Jan 9, 2020

Running the ball is back in the NFL

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Data: NFL; Table: Axios Visuals

Driven by rule changes and schematic innovations, as well as a correlation between pass-happy offenses and winning, the NFL is in the midst of an aerial revolution. And yet — most of the remaining playoff teams love to run the ball.

By the numbers: For the first time since 1970, the top four passing teams by yards (Buccaneers, Cowboys, Falcons, Rams) missed the playoffs, while the top four rushing teams (Ravens, 49ers, Titans, Seahawks) made it, per FiveThirtyEight.

  • The eight remaining playoff teams gained 36.9% of their yards on the ground this season, while the league's other 22 were decided more passing-oriented, gaining just 30.8% of their yards on the ground.
  • The Chiefs ranked fifth in passing yards during the regular season, but the other seven playoff teams all finished outside the top 12: 49ers (13th), Seahawks (14th), Texans (15th), Packers (17), Titans (21st), Vikings (23), Ravens (27).

Between the lines: Despite gaining so many rushing yards, the divisional-round's best rushing teams look nothing like the "ground-and-pound" offenses of yesteryear (outside of maybe the Titans).

  • Rather, they utilize spread-based attacks where the QB is a threat to run at any given moment.
  • Five of the eight longest runs last weekend were by QBs.

The bottom line: The golden age of superstar RBs has clearly passed, but dual-threat QBs like Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson are all the rage, and its changing how we think about rushing offense.

Go deeper ... NFL coaching carousel: Only the Browns remain without a hire

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The underdogs' path to the Super Bowl

Logos: Sports-Logos.Net; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's been seven years since a wild-card weekend team won the Super Bowl.

Why it matters: The momentum being carried over from last week by teams like the Titans, the demise of home-field advantage and the lack of experienced quarterbacks in the field suggest that this could be the year of the underdog.

Go deeperArrowJan 10, 2020

Setting the scene for Super Bowl LIV

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After a grueling four months of football, Patrick Mahomes has led the Chiefs out of the darkness and into the Miami sun, where the 49ers football machine awaits them in the Super Bowl.

What to know ... "The Gunslinger": Mahomes is 24 years old, arguably the best player in football and he just toppled Tom Brady as the top seller of NFL merchandise. A star has already been born — now he has the biggest stage in sports to showcase his brilliance.

Go deeperArrowJan 21, 2020

The failure of the NFL's Rooney Rule

Data: Pro Football Reference; Photos: Getty; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in an effort to diversify its sidelines. Technically, the rule has done what it promised — requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching jobs — but it's hard to find positive signs of its impact today.

By the numbers: 70.1% of NFL players are non-white, but only 12.5% of regular-season games in 2019 were coached by people of color. With the same four coaches in place for 2020 (Brian Flores, Ron Rivera, Anthony Lynn, Mike Tomlin), a similar number will be expected.

Go deeperArrowJan 16, 2020 - Sports