Everybody is looking for that "Super Bowl storyline" because "it's for the NFL championship" simply doesn't cut it. I mean, without narrative you only have "sports" and if you only have sports, then the media has nothing to sell you during this two weeks of not sports.
Think about it.
If there are 168 hours in a week and a football games last for just three of those hours, then only 1.7% of your week (or in the case of the SB, 0.85%) actually consists of the game itself. The rest is usually filled with Tim Tebow.
But this year maybe there may even be some non-Tebow storylines. Through hours and hours of digging and days of research, sleepless nights, I found this out: Peyton Manning is a good quarterback. Here's the catch, the Seattle Seahawks? Yeah, guess what. They have a good defense! When it comes to other people passing it, they are like "unh-unh, no way, no how, see ya!"
You've heard it all by now about Seattle's defense. That they rank first in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, interceptions, turnovers, net yards per pass attempt... per the Seahawks on Twitter, they are the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the NFL in scoring defense, total defense and takeaways.
So when looking for ways to compare this Seattle team with others that Manning has faced this year, it's virtually impossible. To compare it to years of the past though? Still relatively difficult! However, research tells me that Manning is "old as heck" and has played many games. For a baseline, here are Manning's career numbers:
240 starts, 167-73 record, .695 winning percentage, 5,532-of-8,452, 65.5%, 270.7 Y/G, 2.04 TD/G, .91 INT/G, 5.8 TD%, 2.6 INT%, 7.7 Y/A, 97.2 passer rating
Now like Jay-Z says, take the baseline out on this one. Ha. Ugh. Hova.
It's somewhat surprising that Manning's overall passer rating isn't over 100. Despite how difficult that would be to do for 16 years, Manning is likely the best of the best. However, we must also remember that he wasn't always "old as heck" and for the first six seasons of his career, Manning had a passer rating of just 88.1 and never topped 100 for a season. Manning hasn't always been a high Y/A guy like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, because he's typically going for the high-percentage-of-success play over the big bang.
He's smarter than most defensive coordinators and so he knows that he can typically keep the chains moving rather than go for it all at once. But the question everyone is asking for Super Bowl XLVIII (besides, "How did it immediately become so easy for us to remember that this is "XLVIII" without ever really thinking about it before?") is whether or not he's smarter than Dan Quinn. And Pete Carroll. And Earl Thomas.
And yes, Richard Sherman.
I can't tell you for certain that this is the best defense that Manning has ever faced in his career, but there's certainly a solid chance that it is. Beyond that, the Seahawks want to shut down the Denver Broncos and make their case that they are the best defense of all time. To do that, they need to first shut down Peyton Manning. Can they?
Well, let's take a look at the closest thing we can find to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks over the last 10 years. I've written out simple game log recaps that only include attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, yards per attempt, and whether or not the team won or lost. What do we know about Manning against the best in the last decade?
Football Outsiders DVOA ranking for that season is in parentheses, and then the "G" is what game number it was for that year.
Manning versus top 5 pass defenses by DVOA since 2004 (regular season)
BAL (2) in G13:
20-of-33, 249 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, 7.55 Y/A, W 20-10
PIT (3) in G11:
15-of-25, 245 y, 2 TD, 1 INT, 9.8 Y/A, W 26-7
JAX (2) in G3:
14-of-31, 219 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, 7.06 Y/A, W 21-14
JAX (2) in G13:
25-of-50, 313 y, 0 TD, 1 INT, 6.26 Y/A, L 17-44
TEN (1) in G2:
28-of-42, 312 y, 1 TD, 1 INT, 7.43 Y/A, W 22-20
TEN (1) in G16:
14-of-16, 95 y, 0 TD, 0 INT, 5.94 Y/A, L 10-16
SD (3) in G9:
34-of-56, 328 y, 2 TD, 6 INT, 5.86 Y/A, L 21-23
TB (4) in G5:
29-of-37, 253 y, 2 TD, 1 INT, 6.84 Y/A, W 33-14
PIT (1) in G9:
21-of-40, 240 y, 3 TD, 0 INT, 6 Y/A, W 24-20
BAL (2) in G5:
19-of-28, 271 y, 3 TD, 0 INT, 9.68 Y/A, W 31-3
TEN (4) in G7:
26-of-41, 223 y, 2 TD, 2 INT, 5.44 Y/A, L 21-31
TEN (4) in G16:
7-of-7, 95 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, 13.57 Y/A, W 23-0
MIN (5) in G2:
26-of-42, 311 y, 1 TD, 2 INT, 7.4 Y/A, W 18-15
NYJ (1) in G15:
14-of-21, 192 y, 0 TD, 0 INT, 9.14 Y/A, L 15-29
BUF (2) in G16:
14-of-18, 95 y, 0 TD, 1 INT, 5.28 Y/A, L 7-30
NYG (2) in G2:
20-of-26, 255 y, 3 TD, 0 INT, 9.81 Y/A, W 38-14
SD (4) in G11:
31-of-48, 285 y, 2 TD, 4 INT, 5.94 Y/A, L 14-36
2011 - OFF
HOU (4) in G3:
26-of-52, 330 y, 2 TD, 0 INT, 6.35 Y/A, L 25-31
None is a funny word!
Total: 383-of-613, 62.47%, 4,311 yards, 7.03 Y/A, 26 TD, 19 INT, 10-8 record
- Three of these games had a yards total of 95, which is... weird. If life is a simulation, that's a glitch right there. It goes without saying that these were all end-of-season games that carried little meaning for the Colts and that Manning did not complete.
- His overall numbers are significantly deflated against top five pass defenses, as they should be.
- The best comparison of "Manning versus top five defenses over the last 10 years" to a player in 2013, might be Matt Ryan. The Falcons QB had a down season, but completed 67.4% of his passes for 4,515 yards, 26 TD, 17 INT and 6.9 Y/A.
- Manning didn't face a top five pass defense in 2011, because he didn't play.
He faced one top five defense in 2012, the Houston Texans who were fourth against the pass by DVOA. He completed half of his attempts and lost.
He did not face a single top five pass defense this season. And no, not the Chiefs (7th) as you may have been wondering. He also hasn't faced one in the playoffs. He didn't face one in the playoffs last year either.
Over the last three years, Peyton Manning has faced a grand total of one team that is ranked in the top five against the pass by DVOA.
But playoffs are a different breed. Here's a quick look at Manning's career playoff track record:
19-of-42, 227 y, 0 TD, 0 INT, L 16-19
17-of-32, 194 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, L 17-23
14-of-31, 137 y, 0 TD, 2 INT, L 0-41
22-of-26, 377 y, 5 TD, 0 INT, W 41-10
22-of-30, 304 y, 3 TD, 0 INT, W 38-31
New England (2)
23-of-47, 237 y, 1 TD, 4 INT, L 14-24
27-of-33, 458 y, 4 TD, 1 INT, W 49-24
at New England (6)
27-of-42, 238 y, 0 TD, 1 INT, L 3-20
22-of-38, 290 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, L 18-21
30-of-38, 268 y, 1 TD, 3 INT, W 23-8
15-of-30, 170 y, 0 TD, 2 INT, W 15-6
27-of-47, 349 y, 1 TD, 1 INT, W 38-34
25-of-38, 247 y, 1 TD, 1 INT, W 29-17
33-of-48, 402 y, 3 TD, 2 INT, L 24-28
25-of-42, 310 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, L 17-23
30-of-44, 246 y, 2 TD, 1 INT, W 20-3
26-of-39, 377 y, 3 TD, 0 INT, W 30-17
31-of-45, 333 y, 1 TD, 1 INT, L 17-31
18-of-26, 225 y, 1 TD, 0 INT, L 16-17
28-of-43, 290 TD, 3 TD, 2 INT, L 35-38
25-of-36, 230 y, 2 TD, 1 INT, W 24-17
32-of-43, 400 y, 2 TD, 0 INT, W 26-16
Playoff totals: 64.05% completions, 286.7 Y/G, 1.63 TD/G, 1 INT/G, 90.1 pass rating, 11-11 record
Manning's touchdown rate is down 20-percent in his playoff career compared to his regular season career, and his interceptions go up about 10-percent. Anyone should be expected to lose more in the playoffs than they do in the regular season due to the fact that naturally they are playing tougher teams, but Manning's phenomenal near-70-percent win percentage is just .500 in the playoffs.
But what if we isolate just the last 10 years?
Manning didn't win a playoff game until his sixth season in the NFL, so we are doing him a favor by isolating only the last decade. Plus, isn't Marvin Harrison like in the Hall of Fame now? (Not-fun fact: Harrison's first quarterback was Jim Harbaugh.)
Over the last 10 years, Manning is 9-7 in the playoffs and he's averaging over 300 yards per game and his Y/A is up to 7.65, much like in the regular season, but his touchdown rate and interception rate are basically the same: 1.6-to-1.
But what about in the last 10 years, against just top 10 pass defenses by DVOA?
11 games, 281-of-430, 65.3%, 294.8 Y/G, 15 TD, 8 INT, 7.54 Y/A, 6-5 record.
So in some ways, Manning has performed better in the last 10 years against top 10 pass defenses than he has against teams that were not great at defending the pass in the regular season games. Among the ones that I had to throw out included a three-interception win over the Chiefs during the Colts Super Bowl run in 2006.
However, Manning has not faced a top 10 pass defense in the playoffs this season, or last season, or the previous season due to the fact that he was not playing. The Seahawks will be the first top 10 pass defense in the playoffs that he has faced since the Jets in 2010, a one-point loss and Manning's final game with Indianapolis.
Also, Seattle is a special case since they were the number one pass defense in the NFL this year by nearly every measure you could think of.
What's Manning's playoff performance like against top six pass defenses in the last decade?
(I opened it up to top six since there were two such instances of a team being ranked sixth and I thought it more fair to Manning to include those and also give us a larger sample size. I did so without bias to his performance in those games, which I felt were pretty par for the course anyway)
Eight games, 202-of-315, 64.1%, 2,531 yards, 8.03 Y/A, 13 TD, 8 INT, 5-3 record
Manning's huge game against Denver in 2004 boosts his numbers quite a bit here (I had to double-check that Y/A, which is outside of all his other career norms) but we can't deny that he is certainly capable of coming up with big games against great teams.
Just not that often.
However, Manning did get a win against the number one defense and number one pass defense in Super Bowl XLI when they faced off against the Chicago Bears. He also had a big game against the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship, when they were the number one defense.
How has Manning fared against a top two (if you're good enough to be two, you're likely good enough to be one in many years) pass defense over the last 10 years, regular season and playoffs included?
12 games, 231-of-382, 60.4%, 2,865 yards, 7.5 Y/A, 16 TD, 4 INT, 93.3 rating, 8-4 record.
Never accuse me of being a cherry-picker. Oy vey!
I wouldn't say that Manning has "dominated" top two pass defenses since 2004, but considering that they are top two pass defenses, he has. But if I was going to spin this in a positive way for the Seahawks, I certainly could add some caveats:
- Two of these 12 games were late season matchups that Manning only played part of.
- The most recent of these games came in the second game of the 2010 season against the New York Giants. That was over 1,200 days ago, before Jim Harbaugh was a coach in the NFL, during Pete Carroll's first season, when John Fox was with the Panthers and Rebecca Black was a nobody. (She pretty much still is, but this was before we knew what day came after Friday.)
- Seven of those games were at home in Indy, four were away, and one was neutral. In the four away games plus the neutral game, Manning was 113-of-188, 60.1%, 6.42 Y/A, 5 TD, 4 INT, 2-3 record. He did win the Super Bowl on that neutral field, but it was not his best performance.
In my opinion
In my opinion, Peyton Manning will not have a ton of success in the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean that the Broncos can't win, because there is a whole lot of football left to analyze that was not included in this study, and because as much as we the media want you to believe this is about one or two players for each team, but it does mean that I think Denver's greatest weapon can be neutralized.
When the 2002 Bucs went to the Super Bowl, they faced MVP Rich Gannon and intercepted him five times.
When the 1985 Bears went to the Super Bowl, they intercepted Steve Grogan twice (admittedly not an MVP) and overall forced six turnovers.
Then there's the '69 Chiefs (three interceptions in the Super Bowl), the '72 Dolphins (three interceptions in the Super Bowl), the '00 Ravens (four interceptions in the Super Bowl)... many of the great defenses that won the Super Bowl came up with multiple turnovers in the game and that's what I'm expecting of Seattle.
Here is what I would guesstimate as a simple Manning box score for Sunday, based on the evidence:
30-of-48, 320 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions
The second interception mainly due to the fact that I expect him to throw the ball almost 50 times against a secondary that led the NFL in interceptions. But Manning has had many games, both in the regular season and postseason, when he's put up a line such as that and won.
In the battle of Manning versus the Seahawks defense, I'll take the defense. In the battle going the other way? Maybe that's what decides the champion. That, and whichever team Tebow chooses.