Superbowl XLVII is upon us. If you’ve been participating in playoff leagues this season, this is your final chance to separate yourself from the competition and take home a prize or three.
Down below are my positional rankings and projections for the Superbowl, including extensive analysis of all players I expect to see an offensive touch in the game. That’s right, even the fullbacks are examined.
Standard scoring (non-PPR) is assumed. Snap distribution and average depth of target data is provided by ProFootballFocus.com.
Why are touchdowns not shown as whole numbers? Because only a handful of touchdowns are scored each game, it doesn't make statistical sense to round them to the nearest whole number. Instead, they're shown with one decimal place. The number shown is basically the player's over/under for touchdowns in the game.
1. Colin Kaepernick (SF)
Projection: 18-of-28, 227 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 8 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD
Kaepernick’s 63 percent completion rate is just above league average, but he’s had some bad luck with drops. Take them out of the equation and his adjusted completion rate is 75 percent (NFL average = 72 percent). His average depth of throw sits at 10.4, which ranks as the league’s fourth-highest mark this season. His 1.6 percent interception rate is nearly half of the league average 3.2 percent mark. Each is an impressive feat, especially for a player who just took over as a starter midway through the season. Kaepernick doesn’t rely on his backs very often, targeting a player lined up in the backfield on just 13 percent of his throws. The NFL average is 18 percent. Instead, he looks to his outside wide receivers 47 percent of the time, which compares favorably to the 43 percent NFL average. Of Kaepernick’s 13 passing touchdowns, five have gone to a player lined up wide left, while four have been delivered to a player in the right slot.
Although Kaepernick does a chunk of his damage in terms of fantasy points on the ground, passing the ball won’t be easy against a tough Baltimore defense. The Ravens have allowed three touchdowns through the air only once this season (divisional round vs. Peyton Manning). Over their last 10 games, they’ve allowed fewer than two passing touchdowns eight times. Manning, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck have combined for four passing scores against Baltimore in the playoffs. After going four straight games without an interception, the Baltimore defense has five over their last three games.
2. Joe Flacco (BAL)
Projection: 20-of-35, 257 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 2 carries, 5 yards
Flacco’s 10.6 average depth of target ranks as the league’s third-highest mark this season. Despite throwing deeper down field more often than his counterparts, Flacco enjoys a 1.7 percent interception rate, which is well below the 3.2 percent NFL average. Although Flacco has been a bit lucky in terms of drops (4.6 percent), his completion percentage sits at a below-average 59 percent. His adjusted completion rate of 67 percent is, of course, well below the 72 percent league average. Flacco has scrambled on one percent of his dropbacks this season. He was at or above two percent each of the last four years. Only seven percent of Flacco’s throws have been directed at an in-line tight end, which is well below the 13 percent league average. Instead he’s three percent above the field in throws to backs and slot receivers.
Of Flacco’s 30 passing touchdowns, zero went to an in-line tight end, while a gigantic 15 went to a slot receiver (10 to right slot). That works out to 8.9 percent of his scores being converted by players lined up in the slot, which is more than double the 4.6 percent NFL average. Flacco has always leaned towards targeting players lined up to his right, and that’s been very apparent this season. He’s gone to a player lined up to his right on 47 percent of his throws. That compares to just 32 percent to his left. The other 21 percent went to backs. Interestingly, he completed a pathetic 43 percent of his throws to receivers lined up wide left. He completed 60 percent of throws to receivers lined up wide right despite a sky-high 16.0 average depth of target (14.8 aDOT to LWR).
The 49ers pass defense hasn’t been especially dominant over the last month or so, but part of the reason for that was their opponents in those games. In their last five games, they’ve faced Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Brian Hoyer (exception), Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. Brady put up 443 yards, but scored only once despite 69 dropbacks. Wilson scored four times through the air and Ryan found paydirt three times in the NFC Championship game. The Niners have exactly one interception in four consecutive games. After averaging 2.7 sacks-per-game during the first 15 weeks of the season, they’ve managed five total over their last five games.
1. Ray Rice (BAL)
Projection: 15 carries, 64 yards, 0.6 TD, 3 receptions, 18 yards, 0.1 TD
Rice continues to work as Baltimore’s lead back, but rookie Bernard Pierce’s role is on the rise since the team’s Week 8 bye. Still, Rice has hit the 15-carry mark 13 times this season, including a total of 64 carries in three playoff games. Rice has seen 14 percent of Joe Flacco’s targets this season. He’s been above 16 percent each of the last three seasons, including 19 percent in 2011. One reason for Rice’s drop in targets is that he’s been asked to pass block more often. After staying in to block 22 percent of the time in 2011, he’s up to 29 percent in 2012. Rice usually averages a decent 4.3 yards-per-carry, but he’ll face off against one of the game’s top run defenses this week. Although the Packers had some success against them in the divisional round, the 49ers have shut down the Falcons and Cardinals over the last month, while also neutralizing tough Patriots and Seahawks rushing attacks.
2. Frank Gore (SF)
Projection: 18 carries, 79 yards, 0.6 TD, 2 receptions, 11 yards, 0.1 TD
Gore is the 49ers clear lead back, handling 57 percent of the team’s designed runs on the year – a healthy mark considering the team’s run-heavy philosophy. His role is up a bit since LaMichael James replaced an injured Kendall Hunter as the No. 2 tailback in Week 13. Gore has seen a total of 44 carries in two playoff games, and has eclipsed the 20-carry mark seven times this season. He’s seeing eight percent of the team’s targets, which is down from the 12-to-14 percent range he was in from 2008-to-2010, as well as, the nine percent he saw in 2011. The drop is a bit interesting considering that he’s being asked to pass block only 31 percent of the time this year, which is down from 39 percent one year ago. Gore was not targeted in the NFC Championship and saw only two in the divisional round.
Gore’s 4.7 yards-per-carry mark ranks 12th among qualified backs this season. He’ll have a tough time sustaining that mark against a tough Ravens’ run defense this Sunday. After a mediocre effort slowing the Colts’ backfield in the wild card round, Baltimore did an excellent job containing the Broncos and Patriots rushing attacks over their last two affairs. An awful performance against Dallas back in Week 6 was the Ravens only real black eye on the season.
3. Bernard Pierce (BAL)
Projection: 8 carries, 34 yards, 0.2 TD, 1 reception, 4 yards
Pierce is still second in line at tailback in Baltimore, but his role is on the rise. Now fully installed in the old Ricky Williams/Willis McGahee role behind Rice, Pierce has gone from averaging 3.3 carries-per-game during the team’s first seven games to 9.3 over their last 12. The Ravens call a run 59 percent of the time when he’s on the field. Pierce is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards-per-carry, which ranks fourth among all qualified backs. He’ll spell Rice early and often on Sunday.
4. LaMichael James (SF)
Projection: 5 carries, 24 yards, 0.2 TD, 1 reception, 6 yards
James is working as the 49ers’ No. 2 tailback, but is seeing about 1.5 carries-per-game fewer than what Hunter enjoyed prior to his season-ending injury in Week 12. He’s only carried the ball 35 times, but James has a strong 5.1 yards-per-carry mark. An undersized, speed back, James is not asked to pass block very often and works behind both Gore and Anthony Dixon in short yardage.
5. Vonta Leach (BAL)
Projection: 1 carry, 2 yards, 0.1 TD, 1 reception, 9 yards
Leach has four carries and three targets during the playoffs. Baltimore calls a run 64 percent of the time when he’s on the field.
6. Anthony Dixon (SF)
Projection: 2 carries, 6 yards, 0.2 TD
Gore gets a fair share of goal line and short-yardage carries, but Dixon is right behind him in the pecking order. He’s carried the ball only 23 times this year, but has three touchdowns. Dixon has seen only two carries in the playoffs, but was in the two-to-three range in each of 49ers final four regular season games.
7. Bruce Miller (SF)
Projection: 1 reception, 2 yards
Miller does not have a postseason touch. He did, however, total five carries and 13 targets during the regular season. Ten of those 13 targets came during the team’s final six regular season games. The 49ers call a run 61 percent of the time when he’s in the lineup.