NFL Stat Oddity: 2020 Conference Championship Games

Two playoff rematches, two sweeps completed.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

While we shouldn’t have taken two Week 6 games to heart for Sunday, there were plenty of qualities in both that carried over to the rematch in these title games, won again by the Buccaneers and Chiefs. Their defenses made life extra difficult again for Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen as the latest quarterbacks to fall short of a Super Bowl win on 500-point teams. That sets up an overhyped Super Bowl that will likely end after Travis Kelce throws an interception to tackle-eligible Mike Remmers or something ridiculous.

Or it could end with crowning the first repeat champion in the NFL since the 2003-04 Patriots. We have two weeks to worry about that, so for now let’s just recap a high scoring, but relatively low drama Championship Sunday in the NFL.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

The 500-Point Club Falls Short Again

It would have been difficult for the Packers and Bills to crash harder on Sunday than they already did in the regular season against these opponents. However, both lost after scoring over 500 points in the regular season. Neither was able to score more than 26 points, meaning the 2011 Saints (32) and 2018 Chiefs (31) are still the only 500-point teams who scored at least 30 points in their playoff loss. Only five of the 26 teams won a championship.

Buccaneers at Packers: The LOAT vs. Not the GOAT

This may (not) shock you, but I don’t think the greatest quarterback of all time was on the field in Green Bay on Sunday afternoon. I only view Tom Brady as the Luckiest of All Time (LOAT), never the GOAT. I have never seen Aaron Rodgers, the greatest front-runner in NFL history, as the GOAT. I would take Peyton Manning over both of them any day, and I already like what Patrick Mahomes is doing so much that I probably never have to change the initials for my answer to that tired question of who is the best to ever do it.

All Sunday’s game did for me was solidify why I never view these players that way. I saw Rodgers come up short again and miss too many opportunities after rarely faltering the rest of the year. Still, this is probably his best NFC Championship Game performance yet, which says a lot about his career. I saw Brady take advantage of inexplicable mistakes by the opponent before throwing three straight interceptions and trying to give the game away, which his defense of course would not allow. No quarterback has won more playoff games with three interceptions than Brady’s three wins, doing it for the second time in a title game. Brady is also the only quarterback to ever throw three interceptions in a road Conference Championship Game and win. All other quarterbacks were 0-17.

If I wanted to see the pinnacle of the position, apparently I had to wait until 6:40 P.M. At the very least, it wasn’t 38-10 this time.

Part I: The Nice Start

One thing I prefaced this game with was that hyped-up quarterback battles rarely result in games where both play very well. For about a quarter and a half, these two were looking to prove me wrong. Both started hot with some great third-down plays while the running games were rather stagnant outside of Leonard Fournette’s 20-yard touchdown run. He loves the spin button more than the most devoted Madden player.

Rodgers especially seemed to have a moment late in the first quarter with the Packers, down 7-0, facing a 3rd-and-15 at their own 5 after a sack. Rodgers rolled out in his own end zone and fired a pass to Allen Lazard for 23 yards. That led to a game-tying 50-yard touchdown pass that was perfectly dropped in on another third down to Marques Valdes-Scantling (MVS). We had a tied game instead of Tampa Bay getting great field position and going up two scores.

The Buccaneers did score a second touchdown after the Green Bay secondary again misjudged a ball in the air and Chris Godwin came down with the prayer for a 52-yard gain to set up Fournette’s score. Rodgers seemed to be answering right back and got Aaron Jones involved on the ground after the back nearly lost a fumble in the red zone, but it was recovered by an alert Robert Tonyan.

But things were looking fine as the Packers called their first timeout with 5:13 left in the second quarter with the ball at the Tampa Bay 6.

Then the collapse started.

Part II: The Collapse

Green Bay was outstanding in the red zone this year, scoring a touchdown on 80% of attempts to lead the league. I gave Rodgers shit for throwing so many short touchdowns on early downs to pad his stats so he could win MVP this year, but admittedly, they were really effective down here. It’s just that these were not attempts from the 1-yard line on Sunday. These were all from the 6-yard line, and that’s where Rodgers locked in with tunnel vision to Davante Adams on three straight incompletions.

On the first one, Rodgers absolutely put the ball on a spot that Adams could catch it on a back-shoulder play. Not the most egregious drop you’ll ever see, and not the kind of play any receiver can make, but it is the kind of timing play that Rodgers and Adams have been hitting this year because of how high of a level they’ve been playing. Just not this time.

On second down, Rodgers forced another one that was batted at the line. On third down, he again went to Adams in the back of the end zone, but Adams ran out of room and couldn’t even establish one foot in bounds. Meanwhile, replay clearly showed Lazard beat his man, who fell down, at the line and was wide open on a slant in the front of the end zone.

Again, I am never a big fan of the “he should have thrown to this guy” analysis, but there was a strong argument here that Rodgers screwed up. The Packers kicked a field goal and trailed 14-10.

Even the best red-zone offense can mess up one drive, right? Green Bay got the ball back with 2:10 left for an opportunity at a double score since the Packers deferred and would get the ball first in the third quarter. Cue the game management malfeasance. Now it’s one thing to slow-walk a third-down snap when you don’t know if you’ll convert or not. But once the Packers converted with 23 yards to Lazard, they should have used their second timeout or hurried up to snap the ball quickly. The Packers were very slow to snap the ball, taking over 25 seconds to get the next play off while spending at least half that time set at the line. The result of the play was a sack too with 34 seconds left.

That was a killer. I have no idea why the Packers would wait so long for that play when they had a chance for points, if not a touchdown before halftime. Again, one thing I always appreciated about a Manning-led offense was the quickness he could get the next play off with the clock moving. Rodgers either had a brain fart here or Matt LaFleur was not playing for enough points.

On the next play, Rodgers made his first real bad decision with a pick caught in tight coverage by Sean Murphy-Bunting at midfield. On replay, Murphy-Bunting clearly had a jersey grab on Lazard as he undercut him to make the pick, but it wasn’t called as part of a first half with zero penalties. If you’re going to let them play, you have to keep it consistent…

Tampa Bay seemed to waste the good field position after three plays, but sent the offense back out on a fourth down, which was converted with a short pass to Fournette with 8 seconds left. At the Green Bay 39 and the Buccaneers out of timeouts, the Packers had to be thinking the sidelines or Hail Mary. The Bucs really had no other choices there.

Somehow, the Buccaneers ran just three receivers on routes and Kevin King, who had a horrible game, wasn’t able to cover Scotty Miller, giving up a 39-yard touchdown to end the half. It’s an inexplicable defense to play in that spot.

All three of those touchdowns happened in Lambeau Field in the last 10 seasons, but the other two were Hail Mary attempts. This was just a blown coverage that never should have been single coverage. All I could think is if Antonio Brown (inactive with injury) was in the game, would they have covered this one so poorly? King was getting beat by every Tampa Bay receiver in the game, but would they at least give more attention to Brown than Miller? Defenses just don’t seem to show him any respect despite him getting open deep several times this year, including the only big one last week in New Orleans.

Tampa Bay led 21-10 at halftime, but it was about to get worse. Three plays into the third quarter, Rodgers flipped a short pass to Aaron Jones. He may not have been able to get a first down, but he had the right momentum carrying him towards the sticks. However, he was hit by Devin White and the ball popped out. Tampa Bay was inside the Green Bay 8 and the Packers had two more turnovers after having a league-low 11 in the first 17 games this year.

It took Brady one play to make it a touchdown as, like I said in my preview, no one covers Cameron Brate this postseason. The tight end was all alone in the end zone for the easiest touchdown of the day and the Packers were down 28-10 with 13:54 left in the third quarter. Tampa Bay is the only offense in the last 20 postseasons to have three touchdown drives start inside the opponent 20. Tampa Bay’s offense has four drives that started inside the opponent 40 this postseason. The rest of the league has three, and that includes Buffalo last night.

In a span of barely six minutes of game time, the Packers went from looking like a team about to tie the game, then to maybe pulling off the double score, only to fall behind 28-10. There was the Green Bay collapse, because the Packers came back to outscore Tampa 16-3 the rest of the way. But the game was largely lost in that six-minute span, and I find it hard to see how quarterback skill was the main difference in that stretch.

I did not mention that Brady threw up this deep pass two plays before the Miller touchdown, shades of last week in New Orleans when the Saints could not capitalize on three interception chances from Brady.

It did however look like the quarterbacks were going to decide how the comeback portion went, if only Rodgers could actually make the biggest comeback of his career. It took a 21-3 deficit against Brady and the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship Game for Manning to break through in the playoffs. Rodgers had his shot here now.

Part III: The Failed Comeback

Some of my earliest writing was on how Rodgers is the greatest quarterback in NFL history to rarely pull off comeback wins. For as much as he wins and how many points he scores and how many opportunities he’s had, you just expect more from him in this department. Rodgers is now 18-44 (.290) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and the Packers have won three games with him after trailing by at least 16 points at any time. Now he has gotten better since those early seasons, but I would be lying if I thought he would make this a great game.

Some of that is my thoughts on him mentally folding against a team that was sacking him more than he’s used to. I felt he folded in Week 6 after throwing the two picks. But this time, it was a Jones fumble that was a huge play to go against him.

My other big concern with Green Bay has nothing to do with Rodgers. It’s when they get down big in playoff games like this one, or 31-0 in the 2016 title game (Atlanta), or last year’s 37-20 loss in San Francisco, they don’t stop the bleeding on defense. They continue trading scores, making it impossible to ever make a comeback when you need stops. A string of stops, and usually a turnover for good field position to make it easier.

Well, this time Rodgers got his turnovers. Way more than anyone could imagine really. While Rodgers got the rally attempt started with a nice 75-yard touchdown drive, the defense really got things going with a pick of a terrible Brady deep ball. Rodgers turned that into a 68-yard touchdown drive with 24 seconds left in the third, but Equanimeous St. Brown dropped a two-point conversion pass to keep the score at 28-23. Ndamukong Suh got a very small tip of the ball, but not enough to knock it off path to where St. Brown shouldn’t have caught it.

So that was disappointing, but at least we had a one-score game going into the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay looked to add more points, but Brady was high on a pass to an extended Mike Evans (all 6’5” of him), and that ball was deflected to an interception by Jaire Alexander.

Rodgers had his chance to take Green Bay’s first lead of the day, but this of course ended up being the only game all season where the Packers never led. The pass protection continued to fail Rodgers. He was hit on the first play of the drive after trying to hit a big play. On third down, he was sacked as edge pressure again hurt the Packers. Shaq Barrett (3.0) and Jason Pierre-Paul (2.0 sacks) lived in the backfield as the Packers tied their season-high in allowing five sacks. No one got a higher pressure rate on Rodgers this year than Tampa Bay in Week 6, and it felt rather high again on Sunday as Rodgers took multiple sacks for only the fourth time all season.

Rodgers enjoyed the best pass protection this season, but a late-season injury to David Bakhtiari was a big warning flag for this postseason run, especially against a blitz-happy Tampa defense that already owned the Packers with Bakhtiari in the lineup for 40 snaps that day. I find it hard to believe Rodgers takes five sacks in this game if he played, but there were issues on the right side of the line as well. There were always going to be issue when these teams met if you ask me, and I don’t think Rodgers and LaFleur had a good enough plan to overcome that from 38-10.

The Packers went three-and-out after losing 5 yards. Brady threw his third straight interception on another poor prayer of a pass he just lobbed up. Barrett got an incredible jump on the snap and sacked Rodgers again to start the next drive, also a three-and-out that lost yards. Is that not a great summary of Brady’s career? He throws two picks, but his defense doesn’t even give up a single positive yard, let alone a first down or points out of it. Not to mention this was against the best offense in 2020.

Rob Gronkowski got me to bet real money on him to score a touchdown, but of course he screwed me over and only got one target in the game. It was a big one, however, as it was a screen pass that he rumbled for 29 yards on. Go figure, his over/under for the game was 28.5 yards. I don’t know how Vegas does it so often. That set up Ryan Succop for a 46-yard field goal, and despite his ill-fitting last name, the veteran came through unlike some superior kickers this postseason. Tampa Bay still led 31-23, but Rodgers had another shot with 4:33 left.

Last time it was at the 6-yard line where the Packers failed in the red zone. This time it was getting the ball to the 8-yard line at 2:22. Once again, the sequence focused too heavily on Adams and it was poorly done. Rodgers and Lazard seemed to be on the wrong page on first down. On second down, Rodgers stepped up and threw the ball away through the back of the end zone after pressure got to him. On third down, this is the heavily criticized play where he had a chance to run and didn’t. He forced a terrible pass low to Adams between two defenders.

The throw was terrible, but I really do not see the run as a viable option here. Rodgers looked like he could outrun Tampa’s defense a few times in the game, only for them to trap him quickly. They are a fast defense, and I think #90 (JPP) could have taken him down in a hurry there, which would have used up the two-minute warning clock stoppage.

Then LaFleur threw his name in the Mike McCarthy potluck by kicking a field goal with 2:05 left on fourth down from the 8. I am not sure this is a horrible decision, but as the hours pass since this game ended, I am leaning towards hating it more. I’m not big on trying the fourth-and-8 and needing that and a two-point conversion just to tie and force the Bucs into some aggressive offense with two minutes left. That sounds like a shitty spot to be in to me. I kind of like the idea of getting a chipshot field goal, 31-26, then use my four clock stoppages to get the ball back from an offense that likes 1-2 yard runs and a quarterback with a spotty history in the four-minute offense, before I drive for the game-winning touchdown. I can at least see the rationale and appeal of that way.

But overall, I think the Packers failed on early downs, should have considered a run there, and set up a shorter throw like they have all season. That third down was no man’s land for Rodgers. No one was open and a run wouldn’t have gained much of anything. Maybe it makes the fourth down a little shorter, but still difficult. The fourth down is also no man’s land. Just not the spot you want to be in for that situation.

The Packers were 2-for-4 in goal-to-go situations on Sunday after converting them 90.5% of the time in the regular season (No. 2 in NFL). Green Bay finishes 5-of-9 (55.6%) in goal-to-go this postseason after going 38-for-42 in the regular season, matching their total stops in 16 games in just two playoff games. How disappointing.

The offense never saw the ball again. The defense was able to set up a crucial third-and-4, but the pass rush didn’t get home and Brady had time to throw a pass in the general direction of Tyler Johnson, who had his jersey pulled. Go figure, it was Kevin King on the penalty, which was a late flag on a ball you’d think would be uncatchable, but no one ever pays attention to that part of the rule. The most frustrating part is that this wasn’t called a penalty earlier in the game on the interception when Tampa Bay grabbed the jersey of Rodgers’ receiver, but they called it here and it effectively ended the game. It also helped that Johnson sold it with a soccer flop.

The Buccaneers set an NFL record for defensive pass interference penalties drawn in the regular season (24), so go figure they ice the game with one here.

Conclusion

Rodgers made some big strides from 38-10 against this defense, but it wasn’t an MVP-caliber performance from him when he badly needed one in the biggest home game of his career. Aaron Jones was a disappointment, the offensive line was a huge letdown, and the connection with Adams didn’t look as good as it usually does.

Still, I do not understand the criticism of Green Bay not drafting a wide receiver this year for this game. MVS had over 100 yards and Lazard was open a good deal too. He should have had an easy touchdown if Rodgers was looking for someone besides Adams. I thought the secondary wideouts were good. It was the defensive backs that were a bigger problem. Jaire Alexander is a fine player, but he can only cover one receiver at a time. The Packers had a big weakness in King and the Buccaneers exploited him in the worst ways. This is why you can never have enough good corners in the NFL today. In fact, it’s better to have a solid group of corners without any great players than it is to have a great corner but a liability in coverage. The Packers had the liability today and it cost them.

Rodgers, 38 next season, talked of an “uncertain future” after this game. I would be shocked if he wasn’t the Green Bay quarterback in 2021. I think he was just dealing with one of the toughest losses of his career and will be back.

But will anything change for the Packers? They have now been swept out of seven straight postseasons by the 2012 49ers, 2013 49ers, 2014 Seahawks, 2015 Cardinals, 2016 Falcons, 2019 49ers, and 2020 Buccaneers. Very fine teams for sure, but notice none of them so far have won a Super Bowl. LaFleur might as well have been wearing a McCarthy costume today. When you beat this team in the regular season, it doesn’t seem like they ever have an answer for how to reverse it in the playoffs. Same old Packers.

As for Tampa Bay, this is what I said in my preseason predictions when I picked them to finish 11-5 and be the No. 5 seed:

But if the Buccaneers do get to the Super Bowl, it’s in Tampa Bay this year, a homefield advantage no team has ever had before in the big game. If anyone was lucky enough to reap those benefits…

Brady is now 2-0 when he throws at least three interceptions in a Conference Championship Game. All other quarterbacks are 5-25. Of course, he’s still in another Super Bowl. Good thing Tampa Bay will be facing a better quarterback and coach this time.

Bills at Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes Is What Fans Wanted Aaron Rodgers to Be

So much for 6-point wins, near interceptions, and struggling in the red zone: Kansas City is back in the Super Bowl. I’ll keep this recap short and simple, just like the Chiefs kept the competitive portion of this 38-24 win over Buffalo.

No one will remember Buffalo led 9-0 after a quarter, but it was fool’s gold. The Bills got an opening field goal after the Chiefs dropped an interception. The Chiefs went three-and-out after Tyreek Hill dropped a deep ball on third down. The Bills got a 3-yard touchdown drive after Mecole Hardman muffed a punt return before he was even hit. Again, you have to hope this team beats itself to have a chance.

Once the Chiefs found their hands, they answered back with three straight touchdowns to take a 21-12 lead at halftime, never looking back. Patrick Mahomes looked healthy as could be a week after a big scare against Cleveland. Even when he didn’t need to bring his A-game, this offense made things look easy. Mahomes finished 29-of-38 for 325 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers, real or otherwise. It was a clean game for Travis Kelce and Hill to show they are no match for soft coverage, and Hill also exploded after the catch on a 71-yard play.

The only surprise was that the Chiefs barely got anything out of the ground game after a season-high 245 yards in Week 6 in Buffalo. The running backs finished with 19 carries for 59 yards, and a good chunk of that was with the game already decided. Hardman made up for his blunder with a 50-yard run.

The Bills ended up rushing for 129 yards, but Josh Allen had 88 of those yards on scrambles. It was much better than his passing as he completed 28-of-48 passes for 287 yards. He also took four sacks for 53 yards, the second-most sack yards he’s lost in a game in his career. Allen was too indecisive at getting rid of the ball and too inaccurate when he did.

I brought up twice this week that Buffalo’s offense had been a third-down disappointment this postseason after finishing No. 1 in the regular season. The Bills were only 5-of-14 (35.7%) in this game while the Chiefs were 6-of-10 (6-of-9 excluding a game-ending kneeldown).

Much like in Week 6, Allen and the Bills couldn’t make any big plays on the Chiefs defense. It wasn’t until 4:06 remained that the Bills had their first play of 25+ yards from scrimmage against Kansas City this year. That was a 34-yard catch by Stefon Diggs, who finished with 77 yards on a quiet night for him.

Head coach Sean McDermott did not improve his profile in this game, choosing to kick two short field goals with only 2-3 yards to go on fourth down after it was evident his defense did not have the ability to stop the Chiefs. That was poorly managed, and I do not agree with the two-point conversion attempt late to try cutting it to a 15-point game at 4:08. Kick the extra point, make it 38-22, then after they miraculously recovered the onside kick, you’re still in business with a chance to cut the lead in half and make Mahomes do something with an 8-point lead. Instead, the Bills were down 17, settled for a field goal after Allen’s fourth huge sack of the night nearly caused a fight, and then the Bills watched Mahomes run five times to burn the rest of the clock for a 38-24 final. Lame.

Buffalo is in better shape than most AFC teams. It is no guarantee there are more rounds to come in future Bills-Chiefs playoff matchups – we are still waiting for the first Ravens-Chiefs playoff game in this era after all – but this was the team’s best season since the Super Bowl runs. Buffalo can still grow and get better, and it will be interesting to see if it becomes a hot free agent destination for teams wanting to knock off the Chiefs. Unless players rather take discounts and just go to Kansas City while the Bills have to pay Allen a fortune very soon. We’ll see.

The 2020 Chiefs are not a very dominant 16-2 team, but they absolutely have shown they can turn on a switch at times for big matchups. They dominated the Ravens 34-20 in Baltimore. They swept the Bills by multiple scores, and this Buffalo team was 15-2 with a Hail Mary loss in Arizona when it wasn’t playing the Chiefs. The Chiefs also came out red hot on offense the night they avenged their loss to the Raiders, and of course that electric first quarter in Tampa Bay in Week 12 that will be more closely scrutinized the next two weeks than the Week 6 games were for these rematches that went the same way on Sunday.

Now the Chiefs just need one more big performance against a team they already beat in an unusual road setting for the Super Bowl. It is hard to ever bet against Mahomes, who is now 10-4 SU and 11-2-1 ATS as either an underdog or favorite of no more than 3 points.

But not all news was great from this one as left tackle Eric Fisher injured his Achilles and will likely miss the Super Bowl. We already saw what happened to Green Bay against Tampa Bay without its star left tackle. However, Mahomes does look to be a different beast than any other quarterback you could name.

While Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly win his third MVP award the night before the Super Bowl, Mahomes is the only No. 1 seed who will be playing on February 7. Mahomes will have the chance to cap off a three-year run that has been better than any three-year run in the careers of Rodgers or Brady. While he was inevitably going to have to share the stage with one of them in two weeks, there is no denying that Mahomes is doing everything you want at the position in a way that puts him in a class of his own. He might be the greatest hope we have in a quarterback who can unite the ring counters, film junkies, and stat nerds in their praise of a legitimate GOAT.

The Decade the Scoring Juggernauts Died in the NFL

The 12 teams with the most points scored in NFL history have won zero championships.

Read that sentence a second time and it comes off just as shocking. That’s a dozen teams, including eight from this decade, who scored more points — at least 527 — than anyone in the NFL’s first 100 years, and not a single one of them won the Super Bowl that year. Oh a few were pretty close, especially the 2016 Falcons and their 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, but even that was a disappointing outcome for the offense.

I said eight of these teams happened in the last decade. The 2019 Ravens were the latest to join the group, going one-and-done at home after a season-worst performance on offense in that 28-12 loss to Tennessee to sour Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. Baltimore scored at least 20 points in every week of the regular season on its way to 531 points, the 11th-highest mark in NFL history.

The upset that night had me looking into just how crazy this was for the decade. I found that the 2019 49ers (ranked 17th in scoring since 2010) were the decade’s last hope for a top 20 team in scoring to win a Super Bowl:

T30-2010s

Well, as you know now, the 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV to the Chiefs, who ranked 31st in scoring this decade. The 2014 Patriots (22nd) and 2017 Eagles (30th) were the only top 30 teams in scoring to win a Super Bowl this decade.

That doesn’t greatly differ from the results of the previous decade where only two of the top 30 scoring teams won Super Bowls, but at least the 2009 Saints finished fourth:

T30-2000s

When you go back to the 1990s, eight of the top 25 teams won Super Bowls, including every team ranked 2-5:

T30-1990s

That was back when the league was just getting used to the salary cap and the NFC tended to dominate the Super Bowls until the 1997 Broncos upset Green Bay. As for the offensively-fun 1980s, four of the top 12 scoring teams won a Super Bowl:

T30-1980s

When we get back to the defensive decade that was the 1970s after the merger, we still saw five of the top 30 teams win a Super Bowl with the 1979 Steelers ranking third to end the decade:

T30-1970s

We know winning a Super Bowl takes a lot of things going your way, but scoring a ton of points in the regular season has never really been a big requirement for pulling it off. You can combine the top 30 scoring teams from the 1980s, 2000s and 2010s and have the same number of Super Bowl winners (eight) as the top 30 scoring teams from the 1990s alone. The 90s were really the decade for juggernauts to go all the way and deliver in the playoffs too with not that many upsets around the league. Had Buffalo’s Scott Norwood made his field goal in Super Bowl XXV and if the 1992 49ers were able to prevail instead of the Cowboys (and dust off Buffalo) for that Super Bowl, then we would have had nine of the top 17 scoring teams with rings that decade. Eight of the top 25 is still pretty great when you look at the history here.

With the 2000s, Bill Belichick’s Patriots obviously have a lot to do with those results. The 2001 Rams (20-17), 2004 Colts (20-3) and 2006 Chargers (24-21) were three of the top six scoring teams that decade, but they all lost to the Patriots in the playoffs with disappointing performances on that side of the ball. Of course, the 2007 Patriots also blew it in the Super Bowl with the 17-14 loss to the Giants to deny themselves a perfect 19-0 season. The Patriots’ 589 points that year still ranks second all time. I’d also be remiss to not give the 2000 Ravens some love here. We know they got to face Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl and played a lot of shoddy offenses in the regular season, but they also shut down two of the 10 highest-scoring teams of the decade in Denver (21-3) and Oakland (16-3).

Putting a bow on the 2010s, we experienced so many famous crash-and-burn efforts from some of the best offenses in NFL history. None were bigger than the 2013 Broncos, who lost 43-8 in the Super Bowl to Seattle’s historic defense after setting the record with 606 points in the regular season. From the first snap that led to a safety the Broncos were out of sorts that night. We also saw the Patriots crumble three years in a row (2010-12) in playoff losses, Aaron Rodgers’ best season in 2011 ended with a playoff dud against the Giants, and Belichick once again denied several teams (2018 Chiefs, 2018 Rams, 2016 Falcons) on his way to more rings for the Patriots. But at the very least, Patrick Mahomes put up 31 points in the second half of that AFC Championship Game loss for the Chiefs, the second-highest scoring team of the decade. Very few of these historic offenses can say they delivered in their playoff defeat, but the 2018 Chiefs, 1998 Vikings (damn kickers), and 2011 Saints (36-32 in San Francisco) are three who can say that.

However, one thing we’ve seen several times is that it’s not always your best team that wins the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens, 2015 Broncos and now 2019 Chiefs are all certainly proof of that.

Finally, for those curious here are the results for the top 30 team scoring defenses for each decade:

  • 2010s: Three of the top nine won a Super Bowl (peak: 2013 Seahawks were 4th)
  • 2000s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl, including 1st (2000 BAL) and 3rd (2002 TB)
  • 1990s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl (peak: 1996 Packers were 4th)
  • 1980s: Six of the top 20 using points allowed per game (due to strikes) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1985 Bears were 2nd)
  • 1970s: Five of the top 23 using points allowed per game (due to season length change) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1973 Dolphins were 9th)

That’s 21 offensive champions and 26 defensive champions over the five decades. While you don’t want to rely too heavily on one side of the ball, it’s always fascinating to see how scoring juggernauts have had such a rough time throughout NFL history. If you look at the top 12 (13 total teams due to a tie) scoring teams from 1940-1969, only three of them won a championship. That includes the 1961 Oilers (first 500-point team) winning the AFL Championship Game by a 10-3 score, and the 1964 Browns (tied for 12th) shutting out the ninth-ranked Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game.

The 1950 Rams still hold the NFL record with 38.8 points per game, but they lost 30-28 to the Browns in a classic championship game. Hey, at least they scored 28 and not just a field goal like the 2018 Rams did in Super Bowl LIII.

Coming full circle, I said the 12 highest-scoring teams have zero championships. The 1999 Rams are the reason it’s not the 15 highest teams that are ring-less. They still rank 13th with 526 points scored in that shocking Super Bowl-winning season. But even that example of The Greatest Show on Turf struggled mightily against Tampa Bay, scoring a late touchdown to win 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game. They also caught a break on defense when Bert Emanuel’s catch was ruled incomplete, and then ended up winning the Super Bowl 23-16 over Tennessee after stopping a late completion short of the goal line.

Kurt Warner in 1999 is still the last regular season MVP to win the Super Bowl in the same season, though maybe that’s a streak for Patrick Mahomes to end next year. Yes, it’s all coming back to Mahomes one way or another this offseason. Just accept it now.

NFL Conference Championship Predictions: “Manning Is Better than Brady, But So What?” Edition

Part of me is happy the AFC game is on first Sunday, but I also feel like I’m going to miss some of the NFC game afterwards for reasons still in my control, but I just can’t help myself. The endless Peyton Manning-Tom Brady debate grabbed me again on Saturday and I really didn’t even plan to write much about it this weekend.

There’s a good chance the best quarterback on Sunday won’t win, but the better quarterback should at least prevail in one of the games. I actually think it’s more important in the NFC game where two similar teams built around the model of physical defense and running game will meet for the third time. I don’t think it will be a blowout like San Francisco’s last two trips there. Jim Harbaugh won in Seattle in 2011, but the offense’s struggles to get the play called in on time does worry me with the 12th man’s noise.

Still, I think the game is decided by which quarterback makes more plays and fewer mistakes. Colin Kaepernick has been playing better and has more weapons, but Russell Wilson has home-field and the better overall defense. While the Seattle offense (passing game) does concern me, I have to side with the home team here to pull out a close one thanks to that defense.

Final prediction: 49ers 17, Seahawks 20

See, I barely gave the game any attention with a week to prepare, so who knows what Sunday will bring. If you want to read a detailed preview of the NFC Championship, read Aaron Schatz’s preview, which I did contribute to for one part.

Manning vs. Brady: Just the Facts

So after Tom Curran accidentally sent the latest Patriot brigade my way on Twitter on Saturday, I did not bother trying to fight them off one-by-one. I instead stood back and lobbed my own Twitter grenade with this line:

Tom Brady is the most overrated playoff QB in NFL history. Period.

Now some wanted me to prove that statement, which I think I can eloquently do without even making a 100% effort. Simply put, for the people who fawn over Brady as the best playoff quarterback ever or one of the top two or even just “wayyyyy better” than Peyton Manning, what I’m about to go through should show just how silly that notion is.

In fact, I do think Manning is a better playoff quarterback than Brady. Factors out of his control just tend to work against his teams more than Brady’s, but more on that later.

Let’s begin with some help from a fictional (but realistic) character that I’m going to call BRADYGUY.

BRADYGUY: Scott, this is asinine. EVERYONE knows Tom Brady raises his game this time of year and Manning falls off from his high regular-season perch.

Oh yeah? Then explain this comparison of performance in the regular season against playoff teams (teams who made the playoffs that season) compared to actual postseason performance:

pmtbdapr

Note: I haven’t fully explained DAPR yet, but it’s a simple calculation of passing stats that adjusts for opposing defense. The higher the DAPR the better.

We could start with the obvious that Manning’s playoff stats are more than respectable, if not outright better than Brady’s. But there’s something more interesting than that here.

Somehow Manning remains within one tenth of his winning percentage, completion percentage, YPA and passer rating against playoff teams from the reg. season to the postseason. One tenth. His DAPR gets even better as he’s played tough defenses in January and February. Meanwhile Brady is the one who suffers the bigger declines in his performance, including half a yard per pass attempt.

Overall, Brady’s 6.74 YPA in the playoffs ranks 39th all time (min. 150 attempts). One of the best statistical indicators of success, YPA does not suddenly become irrelevant in the playoffs.

Brady’s DAPR also dips well below normal levels. Now in the bottom half of the table where games from non-playoff seasons are excluded (as are the games Manning rests in Weeks 16-17 and usually watches his team lose), Manning does experience decline. That’s natural when you’re not playing the 4-12 Raiders or Bills in January.

Still, Brady’s decline is steeper with a 7-point drop in passer rating and going down even more in the other categories compared to the top half. So no, there’s zero evidence Brady elevates his game in the playoffs, and Manning certainly does not decline more.

BRADYGUY: Come on, Scott. Brady’s been to seven AFC Championships and five Super Bowls! He’s playing better competition in the playoffs than Mr. Eight Times One-and-Done Manning.

Are you sure? I can’t see Manning losing to Eli’s 9-7/10-6 squads, nor do I believe playing the Jaguars at home (2005 and 2007) was harder than starting with the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Chargers. Hell, what would have happened last year if Manning got a slumping Houston team and Brady had to start with the champion Ravens that often make him struggle? But we have objective measures for team quality like DVOA to look at.

For quarterbacks with at least 5 playoff starts since 1989, here are the averages for their playoff opponents in Team DVOA, Defensive DVOA and Pass Defense DVOA (average season ranks also included as well as rank [Rk] on the list):

posos

There are actually 41 quarterbacks compared here, but I’m showing 30 so it’s easier to read (click to enlarge).

Manning’s played teams with an average DVOA of 20.1% (8th), -6.6% Defense DVOA (20th) and -6.5% Pass Defense DVOA (14th). Brady’s ranks are 26th, 31st and 22nd, respectively.

So yes, Manning has played better overall teams, better defenses and better pass defenses. He’s also played two-thirds (14/21) of his playoff games on a home/neutral field compared to 80% (20/25) for Brady, which does matter this time of year.

BRADYGUY: Fine, Scott. Teams who make the playoffs are usually pretty good. But you can’t overlook the biggest part: Tom Brady is 18-7, Peyton Manning is 10-11. THAT’S HUGE. How can you justify Manning only being 10-11?

What I can do is ask the proper question. Why is Manning 10-11 and Brady 18-7 when their level of play is not that different in the playoffs?

BRADYGUY: Heh, but IT IS MUCH DIFFERENT. Brady puts up more points to help his team win.

Brady averages 2.13 points per drive in the playoffs; Manning averages 2.10 points per drive.

This meager difference comes despite Brady starting his average drive nearly four yards closer to the end zone than Manning. It also comes despite other factors out of the QB’s control like missed FGs (7 for Manning, 6 for Brady) or fumbles on completions (6 for Manning, 3 for Brady). It also includes two one-play touchdown drives from last week where LeGarrette Blount just took the handoff from Brady for a touchdown.

Speaking of missed field goals, Manning is the only QB in NFL history to twice watch his last possession in a playoff game end with a missed FG (2000 Dolphins in OT, 2005 Steelers at end of regulation down 21-18). That was Mike Vanderjagt and those kicks were as wide right as they come.

BRADYGUY: Brady got his kickers closer.

No, Adam Vinatieri had to kick a 45-yard field goal in the snow after the Tuck Rule just to get to OT against Oakland. In the Superdome in Super Bowl 36, he kicked a 48-yard field goal on the last play of the game. In 2003 against the Titans on a -10 wind chill night, Brady completed one pass on a drive in a 14-14 tie, forcing Vinatieri to nail a 46-yard field goal for the game-winner. He did.

Meanwhile, Vanderjagt missed a 49-yard attempt in Miami — one he told the coach he could make and had made a 50-yard kick moments earlier in the game — and a 45-yard attempt in the RCA Dome against Pittsburgh.

Switch those kickers and ask Vanderjagt to make those kicks in Foxboro. Might be looking at an 0-2 start in the playoffs for Brady (both losses at home).

BRADYGUY: Manning knows best about losing at home in the playoffs. He’s done it five times (NFL record). How can you defend that?

Yes, Manning has five home playoff losses…by a combined 14 points — the smallest margin for the 30 quarterbacks with multiple home playoff losses.

HPOL

“See, the luck I’ve had can make a good man turn bad”

Brady lost by 15 points at home to the Ravens in last year’s AFC Championship and by 19 points to the Ravens in 2009. He played very poorly in those games as well. Notice how Manning had some of the very best statistics in those home playoff losses.

That’s the common theme. Manning can play well, but still lose. Brady can do anything and still seemingly get a win.

BRADYGUY: Brady puts his teams in better position to win because he makes fewer mistakes than Manning in the playoffs.

Both quarterbacks have 22 interceptions in the playoffs. Brady has 115 more attempts, but studying all 44 plays show some key differences.

Brady has 18 bad throws and 4 tipped balls. On the tips, one was tipped at the line, one hit Donte Stallworth in one hand, one hit Sam Aiken high in one hand and another practically got Ben Watson killed in 2009. Two picks were thrown desperately in the fourth quarter with the Patriots trailing 27-13 (2005 Denver) and 28-13 (2012 Ravens). That’s still not garbage time yet as one score sets up an onside kick opportunity in a one-score game either way. Brady was at the Baltimore 22 on last year’s pick.

Manning has 15 bad throws, two QB/WR miscommunications with Marvin Harrison (both vs. Ty Law/2006 Chiefs) and five tipped balls. On the tips, one hit Marcus Pollard’s hand too high, one hit Reggie Wayne in the hands high, one deflected right off Kenton Keith’s hands deep in the red zone, one hit Eric Decker and the refs missed the defensive pass interference and one last week hit Decker in the chest and was deflected and caught in the end zone by San Diego. Three of Manning’s picks were in obvious garbage time: down 34-0 vs. Jets (4Q), down 41-0 vs. Jets (4q), down 20-3 vs. 2004 Patriots (12 seconds left). Against the 2006 Ravens, he threw a bomb on 3rd-and-17 with a 12-6 lead that was intercepted by Ed Reed. That served as a punt.

Each quarterback has had one interception fumbled back to them. Manning’s came in 2009 (BAL) with a 17-3 lead in the 3rd quarter. Brady’s came in 2006 (SD) with the Patriots down 21-13 and 6:16 left in the 4th quarter.

Luck Advantage: Brady

Each quarterback has had a turnover on the field reversed to an incomplete pass. Brady’s was the fumble that introduced us to the Tuck Rule against the Raiders in 2001. Without the call, the game would have been over with Rich Gannon taking knees. Manning’s was in 2005 against Pittsburgh on a Troy Polamalu interception overturned to an incompletion. Manning still trailed 21-10 with 5:26 left. Manning also lost a fumble last season against the Ravens on a very similar play to the Tuck Rule, but did not get that call in the last possible case it could have been used before the NFL removed it this offseason.

Luck Advantage: Brady.

Brady turned the ball over three times at home in the first quarter alone in an ugly 2009 loss to the Ravens. Manning threw three interceptions at home against the 2006 Chiefs, but still completed 30-of-38 passes (including a spike and one drop) in a 23-8 win.

Oh, and which quarterback threw four interceptions in the 2003 AFC Championship? When watching the game, felt like both, but only one defense took advantage.

Brady has four red-zone interceptions. All four were bad/forced throws. Manning has five red-zone interceptions. The last three all deflected off his receiver and the very first came when he trailed 41-0 in 2002 (Jets) and had the ball at the 19.

Manning has thrown three pick-sixes in the playoffs, including last year’s botched no-call. Brady has none, because Ben Watson tracked down Champ Bailey to the 1-yard line and prevented a 100-yard return in 2005.

Brady has 10 fumbles (3 lost) in the playoffs. Manning has 5 fumbles (2 lost). Fumble Luck Advantage: Brady

Manning’s first lost fumble was a handoff on a running play to Joseph Addai in Super Bowl XLI. The Bears recovered. Brady is credited with a botched handoff fumble in the 2006 AFC Championship in Indy. The Patriots recovered it for a touchdown. Fumble Luck Advantage: Brady.

Brady only had 3 INTs when he started 10-0 in the playoffs, but clearly that part of his game has changed and he’s always been as or more likely to have a bad turnover in a close game or in the red zone than Manning in the playoffs.

BRADYGUY: Scott, maybe you didn’t hear me. 18-7 vs. 10-11…

No, I heard you. I’ve just yet to find anything compelling that shows why there’s such a difference in record based on what the quarterbacks and not their teammates and coaches have done.

BRADYGUY: Isn’t it obvious? CLUTCH. Brady’s oozing with IT, and Manning’s just a choker. That’s where you need to look.

Third downs are pretty important situations. In the playoffs, Manning has converted 43.41 percent of his third downs compared to 40.78 percent for Brady. That rate for Brady is about average for prominent active quarterbacks in the playoffs.

BRADYGUY: I bet Brady’s better on tougher situations like third-and-long that are harder to convert.

Not quite…

pmtb3dpo

Manning faces a longer third down on average and converts more often on the medium and long situations. Brady is a hell of a lot better on the quarterback sneak, regular or post. That is one area I will give him over anyone.

BRADYGUY: Meh, that’s just one down. What about the WHOLE game?

Well we have stats like Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA) that can account for how much the quarterback is contributing to his team scoring and winning the game. Credit to Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats for these stats, which I’ve collected for quarterbacks with 5+ playoff starts since 1999:

POWPA

Once again, Manning comes out near the top, ahead of Brady, who looks somewhat pedestrian given his lofty winning record. Manning’s the only player in the top 8 with a losing record. These stats also control for garbage time, so there’s no point in bringing that up. Obviously Manning hasn’t played in many blowout games in the playoffs to compile meaningless stats.

BRADYGUY: Can’t Manning boost his EPA by throwing short touchdown passes like last week, while Brady loses out when his team rushes for six scores against the Colts?

The EPA gained from a short touchdown pass is actually quite minimal since you’re already expected to score a touchdown that close to the goal line.

Besides, if anyone has padded their postseason TD total on short touchdown passes, it’s Brady by a HUGE margin:

POTD

So out of 25 QBs all time with 15+ TD passes in the playoffs, no one throws them shorter than Brady, who has a staggering 29 scores from 1-9 yards out. Oh, and Manning has the deepest active TD pass among the active quarterbacks. Go figure.

These next two facts also fit the “Manning gets screwed, Brady has great luck” idea quite well.

Brady has the most playoff wins ever without a touchdown pass (4). Manning has the most playoff losses without an interception (5).

And no, if you remember from earlier, Manning did not have a fumble in any of those games without an interception. No other quarterback has more than 3 playoff losses without an interception.

This is the kind of stuff I pointed out last Saturday night with this table:

GQB

C and D are especially telling in how impotent Brady has been in half of his playoff wins, while Manning doesn’t look bad at all in comparison for the times he went one-and-done.

BRADYGUY: The difference has to be Brady gets it done when it matters most, and that’s when Manning folds. It’s WHEN they make their mistakes.

Well, for starters, the WPA would already pick up on a lot of that, but sure, let’s get silly.

How about when it’s a one-score game in the fourth quarter/overtime in the playoffs? Surely Brady’s going to show his superiority there, right?

1scopo

Oops, that didn’t work. Pro-Football-Reference shows neither guy can feel too good about what they’ve done in those situations, though they do have the most attempts by far. Yet there’s Manning doing better than Brady, who dips under 6.0 YPA again.

I didn’t even point out all the dropped passes yet, but we need to save something for next year’s edition.

BRADYGUY: But Scott, it’s when those mistakes happen that matters. Manning’s BURIED his team against the Saints and Ravens and…teams.

Of course you’d bring those two plays up. They’re the only two times Manning’s done that in crunch time in the playoffs, yet the stigma of him always doing that existed even before Super Bowl XLIV. Brady did it in back-to-back weeks in the 2006 playoffs.

  • Fourth quarter or overtime, down by 0-8 points in the playoffs: Brady and Manning have each thrown TWO interceptions in this situation.
  • Fourth quarter or overtime, down by 0-16 points in the playoffs: Brady has thrown FIVE interceptions compared to THREE for Manning.

So enough with the “Manning throws killer picks” thing. Brady has too and they came on days he played worse overall.

BRADYGUY: Okay, I think I got it. Brady has 7 game-winning drives in the playoffs and Manning is 1-9 at game-winning drive opportunities in the playoffs. I GOT YOU! Checkmate! Why can’t Manning finish in the playoffs like Brady?

He can’t? I think the numbers in the previous table show Manning’s just as adequate (or inadequate) as Brady in crunch time in the playoffs. It’s what happens around those quarterbacks that has created that 7-1 split in playoff GWDs, which I guess would be 8-0 if Brady’s defense came through for him (again).

You tell me how much of this is on Manning in GWD opportunities:

1999 Titans – Down 16-9, Manning threw a perfect pass downfield to Marvin Harrison, who dropped it on 3rd-and-22. Titans added a field goal and Edgerrin James later dropped a fourth-down pass.

2000 Dolphins – In overtime, Manning set up the field goal, but as mentioned, Vanderjagt shanked it badly and Manning never got another chance.

2003 Patriots – Despite his worst playoff game ever (4 INTs), Manning had the ball down 21-14 with 2:01 left. But we didn’t even get to see what he’d do on the drive thanks to some illegal defense from the Patriots that helped lead to reinforcement of illegal contact. The NFL quietly admitted both incomplete passes on third and fourth down should have been penalties on New England.

2005 Steelers – Getting one last chance from a Jerome Bettis fumble, Manning set up Vanderjagt for another classic shank in a 21-18 loss that would have sent the game to OT. Manning trailed 21-3 to start the fourth quarter.

2006 Patriots – Down 34-31, Manning drove the Colts 69 yards in 24 seconds — that’s pretty efficient — to let the running game finish off the game-winning TD drive with a minute left.

2007 Chargers – Manning threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez in the fourth quarter, but the Colts’ No. 1 defense allowed backup QB Billy Volek to drive for the game-winning touchdown. On his last drive, Manning threw good passes to Reggie Wayne (3rd down) and Dallas Clark (4th down), but both were dropped, including an embarrassing flub by Clark to end the game.

2008 Chargers – What GWD opportunity? Manning needed two yards to end the game on a third-and-2, but his rookie tight end forgot the snap count and didn’t get out of his break until it was too late. Manning was sacked and the Chargers tied the game late. Manning never got the ball in OT as the Chargers drove for the winning touchdown.

2009 Saints – Notice the lack of Manning mistakes? Here we go for a change. Manning threw the pick-six to Tracy Porter and that’s mostly on him. I’ll still say Reggie Wayne’s route was poorly run (just watch the feet), but Porter did a good job to jump the route and make the play.

2010 Jets – Manning only had three second-half possessions and ended each with a field goal, including the last one to take a 16-14 lead with 0:53 left. That usually holds up, but one big kick return by Antonio Cromartie crushed that idea and the Jets got the 17-16 win in Manning’s last game with the Colts.

2012 Ravens – Manning led a go-ahead 88-yard TD drive with 7:11 left, but obviously the Rahim Moore disaster stands out there.  In OT, the Broncos dropped Joe Flacco’s picks, but the Ravens made sure to hang onto Manning’s bad throw and bad decision.

So that’s all of them. Still want to say it’s the quarterback?

  • Manning’s lost 6 playoff games after leading in the fourth quarter. No other quarterback has more than 4 (Warren Moon).
  • Manning led in the last 40 seconds of the fourth quarter in four of those losses.
  • Manning’s led a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter of his last three home playoff losses.
  • Manning is the only QB in NFL history with two lost comebacks in the playoffs. Brady has one (SB XLII). These are games where the QB did everything to meet the requirement for a 4QC except win the game.

Brady’s GWDs mostly consist of long field goals just like the ones Vanderjagt missed, a fumbled interception on fourth down in San Diego, missed FGs by the opponent, Drew Bennett not catching a pass in 2003 and other unbelievable failures like the Lee Evans-Sterling Moore play in the 2011 AFC Championship.

Isn’t that the crux of this whole thing? Joe Flacco throws a pass to knock Brady out of the playoffs, yet Sterling Moore defends it away in the end zone and Billy Cundiff chokes on the FG. The next year, Flacco throws a TD pass over Rahim Moore to force OT and Justin Tucker delivers on the 47-yard FG in cold conditions to end Manning’s season and make his INT his last throw of the game. Manning and Brady were helpless in these situations, yet Brady won despite playing an inferior game and Manning lost despite playing very well. Same old story.

Brady’s celebrated for his playoff GWDs, yet when it comes down to one guy stepping up and making that game-deciding play, more often than not we see someone not named Brady do it for New England and someone not named Manning screw it up for Indianapolis/Denver.

So when I say Brady’s the luckiest QB in playoff history and Manning’s the unluckiest, this is exactly what I’m talking about. No quarterbacks have more close wins (Brady) or close losses (Manning) in the playoffs than these two, yet all the stats (advanced or not) and tape show there’s no significant difference in how they played in these situations.

If anything, you’d think Manning would be the one with a 18-7 record and Brady would be under .500.

BRADYGUY: But Scott, isn’t a loss a loss? Manning has tied Favre for the most playoff losses (11) ever.

Well aren’t we talking about being the best? Do you want a guy that’s going to lose by 15-19 points at home and play like crap, or do you want someone who can give his team a chance to win every single playoff game? Sometimes that’s going to lead to some losses with perhaps a late-game turnover. Play long enough and that can happen to anyone. Is that really worse than the guy who shits the bed in the first quarter and never gives his team a chance? Manning also set a record with his 13th playoff berth this year.

Manning has had a fourth-quarter lead in his last 12 playoff games. No one else in NFL history has had a streak longer than 10 games.

Not even Brady.

BRADYGUY: Isn’t Brady just more consistent in the playoffs? Manning has a few huge games, but Brady is more likely to give you a solid performance each week.

No. Brady started his playoff career with five mediocre performances, five very good games to get to 10-0, but since then, he’s a mixed bag that hasn’t put together two good performances in back-to-back playoff games since Super Bowl 39 and January 2006 (Jacksonville).

Meanwhile Manning’s done this:

80pr

Not a passer rating fan? Understandable, but an 80, especially in the playoffs, is usually the indicator of an okay game.

I did see this from ESPN on best cumulative playoff Total QBR since 2006: Colin Kaepernick (85.4), Aaron Rodgers (77.2), Kurt Warner (75.3) and Peyton Manning (72.2).

Familiar names at the top, right? And Brady’s missing again. That doesn’t even factor in defense, like how Manning had a 60.6 QBR in the 2006 playoffs (yes, even with 3 TD and 7 INT). That year, Manning became the only QB in NFL history to beat the top three defenses in the same postseason.

BRADYGUY: …but 18-7 and 10-

I have to cut you off there, BRADYGUY, or else we might keep going until kickoff. I didn’t even crunch the numbers on Brady’s superior running game and defense in the postseason.

So taking this all in, seeing where Brady stacks up relative to Manning and other quarterbacks, there’s really nothing more misleading in the NFL today than 18-7 and 10-11. For that matter, Aaron Rodgers being 5-4 and Drew Brees being 6-5 also makes little sense relative to Brady.

Well, it makes sense to people who can see it’s a team game and no team has played better than the Patriots since 2001, but that doesn’t mean the QB is always deserving of the credit.

People don’t like to hear it, but at some point you have to chalk up the record to better team play and downright good fortune. You know, it’s a team game after all, but for some reason every Marvin Harrison dropped ball or Edgerrin James fumble is overlooked because god forbid Deion Branch or Kevin Faulk could make those plays for Brady. (They did)

They weren’t high draft picks, they can’t possibly be great. Manning lost the playoff game, he can’t possibly have played well.

S.O.S. for a decade-plus now.

Now some will say I put a jinx on Manning today by putting this out there. That’s impossible. The guy’s had a playoff jinx on him his whole career. I’m not adding anything to it. I’m just pointing out the facts instead of dropping to my knees for Brady and Belichick in the playoffs like too many other writers and fans have done.

And I’m still picking the Patriots to win this game.

Oh, About the AFC Championship…

Do I still have the energy to go past 4,000 words? Sure, but I’ll keep this preview relatively short.

When the Patriots won aforementioned game in San Diego in the 2006 playoffs, that was the last straw for me. I said I wouldn’t pick against the Patriots in a big game again. Something ridiculous always seems to happen for them. So I picked them to beat the Colts and they choked away an 18-point lead the following week. They blew a perfect season at 18-0 in 2007. “We’re only going to score 17 points?” No, 14. Despite going 16-0 in the regular season at home in 2008-09, the Patriots went one-and-done in back-to-back years against the Ravens and Jets, teams they beat in the regular season including a 45-3 smacking. They should have lost to the 2011 Ravens and did lose again to the Giants in SB 46, despite being favored. They were the favorites again last year when a Ravens team I thought had a great chance to go in there and win did just that, holding the Pats to 13 points (second-half shutout).

(Note: a lot of this further applies to why Brady is the most overrated playoff QB).

All seven of the playoff losses under Belichick/Brady have been rematches. This game with Denver is a rematch. The last game really doesn’t apply too much in that the venue is different, the weather will be much better, there’s no Rob Gronkowski and Von Miller (among others) and John Fox is back on the sideline.

While you probably think I’m dying to pick Denver (and I am, and I like, but not love, their chances), I’m not going to do it.

Can’t.

A depleted Jack Del Rio defense that has a tendency to leave guys wide open on third and fourth down? Uh-oh. For as much talk as there’s been about NE’s running game, and the run will be huge for both teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out throwing with Brady early and often. This isn’t a “do what we do every week” team. They adjust for each opponent and the weakness in Denver is the pass defense. The run defense has been solid all year with and without Miller, so it would be a surprise to see them gashed there. The pass is the problem without Chris Harris and without Miller, who played great in NE, rushing Brady.

Quentin Jammer and Kayvon Webster may just combine to Rahim Moore another season for Denver. Somehow Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola continue to get open underneath when it’s painfully obvious Brady is going to them with the ball. Do I trust Del Rio to adjust? Of course not. New England’s offense should do fine. Shaun Phillips has to have a huge game against Marcus Cannon in Miller’s absence. That’s a matchup to watch.

On the other side (both sides, but moreso on this matchup), I’ll be curious to see how much contact is allowed in the secondary. That’s NE’s best hope to jam these receivers and throw off the timing routes. Manning needs to work on the 8-15 yard range in this game and not try to bomb it out. Wes Welker will want to have a huge game, but I think this is about Thomas & Thomas again.

I have been getting a lot of Patriot fans talking out of both sides of their mouth this week. On one end, it’s “Manning has the best weapons ever!” On the other, it’s “Talib and Jamie Collins will shut down Thomas & Thomas, Eric Decker is super soft and Julian Edelman could cover Welker AND outplay him at receiver and punt returner!” Okay, so which is it?

I think the Patriots can get some stops in this game, but it’s going to be hard to shut down the passing game that never got going last time due to the crazy start with fumbles. Manning should have a much better game this time, but any 400 yards/4 TD expectations are lunacy. The Patriots rarely give up 30+ points of offense in 13 years under Belichick. I think they have to hold Denver under that to win this one. I still think Demaryius is the key guy that makes this offense go, so he can’t be under 50 yards for Denver to pull this one out.

This is Manning-Brady XV, but remember, these games have never been a shootout. Maybe we’ll get that for an instant classic, but I’d sooner expect Denver to fall behind by 17 points and make a dramatic comeback again. Denver’s constant ball security issues bother me. Last week they had a lot of bad plays with drops, fumbles and stumbles, but maybe that was a little rust and they’ll be sharper this week.

They’ll have to be. The Patriots are not the Chargers. Belichick won’t mail in a conservative gameplan like new job-seeking Whisenhunt did and the Patriots will capitalize on every little mistake. New England hasn’t been impressive on the road, though their best road game was their last (at Baltimore).

At the end of the day, I see a Denver team with a better QB and better receivers, but the Patriots hold the other advantages. Well, except for home-field this time. What do you think historically wins more of these big games?

I’ll call my shot here. In the nature of what I’ve presented above, this game clearly has two possible endings: a game-ending Brady interception or a dropped pass by Wes Welker on fourth down.

Either way, we already know which QB will get more credit for a win and which will get more blame for a loss. I hope to enjoy a potentially historic Sunday and do what I do every week: watch the games, write later what actually decided the outcome and who to hold accountable. Isn’t that the easiest way to do this job? Why do some feel the need to continue a decade-old narrative, facts and new information be damned?

Final score: Patriots 30, Broncos 27

And I am rooting for Denver-Seattle, because I want to see the best offense play the best defense. “So for once in my life, let me get what I want…”

NFL History: Defending Super Bowl Champion vs. Regular Season Champion

Going off an article from last week on the NFL’s Final Four history, I was thinking about how the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks are this year’s regular season champion and they currently hold a 2-0 lead against the Los Angeles Kings, who are the defending Stanley Cup champions.

How many of these meetings between defending champion and regular season champion have taken place in the NFL?

My data on NFL regular season champions goes back to 1975 when the seeding system was put in place. Here are those meetings (winner in green):

DSRS

Nothing says “last year was last year” like this table.

The regular season champion is 18-3 (.857) against the defending Super Bowl champion, including 12 straight wins from 1976-94. In the playoffs, the regular season champion is 4-2.

The only three losses involve the ‘90s NFC cycle when Steve Young’s 49ers couldn’t beat Brett Favre’s Packers, who couldn’t beat Troy Aikman’s Cowboys. Also the Patriots took their poor loss on Halloween into Pittsburgh and turned it into a 41-27 win in the 2004 AFC Championship.

18-3, that’s pretty damn good.

A Ray Lewis Super Bowl Tackle and the NFL’s Need for Offensive Line Stats

Jonathan Ogden was elected to the Hall of Fame in a rather easy choice this past weekend on his first ballot attempt. Ogden was a mammoth of a man and had all the proper accolades you would expect from a HOF left tackle.

But how much do we really know about his domination? Offensive linemen do not have stats the way skill position players or even defensive players have. Most of their value is based on Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections, which are proven to be heavily influenced by draft status. If Maurkice Pouncey was a 2nd-round pick for the Carolina Panthers, played the exact same way he has for Pittsburgh, then he would not have a single Pro Bowl in his career.

Ogden’s teammate Ray Lewis of course earned his second Super Bowl ring on Sunday, but it was hardly for his on-field play this season. Here is one of the tackles Lewis was credited with an assist on. Watch San Francisco RG Alex Boone (#75) pull to the left and miss the block entirely.

aboone

No wonder this offense struggled in the red zone. This is why some running plays gain three yards instead of seven. You would have to watch every play for every linemen to come up with statistics like stops, pancakes, sacks allowed, etc. But there are sites (Pro Football Focus) and people (KC Joyner) who have proven to be willing to do so. I currently do not have access to the premium section on PFF, but when I did, I honestly cannot recall if they had such stats for individual linemen.

We’re going to need them if people ever want to truly figure out which players are blocking well, and which keep tackling Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.

The Whistleblower No. 4 – Mike Mayock, the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers and the Worst Example Ever

Since we haven’t heard from The Whisteblower in a while, here was a little gold from right before the kickoff of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network.

Mike Mayock was talking about Kansas City’s awful turnover differential (-13; it was actually -18), and said this line in regards to it:

“I don’t care if you’re the 79 Steelers, you are not winning football games turning the ball over.”

That’s fine, except Mayock could not have picked a worse example than the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 1979 Steelers turned the ball over 52 times (worst in the league), and still went 12-4 in the regular season. They even led the league in scoring as well (416 points). Their turnover differential was -10, so it’s not like the defense balanced things out that much.

In the playoffs, the Steelers continued turning the ball over, with 8 giveaways in the three games. They still won the Super Bowl. Terry Bradshaw was Super Bowl MVP despite still throwing three interceptions in the game.

Everyone gets it. “Turnovers are bad, mmkay?” But Mayock could not have picked a worse example to make his point.

This is probably going to be the highlight of the night watching this awful game between San Diego and Kansas City.

Update 8:57 P.M.: Mayock is in a battle with the Chiefs, who just turned the ball over again, to see who can have the worst night. After the Chiefs fumbled on a third-down screen, Mayock said it wouldn’t have mattered as they would have turned the ball over on downs. No, not even thinking it was fourth down, but thinking it was third down.

Wow. What ever happened to the punt and better field position?

Update 11:01 P.M.: After a pick six by the Chiefs, Mayock went to the well for the third time on the 79 Steelers.