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Are the Ravens subject to a Super Bowl curse?

by Chase Stuart on August 20, 2013

in Random Perspective On

The new face of the Ravens

The new face of the Ravens.

No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-2004 Patriots, which means the last eight champions have failed in their bid to repeat. Three of them — the ’06 and ’09 Steelers and the 2012 Giants — failed to even make the playoffs. Some writers have used this as a reason to suggest that Baltimore may be subject to a Super Bowl curse.

Of course, the idea of a curse — or a sample of data — doesn’t mean much in the abstract. Let’s look at some numbers on the 42 Super Bowl winners between 1970 and 2011. On average, those teams had a 0.676 winning percentage in Year N+1 (i.e., the year after they won the Super Bowl). Thirty of those teams made it back to the playoffs, one out of every six of those teams won the Super Bowl, and three more lost in the Super Bowl (the ’78 Cowboys, ’83 Redskins, and ’97 Packers). Some would use this as evidence of a curse — i.e., only 9 of 42 teams made it back to the Super Bowl — but again, we need some context.

I decided to compare Super Bowl winners since 1970 to three other teams: Super Bowl losers, the Simple Rating System champion from that season (which may or may not be a team that made it to the Super Bowl), and an average of all playoff teams from that year. On average, Super Bowl winners have the best winning percentage of that group in the following year. And Super Bowl winners are the most likely to win the Super Bowl. Super Bowl winners are less likely to lose in the Super Bowl the next season than the Super Bowl loser (thanks, Buffalo) or the SRS champ, but the defending champion is still the team most likely to make it back to the Super Bowl. The two Super Bowl teams and the SRS champ also make the playoffs the following season just north of 70%, well ahead of the average playoff team.

The chart below shows all of these results, which makes it pretty clear that being the defending Super Bowl champion is a good thing for future prospects (and it’s not too shabby on a resume, either):

SB teams

The Ravens are experiencing more turnover than your typical defending Super Bowl champion. On defense alone, Ray Lewis (retirement), Ed Reed (Houston), Dannell Ellerbe (Miami), Paul Kruger (Cleveland), Cary Williams (Philadelphia), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (unsigned free agent), and Bernard Pollard (Tennessee) are gone. That leaves only five defenders who started in Super Bowl XLVII on the roster: Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw (who started ahead of Kruger and joined this unique club), and Corey Graham. On the other hand, the Ravens defense received a pretty nice influx of talent this off-season, too.

On the defensive line, adding 3-4 defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears will allow Ngata to play nose tackle in 2013. That gives the Ravens depth all along the defensive line: in addition to Ngata and Jones, the Ravens have a rejuvenated Terrence Cody and drafted Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams in the third round.

At linebacker, things aren’t as bad as they could have been. Baltimore became the beneficiaries of Fax Gate, and get to replace Kruger with Elvis Dumervil after the Broncos failed to retain the star pass rusher. Inside linebacker is the bigger question mark, but there are three men capable of manning those two spots. The Ravens got lucky when Kansas State’s Arthur Brown fell to them at the end of the second round, and Jameel McClain (who had more snaps last year than either Lewis or Ellerbe) returns. Ozzie Newsome also signed Daryl Smith from Jacksonville, a steady veteran who will play until Brown is ready.

With three starters gone in the secondary, including one future Hall of Famer, you might think the secondary is the big issue. But don’t forget that the team’s top cornerback in 2011, Lardarius Webb, is back after tearing his ACL last October; he should be considered an improvement over the departed Williams. Replacing Reed and Pollard at safety are Michael Huff (former top-ten pick from Oakland) and Florida’s Matt Elam, the team’s top selection in the draft.

There were a lot of defections on defense, but Baltimore successfully played whack-a-mole there. The bigger questions to me are on offense, as the team needs to replace Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco), Dennis Pitta (likely out for the season with a hip injury) and Matt Birk (retired). Gino Gradkowski, a fourth round pick in 2012, will replace Birk in the middle, while Dallas Clark, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Billy Bajema will compete to be the team’s other tight end next to Ed Dickson. The biggest question mark is at wide receiver, where no one knows what the team has behind Torrey Smith. Deonte Thompson (undrafted out of Florida in 2012), Tandon Doss (4th round pick in 2011, Indiana), Tommy Streeter (University of Miami, 6th round pick, 2012), and Aaron Mellette (7th round pick in 2013, Elon) get the unproven label while Brandon Stokley can wear the “has-been” sticker and Jacoby Jones is placed into the “never-was” bucket (at least when it comes to playing at a starting-caliber level at wide receiver).

The defense and the running game, led by Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, should be strong. The real question for Baltimore surrounds the player the team’s paying thirty million dollars to this season. Joe Flacco is getting paid like he’s a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, but even winning last year’s Super Bowl won’t silence all the doubters. With Lewis and Reed gone, it’s clear that Flacco should be the face of the franchise. He’s lost two of his top three weapons since Super Bowl XLVII — if he can bring Baltimore back to Super Bowl XLVIII, no one will call him overpaid.

Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Danish August 20, 2013 at 5:52 am

I wonder if this is the most roster turnover of any SB champion ever (by AV? By starts no longer on roster?)? It’s absolutely massive. The old teams are probably out because of free agency, and I don’t recall a similar upheaval for any recent champs…

Reply

Chase Stuart August 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

I think we’ll have to wait until the season is over to see that — you probably want to measure how many games are started by players in 2013 who were starters in 2012.

Reply

Neil Paine August 20, 2013 at 9:32 am

The perception of a recent Super Bowl Curse might also have something to do with the fact that the champs are getting “flukier” in recent years. This is purely an exercise in Arbitrary Endpoints, but since 2005 here are the regular-season performance indicators of the SB champs:

wpct  net_ppg  net_ypg   srs   adj_pyth
---------------------------------------
.680   +5.5     +36.4   +6.6    .680

Here are the same stats for the previous 8 champs:

wpct  net_ppg  net_ypg   srs   adj_pyth
---------------------------------------
.797   +10.7    +52.6   +9.0    .750

Those differences in wpct & net PPG are actually quite statistically significant, fwiw.

Anyway, when demonstrably weaker teams are winning the title, it stands to reason that they’d play worse the following season than we’ve come to expect from a defending champ.

Reply

Chase Stuart August 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

Good stuff, Neil.

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Richie August 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Super Bowl winners are less likely to lose in the Super Bowl the next season than the Super Bowl loser (thanks, Buffalo)

Interesting. I don’t think I’ve noticed that before – the Bills are the only team(s) to lose the Super Bowl, return the following year and lose again (unless I’m missing somebody). And they of course did it 3 times!

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Chase Stuart August 20, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Not sure where you got that from, Richie:

http://www.footballperspective.com/super-bowl-history/

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Richie August 20, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I got it from bad memory.

Looks like I forgot about the Vikings and Broncos.

Disregard.

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John Doe August 22, 2013 at 9:44 am

Joe isn’t getting 30 mil this year, so I find it hilarious that you report that number. 29million is his bonus, which is prorated over the term of his contract. In fact his cap value (6.8mil) is LESS than his cap value from last year (8mil)

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