Stats & Info: Seattle Seahawks

The stats behind the ESPY candidates

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
Adam Pretty/Getty ImagesThis is what they hope to win.
With the ESPY Awards almost upon us, let's take a look at three of the top categories to provide statistical insight into who may walk away with the trophy as Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete and Best Team.

Best Male Athlete
Miguel Cabrera – MLB
Cabrera led the majors in batting average (.348) and finished second in home runs (44) and runs batted in (137). His 9.0 offensive wins above replacement was second in MLB. Cabrera became the first player to win consecutive MVP awards in the AL since Frank Thomas in 1993-94 and just the seventh man in AL history.

Kevin Durant – NBA
Durant was the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to lead the NBA in points per game (32.0), player efficiency rating (29.9) and win shares (19.2). Durant also made history this season by becoming the fourth player to average at least 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, joining Hall of Fame players Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

Peyton Manning – NFL
Manning set the NFL single-season records for passing TDs (55) and passing yards (5,477). Manning had a Total QBR of 95.8 in the red zone as well as an overall Total QBR of 82.9, which ranked second in the league. Manning was spectacular in his first two playoff games, putting up QBR numbers of 91.1 and 88.8 to get to his second Super Bowl.

Floyd Mayweather – Boxing
Mayweather defeated Saul “Canelo” Álvarez by landing almost double the punches (232 to 117) en route to a majority decision victory. That fight also set the record for largest gate in Nevada State Boxing history at over $20 million. Mayweather then defeated Marcos Maidana by majority decision in May. Mayweather landed 54 percent of total punches and 65 percent of power punches. He earned $105 million for the two fights.

Best Female Athlete
Maya Moore – WNBA
Moore was named the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP for the Minnesota Lynx, averaging 20 points per game in a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream. Moore was the top three-point shooter in the regular season at 45.3 percent and scored 18.8 points per game, third in the league.

Ronda Rousey – MMA
Rousey moved her MMA record to 10-0 over the past year, recording the first two knockouts of her career in wins over Sara McMann and Alexis Davis. In December, Rousey won her eighth fight by armbar when she defeated Miesha Tate at UFC 168. In her last three fights, Rousey has landed 77 percent of her takedowns.

Mikaela Shiffrin – Alpine Skiing
Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom gold medalist when she won in Sochi at age 18. She ended the 2014 season as the reigning Olympic, World Cup and world champion in slalom. In the 2014 season, Shiffrin won five times and had six podiums in slalom.

Breanna Stewart – WCBB
Stewart led the UConn women’s basketball team to their second national title in a row and in doing so won her second consecutive Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. Stewart led the team in points per game (19.4) and rebounds per game (8.1) and in the national title game scored 21 points (18 in the paint) to lead the Huskies.

Best Team
Boston Red Sox – MLB
The Boston Red Sox won their third World Series in 10 years by leading the majors in runs scored, slugging and OPS. David Ortiz led the charge for the Red Sox, hitting .688 (11-for-16) with two home runs and six RBIs in the World Series while Jon Lester went 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA.

Los Angeles Kings – NHL
The Los Angeles won their second Stanley Cup in three years with Jonathan Quick in net. Quick won 43 games (regular season and playoffs) and posted a 2.07 GAA (fifth-lowest). In the playoffs, Justin Williams took home the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP, scoring nine goals with 16 assists, including the OT winner in Game 1. The Kings had a plus-17 goal differential in the 3rd period/OT (plus-1 in first two periods).

San Antonio Spurs – NBA
The San Antonio Spurs were sixth in both points per game (105.4) and fewest points allowed (97.6) which helped them lead the NBA in wins with 62. The Spurs set the NBA Finals record in the three-point era (since 1979-80) for effective field goal percentage (60.4 percent) and offensive rating (118.5). Tim Duncan became the all-time leader in playoff double-doubles, but Kawhi Leonard was the star. Leonard averaged 17.8 points on 61 percent shooting in the Finals, becoming the second-youngest Finals MVP.

Seattle Seahawks – NFL
The Seattle Seahawks defense ranked first in points per game allowed, receiving yards allowed and total yards allowed. In the Super Bowl, the Seahawks shut the Broncos high-scoring offense down, winning by 35 points which was the third-largest win in Super Bowl history. Russell Wilson threw 26 touchdowns in the regular season and in the Super Bowl put up a Total QBR of 88.1. Richard Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions and caused the interception that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

UConn Women’s Basketball – WCBB
The Connecticut Huskies are one of eight teams to finish the season undefeated after their 40-0 season. The Huskies finished the season outscoring opponents by 34.3 points per game while holding opponents to just 47.8 points per game. Along with Breanna Stewart, Bria Hartley was second on the team with 16.2 points per game and center Stephanie Dolson scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Huskies national title win over Notre Dame.

Florida State Football – CFB
Florida State won the national championship and completed at 14-0 undefeated season by averaging 51.6 points per game. On defense, FSU led college football in both interceptions (26) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (5). Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had an 88.5 adjusted QBR and threw for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the national title game to Kelvin Benjamin, who was second on the team in receiving yards (1,011) and led the team with 15 touchdowns.

Are the Pacers the Seahawks of the NBA?

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

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

Years in the making

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

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

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

The Seahawks were built in a similar fasion.

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

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

Cheap star power

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

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

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

Win with defense

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

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

Looking ahead

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

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

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

Doug Clawson contributed to this post.

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014
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: Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
The Seattle Seahawks had the top defense in the NFL during the regular season.

That unit came through when it was most needed as the Seahawks edged the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Seahawks advance to face the Denver Broncos in what will be the Super Bowl's first matchup of the top offensive team against the top defensive team since the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants in the 1990 season.

Seattle overcame a 10-point deficit to win. The Seahawks won all three games this season in which they trailed by 10 or more points.

Play of the Game- Smith’s interception
Seahwaks defensive back Malcolm Smith did not have an interception until Week 16. Heha s now had three in his past four games.

This one, which thwarted the 49ers' potential game-winning drive, came after Richard Sherman tipped away a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone.

It was only the second time in the past two seasons that Kaepernick was intercepted on a pass intended for Crabtree.

Marshawn Lynch rushed for 109 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run. This was the fourth time in his Seahawks career that he rushed for at least 100 yards in a playoff game. All other Seahawks have combined for four such games.

Lynch had 107 of those yards rushing between the tackles, the most by any player against the 49ers in the past five seasons.

Lynch has the top three rushing touchdowns by distance in Seahawks postseason history. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that his four postseason rushing touchdowns of 25 yards or more are twice as many as anyone else.

Baldwin for the win
Doug Baldwin finished with 106 receiving yards, the second-most he has had in any game in his career. He also had three kickoff returns for 109 yards, including a 69-yarder that set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka. Baldwin had returned only three kicks for the Seahawks all season prior to Sunday.

Containing Kaepernick
Kaepernick had a 58-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but did not scramble much after that. Kaepernick had only three second-half rushes after running eight times in the first half.

Kaepernick also finished 2-for-9 for 33 yards and two interceptions on throws outside the painted numbers, including the 49ers' final play of the season.

Kaepernick threw multiple interceptions in a game for the second time this season. The other instance was a three-interception game against the Seahawks in Week 2.

Who has it better: 49ers or Seahawks D?

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17

Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesThe offenses will have to work for every yard in Sunday's matchup.
On Thursday we took a look at the remaining NFC offenses and broke down who has it better at each offensive skill position group.

Today we look at the defenses of the Seahawks and 49ers to see who has the advantage at each level.

The Seahawks signed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in the offseason. They contributed with 8 and 8.5 sacks respectively. In the previous 10 seasons, Seahawks defensive ends reached eight sacks in a season three times, and never in the same season.

Seahawks defensive linemen did more than sack opposing quarterbacks. They accounted for 39 disrupted dropbacks (sacks + interceptions + batted/defended passes) during the regular season (10th in NFL). 49ers defensive linemen finished 30th in disrupted dropbacks with 19.

The 49ers do have a strong defensive line, anchored by defensive tackle Justin Smith, but they have been uncharacteristically generous when facing the Seahawks over the last three seasons.

Since the start of 2011, the 49ers defense has allowed Marshawn Lynch to rush for 100 yards in a game three times, more than all other individual rushers combined over that span.

The 49ers have been particularly vulnerable on Lynch’s rushes up the middle, allowing 5.2 yards per rush over the last three seasons. The other 30 NFL teams average 3.8 yards on those rushes against the 49ers.

Pick: Seahawks. They have gotten after Colin Kaepernick and have held him to a Total QBR of 16 when rushing four. That leaves seven in coverage for an opportunistic defense.

Tackling technique comes into question a lot in today’s NFL. Not so much with these two teams.

The 49ers and Seahawks ranked first and second in fewest yards after contact allowed this season, thanks to strong tackling at all levels. The 49ers led the NFL in solo tackles by linebackers with 348, 33 more than the next closest team.

All four of the 49ers’ primary linebackers have been named to the All-Pro team in the last two years. Aldon Smith made it once in 2012 while Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks and Navorro Bowman have all made the first or second team multiple times.

49ers linebackers combined for 46 disrupted dropbacks, fourth in the NFL. Those came in the form of 28 sacks (fifth), three interceptions (T-18th) and 16 pass breakups (fifth).

The Seahawks cannot match the 49ers in terms of name recognition at linebacker, but Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin all had strong seasons.

As mentioned above, the Seahawks are among the best at tackling. The linebackers also helped contribute to a league-high 56 defensive expected points added when sending four or fewer pass rushers.

On passes between the numbers and 10 or fewer yards from the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks allowed a Total QBR of 40, ranked fourth in the NFL. Seahawk linebackers have four interceptions on such throws, tied for third in the league among that position group.

Pick: 49ers. They have too many All-Pros who can do everything.

The case for the Seahawks secondary is not a hard one to make. As the chart shows, Seattle led the NFL in just about every defensive statistic.

First team All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman leads the talented Seahawks secondary. Sherman’s 20 interceptions in his first three seasons are the third-most in a player’s first three seasons since the merger in 1970.

Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks secondary take away the sidelines as well as anyone. The Seahawks allowed NFL-lows in completion percentage (49), yards per attempt (4.8), interceptions (14) and Total QBR (34) on passes outside the painted numbers.

Pick: Seahawks. Sherman, fellow first team All-Pro Earl Thomas and company are the best in the business right now.

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.