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Last weekend, we looked at the team with the most Pro Bowlers to win a championship. Today, we look at the reverse: the team with the fewest Pro Bowlers to win it all.

As a technical matter, the Pro Bowl hasn’t always been around, so some pre-1950 teams and the 1960 Oilers (there was no Pro Bowl in the AFL’s first season) had zero Pro Bowlers. But only one team has had exactly one Pro Bowler and won the title. Here are some hints:

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show

[click to continue…]

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The NFL Draft is this week, which means we have something resembling real football to talk about. But how much impact will the players who hear their names called during the 2014 Draft have on the 2014 season? Here’s the short answer: as a group, they will make up about 10% of games played by all players and 8% of all starts.

What do I mean by that? Each year, every team’s players start 352 games, which is the product of 16 (games) and 22 (starters). Players selected during the 2013 Draft started 27 games per team last year, which is in line with the recent average of eight percent. I also looked at the number of games played by all drafted rookies, and divided that by the number of games played by all players on that team. Take a look: the blue line represents games played by drafted rookies and the red line represents games started; both numbers on shown on a percentage basis for the league as a whole. [click to continue…]

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Ranking The Almost Dynasties

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Healy contributed a guest post titled, “One Play Away.” He’s back at it today, and we thank him for another generous contribution. Andrew Healy is an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is a big fan of the New England Patriots and Joe Benigno.


What teams do we remember the most? Going back to the merger, the 1970s Steelers, the 1980s 49ers, the 1990s Cowboys, and the 2000s Patriots seem to stand above the rest. Each of these teams earned that place in our collective memory by winning the most Super Bowls in the decade.

How different could it have been? In other words, were the dynasties that happened by far the most likely ones? Or were there others that were equally, or even more likely? Think of teams that have suffered unusually cruel sequences of defeats (cue nodding Vikings, Bills, and Browns fans). We all know that those teams could have won Super Bowls. But maybe the more interesting question is whether those teams realistically could have won multiple Super Bowls, or even have become the dominant team of the era.

Today, I estimate the chances that different teams had of becoming the Team of the Decade (the TOD) for the ’70s, ’80, ’90s, and ’00s. Some of the results are surprising. One of the teams that became the TOD was actually much less likely than another to dominate that decade. Only two of the four teams truly stand out as being clearly the single most-likely team to be the TOD.

Even more interesting are the teams that might have been dynasties instead of the ones we’ve come to know. In most cases, these teams won at least one Super Bowl. In one case, though, a team that became famous for losing easily could have been not just a one-time winner, but a team that became a dynasty and dominated the decade.

To come up with the estimates of a team’s chances of winning Super Bowl, I simulated the playoffs 50,000 times. I used the actual playoff brackets and then created win probabilities for each game based on team strength. In tables that follow below, I’ll describe the probabilities that teams won multiple titles in a decade. I’ll also pick a True Team of the Decade (most expected Super Bowl wins), a What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing, a Team that Wasn’t as Good as We Remember, and a A Bottom-Feeder Team(s) for each decade.

First, a brief description of how I performed the simulations before getting to the rankings:

  • The playoffs were run under the rules in a given year: All rules relating to seeding, home field, and number of teams were used. If there was a rule in place preventing matchups between divisional opponents in a given round, I also applied that rule. To some extent, the fewer teams in earlier years helped make dynasties more likely in those decades.
  • Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System was used to measure team strength: I used PFR’s for all years to be consistent. It’s worth noting that their ratings and DVOA usually match up closely. Another possibility is to try to simulate DVOA ratings, but it seems simpler to just use SRS throughout. In some cases, there are some differences, such as for the 1998 Broncos and 1999 Titans.
  • I used the beginning of the NFL season to define the decades: So 1970-79 means Super Bowls V-XIV. An interesting thought experiment is to consider Super Bowl time instead of calendar decades. Then the Raiders would have been the team of Super Bowls XI-XX. Anyway, I’ll stick with the convention. It’s worth noting that my results suggest the Raiders were not as good as we might remember.

1970s

The table below shows each franchise’s probability of having won 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 Super Bowls during the decade according to the methodology described above. The final column shows the expected number of Super Bowl wins for the decade.

Team0123456E(Wins)
PIT0.1450.330.3120.1560.0490.0080.0011.659
DAL0.2090.3770.2750.1110.0240.00401.377
MIN0.2360.4070.2610.0810.0130.00101.232
MIA0.3430.4220.1910.0390.004000.941
RAM0.390.3990.1690.0370.005000.87
OAK0.3950.4020.1650.0340.005000.853
BAL0.5610.3550.0760.0080000.532
WAS0.6010.3330.0610.0050000.469
SD0.6410.359000000.359
DEN0.6540.320.0250.0010000.373
SF0.7430.2350.0220.0010000.281
DET0.7620.238000000.238
NE0.8320.1610.00700000.175
CIN0.8820.1140.00400000.123
KC0.8920.108000000.108
STL0.90.0970.00300000.103
GB0.9050.095000000.095
PHI0.9240.0750.00100000.077
CLE0.9650.035000000.035
HOU0.9720.028000000.028
TB0.9740.026000000.026
BUF0.9750.025000000.025
CHI0.9820.018000000.018
ATL0.9980.002000000.002
NYG10000000
NYJ10000000
SEA10000000

The True Team of the Decade: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers had only a 14.5% chance of winning no Super Bowls in the ’70s and a 4.9% chance of winning the four that they did. The expected value of SB wins for Pittsburgh was 1.67, the highest value for any team in any decade.

The What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are not too far away from the Steelers and Cowboys. There was only a 23.6% chance the Vikings would have won nothing in the ’70s. And they certainly could have won multiple championships. There was over a 35% chance the Vikings would have won at least two titles and a 9.6% chance they would have won at least three. Of all the teams that won nothing, the 1970s Vikings are the best candidate for the team that could have been the TOD.

The What-Might-Have-Been Dynasty that Won Nothing, Part 2: Los Angeles Rams

A little bit behind the Vikings are the Rams. Los Angeles had only a 39% chance of winning no Super Bowls in the ’70s and a 20.3% chance of winning multiple titles.

The Team that Wasn’t as Good as We Remember: Oakland Raiders
When I starting working with the data, I expected the Raiders to challenge for the TOD. Five losses in the AFC championship to go with the one title. Seven playoff appearances. Despite all that, the Raiders only had the sixth-most expected titles in the decade. In fact, they didn’t really underperform at all in terms of titles. They had a 39.5% chance of winning none at all. The Raiders’ SRS ratings explain this. Oakland was never really great, only passing +10.0 in a year (1977) where they finished second in the division.

Bottom-Feeder Teams: New York Giants, New York Jets
Only two teams played the entire decade and missed the playoffs every single year. They happened to be the two teams that played in New York. The chance that two teams would miss the playoffs every year and New York would happen to miss playoff football entirely: about 0.2%.

1980s

Team0123456E(Wins)
SF0.1460.3370.310.1560.0420.0070.0011.637
CHI0.2890.4810.1980.030.002000.975
MIA0.4160.3970.1540.0290.003000.805
WAS0.3920.450.1410.0170.001000.785
DEN0.4730.4020.1120.0120000.664
CLE0.5370.3710.0830.0090000.565
PHI0.5850.3550.0560.0030000.478
DAL0.6010.3290.0650.0050000.475
CIN0.6080.340.0510.0010000.446
NYG0.6250.3320.0420.0010000.419
OAK/LA0.6430.3020.050.0050000.417
SD0.70.2710.0280.0010000.329
BUF0.7070.2620.030.0010000.324
MIN0.7560.2250.0180.0010000.263
NYJ0.7720.210.01800000.247
ATL0.7840.2160.00100000.217
RAM0.8370.1520.0100000.174
NE0.8690.1290.00200000.134
NO0.8720.128000000.128
SEA0.9010.0970.00300000.102
GB0.9020.098000000.098
PIT0.9090.0880.00300000.094
TB0.930.07000000.071
HOU0.940.0590.00200000.062
BAL/IND0.9570.043000000.043
DET0.9720.027000000.028
KC0.9830.017000000.017
STL/PHX0.9970.003000000.003

The True Team of the Decade: San Francisco 49ers
Unlike the 1970s, the ’80s weren’t close. The Niners were similar to the ’70s Steelers with an expectation of 1.64 Super Bowl wins in the decade. The ’80s 49ers had about a 4.2% chance of winning the four Super Bowls they did and 51.7% chance of winning at least two. And, while not shown in the table above, it’s exciting to note that the Niners had a 0.004% chance of winning seven Super Bowls in the 1980s.

The What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing: Miami Dolphins
I was really surprised by this one. The Dolphins come in third in the 1980s in expected SB wins with 0.81. Based on their consistency in the first half of the decade, the Dolphins had an 18.6% chance of winning multiple Super Bowls in the 1980s. That’s substantially higher than the 12.4% chance for their nearest competitor: the much better-remembered Denver Broncos who were annihilated in three Super Bowls.

The Team that Wasn’t as Good as We Remember: Oakland/LA Raiders
Despite never being close to dominant, the Raiders won two Super Bowls in the 1980s. According to the number of SB wins we would have expected them to have, the Raiders actually rank 11th, behind six teams that won none in the decade. They had about a 5.5% chance of winning multiple titles in the decade.

A Bottom-Feeder Team: Houston Oilers
For teams that played every season since the merger, the Oilers had the least hope of winning a title over the 1970s and 1980s combined. That’s a little surprising given that they had at least one memorable moment in the playoffs during that stretch, unlike some of the teams ahead of them.

1990s

Team0123456E(Wins)
SF0.1510.3310.3080.1560.0460.0070.0011.639
DAL0.3120.4160.2160.0510.005001.023
GB0.3630.4870.1380.0110000.799
WAS0.3950.5630.0410.0010000.647
BUF0.5190.3710.0960.0140.001000.607
KC0.5130.3830.0950.0090000.601
DEN0.5520.3510.0860.010000.557
MIN0.550.3990.0490.0020000.504
PIT0.5930.3280.0720.0070000.495
RAM/STL0.5780.422000000.422
HOU/TEN0.6580.3010.0390.0020000.386
NYG0.7640.2260.0100000.247
JAC0.8020.1920.00600000.204
MIA0.8130.1730.0130.0010000.202
NYJ0.8010.199000000.2
LA/OAK0.830.1670.00300000.173
NE0.8420.1510.00700000.166
ATL0.850.1490.00100000.151
SD0.8660.1290.00500000.139
IND0.8660.1330.00100000.135
NO0.8710.1250.00300000.132
DET0.8860.110.00400000.118
CAR0.8990.101000000.101
PHI0.9050.0920.00300000.097
TB0.9160.0830.00100000.086
CLE/BAL0.9190.081000000.081
CHI0.9560.043000000.044
SEA0.9590.041000000.041
CIN0.9930.007000000.007
PHX/ARI10000000

The True Team of the Decade: San Francisco 49ers
This one almost leaps off the page. Not only were the Niners on top in the 1990s in terms of expected SB wins, they were way on top. Given the Cowboys’ relatively short run, it’s not surprising that they would do worse here, but they’re closer to the 10th place Rams on this list than they are to the 49ers. Even though they only won one in the decade, the Niners had the same number (1.64) of expected titles in the ’90s as they did in the ’80s, and a 51.7% chance of multiple titles.

The What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing: Buffalo Bills
The Bills actually do worse on this list than I would have expected. They were about even money to win the zero titles that they did in the ’90s. They had an 11.0% chance of winning multiple titles, making them the top-ranked no-title team of the ’90s, but ranking them well behind the ’70s Vikings, the ’70s Rams, and the ’80s Dolphins.

The What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing, Part 2: Kansas City Chiefs
On the field, the ’90s Chiefs only went to one AFC Championship game and no Super Bowls. Nevertheless, they’re about even with the Bills in terms of the Super Bowls they could have won. They had a 10.4% chance of winning multiple titles in the ’90s.

The Team that Wasn’t as Good as We Remember: Pittsburgh Steelers
I’m not sure there’s a great candidate in this category, so I was tempted to just pick the Raiders again to keep the pattern. You could go with Broncos here, but the 1998 Broncos are one case where there’s a clear gap between SRS and DVOA, which gives them more credit. The ’90s Steelers had four playoff byes in a run of six straight playoff appearances. Still, they had a 59.3% chance of winning no Super Bowls and only a 7.9% chance of winning multiple titles.

A Bottom-Feeder Team: Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
The worst team in two consecutive decades. Over twenty years, the Cardinals had 0.003 expected titles. That’s only 0.003 more expected titles than the Houston Texans and they weren’t even in the league yet.

2000s

Team0123456E(Wins)
NE0.170.4160.2990.0980.0160.00101.38
IND0.4150.4020.1480.0310.004000.807
PHI0.4280.3990.1430.0270.003000.78
PIT0.4630.3990.1220.0160000.693
OAK0.4690.4320.0970.0020000.633
STL0.4940.4320.0720.0020000.584
TEN0.5780.3470.070.0050000.501
SD0.5890.3470.060.0040000.48
BAL0.6220.3160.0570.0050000.445
CHI0.6390.3190.0410.0010000.404
NYG0.6470.3070.0440.0030000.403
NO0.6410.3260.0330.0010000.393
GB0.6990.260.0380.0030000.344
TB0.710.2650.0240.0010000.316
DEN0.7160.2680.0160.0010000.3
SEA0.740.250.0100000.27
DAL0.7870.1990.01400000.227
MIN0.7880.1970.01400000.226
KC0.8010.1980.00100000.199
CAR0.8560.140.00400000.149
NYJ0.8690.1240.00600000.138
ATL0.9140.0830.00300000.088
MIA0.920.0790.00100000.082
WAS0.9520.048000000.049
SF0.9630.037000000.038
JAC0.9710.029000000.029
CIN0.9750.025000000.025
CLE0.9910.009000000.009
ARI0.9910.009000000.009
BUF10000000
DET10000000
HOU10000000

The True Team of the Decade: New England Patriots
Less dominant than the other True TODs, the Patriots of the aughts still have a healthy gap over their closest rival, the Colts. There was only a 17% chance the Patriots would have gotten shut out in the ’00s. There was a 41.7% chance that the Pats would win multiple titles in the decade, more than double the chance of any other team.

The What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles rank third in expected titles in the ’00s with 0.78, just a hair behind the Colts for second. They also look similar to the 1970s Rams and 1980s Dolphins in terms of multiple-title potential. They had about a 17.4% chance of winning multiple titles in the aughts.

The Team that Wasn’t as Good as We Remember: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hopefully, it’s not too hard to remember a decade that ended with President Obama in the White House, but the Bucs come in lower here than I might have guessed. They made the playoffs five times, but still are only 14th in expected SB wins. They actually had a 71% chance of winning no titles in the decade. Even in their best year, 2002, where they ranked #2 in SRS and #1 in DVOA, they were far from dominant and so had only about a 21% chance of winning the title.

Bottom-Feeder Teams: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions
Neither team made the playoffs in the decade, a more impressive accomplishment than the ’70s Giants and Jets in an era of expanded playoffs. Both cities also suffered through deindustrialization and so seemed to deserve better football as a compensating differential.

Closing Thoughts

I was excited to check this out because I wanted to compare teams like the ’90s Bills and the ’70s Rams. That comparison makes it pretty clear that the ’70s Vikings are hands-down the clearest What-Might-Have-Been-Dynasty that Won Nothing. This is all post-merger, so arguably the best Vikings team of that era (the ’69 edition) doesn’t even count in the calculation. If you count the 1969 Vikings, there was only about a 1-in-6 chance that those Vikings would end up with no Super Bowls.

Maybe the most remarkable regularity over the years is how the Cardinals have been so bad for so long. Even though Arizona came close in 2008, the Cardinals had only an 11.2% chance of winning any of the last 44 Super Bowls. In fact, they were lucky just to make the one Super Bowl that they did (in more ways than one).

Finally, a couple of thoughts about this decade. While we’re only four years in, this decade could wind up resembling the 1990s. The Patriots right now are playing the role of the ’90s Niners, while the Seahawks may be the best candidate to be the Cowboys. So far, the Patriots have been (perhaps surprisingly) dominant. There’s only about a 27% chance that New England would have no titles in the 2010s and there was even a 28.5% chance that the Patriots would have already won multiple titles; that likelihood is more than four times more as any other team. Despite having none on the field through four seasons, the ’10s Patriots are on pace through four years to have the most expected SB wins for any decade. They already have 1.07 expected wins, more than double their nearest competitor.

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One Play Away

Football Perspective accepts guest posts, and Andrew Healy submitted the following post. And it’s outstanding. Andrew Healy is an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is a big fan of the New England Patriots and Joe Benigno.


The Browns were one play away from the Super Bowl

How much did this player lower Cleveland's Super Bowl odds?

The Catch. The Immaculate Reception. The Fumble. We remember all these plays, but which mattered the most? More specifically, what plays in NFL history had the biggest impact on who won the Super Bowl?

The answer to this question is kind of surprising. For example, two of those famous plays are in the top 20, but the other wasn’t even the most important play in its own game. Going all the way back to Lombardi’s Packers, the memorable and important plays overlap imperfectly.

Here, I try to identify the twenty plays that shifted the probability of the eventual Super Bowl winner the most. According to this idea, a simple win probability graph at Pro-Football-Reference.com identifies a not-surprising choice as the most influential play in NFL History: Wide Right. What is surprising is that they give Buffalo a 99% chance of winning after Jim Kelly spiked the ball to set up Scott Norwood’s kick. Obviously, that’s way off.1

A better estimate would say him missing the kick lowered the Bills chances of winning from about 45% to about 0%. Norwood was about 60% for his career from 40-49 yards out, and 2 for 10 from over 50. Moreover, he was 1 for 5 on grass from 40-49 before that kick. But the conditions in Tampa that night were close to ideal for kicking. It’s hard to put an exact number on things, but around 45% on that 47-yard kick seems about right.

So that 45 percentage point swing in a team’s chances of being the champ is what I’m going to call our SBD, or Super Bowl Delta, value. I’m going to identify the twenty plays with the biggest SBD values, the ones that swung the needle the most.

Here are the ground rules for making the cut. [click to continue…]

  1. I think it happens because their model basically gives you credit for your expected points on the drive, which is enough to win since Buffalo was down by a point. []
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Super Bowl XLVIII Denver/Seattle Preview

Before we get to my preview, I want to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

Last week, I went into the film room and recapped the preseason matchup between these two teams. Today, I’m going to analyze the six — yes, six! — different matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle Pass Defense vs. Denver Pass Offense

I’ve written many glowing articles about the Seattle pass defense, and we all know about the Broncos record-setting offense. Super Bowl XLVIII is the greatest offense/defense showdown since 1950 and the greatest passing showdown ever. Denver’s pass offense is historically great, and Seattle’s pass defense is historically great. But beyond being a great defense, there are reasons to think the Seahawks present a particularly tough challenge for Manning and company. [click to continue…]

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sb xlviii squaresLast year, I wrote an article about Super Bowl squares. Well, it’s that time of year again, so here’s your helpful cheat sheet to win at your Super Bowl party.

Every Super Bowl squares pool is different, but this post is really aimed at readers who play in pools where you can trade or pick squares. I looked at every regular season and postseason game since 2002. The table below shows the likelihood of each score after each quarter, along with three final columns that show the expected value of a $100 prize pool under three different payout systems. The “10/” column shows the payout in a pool where 10% of the prize money is given out after each of the first three quarters and 70% after the end of the game; the next column is for pools that give out 12.5% of the pool after the first and third quarters, 25% at halftime, and 50% for the score at the end of the game. The final column is for pools that give out 25% of the pot after each quarter — since I think that is the most common pool structure, I’ve sorted the table by that column, but you can sort by any column you like. To make the table fully sortable, I had to remove the percentage symbols, but “19, 6.7, 4.1, 2″ should be read as 19.0%, 6.7%, 4.1%, and 2.0%. [click to continue…]

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Regular readers know I’m not prone to exaggeration. I’m more of a splits happen kind of guy. But Super Bowl XLVIII will, in my opinion, be the greatest passing showdown ever. This year’s Super Bowl checks in as the greatest offensive/defensive showdown in Super Bowl history (and the greatest of any game, regular or postseason, since 1950). That’s because the passing showdown between Denver and Seattle is arguably the greatest of any game in all of pro football history.

How can we quantify such a statement? I’m glad you asked. If you recall, I labeled the 2013 Seahawks as one of the five greatest pass defenses since 1950. For new readers, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is calculated as follows:

[math]
(Gross Pass Yards + 20 * PTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yds)/(Attempts + Sacks)[/math]

In 2013, the Seahawks allowed 3.19 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (Seattle allowed 3,050 gross passing yards and 16 TDs, while forcing 28 interceptions and recording 298 yards lost on sacks, all over 524 pass attempts and 44 sacks.). The other 31 pass defenses allowed an average of 5.98 ANY/A, which means Seattle’s pass defense was 2.79 ANY/A above average. Over the course of the 568 opponent dropbacks, this means the Seahawks provided 1,582 adjusted net yards of value over average. In other words, the Seattle pass defense provided 99 adjusted net yards over average on a per game basis. Let’s be clear: the Legion of Boom is not just a hype machine, and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and company form the best secondary in the league.

All other passing attacks are pushed aside when Manning is involved.

All other passing attacks are pushed aside when Manning is involved.

Denver’s offense was even more dominant, although that’s to be expected: in general, the spread in offensive ratings is a bit wider than it is on the defensive side of the ball. Denver threw for 5,572 gross passing yards and 55 touchdowns, while throwing just 10 interceptions and losing only 128 yards to sacks. The Broncos had 675 pass attempts and were sacked just 20 times, giving them an 8.77 ANY/A average. The other 31 offenses averaged only 5.79 ANY/A, meaning the Broncos were 2.98 ANY/A better than average. Over the 695 dropbacks the team had, that means Denver provided 2,072 adjusted net yards of value average average. On a per-game basis, that’s 130 yards of value each game!

So, how do we judge the greatest passing showdowns in football history? Denver’s passing offense gets a rating of +130, while Seattle’s pass defense gets a rating of +99. Those two numbers have a Harmonic Mean of 112. That’s easily the most in Super Bowl history. In fact, it’s the third most in any playoff game ever, and those other two games each have asterisks.

In the 1961 AFL, the Houston Oilers behind George Blanda, Bill Groman, and Charley Hennigan possessed an incredible passing offense (rating of +167), while the San Diego Chargers had a dominant pass defense (+129). But in the early days of the AFL, the talent pool was diluted; this would be akin to comparing two teams in non-BCS conferences with out-of-this-world statistics to a matchup between champions in two power conferences. For what it’s worth, Houston won the game — played in San Diego — but with a catch. The Oilers offense was shut down, as Blanda went 18/40 for 160 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions…. but Houston won 10-3, as Jack Kemp threw four picks for the Chargers. [click to continue…]

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Earlier this week, I looked at how likely or unlikely the playoffs were in each of the last 25 seasons. Today, we look at each Super Bowl winner since 1978, and calculate their odds of winning each playoff game, and by extension, how likely (or unlikely) it was that that team wound up winning the Super Bowl.

As you might expect, no team was as unlikely to win the Super Bowl at the start of the playoffs as the 2007 New York Giants. If we know the points spread for a given game, we can derive the team’s probability of winning by using the following formula, assuming the spread (with a negative number for the favorite) is in cell C2 in Excel:

=(1-NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)) + 0.5*(NORMDIST(0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE)-NORMDIST(-0.5,-(C2),13.86,TRUE))

New York was a 3-point underdog in Tampa Bay in the Wildcard round (41.4%), a 7-point dog in Dallas (30.7%), and a 7.5-point underdog in Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game (29.4%). Then, in the Super Bowl against the 18-0 Patriots, the Giants were 12.5-point underdogs, implying an 18.4% chance of victory. The odds of New York winning all four of those games was less than one percent! I don’t think this was a case where the oddsmakers were off, either. Remember that in 2007, Eli Manning led the league in interceptions and the Giants were significantly worse in the regular season than Dallas, Green Bay, or New England. Even in retrospect, the Giants run was remarkable, but even unlikely events are likely to happen given a long enough time period. Of course, it sure seemed like unlikely events were becoming the norm in the playoffs, at least until 2013. [click to continue…]

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SB XLVIII Is The Best Offense/Defense Super Bowl Ever

This year, the Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game, 14.5 points more than league average. Seattle, meanwhile, allowed just 14.4 points per game, 9.0 points better than league average. That means this is a true clash of the titans in one sense: when the Broncos offense is on the field against the Seattle defense, the two units will have been a combined 23.4 (difference due to rounding) points better than average during the regular season.

As it turns out, that’s the greatest disparity between any two units in Super Bowl history. One nice aspect of comparing a team’s offense to an opponent’s defense is that you don’t need to adjust for era, since a high (or low) scoring environment will equally help and hurt each pairing. You can simply subtract Seattle’s 14.4 PPG average from Denver’s 37.9 PPG average to get that same 23.4 PPG difference. The table below shows the differential between each team offense and opposing defense — measured by points scored and points allowed per game — for each of the 48 Super Bowls. That means the Denver/Seattle battle will replace Super Bowl I for the greatest offense/defense showdown in Super Bowl history.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 1966, the Kansas City offense faced the Green Bay defense in Super Bowl I (hyperlinked to the boxscore at PFR). The Chiefs quarterback was Len Dawson, and Kansas City averaged 32 points per game that year. Meanwhile, the Packers allowed only 11.6 points per game, providing a difference of 20.4 points. In Super Bowl I, however, the Chiefs lost to the Packers, 35-10. This is the first time since Super Bowl XXV that the number one scoring offense is facing the number one ranked scoring defense, but frankly, the Bills/Giants showdown pales in comparison to this one. The difference there was nearly ten points narrower than the Denver/Seattle disparity. [click to continue…]

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Better than Elway?

Better than Elway?

Today’s title gives a pretty good hint as to what today’s post is about. The table below shows the career Approximate Value for the top 50 players whose last game happened to be a Super Bowl victory. For reference, I’ve also includes things like number of games, Pro Bowls, 1st-team All-Pro selections, and number of seasons starting.

In addition to Lewis, Matt Birk of the Ravens also joins the list, and for the heck of it, I’ve included Anquan Boldin, who has hinted that he might retire. Full disclosure: I defined a player as “retiring after winning the Super Bowl” if his last season came during a year in which he played for the eventual Super Bowl champ. So Wes Chandler, who played for the ’88 49ers but retired in mid-season, is included in this list even though he shouldn’t be. Ditto Michael Dean Perry, who was on the Broncos in 1997 but actually finished the season with the Chiefs. I could filter out all the Chandlers and Perrys of the world, but my time is better spent elsewhere (for that matter, just about every person’s time is better spent elsewhere), and therefore I’ll present the full, overinclusive list instead of spending an extra hour of time fixing it and possibly not presenting it at all.

The table is sorted by the Career AV column; the AV column shows the player’s AV in his final season.
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Emmitt knows the point of a good fullback.

Emmitt knows the point of a good fullback.

Ever wonder what percentage of Super Bowl champions had a Pro Bowl quarterback? Can you get by without a star-studded secondary? The table below shows the number of Pro Bowlers made at each position for each Super Bowl champion.

As it turns out, 30 of 47 Super Bowl champions saw their quarterback made the Pro Bowl. That doesn’t include the 2012 Ravens, as Joe Flacco was not a Pro Bowl selection, but it does include the ’69 Chiefs, the only team with two quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl (Len Dawson and Mike Livingston). The Ravens did have two Pro Bowl running backs, though (Ray Rice and Vonta Leach), joining the ’93 Cowboys (Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston) and the ’72 and ’73 Dolphins (Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris) as the only Super Bowl champs with multiple Pro Bowl running backs.

Arguably the least represented position is cornerback, which might be relevant to yesterday’s post: the average Super Bowl champion had just 0.45 Pro Bowl cornerbacks, the lowest average among positions that always have multiple starters (as opposed to defensive tackles or inside linebackers). Both Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams made the Pro Bowl for the 2010 Packers, but eight of the last nine Super Bowl champions failed to place a single cornerback in the Pro Bowl in that season. The full table, below:
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Now that we live in a world where Joe Flacco and Eli Manning have quarterbacked 3 of the last 6 Super Bowl-winning teams, you might be tempted to think that winning a Super Bowl as a QB doesn’t mean what it used to. After all, the playoffs are getting more random — as Aaron Schatz pointed out last night, four of the last six Super Bowl champs have finished the regular season with 10 or fewer wins. So it stands to reason that, as the championship teams themselves post less-remarkable seasons, so too would their quarterbacks not be the cream of the crop. And for all of his postseason brilliance, Flacco was just the league’s 17th-best quarterback during the regular season. Does his ascendancy, coming on the heels of Manning’s, signal a new trend?

To answer that question, I turned to a methodology I’ve used many times before. The basic premise is that, to put modern and historical quarterbacks on an even playing field (no pun intended), you must translate their stats into a common environment. To do this, you take the quarterback’s stats from a given season, pro-rate to 16 scheduled games, and multiply by the ratio of the league’s per-game average during the season in question to that of a common reference season. For instance, if I’m adjusting Terry Bradshaw’s 1977 passing yards to the 1991-2012 period, I would multiply his actual total of 2,523 by (16/14) to account for the shorter season that year, then multiply that by (225.1/162.2) to account for the change in the league’s passing environment, giving an adjusted total of 4,001 yards.

After doing that for every QB season since the merger, I then plugged the translated stats into a regression formula that predicts Football Outsiders’ Yards Above Replacement based on the QB’s box score stats (including the standard cmp/att/yds/td/int, plus sacks, fumbles, and rushing stats). This gives us Estimated Yards Above Replacement (eYAR) a measure of total value for each QB season, adjusted for schedule length and league passing conditions, which is perfect for historical analysis.

To get an idea of what we’re talking about, here are Flacco’s career translated stats and eYAR numbers:
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