Stats & Info: Tom Brady

Top stats to know: Patriots over Jets

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrady and the Patriots stayed cool under pressure to beat the Jets for another home division win.
The New England Patriots' home dominance over the AFC East continued on Thursday night, but barely.

Brady is back
• Playing without leading rusher Stevan Ridley, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve, Tom Brady turned primarily to the air on offense against the New York Jets. The Patriots ran the ball just 15 times, their fewest since 12 rushes against the Steelers on Oct. 30, 2011.

• Brady has now thrown for 871 yards with eight TD and no interceptions in three games this season against AFC East opponents. In four games against non-division opponents, he has 834 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

• Through the season's first four games, Tom Brady’s Total QBR was 46.5, which ranked him 28th among the 34 qualified quarterbacks in the league. Since then, his QBR is 87.1, which is second only to Philip Rivers' 93.8.

• Brady’s 37 pass attempts for the game gives him 6,832 for his career, moving him past Warren Moon for sixth all-time in NFL history.

• Tom Brady has now played in 200 regular-season games. His personal win-loss record is 153–47 (.765), giving him the most wins through 200 games by any player in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. A pair of Hall of Famers share second place in that category: Jerry Rice and Gene Upshaw, who each played in 146 victories over their first 200 games in the league.

• Brady was 7-of-11 for 167 yards and two touchdowns on throws that traveled more than 10 yards downfield on Thursday. It was the third consecutive game in which Brady had seven completions and at least one touchdown on such throws. Brady has excelled in recent weeks after struggling at throwing downfield to start the season.

Streaks continue
• Thursday's game against the Jets was Brady's 19th consecutive home win against a division opponent. According to Elias research, that breaks a tie with Brett Favre for longest intra-division home streak in the Super Bowl era.

• Brady has now won 41 straight regular-season home starts against AFC teams since a loss to the Jets in Week 10 of the 2006 season.

• New England extended its home win streak in October to 18 straight games with their last loss coming against the Chargers in Week 4 of 2005. They are 24-1 in their past 25 at home in October since 2003.

• Chris Jones blocked the Nick Folk field goal to win the game for the Patriots. In Week 7 last season, Jones was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving his teammate "into the opponents' formation" on a Folk 56-yard field goal in OT that led to the Jets keeping the ball and kicking the game-winner three plays later.

Thursday Night Tight• This game bucked the trend of lopsided Thursday night games, providing the closest margin of victory since last Thanksgiving when the Baltimore Ravens edged the Pittsburgh Steelers, also by two points. Thursday nights had provided an average margin of victory of 25 points, by far the highest of any of the league’s time packages. After the Patriots' slim win, that is now 21.7 points per game, which is the most of any of the league's time slots this season.

Again, Browns' QB is below average

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
Joe Sargent/Getty Images Brian Hoyer led a 24-point comeback but couldn’t get the Browns a victory.
One of the most stirring comebacks in Week 1 of the NFL season came in Pittsburgh, where the Cleveland Browns erased a 27-3 halftime deficit and tied the score less than four minutes into the fourth quarter. But three plays involving Brian Hoyer late in the game cost the Browns their last chance to win in regulation and added to the team’s already notable total of below-average quarterback performances.

With 1:53 left in the game, the Browns had the ball at their 20, and Hoyer had a 54 Total QBR. Hoyer was sacked on first down, threw an incompletion and then completed a pass for -6 yards. The Browns punted, and the Steelers ended up kicking a winning field goal on the final play.

Hoyer ended up with a 46 Total QBR, the 48th game in which the Browns’ starter has recorded a QBR of less than 50 in the last five seasons (QBR: 0-to-100 scale, 50 is average). Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, with 50, have more.

Eagles’ improbable comeback
The Philadelphia Eagles entered Sunday 1-39 since the merger in games they trailed by at least 17 points at the half.

After a neutral zone infraction penalty by Trent Cole gave Jacksonville a 1st-and-5 at the Philadelphia 19 midway through the second quarter, the Eagles had a 4.5% win probability, their lowest in the game.

It’s the lowest win probability the Eagles have overcome in a game they ended up winning since Dec. 19, 2010, when they recovered from a 0.75% chance of winning against the New York Giants. The Eagles came back from 21 points down in that one, with DeSean Jackson scoring the game-winning touchdown as the clock expired on a punt return.

Brady, Patriots O-Line struggle
Tom Brady posted a 32.2 Total QBR against the Miami Dolphins, his lowest against the Dolphins since Week 14 of 2006, when he posted a 9.6.

Brady was sacked or under duress on 16 of his dropbacks, his second-most in any game since 2006 and his most since 2009.

Overall, the Patriots posted a -9.6 pass offensive efficiency, their fifth-worst in any game since 2006 (since ESPN began video tracking). The efficiency rating means the Patriots’ passing contributed about negative-10 points toward the team’s score.

Cowboys inefficient
The Dallas Cowboys’ offense gained 194 yards in the first half Sunday, the third-most yards the San Francisco 49ers have allowed in the first half in a game the last three seasons. But despite the yardage total, Dallas had a -13.6 offensive efficiency in the half, the Cowboys’ worst in any first half since 2008.

Offensive efficiency accounts for the impact of each play, including turnovers, on the potential point margin. Of the Cowboys’ four first-half turnovers, one was returned for a 49ers touchdown and another gave San Francisco possession at the Dallas 2-yard line. Nearly 14 points of Dallas’ 25-point halftime deficit can be attributed to the Cowboys’ offense.

Overall, the Cowboys posted a -7.3 pass efficiency, their worst in a game since 2010. Maybe this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The 49ers’ defense has a +49.9 defensive efficiency on pass plays in the last five seasons, second to the Seahawks’ +77.3.

Top stats to know: 2014 New England Patriots

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25

Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots will be counting on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski again this season.
SportsCenter is at Patriots training camp Friday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.

1. The Patriots have won the AFC East in 5 straight and 10 of the last 11 seasons. New England is the only team since the merger to win 10 division titles over 11 seasons. Some potential milestones for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this season:

• Belichick needs 1 postseason win to tie Tom Landry for most all-time
• Brady needs 1 regular-season win to break a tie with John Elway for third-most in NFL history
• Patriots can become first team to win 6 straight division titles since mid-1970s (Steelers – 1974-79; Rams – 1973-79)
• Patriots can become second team to win at least 10 games in 12 straight seasons (49ers – 1983-98)

2. Since Tom Brady’s first season as a starter in 2001, the Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful team with 158 regular-season wins (19 more than any other team), 18 playoff wins (6 more than any other team), 11 division titles (3 more than any other team) and 3 Super Bowl wins (1 more than any other team). However, since Brady and Belichick went 9-0 in the postseason en route to winning Super Bowls following the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, they’re just 9-8 in the playoffs.

3. Last season, Tom Brady had his lowest completion percentage since 2003 (60.5) and his fewest yards per attempt since 2006 (6.9) and ranked outside the top 20 in the NFL in both categories for the first time in his career. Brady was the league’s 11th-highest rated QB last season, with his lowest Total QBR (61.1) since 2006 (first season for which data is available).

4. One reason for Brady’s relatively average (for him) 2013 could be that he threw a career-high 163 passes to rookies, 35 more than any other QB in the NFL. When throwing to rookies last year, Brady completed 48 percent of his passes. When throwing to veterans, he completed 67 percent of his passes. Patriots rookies dropped 8 percent of Brady’s passes last year. Patriots veterans dropped just 5 percent of Brady’s passes.

5. Along with more experience at wide receiver, a healthy Rob Gronkowski should help Brady be more productive in 2014. Gronkowski, coming off surgery to repair torn knee ligaments suffered in Week 14 last season, led all tight ends with 85 receiving yards per game last year. In his 4 seasons with the team, Brady has 42 touchdowns vs just 6 interceptions when targeting Gronkowski. Over that span, Gronkowski’s 42 receiving TDs are the most by a TE in the NFL and second most by any player behind Calvin Johnson.

6. After appearing in 16 games in each of his first 2 seasons, Gronkowski has missed 14 games with injuries over the last 2 years. Over that span, Brady has a Total QBR of 78 with 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions when Gronkowski is on the field and a Total QBR of 60 with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when he is off the field. He’s missed even more in the red zone, where Brady has a Total QBR of 94 over the last 2 years with Gronkowski in the game and a Total QBR of 67 with him on the sideline.

7. The Patriots “bend but don’t break” defense has allowed the most yards in the NFL over the last 3 seasons (386 per game) but ranks seventh in the league in points allowed over that span (21.1 per game). A key for the unit is the ability to generate turnovers. Over the last 3 years, the Patriots lead the league in takeaways (104) and turnover margin (+51).

8. Less than a week after Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib left for the Broncos via free agency, the Patriots signed 5-time Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis to a 2-year deal with $11.5M in guaranteed money. New England also signed former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Browner, who will be suspended for the first 4 games of the season, from the Seahawks. The Patriots allowed Peyton Manning to pass for 400 yards in last year’s AFC Championship loss.

9. Returning to the Patriots defense will be nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who tore his Achilles in Week 4 last season and missed the rest of the year, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who tore his ACL in Week 5. From Weeks 6-17, the Patriots allowed the fourth most rush yards per game (142) and fifth most yards per rush (4.6) in the NFL. Rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley, coming off his own season-ending injury (torn ACL at Florida), is expected to push for playing time on the defensive line.

10. Patriots Top Transactions This Offseason
Draft picks: DT Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James White
Additions: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, DE Will Smith, LB James Anderson, WR Brandon LaFell
Departures: CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, S Steve Gregory

Did Pats rookies ruin Tom Brady in 2013?

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18

Elsa/Getty ImagesThis was a familiar pose for Tom Brady, who had one of his worst statistical seasons in 2013.
Tom Brady is coming off his least efficient season in some time, but his average output in 2013 might not have been entirely of his own making.

The numbers suggest that youth on the Patriots roster, especially at the wide receiver position, played a big role in Brady's struggles.

2013 Was a Down Year For Brady
Tom Brady completed just 60.5% of his passes last season, his lowest completion rate in a season since 2003.

He ranked 22nd in the league in completion percentage, behind Matt Flynn, Matt Schaub and Chad Henne, among others.

Brady's 6.9-yard average per pass attempt was 24th-best in the league.

It’s a steep decline from 2011-12, when Brady averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, third best in the NFL.

Brady’s 25 pass touchdowns were his fewest in a full season since 2006, when he threw 24. Julian Edelman led the team with 6 TD catches, which tied for 30th in the NFL.

The Rookie Factor
But Brady's down season didn't occur in a vacuum.

He attempted 163 passes to rookies last season, the highest total of his career and 35 more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

On average, those pass attempts weren't particularly successful. His completion percentage on those throws was 47.9%, compared to better than 67% to all other targets.

That low completion percentage wasn't merely a symptom of poor chemistry. Patriots rookies dropped 8% of the passes they received from Brady, compared to a drop rate of 4.7% by other Patriots players.

Top stats to know: 2014 NFL schedule

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23

Jennifer Stewart/Getty ImagesThe 2014 NFL season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Sure it is April, but the 2014 NFL schedule has been released and that means it is time to get ready for a season full of intriguing matchups.

From high-profile veterans facing their former teams, to the 16th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, here is a look at some of the early highlights of the 2014 season:

Reunion games
DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers.

Those are just a handful of veterans released during the off-season who will have a chance to play against their former teams in 2014.

After a career year in 2013, Jackson was released by the Eagles this off-season. He will face the Eagles twice this season (Week 3 in Philadelphia and Week 16 in Washington).

Smith, the Panthers career leader in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards, promised there would be "blood and guts everywhere" if he faced the Panthers in 2014 after being released by the team in March. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Smith will get a crack at the Panthers on Sept. 28 in Baltimore.

Johnson only joined the Jets a little more than a week ago, but he's already slated for a Tennessee reunion. Johnson and the Jets will travel to Tennessee Week 15 to take on the Titans. Johnson has posted six straight 1,000-yard seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Allen signed a 4-year deal with the Bears at the end of March after spending six seasons in Minnesota. Allen led the NFL with 85.5 sacks during his Vikings tenure. Allen will face the Vikings twice this season (Week 11 and Week 17).

Peppers is now on the other side of the NFL's most-played rivalry after signing a three-year deal with the Packers in March just days after being released by the Bears. Peppers totaled 38 sacks in his four seasons in Chicago and made three Pro Bowls.

And a college reunion
Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles will play the NFC West this season as part of the standard division rotation.

Kelly will have the opportunity to coach against former Pac-10 coaching rivals Pete Carroll (USC) and Jim Harbaugh (Stanford). As a head coach, Kelly was a combined 2-1 against Carroll and Harbaugh with a win over each.

Kelly and the Eagles will also travel to Indianapolis in Week 2 for a Monday Night Football showdown against former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Kelly's Oregon teams were 2-1 against Stanford during Andrew Luck's collegiate career.

Top games
On Nov. 2, Manning and Brady will meet for the 16th time, including the playoffs, tied for the most between any pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Manning will also face his former team for the second time as the Broncos will host the Colts to open their season. Manning and the Broncos lost to the Colts 39-33 in 2013.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the 2012 draft, will meet for the first time in Week 13. In their young careers, Griffin III is 12-16, while Luck is 22-10.

A rematch of last year's Super Bowl, Broncos-Seahawks, will also take place this season. The Seahawks' 35-point margin of victory in the Super Bowl is tied for the third largest in NFL history.

Postseason struggles for Brady, Belichick

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks defense pounces on 49ers' lapses

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20

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

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

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

Here’s how his QBR fell apart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys to victory: Broncos 26, Patriots 16

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How good was Manning in this game?

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

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

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

This one was a decisive victory.

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

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

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

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

AFC Championship: Matchups to watch

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16

USA TODAY SportsBoth the Patriots and Broncos rushing games will be important in Sunday's AFC Championship.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will get the headlines leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship game, but in the Week 12 meeting between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, the teams combined for 396 rushing yards.

That first meeting also went to overtime, a reflection of how narrow the gap is between the Broncos and the Patriots.

Down 24 points at halftime, Brady led his team back with three second-half touchdown passes before Manning forced overtime with an 11-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. A muffed punt was the difference in the game, setting up a 31-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal that capped the comeback.

Here are four matchups that will stamp a ticket to the Super Bowl.

Patriots Rushing Game vs Terrance Knighton
The Patriots have been rush-heavy in their last three games, with LeGarrette Blount tripling his inside-the-tackle rushes per game average.

Blount is averaging 130 rush yards per game inside the tackles since the start of Week 16, which is not only more than any other player, but also more than 28 of 31 other teams.

Denver’s Terrance Knighton has been very effective this year as a run-stopping defensive tackle.

Knighton has been on the field for 70 percent of first and second-down rushing attempts the Broncos have faced this season, and the Broncos have allowed 3.5 yards per rush on those plays. That would rank second in the league on first or second down. When Knighton is off the field, Denver’s 5.2 yards per rush would rank as the second worst.

Broncos running backs vs Patriots unloaded box
New England practically begged the Broncos to run the football in Week 12. Denver had 47 rushes against six or fewer defenders in the box, 14 more than any other team had in a game in the last six years.

The Broncos rushed for 281 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per rush in Week 12 against that “unloaded” front.

New England’s defensive tackles last Saturday were Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga - none of whom were drafted or had played a game before 2012.

Broncos secondary vs Patriots receivers
Denver has allowed a 36.9 QBR in the regular season and a 61.6 QBR in the playoffs since start of 2012, and failed to hold a lead in both Week 12 vs. New England and in last year’s playoff loss to the Ravens.

Improved secondary play may be a tall order after Chris Harris was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, especially after Philip Rivers went 11 of 15 for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter with Quentin Jammer in for Harris.

The Broncos have been terrible this year against slot receivers, which is basically almost all of the wideout options that Brady has left. Champ Bailey has been Denver’s slot cornerback for the last three weeks, but may be pressed into perimeter action with Harris’ injury.

Manning makes most of limited yards

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning had modest traditional stats Sunday but broke the 90 barrier in Total QBR.
Peyton Manning passed for 230 yards Sunday in the Denver Broncos’ 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs. Manning’s passing yards were his second-fewest of the season. But Manning piled up those yards when it counted the most, leading to a milestone Total QBR for the Broncos quarterback.

Manning’s final statistics (25 of 36 passing, two touchdowns, one interception) might not seem like the high-flying numbers fans got used to during his record-breaking regular season, but the circumstances surrounding his big plays helped him post a career playoff-best 91.1 Total QBR.

In the first quarter, Manning completed 7 of 9 passes for 71 yards and one touchdown, helping the Broncos build their 7-0 lead; his Total QBR was 98.9. By halftime, Manning had thrown for 100 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, completing 11 of 16 throws and leading the Broncos to a 17-0 lead; his Total QBR was 90.4.

The Broncos held a double-digit lead until there was 3:53 left in the fourth quarter, making Manning’s second-half performance less relevant than the plays he made in the first half. His Total QBR did not drop below 85 after his first completion, with 8:41 left in the first quarter.

Manning has the most games (including the postseason) of 90+ QBR since 2006 – and it’s not close. Sunday’s game was his first in the postseason with a QBR that high in the eight seasons for which ESPN has QBR data.

Panthers go nowhere inside the 10
The Carolina Panthers’ offense was locked down inside the San Francisco 49ers’ 10-yard line in the 49ers' 23-10 victory. The Panthers’ offense contributed -9.5 expected points, the Panthers’ worst showing in that part of the field in the eight seasons of ESPN’s data set.

The Panthers rushed the ball four times from the 49ers’ 1-yard line, getting stopped all four times for a combined loss of one yard, including one failed fourth-down attempt in the first quarter. In all, the Panthers ran eight offensive plays inside the 10-yard line and came away with three points.

Expected points reflect strength of Patriots’ rushing game
As if six touchdowns weren’t impressive enough, the New England Patriots on Saturday had the second-greatest expected points of any team’s rushing game in a playoff game since 2006. LeGarrette Blount (four touchdowns) and Stevan Ridley (two) powered the Patriots’ offense against the Indianapolis Colts, combining for 38 rushes and 218 yards. The Patriots’ rushing game added 12.2 expected points, the team’s best rushing EPA in a playoff game since 2006 (their previous best was 4.2).

Brady posts high QBR despite no TD
The Patriots’ win over the Colts on Saturday marked the fourth time in 25 postseason games that Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass. Brady posted a 75.1 Total QBR, the greatest mark for any quarterback without a touchdown pass in a playoff game. He completed six of his nine third-down pass attempts, all completions for first downs, including five on touchdown drives.

Compared with Brady’s 66.7 percent conversion rate, the Colts’ Andrew Luck (7 of 14 third-down passing) posted a 42.9 percent conversion rate. The regular-season league average was 39 percent.

Wilson's low QBR doesn't stop Seahawks
Russell Wilson had a 25.9 Total QBR on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, the second-worst rating in a playoff victory in the last five seasons. Wilson completed nine of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards. He was sacked three times and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. Wilson also owns the third-worst Total QBR in a playoff victory, posting a 36.0 QBR in a win against the Washington Redskins last year.

The Seahawks’ special teams added 7.6 expected points to their net scoring margin, their highest total in a playoff game since 2006, helping them overcome Wilson’s low QBR. Steven Hauschka hit three field goals, including a 49-yard kick. The Seahawks had an average starting field position of their own 33-yard line and held the Saints to a starting field position of their 25-yard line.

Blount's historic day leads Patriots to win

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount became the second player to run for four touchdowns in an NFL postseason game.
Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, LeGarrette Blount had 151 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns the entire season.

In the New England Patriots’ divisional playoff victory Saturday night over the Indianapolis Colts, Blount surpassed both of those numbers, making NFL history with 166 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the 43-22 victory.

He’s just the second player in NFL postseason history to run for at least four touchdowns in a game. Ricky Watters had five for the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game in the 1993 season. No other player has had more than three, making Blount the first player in postseason history to have more than 120 rushing yards with at least four rushing touchdowns in a game.

For the game, 162 of Blount’s 166 yards came on runs inside the tackles. That’s the fifth-most by a player in a game this season, regular and postseason.

The Patriots' blocking deserves a lot of credit for the performance as well. Blount had 146 of his yards before contact, the second-most such yards for a player in a game this season. Only DeMarco Murray (149 against the Rams in Week 3) had more this year.

Blount didn't do it alone
Blount wasn’t the only Patriots running back to find the end zone. Stevan Ridley scored twice to give the Patriots six rushing touchdowns for the game, making them just the third team in NFL postseason history to reach that mark.

Before Saturday, the Patriots had never rushed for more than four touchdowns in either a regular-season or postseason game.

Patriots win without Brady TD
All the success the Patriots had running the ball meant the load was lighter on Tom Brady.

This is the fourth time that Brady has played a postseason game and not thrown for a touchdown. The Patriots are 4-0 in those games, two of them coming in 2001, Brady’s first season as a starter. The other was in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Scoring at least 43 points in a postseason game without a touchdown pass is a rare accomplishment; it’s now been done just three times in NFL history.

• Super Bowl XX: The Bears beat the Patriots 46-10 with four rushing touchdowns and an interception return for a touchdown.
• 1993 divisional playoffs: The 49ers beat the Giants 44-3 with no TD passes from starter Steve Young, thanks to those five Watters scores.
• Saturday: All six Patriots touchdowns come on runs.

It’s unusual that the Patriots lean this heavily on the run. The Patriots called designed rush plays on 46 of their 73 offensive snaps (63 percent) against Indianapolis -- their highest rate in any postseason game since 2001. During the regular season, the Patriots ran the ball 41.3 percent of the time, the 15th-highest rate in the NFL.
A win Saturday night in Foxborough would make Andrew Luck the first quarterback drafted first overall to win two playoff games by the end of his second season. Considering the company on that list -- names like Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and both Peyton and Eli Manning -- Luck is playing for an impressive amount of early postseason success.

If any quarterback knows early playoff success, it’s Tom Brady, who started his career 10-0 in the postseason with three Super Bowl championships before his first loss but has gone 7-7 since.

Here’s a look at how Brady has contributed to the 7-7 stretch as well as three other key matchups that will send either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots to the AFC Championship Game.

The Colts’ four-man rush vs. Brady
Brady’s postseason play has been part of New England’s recent playoff problem. His 71.1 Total QBR in the regular season since losing Super Bowl XLII is fourth best in the league, but his 45.7 playoff QBR in that span ranks 19th.

Brady has always been good against the blitz. He has 76 touchdowns and six interceptions when opponents send at least five rushers since the start of 2008 (including the playoffs). His plus-70 TD-Int differential is best in the league, and only Aaron Rodgers has even thrown 70 touchdowns.

The problem is teams don’t blitz Brady as often in the postseason. The 2007 Giants solidified a basic tenet for beating Brady: don’t rely on extra pass-rushers. Teams have followed that blueprint with success since the 2007 Giants.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Aqib Talib
After Reggie Wayne went down in the fourth quarter of Week 7, Hilton emerged as Luck’s preferred target. Over the final 10 weeks of the regular season, Hilton’s 55 catches tied for eighth in the league. He had the fewest drops among the 18 players with at least 80 targets in that span.

The Chiefs didn’t provide an effective model for stopping the speedy Hilton. He set Colts playoff records (and career highs) with 13 catches for 224 receiving yards and added a pair of touchdowns. Hilton’s season-high 72 yards after the catch was the third highest in a game by a wide receiver against the Chiefs this season.

The New England secondary allowed only one wide receiver to reach 50 yards after the catch in a game this season -- Josh Gordon (90 in Week 14, 71 of which came on an 80-yard touchdown).

Hilton will likely draw Talib in coverage Saturday night. Talib, who was named second-team All-Pro last week, has been effective playing physically this season, something Hilton struggled with this year. Hilton caught 65 percent of targets against non-press coverage this season but only 48 percent against press coverage.

Donald Brown vs. Patriots rush D
While Trent Richardson was the most-publicized Colts running back this season, Brown quietly put together an impressive season.

Brown’s 5.3 yards per rush was second best in the league among running backs and more than a yard better than his career average entering this season (4.1). He averaged a half-yard more after contact per rush (2.7) than any other qualified rusher in the NFL this season.

Brandon Spikes is the latest Patriots run-stopper to be placed on injured reserve. Both Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo had played their final game of the season by Week 6, and from Weeks 7 to 17 the Patriots rush defense was ranked in the bottom six in rush yards, yards per rush, yards before contact per rush and first downs allowed.

Julian Edelman vs. Colts secondary
Injuries left Edelman and a cast of rookies as Brady’s supporting cast in the passing game. Edelman became Brady’s top receiver and had an extremely productive season.

If Edelman’s per-game averages without Rob Gronkowski (11.1 targets and 7.8 catches) were prorated for a full season, he would lead the league in catches (125) and tie A.J. Green for the league lead in targets (178).

The Colts defense allowed 8.0 yards per attempt to slot receivers this season, 23rd in the league. Edelman ran almost exactly half his routes from the slot this season (275 of 549) and has the third-shortest average target distance (8.1) of the 34 players with at least 100 targets.

Matchups to watch: Patriots at Ravens

December, 20, 2013
Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Ravens beat the Patriots in last season's AFC Championship.
Six teams have played the New England Patriots at least five times in the past six years (including the playoffs). Among those six (New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts), only Baltimore (3-3) has a .500 record against the Patriots.

Considering New England’s 70-25 record against the rest of the league over that span, .500 is a success. The Ravens have taken two of the three postseason meetings between the teams, including last season’s AFC Championship.

Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s Week 16 matchup:

As the QB goes...
Simply put, the Ravens have received better quarterback play in recent meetings against the Patriots.

Baltimore has picked off nine of Tom Brady's passes since 2008, tied with the Dolphins for most by any team. Miami has also played twice as many games (12) and allowed 14 more touchdowns vs. the Patriots than Baltimore.

The Ravens are a different defense from the unit that led the league in defensive expected points added from 2008-12 (+434). Baltimore’s +29.8 defensive EPA ranks eighth in the league, not as dominant as year’s past.

Patriots pass rush vs. Ravens offensive line
The Patriots are reliant on a four-man pass rush (they rush four men 75 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL), but their defensive line has struggled this season.

New England has controlled the line of scrimmage on 43 percent of pass plays this season, last in the league (for an explainer on how that is calculated, click here. Even before Vince Wilfork’s Week 4 injury ended his season, the Patriots defensive line only controlled 44 percent of pass plays. That’s well below league average (50 percent), a number New England has not met in its last nine games.

The player whose presence is missed the most isn’t Wilfork, but Tommy Kelly. When New England had Kelly on the field, it controlled the line on slightly more than half of opposing dropbacks. Without Kelly, the number drops to only 41 percent.

Every team wants to pressure the quarterback, but for New England it’s especially important. The Patriots defense has the third-best Total QBR allowed when quarterbacks are under pressure, but the fourth-worst when quarterbacks aren’t pressured. The 26-spot difference in rank is the biggest in the league.

Ravens CB vs. Patriots WR
Baltimore’s secondary has defended or intercepted 50 passes this season, tied for fourth most in the league, with Lardarius Webb’s 18 the second most among players. Only the Ravens and Browns have three defensive backs with at least 10 pass breakups or interceptions.

Baltimore is a top-10 defense in completion percentage and Total QBR allowed against at least three wide receivers, and has excelled defending slot receivers.

Brady’s weapons last week were all slot receivers. Of Brady’s 55 passes against Miami, 43 went to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce or Austin Collie.

Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB
Ray Rice has topped 125 yards from scrimmage in four of his six games against New England, but New England held him to 70 yards from scrimmage and 3.0 yards per opportunity (targets and rushes) in last year’s AFC Championship. Both were the lowest of his six games against the Patriots.

Rice’s recent form has been dismal. His 3.1 yards per rush ranks 46th among qualified rushers, while no qualified running back has averaged fewer yards after contact per rush than Rice (1.1). He’s averaged 4.2 yards per target, 44th in the league among 50 backs with at least 20 targets.

Is facing New England what Rice needs to get back on track? The Patriots defense has allowed 150.4 yards from scrimmage per game by running backs, seventh most in the league. With no Jerod Mayo, look for Dont’a Hightower on early downs and possibly Dane Fletcher in sub packages to be tasked with slowing Rice.

Charles in charge after the catch

December, 15, 2013
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJamaal Charles set personal and franchise records against the Raiders on Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 56-31 on Sunday, and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles did a number on both the franchise and NFL record books, and did so while only playing three quarters.

Charles’ final line – 195 receiving yards, four touchdowns catches, 20 rush yards, one rushing touchdown – was remarkable for a number of reasons. Charles became the first player in NFL history to have four touchdown receptions and a touchdown run in a single game, and also became the first running back in NFL history with four touchdown receptions in a game.

Charles became the fifth player in the last 50 seasons with five touchdowns and 200 yards from scrimmage in a game, joining Gale Sayers (1965), Jerry Rice (1990), Shaun Alexander (2002) and Clinton Portis (2003). He is also the second player in Chiefs franchise history to score five touchdowns in a game against the Raiders, joining Abner Haynes in 1961, when the franchise was known as the Texans.

Charles set a career-high for receiving yards with 195, the most by a running back in a game since Week 16 of 1999, when Marshall Faulk tallied 204. That mark was achieved thanks in large part to his work after the catch. His 172 yards are the most since the start of 2006, and 48 more than any other player in a game this season.

Charles is the first player this season with three touchdowns of at least 35 yards. He joins Doug Martin, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson as players with three rushing or receiving touchdowns at that length since the start of 2001. From a fantasy perspective, Charles’ 51 points in ESPN standard leagues is tied for the sixth-most in a game since 1960 according to Tristan H. Cockcroft, tying Doug Martin from last season and Corey Dillon in 1997.

It wasn’t all Charles, though. Alex Smith set a career-high with five touchdown passes, the third quarterback in Chiefs history with a five-touchdown, zero-interception game, joining Len Dawson (1967) and Trent Green (2002).

Smith also became third quarterback since 2000 to complete 85 percent of his passes while also throwing for five touchdowns in a game, joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the latter of whom did so twice. Smith is also the only quarterback to throw three 35-yard touchdown passes in a game this season. Not surprisingly, Charles caught the ball all eight times he was targeted by his quarterback.

Bigger picture; The Chiefs as a team clinched a playoff spot, and became the third team in NFL history to win 11 games a season after winning two or fewer. The 56 points scored is tied for the second-most in Chiefs franchise history, while the 56 points allowed is a new franchise record for the Raiders.

Life without Gronk

December, 9, 2013

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Patriots offense will be much less explosive without Rob Gronkowski

According to ESPN and Media reports, Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL tear after being upended by safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter of yesterday’s game. This is a significant blow to the Patriots, who came back to beat the Browns and secure their 11th consecutive season with at least 10 wins.

What Gronk means to the Pats Offense

The Patriots go back to "life without Gronk" which was not a pretty sight the first time around this season. The Patriots offense ranked among the league's worst the first six weeks of the year when they last played without the tight end.

The Patriots are second in the league in points per game since Gronkowski made his season debut in Week 7, scoring over 11 more points per game than they did in the first six weeks of the season.

They ranked in the top five in most offensive categories with him in the lineup this season.

The Red Zone

The Patriots have also been much more effective in the red zone. The Patriots scored a touchdown on 68.8 percent of their red zone trips this season with Gronkowski on the field. When he was inactive in the first six weeks of the season, New England scored a touchdown on 40.9 percent of red zone possessions.

Since Gronkowski’s forearm injury in Week 11 of last season, he has missed 11 of the Patriots next 20 games (including playoffs) during that span.

Is Brady better with Gronk?

Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, Tom Brady has been significantly more effective with Gronkowski on the field. Through Week 13 of 2013, Brady has a 78.5 Total QBR with Gronkowski on the field. Brady has a 59.0 QBR without Gronk on the field. Brady has thrown 5.1 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the field. That ratio drops to 2.2 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the sideline.

This season, the connection between Brady and Gronkowski was not as strong as their first three years together. From 2010 to 2012, Brady threw only two interceptions to go along with 38 touchdowns when targeting Gronk.

This season, Brady threw four interceptions when targeting Gronk to go along with only only four touchdowns. Brady completed 59.1 percent of his passes to Gronkowski this year after completing 72.2 percent of his passes to Gronkowski in their first three seasons together.