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Super Bowl 49: Turns out 48 and 49 are different

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Newsflash: the XLIX Patriots are really not the XLVIII Broncos. Here are four ways in which they are similar, but four more ways they are different.

Just promise me you won't give up a safety on the opening snap
Just promise me you won't give up a safety on the opening snap
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

You'd be hard-pressed to find a Seahawks fan who expects a 35-point victory on Sunday. Gone-slash-buried are the Broncos, still technically alive are the Patriots. How is the AFC sacrificial lamb du jour new opponent similar and different?

Similarities

1. Hawks will face a decorated but stationary quarterback with a crazy record-setting resume.

History lesson:

2004 Peyton Manning logged an impossible 9.78 ANY/A on the strength of a 9.9 TD percentage. 2013 Manning threw for an all-time record 55 TD's. 2014 Manning set the new record for most career touchdowns.

2007 Tom Brady set the previous TD record with 50, guiding his team to a perfect regular season. He is 160-47 as a starter, good for .773, best of all time.

Combined, they've been to nine Super Bowls out of the last 16.

Legs lesson:

2013 Manning logged 32 rushing attempts for -31 yards. His longest run was one yard, so he wore out a couple kneepads during the regular season.

2014 Brady is comparable, with 36 attempts for 57 yards, including a cute little scamper for 17.

(See their pro-football-reference pages here and here.)

2. It's a rhythm pass-first offense with impressive results on the other side again.

Air yards data shows that both offenses relied on heavy yards after the catch to help their quarterbacks accumulate gaudy numbers.

Last year's Manning: 5477 yards, of which 51 percent were in the air. Twenty quarterbacks logged more air yards that season.

Present Brady: 4109 yards, of which 52.5 percent were in the air. 14th most for him this season among his peers.

Then, the volume pass-run numbers confirm my hypothesis.

Broncos in 2013: averaged 2nd place in passing first downs, attempts, yards, TD and interceptions. But they averaged 24th place in rushing yards, TD and YPC.

Patriots in 2014: placed in the top 10 in all five of the same passing categories... but the middle ten in all three of the same rushing categories.

The stats don't match precisely. How could they, considering the mighty, historically awe-inspiring, incomparable, unstoppable nature of the almost-champion Bronco offense? But the digits do tell a similar story. Each team is geared toward the strength of the future Hall of Famer in the pocket, with the running game generally used to keep defenses honest rather than to move the chains.

3. Here comes the team with the top scoring differential in the league, once more.

The Pats are at +155 for the season, which is impressive until you remember that the Broncos were +207 last year. Both teams have relied on offensive output to reach similar heights.

2013 Broncos 2014 Patriots
Scoring percentage 47.5 (1st) 45.3 (2nd)
Points per drive 2.83 (1st) 2.40 (3rd)

While New England is obviously not as dominant offensively as Denver was, both teams are still here based on the dominance of their offensive units.

4. Each team is good, not great, at defending the run.

At least not as greatish as the 2013-2014 Seattle Seahawks.

Rush DVOA rank YPC against rank Times opp. rushed for >120 yards
2013 Broncos 9 10 6
2014 Patriots 13 9 5
2013-14 Hawks 4.5 4.5 5

Differences

But the 2015 Patriots present new wrinkles.

1. New England is healthier than Denver was.

Broncos put the following on IR during 2013: center Dan Koppen, safeties Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady, DLs Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe, cornerback Chris Harris, and some guy named Von Miller. Five other Broncos hit the IR as well.

Those are some big names, most notably Clady, Miller, Moore, and Vickerson.

Denver lost 177 games to IR and PUP combined.

The Pats, on the other hand, suffered just 132 lost games to season-ending injuries, and not to the same caliber of player. LB Jerod Mayo is out, and he's an All-Pro; RB Stevan Ridley had a nice 2012 (1236 yards, 12 TD). But the rest of the list is best described as recent draft picks and role players.

2. The Pats actually have a complete stable of running backs.

Patriots runnning backs' carries:

Shane Vereen 96

Ridley 94

Jonas Gray 89

LeGarrette Blount 60

Brandon Bolden 28

It's a committee. Meanwhile In 2013, the Broncos divided up their carries this way:

Knowshon Moreno 240

Montee Ball had half of Moreno's, 121

Everyone else combined had half of Ball's, 65.

Again, one must remember that Ridley's hurt, but the committee lives on.

3. New England jealously protects the ball.

Go elsewhere to chat about inflating practices. The short fact is, New England players have the kind of ball security 30 teams in the NFL swoon over.

Turnover Margin 2012 2013 2014 3-year running total
Patriots 25 9 12 46
Seahawks 13 20 10 43
49ers 9 12 7 28
Bears 20 5 -5 20
Packers 7 -3 14 18
Panthers 1 11 3 15

Who's not on the list? The Denver Broncos, who managed -1, 0 and +5 in turnover margin these last three years.

4. And despite similar run defense numbers, the Pats play way better defense than their predecessor.

399 points given up by Denver; 313 given up by NE. That's the difference between 22nd and 8th in the league. And it's not all attributable to the Broncos spending more time on defense, as you'll see.

Plus when it comes to defensive backs: the Patriots actually have some. It's time for a chart.

2013 Broncos 2014 Patriots
Points allowed 399 (22nd) 313 (8th)
Points allowed per drive 1.83 1.63
Pass defense, DVOA 10.2 (21st) 2.0% (12th)
Overall defense, DVOA -0.2 (15th) -3.4% (11th)

Conclusion

Pats are a more complete team. 42-8 seems more like it.