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Super Bowl LI: Post Your Predictions Here

The two leaders in ANY/A in 2016.

Finally, it’s here: Super Bowl LI has arrived. You can read all my Super Bowl LI articles here.

What’s your projection? Post it in the comments.

For me, I’m going Atlanta 33, New England 28. I think the Falcons offense is the best thing in this game, and the absence of Rob Gronkowski will be the difference here.

And while Julio Jones is the star, I’m going to go with Devonta Freeman as my MVP. And not because of what he will do as a rusher, but as a receiver. Seattle — the 19th team to beat bot Super Bowl teams in a season — set the blueprint. C.J. Prosise caught 7 of 7 targets for 87 yards and 5 first downs, and I don’t think the Patriots linebackers can cover Freeman (especially since safety help will be needed for Jones). Freeman will clear 140 yards from scrimmage, and take home the honors.

What’s your prediction?

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Atlanta had a really, really good offense this year. My favorite statistic: the Falcons had 59 drives end in a punt or a turnover, and 58 end in a touchdown.  Atlanta averaged 3.03 points per drive this year, and yet, the offense has been even better in the playoffs.

There was no stopping Matt Ryan and the Falcons against Green Bay, as the group scored 44 points on 9 drives in the NFC Championship Game. In the division round, the Falcons scored 36 points on 9 or 10 drives against Seattle, depending on whether you want to treat the Falcons final drive of the game as a real drive.  In two NFC playoff games, Atlanta’s offense has scored 10 touchdowns, seen 5 drives end on punts, 3 end on field goals, with zero turnovers and one drive end with the clock running out.

Scoring 80 points on 18 or 19 drives translates to an average of 4.21 or 4.44 points per drive. Take an average of those two numbers, and the offense is still averaging a whopping 4.32 points per drive. How remarkable is that? Well, it’s the best average for any of the 102 Super Bowl teams in their pre-Super Bowl playoff games.

The NFL has not historically recorded drive stats, so I previously wrote how one can estimate the number of offensive drives a team has in a game or season.  I used that formula to measure the best playoff offenses entering the Super Bowl; unsurprisingly, the 1990 Bills were the previous hottest offense.

Against Miami in the division round, Buffalo had between 10 and 12 drives, depending on how you treat the final drives of the half (the Bills received the ball with 14 seconds left on their own 32, and took a knee) and the game (Buffalo received the ball with just over one minute to go, and ran three times for a first down to run out the clock). Those other ten drives ended as follows, in order: Touchdown, Field Goal, Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown, Interception, Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown, Punt. That’s 44 points on 10 real drives.

The next week, in the AFC Championship Game against the Raiders, the Bills had 11 or 12 drives, as the final drive of the game featured Buffalo taking a pair of knees to close out a 51-3 victory. The first 11 drives went: TD, TD, Interception, TD, missed FG, TD, TD, Punt, TD, FG, Punt.  That’s 44 points (Buffalo also scored on a pick six, and one extra point was missed) on 11 drives. [click to continue…]

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On Saturday, I noted that Matt Ryan and Tom Brady were the top two quarterbacks in ANY/A in 2016, setting up a rare Super Bowl matchup of the two leaders in that metric. The Falcons and Patriots offenses as a whole also rank 1st and 2nd in ANY/A: Matt Ryan averaged 9.03 ANY/A, and since he handled all but 3 of the Falcons pass attempts this year, you won’t be surprised to know that the Falcons offense averaged 9.01 ANY/A. Brady averaged 8.81 ANY/A, but of course missed four games due to a suspension; the Patriots team ANY/A was 8.46, still good enough for second-best in the NFL.

But as regular readers will remember, the Falcons and Patriots don’t just rank 1-2 in ANY/A; they rank first and second in ANY/A differential, too. Atlanta’s ANY/A differential was 2.70 (9.01 on offense, 6.31 on defense), just a hair ahead of New England (8.46, 5.78, net of 2.68). No other team was within 1 ANY/A of those two, making them the clear best teams in the NFL in ANY/A differential. [click to continue…]

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Best Offensive/Defensive Super Bowl Matchups

Three years ago, I wrote about how the Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl was going to be the best matchup between offensive and defensive teams in Super Bowl history. This year doesn’t quite match that hype — particularly given that the Patriots defense isn’t as good as you might think, and that New England is actually more of an offensive team than a defensive team. If anything, this Super Bowl should be remembered as a matchup of two great passing attacks, rather than an offensive/defensive showdown.

But if we want to just look at points scored and points allowed, then yeah, this still stands out as a pretty good matchup of the number one scoring team in the NFL (Atlanta) against the number on team in points allowed (New England). The Falcons scored 33.8 points per game this year, while the Patriots allowed just 15.6; that produces a differential of 18.1 (difference due to rounding), which would make this the 5th best “offense/defense showdown” in Super Bowl history: [click to continue…]

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The two leaders in ANY/A in 2016.

Matt Ryan and Tom Brady finished the season ranked 1st and 2nd in the NFL in Adjusted Net Yard per Attempt. How unusual is that?

  • In 1966, Bart Starr led the NFL in ANY/A and was the NFL MVP. Len Dawson led the AFL in ANY/A, and was the AFL’s first-team All-Pro selection at quarterback (running back Jim Nance was the MVP). The Packers and Chiefs met in the Super Bowl, of course, making it one of just two times that the Super Bowl featured two first-team All-Pro choices at quarterback. The other? Super Bowl III, featuring Earl Morrall and Joe Namath).
  • In 1971, Roger Staubach had a historically great season, producing a remarkable 7.81 ANY/A. The runner-up that year was Bob Griese, at 6.35, and no other passer was over 6.00. Those 1971 seasons from Staubach and Griese both ranked in the top 50 in my era-adjusted passer rating seasons, too. Alan Page was the AP MVP choice that year, Staubach won the Bert Bell Award for Player of the Year, and Griese won the third MVP, given by the NEA. So when the Cowboys and Dolphins met in the Super Bowl, it featured two MVP quarterbacks, a feat that could be matched this year. The PFWA has already named Ryan as its MVP, but the AP or the Bert Bell Award could choose Brady, which would give us another set of dueling MVPs.
  • In 1984 Dan Marino was a unanimous MVP (AP, NEA, PFWA, Bert Bell) on the back of a groundbreaking performance. His raw numbers (48 TDs, 5,084 yards) were remarkable, but so was his 8.94 ANY/A average. Joe Montana had a darn good year, too: his 49ers went 15-1 and his 7.93 ANY/A was 1.24 ANY/A better than any quarterback not named Marino. From an ANY/A dominance standpoint, it’s very similar to what Ryan and Brady have done this year.

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Before last year’s Super Bowl, I wrote that Carolina led the NFL in points scored in a unique way. What made the Panthers scoring success so unusual? Most notably were these two facts:

  • Carolina ranked only 11th in yards, the worst-ever ranking for the top-scoring team; and
  • Carolina ranked only 9th in NY/A, the worst-ever ranking for the top-scoring team.

With the Patriots, you may be surprised to learn that while New England finished 1st in points allowed, the defense ranked just 16th in DVOA. There are a few explanations here:

  • The Patriots faced by far the easiest schedule of any defense in the NFL.  New England’s SOS was -7.1%, while Tennessee was 31st at -4.2%, and the Bills were 30th at -3.0%.  The Patriots would be tied for 8th in DVOA if that metric was not adjusted for strength of schedule, which is why the defense falls to 16th with those adjustments.
  • New England had just 11 turnovers, tied with the Falcons for fewest in the league. Combined with a generally good offense, and the average opponent’s drive against New England started inside the 25-yard line, the best in the league. That means the Patriots defense had a lot of turf behind them, making life much easier for the defense.
  • Opposing kickers missed 8 of 29 attempts, including three from within 45 yards.  In addition, the Patriots were 8th in red zone defense and 3rd in goal-to-go defense, which helps the points allowed numbers.

New England’s defense was hardly bad by traditional numbers: the Patriots ranked 8th in total yards allowed, 6th in Net Yards per pass Attempt allowed, and 3rd and 4th in yards per carry allowed and rush defense DVOA.  That’s a good defense, but again, is boosted by the very easy schedule. [click to continue…]

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Beating the Patriots in a Shootout

Can the Falcons beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LI in a shootout?  On some level, the answer is of course.  Atlanta was the highest-scoring team in the regular season, and the Falcons offense has been historically great. And yet, the early returns from the media on how Atlanta can beat New England tend to focus on whether the Falcons defense and pass rush can dominate the game.

That’s not surprising given the post mortem written following the Patriots two Super Bowl losses, and there is no doubt that “getting the better of Brady” has been the m.o. for most teams that have knocked New England out of the playoffs.   So can Atlanta win a 35-31 style game against the Patriots?

In general, the conventional wisdom is true regarding how to beat New England: the Patriots are 19-1 when scoring over 21 points in playoff games since 2001, with the only loss coming in the classic 2006 AFC Championship Game against the Colts.  But there are other exceptions.  There have been 12 games in the Tom Brady era that I would classify as a shootout, which means:

  • Both teams combine for 60+ points;
  • The game is decided by 15 or fewer points; and
  • Both teams combined for 600+ passing yards (which, surprisingly, eliminates the ’06 AFCCG)

The first of those games was Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers; that game, of course, was in fact decided by the last team to have the ball, which was New England. The Patriots are “only” 8-4 in these games, though, which means there may in fact be a blueprint for the Falcons to follow.  Let’s look at those losses and see if they meet the spirit of the question:

  • 2009, SNF at Indianapolis: This was the “4th and 2” game, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Patriots (or Falcons) employed a similarly aggressive tactic in this year’s Super Bowl.  The Patriots led the 9-0 Colts 31-14 early in the 4th quarter, when Peyton Manning kicked it into overdrive.  He led Indianapolis on a 5-play, 79-yard drive for a touchdown; after a Patriots punt, a Manning deep pass was intercepted.  New England responded with a FG to extend the lead to 34-21, but Manning responded with another 79-yard touchdown drive. New England tried to run out the clock, but faced a 4th-and-2 with 2:08 to go at the Patriots own 28.  The idea of giving Manning two minutes while trying to prevent a 6-point lead didn’t sound very good — and it wouldn’t against 2016 Matt Ryan, either — so the Patriots went for it but fell a yard short.  Manning responded with a quick touchdown, and Indianapolis won, 35-34.
  • 2011, week 3, at Buffalo: Yes, the “If Ryan Fitzpatrick can do it” game. Both Brady and Fitzpatrick cleared 350 passing yards, and Buffalo recorded four interceptions, one of which was a pick six. Buffalo had a 95-yard touchdown drive in the 4th quarter, and hit a field goal as time expired for a 34-31 win.
  • 2012, SNF at Baltimore: Another primetime game on the road against a hated rival. This was a back-and-forth game that saw Brady and Joe Flacco combine for over 700 yard through the air.  With 7:29 left in the game, Baltimore had the ball at their own 8, down by 9 points.  The Ravens drove 92 yards for the score, forced a punt, and then hit the game-winning field goal as time expired to steal a 31-30 win.
  • 2012, SNF vs. San Francisco: Yet another primetime game, and this one was a crazy one. The 49ers jumped out to a 31-3 lead, with Randy Moss, Delanie Walker, and Michael Crabtree all pulling in touchdowns.  The Patriots then stormed back with four touchdowns to make it 31-31 in the 4th quarter, before Kaepernick hit Crabtree for another touchdown.  The 49ers iced it with a field goal late, and a last-minute field goal by New England made the final score 41-34.

There are also these 12 regular season games that, for one reason or another, don’t fit the above criteria, but involved New England losing and the opponent scoring over 30 points:

Points
Tm
Year Date Time LTime Opp Week G# Day Result OT PF PA PD PC
NWE 2016 2016-11-13 8:30 SEA 10 9 Sun L 24-31 24 31 -7 55
NWE 2015 2015-12-06 4:25 4:25 PHI 13 12 Sun L 28-35 28 35 -7 63
NWE 2014 2014-09-07 1:03 1:03 @ MIA 1 1 Sun L 20-33 20 33 -13 53
NWE 2014 2014-09-29 8:31 7:31 @ KAN 4 4 Mon L 14-41 14 41 -27 55
NWE 2010 2010-11-07 1:02 1:02 @ CLE 9 8 Sun L 14-34 14 34 -20 48
NWE 2009 2009-11-30 8:40 7:40 @ NOR 12 11 Mon L 17-38 17 38 -21 55
NWE 2009 2010-01-03 1:02 12:02 @ HOU 17 16 Sun L 27-34 27 34 -7 61
NWE 2005 2005-10-02 1:02 1:02 SDG 4 4 Sun L 17-41 17 41 -24 58
NWE 2005 2005-11-07 9:08 9:08 IND 9 8 Mon L 21-40 21 40 -19 61
NWE 2004 2004-10-31 4:15 4:15 @ PIT 8 7 Sun L 20-34 20 34 -14 54
NWE 2003 2003-09-07 1:04 1:04 @ BUF 1 1 Sun L 0-31 0 31 -31 31
NWE 2001 2001-10-28 2:15 2:15 @ DEN 7 7 Sun L 20-31 20 31 -11 51

Do any of those games (or the ones described in more detail above) stick out to you as the right blueprint for Atlanta?  Would you say Atlanta has better odds of winning in a shootout, or in a low-scoring game?

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