start the clock" on their NFL careers so they can reach a second, more lucrative contract earlier. The financial reward for being a high pick is lower, and thus the value of just being on an NFL roster in any capacity is higher.

Take, for instance, a selection of players drafted in 2010, the last year of the old CBA (see chart on right).

Before they played a pro snap, each of those players signed contracts that were in the top five of guaranteed money for their position in the entire league.

Now look at the 2011 class, signed after the new CBA came into effect, players taken with the same picks as the previous list.

As you can see, the difference in guaranteed money between being a top-3 or top-10 pick in the old CBA versus the new CBA can be big.

In the old system, players who projected in the mid-to-late first round as an underclassman had incentive to return for the chance at a monster contract as one of the top overall picks. In the new system – which is the same today as in 2011 - the top pick can only make what players who were selected late in the top 10 made previously.

Players know the short shelf life of an NFL career, and are jumping at the chance to start getting those pro paychecks rather than spend another year in school.

Top offense meets top defense in Seattle

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
11:39
AM ET

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson enters Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Packers 25-2 at home as a starter
The Seattle Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The Packers are looking to reverse their fortunes in a stadium where they have lost their last two games, including a 36-16 loss in Week 1 this season and the infamous “Fail Mary” game in 2012.

Seattle will try to continue a dominant stretch of playoff wins at home that dates back to the 2005 season.

Top stats to know
The Seahawks have won their last eight home playoff games, the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for fourth longest all-time. The Seahawks’ last home loss in the postseason was in 2004 to the St. Louis Rams.

Since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012, the Seahawks are 25-2 at home (regular season and playoffs). Every other NFL team has lost at least twice as many home games in that time.

The Packers went undefeated (9-0) at home this season outscoring opponents by 160 points but have gone 4-4 and been outscored by 17 points on the road.

According to Elias, no team in NFL history saw a bigger difference in their home and road scoring than the 2014 Packers in the regular season (318 points at home, 168 on the road).

This will also be the fifth matchup of the league’s top offense and top defense in the playoffs under the current playoff format. The last such meeting was the 2013 Super Bowl between the Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.

Matchups to watch
Eddie Lacy vs Seahawks rush defense
The Seahawks’ pass defense makes the headlines, but the rush defense allowed 3.4 yards per rush this season, which ranked second in the NFL.

In Week 1 the Packers rushed 21 times for 80 yards, with Eddie Lacy being held to a season-low 34 yards on 12 rushes. Lacy left in the fourth quarter of that game with a concussion, but he’ll need a heavier workload Sunday.

Teams that committed to the run this season fared the best against the Seahawks. In fact, the four teams that beat Seattle all ran the ball at least 27 times.

By running at a higher rate, the Packers will limit the chances of negative plays in the passing game. The Seahawks scored off 12 of their 15 interceptions this season, and no team scored a touchdown on a drive where the Seahawks recorded a sack.

Seahawks rush offense vs Packers rush defense
The Packers lost their last two playoff games to a team that had a mobile quarterback and successful ground game (49ers). Enter the Seahawks.

Wilson rushed for 849 yards this season and averaged 7.7 yards per rush on zone reads with five touchdowns. Only three teams the last three seasons (including playoffs) allowed more yards per rush on zone reads than the Packers (6.2).

The Packers will also have to account for Marshawn Lynch, who was second in the NFL behind LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots with 2.5 yards after contact per rush. The Packers allowed 2.0 yards after contact per rush this season, which was second worst in the NFL.

Did you know?
The Seahawks are 9-0 against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks over the last three seasons, including 2-0 in the postseason. The Seahawks have beaten Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and the Manning brothers in that time.

Run game has fueled Patriots vs. Colts

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
9:29
AM ET

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports
Tom Brady will make his 9th appearance in an AFC Championship game Sunday in Foxboro
Through the first three years of his career, Andrew Luck has three playoff wins, or as many as Peyton Manning had in the first eight years of his career.
Each has had early struggles in New England - Manning’s postseason journey ended at Gillette Stadium in 2003 and 2004, and Luck lost 43-22 there in the Wild Card Playoffs last year.

With more wins, yards, touchdowns and fewer interceptions through three years than Manning had, Luck not surprisingly has also had more postseason success than his predecessor. A Luck win gets him to the Super Bowl in one-third the time of Manning, but he has to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady first.

Top stats to know
Luck won’t be playing defense for the Indianapolis Colts, who have had no answer for the Patriots' offense lately. The Patriots have averaged 48 points per game and scored at least 42 points in all three games against the Colts since Luck’s rookie season. Including the playoffs in that span, all teams are 2-74 when allowing at least 42 points in a game.

Brady has played well in the New England Patriots’ last three games against the Colts, completing 56-of-90 passes for 786 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, winning all three. Brady’s Total QBR of 86 against the Colts since 2012 (including playoffs) is the second-highest against any opponent he has faced more than once in that span.

Brady was effective, but New England’s running game was a driving force behind the last two wins. In last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff, LeGarrette Blount had 24 rushes for 166 yards and four touchdowns, including a 73-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Patriots up by 14 points. In Week 11, Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts.

Matchups to watch
Patriots defense vs Luck’s secondary options
Luck had success targeting his tight ends in Week 11, and Dwayne Allen played only 13 snaps. Luck was 7-of-7 for 144 yards targeting Coby Fleener against the Patriots, who have struggled to defend the position this year.

Dan Herron was inactive in Week 11 but has averaged 85 yards from scrimmage in the Colts' last eight games. Herron has solidified a running back position in flux since Ahmad Bradshaw’s injury to the point that Trent Richardson (Indianapolis’ leading rusher this season) was a healthy inactive in last Sunday’s win against the Denver Broncos.

One more way Luck can beat teams is with his legs. Since joining the league, Luck’s been the league’s most efficient scrambling quarterback (NFL-best 51.5 Expected Points Added on scrambles).

Colts improved rush defense vs… who?
New England rushed well in Week 11 (246 total rushing yards), but since that game the Colts' defense has really improved against the run. Indianapolis has allowed an average of 110 rush yards in the eight games since, despite facing backs including Arian Foster, DeMarco Murray and Jeremy Hill. The Colts were one of nine teams to not allow a 100-yard rusher in the last eight weeks of the season.

The Patriots have used five different backs for at least 40 snaps since Week 12, tied for the most of any team in the league. Gray’s reward for a 37-rush, 201-yard game was to register 20 rushes total in New England’s next seven games, including three appearances on the inactive list. Blount has averaged 9.0 rushes per team game since Week 12, while Shane Vereen’s 250 snaps lead all Patriots backs but yielded 27 total rushes in that span.

Did You Know?
Sunday will be the 30th playoff game for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, breaking a tie with Jerry Rice for most in NFL history. Barring injury, Vinatieri or Brady will advance to a sixth Super Bowl, tied with Bills and Broncos defensive lineman Mike Lodish for most Super Bowls played in NFL history.

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