Sean Salisbury's Super Bowl breakdown

Why the Broncos will win

Why the Falcons will win

Swami: Last call is a tough one

Quick reads from ESPN experts

Inside the Playbook

Broncos aren't feeling blue

  Friday, Jan. 29 9:35pm ET
Numbers say Falcons will fly
By Rob Neyer,

John Madden recently explained the Atlanta Falcons' surprising success with the standard formula for NFL success:

 Tony Martin
 Tony Martin's Falcons averaged more yards per reception than the Broncos.

"You win in the NFL by running the ball, by defending against the run and by forcing turnovers."

Madden was a great coach, but he's wrong about how you win in the NFL. That's not how you win, and any halfway-intelligent study of the statistics (or, for that matter, the mid-1970s Oakland Raiders) will tell you that it's not.

Year in and year out, the teams that win are the clubs that (1) pass the ball effectively, and (2) defend against the pass effectively.

I've made that argument before, and provided the stats to back it up, so I'm not going to rehash all the arguments. The Super Bowl's almost upon us, so you'll just have take my word for it.

With that in mind, then, let's look at Denver's and Atlanta's passing offenses and defenses. I like to use a stat called "adjusted yards per pass." It's simple to figure, really just a slight modification to regular "yards per pass attempt."

Adjusted yards per pass simply incorporates a 50-yard penalty for each interception -- studies suggest that's the approximate negative value of a pick -- and also throws sacks and sack yards into the equation. Here's the formula:

Adjusted Yards/Pass = (Pass yards - (Interceptions x 50) - sack yards) / (Attempts + sacks)

For big games like this one, I focus only on the starting quarterbacks. No, we cannot assume that Chris Chandler and John Elway will survive Super Bowl XXXIII unscathed. In the event Chandler gets hurt, the Falcons are in big trouble. If Elway goes out, the Broncos still have a shot. And that's enough about that.

All the offensive numbers from here on will include only stats compiled by Chandler and Elway. What's more, all the stats will include not only each team's 16 regular-season games, but their two postseason games as well.

  Adj Yds/Pass

It's not a huge edge for the Falcons, but it's definitely an edge.

Does the method work? Well, it worked a year ago. The Packers went into Super Bowl XXXII as huge favorites, but the Broncos actually owned the edge in adjusted yards/pass differential. In fact, Denver's 1.97 to 1.71 advantage over Green Bay was virtually the same as Atlanta's edge over Denver this year.

That's not to say the Broncos don't have a chance. They do have a big advantage in the running game, thanks to Terrell Davis. But where it really matters, the passing game, the Falcons have the edge.

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