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Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting Less Random? Part II

Before the start of the 2012 season, Neil Paine wrote an article here titled, Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? And that was before Joe Flacco turned into Joe Montana one postseason.

But since then? Man, things have been pretty chalky. The 2013 playoffs had two notable features: very low point spreads and the favorites going 5-1 in games with spreads of more than three points.

A little less than a year ago — after the conference championship games but before the Super Bowl — I wrote Part I of this article. That’s because the playoffs looked pretty non-random: favorites had gone 8-2 straight up, and 7-1 in games with spreads of greater than three points. And, for the second year in a row, the Super Bowl was featuring a pair of #1 seeds.

This year? Well, Washington was a 1-point favorite over Green Bay, and lost. Other than that? The favorites are otherwise 7-0 this postseason. Only once since 1978 (which is how far back PFR has points spread data) has there been only one upset in the playoffs, and that was in 1988. Right now, Carolina is a 3-point home favorite against Arizona, while New England is a 3-point road favorite in Denver.

Unless Denver makes the Super Bowl, the points spread will almost certainly be less than 3.5 points, so 2015 is very likely going to go down as another year without a large upset (of course, there’s also a chance the New England spread goes up; I think that’s less likely in the NFC). If so, it will join 1988 as the only other year since 1988 without an underdog of greater than 3 points winning a single game (those teams went 4-0 this postseason).

If results hold, there will be just two games in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 postseasons where underdogs of 3.5 or more points won games (2014 Colts over Broncos; 2013 Chargers over Bengals). On average, there have been about 6.8 such upsets over each three-year period in playoff history, and at least four in every three-year period since 1978 (there were four from 1988 to 1990, and five or more in every other three-year period).

So yeah, the playoffs sure do seem to be getting less random. There also remains the possibility of #1 seeds battling in the Super Bowl for the third season in a row.

  • Johhny Ohrl

    Ok, good article. So lets hope the randomness is still regressing to the mean from these crazy years (iow: the undeserved lucky “champion” years of 07-NYG, 11-NYG, both led by the active Int-King by a mile, named Eli, and the 12-Ravens led by lottery winner Flacco… those years shall be behind us for good)… We need more non-upsets (ok, we need one for ARZ in CAR ;-).
    Why? Coz we are deeply tired here in Germany of hearing this old myth again and again: “Defense wins championships”. It´s not true. Wherever you look, offense trumps defense (ok, unless a PM led team melts under pressure, like it was until the very last year).
    The latest evidence comes with the DVOA ratings that were linked here. Since 1989 sixteen “offensive teams” (speak: offensive DVOA better than defensive DVOA) won the SB, while ten “defensive teams” won. That goes more or less in line if looking solely at the “killer-stat” No.-1: Y/PP that is (no need for ANY/A, which includes true random, small sample size Ints). Y/PP is one heck of an indicator for success.
    Oh, and Easteregg… err, Easterbrook would have to eat more grow for his endlessly proclaming of run first. NE did stick to him (again): Victory comes trou the air. Beli called 24 passes and 2 runs to start the game vs KC while building a good lead. That approach (more or less) is true since the 50s when Unitas hit the scence (may even it started with the Luckman CHI years in the 40s): Pass aggresively, built a lead, run out the clock. Otherwise RBs are irrelevant (see Timmy Smith for one of thousand examples).
    So the weekend started good, but ended with a bummer: DEN winning the turnover lottery to “earn” an undeserved win (losing in Y/PP, Yards, and other efficiency ratings). And PM? Well, the usual wobblers off-target in a playoff game that is tight fought. He got away with this one. Hope this unholy saga ends next week. A good 45-7 blow-out by NE would be awesome… Thus cementing the “Nervous-Playoff-Peyton” truth once and for all. He got close to some Ints. Unfourtunatley PIT could not come up with a turnover, but producing one devastating one by themselves. It killed their game, literally… and the mainstream press is hailing PM already. Geez! PM did nothing but the last drive, and getting advantage with great field position trou-ou the game. It´s exasperating 🙁

    • It sucks when a quarterback gets more credit than he deserves for winning playoff games.

      • Richie

        It only sucks when it’s a QB that you hate. When it’s your QB, he never gets more credit than he deserves.

        • If only I had a QB of my very own.

          • Ryan Fitzpatrick bandwagon has room.

            • As long as I can root for him without rooting for the Jets.

      • Johhny Ohrl

        Especailly true in the Favre and PM years. GB/Indy/DEN won > oh how great the QB was. Losing? Blame shifting to weather, play calling, coach, defense, small sample size 😉 … and what the heck else.

        • Richie

          Yep. Manning and Favre are the only ones treated that way.

          • Johhny Ohrl

            OK, same is true for Eli 😉 Especially in the NY media…

            just kidding. No, you are right. But the PM and Favre praising got out of hand at times. It´s not as stark with other QBs.

        • Adam

          You’re right, Tom Brady never gets credit when the Patriots win.

          • Johhny Ohrl

            And in the same sentence Beli is mewntioned… and then cheating comes up in comments (as if they are the only ones bending the rules). May I see ghosts, but PM and Favre are/were treated like gods, even when they lost in miserable fashion. That annoys.

            • Adam

              Are you serious? Peyton Manning is excoriated for being a choker whenever his team loses a playoff game, whether it’s his fault or not. Favre was always criticized for throwing terrible picks. Yet, people act like Brady is now the GOAT because Butler made the interception. I guess you see what you want to see…

              • Johhny Ohrl

                OK, I did exaggerate things a little. But if the majority of people & writers see PM as a (playoff) choker (as I do), why then is he still in the debate of being the GOAT? He shall not even be mentioned then. That is contradictory…
                Btw, I dont act like Brady is the GOAT. I know you meant people in general who proclaim this… I just want to make that clear.
                … The GOAT shall be one that stands pressure, has a strong arm (why you need it, just look at the latest ARod heaves (three of them in one drive!) gainst ARZ; or remember what Phil Simms said about the importance of a strong arm), perfect accuracy, and enough reading skills to come up with the best possible play on any given snap (which comes with game experience anyway, the more you play the more you see, the more the game “slows” down)… all those skills may (!) translate into good pass efficiency (the QB still needs 10 high talented guys around him working in perfect sync). IOW: We don´t know who it is. But it´s certainly not PM.

                May it´s Elway. Mediocre receivers, a coach who put him in desperate situations again and again, and he still delivered. It could have been Warner, if there wasn´t the down years between SL and ARZ. This guy was awesome. As Matt Leinart put it perfectly: He single-handedly carried ARZ to the SB and may had won it if the refs call the holdings during the infamous Harrison return, and call the tuck-rule in the end-game (instead of calling it a Warner fumble)… He was excused as having profited from the talent in SL. But ARZ showed it was the other way around (except Bruce, he was one of the best ever without a doubt).

    • Richie

      “Oh, and Easteregg… err, Easterbrook would have to eat more grow for his endlessly proclaming of run first.”

      I don’t think that’s what he proclaims. Mainly, he says that teams shouldn’t abandon the run. He doesn’t understand why a team gets near the end zone, and then throws the ball 3 times and fails to score then kicks a FG.

      • Johhny Ohrl

        He always “cherry picks” so he can repeat his 70s mantra of run-first again and again… It got to the absurd point that he once dished out, that teams leading in offensive passing (during the regular season) never won the SB. I guess he don´t understand the “milking-the-clock” concept that normally prevents great pass teams from being the number one (in pass yards). If he´d only looked at efficiency stats, he´d found out that many teams ranking 1st in Y/PP won the SB. If Bill Walsh had Montana throw 50 times per game, even when leading by 20 the 49ers could have finished “every” season in the 80s with 7.000 pass yards. They were that good on offense…

        Hindsight is 20/20… Sure many teams with leads still pass when they may could have run to milk the clock more (latest example being AZ vs GB). But otoh, how many times did the overly anxious play calling (run-run-3rd & long run or incomplete > punt) lead to comebacks of trailing teams? Rhetorical 🙂 Easterbrook is most of times misleading his readers for the sole reason to look smart in his 70s thinking. And that is what annoys.

    • Mit diesem Englisch glaube ich, dass Du in Deutschland lebt! Ich werde auch keine Google Translate benutzen ;P

      Welches Team unterstüzt man in Deutschland? Auch sehe ich fast niemand, der sagt, dass Manning der wichtigste Grund war, warum die Broncos gewonnen haben. Mehr Personen ignorieren die Drops als haben das gesagt.

      • Johhny Ohrl

        Yes Germany 🙂 Hope my English is good enough. I wrote about Offense/Defense before (link: http://community.advancednflstats.com/2011/02/defense-wins-championships.html). I looked at playoff stats solely, since there is/was the myth that you need a strong running game and/or run defense in January to prevail (not true).. I follow Football since 85. Still waiting for the 2nd coming of “Da Bears” (which will never happen ofc, since there are no more personalities around, only me-me-me-players looking for the next 20 mio contract). I mean who will shoot a SB-Shuffle before actually winning it, or having a QB who gives it all, throwing on one leg, one kidney in 80% of his games he was able to start, or have a coach going on air drunk and talk Football (not to mention sitting in his underwear when giving one of his hilarious “tirades”)?
        To the topic: At ESPN, they didn´t say directly PM was the reason, but you could read it between the lines. “Football gods” save us from a DEN SB win, please. Already tired of him since years of the endless commercials showing the Mannings…
        I don´t have a favourite team. May the best win, not the luckiest one. That´s I want year after year since this wild card SB champs came en mass in the 2000s… when the regular season became irrelevant.

        • Johhny Ohrl

          Link doesnt work. So next try:
          community.advancednflstats.com/2011/02/defense-wins-championships.html

    • Thanks for the comment, JO. The NE comment was a good one, because 24/2 is a critical part of understanding the game. NE finished with a 75% pass ratio, but even that is obviously not as severe as the 92% ratio the Pats used to start the game (arbitrary endpoint, notwithstanding). Of course, it’s 81% once you remove kneels, but it seems like NE would have stayed close to 90% had the game script not been as favorable.

      Re: DEN/PIT, FWIW, Denver did have a NY/A advantage over PIT this year, ranking 5th (the Steelers were 6th): https://twitter.com/fbgchase/status/689214043626827776

    • Adam

      Well, at least you’re not biased.

      • Johhny Ohrl

        I only even things out. I guess you´d admit PM is getting much love all over the world. So a “biased” counter-speak is not that bad I assume. I can take the flak…
        I am well aware of PMs regular season heroics, but otoh I saw every single meltdown of his in the playoffs. The wobblers, the off-targets, the “Omahas” and dancing that didn´t work came crunch time… and the worst of the worst vs SEA. That finally did it to me. Two weeks prep and then this. The day I gave up on him. Forever crowned as playoff choker.

        • Adam

          Maybe the prevailing view of PM is different in Germany. But here in the USA, Manning is viewed as a choker by probably 2/3 of the fanbase. You’re not evening things out, you’re just piling on with the same talking points that have been beaten to death thousands of times before.

          Also ironic that you chastise Easterbrook for cherrypicking, then do that very thing in the same comment in regard to Manning. All seasoned QB’s have a mix good playoff performances and bad ones. Yes PM has failed a number of times, but so has every other HOF QB. And you’re completely ignoring his great playoff performances, including a few of the historically great variety. But don’t let the facts get in the way of your precious narrative.

          • Johhny Ohrl

            Ok, didn´t know that. May I hover around too much at analytical sites, where PM is praised… Yes PM also had a good chunk of monster playoff games (especially those perfect ones vs DEN). The problem is his high variance. One week he goes 22/25 330 4/0, only to be blown out the next week by going 17/41 150 0/2… And dont forget his teams were (AFAIR) beaten six (!) times after being hefty home favos with a bye-week (thanks to the usual No 1 seed). I am sorry, but such historic proportions of meltdowns didn´t happen to the other HOFers… And I can´t blame it to small sample size. Simple coz he didnt pass the eye test. I saw hundreds of ducks thrown by him over the years when the going got though. Even the SB year, he had bad streaks, and only one true good half (vs NE, 2nd half). The SB itself was a wide open Wayne, dink and dunk… and… well… Grossman on the other side 😉

            • Adam

              There is a sharp divide in PM opinions depending the source. Analytics people think Peyton is the greatest of all-time or close to it, while the general fandom thinks he’s an overrated stats compiling choker. Given that “regular” fans outnumber analytics people by a huge margin, the overall sentiment toward’s Manning’s career is rather negative.

              • Johhny Ohrl

                But the press hails him too (where we get the infos from over here).
                My problem with PM is: His me-me-me-style (going for the next 100 mil instead of leaving for good, letting him pay for autografs, going for every possible endorsement deal, blame shifting to even scoreboard workers). And for what? His face is shown during SB commericals, while others play for the ring year in year out… He is not the GOAT. Far from. A “sunshine QB”. If things work well from the start, he has his 158.3 games. But if not, he melts…
                So while I am a stat guy, I am also one that belong to the “fandom thinks he’s an overrated stats compiling choker” group. Just average Joe, right in the middle 😉

                • Adam

                  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

                  • Johhny Ohrl

                    No prob… 😉

                  • James

                    To clarify on Burke’s article, the better the QB the less of the age decline. Ohrl is getting at this: “One of the more interesting things in the numbers was that the final year of a QB’s career, regardless of age, is usually pretty bad, but not necessarily worse than the usual year-to-year variation in any individual QB’s resume”

                    Removing the last season of each QB’s career seemed to show no decline (which makes sense when you consider Favre’s last season in Minnesota or potentially this year for Peyton). Which is telling, but I don’t think the conclusion is “QBs never deline”.

                    http://www.advancedfootballanalytics.com/index.php/home/research/payroll-personnel/93-how-quarterbacks-age

                    • Adam

                      Makes sense that a QB will usually retire after a bad year and come back after a good year, even if it’s just due to random variation.

                    • James

                      Right, which makes it difficult to decipher the data because survivorship bias affects it both ways (looking at all N years biases stats down, N-1 biases them up). The way they handled it in the baseball aging studies I’ve seen is to estimate the N+1 performance and include it in the overall data. Which has it’s own issues because your estimation will affect the final result, but you have to do something.

                      Other potential solutions I’ve seen are (1) somehow split the difference between the N-1 and N results, or (2) follow Adam Harstad’s mortuary tables method. His response to the ‘no decline until final year’ issue was to estimate the increasing odds that a player “falls off a cliff”. So instead of an X% decline in efficiency each year, it’s an Y% chance to be the same player as before, and a 100-Y% chance to “die” (see 2015 Peyton) with Y decreasing every year.

                    • Adam

                      I like Hardstad’s method. Does he publish this anywhere?

                    • James

                      Yes, but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall if you aren’t a Football Guys subscriber. He’s one of their fantasy dynasty writers, and here’s the QB article with links to the others: http://subscribers.footballguys.com/apps/article.php?article=HarstadDiP19

                      If you’re willing to wait a while all of their old articles are freely accessible during the following season, but I don’t know when they make that switch. It may not be until August or something like that.

                • Richie

                  Why should Manning quit playing if he still wants to and teams are willing to pay him?

                  The Broncos could have cut him if they thought he couldn’t help the team this year.

                  Nothing I hate more than fans calling for players to retire. If I was a player, I would play as long as somebody was willing to let me.

                  • Johhny Ohrl

                    … and the smart one stops with the body at least in parts in tact (like Warner or Sanders). Only greed can explain a player going on who is one step away from being paralyzed. My opinion.

                    • Richie

                      I don’t think greed has anything to do with it. Some people love to compete. These guys have been doing this since they were 10. It’s their life. Once it’s over, it’s over forever.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      I would agree on that… still the smart stops before it´s too late. 1/2 to 2/3 of ex-players suffer from permanent pain pending the study (one source: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-05-15/features/0705130303_1_ex-nfl-chronic-pain-nfl-team ). The mils don´t help here but most certainly depression sets in, especially for a guy having had neck fusion. Only crazy or greddy prople go on…
                      Give up PM, let Osweiler get his chance, like ARod got after Favre. It can´t get worse.

                    • Richie

                      What does a neck fusion have to do with depression?

                      Tom Brady ranks 19th in all-time games played after age 38 (7th in all-time pass attempts after age 38). Next year he’ll move up to 11th or 12th depending on what Manning does. One more season and he’ll move up to 5th. Of course, Brady himself is hoping to play 7 or 8 more years. http://www.businessinsider.com/tom-brady-says-hell-play-until-age-45-in-leaked-email-2015-8

                      Give up TB, let Garoppolo get his chance.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Major neck injury > nerve damage > pain > difficult OP & rehab > one wrong hit away from being paralyzed > almost 100% chance for permanent pain for the rest of his life (even if there is no more future dangerous hits in the neck area) > permanent pain leads to depression with the majority of patients suffering from chronic pain… Good now? 🙂 Thats the best english I can come up with. I hope it´s enough.

                      To Brady: Why not? If he stays relative healthy, he can go on like Orr (in the NHL) did. As Burke found out: There is no decline in pass efficiency with age. My theory for that is: The decling athletic abilities for QBs are evened out by have-seen-it-all-experience.

                      Two things stop aging QBs from playing into their 40s: Mounting injuries and coaching fallacys (blaming a bad season on age, when in reality it was just chance/variance > see Burkes article).

                    • Adam

                      The apparent lack of age decline is due to survivorship bias. Only the greatest QB’s will still be starting games in their late 30’s and beyond, which skews the numbers upward. If Joey Harrington and Jamarcus Russell were allowed to play into their 40’s, the age decline would look very steep.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Burkes article said otherwise. He already excluded survivorship bias. If I only would find the link.

                • Adam

                  If someone offered you $100 million to continue doing what you love, would you say no?

                  • Johhny Ohrl

                    Ofc I would say yes. You know why? Coz I am circa 100 mio short to 100 😉 …
                    But if I had 100 already in the bank + neck surgery, I´d do the smart thing, doing a Warner/Sanders. Leaving the game with the body (at least in some parts) intact, and ride into the sunrise… You see, greed isn´t everywhere…

            • Richie

              Oh no, the Grossman argument. Luckily none of the other great QBs ever won any playoff games “against” weak QB’s.

              • Johhny Ohrl

                Grossman was a joke, kidding… thats why I put the 😉 in there…
                So here we go without the opposing QB:
                PM in the SB year:
                G1 – 30/38 268 1/3 (the D boiling him out)
                G2 – 15/30 170 0/2 (the D… you know it)
                G3 vs NE 1st half; 13/23 124 0/1… then came the mentioned sole good playoff half:
                14/24 225 1/0
                G4 (SB) stats minus the wide-wide-wide open Wayne pass (not even I would have missed);
                dink-and-dunk to “MVP”: 24/37 194 0/1…
                World beating 😉

                • Richie

                  I will be sure to exclude wide open receivers from future QB analysis.

                  • Johhny Ohrl

                    Fine… Let me include wide open then :p
                    Complete Playoff-line:
                    97/153 1.034 3/7, sacked 9-61 = 6.0 Y/PP (all teams in playoffs basically same as that years RS at approx 6.0 too).
                    Rating: 70.5
                    No need for no one to come up with EPA or WPA. It´s 100% negative. Truly world beating, and another :p

  • Richie

    The “less random” aspect took a bit of a turn this year in that the road team won every game in round 1 (then the home team won every game in round 2).

    • Sort of, right? But not really. Given the seeding rules, the 5/6 teams are often going to be as good or better than the 3/4 teams. The 3/6 AFC game was unusual because it involved two teams from the same division, but the Dalton injury changed things. Everyone agreed KC >> HOU and SEA >> MIN, and GB was clearly better than WAS over the course of the season, albeit much worse during the second half.

      Seeing the 1/2 seeds win is never surprising, although a 4-0 sweep obviously is unusual.

      • Richie

        I just meant that the home teams are usually the ones favored, especially in the playoffs. But it does seem like we’ve had more home dogs the past half decade or so.

        • That’s a product of the system, particularly at 4/5. The odds are the best (out of 4) 2nd-place team in a conference will be better than the worst division winner in each conference, most years.

  • Adam

    The NFL is better when the favorites win most of the playoff games. People want to see the best teams square off in the SB, not some lucky ducks who get hot after a mediocre season. Frankly, I hope we don’t see another Giants- or Ravens-like run for a long, long time. Finally order seems to have been restored.

    • Johhny Ohrl

      Your words in gods ears… Unfortunately the neutral public loves upsets. Yes, they are ok somtimes. But not when they become the norm, and thus the NFL-RS becomes as irrelevant as the NHL or CFL one.
      The NFL “problem” is too much shooting for parity. The more you have of it, the more tight teams on the same talent level (good for business), the more influence turnovers have (which are mostly random > see several articles at FO).
      I found a new love with the AFL two years ago. There, circa 70% of times the fav wins (NFL hovers around 60%). That 10% difference has huge influence. Most of times the best RS teams win the grand final. The only downside is too much blow-outs (25% of games are tight, compared to approx 50% in the NFL)… and no forward pass, but awesome kicking makes up for that (like shooting “curveball”-goals from unreal angles)

      • Adam

        “But not when they become the norm”

        This is exactly right. The NHL and MLB playoffs are total crapshoots, where the #8 seed beats the #1 seed with regularity. These “upsets” don’t feel like anything special because they happen every year. And it cheapens the regular season in the process. I’d like to see only 25% of teams make the playoffs in every sport, that way we wouldn’t have as many fluke champions.

        • Johhny Ohrl

          “I’d like to see only 25% of teams make the playoffs in every sport”

          … or better playoff formats. They have a great one working in the AFL. The top four RS teams get a “2nd chance” game (see wiki for explanation coz its a lit difficult to go into details here)…
          Yeah, NHL (& MLB ofc) you can forget. The latest example being the 8 seed Kings as “champions”. Or the hilarious North Stars with a negative point differential, a negative winning percentage… going to the Stanley Cup finals. Ouch! They´d better role the dice and skip the RS…

          • Adam

            Honestly I think Europe has a more sensible perspective on crowning a champion than America does. Most major soccer leagues don’t even have playoffs, and nobody seems to mind! Not as much drama as a playoff, but a lot more fair. In football, 16 games isn’t a big sample, so playoffs make sense to some degree. But the NHL, what a joke.

            • Johhny Ohrl

              I like playoffs when they are fair. I think the wildcard mess started with the 4-division format, and therefore mish-mash seedings. Before that, usually one of the best teams won the SB. And if you had an RS season underachiever (“thanks” to the short RS), they evened out things in the playoffs. See 49ers of 1988 with winning 34-9, 28-3, 20-16… What a statement.
              And here come the 07-NYG. The worst ever “champs”: Lucking it out in every single playoff game: 24-14, 21-17, 23-20, 17-14… what a mess. Worse than NHL. Eli should give his ring back. Not earned 😉

            • James

              Soccer is the best, partly because they get to have their cake and eat it too! Like fair champions? Points only, no playoff leagues. Like the playoffs and upsets? Then you get the Champions League (but huge byes for the best teams to make sure they aren’t upset too early)!

    • Tom

      I get what you and others are saying about the best teams making it to the SB, but I absolutely love it when teams that “aren’t supposed to win” actually go on and win it all. The 1980 Raiders, 2012 Ravens, 2001 Patriots, 2007 Giants…these are fantastic runs. Sure, luck is a HUGE part of it, but so what? Yeah, it stinks when a bad or mediocre team gets to the big dance and is pummeled by the better team – the 1994 SDG-SFO Super Bowl comes to mind. But when that bad or mediocre team beats the team that is supposedly supposed to steamroll them, it’s freaking awesome.

      • Richie

        Agreed. It’s boring if the best teams always win.

        However, baseball has gone too far the other way, where the post-season seems to have little resemblance to the regular season.

        I think the NFL has the perfect mix. Although, it would be interesting to see somebody quantify this for the various leagues to see how often the “right” team wins, but to also weight it by strength of team. For instance, if Arizona wins the Super Bowl this year, they would be the “wrong” team because Carolina, New England (and probably Seattle) are probably stronger teams this year. But, Arizona isn’t far behind, so it shouldn’t count as much of a negative. On the other hand, if Houston had gone on to win the Super Bowl, that would have been a huge negative, because they would have to pull off 4 big upsets.

        • Tom

          Richie – I worked on something like this a year ago. There’s a number of ways to play around with the numbers, but taking into account the team’s entire playoff run, below are the top 5 “underdog” Super Bowl winners since 1970:

          1. 2007 Giants: average Vegas spread for all four of their playoff games was +7.5…wow.

          2. 2001 Patriots: average Vegas spread for three playoff games was +7. It’s hard to wrap the mind around the fact that the Patriots were ever underdogs, in any game at any time, but the Rams were favored by two touchdowns in the SB that year.

          3. 2012 Ravens: average spread for 4 playoff games was +3.5.

          4. 1980 Raiders: average spread for 4 games was +3. First Wild Card Super Bowl winner? Too lazy to check.

          5. 2011 Giants: average spread for 4 games was +2.5.

          Most favored team to win it all: 1994 49ers, favored by an average of 13.8 points for three games!

          • I have not been able to keep up with all the comments here, but I will give you this link:

            http://www.footballperspective.com/how-likely-or-unlikely-was-each-super-bowl-winner-since-1978/

            This has the Ravens “ahead” of the Patriots because of the extra game; it also has the Raiders and Giants tied.

          • Richie

            “2. 2001 Patriots: average Vegas spread for three playoff games was +7.
            It’s hard to wrap the mind around the fact that the Patriots were ever
            underdogs, in any game at any time, but the Rams were favored by two
            touchdowns in the SB that year.”

            Hey, I was actually rooting FOR THEM in the playoffs that year, both in the Tuck Rule game and the Super Bowl. (I wasn’t able to watch the AFCC vs Pit.) Because I usually root for the underdog once my team is out.

            • Tom

              You were rooting FOR the Patriots? FOR them? I…I…I’m speechless…

              • Richie

                It’s funny, I usually had a little bit of a soft spot for them. Back in about 1981, when I was a kid, I was on a flag football team called the Patriots (but we had yellow helmets for some reason), so I kind of decided to like the Patriots. Then, in the Rod Rust-Tommy Hodson-Doug Flutie era, they were a horrible horrible team. Who could hate those guys? Then in the Bledsoe years, I was kind of “meh”.

                I’ve always hated the Raiders and Steelers, so it was easy to root for the Patriots in those playoffs. Some no-name QB with all these fluky wins was a fun story. For some reason I hated the “GSOT Rams”, so I puilled for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I probably finally turned on the Patriots for good at some point during the 2003 season.

            • Johhny Ohrl

              And I usually root for excellence… Champions shall be champions > thus one of the best teams shall win. The Rams were stolen that year. Beli-Cheat on his way, the tuck-rule (which means NE should not have gone to the SB anyway), the refs (letting tick down 7 seconds on a 40 FG, thus stealing the Rams the return chance after Vinatieris kick (40yarders normally “use” 4 seconds off the clock); not calling the holdings by the Pats, but even then Warner passed for 360+, the Rams outplayed the Pats in every phase of the game, except the luck departement > speak random turnovers). That season goes down as one of the worst ever, yet it started so great… I am still not over it, 15 years later.

              If we´d all root for (big) underdogs, and they become regular winners in playoff games (as it was too often prior two seasons ago), there is no need for RS games…

            • As if being a Dolphins fan wasn’t justification enough for the block button!

          • Richie

            “4. 1980 Raiders: average spread for 4 games was +3. First Wild Card Super Bowl winner? Too lazy to check.”

            Yes, they were the first wildcard Super Bowl winner. I think the 1997 Broncos were the second.

            • JeremyDeShetler

              Yes, they were. 5th to make it, 2nd to win.

              75 Cowboys – lost to Steelers 21-17 SB 10
              80 Raiders – beat Eagles 27-10 SB 15
              85 Patriots – lost to Bears 46-10 SB 20
              92 Bills – lost to Cowboys 52-17 SB 27
              97 Broncos – beat Packers 31-24 SB 32
              99 Titans – lost to Rams 23-16 SB 34
              2000 Ravens – beat Giants 34-7 SB 35
              2005 Steelers – beat Seahawks 21-10 SB 40
              2007 Giants – beat Patriots 17-14 SB 42
              2010 Packers – beat Steelers 31-25 SB 45

        • That is an odd example. I think Arizona is the best team in the NFL this year, and I think it’s by a decent margin, too. Or, at least with Mathieu, I think they are.

      • Adam

        I don’t want to see the very best team win all the time, but I do want to see one of the best teams win. Honestly I wouldn’t mind the Cinderella teams as much if people didn’t use fluke championships to determine legacies. Just the fact that Eli Manning might end up in the HoF is enough reason for me to dislike these underdog runs.

        • Johhny Ohrl

          “Honestly I wouldn’t mind the Cinderella teams as much if people didn’t use fluke championships to determine legacies”

          Exactly. That is the problem here. Flacco and Eli come to mind. And it gave them millions of millions after their teams won the SBs. Pure lottery winners. The active Int leader and one of the more in-accurate QBs getting wayyy overpaid coz of this fluke “championships”. 54.5 % of regular season games QBed by Eli were won during his career when he started every game in a season (which is since his 2nd year in the league). All other teams that have continuity at the starting QB position (speak: 16-game starters > no major injuries) from 2013-2015 won 59% of the games. So actually Eli is worse than the league average starter. It also shows up in efficiency stats (his QB rating is 99% of the league average; source PFR).
          Iow: Without his surname he wouldn´t have been drafted that high (if at all), thus getting less chances to earn the starter spot (oh my, was he outplayed by Warner in direct comparison in NY). After that rookie season he´d been out like the Caleb Hanies of this world.
          In my opinion Eli is the worst starting QB in the NFL. He reminds me of Ralf Schumacher, who only got a F-1 spot coz of his famous surname…

          • Richie

            Do you have irrational hatred of Archie Manning as well?

            • Johhny Ohrl

              Where do I have hatred? I posted some numbers… and interpreted them. No more, no less. So-called superstar QBs who earn 20 mio per year should excel. They are not the average 30.000 per year workers. Excellent pay requires excellence in the job. At least that´s how I see it, don´t know what the average Joe in USA thinks about it. But I guess most would agree with me… I am not a worshiper of ball players. I am beyond that age… long ago.

            • Johhny Ohrl

              Full numbers:
              16-Game-true starters: 444-323-1 (579 pct)
              True starters injured/replaced during RS: 193-239-2 (447 pct)
              Back-up QBs starting games: 108-151 (417 pct)
              3rd stringers starting: 13-47-1 (221 pct)
              4th stringers starting: 8-6 (571 pct)

              All true starters combined: 637-562-3 (531 pct)
              All back-ups combined: 129-204-1 (388 pct)

              So having continuity at the QB position truly helps winning NFL games. Thus Eli´s led teams should have won more games. Especially with the talent he had/has at the WR position trou-out his career. Add in the way he was outplayed by Warner (the only direct comparison we have), him being the active Int leader, he is the worst starting QB in the NFL (those who were failures on other teams were either sorted out after one or two seasons, or even replaced (non-injured) during a season, but certainly not rewarded with one 20 mio contract after another despite the usual 20 Int season)…

          • Adam

            Eli’s rep is overblown due to his SB rings, but he’s been an above average starter for most of his career.

            • Johhny Ohrl

              Which numbers or skills indicate that (outside of being less sacked than the average 16-day-starter)?

              • Adam

                His career ANY/A+ is 103 on 6227 attempts. Solid production over a large sample.

                • Johhny Ohrl

                  Good point. But one should expect a QB getting the starting nod (epecialy if it´s basically trou-out the career) to outperform back-ups, injured wash-ups, etc, which all are included in the league average of 100. Please see also my post below about the full numbers of QB starting continuity and the influence it has on teams winning games…
                  Such a QB get three advantages:
                  1) more reps during practice
                  2) more game experience > game slows down > reading skills increase
                  3) more freedom in play calling because of that experience…

                • Until McAdoo arrived, he was also the triggerman for an offense that required more difficult throws than we often see in the modern game. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how well his air yards stack up against the rest of the league’s. By NTAY/P, he ranks 39th in total value since 1992, which is no mean feat.

                  I think, by and large, people underestimate the value of having even average QB play. Having a QB play at an average level for over a decade is incredibly valuable. Eli has easily done that. He and Coughlin both have thrived in a media market that isn’t exactly known for being hospitable to its athletes.

                  • Richie

                    The Manning-Coughlin Giants are a little tough to figure. I’m not sure if they have “thrived”. They’ve worked together for 11 full seasons. They made the playoffs in each of the first 4, including a Super Bowl win. But in the past 7 seasons, they only made the playoffs once (and won a Super Bowl that year). They had 2 other winning seasons that missed the playoffs (including a 10-win season).

                    I think Eli Manning is an above average QB, but he has the ability to show flashes as a great QB. He is just good enough, that when the Giants are trailing, you know he could possibly lead them to a comeback. (This is something you don’t feel with guys like Tannehill, Alex Smith and probably Dalton.)

                    The Giants and Eli have been very similar (not coincidentally) in this regard. Generally above average, with the ability to pull greatness out of their asses.

                    • Incidentally, that’s also where I find my greatness.

                    • Tom

                      Yep, exactly…and I think this has to account for something. Maybe it’s luck, but maybe it’s being cool under pressure…I keep thinking of the 2007 Super Bowl. Yes, we have the Tyree helmet-catch, and yeah, maybe Eli just chucked it out there. But, we also have a clutch pass to Steve Smith on 3rd and 11, and then a beautiful floater to Plaxico for the winning TD. Those are good, solid plays, not fluky.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Every QB with 6.000+ attempts had shown greatness once a while. Every single one that plays or played in the NFL… So that doesn´t mean much. Those plays just came at the right time (or wrong time, depending on the POV).

                    • Tom

                      Well, this to me is somewhat ridiculous…it means a lot when you show greatness in the biggest game of the season. I don’t care if you’re lucky, “clutch”, etc. It’s a big deal if you are good in the games that matter. Especially in Eli’s case where he did it TWICE. Again, maybe this doesn’t mean he’s up there with the legends, but c’mon, you don’t just dismiss those playoff performances by saying, “Well heck, if you throw enough passes, eventually you’ll throw enough that help lead your team to two Super Bowls, and then, yeah, you might also throw 3 or 4 clutch passes in those games that directly lead to victory”. One time, fine, but not twice. The guy was/is good.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      OK. But aren´t we on a site that dismisses small sample sizes, the so-called “clutch” play, etc??
                      I think every single game matters (unless you are in the middle of a blow-out and go trou motions to prevent injury), too much is at stake. Players play injured coz they know the next one in line is just an inch less talented than you (or even better), waiting for his chance. Even greats like Young admitted thats why they play trou injuries…
                      You can´t be better than 100%, that´s why Matt Ryans so-called clutch disapeared over the long run. Thats why Tebow is out of the League. You can choke (like I always did in soccer and Baseball, and still do in billards comes hitting the black ball. I am little Peyton ;-)…
                      But you can not play better than you are in the long run. So yes I dismiss Eli and Flaccos hot streaks as what they are: Hot streaks at the right time…

                    • Richie

                      In a way – Eli is the anti-Peyton.

                  • Johhny Ohrl

                    “I think, by and large, people underestimate the value of having even average QB play”
                    Average QB play (normally) leads to benchings… at least that´s what my numbers say.
                    If you don´t like a large number of QBs-starting-every-game-records, where Eli underperformed trou-out his career (in comparison to all others), I´ll come up with Y/PP and Int-Rate one day. I am 100% sure upfront his numbers will be worse than those of all other 16-Day-starters combined over the long run (see my comment below)… I am working on numbers from 1978 to 2015. Unluckily that takes time.

                    • I think you are conflating the concept of average QB play with average QB stats. While QB play has a marked impact on stats, it is never completely captured by even the most advanced stats (which, for better or worse, tend to rate him much higher than do traditional stats). Eli Manning, in particular, tends to consistently play better than his stats indicate (even if he plays worse than his contract warrants).

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      “concept of average QB play with average QB stats”

                      I fully agree on that, as I said it too, most recently yesterday (quote myself: “Numbers tell a lot, but not everything…”; “good QB play may (!) show up in efficiency stats (pending the talent level of the other 10 players around him)…”).

                      I only see it the other way around: While Eli threw more deeper passes than the average NFL starter during his career (which auto leads to higher Y/PP numbers, but also explains a little his higher than normal Int-Rate), he isn´t really made for it (throwing deep a lot).
                      He does not posses a strong arm (I´d really like to know his ball-speed numbers, my guess it´s in the low 50s), nor has he the skills/technique that is required for good deep ball accuracy.
                      He bulked up his neck area, but looks otherwise rather… well… how to explain in English?… kinda un-athletic.
                      As my Baseball coach once said “You can´t teach speed/velocity; you either have it or not”
                      The games I saw him play, many times his deeper passes sailed off target, and the same time seemed forced… Otoh look at guys with real strong arms like Rodgers or George who could throw darts with a mere flick of their wrists (latest example the 60-yards-in-the-air throw by ARod on the 4th and 20 to Janis), thus being able to hit deep targets before the window closes.
                      To conclude: Actually his stats are better than his actual play… And please also consider he was/is blessed with good WRs trou-out his career.
                      Without them and without the surname, he is one of the hundreds of Caleb Hanies. Was he drafted in low rounds, he´s have gotten one chance, his career finished after his rookie season.

                    • We will have to agree to very strongly disagree on this. It will be a waste of your time and mine to go on further with this absurd argument.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Fine… But I actually enjoy discussions with NOT being on the same page. I mean what is the point if everybody slaps each other on the shoulder and assures how great everybody is…
                      And there is no need to get low with words like “absurd” & “wast(ing)”, implying I have no point.
                      Otoh I would accept “absurd (etc)” if you could come up with evidence that proves your points. I did my best to prove mine…

                    • It’s not the disagreement that convinced me to end the argument. It’s the fact that, after reading what you’ve belabored when talking to me in others, it is clear that I will never respect your opinion on the matter. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to continue an argument when that is the case.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Good, you don´t need to. I´d just say that I can´t respect “arguments” that are based solely on opinions, underlined by… nothing. I could also say average QB play is enough, and say Cade McNown was fitting in that category. That would be absurd.

                    • The irony here, of course, is that each of your posts is rife with opinions. Even your preference of which stats to highlight in your posts stems from your opinion on which stats mean the most. I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you have been watching football weekly for 20 years or daily for a decade. I don’t know if you ever played football or if you ever scouted for a team (amateur or professional). I don’t know if you’ve watched at least 100 NFL games featuring Eli Manning. I don’t know if any of those things can be said about you. I know from what you’ve said that English is not your first language and that you don’t completely understand American sarcasm. That’s about it.

                    • Johhny Ohrl

                      Opinions I based either a) on own numbers or b) on numbers/articles from other sources like from Chase, Brian, etc (even though I didnt always found the link) or c) on my own “eye-test” (which would qualify for being an opinion only*)…
                      I guess you´d agree Y/PP and ANY/A have a very high correlation and would to some extend even out over a larger sample size (actually Y/PP helps Elis case, coz it´s ignoring his higher Int rate, but includes the positive effect of Elis higher rate of deeper throws, thus increasing his Y/PP numbers).
                      To the QB winning records: I am fully aware that defensive play and ST have a huge impact (as WR and OL play has on every passing efficiency statistic).
                      Otoh, if true uninjured starting QBs (speak 16 game starters) have so much better records than back-ups, they indeed show some signifancy (and I explained why). And if Eli further underperforms in effieciency ratings like QBR compared to the other true starters it says a lot.

                      * Other than you I underlined my opinion of Elis arm strength & accuracy. I could also give you game footage of any 400 yard game by him you could choose, and still show you his inconsitencies with deep balls and why they are there.

                      “Absurd” might be my rants about (Norv,) Eli and PM. But I feel free to do so, since they are pampered all over the world as god-like humans. I repeat: I am no worshipper of ball-players, especially (alert: opinion:) when they are wayyy overpaid.

                  • Adam

                    Oh I agree. Eli is an overrated postseason QB, but an underrated regular season QB. As you mentioned, Eli has excelled at air yards, and because of his deep throwing, I don’t penalize him as much for his interceptions.

                  • Adam

                    Just curious, where would you rank Eli historically? I struggle to figure out where he belongs in the historical hierarchy – he could be 25th or 75th or anywhere in between, and there’s a reasonable argument in every instance.

                    • Not very high, if I’m honest. Just since 2004, I’d put him behind Peyton, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Romo, and Rivers for sure. I would probably put him below Warner, Favre, and McNabb as well, and that’s excluding large chunks of their primes. They are much different players, but I might put his prime below Pennington’s too. I’d still put him ahead of Pennington just because he has been able to stay healthy the entire time and provide stability at the position, which fans take for granted today but is sort of a new concept. Favre, Peyton, and Brady have started week in and week out, and people have come to expect it, but that wasn’t the norm for most of NFL history.

                      Since he came into the league, he ranks 25th in marginal TAY and 22nd in marginal NTAY. His per play stats are above league average, but they are right at the league average if you only compare him to regular starters (I used Johnny’s 16-game starter idea but modified it to include anyone who started more than 12 games in a season).

                      I tend to give him a little more credit than his stats indicate by virtue of the fact that Kevin Gilbride, while at one point a very good offensive mind, was past his coaching prime during his time with Eli. And while Coughlin has an offensive pedigree, I don’t think many people would call him and offensive minded head coach. Instead of opting for the generally more successful lower risk offenses, Eli played in some pretty high variance offenses. In turn, his performances were pretty high variance.

                      Eli came in as a rookie in a huge and unforgiving media market and had to replace a successful HOFer with a winning record. The team’s leading receiver was an overrated tight end and the last legs of Amani Toomer. Tiki Barber was the only great player on that offense. Eli performed about how you’d expect even a first overall pick to perform in those circumstances.

                      He ended up getting Plax on the roster for a few years, and he had a few good years of Nicks, Cruz, and now Beckham, but he rarely seemed to have a great receiving corps top to bottom. And he almost never had the benefit of a really good tight end (Boss, Pascoe, and Beckum weren’t exactly terrifying defenses) or receiving back post-Tiki.

                      Explanations aside, I still wouldn’t put him in the top 10 (maybe even 15) since 2004. I don’t think I would have him in my top 60 all time. Top 100 sure. Maybe even top 75, but that may only be due to some postseason bias I have that I don’t realize I have.

                    • Adam

                      All good points. Eli Manning reminds me of John Elway in the sense that his stats undersell his actual performance. But by how much? Hard to say. I firmly agree with you that a long run of sustained average play is quite valuable, and Eli has accomplished exactly that. If the Giants had been forced to use backup QB’s on a regular basis, their record surely would have been worse, so Eli deserves credit for his extreme durability and stabilizing his teams’ QB situation for over a decade.

                      I tried a quick thought experiment. There are 120 QB’s who have attempted 2500+ passes, which is my unofficial minimum for being considered on an all time list. So I went through and quickly noted who I think Eli is superior to among that pool of QB’s. This involved no research or deep thought, just gut feeling. I ended up with 62 QB’s who were “beaten” by Eli, making him the 58th greatest. Perhaps that’s being generous, but 58th sounds about right.

                    • I’d probably put a few sub-2500 attempt guys ahead of Eli too. Luckman, Waterfield, and Herber come to mind. Friedman too, even though I have no idea how many attempts he actually had.

                    • On the staying healthy thing, how much do you think rules changes have to do with it? Manning has been really durable and he rarely seems to get big hits, but the game has been modified in such a way that most QBs are pretty durable. If you look at some of the shots that injured QBs of yesteryear, you see nothing like those today.

                    • Probably a lot. In concert with the training and medicine, the rules changes have gone a long way to keep those QBs healthy. Obviously, some QBs have been injured by hits that would be illegal in just about any era (the Jim McMahon hit, for example, was pretty clearly assault and should have ended with Martin spending some time as a member of the grey bar community).

                    • I looked over it real quickly, and even today it isn’t super common for a QB to start all 16 games. Roughly half the teams in the league have that luxury, give or take a few each season. Eli only started 7 games as a rookie, but he’s been one of the 11-20 (linked picture) 16 games starters every season since.

                      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CZbQJKaW0AAEc8h.png:large

                    • Yeah, there are still some injuries, but it’s just a lot easier to stay healthy. FWIW, I think Foles was just a benching, so the Rams may have been the 18th team this year if Foles wasn’t a disaster.

                    • Well, I suppose not sucking too terribly also plays a part in being a 16 game starter. It probably says something that Eli hasn’t been replaced, despite some disastrous games (even strings of such games). I’m not sure exactly what it says, but it probably says something.

            • Tom

              His rep is overblown, but the fact that he made some great plays in not one, but TWO Super Bowls has to be acknowledged. Seriously, if it was just one, I might be more inclined to brush him aside, but two is another story. Not saying he’s Unitas, or Brady, or Starr, or (insert HOF QB that you think is better than Eli), but we have to acknowledge that this guy made some great plays when it mattered most. Hall of Fame? I don’t know how they judge that stuff, but he was a large part of 3 or 4 specific plays that led his team to victory in two Super Bowls against one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. That can’t be ignored.

              • Richie

                I think he will probably make the HOF. Playing in New York will give him the extra push. If he had an identical career, but in San Diego, I think he doesn’t make it. (Depending on how the rest of his career goes.)

                • Tom

                  Agreed…I have nothing to back it up, but somehow I think you’re right. In fact, even if he had just one ring, he’d have a better shot simply because of the team he’s on.

              • Adam

                Eli deserves credit for his great play during the Giants’ SB run; very few QB’s could’ve won those playoff games. But that doesn’t mean he deserves to be in the HoF.

          • Tom

            Well, you have a good point, but man, things get dicey when we start giving credit for wins to the QB. There’s a connection there, absolutely, but to use that stat (win %) to flat-out say Eli is below average, is kind of dicey. If we’re going to do the “wins games” thing, it would be better to use Win Probability Added.

            • Johhny Ohrl

              You are right. Thus I am working on Y/PP for QBs from 1978 on. Comparing starters, back-ups as I did with the winning records… But as I know already his QB rating is below ALL QBs that played during his era, the outcome is clear upfront. And that means no good for Eli… and being the active Int-King doesn´t help his case either.

        • And I think it varies on a case-by-case basis. Had Seattle made a run this year, that wouldn’t have felt fluky as a 6 seed. When the ’05 Steelers or ’10 Packers won, those teams were really good teams one year off of 15-1 seasons, that just happened to have relatively poor records in their SB years. I’m fine with those situations, too.

          • Adam

            Totally agree. The `97 Broncos, `05 Steelers, and `10 Packers all deserved to win the SB despite being wild cards, as they were dominant teams over a muti-season span. As you mentioned in another comment, the #5 and #6 seeds are usually better than the #3 or especially #4, so a SB win by a #4 seed (`11 Giants, `12 Ravens) is more of a fluke than a wild card champion.

  • Trepur

    No, we like looking for patterns.

    This has been a year with an unusual few postseason upsets, but the postseason also has a significantly low sample size.

    • Sure, but that doesn’t make it less interesting when there are really random or really predictable years.

      • Trepur

        I was just answering the question you asked, lol