As the AFC Championship looms ever closer, more and more statistics and factoids come to the fore, purporting to predict, in some fashion, the game’s outcome. Let’s take a look at a few, and see what they really mean:
FACT: Tom Brady is 10-4 in matchups with Peyton Manning.
GOING DEEPER: Since 2005, Brady and Manning are both 4-4 when their teams play one another. Prior to that, the Patriots won three Super Bowls between 2001 and 2004, establishing themselves as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. Were NBA stars Karl Malone and John Stockton actually poor postseason players because they kept running into the buzzsaw that was Michael Jordan’s Bulls at their peak in the 80s and 90s?
IMPACT: Absolutely none. Quarterbacks are never on the field at the same time, anyway. All this statistic indicates it that, over their careers, the 53 players on the Patriots’ roster have generally performed better than the Colts’ and Broncos’ over the same time frame.
FACT: Bill Belichick is 7-0 against Jack Del Rio-led defenses.
GOING DEEPER: Del Rio’s faced the Patriots as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, and the Broncos have lost both games. But let’s say that the Broncos don’t botch a punt return in overtime during November’s overtime loss. If they went on to win, would that have made Del Rio a better defensive coordinator? It’s silly. The other five losses came when Del Rio was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars; a team that’s essentially been bereft of top-tier talent during its entire existence.
IMPACT: Very little. Only the Broncos’ losses mean anything. Both games were close, and the losses would be hard to pin on Del Rio’s defensive schemes. Players decide games.
FACT: New England has won the last four games against the Broncos.
GOING DEEPER: Two of those losses were with Tim Tebow at quarterback for the Broncos. He’s already out of the league at 26, after even Belichick and the Patriots couldn’t turn him into a consistent signal-caller. The latter pair, with Peyton Manning behind center, were much closer.
IMPACT: Some. There’s a bit of a mental hump to get over for the Broncos, who’ve considered the Patriots as their primary competition in the AFC since Manning came to town — and they haven’t beaten them yet.
FACT: Tom Brady has a 4-6 record against the Broncos; the only NFL team he possesses a losing record against.
GOING DEEPER: Oddly, none of these losses are with Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow or John Elway at center (Brady debuted in 2000, after Elway retired); which means that Broncos quarterbacks Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton got the job done against Brady and his Patriots — funny how those quarterback matchups never get brought up when Brady’s greatness is touted.
IMPACT: Zilch. Brady’s a far better quarterback than the fellows mentioned above that beat him; proof positive that quarterback records are an overly simplistic way to look at football games.
FACT: Bill Belichick is 7-10 (.412) against the Broncos as a head coach, 174-56 (.757) against everyone else.
GOING DEEPER: Four of those losses came when Belichick was coaching the woebegone Cleveland Browns, making him 7-6 against the Broncos since he took over the reins as coach of Patriots in 2000; perhaps a more telling number.
IMPACT: Very little. That 7-6 number isn’t that telling. Over 13 seasons as Patriots coach, Belichick’s faced a few different Broncos coaches and hundreds of different players, only a handful of which will play on Sunday. Belichick’s career record tells a better story; his numbers against the Broncos are nothing but a statistical deviation.
FACT: The Broncos are 14-4 at home in their postseason history, 6-2 in AFC Championship games.
GOING DEEPER: The Broncos are 19-17 all-time in the postseason, making them a horrific 5-13 away from Denver in their history — they’re 2-4 at neutral sites (Super Bowls). Of course, if you’re playing at home in the postseason, it also means you (generally) had a better record than your opponent.
IMPACT: Significant. This is the one number that actually matters — crowd noise can disrupt opponents; a look at Philip Rivers’ temper tantrums and the Chargers’ five neutral-zone infractions in the Divisional round speaks volumes. “Rocky Mountain Thunder” will make an impact.
In the end, it’s hard to forget Mark Twain’s famous “lies, damned lies and statistics” quote when looking at all the trivia that gets thrown around at this time of year. Most of it means very little.
Home-field advantage does matter to the players, however — and in the end, you throw out the numbers and let those players decide their fates.
The only statistic that really matters comes with a “W”.
Shawn Drotar is in his 20th year as a national sportswriter and editor, and his work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports and in the USA Today, among others. He’s appeared on television on ESPNEWS and the Altitude Sports Network, and can currently be heard on Denver’s KKFN-FM/104.3 The Fan as a sports-talk radio host.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sdrotar
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