Stats tell the story, good and bad, for all 12 Super Bowl XLV hopefuls
Matt Ryan's ineffectiveness at getting the ball downfield could doom Falcons
Think the Patriots pass defense will get exposed? Think again
Defensive Hogs in New York and Pittsburgh could be the difference
Here's a quick look at all 12 NFL playoff contenders through the eyes of ColdHardFootballFacts.com and our Quality Stats, which have a direct correlation to winning football games.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Matty Ice could throw a Big Chill over Hotlanta's Super Bowl hopes.
Matt Ryan led the NFL with six game-winning drives in 2010, he's one of the sport's bright young stars and he played pitch-and-catch all year with Roddy White (115 receptions).
But Ryan was largely ineffective getting the ball down field, especially by the standards of elite playoff quarterbacks. His average of 6.49 yards per pass attempt was 27th in the NFL and nearly 2 yards per attempt below effective downfield passers such as Aaron Rodgers (8.26 YPA), Ben Roethlisberger (8.23) and Michael Vick (8.11).
The history of championship football has been written by efficient passers with a high average per attempt, from Sid Luckman of yesteryear to Ben Roethlisberger of today. Even Atlanta history proves the importance of passing yards per attempt. The 1998 Falcons went a franchise-best 14-2, set a team record with 442 points scored and captured the club's lone conference title.
The 1998 Falcons, not coincidentally, boasted the most effective passing attack in franchise history (8.83 YPA).
Ryan's ability to get the ball down field, at least so far, falls well short of championship standards.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Ravens fans need to show a little love for The Dilf -- and the style of play that carried them to a title 10 years ago.
No Super Bowl-winning quarterback is more widely criticized than Trent Dilfer. But he did everything he needed to do to help lift the Ravens to a title in the 2000 postseason. He threw TD passes of 38, 58 and 96 yards. And most importantly, he threw just one INT in four games. Picks kill, especially in the playoffs, and Dilfer avoided them. Coupled with the best defense (10.3 PPG) of the Live Ball Era, which intercepted opposing passers 10 times in the postseason, Baltimore had a winning formula.
The Ravens have just the guys to follow that road map again this year.
QB Joe Flacco has thrown just 34 picks in three NFL seasons -- an incredibly small number -- and his INT percentage has declined each year (just 2.0 percent this year). Meanwhile, spectacular safety Ed Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions -- and he played just 10 games. It's the third time in the past seven years Reed has led the NFL in picks.
The Ravens can win a Super Bowl again if they show some Dilfer-esque dominance in the battle for those all-important interceptions.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Olin Kreutz & Co. should buy quarterback Jay Cutler a nice watch at the end of the year.
It's something of a tradition in football for highly paid quarterbacks to reward their offensive lineman with an end-of-year gift. But if any team should turn that tradition on its ear, it's the 2010 Bears.
Chicago earned a first-round bye in the playoffs despite fielding the worst offensive line in football (No. 32 on the ColdHardFootballFacts Offensive Hog Index).
The Bears struggled to run the ball (3.89 YPA) and they were truly bad at protecting the passer. Chicago suffered a Negative Pass Play (sack or INT) on 14.6 percent of drop backs, the worst rate in football, mostly due to a league-high 56 sacks (Cutler on the receiving end of 52).
Cutler played fairly well through it all, considering he was knocked around like a pigskin piņata. If the Bears do make noise in the playoffs, it will be despite the league's worst offensive line.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: There's something wrong in the state of Wisconsin.
The Packers are the Chargers of the NFC: a paper tiger that simply can't translate dominance on the stat sheet into dominance on the scoreboard.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers boasts the best career passer rating in history (98.4) -- normally a sure sign of success. Defensively, Clay Matthews was among the league leaders with 13.5 sacks. The Packers ranked No. 2 in scoring defense (15.0 PPG), No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential, just ahead of the 14-2 Patriots.
All Green Bay has to show for its statistical dominance is a 10-6 record, the No. 6 seed in the NFC and a road game Sunday at Philadelphia.
We saw the same thing out of the Packers in 2009: a statistical juggernaut with a top defense. And all they had to show for it was a 51-45 overtime loss to the Cardinals in the wild-card round.
Green Bay should be a 13- or 14-win team. But something's just not clicking in key moments on the field.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Indy's decade of playoff woes begins and ends with the offense.
It's trendy in most circles of football analysis to credit Peyton Manning every time the team marches through the regular season with 10, 12 or 14 wins -- and then blame everybody else when it all falls apart in the playoffs. But the fact of the matter is that Indy has struggled in the playoffs because the offense consistently fails to show up in the biggest games of the year.
The Colts are 9-9 in the postseason in the Manning Era. The mighty Indy offense, which terrorizes regular-season foes, has averaged a Jimmy Clausen-esque 14 PPG in those nine losses. Peyton and pals have scored more than 18 points just once in those nine games.
If not for these annual offensive failures, which stand in such sharp relief to the team's regular-season scoring success, we might be talking about the Colts of the past decade as one of the NFL's great dynasties. But it's hard to win playoff games when you don't score points.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Kansas City's schedule was really easy.
Kansas City won as many games this year (10) as it had in the previous three, quickly rebuilding what Herm Edwards had torn apart during his brief and destructive tenure (2006-08). It's a nice happy story. But the fact of the matter is the Chiefs built their comeback against the softest schedule in the NFL.
ColdHardFootballFacts.com tracks the performance of each team against what we call Quality Teams -- that is, how you do against teams with winning records: 26 NFL teams played at least six games against Quality Opponents. The Chiefs played three -- the fewest in the league.
The Ravens and Packers went 4-3 against Quality Teams. The Falcons were 5-3. Even the lowly Seahawks went 2-5. The Patriots were a stunning 7-1.
The Chiefs were 1-2 and they scored an average of 10 points in those three games -- tied with Carolina (0-10 against Quality Teams) for the lowest average in the league.