Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

compiled by Andrew Potter

During each game of the NFL playoffs, the FO staff sends around emails about the action. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about what we're watching. On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games. Though unlike the regular season we will cover every game, we may not cover every important play. We watch the games as fans rather than solely as analysts, so your favorite team might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Vikings fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every team, nor will we focus on a different team from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every team equally.

Denver Broncos 24 vs. Carolina Panthers 10

Aaron Schatz: Denver surprisingly strong moving the ball on the opening drive. Josh Norman made a bad play, holding Andre Caldwell and then letting him go so he was open. Robert McClain made a good play, nearly getting a pick-six on an out where Peyton Manning just can't get enough strength on the throw anymore. So, that's an odd switch. The Broncos eventually get bogged down and kick a field goal.

Vince Verhei: Full credit to Phil Simms for pointing out that Panthers blitzed on first two plays of that drive and gave up two completions for first downs. Then they backed off, and that's when Denver's offense stalled and Robert McClain had a (slim) shot at a pick-six. Panthers blitzed about 28 percent of the time this season, which was in the middle of the pack, but they'll be better off with a more conservative game plan today.

Panthers go three-and-out on their first drive. On second down, Cam Newton had a clean pocket and a wide-open Corey Brown for what might have been a first down and certainly would have set up third-and-short, but overthrew him. Third down, Newton hits Greg Olsen, right at the sticks, but Aqib Talib makes a good tackle to force the punt.

Cian Fahey: Von Miller spying Cam on the first third down. I'm not sure if that's good or bad strategy. Miller is probably the second best option to do that behind T.J. Ward, but he's your best pass rusher. It's a question of value and a question that's pretty hard to answer, really.

Aaron Schatz: I don't usually feel like I know enough about how players think and feel to give emotional explanations for things, but wow that overthrow of Brown just screamed "I'm nervous it's my first Super Bowl!" Calm down, buddy.

Tom Gower: Gary Kubiak often does a nice job scripting the opening drive. You may recall the Broncos scoring a touchdown against the Patriots two weeks ago on it. He's also pass-heavy, often using motion to identify coverage looks for later in the game. Kubiak 101, but not everybody seems to know it. I thought Denver would have success on their first possession, but it's whether they can sustain that on other ones that decides how successful the offense will be.

Bad miss by Cam on second down, great tackle by Talib on Olsen to hold Carolina to three-and-out. In some alternate world, Ron Rivera does go for that. In some ways, that might be a better world.

Scott Kacsmar: It was probably closer to third-and-2 than third-and-1, but surprised Denver didn't run the ball there. Carolina actually ranked 32nd vs. short-yardage runs this season. Quick three-and-out drive.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the tackles are the weakness of the Carolina offensive line. Von Miller just whipped Mike Remmers and took down Newton for a strip-six to make it 10-0.

Andrew Healy: And I'm wary of getting in the business of reading facial expressions, but Newton looks a little nervous and joyless so far.

By the way, Thomas Davis' arm seems fine so far. Made two or three nice plays already, including one tackle that stopped a conversion.

Pretty surprising how good the protection has been for Manning, late first quarter.

Aaron Schatz: The Panthers' option handoffs also look really nervous, like Newton keeps leaving that ball in there an extra second because he's not sure if he should be handing it off or keeping it.

Vince Verhei: Two bad overthrows for Newton in the first quarter, the early one to Brown and then later on a seam route where Ted Ginn had beaten his man and looked set for a big play.

Really, except for Denver's success on their opening drive, the game has gone as we expected, I think. Denver got the turnover they needed to get ahead, but it's still anyone's game.

Andrew Healy: If Newton had been able to rip that ball out of Stewart's grasp on that last play of the first quarter, he would have had a one-on-one with T.J. Ward with a big gain there for the taking.

Andrew Healy: I'm sorry, but Aqib Talib should be ejected for that mauling of Philly Brown. Just a vicious torquing with the face mask. One day that will be an automatic ejection.

Andrew Potter: That day might be next season, if the "two personal fouls and you're out" rule is added. And yeah, no question that was deliberate to prevent any chance of a broken tackle. The soccer term is "professional foul."

Scott Kacsmar: So I guess Aqib Talib would be ejected already under Roger Goodell's new rule of two personal fouls = ejection. They'll have to write that one carefully. Things like a face mask or roughing the passer really shouldn't count. You want to avoid the stuff like Adam Jones in the playoffs or the post-whistle stuff between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham, but some of these personal fouls are just tough defensive plays.

Vince Verhei: Brown gets a catch for a first down inside the 5. Aqib Talib tackles him by the facemask, yanking him violently to the ground. Obvious penalty, but it goes from first-and-goal at the 2 to first-and-goal at the 1. Honestly, probably smart for Talib to commit that foul if that's what he had to do to guarantee the tackle.

Love Jonathan Stewart breaking out the hand jive from Grease on the touchdown.

After the game, we need to chart the "average time ball spends in the air" for Manning and Newton. I bet Manning's passes spend three times the, uh, time in midaiir.

Aaron Schatz: Ron Rivera just used his second challenge and we aren't even halfway through the second quarter. I think that's a mistake. He used it to get a few yards on a sack -- and he should get that overturned, and it will be a sack -- but you have to save that second challenge in case you need it to get an important first-down conversion, or there's a turnover that the officials missed or something. A more important play than this one.

Andrew Healy: Huge that Rivera lost the first challenge on the Jerricho Cotchery catch. He'll win this challenge, but he has 2-plus quarters now with no challenges. Wouldn't have blamed him for keeping the flag in the sock there.

Would have been neat if he'd taken the penalty on the extra point, too, to go for two, particularly down early.

Mike Kurtz: The first penalty was unsportsmanlike, not a personal foul.

And the AFC Championship Game showed us that there is nothing you can do during a live-ball period that will get you ejected.

Carolina's blocking has shored up tremendously since the first two drives. If Denver can't get consistent pressure, they're in a world of trouble.

Aaron Schatz: Well, I don't think I've quite seen a punt return like the one Denver just had. The return man didn't make a motion at all, but somehow both Panthers guys convinced themselves that he had called for a fair catch, and they both held back from a tackle at the last second to try to avoid a flag... that never would have been thrown because there was NO FAIR CATCH MOTION. So instead, the Broncos get into the red zone for free. That was WEIRD.

Vince Verhei: What's that? The Panthers are struggling with turf conditions and adjusting footwear so they don't slip so much? Seahawks fans know what they're going through. (And yes, the Denver players are doing the same thing.)

What the hell happened on that long Jordan Norwood punt return? He did nothing resembling a fair catch, but the Panthers all just watched as he ran by.

Tom Gower: The gunners close to him were so worried about kick catch interference (which they might've done anyway!) they didn't bother to tackle him, and apparently everybody else thought the gunners would have him. Weird, weird play. And Denver can't get 7, settling for the field goal after a holding call negates fourth-and-1 conversion.

Ben Muth: I think the one gunner saw the other jump out of the way to avoid him and assumed he saw a fair catch. Everyone else probably thought the gunners would make the play.

Scott Kacsmar: Halftime. So this looks like a bad offense, an overrated offense, and the two best defenses in the league. In other words, exactly what we expected. I think Denver did leave some more opportunities out there than Carolina did. The holding penalty on fourth-and-1 may have cost them four points. The Manning interception likely three points, so that's at least seven more there. Carolina did a poor job of managing the clock before the half and came away with nothing. I see Newton doing a lot of running again in the second half. He's not throwing it well at all and the receivers aren't getting open. He had a 24-yard gain by extending the play in the way we looked at this week, but that was about the only big pass play. Haven't seen much of anything from Manning since the first drive. Demaryius Thomas is still struggling and I'm not sure Emmanuel Sanders has done anything. I'd lean on Anderson and maybe get the tight ends involved. They can't be hanging on for dear life for another half unless they get another return score. But I think Denver's already exhausted the return score and the long punt return, and C.J. Anderson broke his one long run, which Manning wasted. Carolina fortunate to be hanging in there and getting the ball first.

Vince Verhei: Panthers have to feel about as good as a team down 13-7 at the half can feel. Partly because Denver has done almost nothing since their first drive. Partly because the most random plays in the game (the long punt return and the two lost fumbles) have all gone against them. If they get better breaks in the second half and keep playing as well as they have, they should still win.

Aaron Schatz: The Panthers' running game was completely shut down. They finally got a couple big runs on options... and Tolbert fumbled the ball away. And the Broncos' running game has been completely shut down except for that one huge Anderson run. The coverage is tight on both sides, the pass rush is intense on both sides. It's just a lot of defense.

Tom Gower: Surprises of the first half? Obviously the two random-ish big plays, the Von Miller strip sack turned defensive touchdown and the long punt return. Much of what else has happened has gone largely to form. Denver has struggled after getting points on the opening drive, and Carolina's pass catchers mostly have been unable to defeat Denver's cover players, when Cam Newton has had time to get the ball to them. The matchup that has gone Denver's way more than I expected coming in was how they handled Carolina's run game in general and option game specifically, and you could chalk that up to Stewart's injury if you wanted to.

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Vince Verhei: Hey, if Gary Kubiak's script worked so well to start the game, why don't they go back to that script for their first drive of the second half?

Aaron Schatz: Boy, did Jerricho Cotchery wake up on the wrong side of the bed today. Just lost the ball when he should have had a first down, a drop/defensed where Von Miller was covering him (!) and barely got his hand in.

Vince Verhei: That Cotchery drop is a perfect example of why Newton won the MVP with mediocre numbers. Denver blitzes. Cotchery can't get open against Von Miller, but Newton makes an absolute dream of a throw, where only Cotchery could catch it. But Cotchery (who, I remind you, failed to get separation against a pass rusher) can't hold on to the ball. None of this is an anomaly. Cam has been handicapped by these guys all year.

Mike Kurtz: Kubiak is listening to you, Vince!

Vince Verhei: And the Panthers are using their first-drive strategy too of over blitzing, which is leaving Robert McClain in one-on-one coverage against Emmanuel Sanders. Which isn't going well.

(Ted Ginn lets a pass bounce off his hands for an interception.)

Cian Fahey: In my personal quarterback charting, Cam Newton had three interceptions during the regular season that weren't his fault. Only six quarterbacks had more (excluding Carson Palmer who is yet to be charted). Peyton Manning also had three.

Aaron Schatz: I can't believe Jim Nantz is on with this "Peyton Manning provided a spark in his Week 17 return" narrative. Knock it off. This is all defense. Defense, defense, defense. And a little bit special teams. And fumble luck.

And with that complaint, Manning gets strip-sacked and this time Carolina actually recovers.

Cian Fahey: Did the Panthers run power for the first time in the third quarter?

Vince Verhei: Newton hits Ted Ginn for what should be a first down in the red zone, but Ginn lets Bradley Roby knock the ball away and Panthers get a field goal instead. This after an earlier pass hit Ginn in the hands and Ginn tipped it into the air for an interception, also in the red zone. These receivers are so awful.

Aaron Schatz: I'm a little blown away by how little Manning is throwing to Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders has McClain on him, Demaryius Thomas has Josh Norman, and Sanders has also looked better than Thomas for weeks now.

Then I went and looked, and actually Sanders has six catches for 83 yards and Thomas' only catch is on a screen. So my eyes are deceiving me. This game is weird.

Andrew Healy: Can't think of a mediocre punter making a bigger difference in the playoffs than the bad Colquitt these last two games. 48.2 net on his first six punts. Tack on a couple of blocks in the back and Denver's punts have changed field position by more than 50 yards per punt.

Vince Verhei: I was arguing on Twitter that Colquitt had an MVP case, though Von Miller has pretty much changed that single-handedly here.

Aaron Schatz: Miller's strip-sack probably ends the game. Just crushing Mike Remmers tonight. Where are those seven-man protections we wrote about? They keep leaving Remmers alone and Miller has destroyed him all night. And I don't understand why Newton took a step back instead of diving for a loose ball in the FREAKING SUPER BOWL

Mike Kurtz: Rivera has really taken up the Reid-ian mantle this game. Sub-four minutes left, Denver has the ball at your 7, you wait until the second-down play to call time out. Plus the trainwreck at the end of the first half.

Also, Simms and Nantz criticizing Newton for not jumping on a pile on something that was very close to an incompletion is completely ... well, something I can't post in this column.

Vince Verhei: Panthers punt down two touchdowns with just over 2 minutes left and only two timeouts. I don't care that it was fourth-and-24, I don't care they were deep in their own end. They will not get the ball back with a chance to tie now. In fact, the punt killed the two-minute warning. Denver is actually running plays and I don't know why. Just take knees and punt and laugh.

Tom Gower: Why not take the intentional safety? 16 is still technically two scores, and onside recovery may be about as likely as fourth-and-24. I know, an All Options Really Suck scenario, but I do value trying.

Aaron Schatz: Mike, I hate Nantz and Simms too, and I'm sick of racist crap about Newton. But you've gotta go for the ball there when there's no whistle. It's the Super Bowl and if they recover that fumble the game is over. You have to go for it.

We have been writing all year about how great the Denver defense is. It's great. It's really great. And it turned the game up in the playoffs, like the Bears in 1985 and the Ravens in 2000. A reminder: the best offense in DVOA almost always is higher than the best defense. Only four years have been exceptions. This was one of them.

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The others: 2008 (PIT -29.0% D, DEN 19.2% O); 1991 (PHI -42.4% D, WAS 27.2% O); and 1990 (PIT -21.6% D, BUF 20.9% O).

I should add, I don't think that Newton was "lazy" in not diving for the ball. I think he likely had a weird brain freeze.

Tom Gower: The shot's there, he can dive into the pile, possibly getting his banged-up left shoulder hurt worse, and there's already a player with his hands on the ball. Could he have done better overall there? Sure. But he's probably going to get ripped more than he should in my opinion.

Story of tonight's game for me? Von Miller is/should/will be MVP, and he was dominant, and a lot of the story will concentrate on how he and DeMarcus Ware beat Michael Oher and Mike Remmers all night while the defensive backs dominated Carolina's receivers. But we all knew that was likely to happen coming in. What got me is how the Broncos, who were just a really good run defense, really shut down the league's most multiple and difficult-to-defend run game, and one I thought had an edge over the defense in the physical/power game.

Andrew Healy: I know it almost certainly wouldn't matter, but Riverboat Ron punts on fourth-and-24 down two touchdowns with 2:08 left? Man oh man.

Kind of a weird day for the Panthers all around. An oddly unenergetic Cam, who didn't actually play all that bad despite that. Cotchery with two enormous drops. OK, that part wasn't weird, I guess. The first one led to the Broncos' first touchdown. The Panthers also tied the record for penalties in a Super Bowl with 12.

Let's dispense with the fairy tale ending talk for Manning, too. Does this even count in the legacy debate? 2.3 ANY/A for Manning today. He did what he could to lose -- just a brutal interception to Kony Ealy -- and the Broncos defense wouldn't let him.

And now someone is saying "a great sheriff's last dance." Sweet fancy Moses.

Vince Verhei: So, to back up my pregame claim that Peyton Manning would be the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl in the DVOA era:

Trent Dilfer vs. Giants in Super Bowl XXXV: 12-25-153-1-0, three sacks, one fumble.

Peyton Manning vs. Panthers tonight: 13-23-141-0-1, five sacks, two fumbles.

Obviously, Manning was playing a better defense, but let's not pretend that Peyton Manning hasn't been lousy all year, or that he was especially good tonight.

Denver's defense was superb tonight. Yes, fumble luck went Denver's way for sure. But that pass rush was just suffocating.

Big edge for Denver in special teams too. Panthers finish with 3 punt return yards, and I'm sure that's deep into the negative yardage range once you account for the penalties. Plus, Denver made its field goals. Carolina had the only miss.

Scott Kacsmar: I think some FO commentators made a good point in how Denver's defense was not just No. 1 this year, but by a pretty good margin too. And it was definitely No. 1 tonight. I thought Ealy played very well to keep Carolina in it, but Miller and company were just outstanding again.

Tom Gower: Good point by Vince, Carolina really could've used something from special teams to flip the field and make things easier for the offense. I thought special teams would likely be a bit of a wash, since neither team was great in that area, but Colquitt had a great game and the coverage was outstanding when it needed to be as well.

Vince Verhei: Let's note that the Denver Broncos just finished beating MVP Cam Newton, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, allowing those three players to complete 51 percent of their passes for 6.8 yards per pass with one touchdown, three interceptions, and 14 sacks.

Rob Weintraub: Believe it or not, I had to fly to Florida during the game, making this year the first time I haven't watched the Super Bowl live since I was -- what? -- 7 years old, I think. You'd be amazed how many folks fly during the Bowl, by the way -- Atlanta airport was packed. Of course, it's always packed...

One or two thoughts to pile on:

Glad I watched on DVR -- seemed like that game would have dragged badly watching live. Denver scarcely seemed like it was trying to move the ball for large chunks of the game. Their defense was their offense.

Miller was awesome but I might have given some MVP consideration to Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, and Sylvester Williams. They dominated the game on the inside, and Carolina's inability to gain anything running between the tackles set up the perimeter nightmare. And the inside dudes got good pressure on Cam on passing downs as well throughout the night.

Clearly the key play in retrospect was the early completion that wasn't, even though replay confirmed the ball never touched the ground (right?). That set up the strip-sack touchdown, which probably wouldn't have happened if Carolina had been near midfield.

That strip-sack touchdown was a virtual replica of the one Miller had on Brady in the AFC title game, except Brady held on to the ball. On that play, Miller went to merely wallop the piss out of Tom Terrific. Looks like Son of Bum got in his ear and told him if had the opportunity with Cam to go for the ball and not the big blow, which was what happened, to deadly effect.
The recovery of their own interception by Danny Trevathan was a colossal play that was kinda passed over by the broadcast, I thought. 50-50 ball inside the 5, Panthers all around, and Denver comes up with it. That's the sort of play that proves it's your night.

Another small-but-big play -- Anderson converting that fourth-and-1, even though it was wiped out by penalty. But if he doesn't get it (and at first he appeared to be stopped before squirting forward in a nice effort), the hold is declined, Carolina gets the ball, and Denver doesn't get those three points. Turned out not to matter much, but if the game is closer who knows how it turns out?

Josh Norman had a couple of picks he could (not should, but could) have made that might well have been game-changers. He's gonna be replaying this game in his head for a long time.

My take on the "Cam gave up! See, we were right about him all along!!" play on the fumble was that at the last second it appeared the Denver defender was about to slap the ball between Cam's legs, so he had to stop awkwardly as though he was going to change direction. But then the ball skittered toward the goal line instead. There's no way he made a Deion-like "business decision" to not go for the ball -- he was wrong-footed.

I plied my columns at Sports On Earth with stats about great defenses winning Super Bowls, and teams that put up big points in the playoffs failing to repeat that performance in the following game, and all sorts of indicators pointing Denver's way -- and then picked Carolina anyway. My ass is dumb.

But you already knew that.


489 comments, Last at 11 Mar 2016, 4:24pm

275 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Just don't expect me to do the same with the playoffs. That'd be a pain in the neck. :)

It's actually interesting if you look at that data a bit: first, "multiple SB QBs" actually dominate the number of appearances. Not what I would've guessed. I would've expected that if you get to a Super Bowl, you're very unlikely to get back - not "34% get to a second Super Bowl."

Second, if you restrict yourself to *just* QBs who have shown up in multiple SBs, things change a little. Now the average winning percentage is 58.7%, and Manning becomes a "below average multiple Super Bowl QB." But so does Roger Staubach, and if Brady would get to another Super Bowl and lose, he'd be a "below average multiple Super Bowl QB" too.

Manning's still above average for number of wins, though: average number of wins for QBs with multiple Super Bowl starts is just 1.8.

316 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I may have missed something. How can the average winning percentage of all Super Bowl quarterbacks be less than 50%? Maybe I'm the sci-fi supercomputer that blows up when told that 2+2=5, but that doesn't make sense, does it?

Wait, I think I see it. You're weighting individuals equally, and therefore de-emphasizing players with multiple appearances. I don' think that makes sense either, as a means of evaluating players with multiple appearances, but oh well.

(Not meant to be a jerky comment, just working my way through it.)

335 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I may have missed something. How can the average winning percentage of all Super Bowl quarterbacks be less than 50%?

It's because the "multiple Super Bowl" quarterbacks won more than the "single Super Bowl" quarterbacks.

Which is actually somewhat interesting, and obviously what you'd expect: players who get to multiple Super Bowls are the ones who tend to win them.

Wait, I think I see it. You're weighting individuals equally

Right, exactly. It's not a "makes sense" or "doesn't make sense" thing. It's not even "de-emphasizing" anything. It's really simple. Take a list of all quarterbacks who have appeared in a Super Bowl. Take a list of all of their Super Bowl winning percentages. Average it. What do you get? 44%.

I never claimed it made sense as a way of evaluating anything (In fact, I don't believe it does). It's just the answer to "is Manning's 50% record above or below average?" It's above average.

383 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Let's see.

First, in any round of playoffs, there will be an equal number of wins and losses. That's plain to see after considering for a moment. So whether over one season or many seasons, the average really will be .500.

So really we are talking about clustering. Yes, in any given playoffs, there will be only one undefeated team. All others will experience one loss; many of them 0-1.

So the question is, over many seasons, would we see the median record be significantly different than .500?

Well I just coded up a quick model that mimics our playoff structure, where seeds 3-6 play an extra game, and the median playoff record was exactly .500 for 100 years. Ensuing runs varied a little bit - sometimes 34-34, sometimes 33-35.5, sometimes 35.5-33, but still always around .500.

So, the answer appears to be that any clustering of playoff records above or below .500 has entirely to do with factors other than the playoff structure themselves. Seeding of drafts, a high quality team having a higher chance of making the playoffs the following season, home field advantage, etc.

So yes, 14-13 is just above average for teams that make the playoffs. And that's probably a roughly good record for the overall quality level of teams, coaches, and front offices that Manning has been a part of.

Still probably doesn't have much of a bearing on the overall quality level of any one particular player, though.

391 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Well, as much as I appreciate a back-of-the-envelope guess, I prefer to measure things. So I did! Thanks to PFR, of course.

From 1999-2015, the average QB playoff winning percentage is 32%. To specify, I took all playoff games in which a QB threw 10+ passes, and then attempted to weed out backups who came in as injury replacements. There are obviously edge effects here (Troy Aikman ends up with a 0% winning percentage) but there are probably more 'edge effects' from unfinished careers. You can't specify "QB who started the game," unfortunately. I might've missed one or two.

I actually doubt the long-term average will be much off from this - going back will improve some guys' records, like Aikman, but it will include lots more crap. I tried to actually go from the Super Bowl era but that's just too much of a mess.

Why is it so much lower than 50%? Because bad quarterbacks lose games and don't get back to the playoffs. So otherwise good teams, with bad quarterbacks, tend to show up in the playoffs repeatedly with different quarterbacks... and lose. Which pulls the whole average down, because the good QBs will hover around 50%.

Minnesota, for instance, has been in the playoffs a fair number of times over that span (9 games?) but they've had 6 different QBs, and unsurprisingly 3 of those guys went 0-1. So if you just look at Minnesota alone, they had a 4-6 QB (Favre, with multiple teams), a 2-2 QB (Culpepper), a 1-1 QB (George), and then 3 0-1 QBs. So you've got 0.4, 0.5, 0.5, 0, 0, 0, which gives you an average of 23%.

392 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I checked, using the wikipedia article on starting QB playoff records.

215 different QBs have started playoffs games. Their aggregate record is 526-526, for an average record of 2.44-2.44. 50% wins, naturally. That's the quick and correct answer: the average winning percentage is 50%. 14-13 is a little better than that.

There is some clustering, as we would expect. Consequently, the median winning percentage among all QBs who have ever had a playoff game is 40%, not 50%. That ignores the likelihood of each QB to be in a playoff game, so take it with a grain of salt.

You can go farther, and continue to ignore the fact that playoff games are designed to feature the better players/teams by eliminating the weaker teams early, and just average the winning percentages as if all QBs who ever played a playoff game played the same number of games. That average is 35%. It's not a real average of wins and losses. But it's something.

The biggest issue with this approach is that it treats Peyton Manning as being no more representative of a playoff QB than Ryan Lindley or Matt Cassel. That's bogus, of course. Manning, Brady, Favre, Montana, and Elway account for more than 10% of all QB playoff starts in history. Just 40 QBs account for half of all playoff starts. That's the peer group we should probably be comparing to when we look at notable playoff careers. They win 59.5% of their playoff games, including any games they played each other in.

I also did look at the median record for a single playoff season, at least since Peyton has been in the playoffs. Not surprisingly, the median record is 1-1. Each year at least 4 teams go 0-1. But the teams with byes generally win, so having 6 or more teams go 0-1 is somewhat uncommon.

I hope that helps you get a picture of "average" in the playoffs. Joe Schmo quarterback who squeaks into the playoffs is going to lose a lot. But the QBs who make up most of the starts tend to win a lot. Overall, average is 50% winning, and 1-1 is par for the course in any one playoff season. But overall there are more Joe Schmos than Joe Montanas in the mix by far.

Let me conclude by reminding people that W-L records are just a part of the picture. They are the ultimate "Success" criteria, but just the first step in evaluating a QB's playoff career. 14-13 is a tiny bit above average for all QBs in playoff winning percentage, and below the average for the set of QBs who dominate playoff history, there's no denying that. But we really need to look beyond that to things like offensive drive stats to get a complete picture of a QB's playoff career.

394 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

That's the quick and correct answer: the average winning percentage is 50%. 14-13 is a little better than that.

Mathematically, that's wrong. That's not the average winning percentage. That's the aggregate winning percentage. You might say this is being pedantic, but every other thing that we compare players with is really using averages, and gets affected with the same biases. Apples to apples and all.

It's like asking "what's the average number of wins a starting quarterback in the NFL had last year?" It's not 8. It's going to be less than 8, because on average, quarterbacks don't start 16 games. People try to simplify the game too much sometimes.

You can go farther, and continue to ignore the fact that playoff games are designed to feature the better players/teams by eliminating the weaker teams early, and just average the winning percentages as if all QBs who ever played a playoff game played the same number of games. That average is 35%. It's not a real average of wins and losses. But it's something.

That, mathematically, is the real average of winning percentages. And it's pretty consistent, surprisingly, assuming you went back over all the NFL. When I looked from just 1999-2015, you get about the same answer: ~33% or so.

Which is interesting. Numbers don't generally remain stable over time without a reason. Hmm.

But there's absolutely no getting around the fact that 14/27 is significantly above the "average" NFL playoff quarterback winning percentage. The 50% mark is meaningless as a benchmark for an individual.

Aggregate quantities, by definition, don't quantify a distribution at all because they eliminate any variation in the distribution.

The biggest issue with this approach is that it treats Peyton Manning as being no more representative of a playoff QB than Ryan Lindley or Matt Cassel.

Right, exactly. It is worth noting, however, that now you're saying that Manning is "about average" (14/27 isn't significantly below 59% considering counting statistics) among basically the top QBs of all time in terms of playoff performance.

So saying "he's about average in the playoffs among his peers" isn't actually a criticism.

401 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I think you're mostly wrong in your points. For instance, we would never get the league average completion percentage by weighting Peyton Manning the same as a WR who threw and completed one pass, treating them as if they threw the same number of passes. We'd add up the attempts, add up the completions, and divide to get the league average completion percentage for the season. That WR would contribute one attempt and one completion to the average. That's the way league averages are computed. Really. You'd be nuts to do it any other way. Ditto for playoff winning percentages.

What you get right is that by averaging the way I do, I am comparing people more to the QBs who you would expect to be in the playoffs: the better QBs start more playoff games, and so contribute more games won (and lost) to the average. That sets the bar as "Average level of QB play you would expect to encounter" rather than "Level of play you would expect if QBs were forced to retire after one playoff game".

Let's agree to disagree about whether that's important.

Saying Peyton's about average for his wider peer group (all starts weighted equally) isn't a criticism. It just says he's not bad but nothing very special in winning playoff starts compared to the other QBs who we see in the playoffs. That puts him well above the average NFL QB, since most QBs miss the playoffs in any year.

Interesting, among those 40 QBs who make up a full half of all playoff starts? 27 of them have better winning percentages than Manning. That puts him in the bottom third of that historic peer group, the playoff icons. That remains true even if you think his 14-13 record is above average in some other sense.

The real playoff stars (by this measure - they play enough to be part of the 40 iconic playoff QBs who dominate playoff starts and they won twice as often as they lost) are these, ordered by number of playoff games played:

Brady (31 games, most played)
Montana (23)
Elway (21, 66.67%, edge of this criteria)
Bradshaw (19)
Aikman (15)
Flacco (15, 66.67%, edge of this criteria)
Warner (13)
Manning, Eli (11)
Starr (10, highest playoff win percentage at 90%)
Plunkett (10)
Wilson (10)
Unitas (8, edge of this criteria)
Theismann (8, edge of this criteria)

There are 15 others with winning records, but less than a 2-1 W-L ratio. Manning has the lowest winning percentage of this group, narrowly beating out...

...the 5 with 50% wins, and 7 with losing records, most famously Dan Marino. All fine or even great QBs, but none of whom we would consider a notable playoff success over his career. (Sorry Marino fans. 8-10 isn't a notable playoff success for a career)

Again: Winning percentages are just a first step. These are the QBs who set the bar for sustained career playoff success. You'd have to look at offensive stats (drive stats, passing stats, even running stats), accounting for era, stadium type, and other factors to get a more nuanced look at their role in that success.

404 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

"For instance, we would never get the league average completion percentage by weighting Peyton Manning the same as a WR who threw and completed one pass, treating them as if they threw the same number of passes."

Correct, but Pat's not looking for the league average; he's looking for the average quarterback's percentage.

426 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

We'd add up the attempts, add up the completions, and divide to get the league average completion percentage for the season.

Again, that would be the aggregate completion percentage. It'd be asking "how often do passes in the NFL get completed?" Not "what's the average completion percentage of a person in the NFL?" Those are two different questions.

Most stats deal with the small-statistics problem by setting a minimum cutoff. Which you could do here, as well.

Although you could ask which do you cut on: minimum 10 starts in the playoffs, minimum 0.5 starts/year in the playoffs, or minimum 8 seasons in the playoffs?

I would be inclined to say that the last is the right number. That would eliminate a *lot* of improper comparisons, like Joe Flacco or Eli Manning.

It just says he's not bad but nothing very special in winning playoff starts compared to the other QBs who we see in the playoffs.

The problem here is that you're just being way too generic: saying "other QBs who we see in the playoffs" makes it sound as if you're comparing Manning to Joe Webb, or some other guy who's started a grand total of 1 playoff game.

You're comparing him to the 40 QBs who have started the most playoff games. That's not "other QBs who we see in the playoffs."

That puts him in the bottom third of that historic peer group, the playoff icons. That remains true even if you think his 14-13 record is above average in some other sense.
The real playoff stars (by this measure - they play enough to be part of the 40 iconic playoff QBs who dominate playoff starts and they won twice as often as they lost)

Well, the other problem here is of course the small statistics problem. 10/15 isn't really statistically different from 14/27.

Then, of course, the problem is here:

These are the QBs who set the bar for sustained career playoff success.

I don't think you can call it "sustained career playoff success." The problem is that if you win the Super Bowl twice, you could go 1-and-done for 3-4 years before you dip below that bar.

Brady's actually a good example there, in that before 2014, the narrative was starting to be that Brady was *failing* in the playoffs. Which was, of course, total garbage, but hey, his playoff winning percentage from 2001-2004 was 100%, and from 2005-2013, it's 60%.

Plus, seriously, you're going to say that Eli Manning belongs in the set of people who have set the bar for "sustained career playoff success"? Really?

429 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Wow. You'd disqualify Joe Flacco when looking at successful playoff careers?!?

That's true desperation.

Peyton's managed to win a playoff game in just 6 of 17 seasons. Joe Flacco has a playoff win in 6 of 8 seasons. He's one of a very small number of QBs with more playoff wins than seasons played. His playoff career is much more consistently successful than Peyton's career.

Eli's a better point for that definition of consistency. But repeat Super Bowl wins four years apart is not to be sneezed at. 8 playoff games won in 12 seasons isn't all that bad, either. Peyton had 9 at the same point in his career, and only one Super Bowl win.

Really, if you think it's somehow unfair to include Eli Manning and Joe Flacco in a review of great playoff careers, you're just stacking the deck. Neither one of them is one of my favorites for regular season play, and I have personal doubts about their maintaining that level of play, but they're both in the top 20 in all history
for number of playoff games started and have done quite well in those games.

431 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

"He's one of a very small number of QBs with more playoff wins than seasons played."

And that's because it's small statistics. The vast majority of players who have more playoff wins than seasons played lose that status. Eli Manning was practically there in 2007. Obviously not anymore. Rodgers was there. Not anymore. That's the only reason I'd exclude Flacco, because the sample size is too short.

But that's because I think it's probably better to look at seasons, rather than games, because the number of games you get in a season is variable, whereas everyone gets at most 1 season/year.

But probably even more importantly than that, if you have 1 or 2 great seasons, that means you were probably on great teams. If you end up in the playoffs for 8+ seasons over a career, that means you were the one making the team great.

"Really, if you think it's somehow unfair to include Eli Manning and Joe Flacco in a review of great playoff careers, you're just stacking the deck."

I don't agree. Suppose Eli Manning never gets to another playoff game. Ditto for Joe Flacco. They both play, I dunno, 5-10 more years, and neither of them plays another playoff game. How do we rank that then? Eli, especially, had 2 Super Bowl seasons, and a bunch of 1-and-dones. Does that really compare to consistent playoff appearances practically every year?

Aaron Rodgers is another good example. Excluding his first 3 seasons when he wasn't starting, by 2010 people were talking about him being the best quarterback in the league. The Next Great QB. Since then, he's 3/8 in playoff games, and now you'd rank him as "mediocre," compared to Eli, even though Rodgers has been in the playoffs every year since 2009, and Eli hasn't been there in 4 years.

Putting a cut on "you have to make the playoff X number of years" at least makes sure that you're selecting elite quarterbacks, and not just quarterbacks on elite teams.

Really, I think in the modern era, there's really only 1 quarterback that I would say stands out from the rest in terms of playoff success, and that's Brady (which I think has *everything* to do with Belichick). Everyone else basically looks the same, with small sample size fluctuations.

472 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I totally agree with using drive stats (success rate, execution etc.) in the eval process. And I would add that a WP component would also be very helpful in evaluating playoff careers. With that said sample sizes are the big issue here and would really limit the evals to qbs with at least 10 playoff starts. In my very amateurish view there is no way to correct for that. In fact I advocate that drive stats should be used in reg. season evals as well. I'm a very huge proponent of using a drive stats based analysis with WP as a factor to quantify a qbs performance. And here the charting that FO does and PFF as well will really be helpful. I'm in the camp that PM performed well in the playoffs as a function of his contributions in playing that many PO games and his performance in the reg. season which put his teams into the playoffs. As for more detailed granular analysis I'm waiting for that somebody to put all of that data together and give us that "magic" stat.

446 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

14-13 is as close to "average" as a QB can get in terms of playoff record, conditioned on having played 27 games.

Proof left to the reader.

As for "games played", the "average" playoff QB plays in 1.8333 games per season in the playoffs. As the number of playoff teams increases, this value will increase towards (but never reaching) 2. At least as long as the NFL runs a single-elimination tournament.

153 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Nobody has ever tried to discredit Brady.

Only the notion that Brady was better, circa 2005, because of RINGS, which were, at the time, the only things that could be used to "justify"that discussion and preposterous conclusion.

Now that Manning has won one because of a superior roster, lots of people are having fun pointing that out. The same people that pointed to Super Bowl titles through 2007 are now saying "Oh, well his second one doesn't count because they won it with defense."

To some extent I do understand that it's natural to always overreact to a perceived slight - that sometimes to defend Manning it's sort of necessary to discredit Brady; and that those who support Brady and overdo the anti-Manning rhetoric likewise perceive Manning fans as over-defensive or overly attacking, even when they're not.

Etc etc.

Anyway, I don't think anyone here - sane or otherwise - is actually saying "Manning is better now because of this." (If some looney WaPo narrative writer did, that's not our fault. Journalists are stupid and we should all know this.) Only that winning despite being that depleted a QB simply means that rings aren't a good way to judge.

183 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Manning was Dilfer 2.0 yesterday.

Over his career, he is one of -if not the - GOAT. IMO, that status doesn't really change after yesterday, although the Denver victory definitely improved media perception about his GOAT status. Which is fine, because he has been an historically great QB.

I find "nobody has ever tried to discredit Brady" to be a bit inconsistent with what happens in comments here, but YMMV. Personally,I don't need Brady to be "better" than Manning - Brady also an all time great and as a fan I've really enjoyed the ride.

No fan of either player is ever going to look at any argument made here and say "you got me, the other guy is better." The only way to win the irrational thread game is not to play...

204 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Excellent post. Agree with all of it.

I will say (and this is an entirely different discussion) that I think the difference is that Dilfer was just that guy, while I still view the Bronco offense and game plan and playcalling to have been like handcuffs. I think that had they been aggressive enough to want to put that game away in the first half, Manning could have done more. Not like a 75% 375 3/0 10YPA shredding, but more like 20-32 for 240 or thereabouts. But it was their goal to make him Dilfer, and it worked out for them.

218 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Yeah, though to my eyes a lot of those plays were doomed from the start... whether it was due to being failed completions/route designs (the 3rd and short one he tossed in the backfield to a guy without a prayer comes to mind as a terrible design) or failed runs on 1st and 2nd down.

Please don't think I'm trying to say he could've carried the team to a win; I just think that the same people in say, the Gase offense instead of a Kubiak, would've looked a hell of a lot better. And while Dilfering it was sufficient for that game and the two before it, it's not something that one should ever actually aspire to be, or do deliberately.

239 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Nicely said, anotherpatsfan. Your access code for the irrational Peytom Branning thread has been terminated, of course, but well done and I couldn't agree more.

One thing I will add to Manning's credit yesterday that will not show up on the stat sheets--and Ninjalectual brought this up in the game discussion yesterday--how many high level FA players signed with the Broncos because Manning was there and they wanted a chance at a title?

With no Manning, do they sign Ward, Talib, and Ware in last two years, all of whom contributed mightily to that impressive defensive win? (Talib a little less so, cough cough.) Maybe... but probably not.

That is to say, Manning had a big positive effect even when not on the field. As a Colt fan I am glad to see that happening with Luck now, such as Andre Johnson and Frank Gore saying they signed for a chance to get a ring (if only they can take advantage of it, dammit).

Brady and Belichick get that as well, with guys like Moss, Dillon, Seau, etc deciding that they'd rather compete for a ring for a change. I've seen some Internet silliness about JJ Watt signing there someday and it would be for the same reason.

I guess the cliché there is success breeds success.

187 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

You question whether I like football??? What does that even mean?

Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time - basically any analysis of the numbers will get you to that conclusion. Manning is the GOAT, as most reasonable analyses of the numbers will tell you.

Brady has more rings because he played for the greatest coach of his generation and was generally on better teams than Manning was, plus some random breaks went his way in the playoffs slightly more often than they did for manning. It's a team sport with fairly random results sometimes, but hey, the uncertainty is part of what makes it fun to watch. (I actually like watching football!)

Yes, Manning was carried by his defense to this title. Brady rode defense-first teams to titles in 2001 and 2003. It's OK, sometimes that's how it works.

221 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Here we go again. Almost everything you just wrote is either wrong or controversial.

"Manning is the GOAT, as most reasonable analyses of the numbers will tell you"

What stat analysis would that be? Please enlighten me, because I've looked at the stats, and I don't see that at all. Manning may be ahead of guys like Brady, Brees, Rodgers, and Montana, but it's close.

"Yes, Manning was carried by his defense to this title. Brady rode defense-first teams to titles in 2001 and 2003. It's OK, sometimes that's how it works".

Manning was carried to both of his SB wins by defense, though he was much better against the Bears. But are you sure that's true of Brady? In SB 36, Brady's defense blew a 14 pt lead in the 4th, and Brady produced the game winning drive in the final minute. In SB 38, Brady produced 18 4th quarter points and his defense gave up a bunch of points in the 4th. Again, Brady produced a GW drive in the final minute. How is that being "carried" to a SB win?

just because a guy has a good defense, doesn't mean he was carried to the win by that defense. As the other post in this forum shows, that discusses red zone stats in the playoffs, Brady has outperformed Manning in the playoffs, and his teams have put more points on the board. That's why Brady has more rings and SB appearances than Manning.

230 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I like how you deny that Manning has the best stats of all time, then you admit that he actually is ahead of every other possible contender for GOAT, before you hand-wave it away because his best-of-all-time stats aren't the bestest-of-all-timeyist enough for you. (Sure he's the best ever. BARELY. Why should that count? 1 std deviation or GTFO!)

Honestly, isn't your gripe that people dismiss Brady unfairly, when all you're doing,is dismissing Manning unfairly? How does your brain work?

267 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

What stats say Manning is the GOAT?

PFR's weighted AV

Those are really about the only "achievement above baseline" career stats that are easy to find, so I consider them the gold standard. He's #1 in all of them by pretty large margins. Brady is #2 in weighted AV, FWIW.

As far as counting stats, you've got most game winning drives, most comebacks, most TDs and yards. Favre is ahead in completions.

As far as pure rate stats, Rodgers and Steve Young come out slightly ahead of Manning in ANYA+ and Rate+, although Manning wins NYA+ because his sack totals are so low. To some extent, both of them "benefit" from abbreviated careers without as many stats compiled in off-peak years (although Rodgers could still add those, obviously).

I don't see career DVOA anywhere, but I suspect the story is similar.


As far as carrying teams places, again, the case is quite simple. Literally every team of Manning's career until this year got more value out of the offense than they did out of defense and special teams. That was not true of either the 2001 or 2003 Patriots.

This is the part where you start complaining about supporting casts, despite the fact that with/without stats for their teams and for free agents doesn't support the idea that Manning had better teammates on offense.

293 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Brady's average regular season game (everything but TDs/ints rounded)
22/35 for 258, 1.9 TDs, 0.7 ints

Manning's average regular season game
23/35 for 271, 2.0 TDs, 0.9 ints

Not seeing much of a difference here, aside from the 41 extra games played.

Brady's average playoff game
24/38 for 257, 1.8 TDs, 0.9 ints

Manning's average playoff game
24/38 for 271, 1.5 TDs, 0.9 ints

It should be pointed out that Manning's numbers benefit from 4 extra wild card opponents and 6 extra indoor games.

"This is the part where you start complaining about supporting casts, despite the fact that with/without stats for their teams and for free agents doesn't support the idea that Manning had better teammates on offense."

Considering the numbers above, this isn't even necessary. The numbers are virtually identical with Manning having a trivial edge in YPA and Brady maintaining a consistent edge in TD/INT ratio. It should also be pointed out that, for all its flaws, Brady has a higher passer rating outdoors *and* indoors. The latter despite most of Manning's being home games and most of Brady's being on the road. Manning's numbers just get an extra bump due to having significantly more dome games on his resume.

I must admit, though, to finding it odd that anyone would claim Brady had similar weaponry around him throughout their careers. Even the most ardent Manning apologists concede this fact, they just point out Brady's more rounded teams and better coaching, along with some cherry picked luck.

The long and short is this: there are plenty of numbers to support a case for Manning... but pretending it is a slam dunk is as inaccurate as any argument you might object to.

311 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

"Wait, was that an effort to say Brady doesn't take significantly more sacks?"

It's an effort to post the actual data.

"Making fumbles look equal is a neat trick too."

The numbers were taken directly off They can be mistaken sometimes, so if you think they are wrong feel free to link to the correct numbers.

305 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Notice how I started the comments with no desire to fan the flaims of the irrational thread. And yet, because of trolls, its gone back in that direction. And not by any Manning fan boy taking pot shots at tom brady. Everytime I read Nat and Ramirez now, I think of Gore Vidal, "It is not enough that I should succeed but others must fail!"

To hear them discuss it, manning has always been a glorified game manager and put up pretty numbers against soft teams with no defenses while Brady was forced to hurl lasers through an eternal snowstorm against the 85 bears. And come postseason, we see what Manning really is - a choking loser who only wins when the other team screws up. And Brady, forced carry the handweight of lousy receivers and a poor o line through the finish line with aplomb.

Yep - that pretty much sums up their argument, doesn it?

352 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

I don't think zero means what you think it means. It was an intentional hyperbole, to emphasize the ridiculousness of said arguments. So you see, it bears a significant resemblance to what peopke are saying, it's simply exaggerated, since makingnthe same point with subtlety has proved to be inefficacious.

312 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Chase stuart put in some era adjustments to the stats along with av style calculations. Manning really came out ahead statistically. Once you adjust for depth of target and things like expected Yac, Manning really starts to take the lead. The yac issue still seems to generate a ton of controversy, so we may need more years to really suss its true meaning out.

That said, in the minds of most people - the two are close that choosing one over the other(given the sheer heights of their careers); is a lot of hair splitting.

It gets back to who the best qb is: There really isn't a single answer because no one team or style is the same. How does one compare Elway and Montana when neither played in the same system.

323 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

"its almost always irrational pats fans who come out and deminish Manning for Brady. I think most of the readers here would agree."

I find the opposite to be true (edit: just look at doktarr's posts for an example). From my experience every number that supports Manning can be taken at face value and every number that supports Brady must be contextualized.

The biggest offense Pats fans make is placing too much emphasis on win/loss record. As I've pointed out in the past, though, there are reasons to not fully absolve Manning on this issue.

So, no, there is no disparity between the rationality of Manning supporters and Brady supporters. Both sides have the reasoned folk and both sides have some who bring out the worst in others. :)

327 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

Fair enough. I have had some great debates with pats fans that were totally rational, with good reasoned arguments(that in itself is a sign that the two are so equally matched). I guess the irrational fans really do ruin it.

For the record - I think Manning is better, but I can understand the argument the other way.

388 Re: Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl 50

If you followed Chase Stuarts' GQBOAT series thru the years it continually evolved and he tried factoring in SOS, weather, playoff performance adjustments etc. but he has expressed dissatisfaction at several points on how to account for all the variables involved. The last iteration came about after the 2013 season and the other posts about the series afterwards was a sort of wisdom of the crowds exercise done by one of the guest writers. I'm really interested in seeing the latest iteration which will include the last 2 seasons. I'm pretty sure Chase or some other guest writer will come up with something this off-season since that series started circa 2006 from the original pfr blog and has come out semi-regularly every 2 years.