Stats & Info: Denver Broncos

Top stats to know: 2014 Denver Broncos

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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.

Contenders build off strengths on Day 2

May, 9, 2014
May 9
Quarterbacks highlighted the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and early on in Round 2 the Raiders made a splash at quarterback as well.

The Raiders selected Derek Carr 36th overall Friday, months after sending a sixth-round pick to the Texans in exchange for Matt Schaub.

The Raiders using multiple draft picks on quarterbacks shouldn’t come as a surprise. Three of the Raiders selections in 2012 were sacrificed in various moves to acquire three different quarterbacks (Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn).

The rest of Friday’s action was most notable for playoff contenders building off strengths and teams making some interesting pairings.

The rich get richer

WR Jordan Matthews – 42nd overall, Eagles
WR Davante Adams – 52nd overall, Packers
WR Cody Latimer – 56th overall, Broncos

Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning each finished in the top six in Total QBR last season. All three lost a wide receiver in the offseason, and now all three have a new one to work with.

Matthews joins an Eagles team that led the NFL with 569 yards off screen passes last season. Last year at Vanderbilt, Matthews made 44 receptions off screen passes, tied for most among AQ-receivers (Sammy Watkins).

Adams’s specialty is yards after catch. His 888 YAC was second in the FBS to Watkins last season. He should fit in well with a Packers team that ranked third in yards after the catch in the NFL last season.

Latimer should prove to be a reliable target for Manning. Last season at Indiana, Latimer dropped only one pass on 119 targets.

RB Carlos Hyde – 57th overall, 49ers

The 49ers drafted a running back for the sixth straight draft, and for the ninth time in the last 10 drafts.

Hyde fits the downhill rushing mold for the 49ers. Hyde averaged 7.3 yards per rush last season at Ohio State, with 3.1 coming after first contact. Hyde gained at least one yard on all but 12 of his 208 rushes last season.

DE Kony Ealy – 60th overall, Panthers

The Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks last season and drafted one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the SEC last season. Defensive end Ealy pressured the quarterback 35 times last season, most in conference.

Dynamic duos

WR Marqise Lee and WR Allen Robinson – Jaguars

The Jaguars took two wide receivers in the second round Friday night. The last team to take two wide receivers in the second round was the 2008 Redskins (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas).

Lee and Robinson will join first-round quarterback Blake Bortles. They were two of seven receivers in AQ-conferences to gain 1,000 yards after the catch the past two seasons.

OT Greg Robinson and RB Tre Mason – Rams

Robinson went second overall in the first round, but Mason was selected 75th overall in the third round. The duo helped Auburn lead the FBS in rushing last season. Mason averaged 6.5 yards per rush running behind Robinson last season.

LB Ryan Shazier and DE Stephon Tuitt – Steelers

The Steelers ranked 21st in yards per rush allowed last season and ranked 25th in sacks. To fix that, the Steelers used their first two picks on front seven defenders.

Shazier was a first round selection that should help the rush defense. He was the only player in the FBS with 20 tackles for loss and 100 total tackles.

Tuitt should help the pass rush. He had 21.5 sacks in 35 career games at Notre Dame, and his 12 sacks in 2012 were second most in school history.

WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Buccaneers

Evans measured in at 6’5". Seferian-Jenkins measured in at 6’5". They will join Vincent Jackson, who also stands 6’5". Only one team – the Lions – had at least three players that tall making 20 receptions each.

Free agency after one month

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11

Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers will all be in new cities come the fall.
It has been one month since the beginning of NFL free agency and there has been no shortage of excitement.

Some of the game’s top defensive players have packed their bags, while the Denver Broncos have looked to bolster a defense that was exposed in the Super Bowl.

Here is a look at some of the major free agency headlines so far:

Broncos back at it
The Broncos were among the most active teams in the first few days of free agency.

DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward and Will Montgomery will all wear orange and blue in the fall. Denver is trying to become the third team in NFL history to lose the Super Bowl and then win the game in the following season (Cowboys in Super Bowl VI and Dolphins in Super Bowl VII).

But that effort has not been cheap.

The Broncos have spent more than $65 million in guaranteed money this offseason – second only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Denver seems to be following a similar script to its 2013 offseason, when the team signed five players in the first month of free agency, including Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

While the Broncos have added some notable players, they have also lost some big names. On the offensive side of the ball, Denver will have to replace Zane Beadles, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno. On defense, the Broncos will look to make up for the loss of Champ Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie, among others.

Bucs spend big
The Buccaneers have added 15 free agents – the most of any team – so it is no surprise that the effort has been costly.

They’ve spent more than $70 million in guaranteed money in the first month of free agency, including re-signings.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, spending money early in free agency does not necessarily mean the future is bright. Four teams spent at least $50 million in the first month of free agency last season (Lions, Dolphins, Colts, Cowboys) and the Colts were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs in 2013.

Show them the money
In terms of contracts that have been reported, five of the six players to get at least $20 million in guaranteed money were defensive players.

The Saints gave safety Jarius Byrd $26.3 million – the most guaranteed money during the first month of free agency among reported contracts. The next highest was Branden Albert, Aqib Talib, Michael Johnson, DeMarcus Ware and then Vontae Davis (re-signed with team).

Pass rushers swap teams
Since the start of the 2010 season, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers have the first and third-most sacks among NFL North players.

Those two defensive ends changed teams within the division in the first month of free agency. Allen went from the Vikings to the Bears, while Peppers signed with the Packers after being released by Chicago.

Allen and Peppers rank in the top three in sacks among active players and Allen has 10 more sacks in his career, despite playing two fewer seasons.

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3

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
Feb 2
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.

Everything to know for Super Bowl XLVIII

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
Here's a look back at the Stats and Info Blog's coverage leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. Follow the links for the full stories.

Top Stats To Know
Want to impress your friends at the Super Bowl party with fun historical nuggets and notes about the matchup? Then click here for all you need to know about Super Bowl XLVIII.

The QB Matchup
What’s the difference between Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning? Other than 226 games, 151 wins, 63,908 yards and 471 touchdown passes (including the playoffs)?

The Super Bowl pits two quarterbacks as statistically different as possible against each other. We look at how Wilson and Manning play the same position in very different ways.

Key Matchup: Marshawn Lynch vs Broncos Defense
Marshawn Lynch
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has played in six career postseason games, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in four of them. The Broncos have allowed only one 100-yard rushing game by a player all season (Ryan Mathews, Week 15).

Both Lynch and the Broncos’ rush defense are peaking in the postseason, making this matchup one of the most important to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Cold Weather a Problem for Manning?
The current kickoff forecast for Super Bowl XLVIII calls for temperature of 40 degrees and dropping throughout the game, which could pose a problem for Manning.

Manning has a career record of 8-11 playing outdoors with the temperature below 40 degrees, with 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He’s 1-2 this season with losses to the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers in night games and a win over the Tennessee Titans in an afternoon contest.

Matchup to Watch: Seahawks Secondary vs Manning
Peyton Manning
Manning threw for more touchdowns and yards than any quarterback in NFL history this season. The Seahawks were the first team to lead the league in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways since the 1985 Chicago Bears.

How Manning and his receivers navigate the stingy Seahawks’ secondary is just one of the key matchups to watch between the Broncos' offense and Seahawks’ defense in the Super Bowl.

Broncos Offensive Line vs Seahawks Rush
Manning was pressured on a league-low 14 percent of his dropbacks this season. He had the best completion percentage under duress this season, but the pressure still affects his play, making his protection so important.

The Seahawks defense has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 32 percent of dropbacks this season, best in the NFL. How they are able to disrupt Manning will be another key matchup to watch Sunday.

Key: Broncos protection vs. Seahawks rush

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30

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).

Key matchup: Manning vs. the secondary

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
Peyton Manning threw for more touchdowns and yards than any quarterback in NFL history this season. The Seattle Seahawks were the first team to lead the league in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways since the 1985 Chicago Bears.

How Manning and his receivers navigate the stingy Seahawks’ secondary is just one of the key matchups to watch between the Denver Broncos' offense and Seahawks’ defense in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Richard Sherman owns the right side
Sherman has lined up on the offense’s right side on 98 percent of his snaps this season and confirmed at media day he will face whoever lines up on his side.

None of the Broncos’ top three wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker) lined up on the right for more than 52 percent of their snaps, and Manning might be wise to limit his attempts to them when they do line up on that side of the field.

As seen in the chart, the Seahawks allowed only 53.6 percent of passes thrown to the right side of the field to be completed this season, second best in the NFL. Their completion percentage allowed over the middle ranks 25th while the left ranks 12th.

Manning has completed 64 percent of his passes to the right side of the field this season, compared to 72 percent to the left or middle.

Beat the press
The Seahawks showed press coverage on 41 percent of the pass routes run by players split out wide this season, third highest in the NFL. Press coverage is defined as a defensive back lining up within about 1.5 yards of the line of scrimmage directly across a receiver.

When opponents targeted a receiver that started the play facing press coverage, the Seahawks allowed a 47 percent completion percentage and a minus-10 TD-Int differential. When not facing press coverage, receivers caught 65 percent of their targets with a plus-1 TD-Int differential.

Manning has targeted his top three wide receivers almost equally this season when facing press coverage (204 attempts) and not facing press coverage (225 attempts), but Welker is the only one who isn’t greatly affected by a defender in his face pre-snap.

Manning could look to Julius Thomas more if the press proves a problem. Manning completed 74 percent of his passes to the tight end this season.

However, the Seahawks have also been able to limit top tight ends. Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis combined for six games against the Seahawks this season. They finished with 14 receptions on 30 targets and 136 yards in those games.

Yards after catch
What the Broncos do after the catch could be as important as making the catch. The Broncos finished the regular season with the most yards after catch and boast the individual league leader from each of the past three seasons (Demaryius Thomas in 2013, Wes Welker in 2011 and 2012).

The Broncos averaged fewer than 5.0 yards after the catch in all three of their losses this season (eight times total). The Seahawks allowed the fewest yards after the catch this season, limiting opponents to 4.1 on average.

Cold weather usually an issue for Manning

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29

Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning will likely need to bundle up on Sunday.
The current kickoff forecast for Super Bowl XLVIII is for temperatures in the mid-30s, which could pose a problem for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Manning has a career record of 8-11 playing outdoors with the temperature below 40 degrees, with 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He’s 1-2 this season with losses to the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers in night games and a win over the Titans in an afternoon contest.

Manning has a record of 85-35 outdoors when the temperature is 40 degrees or above, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 2-to-1.

Though Manning’s performance outdoors does drop off when the temperature falls, his numbers are on par with the NFL average of the past 10 seasons. His 62 percent completion percentage is better than average (58 percent) and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is a match (1.3).

This is the third time in his career Manning will be playing outdoors in the playoffs against the No. 1 scoring defense from the regular season. He's struggled in the previous two games (the 2003 AFC Championship Game and the 2006 AFC divisional round), completing less than half of his pass attempts, with one touchdown and six interceptions.

Russell Wilson has played only one game in which the kickoff temperature was below 40 degrees -- a Week 15 win against the New York Giants, when the game-time temperature was 36 degrees. Wilson was 18-for-27 for 206 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

Also of note: Both Manning and Wilson performed well in the wind this season. In their three windiest games of the season, the two combined to throw 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Likeliest scenario
What can Manning and Wilson expect weather-wise?

New Jersey’s official climatologist, David Robinson, and his research team established, a website that contains historical weather data dating to Feb. 2, 1931.

He found the average temperature at the projected kickoff time is 34 degrees, with a 57 percent chance that the temperature will drop below freezing during the game.

Matchup to watch: Lynch vs. Broncos' D

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has played in six career postseason games, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in four of them. The Denver Broncos have allowed only one 100-yard rushing game by a player all season (Ryan Mathews, Week 15).

Both Lynch and the Broncos’ rush defense are peaking in the postseason, making the matchup one of the most important to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

What Lynch does well
Lynch has averaged 93.3 rush yards per game in the postseason throughout his career, same as Emmitt Smith. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of all the players who have played five postseason games, only three have averaged more rush yards than Lynch.

As evidenced by his beastly 67-yard touchdown run in 2010 against the Saints, Lynch’s greatest strength is his strength.

Lynch gained 66 of his 307 career postseason rush yards after contact on that play alone. His average of 2.8 yards per rush after contact is the best of any player with at least 25 postseason rushes since 2010.

The Seahawks like to run Lynch inside, as 80 percent of his rushes as a Seahawk have been between the tackles. Lynch is averaging 5.7 yards on those runs this postseason after averaging 4.1 yards in the regular season.

What the Broncos do well
The Broncos have made it a habit this postseason to shut down the run game. The San Diego Chargers were held to 65 rush yards a week after gaining 196 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The New England Patriots were held to 64 yards a week after gaining 234 against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos' biggest strengths in stopping the run happen to be Lynch’s strengths as well.

Including the playoffs, the Broncos have allowed 1.4 yards per rush after first contact, fifth best in the NFL this season. The Broncos have allowed 30 yards after contact to only three running backs this season (Ryan Mathews twice, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew), a mark Lynch has hit 11 times this season.

The Broncos are also at their toughest between the tackles, in large part due to defensive tackle Terrance Knighton .

The Broncos have allowed 3.7 yards per rush between the tackles this season (including the playoffs), tied for second best in the NFL. With Knighton on the field, that number dips to 2.9 yards. With Knighton off the field, it jumps to 4.7.

Who has the upper hand?
The Broncos finished the regular season in the top 10 of yards per rush allowed (10th), as did all three of the Seahawks’ divisional foes.

Lynch failed to gain 100 rush yards in any of his six regular-season games against division opponents, averaging 3.8 yards per rush, with 1.8 coming after first contact. Against the rest of the NFL, Lynch averaged 4.4 yards overall and 2.0 after contact.

But as the San Francisco 49ers can attest, stopping Lynch in the playoffs is easier said than done. Lynch rushed for 109 yards in the NFC Championship Game, with 41 coming after first contact (1.9 per rush). Lynch gained 43 yards after contact at 0.9 per rush in the regular season versus the 49ers.

Matchups to watch: Manning vs Wilson

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24

John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and Russell Wilson shook hands this preseason, not knowing they'd meet again.
What’s the difference between Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning? Other than 226 games, 151 wins, 63,908 yards and 471 touchdown passes (including the playoffs)...

Manning is the Denver Broncos offense, and he’s compensated as such: his $17.5 million cap hit is approximately 25 times as much as Wilson's ($681,085). Passing yards account for 74 percent of Denver’s yards from scrimmage, fourth highest in the league, while only the Bills, 49ers and Jets gained a lower percentage of yards through the air than Seattle.

The Super Bowl pits two quarterbacks as statistically different as possible against each other. Here’s a look at how Wilson and Manning play the same position in very different ways.

The two Super Bowl offenses are timed very differently. Peyton Manning’s average pass takes 2.34 seconds from snap to release, almost a half-second quicker than Russell Wilson (2.82).

Including scrambles and sacks, Wilson’s average time in pocket is 3.18 seconds, well ahead of Manning’s 2.37-second average.

Manning’s average throw is shorter and released quicker than Wilson’s average, leaving more of Manning’s offense to be gained after the catch.

Denver receivers gained a league-high 2,583 yards after catch this season, 1,054 more than Seahawks receivers this year. Denver posted 82 completions this season with at least 10 yards after catch, most in the league and 31 more than the Seahawks (51, T-8th-fewest in NFL).

One reason Wilson’s time before pass is so high is his tendency to extend plays outside the pocket. Wilson had a league-high 91 attempts outside the pocket this season, compared to Manning’s 19 (four of which were throwaways).

Manning was never known for his mobility, but he didn’t even attempt a scramble this season. Fifty-five players had at least one scramble, including Manning’s backup Brock Osweiler. Wilson’s 51 scrambles for 434 yards and 23 first downs led the league this season.

One undesired side effect of Wilson’s style of play is his sack frequency. Wilson was sacked 44 times this season, third-most in the league and second-most among Super Bowl quarterbacks in the last 10 years (2008: Ben Roethlisberger, 46).

Manning (2.7 percent) was the only quarterback sacked on fewer than 3.5 percent of dropbacks. Manning’s 18 sacks were the fewest of any quarterback who appeared in at least 10 games, and his total was one fewer than Wilson’s total over the five-game stretch from Weeks 4-8 this season.

No one was blitzed more this season than Wilson, and no one saw fewer blitzes than Manning. Manning’s reputation is deservedly strong when handling extra pass rushers, but Wilson’s performance against added pressure didn’t justify the aggressive approach he faced.

Wilson’s Total QBR against the blitz was the fifth best in the league among qualified quarterbacks and easily the best among the most-blitzed quarterbacks in the league. The rest of the top-10 combined for a 47.3 Total QBR against the blitz, and from that group only Cam Newton (68.6) was within 15 points of Wilson’s 76.1.

Passing deep
One area the two are similar is deep passing. Manning completed 48.1 percent of attempts at least 20 yards downfield, averaging 16.5 yards per attempt (both best among 23 players with at least 40 attempts). Wilson wasn’t far behind, ranking third in yards per attempt (15.2) and second in completion percentage (44.4 percent) on those throws.

Manning’s deep ball was heavily scrutinized this season, but not necessarily with good reason. Thirty-five of Manning’s 79 attempts at least 20 yards downfield were off-target or broken up (44 percent), tied for his lowest percentage in a season since 2006.

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.

Top stats to know: Super Bowl matchup

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
What are the top stats to know on the Super Bowl matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos?

Best of the best
This will be the fifth time since the AFL and NFL merged that the league’s top-scoring offense played the top-scoring defense in the Super Bowl, the first since the Buffalo Bills(top offense) and New York Giants(top defense) met to close the 1990 season.

The top defensive team has won three of the previous four matchups. The lone win by the top-scoring team in those games was by the 1989 San Francisco 49ers against the Broncos.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this will be the second Super Bowl since the merger featuring the No. 1 total offense (yards gained) versus the No. 1 total defense (yards allowed). The first was Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 1 in yards allowed) beat the Oakland Raiders (No. 1 in yards gained).

This is the 19th time that a regular-season scoring champ has reached the Super Bowl. The previous 18 teams were 10-8 in the title game

This is the 16th time that the defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL has made the Super Bowl since the merger. The previous 15 teams went 12-3 in those Super Bowls.

This is the second Super Bowl between No. 1 seeds in last 20 seasons. The other was Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts following 2009 season. The Saints won that game, 31-17.

The quarterbacks
Peyton Manning is the fourth quarterback to reach the Super Bowl after leading the NFL in both passing yardage and touchdown passes. The other three- Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady- all lost in that Super Bowl appearance.

Manning will also try to be the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl for two different teams.

Russell Wilson will be the sixth quarterback to start in a Super Bowl in either his first or second season in the league. The previous five went 3-2, with wins by Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.

The NFC West will get a chance to snap a four game losing streak in the Super Bowl, with each of the division's four teams losing in their last trip to the big game.

This will be the third Super Bowl between two teams located in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. San Francisco won the two previous such games in blowouts. Whoever wins will be the first Super Bowl-winning team from outside the Eastern/Central time zones since the 1998 Broncos.

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.

In playoffs, it's all about defense (not QBs)

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
Much of the focus heading into Sunday’s Conference Championship games will be on the quarterback play, particularly with future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning facing off for the fourth time in their postseason careers.

But if recent playoff history is any indication, it’s not the quarterbacks who will have the most impact on which teams get a trip to MetLife Stadium, but rather the defenses’ ability to stop those quarterbacks that will make a bigger difference.

Just looking at the past few Super Bowl champions, quarterbacks who rated outside the top half of the league in Total QBR through the Divisional Playoffs have led their teams to championships, including Eli Manning in the 2007 season, Ben Roethlisberger in 2008 and Joe Flacco just last year.

What those quarterbacks had in common was a defense on the other side that could control opposing quarterbacks, each ranking in the top quarter of the league in terms of QBR allowed. Even the recent Packers and Saints title teams, which had elite quarterbacks, paired them with Top-3 defenses in terms of opponents' QBR.

An examination of all playoff games back to 2006 (as far back as QBR goes) shows that although quarterback play seems to carry over from game to game in the regular season, that correlation decreases in the postseason.

And conversely, the ability of a team to contain opposing quarterbacks seems to have a greater impact on how quarterbacks perform – and as a consequence, who wins – in the playoffs.

The details of our study
This analysis looked at how two components entering each game – the quarterback’s QBR for the season and the defense’s QBR allowed on the season to that point – related to the quarterback’s Total QBR in the game as well as the final result.

To ensure each of those numbers were representative, the only games analyzed were those in which both the quarterback and the defense had at least 100 action plays entering the game, and in which the quarterback had at least 15 action plays within the game.

The first graph below shows how well a quarterback’s QBR entering a game does in terms of “predicting” QBR within that game, with separate trend lines for regular season and playoff games.

The regular-season trend shows a decent amount of regression to the mean, as quarterbacks with extreme QBRs entering the game have less extreme performances, on average.

But the general trend of good quarterbacks having above-average games and bad quarterbacks having below-average ones is clearly present with the upward trending line.

On the other hand, the trend line for the playoffs is pretty wacky. This is what happens when quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco have games of 90 or higher QBR, and Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan each post games with a QBR less than 20.

Now, contrast that picture with the one below, which looks at how strongly the opponent’s QBR allowed entering the game influences the quarterback’s play in the game.

The regular season trend is almost flat, showing that defensive quality has minimal impact on how well a quarterback plays in those games.

But look at the postseason trend – while clearly not perfect, there seems to be a stronger impact on QBR by defense entering the game in the playoffs. The elite defenses mentioned above flexed their muscles in the postseason, limiting opposing quarterbacks as they had earlier on in the season.

A more rigorous analysis using multiple regression shows that the quarterback’s QBR entering the game is still significant in the postseason, but the defense’s QBR allowed becomes more predictive in the postseason. The small sample size of the postseason means that this pattern might be due to random fluctuation, but the trend is still something worth keeping an eye on.

We can go one step further and look at how impactful these pregame QBR values are in terms of actually winning the game. A look at the chart below shows that the pattern is similar to that with the actual QBR in the game.

Having a starting QB with a better QBR entering the game gives you a solid chance to win in the regular season, but the team with that advantage is just 44-40 in the postseason since 2006. Conversely, teams that have a better QBR defense than the opponent are 51-33 in those same playoff games, including 6-2 so far this postseason.

Looking ahead to this weekend, perhaps we can de-emphasize Peyton Manning’s 22-point advantage over Brady in QBR and instead focus on the defenses that they line up against.

As it works out, though, the Patriots and Broncos have very similar, mediocre opponent QBR values to this point: 48.3 for Denver, 50.5 for New England. So there isn’t any clear advantage there.

In this regard, the more interesting matchup is out in Seattle. Both defenses in the 49ers-Seahawks game rank in the top five in terms of QBR allowed, but the Seahawks are ahead of all other NFL teams at 29.5.

In each of their past seven games, the Seahawks have limited the opposing quarterback to a QBR at least 20 points below what he came in averaging entering the game, including their last meeting against Colin Kaepernick in Week 14.

If the Seahawks can keep up their own trend of shutting down opposing quarterbacks and the similar bigger-picture pattern that has emerged over the last several postseasons, they should give themselves a good chance to win this weekend.

And even though the road would go through Brady or Manning, the trend of strong defense carrying over more in the playoffs gives Seattle a pretty good chance of taking home the Lombardi Trophy in early February.