6 Things to Know About Super Bowl 50
The Super Bowl is finally here, and along with it comes pageantry and ridiculous, overblown story lines.
Here at numberFire, we're not concerned with what the narratives say or which hot takes are gaining the most traction. We take a look at what the numbers say and what's really going on. We have tons of great Super Bowl content coming out all week, leaving no stone unturned in breaking down this matchup.
I'm going to go through and break down six of the biggest things to know about this year's Super Bowl.
1. This is the second time since 2000 that the league's top two defenses are meeting in the Super Bowl
Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric (which you can learn more about in our glossary) measures how many points are contributed or denied compared to expectation level.
When adjusted for strength of schedule, the Broncos and Panthers have the two top defenses in the league. Denver put up a -0.07 Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and Carolina finished second with a -0.03.
The last (and only other time since 2000, which is as far back as our numbers go) time the Super Bowl featured the top two defenses was in 2010 when the Steelers and their first-ranked defense took on number two Green Bay.
Carolina and Denver are not only the top two overall defenses, but they also rank one and two against the pass as well.
Both offenses are going to have their work cut out for them, and it's no surprise that oddsmakers have set the over/under for this game at 45.
2. Peyton Manning could be the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl this century
A lot of storylines get blown up and exaggerated in the build-up to a Super Bowl, but Peyton Manning's struggles are one of the few things that are as real as advertised.
If you asked someone to guess who ranked 32nd out of 37 quarterbacks with a -0.02 Passing NEP per drop back (with a minimum of 200) and ranked 29th among that group with a 42.94 percent Success Rate (the percentage of drop backs on which they generated a positive NEP), the common answers would probably involve names like Blaine Gabbert and Matt Hasselbeck. They wouldn't be too far off with either guess, but the answer being Peyton Manning might surprise people.
JJ Zachariason went in-depth last week on why Peyton Manning might be one the worst Super Bowl quarterbacks since the turn of the century.
You should check out the whole article, but this sentence really stands out: "While Manning has the fourth worst Passing NEP per drop back average among all passers in the Super Bowl over the last 16 years, he actually has the absolute worst when we compare him to how he performed versus his peers during his Super Bowl season."
Any way you cut it, Manning has been bad this year. If the Broncos go on to win it all, it's a safe bet that it will be despite Manning, not because of him.
3. The Broncos' pass rush is the best in the league, and that may just be a weak spot for the Panthers
The Denver pass rush took center stage when it absolutely brutalized the New England Patriots' offensive line, hitting Tom Brady 20 times, which was the most a quarterback has been hit in a game all season according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com..
The pass rush has been a force all year, though. Von Miller finished eighth in the league with 11.0 sacks, and DeMarcus Ware wasn't far behind with 7.5. The Broncos averaged one sack on every 12.24 opponent drop backs, the best mark in the league.
Pass protection has been one of the few relative weak spots for the Panthers this year. They ranked 21st, averaging a sack every 16.24 drop backs. They're not a team with a lot of holes, but this one lines up perfectly with one of Denver's biggest strengths.
4. The Broncos' offense is the worst to reach the Super Bowl this century
Not only has Peyton Manning been awful this season, but the whole Broncos offense has, really.
Denver posted a -0.01 NEP per play on the season, which ranked 27th in the league. The ranked bottom-10 in both Passing NEP per play (0.03, good for 25th) and Rushing NEP per play (-0.07, ranking 27th).
Brandon Gdula took a great, in-depth look at how the Broncos stack up against past Super Bowl defenses. The whole thing is worth a read, but he digs into the numbers and finds that, "Denver's offense was a big step behind the rest of the NFL this year, making it the weakest offense relative to other teams that same season to appear in a Super Bowl in the NEP era".
5. The Panthers have scored 30 or more points 10 times this year, and the Broncos have only allowed 30 points once
Or, in simpler terms, this is the league's number-one scoring offense against the number-one scoring defense. It's not all offense that goes into the scoring; Carolina's strong defense and special teams impact field position, making things easier on the offense, but they also finished sixth among offenses with a schedule-adjusted 0.11 NEP per play.
The one team to put up 30 on the Broncos was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished the season fourth with a 0.14 Adjusted NEP per play, despite Ben Roethlisberger missing four games.
In four games this year against top-10 defenses, Carolina averaged 32.75 points. Carolina has scored big points against strong defenses, and the Denver defense has quieted strong offenses. Neither side is going to have an easy time on Sunday.
6. numberFire Live gives the Panthers a 66% chance of taking home the Lombardi Trophy
numberFire Live takes all of our analytics and applies them to the game in real-time, using them to calculate each team's chances of winning, among other things.
With our pre-kickoff NEP data, Carolina comes in with a 66% chance to win this one, making them pretty sizable favorites. According to our numbers, the huge disparity in offensive production should be more than enough to make up for the edge that Denver has on defense.