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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]
Published Feb. 6, 2016

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.

SeasonBetter ANY/AWorse ANY/ADifferenceWinnerPoint margin
2007PatriotsGiants4.03Giants-3
198949ersBroncos3.6649ers+45
1974VikingsSteelers3.13Steelers-10
2006ColtsBears2.79Colts+12
1982WashingtonDolphins2.45Washington+10
1980EaglesRaiders2.43Raiders-17
199449ersChargers2.3749ers+23
1979SteelersRams2.26Steelers+12
2001RamsPatriots2.10Patriots-3
1988Bengals49ers2.0049ers-4
1999RamsTitans1.93Rams+7
1983WashingtonRaiders1.89Raiders-29
2008CardinalsSteelers1.60Steelers-4
1993CowboysBills1.52Cowboys+17
2013BroncosSeahawks1.50Seahawks-35
2000GiantsRavens1.47Ravens-27
1991WashingtonBills1.44Washington+13
1995CowboysSteelers1.39Cowboys+10
1977CowboysBroncos1.34Cowboys+17
1976RaidersVikings1.28Raiders+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.

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

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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