As the NFL playoffs begin, I’m not quite ready to put to bed the fabulous 2014 regular season. One of the reasons the NFL has taken over as the most popular sport in this country is that the game appeals to nearly every sports fans biggest needs when watching pro sports.
Thanks in part to revenue sharing and a hard salary cap, the NFL offers parity which in turn offers nearly every fan the hope each summer that their team can be the Cinderella in the upcoming season. Fans love scoring, which is why, ‘the other futbol” has failed to catch on in this country–there simply isn't enough of it on the "pitch" and certainly the action on the gridiron, while it can be slow at times, moves at faster pace than it does on a soccer field. There is another reason futbol hasn’t quite caught on and football reigns supreme—the physical nature (or lack thereof) of the game. Fans love the big hits that go hand in hand with the NFL.
The 2014 NFL season offered it all—close games, dramatic endings, high scoring and of course big hits. Speaking of parity and competition, heading into the final week of the regular season, 16 teams were in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLIX. Entering Week 17, 10 of the 16 games had playoff implications.
This is a two part series on the 2014 season as I, with the help of NFL Communications, take a look back at some of the better performances of the season. In part one we will look at 10 of the best overall stats and facts from the 2014 season and recap what some of the teams accomplished and in part two, we will look at some of the better individual efforts of the 2014 season.
With Wild Card Saturday here, here is one final look back at a great regular season.
The Beat Goes On:
Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. Five teams – Dallas (12-4), Arizona (11-5), Detroit (11-5), Pittsburgh (11-5) and Baltimore (10-6) – accomplished the feat this year. The normal amount of teams accomplishing this amazing feat is usually, five, six or seven teams. Since 1990, four teams has happened only three times while five teams making the playoffs after failing to the previous season has happened 10 times. On 11 occasions six or seven teams has accomplished this feat and in 2003, eight teams made the playoffs that did not make them in 2002.
It’s Not Over Until it’s Over:
Games continued to have a flare for the dramatic, as comebacks were a frequent theme. In 2014, there were five comeback victories of 21+ points, the most in a single season in NFL history. There were also 43 comeback wins of 10+ points, tied for the most in a season in NFL history (43 in 2013).
The most comeback wins of 21+ points in a single season in NFL history:
SEASON 21+ POINT COMEBACK WINS
Plenty of Scoring in 2014:
Nine teams scored at least 400 points this season – Green Bay (486), Denver (482), Philadelphia (474), New England (468), Dallas (467), Indianapolis (458), Pittsburgh (436), Baltimore (409) and New Orleans (401) –tying the 2009 and 2012 seasons for the second-most all-time. Those nine teams combined for a .674 winning percentage, and seven qualified for the playoffs.
Year of the Quarterback:
NFL QBs put together a historically proficient and prolific year in 2014. The league-wide completion percentage (62.6), league-wide passer rating (88.9) and league-wide touchdown pass totals (807) were at historic levels, topping the previous records set in 2013 (61.2 completion percentage; 86.0 passer rating; 804 TD passes). The league-wide interception percentage of 2.52 percent was the lowest of any season in NFL history, surpassing the previous mark of 2.63 in 2012.
Mistake Free Performances:
There were 58 individual performances with three touchdown passes without an interception in 2014, the most of any season in NFL history (55 in 2013). There were nine individual games with five or more TD passes this season, the second-most in a single season in NFL history (11 in 2004). An NFL-record nine quarterbacks had 30+ touchdown passes – Luck (40), Peyton Manning (39), Aaron Rodgers (38), Tony Romo (34), Tom Brady (33), Drew Brees (33), Ben Roethlisberger (32), Philip Rivers (31) & Eli Manning (30) – surpassing the previous high of five (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013).
The More the Merrier:
Games averaged 696.2 total net yards per game, the second-best mark in NFL annals (697.0 in 2013). Explosive passing offenses fueled that trend, with an average of 473.6 net passing yards per game, an all-time high (471.2 in 2013).
Time is of the Essence:
The 2014 season featured an average game time of 3:05:53, the shortest average game time since 2010 (3:03:30). It is also the first time the average game time has declined from the previous season since 2008.
Return to Sender:
The league-wide kickoff return average of 23.8 yards was tied for the best in NFL history (23.8 in 2011).
With all that offense, defenses were heard from as well. The top three NFL teams in total defense all qualified for the playoffs and won at least 11 games each – Seattle (267.1), Detroit (300.9) and Denver (305.2). Those three clubs had a combined win percentage of .729.
Many NFL teams accomplished amazing feats in 2014, here are some of the more noteworthy stats and facts from some of the leagues better performances throughout the season.
The Cards had 11 wins, tied for the most in a season in franchise history (1975, 1948, 1925). Arizona’s seven home wins are the most for the franchise in a single season since 1925, when the team won 11 of its 13 home games and became the first team since 1982 (Green Bay) to start 2-0 after trailing entering the fourth quarter in both games and not allowing a single fourth-quarter point.
Head coach Bruce Arians, who should win coach of the year honors, has 21 wins in his first two seasons, the most by a head coach in his first two seasons in franchise history.
Set a single-season franchise record with 409 points scored and reached the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons under John Harbaugh.
One of the more surprising moves in the NFL this week was Bills head coach Doug Marrone opting out of his contract—however, his Bills defense led the NFL this season with 54 sacks.
The Panthers reached the playoffs despite posting a regular season record of 7-8-1. However they were one of only four teams to post a 4-0 mark in December and became the first team in NFC South history to win back-to-back division championships.
The Dallas Cowboys finished the regular season 8-0 on the road and became the sixth team with a perfect 8-0 road record since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Four of the previous five teams to accomplish the feat advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos defeated Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego on the road this season, and have won 12 consecutive divisional road games (2011-14), tying San Francisco (12 from 1987-90) for the longest such streak in NFL history. The Broncos have not lost to an AFC West opponent on the road since December 19, 2010 (39-23 loss at Oakland).
Denver scored at least 20 points in 30 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history. The St. Louis Rams (1999-2000) previously held the record with 28 consecutive game with at least 20 points scored.
The Broncos spent $100 million to fix a leaky defense that many in Denver felt cost them an opportunity to win the Super Bowl—through 17 weeks of the NFL’s regular season it appears to have worked. Denver led the AFC in total defense, allowing 305.2 yards per game. The team’s offense ranked third in the AFC (402.9 yards per game).
The Lions became the first team since the 1994 New York Giants to score the game-winning points inside of the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter in three consecutive weeks (Weeks 7, 8, 10, with a bye in Week 9). In Weeks 7 and 8, became the fifth team in NFL history 8 to win back to-back games when trailing by at least 14 points one week and by 21+ points the following week.
Green Bay Packers:
The Pack became the second team in NFL history with 700 regular-season victories (710-541-37). The Packers joined the Chicago Bears (735-545-42) as the only teams ever to accomplish the feat. Became only the second team in NFL history to score 53+ points in back-to-back games (Los Angeles Rams, 1950)
Under new head coach Bill O’Brien, Houston became only the fifth team in NFL history to start 2-0 in at least five consecutive seasons: Dallas Cowboys (1965-73), Los Angeles Rams (1966-70), Dallas Cowboys (1975-79), Chicago Bears (1984-91) and Miami Dolphins (1994-99).
With Andrew Luck under center the Colts scored six touchdowns of at least 30 yards in Week 13, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since Washington (seven) did it on November 27, 1966 against the New York Giants.
Rookie Head Coach Mike Zimmer had an impressive first year posting a 7-9 record with a rookie QB. However, the Vikings became the first team since the 1975 Detroit Lions (September 21, 1975 en route to a 30-16 win at Green Bay) to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in a half.
New England Patriots:
After starting 2-2 and getting blown on Monday Night Football by the KC Chiefs, the Patriots went onto to accomplish a lot in 2014—especially for a team that was washed up and finished on that cold October night in Kansas City.
New England won their sixth consecutive AFC East division title (2009-present), which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the Los Angeles Rams (seven, 1973-79) have posted a longer streak. The Patriots, who also won five consecutive division titles from 2003-07, are the first team in NFL history to win 11 division championships in a 12-year span.
BUT WAIT—THERE IS MORE—MUCH MORE!
They finished the year 12-4 and earned a first-round bye for the fifth consecutive season, the longest streak of any NFL team since the current playoff format began in 1990, surpassing Dallas (1992-95) and San Francisco (1992-95).
Once the Pats recorded their ninth win over the Lions on November 23, they became the sixth team in NFL history to post at least 14 consecutive winning seasons and the first to do so since the San Francisco 49ers (1983-98, 16 seasons). Those 12 victories allowed New England to join the 49ers (1983-1998; 16) as the only teams in NFL history to record 12 consecutive 10-win seasons.
And if all of that isn’t enough to make you hate the Pats or love them even more—there is this. New England became the first team in NFL history (Weeks 9, 11 and 12, with a bye in Week 10) to win three consecutive games by 20 or more points, each against an opponent with a record of at least three games above .500.
New Orleans Saints:
The Saints missed the playoffs but it wasn’t because of their offense. With Drew Brees at QB, the Saints led the NFL in total offense, averaging 411.4 yards per game.
2014 was a tough luck year for Philly, as they became this year’s version of the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles finished with a 10-6 record but did not make the playoffs. However, Philadelphia did accomplish some “special” things in 2014.
The Eagles scored 11 return touchdowns (three blocked punts, two kick returns, two punt returns, two interception returns and two fumble returns) this season, the third-highest total in NFL history. Ten different Eagles scored a return touchdown, the most in a single season all-time.
They also set single-season franchise records in points scored (474) and total touchdowns (54).
Coming from behind was a major theme for Philly in 2014. In a 34-17 Week 1 win against Jacksonville, became the first team in NFL history to win a game by at least 17 points after being shut out and trailing by 17+ points at halftime. They became the first team in NFL history to start 3-0 and overcome a 10 plus point deficit in all three games.
The defending Super Bowl Champs became the first team to lead the league in scoring defense (15.9 points per game) in three consecutive seasons since the Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota Vikings defense did so from 1969-71.
When the Seahawks defeated Washington 27-17 in Week 5, it was their ninth-consecutive win on Monday Night Football. Their nine-game winning streak on MNF is tied for the second-longest such streak since 1970 (Oakland, 14).
In part 2 we will examine the the better individual performances from the year.