2019 Statsational NFL Playoff Analysis

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
1970 Baltimore 21 -2 0.4
1971 Dallas 112 16 9.9
1972 Miami 124 18 11
1973 Miami 59 1 13.4
1974 Pittsburgh 93 7 6.8
1975 Pittsburgh 88 5 14.2
1976 Oakland 58 -4 8.5
1977 Dallas 114 7 7.8
1978 Pittsburgh 52 7 8.2
1979 Pittsburgh 124 -10 11.9
1980 Oakland 0 5 4.2
1981 San Francisco 45 23 6.2
1982 Washington 47 8 7.4
1983 Los Angeles 59 -13 6.8
1984 San Francisco 74 16 12.7
1985 Chicago 106 23 15.9
1986 NY Giants 39 11 9
1987 Washington 36 -3 3.9
1988 San Francisco 83 12 4.8
1989 San Francisco 103 12 10.7
1990 NY Giants 37 20 7.7
1991 Washington 91 18 16.6
1992 Dallas 105 7 9.9
1993 Dallas 53 6 9.6
1994 San Francisco 76 11 11.6
1995 Dallas 49 2 9.7
1996 Green Bay 86 15 15.3
1997 Denver 75 10 10.7
1998 Denver 72 10 8.9
1999 St Louis 107 5 11.9
2000 Baltimore 65 23 8
2001 New England (29) 7 4.3
2002 Tampa Bay 60 17 8.8
2003 New England 23 17 6.9
2004 New England 47 9 12.8
2005 Pittsburgh 38 7 7.8
2007 NY Giants 26 -9 3.3
2008 Pittsburgh 75 4 9.8
2009 New Orleans 46 11 10.8
2010 Green Bay 49 10 10.9
2011 NY Giants 9 7 1.6
2012 Baltimore 2 9 2.9
2013 Seattle 65 20 13
2014 New England 21 12 10.5
2015 Denver 72 -4 5.8
2016 New England 60 12 9.29
2017 Philadelphia 59 11 9.41
2018 New England 34 10 5.2

 

Here are this years playoff teams

Year Team Yards Diff / Game TO Diff SRS
2019 Tennessee 3 6 3.42
2019 Buffalo 32 4 2.19
2019 Minnesota 12 11 5.4
2019 Seattle (7) 12 2.71
2019 Philadelphia 29 -3 0.26
2019 New Orleans 41 15 7.36
2019 Houston (26) 0 0.52
2019 New England 78 21 10.43
2019 Green Bay (7) 12 3.2
2019 Kansas City 30 8 9.14
2019 Baltimore 107 10 15.62
2019 San Francisco 99 4 10.97

 

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

Year Team OPR DPR PRDiff
1970 Baltimore 73.3 60.3 13
1971 Dallas 88.8 55.9 32.9
1972 Miami 86.9 47.4 39.5
1973 Miami 75.2 39.9 35.3
1974 Pittsburgh 48.9 44.3 4.6
1975 Pittsburgh 86.7 42.8 43.9
1976 Oakland 102.2 68.8 33.4
1977 Dallas 85.3 48.2 37.1
1978 Pittsburgh 81.5 51.8 29.7
1979 Pittsburgh 76.6 56.4 20.2
1980 Oakland 70 61.8 8.2
1981 San Francisco 87.7 60.2 27.5
1982 Washington 91.8 67.7 24.1
1983 Los Angeles 84.8 71.8 13
1984 San Francisco 101.9 65.6 36.3
1985 Chicago 77.3 51.2 26.1
1986 NY Giants 75 68.6 6.4
1987 Washington 80.7 69.3 11.4
1988 San Francisco 83.5 72.2 11.3
1989 San Francisco 114.8 68.5 46.3
1990 NY Giants 90.6 62.2 28.4
1991 Washington 98 58.9 39.1
1992 Dallas 88.8 69.9 18.9
1993 Dallas 96.8 75.3 21.5
1994 San Francisco 111.4 68.1 43.3
1995 Dallas 91.7 72.3 19.4
1996 Green Bay 95.7 55.4 40.3
1997 Denver 87.4 71.5 15.9
1998 Denver 93.5 80.5 13
1999 St Louis 106.6 64.1 42.5
2000 Baltimore 72.7 62.5 10.2
2001 New England 85.3 68.6 16.7
2002 Tampa Bay 86.3 48.4 37.9
2003 New England 84.3 56.2 28.1
2004 New England 92.5 75.3 17.2
2005 Pittsburgh 91.5 74 17.5
2007 NY Giants 73 83.4 -10.4
2008 Pittsburgh 81.9 63.4 18.5
2009 New Orleans 106 68.6 37.4
2010 Green Bay 98.9 67.2 31.7
2011 NY Giants 92.9 86.1 6.8
2012 Baltimore 86.4 80.6 5.8
2013 Seattle 102.4 63.4 39
2014 New England 97.51 83.96 13.55
2015 Denver 101.9 87 14.9
2016 New England 109.3 84.4 24.9
2017 Philadelphia 97.58 79.48 18.1
2018 New England 97.80 85.40 12.40

 

Here are this seasons playoff teams and their PR Differentials

 

Year Team OPR DPR PRDiff Rank
2019 Baltimore 109 77.5 31.5 1
2019 New England 88.2 62.8 25.4 2
2019 Kansas City 104.4 80.8 23.6 3
2019 New Orleans 110.2 88.3 21.9 4
2019 San Francisco 103.1 83 20.1 5
2019 Seattle 105.3 85.6 19.7 6
2019 Tennessee 108.3 90.4 17.9 7
2019 Minnesota 103.9 86.1 17.8 8
2019 Green Bay 95.3 81.1 14.2 9
2019 Buffalo 82.8 78.8 4 11
2019 Philadelphia 92.1 90.8 1.3 12
2019 Houston 95.3 97.6 -2.3 15

 

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
1970 Baltimore 22 5 12 4
1971 Dallas 7 2 1 5
1972 Miami 2 1 12 4
1973 Miami 2 15 7 2
1974 Pittsburgh 2 22 3 2
1975 Pittsburgh 2 6 22 2
1976 Oakland 14 2 15 23
1977 Dallas 5 3 8 1
1978 Pittsburgh 21 1 2 5
1979 Pittsburgh 1 1 1 2
1980 Oakland 9 10 1 15
1981 San Francisco 26 9 21 4
1982 Washington 17 3 13 9
1983 Los Angeles 14 3 5 7
1984 San Francisco 2 3 21 8
1985 Chicago 5 6 7 2
1986 NY Giants 11 12 11 6
1987 Washington 5 1 11 16
1988 San Francisco 2 9 5 3
1989 San Francisco 11 1 9 3
1990 NY Giants 19 9 8 1
1991 Washington 17 1 15 2
1992 Dallas 10 8 3 3
1993 Dallas 3 4 18 1
1994 San Francisco 7 1 16 6
1995 Dallas 5 3 19 16
1996 Green Bay 12 7 4 1
1997 Denver 2 6 30 4
1998 Denver 2 5 8 11
1999 St Louis 2 1 6 7
2000 Baltimore 8 21 1 4
2001 New England 24 14 21 17
2002 Tampa Bay 27 19 4 1
2003 New England 30 13 6 1
2004 New England 17 9 11 15
2005 Pittsburgh 12 1 1 5
2007 NY Giants 4 28 8 19
2008 Pittsburgh 29 14 1 1
2009 New Orleans 6 3 26 15
2010 Green Bay 27 3 31 7
2011 NY Giants 32 3 23 20
2012 Baltimore 12 14 7 17
2013 Seattle 12 2 9 1
2014 New England 23 19 10 15
2015 Denver 14 22 1 2
2016 New England 24 3 10 8
2017 Philadelphia 3 13 7 3
2018 New England 17 10 30 5

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.

Year Team Scoring Margin
1970 Baltimore 6.2
1971 Dallas 13.1
1972 Miami 15.3
1973 Miami 13.8
1974 Pittsburgh 8.3
1975 Pittsburgh 15.1
1976 Oakland 8.1
1977 Dallas 9.5
1978 Pittsburgh 10.1
1979 Pittsburgh 9.6
1980 Oakland 3.6
1981 San Francisco 6.7
1982 Washington 6.9
1983 Los Angeles 6.5
1984 San Francisco 15.5
1985 Chicago 16.1
1986 NY Giants 8.4
1987 Washington 5.9
1988 San Francisco 4.7
1989 San Francisco 11.8
1990 NY Giants 7.8
1991 Washington 16.3
1992 Dallas 10.4
1993 Dallas 9.2
1994 San Francisco 13.1
1995 Dallas 9.0
1996 Green Bay 15.4
1997 Denver 11.6
1998 Denver 7.3
1999 St Louis 17.8
2000 Baltimore 10.5
2001 New England 6.2
2002 Tampa Bay 9.4
2003 New England 6.6
2004 New England 11.1
2005 Pittsburgh 8.8
2007 NY Giants 2.1
2008 Pittsburgh 7.8
2009 New Orleans 11.4
2010 Green Bay 9.7
2011 NY Giants 1.9
2012 Baltimore 4.6
2013 Seattle 11.6
2014 New England 9.7
2015 Denver 9.4
2016 New England 11.9
2017 Philadelphia 10.1
2018 New England 6.90

 

2019 Scoring Margins

Year Team Scoring Margin SM Rank
2019 Baltimore 15.6 1
2019 New England 12.2 2
2019 San Francisco 10.6 3
2019 Kansas City 8.9 4
2019 New Orleans 7.3 5
2019 Minnesota 6.5 7
2019 Tennessee 4.4 8
2019 Green Bay 3.9 9
2019 Buffalo 3.4 10
2019 Philadelphia 1.9 11
2019 Seattle 0.4 14
2019 Houston -0.4 15

 

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.

 

Year Team Total
2019 Baltimore 5.2
2019 San Francisco 2.2
2019 New England 2.2
2019 Kansas City -0.9
2019 New Orleans -2.0
2019 Minnesota -3.6
2019 Tennessee -5.8
2019 Buffalo -7.5
2019 Seattle -7.7
2019 Green Bay -8.1
2019 Philadelphia -11.5
2019 Houston -13.0

 

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.  

Analysis

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.

Recap
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)

Good Luck!