Stats & Info: AFC West

A look at the season through Total QBR

December, 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manning, Dalton have something to prove

December, 22, 2014
Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has struggled in the red zone his last three games.
Both quarterbacks have something to prove on “Monday Night Football” this week (yes, including Peyton Manning).

In the previous three weeks, the only qualified quarterbacks with fewer completions per game than Manning (15.0) are Geno Smith, Zach Mettenberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Manning has completed fewer than 20 passes in three consecutive games for the second time in his career.

Manning is averaging more off-target passes per game (6.7) than in his first 11 games (6.4), despite averaging 15 fewer attempts per game. Manning has been off-target on 27 percent of his throws in that span, the second-highest percentage in the league (Colin Kaepernick, 33 percent).

Red-zone difficulties
The red zone used to be automatic for Manning, who led the league in completion percentage, touchdown passes and Total QBR in the red zone through his first 11 games.

Red-zone weapon Julius Thomas still leads the league with nine red-zone touchdown catches, but he missed three straight games because of injury and was limited last Sunday. Manning has connected on 86.6 percent of red-zone passes to Thomas this season but 67.1 percent to all other receivers.

If Manning is under pressure to improve, imagine how Andy Dalton feels. The Bengals are 0-2 in prime-time games this year, with the third-worst points margin (minus-47) and turnover margin (minus-6) among the 31 teams with a prime-time game (7 ET or later). In non-prime-time games, Cincinnati has a 9-2-1 record with a plus-69 points margin and plus-4 turnover margin.

Day and night
Dalton is the biggest reason for the Bengals’ prime-time struggles. Dalton has a career .694 winning percentage in afternoon games, trailing only Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Alex Smith and Andrew Luck. In that same span, Dalton has a .250 winning percentage in prime time, better than only Christian Ponder (.200) among qualified quarterbacks.

It’s also not just this year. Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have really struggled in prime time. Since Lewis became the head coach in 2003, Cincinnati is 6-15 in prime time (.286 win percentage, 28th in NFL), with a minus-8.4-point margin per game that ranks 30th in the league. Only the Bills (minus-8.9) and Raiders (minus-10) have worse per-game point margins in prime time than the Bengals under Lewis.

Top stats to know: Raiders get 1st win

November, 21, 2014
The streak is over.

The Oakland Raiders snapped their 16-game losing streak with a 24-20 win over a Kansas City Chiefs team that entered with a five-game winning streak.

Murray accomplishes a first
An early spark for the Raiders was a 90-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray. It was the fourth-longest touchdown run in Raiders history, the longest by a Raiders running back since Bo Jackson had a 92-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989.

The Raiders had 114 rushing yards to that point, matching their most in any game this season. They finished the game with 179 yards, an average of 6.0 per carry.

Murray finished with 112 yards on four rushes. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that broke the "record" for most rushing yards in a game by a player with fewer than five rushes. The previous mark of 109 was set by Essex Johnson in 1971.

Murray has led the Raiders in rushing in each of the past two games.

He's had four carries each week (43 rush yards last week, 112 Thursday night).

The Chiefs allowed two rushing touchdowns in this game. They entered the game having allowed none all season. The Raiders entered with an NFL-low two rushing touchdowns all season.

Chiefs couldn't connect downfield
Despite trailing for most of the game, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith did not attempt a pass more than 20 yards downfield.

Smith had three completions of more than 20 yards in the Chiefs' first two games this season. Smith has one such completion in Kansas City's past nine games.

Chiefs' schedule gets tougher
The Chiefs had a chance for a gimme win and couldn't take advantage. Their remaining opponents have a combined .577 winning percentage. Theirs is the fourth-toughest remaining strength of schedule, topped only by the Seattle Seahawks (.683), San Diego Chargers (.623) and Atlanta Falcons (.589).

The Chiefs' two remaining road games are against the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals and 7-4 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Elias Sports Bureau stat of the night: Chiefs can't beat winless teams
Amazingly, the Chiefs fell to 1-4 all-time against teams with a record of 0-10 or worse. They've lost the past four such games they've played, with the other three coming against the 0-11 Chargers in 1975, the 0-10 Oilers in 1984 and the 0-11 Chargers in 2000.


Chiefs: No TD from WR ... and that's OK

November, 14, 2014

AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeAlex Smith hasn't looked downfield to his wide receivers much this season.
You might have noticed that the Kansas City Chiefs are succeeding in an unusual way this season. They’ve somehow managed to win without getting a single touchdown reception from a wide receiver.

Let’s examine this more closely from a statistical perspective.

The lack of WR scores
The Chiefs have no touchdowns from their wide receivers. Every other NFL team has at least three such touchdowns.

The Chiefs have gotten 899 yards from their wide receivers this season. There are four players (Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton and Golden Tate) who have more than that.

No Chiefs wide receiver has gained 100 yards receiving in a game this season. Only three other teams (Rams, Dolphins, Titans) have no 100-yard games from their wide receivers.

Dwayne Bowe has accounted for 55 percent of the Chiefs' wide receiver yards this season, the highest percentage in the NFL. But 31 wide receivers have more yards than Bowe this season.

Why the Chiefs' offense doesn’t need them
Alex Smith’s average pass has traveled 5.6 yards past the line of scrimmage this season, shortest in the NFL (the league average is 8.1 yards).

He has thrown an interception on 1.5 percent of his pass attempts this season. Only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer have been better.

The Chiefs are averaging 135.8 rushing yards per game this season, the fifth most in the NFL.

The Chiefs average 3.4 yards before contact on rushes this season, second best in the NFL.

Jamaal Charles is averaging 7.8 yards per rush in the fourth quarter, the best average in the NFL.

The Chiefs are converting on third down at the third-best percentage (47.8 percent) and converting in the red zone at the fourth-best percentage (69.0 percent).

The Chiefs' defense makes up for it
One reason the Chiefs have been able to get away without their wide receivers contributing scores -- their defense has put them in position to win regardless.

Chiefs opponents are scoring 16.8 points per game this season, second best in the NFL.

The Chiefs have recorded a sack on 8.2 percent of dropbacks, the third-best rate in the NFL.

The Chiefs are allowing touchdowns on 42.3 percent of red zone trips this season, the second-best rate in the NFL.

The Chiefs have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Every other NFL team has allowed at least four.

Top stats to know: Patriots 43, Broncos 21

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

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

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

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

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

Brady has won 42 straight home starts against AFC teams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: Patriots at Chiefs

September, 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl rematch hinges on receivers

September, 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: Packers at Seahawks

September, 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats to know: Welker suspension impact

September, 2, 2014
The Denver Broncos will be without wide receiver Wes Welker for the first four games of the season after he received a league suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on amphetamine use.

How will this impact the Broncos? Here are a few of the statistical storylines related to this news.

Passing-game impact
With Eric Decker having signed with the New York Jets and Welker suspended, the Broncos will be without two players who combined for 160 of the 268 passes caught by Broncos wide receivers last season.

Welker will be missed in the slot. He led the NFL with 89 targets out of the slot last season, ranked third in receptions with 57, second in receiving yards with 688 and tied for second in receiving touchdowns out of the slot with seven.

Welker tied for eighth in the NFL in total times targeted over the past two seasons, despite missing three games in that span.

The Broncos were forced to adjust their game plan when Welker was out those last three games in 2013.

Denver passed on 64 percent of its plays and averaged 6.8 yards per play when Welker was on the field. When he was not on the field, the Broncos passed 53 percent of the time and averaged 5.4 yards per play.

Emmanuel Sanders could be the Broncos' replacement in the slot. Sanders lined up in the slot for only 104 snaps in 2013, which was 76th among all wide receivers.

But the Broncos survived without him
The Broncos averaged 30.3 points, 336.0 passing yards and 6.5 yards per play in the three games Welker missed last season.
Each of those ranked best in the NFL.

Broncos' first four won’t be easy
The Broncos' first four opponents this season are the Colts, Chiefs, Seahawks and (following a week off) the Cardinals.

Each of those four teams won at least 10 games last season. Their combined 2013 winning percentage is .703, the toughest first four games for any NFL team this season.

The Broncos do have the advantage of being at home for three of those four games.

Welker caught 48 passes for eight touchdowns in seven home games last season and had 25 catches with two touchdown receptions in six road games.


Top stats to know: 2014 Denver Broncos

July, 24, 2014
SportsCenter will be in the Denver Broncos camp on Thursday to visit with the AFC champs. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. The Broncos will attempt to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years: win a Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. The last team to accomplish that was the 1972 Dolphins, who beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete a perfect season after losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

2. Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver two seasons ago, the Broncos have the best regular-season record in the NFL (26-6). They will look to win a fourth straight division title for the first time in franchise history, and will also attempt to become the first AFC West team to win a Super Bowl since 1998.

3. Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes last season, and with 18 more this season will pass Brett Favre (508) for the most in NFL history. Manning threw more touchdown passes in 2013 than each of the other 31 teams scored total touchdowns last season.

What made Manning so effective last season was that he threw the ball effectively to all areas of the field, as this image below shows.

4. The Broncos lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the Jets in free agency. Decker was the Broncos’ most effective deep threat last season, leading the team with 24 receptions and 6 touchdowns on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield. Only A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson had more touchdown catches on such throws last season.

5. The team drafted Cody Latimer and signed Emmanuel Sanders to help replace Decker, but more responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Demaryius Thomas. He was second in the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions last season and the team is currently negotiating with him on a long-term contract extension, since he is an unrestricted free agent after 2014.

6. Montee Ball is currently listed as the top running back on the depth chart, replacing Knowshon Moreno, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Ball averaged 2.55 yards after contact per rush in the team’s last eight games in 2013, the fourth most in the NFL during that span. Ball also had more rushing touchdowns (3) than Moreno (2) during that span despite having half the number of rushes.

7. Along with a returning Von Miller, the Broncos made some big acquisitions on the defensive side. Perhaps the biggest is DE DeMarcus Ware, whose 63.5 sacks in the last five seasons are second in the NFL behind Jared Allen. Miller and Ware each had at least 35 sacks from 2011 to 2013, meaning (via the Elias Sports Bureau) the Broncos will be the third team since 2000 to have two players that each had 35 sacks in the previous three years.

8. The Broncos also acquired cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Talib has 19 interceptions in the last five seasons, tied for seventh in the NFL since 2009. Ward had 112 tackles last season, second most on the Browns and 40 more than any Broncos defensive back.

9. The Broncos particularly needed help in the secondary. They had the 27th-ranked pass defense last season (254.4 yards per game) and allowed 58 completions on balls thrown at least 15 yards downfield, tied for the fourth most in the NFL.

10. The Broncos open up the season with three straight games against 2013 playoff teams: home games against the Colts and Chiefs followed by a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle in Week 3. The Broncos' five scheduled prime-time games are tied for the most in the league.

NFL free agency: Numerical needs (AFC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All eyes on Watkins at Clemson Pro Day

March, 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks dominate with all-around effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key: Broncos protection vs. Seahawks rush

January, 30, 2014

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos' wide receivers will have their hands full with the Seattle Seahawks' secondary in Super Bowl XLVIII, as detailed here .

As good as the Seahawks’ secondary has been, the pass rush is just as crucial for the NFL’s top defense. How they are able to disrupt Manning will be another key matchup to watch Sunday.

No pressure on Manning
In the NFL this season, quarterbacks were sacked or put under duress (Duress is defined as when the quarterback is forced to scramble, move or alter a throw due to defensive pressure) on 26 percent of their dropbacks. Manning was pressured on a league-low 14 percent of his dropbacks this season.

Manning has yet to be sacked this postseason and he’s been under duress on only five of his 79 dropbacks (6 percent).

Manning had the best completion percentage under duress this season, but the pressure still affects his play, making his protection so important.

A lot of the credit goes to the Broncos’ offensive line. The five-man unit of Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin have been on field together for 80 percent of the Broncos’ snaps this season (1,031 total), including every postseason snap.

Manning also gets credit for the lack of pressure. On average, Manning has held onto the ball for 2.34 seconds from snap to pass this season. Only Andy Dalton and Chad Henne (each at 2.29 seconds) had quicker times.

Getting pressure with four
The Seahawks defense has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 32 percent of dropbacks this season, best in the NFL.

The Seahawks have been able to get pressure even when relying heavily on a four-man pass rush. During the regular season the Seahawks sent four or fewer pass rushers 73 percent of the time, eighth highest in the NFL. This postseason, the Seahawks have done so on all but three dropbacks (96 percent).

One of the keys as to why the Seahawks’ pass rush has been so successful is a strong defensive line rotation. Seven defensive lineman have played at least 500 snaps for the Seahawks this season, and none have played more than 58 percent of the team’s snaps.

Who has the upper hand?
The Seahawks have generated pressure on at least 21 percent of dropbacks in every game this season, something that Manning has had happen only four times (2-2 in those games).

The key to getting or preventing pressure in the game could be time.

Although Manning has a quick release, Seahawks’ opponents have held the ball for 2.77 seconds from snap to pass this season, fourth longest in the NFL.

However, if the Broncos are able to sustain long drives, then Manning’s no-huddle style of offense could fatigue the Seahawks’ pass rushers.

The Broncos have averaged 8.8 plays per drive this postseason, up from 5.7 in the regular season, and have recorded a first down on all but one of their 16 postseason drives (Julius Thomas fumbled after gaining first-down yardage on the drive).