Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl 50

Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl 50
Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl 50
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

The 2015 NFL season ended in familiar fashion: the best defense shut down an MVP quarterback. "Defense wins championships" is sweet music to a quarterback's ear, but Denver's defense drowned out its offense all year long. We knew back when writing Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 that Wade Phillips' defense was going to be the key to winning this team a championship. We saw in Week 1 just how far behind Gary Kubiak's offense was compared to the defense, but little did we know that would continue for essentially the whole season. In fact, these Broncos upheld 13 one-score leads in the fourth quarter and may be the most defense-reliant Super Bowl winners ever, which is made even more incredible by the fact that Peyton Manning was the quarterback for most of the ride.

Manning spent most of his career looking for a great defense. Not one that had to be great all year, but great in the playoffs. He essentially got that in the 2006 season for his first ring, but watched five fourth-quarter leads get squandered in his next five postseason trips. Then came the massive 43-8 blowout at the hands of Seattle in the Super Bowl two years ago, back when Denver was an offensive juggernaut.

But Von Miller and a few other key members of the defense were not active that day. Miller came up huge on Sunday, along with John Elway's veteran free-agent additions such as DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward.

Manning, now the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, can enjoy the ending that Elway always had envisioned for this team. Oddly enough, Manning's stat line (13-of-23 for 141 yards and an interception) looks very similar to the one Elway had in his first Super Bowl win against Green Bay. It was fitting to hear Elway return the favor to Denver owner Pat Bowlen, stricken with Alzheimer's disease, crying "This one's for Pat!" at the trophy ceremony.

We will recap the game in full, leading up to the failed comeback opportunity for Carolina in the fourth quarter, but we also have some Manning legacy talk; you know I have to go there after what is likely the final game of his career. But we start with a look at another regular-season champion falling apart in the big game.

The Marquee Matchup That Really Wasn't

Carolina is just the 12th team in NFL history to win at least 17 games in a season (including playoffs), but only the second (along with the 2007 Patriots) to not win a Super Bowl. I was as vocal as anyone in not buying into the Panthers as some all-time great team this season. I may have called them the worst 7-0 team ever, the worst 13-0 team ever, and the worst 15-1 team ever. I thought Seattle would beat them in the playoffs, and only backed off of Arizona after the Cardinals had two shaky performances heading into the NFC Championship Game.

While I always respected Carolina's defense, I never bought into the offense as a legit top-scoring unit. As we looked at in our preview, the Panthers are the only offense since 1970 to lead the league in scoring, but not finish in the top 10 in yards. They were also 13th in yards per play and eighth in DVOA, so there were several numbers that were out of whack with the scoring. This team had Ted Ginn Jr. as a No. 1 wide receiver with Michael Oher and Mike Remmers as the starting tackles. Even Jonathan Stewart ranked 33rd in DYAR, 34th in DVOA and 33rd in success rate this season.

How does a team like that score 500 points without some parlor tricks?

The naive answer is that is why Cam Newton won the MVP award. However, I never bought into Newton having an MVP season either, as I thought Carson Palmer was more consistent from Week 1 to Week 17. I also believe in the various metrics, combined with the eye test, that suggest Newton was merely one of the better quarterbacks this season, but not the overwhelming best. Newton did start playing at a higher level against Green Bay in Week 9, but the first seven games of the season still happened. His completion percentage was still under 60 percent, as he tends to overthrow receivers. He threw interceptions at almost the same rate as in the past, but had five dropped picks since Week 9. He had better yards per attempt averages in his first two seasons. The big change was his higher touchdown percentage this season.

Of course, that can be explained by pointing out that he faced the easiest schedule of defenses in the league and had the second-best starting field position. We also noticed that Carolina likes to give its tackles some more help in blocking instead of taking on all the one-on-one battles. While many defenses in the NFL are not equipped to handle an offense like this, I knew Denver was in good shape as long as Carolina did not get to feast on great field position as it had all season. Sure enough, the Panthers started one drive at their own 49 (resulting in a punt) and one at the 50 (resulting in a field goal), and no other drives starting outside their own 39. Carolina finished with 10 points on 16 drives, easily their worst scoring output of the season.

Newton failed to become the first player to win the MVP award and the Super Bowl in the same season since Kurt Warner in 1999, and his offense looked like a unit heavily dependent on his play to be successful. The receivers were not sharp or good at getting open, and the tackles struggled. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Newton was pressured on 42.9 percent of his dropbacks, the highest rate in a game in his career. By shutting down the run, Denver forced Newton to become a volume passer, which is likely to lead to overthrows, drops, and mistakes in an offense that just was not as efficient as usual scoring leaders.

NFL's 500-Point Teams (Excludes 1961 Houston Oilers)
Rk Team Year PTS Result Playoff Opp. PTS in Playoff Loss
1 Denver 2013 606 Lost Super Bowl Seattle 8
2 New England 2007 589 Lost Super Bowl NY Giants 14
3 Green Bay 2011 560 Lost NFC-DIV NY Giants 20
4 New England 2012 557 Lost AFC-C Baltimore 13
5 Minnesota 1998 556 Lost NFC-C Atlanta 27
6 New Orleans 2011 547 Lost NFC-DIV at San Francisco 32
7 Washington 1983 541 Lost Super Bowl LA Raiders 9
8 St. Louis 2000 540 Lost NFC-WC at New Orleans 28
9 St. Louis 1999 526 Won Super Bowl - -
10 Indianapolis 2004 522 Lost AFC-DIV at New England 3
11 New England 2010 518 Lost AFC-DIV NY Jets 21
12T Miami 1984 513 Lost Super Bowl San Francisco 16
12T New England 2011 513 Lost Super Bowl NY Giants 17
14 New Orleans 2009 510 Won Super Bowl - -
15 San Francisco 1994 505 Won Super Bowl - -
16 St. Louis 2001 503 Lost Super Bowl New England 17
17 Denver 1998 501 Won Super Bowl - -
18 Carolina 2015 500 Lost Super Bowl Denver 10

At the end of the day, another 500-point team bit the dust in the NFL playoffs, but Carolina's offense was never really up to the level of the Denver defense this season.

Game Recap

The Eventful First Quarter

Denver's opening drive traveled 64 yards, its longest of the night if you can believe it. Manning converted his only third down of the game, but the drive stalled once Ronnie Hillman got involved. In fact, the trend this postseason has been for Denver's offense to bomb out once Hillman or Demaryius Thomas were involved. The two combined for 12 targets and runs, only gaining 8 yards. Meanwhile, C.J. Anderson and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 183 yards on 35 chances. Still, the opening field goal was a nice display of offense to get a 3-0 lead. Denver led wire-to-wire for the second game in a row after an opening-drive score.

Newton had eight blockers on his first pass of the night, which is something we talked about Carolina doing more frequently than offenses not named Buffalo this season, but the pass was high to a wide-open receiver -- a sign of the shakiness to come. Newton was 5-of-20 on passes thrown at least 10 yards on the night. I liked the matchup of Aqib Talib on Greg Olsen on third down, and a great tackle stopped Olsen short by a yard. Denver had a solid tackling night, with 39.6 percent of Newton's passing yards coming after the catch.

Carolina's second drive really set the path for the rest of the game. Jerricho Cotchery is supposed to be the one wide receiver with reliable hands on this team, but he bobbled a pass over the middle and tried to make a diving catch that was ultimately ruled incomplete. Even after a challenge by Ron Rivera, the call stood.

We have seen worse efforts ruled complete, and better efforts ruled incomplete. This looks like the nose of the ball is touching the ground, so you could say the ground is helping him secure the catch. Add in some slight movement after he brings it up, and that was probably enough for the officials to stay with the call on the field. Not only did it wipe out a 24-yard gain, but then Stewart was injured on the next run. Maybe that play would have been a different call with the ball near the 40. Stewart obviously returned to the game, but he did not play up to expectations. The biggest problem was Miller owning Remmers to strip the ball right out of Newton's hands for a Malik Jackson touchdown. The play design was FUBAR. Why would you have Olsen, your best receiver, not touch a soul as a blocker, then run a delayed route on third-and-10? Stick him on the other side to help Remmers in that case.

The Broncos led 10-0, which seemed to put the offense into protection mode earlier than usual.

Remember when we said in the AFC divisional preview that Denver was the most penalized defense in the regular season with a lot of dumb 15-yard penalties? That showed up again a little in the Super Bowl, like when Talib negated a third-down sack (which came on a nice blitz) by taunting on the sideline. Fortunately, Carolina still punted after Cotchery had some problems with Bradley Roby in coverage, but Talib did not have the greatest of games. He gave Corey Brown (granted, a fast receiver) a massive cushion on a 20-yard gain as the Panthers started driving to close the first quarter.

The Second-Quarter Grind

Carolina's only touchdown drive of the night involved two Newton scrambles for 23 yards. With his passing rhythm not there, I was surprised Newton did not run more. The Panthers also went to the throwback play to Olsen that we highlighted last week against Houston. This time it gained 19 yards, which was nearly half of a quiet 41-yard night for Olsen. Stewart finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make it 10-7.

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You would think a pristine playing surface would be a must in a new stadium for Super Bowl 50, but the field was slippery and several players had problems with that. One of those players was Manning, who slid down while trying to avoid the rush of Kony Ealy, who had a monster game. Ealy did in fact get a piece of Manning, but the referees missed it, leading to Rivera challenging to pick up 7 yards with 11:11 left in the first half. Was that really worth using your last challenge of the game? I do not think so, but that is what Carolina did. On third-and-17, Manning threw a short pass to Thomas that was only going to gain a couple of yards, but Luke Kuechly crushed the receiver for an incompletion. There were some questionable ALEX decisions from Manning and the offense in this one. This looked more like the Kansas City offense when playing with the lead.

The Panthers showed some (fake) jet-sweep action a few times, but never did anything too creative outside of a lateral to Ginn that was probably going to be a throwback to Newton. Instead it ended up as a 4-yard sack after Denver contained it well. On the punt, Carolina's extremely weird avoidance of making the tackle on Jordan Norwood, who never came close to a fair-catch signal, led to a punt return of 61 yards, the longest in Super Bowl history.

Believe it or not, Carolina's defense ranked 32nd against power (short-yardage) runs this season. Denver had two big cracks at a conversion at the Carolina 5, but Anderson barely converted a fourth-and-1 run. However, that was wiped out by a holding penalty on Louis Vasquez, leading to a 33-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. Carolina may have saved a big four points there.

The traditional running game for Carolina was very much held in check. The running backs only combined for 73 yards on 21 carries, including an 11-yard run that Mike Tolbert fumbled. The way Carolina played all day, you cannot assume they would have scored on that drive -- but they might have. Denver's running game only succeeded on 4-of-12 plays on second down, but Anderson ripped off a big 34-yard run. Ultimately, Manning wasted the takeaway and the big run with an interception at the Carolina 24. He either missed Ealy dropping into coverage or did not expect the big man to make a play, but Ealy made a one-handed interception with some decent YAC skills to boot. That was likely a field goal and 16-7 lead missed out on by Denver.

Roby won another battle with a Carolina receiver (Brown this time) on third down to end a drive, but was then beaten on a high third-and-12 throw to Devin Funchess after Newton extended the play. Some odd clock management may have cost the Panthers a field goal try. DeMarcus Ware ended the half with a sack of Newton after blazing past Oher.

The standard was established, and the 13-7 slugfest certainly favored Denver.

The Third Quarter: Carolina's Missed Points

The early part of this quarter teased the idea that this may not be Carolina's day. Cotchery again failed to hang onto a pass, this time inside the 5-yard line after getting isolated on Miller in coverage. Carolina settled for a 44-yard field goal by Graham Gano, but his kick hit the right upright. Manning finally remembered he had Sanders in coverage against cornerback Robert McClain instead of Josh Norman, and went that way for two big completions to set up a crucial field goal for a 16-7 lead.

Carolina went back to an eight-man protection to throw deep, and Brown was surprisingly there for a 45-yard catch with Denver unable to make a play on a pass that hung a little. Unfortunately, Brown missed the rest of the game with a concussion. Ginn's hands have been a topic of interest all year, but it is hard from the lack of CBS replays to tell if he just flubbed Newton's next pass for a pick, or if the pass was thrown too hard. Either way, the ball was deflected to Ward for an interception. Ward should have just stayed down, but struggled to get up before fumbling. That could have been a catastrophe, but Denver recovered that too.

On a third-and-8, Remmers got away with a false start and was still beaten by Miller for another sack, (which was split with Derek Wolfe, who also was out for Super Bowl XLVIII two years ago). Denver took this into the fourth quarter in a familiar position of hanging onto a 16-7 lead.

The Fourth-Quarter Finish

Another good pass to Sanders combined with a penalty had Denver at the Carolina 37, knocking on the door for more points that could have wrapped this one up. But Manning was still working out the kinks of his "game manager" role. This was really his worst drive of the game as he fumbled twice on sacks, losing the second one at midfield. That was Ealy again, who finished with 3.0 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble with recovery. Kawann Short was very quiet on the day from inside, but quick edge pressure has always been the best way to get to Manning. It just came as a surprise that Ealy was this dominant.

This had to get Carolina's rally going, but the Panthers only settled for a field goal after another Roby pass breakup on third down. You can definitely say he got away with early contact on Ginn, but Ginn also let the pass go right under his hands.

Things were getting tighter with Denver's lead cut to 16-10 with 10:21 left and even tighter after a three-and-out. Thomas just fell down against Norman, perhaps trying to draw a flag. Incredibly, Thomas caught just 3-of-13 passes for 20 yards in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl combined. So, about that contract…

For the 12th time in the last 13 Super Bowls, we had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. Carolina's first drive did not last long after another false start by one of the tackles (Remmers) hurt. But Denver was willing to put everything on the defense at this point, even though a 6-point lead is far from ideal. When Anderson gets a handoff on third-and-9, you know what Kubiak has in mind. The defense has earned that level of trust, and on cue, delivered the knockout blow. On third-and-9, Miller got by Remmers one more time for another strip-sack to lock up his Super Bowl MVP award.

The takes are flying on Newton's questionable effort here. Frankly, I think when you are the player who will jump over the line for a little 1-yard touchdown, I do not get how you do not dive for this ball with the Super Bowl hanging in the balance. There is nothing wrong with recovering and punting here, but a Denver recovery is a wrap. That sequence was odd to say the least. Regardless, Ward recovered and moved the ball to the Carolina 4.

Thomas finally drew a penalty on Norman on third down, setting up Anderson for a 2-yard touchdown. Denver came that close to becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl without an offensive touchdown. Manning's last NFL pass may very well have been a two-point conversion to Bennie Fowler for a 24-10 lead. From that point, Denver just continued the rush on Newton, and the Panthers even punted on fourth-and-24 while losing the two-minute warning in the process.

The best defense all season came through again. With this postseason performance, the Broncos certainly have put themselves ahead of great defenses such as the 2003 Patriots, 2006 Ravens, 2008 Steelers, and 2009 Jets. You can put them in the top class with the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, and 2013 Seahawks as far as recent defenses go. In a league where we are used to seeing record-setting offenses crash and burn in the playoffs, the best defenses have a great track record of finishing seasons with championships. That is why the mantra of "defense wins championships" is not going away. You need a little offense too, but Denver even challenged that this postseason and still finished on top.

Peyton Manning's Befitting Legacy

If you think Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, you already had that thought before Sunday night. If you did not have that thought, then Super Bowl 50 would not change your mind. By some measures, Manning had the least effective game of his 27-game postseason career. His DYAR (-115), DVOA (-74.8%) and QBR (9.9) were the lowest of his playoff career. He tied his career-high by taking five sacks and fumbling twice (one lost). He became the first quarterback to win 200 starts (including playoffs), but the 141 passing yards were the fifth-fewest he has had in a win he finished.

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Manning has had 293 drives in the playoffs, but had his first scoring drive that lost yards (minus-1 yard on a field goal drive). He also had the shortest touchdown drive of his playoff career (4 yards) after Newton's late fumble. Manning's contributions to Denver's 24 points were basically a few completions for two field goals and a two-point conversion pass. The Denver offense failed on its last 13 third-down conversions, finishing 1-of-14. The Broncos had 194 net yards of offense and just five first downs via passing. For much of the game it looked like Manning was trying to offset his previous bad playoff luck with a night of fortuitous bounces and good fortune.

I am just going to repeat what I wrote about Manning on Saturday:

"Getting a second ring, a winning playoff record (14-13), maybe another game MVP award, and becoming the first QB to win Super Bowls with different teams would all be an outstanding way for Manning to walk away from the game. However, he's probably best equipped to get those things by doing less and getting more from his teammates. Doing less should not enhance your legacy, but that's the kind of odd situation we arrive at when it comes to rings.

"If anyone ever deserved a break in the playoffs and a win on the backs of his teammates, it's Manning."

That is basically what happened too. Manning had seven drives in the first half alone and the Broncos were not very effective, going three-and-out four times and throwing an interception in scoring territory. Manning would have been blown out again in the big game with a performance like that on his other teams that did not have this defense.

In Super Bowl XLIV with the Colts, Manning's seventh possession ended with the Tracy Porter pick-six late in the fourth quarter, as Indianapolis is probably still wondering how that game got away so quickly. Manning thought he might have had a playoff defense with Denver two years ago in reaching his third Super Bowl, but by that seventh possession the Broncos were down 29-0 to Seattle halfway through the third quarter. Hell, they were down 15-0 after one Manning incompletion (a pick returned to the Denver 37).

When you give Manning a strong defensive effort, he is always going to take advantage. Manning is an all-time best 89-0 when his team allows fewer than 17 points, excluding a 16-10 loss for "playoff rest" (read: "Jim Sorgi game" once Manning left after two series) against the 2007 Titans. He just happened to get his best defense in his worst season while he was on his last legs as a 39-year-old quarterback.

Manning has had several postseasons where he played better than 2006 and this year, but lost. The fact that two of his least impressive postseasons are his Super Bowl runs just throws a real corkscrew into the logic of counting rings and looking at win-loss records in the playoffs as the measures of quarterback success. The fact that someone with a career as special as Manning's is the ultimate case study for blowing up playoff narratives is a great thing for us all.


Defense does win championships, but the whole team still has to contribute at some point, and good fortune always helps as well. Denver may have had more balanced teams in the previous three seasons when the Broncos finished No. 2 in DVOA each year, but this one had the best combination of talent, coaching, timely plays, and luck. This team needed everything from late-game takeaways to a Manning comeback drive in Kansas City to a Chris Harper muffed punt to perhaps an Antonio Brown concussion and a two-point conversion stop for everything to fall into place. One misstep and the Broncos could have been a wild-card team or out of the playoffs entirely. Everyone contributed and Kubiak held things together in his first year on the job with the uncertainty of what would happen at the quarterback position. But at the end of the day, they knew they had Phillips' defense to lean on.

This championship is indeed for Pat, and it is for John and Peyton again. It also is one for Wade, Gary, Von, DeMarcus, Emmanuel, and it is even one for punter Britton Colquitt and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. This was a Super Bowl won by the Denver Broncos with a full team effort, and that is how it should always be remembered.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 72

Game-winning drives: 91 (plus six non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 162/267 (60.7 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 34

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.


113 comments, Last at 11 Feb 2016, 11:02am

#1 by WeaponX // Feb 08, 2016 - 5:44pm

Hot take garbage delivered, typical Kacsmar gibberish.

Sometimes I even trip myself out.

Points: 0

#55 by Bobman // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:16pm


Or, put another way, "I really don't like writer X, and don't agree with him, and he once stole my lunch money. So I will spend 20 minutes with my crayons and a dictionary to read his article, just so I can complain how he wasted my time. I won't point out any factual miscues or logic flaws, just say he SUXXXX! Man, am I cool."

done and done.

Points: 0

#102 by Ryan // Feb 10, 2016 - 2:12pm

Do you manually type out that "sometimes I trip myself out" thing every single time you post a comment? Also, I assume very low odds that you've ever tripped anyone else out.

Points: 0

#113 by WeaponX // Feb 11, 2016 - 11:02am

0 for 2 Ryan. Check the my account settings link at the top of the page. On the edit tab you can set a signature.

Sometimes I even trip myself out.

Points: 0

#2 by pm // Feb 08, 2016 - 7:11pm

The 15 Broncos are the 9th best team of Peyton Manning's career according to DVOA (behind 00, 03, 04, 05, 07, 12, 13, 14). The 2006 SB winning Colts were his 11th best team. His 09 Colts team that made the Superbowl was his 10th best DVOA team. It's insane that Manning's 9th, 10th, and 11th best teams were his 2 SB wins, and close SB loss while his 8 best teams all lost in the playoffs.

I don't think there is a stat out there that more defines Manning's career than the fact that his mediocre playoff teams were the ones with great luck enough to win the title while his best teams all lost in heartbreaking fashion.

Points: 0

#3 by Snoth // Feb 08, 2016 - 7:22pm

I've always been of the understanding that Playoff narrative is strictly about how much you helped your team win and if you have the regular season prowess it's an added bonus. Like Joe Flacco for instance he was great in his SB run but nobodies crowning him one of the best ever or even a top 8 QB. Tom Brady in 2001 wasn't great in the postseason, he was a game manager but they asked him to drive down the field to win games late and that's why that post season matters to Bradys legacy. This game shouldn't effect peytons legacy either way.

Points: 0

#6 by RickD // Feb 08, 2016 - 7:59pm

It's asking a lot to think that a Super Bowl appearance won't affect his legacy.

Of course, "affect" is a word that could mean a lot of things. A win should help, except that he had a very weak performance.

Ultimately I don't think anybody will really think less of Manning. It's a nice cap to his career.

Points: 0

#9 by Snoth // Feb 08, 2016 - 9:29pm

It helps his legacy if they win a close game provided he had a GWD or a comeback, it also helps if he had a great game and won. There's no real way path where his legacy is hurt with a loss.

Points: 0

#13 by Cleared for Contact // Feb 08, 2016 - 10:39pm

I think it helps his legacy (for whatever that's worth) by reinforcing how utterly dumb all the arguments about his playoff troubles, QB winz, him vs Brady, and all that crap are.

Points: 0

#14 by Snoth // Feb 08, 2016 - 11:23pm

But he doesnt tear those arguments down. Those arguments are irrelevant from people who look at the record and go off that alone but for everyone else QB wins do matter him vs Brady is a rivalry so that DOES matter and his playoff troubles while overexaggerated does matter. All this proves is that Denvers defense is one of the best of all time and Peyton got to ride on the coattails of it, nothing more.

Points: 0

#29 by clipper // Feb 09, 2016 - 10:34am

So the fact that he is 3-2 vs Brady in the playoffs and 3-1 vs Brady in AFCCGs would make him a better QB? That's the problem with that argument. In Brady's two wins over Manning lead teams, it was definitely the NE defense that carried the game and Brady just had to stay out of the way. In the last Manning victory, it was the complete opposite.

As I've mentioned before its a stupid way to rate QBs. While I'm a Manning fan, I wouldn't say that he beat Brady (never on the field together) or that others didn't play a significant role. Same goes the other way. As a Colts fan I respect the way Brady has played and think he is one of the two best QBs of his era (the other being Manning). The argument of who is better is irrelevant since it can never be proven since you can't account for other players, coaching, game planning.etc. The fact that people do try and compare is an admirable task, but don't focus on W/L record. Its such a poor argument and this year proves that.

Points: 0

#57 by Bobman // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:22pm

Also of note, the winning team in each of those playoff games was the home team.

Ergo, logic proves the MVP is the stadium.

And, as a fellow Colts fan you'll appreciate how much the "Willie McGinnest Game" in the regular season still kills me. I see him as a talking head on NFLN (I think) and the foulest things come out of my mouth.... His one-play "injury" led to a reg season win that decided HFA that decided a playoff win that decided.... whew, I'm tired.

Points: 0

#78 by clipper // Feb 09, 2016 - 7:10pm

Good point. Since 2004, the home team (playoffs or not) has usually won. As for the McGinnest game, my wife still gets mad that they essentially ran four plays straight up the gut. That was the one time the Edge could have made a huge difference and he could not get one yard.

I also remember the special teams being particularly bad.

Points: 0

#32 by Cleared for Contact // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:09am

I suppose it "matters" to them. It doesn't matter to me. I doubt it matters much to Peyton, or Brady, or whoever. It only "matters" to the extent that a dumb, pointless sports argument "matters" in the world.

This last win is a great gift to people like me who think the whole thing is asinine. Peyton "won" a Super Bowl on the back of his defense despite playing terribly. That's an objective fact. That's a rebuttal to all such arguments about the value of being "clutch" or his supposed choking in the playoffs and all that. It proves once again that football is a team game with really small sample sizes, and judging a QB simply by his number of rings or playoff record or whatever is pointless.

Points: 0

#4 by BaronFoobarstein // Feb 08, 2016 - 7:53pm

"With this postseason performance, the Broncos certainly have put themselves ahead of great defenses such as the 2003 Patriots, 2006 Ravens, 2008 Steelers, and 2009 Jets. You can put them in the top class with the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, and 2013 Seahawks as far as recent defenses go."

I find your split here quite puzzling. The best defense in this group is the 2008 Steelers except maybe the 2002 Buccaneers. If you really want to split it into two sets then top is { 2002 Buccaneers, 2008 Steelers }, and the merely great set is { 2015 Broncos, 2003 Patriots, 2006 Ravens, 2009 Jets }.

Points: 0

#7 by Scott Kacsmar // Feb 08, 2016 - 8:11pm

Didn't mention it above, but 2008 Steelers and 2015 Broncos can battle for title of "Worst Offensive Line to Win a Super Bowl."

Having watched both on a weekly basis, give me the Broncos. That Pittsburgh team needed the offense to recapture too many blown leads in the 4Q. Then in the Super Bowl, they blew a 13-point lead to Arizona and would have ruined their reputation had it not been for Roethlisberger and Holmes.

I also just prefer the Denver talent, most notably the edge rushers and corners.

Wolfe, Williams, Jackson ~= Smith, Hampton, Keisel
Miller, Ware > Harrison, Woodley
Marshall, Trevathan ~= Foote, Farrior
Ward, Stewart Harris, Talib, Roby > Taylor, McFadden, Townsend

The way Denver manhandled Brady and Cam in the playoffs is just not something we saw from the Steelers, who confused a rookie Joe Flacco in the AFC-C. Philip Rivers had some big garbage-time numbers on them, but Warner was fantastic outside of that slip-up before halftime to Harrison.

Points: 0

#23 by Travis // Feb 09, 2016 - 8:59am

The 2011 Giants (28th in adjusted line yards, decent sack numbers largely due to Eli Manning's ability to get rid of the ball) should be battling for that title as well.

Points: 0

#62 by BJR // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:52pm

Denver 2015 is definitely a better pass defence than Pittsburgh 2008, and that being the most important phase makes them better overall, I agree. That Pittsburgh group (08-11) was flat out impossible to run on, but the best pass offences often found a way against them.

The 08 Steelers were obviously the huge beneficiaries of Brady's injury that year. Manning's Colts roster had begun to deteriorate around him by that stage so there was something of a void in the AFC which they filled. Tennessee was actually the AFC #1 seed that year which is hard to believe. Who was even on that team?

Points: 0

#81 by JIPanick // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:45pm

The 2008 Titans were quarterbacked by Kerry Collins, the third team to grab a bye with him under center (I believe that accomplishement is unique). Vince Young was still on the roster but only threw 36 passes. The designated clipboard holder was Phil Simms' son Chris.

The running backs were a committee of Chris Johnson and LenDale White. The leading receiver was Justin Gage with 651 yards followed by Bo Sciafe with 561; the biggest name in the receiving corps was a far past his prime Alge Crumpler.

On the offensive line, Kevin Mawae had his last great season at center, and Michael Roos had a career year at left tackle. The defensive line featured Albert Haynesworth having the season that earned him $100 million of Dan Snyder's money. Jevon Kearse was back but no longer "the Freak" he was before his spell in Philly. I also recognize Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bulluck from the front seven.

The secondary sent Cortland Finnegan (who played for Carolina on Sunday), Chris Hope, and Michael Griffin to the Pro Bowl; the three combined for only one other appearance in their careers (so far, I guess). The other corner was Nick Harper, mostly famous for getting stabbed in the leg then tackled by Ben Roethlisberger in the space of a week.

Points: 0

#5 by BaronFoobarstein // Feb 08, 2016 - 7:56pm

"If you think Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, you already had that thought before Sunday night. If you did not have that thought, then Super Bowl 50 would not change your mind."

I can offer a data point that will allow you to extend this logic to people who think Peyton Manning is the second greatest quarterback in NFL history.

Points: 0

#8 by Willsy // Feb 08, 2016 - 9:18pm

Who is WeaponX? Did they log into the wrong website?

It's funny being in Australia regarding the Cotchery catch, if you show it to anyone who follows sports they all think its a catch. Probably 50 people in our office were mystified at the decision. Reflects how convoluted the situation has become. Looking at the decision it seems hard to envision many catches like that where the ball doesn't touch the ground. They could make the rule that the ball simply cannot touch the ground, that might help.

I hope the Carolina fans who were on the SB thread have chilled out by now, the loss was a team effort just like Denver's win. They are clearly a team who can return but a couple of OT's would help. Big Cam must have a picture of big Wade in his mind "make the bad man go away".

A HOF DC if there ever was one.

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#10 by Alexander // Feb 08, 2016 - 9:42pm

How is it a catch? It hit the ground...

If you asked a little kid the #1 thing about catching anything they would tell you it can't hit the ground. In baseball the runner would be safe, in cricket its not an out, in dodgeball the player that got hit is out, in volleyball the point is over. People just overly-complicate the catch in football because they like offense.

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#12 by Cleared for Contact // Feb 08, 2016 - 10:33pm

Except those kids would be wrong, because a catch CAN touch the ground. The receiver just can't use the ground to help him control it. So it's not as simple as "it touched the ground".

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#18 by Alexander // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:23am

I'd say that the kids aren't wrong, but that whoever thought of a dumb rule where refs have to pretend they know whether the ground helped the WR control the ball or not are.

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#31 by Cleared for Contact // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:00am

I supposed you could say that. It doesn't make it true. The rule is the rule, however dumb or hard to apply it is. The kids would still be wrong, unless and until the rule is changed to "it can't touch the ground". .

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#92 by steveNC // Feb 10, 2016 - 8:34am

The rule used to be that it couldn't touch the ground. Not sure why they ever changed it. These are professionals; why not have a consistent (high) standard with less room for judgment on the officials' part. If no one touches a forward pass, it is over when it hits the ground, right? Why not keep the same rule (over when hits the ground) whether someone is attempting to catch it or not?

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#93 by deus01 // Feb 10, 2016 - 8:38am

The problem is still the amount of time the receiver needs to have control. What if he reaches out to make the catch, gets control, takes two stumbling steps and then falls with the ball touching the ground. Is that a catch under the ball not touching the ground rule? Under the current rules it would be provided that the ground doesn't cause him to lose some control on the ball.

No matter what the rule is there is always going to be some controversy.

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#95 by Travis // Feb 10, 2016 - 9:37am

The rule used to be that it couldn't touch the ground. Not sure why they ever changed it.

Because what looked to be a catch by Bert Emanuel in the 1999 NFC Championship Game was overturned to incomplete and people got upset. Video here.

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#24 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:05am

If you go back to the rule in its simplest form, it cannot hit the ground. That was the original rule.

The controversy wasn't about the objective contact with the ground, it was about the subjective definition of control.

There are three rules I admit I cannot call in the NFL.

1. What is a catch.
2. What is DPI.
3. What is intentional grounding.

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#60 by Bobman // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:27pm

Is your club admitting new members, because I am pretty sure I qualify.
I can be treasurer.

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#82 by Alexander // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:46pm

I agree on 1 and 3. With 2 I think we all know what is DPI, the issue is refs seeing it, and the second is refs not calling offsetting OPI nearly enough (secret 3rd issue is that OPI is not as good for the Defense as DPI is for the offense).

On 1, the problem is the rule is too offense friendly (aka just make it ball can never touch the ground) or, you can make it more defense-friendly (2 feet, control, no matter what) and then just live with the 4-5 extra fumbles per game for passes over the middle.

On 3, I don't really know what to do because the "receiver in the area" thing is so vague and I can't think of a fix (although I know it is way too easy to be in the area). However, one simple thing is to rid us of the "out of the pocket" exception and stop allowing a ball that barely makes it past the ling of scrimmage that you threw from 2" from being down with 3 guys draped over you.

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#83 by Willsy // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:29pm

Well thats the point. There are lots of catches where the ball touches the ground, if you watch Rugby as well often a play has control of a caught kick but part of the ball has touched the ground.

Either the ground can touch the ball or it can't, that seems to be the issue. If they simply say cannot touch the ground period then the judgement calls, while they would still exist, I think would be less prevalent.

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#15 by dank067 // Feb 08, 2016 - 11:29pm

What you described reminds me exactly of watching the Cowboys/Packers playoff game last year with a guy from Nepal who was a big time soccer fan and had just started watching football a few months prior. He humored me by saying he was glad the Packers won, but that just by looking at Bryant's movements/body control/what-have-you, it was obvious that he caught the football. I'm sure it will always be imperfect, but the letter of the rules right now is disconnected from the human actions that go into catching the football in a uniquely bizarre manner.

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#16 by Fierydemise // Feb 09, 2016 - 12:38am

The Cotchery incompletion was somewhat different than the Dez catch last year or any number of the other catch rule controversies from this year. We weren't trying to understand the application of an ambiguously worded rule, we're looking at a much simpler question, did the ball touch the ground? Cotchery clearly didn't have control of the ball as he went to the ground, I don't think anyone is arguing that so if the ball touched the ground it isn't a catch, simple application of a rule that most football fans know pretty well.

During the game I didn't think the ball hit the ground but based on the gif Scott posted I think it probably did. The play is close enough I think people can disagree about whether or not it hit the ground but that is a much easier to understand question than the typical catch controversy stuff.

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#84 by Willsy // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:33pm


Crothery got up and signalled he caugth it and it looked like a kid arguing in the backyard that he had caught the ball fairly.

I think your phrase "the letter of the rules right now is disconnected from the human actions that go into catching the football in a uniquely bizarre manner" sums it up perfectly.

Also isnt it better to put the imperative back on the Zebras and ask them a simple question, "Do you think it was a fair catch?"

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#20 by rich006 // Feb 09, 2016 - 5:06am

It probably was a catch, but I don't think the replay was conclusive enough to overturn the initial call.

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#46 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:10pm

Probably a catch? His hand comes almost completely off the ball after it touches the ground - its so very clearly not a catch. You have to have complete control of the ball if it touches the ground.

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#86 by Willsy // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:38pm

Well that is the beaaty of sport, a lot of people see things differently. I disagree, I think he had control.

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#50 by Joe Pancake // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:40pm

I never found this argument of asking "outsiders" what is and isn't an NFL catch as particularly convincing. Why would people who don't know the NFL rules know this? There is no objective definition of "catch" -- especially not in a game when the defense is constantly dislodging the ball at various moments of "control," which is a completely subjective notion itself.

Could the NFL change the rule of a catch to be more satisfying to fans? Perhaps, but I'm dubious, because no matter what your definition there will always be borderline cases that reasonable people will see differently. Instead of hashing out what is and is not a catch for the umpteenth time, we should, in my opinion, just get used to the fact that there is such a thing as a "maybe catch" that the ref is neither right nor wrong in calling.

By the way, I lived in Australia for a year and watched a fair amount of footy and found their definition of a catch too liberal. I saw a lot of catches that were controlled in the air momentarily and then quickly dropped that counted as marks. It's all relative.

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#85 by Willsy // Feb 09, 2016 - 11:36pm

And to back up your point at least the judgement is in the umpires hands. As I said elsewhere isn't it better to simply put in the rulebook "at the Zebra's discretion" and simply as them did you think the player did or didnt catch the ball.

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#11 by silm // Feb 08, 2016 - 9:57pm

Great work as always Scott.

Re: best D's, the 2006 Ravens would probably get more consideration in the best ever department had they not gone one and done. Holding Manning to just 5 FG in a game in which your Offense sputtered terribly while failing to recover all 5 of the game's fumbles deserved a better fate. For the season, '06 Ravens had 28 INT and 60 sacks to their name which is rare enough that only 7 teams have ever done it since 1940.

Alas though, one good playoff game isn't enough to make them anything more than a great D that will forever be a "what if". It's hard to argue with the notion that the top most tier should be that of SB winning defenses like the four listed in the article.

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#17 by t.d. // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:03am

Obviously, Denver's offense stunk, but they staked themselves to early leads in all three playoff games, and never trailed by more than four points all postseason. I thought the early leads were critical to the run, and, though I find Kubiak's Milton Berle offense hard to watch, the team got it done. In a way, I find it odd that they're being discounted as contenders next year, because they're bound to get more from the offense (Clady's return, the usual second season improvement in zone blocking, and the ability to target a tight end in free agency/the draft ought to really help), though I'm not sold on Osweiller as the heir apparent (and historically great defenses tend to peak, then fall off a bit). Happy for Peyton, like I was for Elway and Steve Young before him (funny how his detractors moved the goalpost after he'd won a ring), and I'm sure the adversity made it only sweeter. If Archie's right and he's done in Denver, I'd hope that Peyton has the sense to hang them up (though Elway looked pretty much washed up in '97 before bouncing back strongly under less trying circumstances in '98, so a bounce-back year wouldn't be unprecedented)

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#19 by techvet // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:31am

If Peyton leaves now, he'll have

- scored points on his last pass
- won his last game in the playoffs (Super Bowl)
- a winning record in the playoffs

He is completely free to leave when he wants, but I think he'd be a fool not to retire now.

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#37 by bravehoptoad // Feb 09, 2016 - 12:24pm

God forbid he came back with a healed foot in 2016, once again looked like a great QB, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. His legacy would be ruined.

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#21 by Bright Blue Shorts // Feb 09, 2016 - 5:08am

Not sure if this IS the place for it, and perhaps we need a "Manning's Legacy thread" but my thoughts are:

- fifteen years ago everybody talked about how great Dan Marino was as a QB/passer. He hardly even gets a mention in the top 10 now. The lack of championships hurt him. But at least he can laugh about it with Alec Baldwin.

- fifteen years ago people still wanted to talk about Terry Bradshaw as a great QB because he'd won four rings. He doesn't get a mention now.

- Last year when Tom Brady finally won his 4th SB the conversation for GOAT came down to him or Joe Montana. Being an efficient passer with rings matters.

I was really pleased to see Manning win a 2nd SB on Sunday. I think that Tom and Joe having two more rings than Peyton will always leave the two of them fighting for GOAT place while Manning gets sole possession of 3rd place above all the other QBs.

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#25 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:10am

There's nothing that Brady can do to remove that "-2" at the end of his SB record and the "-0" at the end of Montana's.

Unless Montana decides to embrace his inner Gordie Howe.

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#27 by hscer // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:32am

More importantly, Montana's playoff numbers are fantastic while Brady's are similar to guys like Young, Favre, and Manning. Montana and Brady did not perform equally in winning 4 Super Bowls.

Of course, in the public discussion, which you were replying in regards to, your point is more common. Which...argh.

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#28 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 09, 2016 - 10:06am

I realize. I was pointing out why the 'count the rings' argument works better for Montana.

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#63 by Anon Ymous // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:08pm

There are lots of good reasons to prefer Montana, but Brady losing two Super Bowls that Joe didn't even make it to is not one of them. Winning two additional championship games and having a marginal advantage in overall playoff winning percentage seems like it should be an plus, not a minus.

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#65 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:22pm

Just another reason why the win loss record is mostly irrelevant for comparing QBs. That comparison between Montana and Brady would be like saying that Eli was better than Peyton because he's 2-0 instead of 2-2.

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#68 by Anon Ymous // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:41pm

Well said. I think you can mine something useful out of a their total playoff resume, since it is over a season's worth of data, but 4 and 6 games, respectively... not so much.

I still think Montana is the greatest I ever saw, but sometimes it's hard to get past those early impressions when the game seems so mysterious and awe inspiring.

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#70 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:48pm

Sure, but then why not just look at the total game resume since it's a much larger sample data? Secret clutch sauce is more likely just a result of small sample size than anything meaningful.

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#73 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 5:17pm

I don't think they are any more likely to implode than during the regular season.

Sometimes teams just don't play up to their potential and there is usually significant variance in the DVOA. I'm actually a little curious about what DVOA 'luck' would look like, i.e., if you happened to play a bunch of teams when they had a bad day it would make you look a lot better when their average result is taken into account even though it wasn't really due to anything under your control.

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#74 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 5:20pm

Well, anyone who's an advocate of count the ringz or playoff performance as higher weighted factor in the greatness consideration.

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#75 by Anon Ymous // Feb 09, 2016 - 5:23pm

I don't recall saying it is a higher weighted factor, just that useful information can be gleaned from it.

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#33 by mehllageman56 // Feb 09, 2016 - 12:04pm

Don't agree with you about Marino's stature. Perhaps I'm biased as a Jets fan, but the first thing I think of is the Jets passing him over, and then all the times he torched a secondary in the AFC. I'd definitely put him in the top 10, maybe even top 5.

Perhaps Bradshaw has fallen by the wayside because fans pay better attention to stats, and realize how terrible Bradshaw's were. Namath gets put down over and over because of this as well.

I doubt Brady gets the nod over Cool Joe, simply because fans will get savvier and wonder how they can put Tom over Joe when Brady didn't even have the best DYAR in his division his first 3-4 years. Doubt that's going to be uncovered with Montana when this site gets through the 80s.

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#22 by Damon // Feb 09, 2016 - 8:08am

I look at that most points scored list and think, "poor Randy Moss". Played on two of the top 5 scoring teams in NFL history and got no rings to show for it.

As for Cam, Scott. You can point out how Carolina benefitted from short fields all year due to the defense forcing 39 turnovers, but the 2013 Seahawks also forced 39 turnovers, yet only ranked 8th in points scored and scored 45 touchdowns, whereas Carolina was 1st in points scored, scored 59 TD's, Cam accounted for 45 of them and ranked 9th in QBR with Ted Ginn, Philly Brown, Jericho Cotchery as his top wide receivers with Kelvin Benjamin out for the year. He deserved MVP, just as Manning did in 2013, but both got shut down by top 10 all-time single season happens.

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#26 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 09, 2016 - 9:14am

I do think Newton is being unfairly maligned here. To the extent that any part of Carolina's offense was functional in the SB, it was because Newton was making it work.

His two big runs happened when Denver's spy got washed out in the mess and when Denver's spy slipped when coming up to make the tackle. But when you can rush four, drop 6, and spy 1, and still manage to blanket every receiver and generate a 2 second pass rush, there's precious little any QB can do. He could scramble, but Denver had that covered. He could throw quick, but no one was open. He could buy time, but Denver was collapsing the line everywhere, while maintaining gap discipline.

There were no good options here, only arguably less bad ones.

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#30 by WeaponX // Feb 09, 2016 - 10:35am

I agree. He had a couple overthrows but was otherwise solid. For some reason a lot of folks don't want to see that.

Sometimes I even trip myself out.

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#35 by Joe Pancake // Feb 09, 2016 - 12:15pm

Disagree. It was basically the exact opposite, in my opinion. He had a few good plays, but was otherwise pretty lousy. He repeated missed his mark (sub-45% completion percentage), he held onto the ball too long despite knowing that his tackles were struggling (O-lineman Geoff Schwartz said in an interview that at least one of the strip sacks was on him), he didn't try to scramble enough or call his own number on read options even though him running was working, and, for whatever reason, he didn't make a play and salvage the second strip sack, when given the opportunity.

Now, obviously the Denver defense is awesome, but let's not turn them into something superhuman. Roethlisberger fared pretty well against them in the divisional round with a supporting cast arguably worse than Cam's (even Brady was probably than Cam two weeks ago despite being pressured even more -- Brady took three fewer sacks on seven more knockdowns).

Newton is supposed to be a superstar and be able to hold his own against great defenses and he didn't do it. It could very well be that this is isolated to this particular one-game sample, but this is the only game we're talking about.

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#40 by Dave Bernreuther // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:16pm

Yeah, people forget that it's pretty much impossible to look like your usual self, even if you're the MVP, when the defense plays that well. Some of the looking bad is because of the D. So he wasn't himself. Neither was Brady. Shit happens.

The high errant throws are inexcusable, though... but that's kind of what he has always done. Let's not forget that even against an easier slate and in a near-unanimous MVP season, he was still a sub-60% passer.

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#34 by johonny // Feb 09, 2016 - 12:05pm

Manning had the sort of SuperBowl run people like Marino and Fouts never had where their defense simple shuts down the opponent. It feels weird that after the AFC being dominated by QB oriented teams for years now when a defense first team finally wins one, the QB to benefit is Peyton Manning. It's hard to think this is a new era as defense oriented teams dominating DVA are rare according to football outsiders so we should likely suspect the AFC will reorient next season and a more offense heavy team will return. I know people thought the super bowl was boring but I found it fun and novel to watch. Something the NFL doesn't do well.

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#38 by Mugsy // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:02pm

fun & novel maybe- but loaded with false starts, fumbles, and Talib idiocy.. SLOPPY!

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#39 by Dave Bernreuther // Feb 09, 2016 - 1:08pm

For all the talk of "how bad Manning played" and "he had all these three and outs" the mention of Thomas's effort and the ALEX decisions really should be given more weight. When your average third down is 7.7 yards to go and your game plan to extend drives includes running the ball (despite mostly getting 2 yards a carry) and route combinations that don't go to the sticks, it's not entirely clear to me that the QB has full control over his DVOA/DYAR. He was essentially set up to fail by an offensive plan that deliberately sought to be mediocre. And the stats and many all-too-eager observers declare his play to be "terrible," when in reality I'd give it more of a "meh." He could have made a perfect decision and throw on every dropback and that offense was still going to struggle to move the ball consistently.

For instance, that 3rd and 17 where Thomas got popped on the crosser. In real time, I yelled "why would you throw that!" at the TV. Watching it again last night, I noticed that that was the only route that was even run seriously; the two receivers on the offensive left jogged half-ass clear-out routes just to make space for that. A 2 yard route on 3rd and 17. Why even bother? That was every third down play in a nutshell. (Though I need to re-watch the FG drive to make it 16-7, as I don't remember those two incompletes. That series is the only one that looks like it actually asked the QB to convert and he didn't.)

The throw the play before that on 2nd-17, where Kuechly showed his usual impressive range and Norman came off his guy to make a play, was another not-half-bad downfield throw too, running counter to the "he has no arm" overreaction common to many. Of course, once that one didn't succeed, they just folded up the tents on that drive. Which happened on a lot of drives. I found myself almost rooting for them to lose the lead just so that the offense would actually have to try to get a first down again.

This isn't to say the guy played an outstanding game; after all, they were in 3rd and long in that case because he took that sack (though I suppose you can blame the turf monster on that if you want) and on the prior series he took a sack on 3rd-3 on Kuechly's (green dog?) blitz. But there were a lot of failed runs and a lot of doomed from the start pass plays that really just stood out as bad design and overly risk-averse. And I'm sorry, I don't care how great your D is, you still can't just assume they'll hold a 6-point lead when the other O gets an extra down and has big play ability. Wade's D made it work, but we're supposed to be judging the process, not the results.

The one time I actually approved of Kubiak's process actually didn't get a good result... when he decided (presumably/hopefully on 3rd down) to go for that 4th after two failed runs. (Still, knowing that on 3rd, I'd have enjoyed a shot to the end zone on 2nd or 3rd maybe...)

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#45 by hscer // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:08pm

He was asked to do little and did little, ineffectively. Could he have put together another field goal drive if they'd fallen behind 17-16? Maybe. He led a touchdown drive down 13-12 just a few weeks ago. But he didn't have to, and we're left with a pretty bad game. He was fine outside of the interception and the sack-fumble-recover-sack-fumble-lost sequence, but those were two pretty bad ends of drives.

Now, if Manning doesn't retire, I could certainly imagine demonstrating what he could still do outside of the Kubiak offense being one of his biggest internal motives. It wasn't just this game where it appeared to handcuff him to at least some extent. I'm not sure it would work out how he might conceive of it, though. Especially if that Rams thing were to happen...ugh.

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#47 by dmstorm22 // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:27pm

I actually thought he looked decent in this game. The first drive was good. He had 3-4 good throws to Sanders in the second half. Very few complete ducks.

The pick was, but also a nice play by Ealy - but Mannign shuld have never thrown that ball. The sacks were bad, but he had no time.

I can't imagine him coming back, but I do think he would do better in a different offense.

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#49 by Dave Bernreuther // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:38pm

I still put the first Ealy sack on him, and fumbles are fumbles, you have to protect the football.

But otherwise, in general, the sacks were pretty quick. The first of the game by Kuechly wasn't really avoidable unless you can run like Wilson. One was on 3rd and 14, too, which does greaten one's tolerance for QB hits. I'd rather they called a pass downfield than the give up handoffs of other drives...

Really though, my point isn't to try to claim he played excellently; just that he played decent (to use your word) and the stats and results were bad. Playing great in that offense would've led to better results... which ascends to the level of mediocre.

Worked out in the end, of course, but that's not the kind of aspirations I want in a coach. (Thankfully, once Peyton retires I can go back to despising Elway and Kubiak.) It just leaves so little margin for error. Just a little bit of reversed fumble luck in that game and it could be a totally different outcome...

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#51 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:43pm

From what I remember the sacks were just the line collapsing very quickly so there wasn't really a ton he could do about it.

I've been saying for a lot of the year that most of the ineffectiveness for the Broncos offense was a result of the play calling. Manning clearly isn't his former self but he was capable of playing much better when needed. In one of the earlier threads I mentioned that the Broncos were often able to manufacture drives when they needed them and Vince (I think) responded with a breakdown of DVOA showing that the Broncos are much efficient when trailing or tied than they are when they have small lead.

Based on some of his interviews after the super bowl it sounds like he may have just accepted that he didn't need to be his former self and instead just play safe and let the defense carry the team.

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#48 by Dave Bernreuther // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:29pm

So you think that 3rd and 7.7 on average, route combos well shy of the sticks, and an eagerness to punt wasn't handcuffing him at all?

Perfectly effective and efficient little-doing would still have resulted in an ineffective offense and mediocre statistics. If that's the case, it's clearly not the best design.

I will always believe that he could've run the Gase offense this season at a mid-pack or better level, had Gase remained (and Phillips still been hired). But even if he went back to Gase, which isn't possible, the time spent re-syncing with new guys in a shortened off-season really doesn't make any sense, even if that desire to prove himself is VERY strong. Sure, this season was terrible, but he's still diminished and will continue to be.

The only roster I'd even consider putting him on would be the Jets... and even that would require a new OC and some SERIOUS finger-crossing about his health and the fact that that'd be a lot of games against scary front 7s and 2-3 more Belichick showdowns. Plus you know he wouldn't want to share NY with his brother.

(But really, he's 40. There no way he will or should. It would be lunacy.)

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#52 by hscer // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:44pm

What I said was, "It wasn't just this game where it appeared to handcuff him to at least some extent."

Actually, your second paragraph describes the AFC Championship Game perfectly. And if he'd managed 0 DYAR again, instead of the -115 he got in the Super Bowl, I wouldn't be as critical. I am glad that he at least converted the two-point try for his final pass.

Not saying he should come back. I really hope he retires as well.

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#53 by deus01 // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:48pm

DYAR is tied to the strategy of the team. So if the game plan was to throw to a receiver on a 2 yard route on 3rd and 7 that's probably not going to result in very good DYAR no matter how well the QB executes.

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#54 by hscer // Feb 09, 2016 - 2:51pm

Okay, if he'd managed a 5.3 ANY/A instead of 2.2, or a 90 rating instead of 57, or a 33 QBR instead of 10. You get the idea.

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#56 by Will Allen // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:21pm

If he was insane enough to try, I'd say he and Bill O'Brien might possibly put together an offense which ran nearly completely from shotgun or pistol, which could get them into the top half of the league offensively, IF Manning has some hope that he might get more feeling back in his hand/fingers. With an already decent defense, and adding some more talent in a couple spots (I have no idea what their cap situation looks like), in a weak division, you have a chance to win a playoff game, and then see what transpires.

You're right, though. It's lunacy.

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#59 by dmstorm22 // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:27pm

The venn diagram intersection of teams that are good enough where they have a realistic chance to compete and weak enough at QB to want a 40-year old Peyton Manning is really small.

Houston is the only team that came to mind. I guess you can stretch and say the Rams.

Personally, the only reason I would want him to come back is that I don't want a league without Manning, but it won't end well. Manning had his Favre 2010 season, just somehow by luck he was able to parlay that into a Super Bowl.

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#64 by Bobman // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:21pm

He'd need a strong run game and Gurley provides that but I am not sure Houston can (Foster, much as I like him, is done). A strong D, and both can help him there. Can he mesh with the coaching staff and O philosophy might be a huge issue.

But at his age... we're all commenting on what he CAN or CANNOT contribute (call that hard/numerical/statistical thinking), but to go softer on you, what's in his head and every aching joint? I am sure he'd like to contribute forever, but he has enough money, enough records, enough rings and maybe the husk of a body that will take him into his 80s without completely breaking down. He has so little to gain (legacy) and so much to lose (health) at this stage. I'm a Colts fan who watched Johnny U stumble through a disastrous final season in SD. Please say no.

Maybe I think this way because I am old fart of 51 who coaches wrestling and am in constant pain all season. At some point he has to listen to that domestic voice saying when are you going to enjoy all this wealth you have accumulated? Ashley might want to visit Europe and not push you around in a wheel chair. Your two kids are six--will you go skiing with them in five years? Or play catch? Will you be able to pick up your grandkids someday?

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#67 by Will Allen // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:37pm

I think the Vikings might decide to not take on Peterson's cap number one more year, and Peterson will want to play in Texas if he isn't going to earn 11 million. I'd say Houston and Dallas would be in play, and I think his home is actually closer to Houston. IF Manning is indeed insane, and he were to take a deal in Houston, THEN I think Manning could be part of a successful effort to recruit Peterson on a 1 year deal. On the other hand, I don't think Peterson would be wild about running out of the shotgun exclusively.

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#77 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 09, 2016 - 6:53pm

Palestine is roughly halfway between the two. I've been there. Small town. I feel bad for the kids in HS who had to try to tackle him.

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#66 by Will Allen // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:30pm

If I'm 40 year old, nerve damaged, Peyton Manning, I sure as hell don't to play for a team with a bad o-line and a head coach and d coordinator known to encourage cheap shots on opposing quarterbacks. I'd be shocked if Manning would consider the Rams as a possibility.

Points: 0

#69 by dmstorm22 // Feb 09, 2016 - 4:42pm

I did forgot about the Gregg Williams connection to the Super Bowl (though the Saints barely did hit Manning).

That said, Fisher has a lot of respect for Manning (I still remember him wearing Manning's jersey saying 'he wants to feel like a winner' after his 0-6 start in '09). I could see it as a 1% chance (Houston maybe 5%, I'll give Denver a token 4% and 90% he's done).

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#76 by mehllageman56 // Feb 09, 2016 - 6:52pm

He'd be better off in Oakland, who also have the cap room to take him on, because Oakland has a solid O line. Of course, the Raiders probably wouldn't want to replace Carr at this point. The Jets line really isn't good anymore, Fitz gets rid of the ball quick to make them look better as far as pass blocking, and the receivers make Fitz look good.

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#87 by Scott Kacsmar // Feb 10, 2016 - 1:22am

Double-fumble drive was a bad sequence, but funny thing about stats: if Carolina recovers the first Manning fumble, he finishes with -81 DYAR instead of -115 while very little about the game changes.

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#89 by Grendel13G // Feb 10, 2016 - 2:27am

For instance, that 3rd and 17 where Thomas got popped on the crosser. In real time, I yelled "why would you throw that!" at the TV.

Ha! I actually yelled the exact same thing. (OK, not exact; I yelled "why would you even throw that?")

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#61 by nickdanger // Feb 09, 2016 - 3:30pm

I was struck by how often CJ Anderson appeared to make the wrong decision on whether to cut back or take it to the outside. The zone blocking scheme leaves it to the runner to decide whether to cut back or not, and I'm pretty sure CJ cut back on all but one of his runs (not counting dive plays). A number of times it appeared that the lead blocker had a good block on his man, but CJ cut back even though there was no hole and/or the pursuit had not been sealed off. It happened so many times it left me wondering whether the cutbacks were actually part of the game plan, maybe to physically beat on the Panther edge rushers.

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#79 by panthersnbraves // Feb 09, 2016 - 7:33pm

Panthurz suk! We get it. Cam wasn't awful. The Denver Defense wasn't earth-shattering, but they did keep the Panthers from overcoming their string of mistakes - kudos for that.

Random thoughts: I think it WAS a catch. I think Cam was in "No Man's Land" - too close to dive, too far to kneel (which he did a split-second later.) I think Becky had as much to do with this loss as the ATL#2 game. If the NFL doesn't want fans screaming "fix" maybe Clete shouldn't spend the warm-up period yucking it up with PM... Losing Philly hurt. Norwell too. Plus Stew, since he is also the best pass-blocking back. Too many drops/penalties. ... and still the Panthers had a chance.

It's not the Panthers style, but in a lot of ways, I want them to turn heel, out-Patriot the hated Pats and hang a 50-burger on everybody in the AFCW/NFCW so that this ABBA crap gets put to bed forever.

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#80 by WeaponX // Feb 09, 2016 - 8:09pm

The Panthers already turned heel! Cam "not trying" for the fumble was like short arming a tag partner. The reveal was his presser attire + walking out.

Sometimes I even trip myself out.

Points: 0

#90 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 2:47am

Two long articles (which I much enjoyed) hammering away about Manning and the playoffs and Kacsmar finally hit the nail in the lead for Close Encounters. In the playoffs, teams that score a lot of points and win a lot of games perform below expectations. They repeatedly lose, usually at home or on a neutral field, to teams that score fewer points and win fewer games. That is my takeaway from the "long list of post-season duds from the 500 point club". Until this year, Peyton Manning's teams fit in the 'score-a-lot, win-a-lot" category, and so he gets tagged as under-performing in the playoffs. Analyzing why Manning gets down-graded misses the elephant. Why do great teams (of the 18 teams in the 500-point club, 15 exceeded 12 wins and 2 were 12-4), and Kacsmar's list is loaded, keep getting knocked off by lesser teams in the playoffs? Of the 12 teams that defeated a 500-point club, only two had won more games in the regular season. (In 1984, San Francisco (15-1) won the Super Bowl over Miami (14-2, 513 points and 48 TD passes by Marino); in 2004, the Pats (14-2) beat the Colts (12-4, 522 points and 49 TD passes by Manning) in Foxboro.) The total number of regular-season losses for the losing teams in the 500-point club is 35, 26 fewer than the 61 chalked-up by the winning teams. From my point of view, in the playoffs, the NFL is regularly awarding the championship trophy to demonstrably inferior teams. Not sure why this is, but officiating is my leading suspect prima facie.

(Who wins the Super Bowl? In the first-half+ of the "DVOA era", as they call it, from 1989 to 2004, the teams competing in the Super Bowl had the same regular season record 5 times, 9 times the team with the better record won the game and twice the club with fewer wins won the big game. This is sort of the split I expect. In the last 11 years, the ratios are reversed. Twice has the winner had the better and twice have the competitors had the same record. In the other seven Super Bowls, including this year, the team with more losses won. Not really deep analysis here, and the sample is only 11 games, but strongly counter-intuitive.)

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#99 by Will Allen // Feb 10, 2016 - 12:44pm

Then there isn't any reason to suspect officiating is playing a large role, or to think anything is very counter-intuitive. The season is only 16 games long. The won-loss record, really, and even points scored, is not tremendously predictive of the next 3 games.

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#100 by bravehoptoad // Feb 10, 2016 - 1:46pm

Then there isn't any reason to suspect officiating is playing a large role....

This doesn't follow from the proposition that defense has value.

It's pretty easy to show that fewer penalties are called in the playoffs, which could lead to the suspicion that playoff football is a different enough game from regular-season football that it rewards different kinds of teams.

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#107 by bravehoptoad // Feb 10, 2016 - 7:52pm

I don't know either, but it is reason for suspicion, and much better statisticians than I am have been interested by the question (Chase Stuart, for example).

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#108 by eagle97a // Feb 10, 2016 - 8:31pm

Or it might be as the season goes along the teams specially well-coached ones learn how the refs call penalties and thereby calls decrease. And if you consider that the NFL annually reviews their rules and regulations and rule changes and emphases are the norm yearly at least recently, the teams are in a learning curve throughout the season and it peaks around the playoffs and this might be shown by a rough graph of the number of penalties called weekly. I'm not aware of any studies of this nature, if there is any I would greatly appreciate link/s.

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#103 by SandyRiver // Feb 10, 2016 - 3:18pm

Without looking at the numbers, I'd guess the decrease is mainly in things like DPI, offensive/defensive holding, which might wind up with similar effects on offense and defense. Pre-snap penalties, personal fouls, I'd guess would be called about the same. YMMV

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#106 by bravehoptoad // Feb 10, 2016 - 7:51pm

...which might wind up with similar effects on offense and defense.

Or might not. What's the value of DPI versus offensive holding, for instance? I don't know, but it would be strange if they were of exactly equal value.

Points: 0

#110 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 11:50pm

Personally, I would expect the number of wins in the regular season to be somewhat predictive of the odds of winning a game in the playoffs. The table below lists for the playoffs in some year, the number of games won by the team with more wins in the regular season, the number of wins by teams with fewer wins in the regular season and the number of games in which the playoff opponents had the same regular season record. I could go through some more but it does look like regular season wins is a decent predictor of the winner of a playoff game, if I have not violated some basic stats principle. (Call this the better_record_won-worse_record_won-tie (B_W_T) table)

2015 7-3-1
2014 5-3-3
2013 7-1-3
2003 7-3-1
2002 6-2-3
2001 5-4-2
1991 9-1-1
1990 7-1-3
1989 6-1-2

tot: 61-19-19

B_W_T-Wins --> B_W_T table for games won by 500-point club team in playoffs
B_W_T-Final Game --> B_W_T table for final game of 500-point team in playoffs

Team B_W_T-Wins Year PTS Result Opp. B_W_T-Final Game
SF (13-3) 2-0-0 1994 505 Won Super Bowl SD (11-5) 1-0-0
Den (14-2) 2-0-0 1998 501 Won Super Bowl Atl (14-2) 0-0-1
StL (13-3) 2-0-0 1999 526 Won Super Bowl Ten (13-3) 0-0-1
NO (13-3) 2-0-0 2009 510 Won Super Bowl Ind (14-2) 0-1-0

In these playoff games, the record was 9-1-2, or 9 gomes won by the team with a better record, 1 won by the team with a lesser record and two games between teams with equivalent records.

Was (14-2) 2-0-0 1983 541 Lost Super Bowl LAR (12-4) 0-1-0
Mia (14-2) 2-0-0 1984 513 Lost Super Bowl SF (15-1) 1-0-0
Min (15-1) 1-0-0 1998 556 Lost NFC-C Atl (14-2) 0-1-0
StL (10-6) 0-0-0 2000 540 Lost NFC-WC NO* (10-6) 0-0-1
StL (14-2) 2-0-0 2001 503 Lost Super Bowl NE (11-5) 0-1-0
Ind (12-4) 0-0-0 2004 522 Lost AFC-DIV NE* (14-2) 1-0-0
NE (16-0) 2-0-0 2007 589 Lost Super Bowl NYG (10-6) 0-1-0
NE (14-2) 0-0-0 2010 518 Lost AFC-DIV NYJ (11-5) 0-1-0
NE (13-3) 2-0-0 2011 513 Lost Super Bowl NYG (9-7) 0-1-0
NO (13-3) 1-0-0 2011 547 Lost NFC-DIV SF* (13-3) 0-0-1
NE (12-4) 0-0-1 2012 557 Lost AFC-C Bal (10-6) 0-1-0
Den (13-3) 2-0-0 2013 606 Lost Super Bowl Sea (13-3) 0-0-1
Car (15-1) 2-0-0 2015 500 Lost Super Bowl Den (1204) 0-1-0

*away game

In above playoff games, the record was 18-8-4, or 18 gomes won by the team with a better record, 8 won by the team with a lesser record and 4 games between teams with equivalent records. Combining the B_W_T tables gives us 27-9-6 for the 18 teams to score 500 points, which expresses similar ratios as the table (61-19-19) for all playoff games calculated above.

So while I expect teams in the 500-point club to outperform other playoff teams, I need to marshal more data supporting that position. In the meantime, I am getting the flu despite my flu shot, so posting and leaving it be for now.

Points: 0

#111 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 11:52pm

I apologize for the run-together columns in the table. Hope anyone who tries can decipher the fields.

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#112 by panthersnbraves // Feb 11, 2016 - 7:56am

I think it would be interesting to matrix this with Home/Away, particularly in the WC round where the weaker record team is often the home team. It would be interesting to know which it tracks better to.

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#88 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 2:00am

Brady says the job of the offense is to score points, so, while I was looking up data for another post, I gathered the numbers for how many points in the regular season the offenses QB'ed by Brady and Manning scored. I ignored the first three season of Manning's career when Brady was not in the league or not a starter. Beginning with Brady's first season as a starter in 2001, the two quarterbacks have played 14 seasons and missed all of one season. Matching seasons, and matching Brady's season when Manning was out against Manning's season when Brady was injured, each player led the higher scoring offense 7 times. In the same 14 seasons, Brady's teams outscored Manning's teams by 33 points. A more accurate comparison would exclude a bunch of scores, like kick returns, for each player, and maybe later I will revisit this, but not now. Personally, I am monstrously surprised at how close the numbers are.

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#94 by dmstorm22 // Feb 10, 2016 - 9:07am

Couple things that would have to be factored in:

1.) Late season rest games by the Colts impacting their totals in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 (Man, the Colts rested a lot)

2.) As you mentioned turnovers and non-offensive scores, but also field position and special teams (though Manning's kickers in the regular season have generally been very good)

3.) The scoring environment in the league when Brady's team scored more have generally been in a higher offensive environment than Mannings. Case in point, the 2010 Colts scored 435 points, the 2006 Colts scored 427; I know which offense was definitely better than the other.

Points: 0

#104 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 5:07pm

Yes, there are a number of things required for a robust evaluation. PFR has a comparison metric for all players from 1950 forward. Manning and Brady, in that order, sit at the top of the list, so the work may be done.

Points: 0

#109 by mbmxyz // Feb 10, 2016 - 8:54pm

I like simple stats. The point of the offense is to score points, not rack up DYAR. Teams try to win games, not maximize DVOA. The advanced numbers are cool, but I am not that good at stats. So I like to investigate the more elemental numbers, and find that during overlapping portion of their careers, the offenses Manning and Brady run have scored almost exactly the same number of points, maybe, a big maybe in fact.

Points: 0

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