Every year I analyze each team in the NFL Playoffs to look for some value on a potential Super Bowl winner. As I have stated in the past, we do not crown the best team of the season champion. We crown the team that wins the tournament at the end of the year, the champion. Since deciding who the best team can always be subjective, we like having it settled on the field. But that does open it up to an inferior team getting hot at the right time or getting favorable matchups to win it all.
Over the last 19 seasons just 5 of the 19 teams that had the best regular-season record, or tied for the best record, went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2002 Buccaneers, 2003 Patriots, 2013 Seahawks, 2014 Patriots (1 of 5 12-4 teams that year), and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles (1 of 4 teams tied at 13-3). Looking for a long shot is usually beneficial.
I traditionally have a look at three filters to determine a potential winner for the Super Bowl. It is a very basic strategy but a good way to weed out the teams that are highly unlikely to win it all.
Here are my filters
1. The team must have a total yardage differential per game >18 (just four teams have won the Super Bowl with less)
2. Teams must be + in turnover differential (just seven teams won the Super Bowl with a – differential)
3. SRS from Pro Football Reference >5.8 (just nine teams had a lower ranking including the 2015 Broncos at 5.8)
Since the merger
-35 of the 48 Super Bowl winners satisfied all three criteria.
-The average Super Bowl winner has a +63 yardage differential and +8.8 TO differential. Average SRS is 8.97
The yardage differential of Super Bowl winners since 2001 is 39. It seems that over the last 2 decades teams are a bit more equal than in the past due to free agency and cap rules. Because of this, turnovers have become increasingly important. Since 1988 only two teams have won with a negative TO ratio (2007 Giants, 2015 Broncos). This makes sense because teams that are close in yardage differential need to create turnovers to outscore their opponent.
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Here is a list of all the Super Bowl winners and their stats for that season.
|Year||Team||Yards Diff / Game||TO Diff||SRS|
Here are this years playoff teams
|Year||Team||Yards Diff / Game||TO Diff||SRS|
A couple of seasons ago I added Passer Rating Differential to my analysis. Simply put this stat looks at a team’s Offensive Passer Rating and subtracts its Defensive Passer Rating. This stat was shown to be relevant to Super Bowl success by the guys at Cold Hard Football Facts. In their analysis, they go back to 1940. Here are some key points
– 18 of 78 NFL Champs finished #1 in Offensive Passer Rating (23%)
– 21 of 78 finished #1 in Defensive Passer Rating (27%)
– 27 of 78 finished #1 in Passer Rating Differential (35%)
– 45 of 78 finished in the top 3 in Passer Rating Differential (58%)
– 73 of 78 finished in the top 10 in Passer Rating Differential (94%)
Here are the Passer Rating Stats for each champion since 1970
Here are this seasons playoff teams and their PR Differentials
To reinforce the notion that passing and being able to stop the pass are the most important factors in championship success, we will look at a couple more stats. Yards per Pass and Yards Per Rush. Both offensive and defensive and combined.
Here are the Super Bowl Winners and their rankings in these stats
|Year||Team||OYPR Rank||OYPP Rank||DYPR Rank||DYPP Rank|
The Super Bowl winner has averaged a rank of 7.63 in Offensive Yards Per Pass and 6.9 in Defensive YPP while averaging 12.18 in Offensive Yards Per Rush and 11.29 in Defensive YPR. In only 12 of the 48 Super Bowl winners, did the winner have a better combined rushing ranking than passing. Of those 12 the 1979 Steelers ranked first in 3 of the 4 categories with a 2 ranking in DYPP. The 1988 49ers were no worse than 9(OYPP) in any category. In 2015 the Broncos were dominant defensively, ranking 1 in rushing and 2 in passing.
One last stat to look at is Scoring Margin. Super Bowl winners have averaged a 9.55 scoring margin. No team has ever won with a negative scoring margin. Of the last 45 Super Bowl winners, just 7 have finished with a scoring margin below 6.
Here is the list of past Super Bowl winners.
2019 Scoring Margins
|Year||Team||Scoring Margin||SM Rank|
A couple of seasons ago, I started taking a look at the average for each of the most important stats and finding the standard deviation from the mean for each team in each stat. I take every team’s Z Score in each stat and add them up.
I like this because it gives a quick look at who the best teams are. Baltimore ranks the highest with a 5.2. They would be the 9th best team to ever win the Super Bowl based on this metric. If Houston were to win they would be the 2nd worst team of all time to win ahead of just the 2007 NY Giants.
Whenever I am betting on a futures event with many possibilities I want to first eliminate the teams I do not think have a chance to win.
No team has ever won the Super Bowl with a negative SRS.
- We do not have any teams with a negative SRS in this year’s playoffs but we have 2 that are barely in the black.
- Only 1 team ever won the Super Bowl with a negative yard differential. That eliminates Green Bay and Seattle.
- Teams with under 18 yards in total yardage differential have won just 4 times. That eliminates Minnesota, Tennessee, Green Bay, Seattle, Houston
- Teams with under 6 scoring margin have won just 7 times. That eliminates Tennessee, Green Bay, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Seattle, Houston
- Teams with under a 9 in passer rating differential have won just 6 times. That eliminates Buffalo, Philadelphia, Houston
We are left with the following contenders;
Baltimore (14-2) +225
The numbers do not hide anything the record isn’t showing. Baltimore has been the best team all season and the top record during the regular season backs that up. With a 5.2 z-score the Ravens have a chance to be one of the best teams of all time. To do that they will likely have to win 2 difficult games. The AFC Championship will be at home and they are expected to host either Kansas City or New England. The line on that game should be somewhere between 4-6 points. On a neutral site in the Super Bowl they will likely be a smaller favorite if they play San Francisco. Any other team and they may be an even bigger favorite than they were in the Championship game. The Ravens are a net +107(1) in yards per game, a scoring margin of 15.6(1), they have a passer rating differential of 31.5(1). It is going to be really difficult for anyone to beat this team. When I ran my numbers I gave the Ravens a 40% chance to win the tournament. That puts them at +150. At +225 there is some pretty good value on the Ravens.
Kansas City (12-4) +435
The Chiefs caught a break with a Patriots loss in week 17 to clinch the bye and a guaranteed home game in the divisional round. The odds are favorable they get to face the Patriots once again. On December 8 the Chiefs were able to avenge their playoff loss to the Patriots from last season. The 23-16 win came in Foxboro so the Chiefs will have plenty of confidence in facing the Patriots in their own building with a chance to move on to the AFC Championship game and a likely rematch with the Ravens. The Chiefs beat the Ravens earlier in the year but the Ravens played them really well. The 33-28 win was at home. This time they will have to go into Baltimore to pull off the upset and get to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970. Kansas City comes in with a -.9 z-score. That would put them right in the middle of the pack of Super Bowl winners. Undoubtedly, their numbers were a bit low due to Mahomes being out a few games and playing through some injuries. The Chiefs are the main threat to the Ravens in the AFC. At +435 we aren’t really getting the value I would like to get. I think we need something around +550 before we can play the Chiefs.
New England (12-4) +1000
This is the best price I have seen on the Patriots since starting this article 8 years ago. As a matter of fact, you are getting a better price now than you would have in the preseason. But there is a good reason for this. New England will be playing in the Wild Card Round for the first time in 10 seasons. They can only blame themselves. The Pats needed to beat Miami in week 17 at home to clinch a bye but they failed to do so. To defend their title they will need to win on the road twice against the two best teams in the AFC. It is a daunting task. Looking at the numbers the Patriots are still one of the best teams in the league. With the second-best z-score of 2.3 they would be the 13th best team of all time if they won. The Patriots have been carried by their defense. They have the second-best defensive yards per pass average in the NFL. My ratings have them as the number one overall defense. The offense has been held to just an 88.2 passer rating. Their passer rating differential is still an impressive 25.4 thanks to the number 1 defensive passer rating of 62.8. They still have Tom Brady which always makes them live. If the offense finds a rhythm this January they could make a deep run. I would not be surprised by it but the odds need to be about +2000 to make it worthwhile.
San Francisco (13-3) +375
In one of the best endings to a game all year the 49ers closed out the regular season with a win in Seattle to clinch the top seed. The 49ers have been able to run the ball and play great defense all season. Their passing game is not prolific but they are efficient. They come in as the number 2 yards per pass team in the league. Defensively they are tops in yards given up per pass. They have the 5th best passer rating differential at 20.1. Their scoring margin of 10.6 is good for third. San Francisco’s 2.3 z-score matches New England for second best. This is certainly a formidable team. I do not mind the +375 price. I have them at +233 in my numbers so we get a bit of value here.
New Orleans (13-3) +450
The Saints were the odd 13-3 team out of the bye due to tiebreakers. They will host the Vikings in the opening weekend and are currently the largest favorite at -7.5. The Saints are getting a price like they are the best team in the NFC. Their road will not be easy if they win this weekend. They will have to go on the road to Green Bay and then into San Francisco. A bad weather game in Green Bay may prove to be too much for a team that excels indoors. The Saints z-score of -1.9 would make them the 33rd best team to win a Super Bowl. The Saints are 5th in scoring margin, 4th in passer rating differential. None of their efficiency numbers jump off the page at you. Their best is 10th in yard per pass. At +450 I can not see any value in a Saints bet. I have their chances at 10% which would be a +900 number.
Sometimes the favorites are where the value is at. This year it appears to be that way as I like both number 1 seeds.
Baltimore +225 (0.7 units risk to win 1.575 units)
San Francisco +375 (0.4 units risk to win 1.5 units)