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Panthers-Broncos Super Bowl 50 Preview, Part I: Peyton Manning's bad 2015 doesn't mean much

In nine regular season starts, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw 17 interceptions. In two playoff games, he hasn't thrown any. [Associated Press]

In nine regular season starts, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw 17 interceptions. In two playoff games, he hasn't thrown any. [Associated Press]

One of the most glaring differences between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos heading into Super Bowl 50 is the passing offenses.

Cam Newton was MVP-caliber during the regular season, while Peyton Manning … well, you don't need to hire private investigators to uncover evidence that Manning was abysmal. Before our very eyes, he threw an interception in each of his nine starts.

How much will that matter come Sunday? Let's explore.

Related: Super Bowl 50 Preview, Part II: Cam Newton in the red zone

When evaluating quarterbacks and offenses, many people tend to focus on counting statistics — total yards and touchdown passes, for example. But other simple statistics exist that are more correlated with wins. Among them: yards per attempt. We can go a step further, however, if we use adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A). Sure, it takes a little longer to say, but it's easy to calculate.

There are six components to ANY/A: passing attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns, interceptions, sacks and yards lost on sacks. It gives a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 45-yard penalty for interceptions. It's calculated like this: (passing yards + 20*(passing touchdowns) - 45*(interceptions thrown) - sack yards) / (pass attempts + sacks).

The Panthers' ANY/A during the regular season was 7.18 while the Broncos' ANY/A was 5.14 (the NFL average was 6.32). In other words, once you factor in touchdowns, interceptions and sacks, the Panthers gained 2.04 more yards per pass attempt than the Broncos — that's the 10th largest difference between Super Bowl opponents since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

In today's pass-happy NFL, that would seem to be a huge advantage. But in an analysis of the 20 biggest disparities before this coming Super Bowl, I found that teams that had the better passing offense didn't reap the rewards. In fact, the team with the worse passing offense won nine out of 20 times.

Season Better ANY/A Worse ANY/A Difference Winner Point margin
2007 Patriots Giants 4.03 Giants -3
1989 49ers Broncos 3.66 49ers +45
1974 Vikings Steelers 3.13 Steelers -10
2006 Colts Bears 2.79 Colts +12
1982 Washington Dolphins 2.45 Washington +10
1980 Eagles Raiders 2.43 Raiders -17
1994 49ers Chargers 2.37 49ers +23
1979 Steelers Rams 2.26 Steelers +12
2001 Rams Patriots 2.10 Patriots -3
1988 Bengals 49ers 2.00 49ers -4
1999 Rams Titans 1.93 Rams +7
1983 Washington Raiders 1.89 Raiders -29
2008 Cardinals Steelers 1.60 Steelers -4
1993 Cowboys Bills 1.52 Cowboys +17
2013 Broncos Seahawks 1.50 Seahawks -35
2000 Giants Ravens 1.47 Ravens -27
1991 Washington Bills 1.44 Washington +13
1995 Cowboys Steelers 1.39 Cowboys +10
1977 Cowboys Broncos 1.34 Cowboys +17
1976 Raiders Vikings 1.28 Raiders +14

Just missing the cut is a Super Bowl that Buccaneers fans remember quite well: Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. The Oakland Raiders held a 1.26 ANY/A advantage over the Bucs but lost 48-21.

Of course, the Broncos have been able to compensate for their poor passing offense because they have a defense that is not only the league's best but also historically great. According to Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency rankings, which go back to 1989, Denver's defense is one of the five best to play in a Super Bowl. The other four won. If you include the 2002 Bucs, each of those teams appears in the list above: the 2008 Steelers, the 2013 Seahawks and the 2000 Ravens.

The takeaway: The Broncos' defense is plenty good enough to negate the Panthers' apparent advantage in the passing game.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

Speaking of takeaways …

While the Broncos' defense was absolutely dominant, the Panthers' defense was no slouch. During the regular season, Carolina recorded 39 takeaways, the most in the league, and built a plus-20 turnover differential, the best in the league. The Panthers are one of just four teams since the merger to finish with a turnover differential of at least 20, a point differential of at least 190 and a yardage differential of at least 700. One of those teams won the Super Bowl (1985 Bears), one of them reached the Super Bowl (1983 Washington) and one of them reached the conference championship (2012 Patriots).

The Broncos were tied for seventh with 27 takeaways during the regular season, but because of Manning's ghastly interception rate, they actually ended up with a minus-4 turnover differential.

The good news for Denver is that Manning has settled down. Coincidentally, he hasn't thrown an interception since an Al Jazeera report in late December linked him to performance-enhancing drugs.

The bad news is that teams that have a negative turnover differential entering the playoffs rarely win a Super Bowl. Of the past 27 Super Bowl champions, just one had a negative turnover differential: the 2007 Giants, who upset the 18-0 Patriots. Only five teams preceded the Giants: the 1970 Colts, the 1976 Raiders, the 1979 Steelers, the 1983 Raiders and 1987 Washington.

Panthers-Broncos Super Bowl 50 Preview, Part I: Peyton Manning's bad 2015 doesn't mean much 02/05/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2016 9:40pm]
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