A lot happened this last week in the NFL but just because its behind us doesn't mean we leave the lessons learned behind. Let's examine some takeaways heading into the Super Bowl.
Second Best Doesn’t Cut It
The last two teams standing in the NFL this year are not here by accident. They’re here because they had truly elite units, better than anybody else.
The team with the very best defense in the NFL this season – Denver – won a pair of tight home playoff games against banged up foes to return to the big game for the second time in three seasons. he Broncos are set to face the team with the very best quarterback in the NFL this season – Carolina, with Cam Newton behind center; a Panthers team that finished with the best record in the league.
The NFL odds markets have been particularly reluctant to accept Carolina as an elite level offensive team. Yet the numbers don’t lie. This Panthers offense has hung 31+ on eight of their last nine opponents down the stretch of the regular season and here in the playoffs. In fact, they scored 27 or more points 15 times in their last 16 games, an offense that just hasn’t gotten the respect they deserve.
Make no mistake about it – the Panthers are here, now, because of elite level QB play more than any other factor. Cam Newton finished the season with only ten interceptions and a 99.4 QB rating, but even that doesn’t tell the true story, because it doesn’t factor in his scrambling ability as the team’s second leading rusher. And even those stats don’t tell the story of Newton’s leadership abilities, proven since his tenure at Auburn when he ‘came out of nowhere’ to lead the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national title, handing the added pressure and the media blitz effectively throughout the entire process.
Turnovers Lose Games
Carolina’s defense forced seven Arizona turnovers in their Championship Game blowout over the Cardinals. This isn’t new or different. Carolina finished the regular season with an NFL best +20 turnover margin and an NFL best 39 takeaways in 16 games. Here in the playoffs, their defense has forced nine turnovers in two games, while the offense has turned it over only once.
Peyton Manning had a truly dismal 1 TD to 8 INT ratio playing at home during the regular season. But in two playoff games, Manning and the Broncos committed only one turnover – on an incomplete pass that was successfully challenged as a ‘backwards pass’ by the Patriots.
Last year, the Patriots finished the regular season with a +12 turnover margin and Seattle was right behind with a +10, both teams finishing in the Top 4 in the NFL. In 2013, when Seattle won the Super Bowl, they led the NFL with a +20 turnover margin during the regular season. The Giants and Patriots were a combined +39 in turnovers the previous season, each ranked in the Top 4.
I could go back further, but you get my point. This is not a news flash by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s worth repeating. NFL teams get to play in February only when they are capable of avoiding backbreaking miscues.
It Doesn’t Come Down To Coaching
Ask any bettor or fan: Bill Belichick or Gary Kubiak? You’re not going to get many ‘Kubiak’ votes. While the split between Ron Rivera and Bruce Arians isn’t as great; Arians wouldn’t lose that vote either. Coaches don’t win games. Players do. Sunday’s championship game results clearly illustrate that point once again.