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How will the Broncos do without Peyton Manning? There are certainly reasons to think Denver will be fine, and Von Miller is one of the biggest reasons. Last year, the Broncos ranked in the bottom 3 in offensive ANY/A and 2nd in defensive ANY/A. According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos ranked 25th in passing DVOA and 1st in DVOA on pass defense. Sure, Mark Sanchez is not great, but he’s pretty familiar with taking a team with a bad offense and a great defense to the playoffs.

Among the 50 Super Bowl winners, Denver had arguably the worst passing offense during the regular season of those teams.  The table below displays each team’s Relative ANY/A — i.e., each team’s ANY/A relative to league average.  The Broncos offense averaged 5.14 ANY/A, which was just over a full ANY/A below average.  On the X-Axis, I have plotted how each Super Bowl winner fared in offensive RANY/A; on the Y-Axis, I have shown defensive ANY/A.  So the 2015 Broncos will be (relatively) high and to the left; the 2002 Bucs/2013 Seahawks will be very high and in the middle, and the ’98 Broncos/’06 Colts will be down and to the right.  Teams like 1966 Green Bay and 1991 Washington were really, really good and balanced, so they are up and to the right.

super bowl anya

After running these numbers, the most interesting thing to me was the placement of the 1976 Raiders.  There have been some teams with mediocre pass defenses — the ’07 Giants, ’11 Giants, ’98 Broncos, ’12 Ravens — but only one that boasted a negative RANY/A.  And Oakland’s RANY/A wasn’t just bad, but pretty far from average: the Raiders pass defense was about half a yard worse than average, thanks to an ugly yards per completion rate and a below-average interception rate.

What’s fascinating about that Raiders team is that not only did they win the Super Bowl, but Oakland went 13-1 during the regular season. That’s, in part, because guys like Ken Stabler and Mark van Eeghen, Cliff Branch, and Dave Casper had great years (not to mention an offensive line featuring Art Shell and Gene Upshaw), but also in part because of a league-best 6-0 record in one-score games.

Given the Raiders 13-1 record and the team’s below-average pass defense, I was wondering how big of an outlier Oakland was with respect to those two variables. As it turns out, that team is the biggest outlier since the merger in terms of wins above expectation based on defensive RANY/A. I ran a simple regression analysis on all teams from 1966 to 2015, using winning percentage as my output and defensive RANY/A as my input. I then calculated each team’s differential in expected wins and actual wins (which is simply winning percentage multiplied by 16). Two teams really stand out: the ’76 Raiders and the ’11 Packers.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 1976, Oakland had an offensive RANY/A of +3.02, which is why the team was still able to win the Super Bowl. But it had a defensive RANY/A of -0.57, giving it an expected win percentage of 0.436. In reality, the Raiders had a win percentage of .929. The team’s exceeded expectations, therefore, by 7.9 wins per 16 games.

RkTeamYearOff RANY/ADef RANY/AExp Win %Win %Diff
1Oakland Raiders19763.02-0.570.4360.9297.9
2Green Bay Packers20113.52-0.080.4930.9387.1
3San Francisco 49ers19923.04-0.190.480.8756.3
4Minnesota Vikings19982.630.360.5440.9386.3
5New England Patriots20073.260.900.60816.3
6Indianapolis Colts19991.64-0.590.4330.8136.1
7St. Louis Cardinals1968-0.52-1.720.3010.6796
8Tennessee Titans19990.91-0.540.4390.8136
9New Orleans Saints20112.32-0.520.4410.8135.9
10San Diego Chargers19672.05-2.270.2360.6075.9
11Atlanta Falcons19981.550.020.5050.8755.9
12New England Patriots20112.37-0.460.4490.8135.8
13Denver Broncos19981.730.090.5140.8755.8
14Washington Redskins19832.230.160.5210.8755.7
15Baltimore Colts19763.51-0.580.4340.7865.6
16San Francisco 49ers19842.820.760.5910.9385.5
17Minnesota Vikings20001.74-1.320.3480.6885.4
18New England Patriots20102.470.310.5380.8755.4
19Miami Dolphins19741.29-0.410.4540.7865.3
20Miami Dolphins19851.5-0.650.4260.755.2
21New York Jets19860.61-1.680.3050.6255.1
22Denver Broncos20132.9-0.070.4950.8135.1
23Washington Redskins19821.250.590.5720.8895.1
24Indianapolis Colts20052.550.510.5620.8755
25Pittsburgh Steelers20141.67-1.080.3760.6885
26Los Angeles Raiders19820.350.650.5780.8895
27St. Louis Cardinals19751.62-0.220.4770.7864.9
28Cincinnati Bengals19821.69-0.280.4690.7784.9
29Miami Dolphins19843.850.580.570.8754.9
30San Diego Chargers20061.380.590.5710.8754.9
31Cleveland Browns19801.87-1.010.3840.6884.8
32San Diego Chargers20092.550.060.510.8134.8
33Green Bay Packers20041.42-1.470.330.6254.7
34Minnesota Vikings20092.05-0.390.4570.754.7
35Indianapolis Colts20091.420.680.5830.8754.7
36New England Patriots20121.46-0.380.4580.754.7
37San Francisco 49ers19901.190.710.5860.8754.6
38Seattle Seahawks20051.660.190.5250.8134.6
39New England Patriots20041.290.730.5880.8754.6
40New England Patriots20051.42-1.360.3430.6254.5
41Dallas Cowboys19830.65-0.290.4680.754.5
42Cleveland Browns19861.3-0.280.4690.754.5
43New York Giants19860.030.790.5950.8754.5
44Indianapolis Colts20043.97-0.280.470.754.5
45Denver Broncos19770.920.640.5780.8574.5
46Pittsburgh Steelers20040.81.330.6580.9384.5
47Washington Redskins19860.87-0.250.4730.754.4
48Green Bay Packers20071.620.300.5380.8134.4
49Oakland Raiders19770.610.080.5120.7864.4
50Atlanta Falcons20121.090.320.540.8134.4

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. And I will have more to say about the ’68 Cardinals in a future post.

  • sacramento gold miners

    The 1976 Raiders had a talented defense, so it’s a little surprising to see them atop this list. The question I would have is how the numbers are affected by large leads in the second half of games. Checking the 1976 Raiders schedule, they beat a good Cincinnati team by 15 points, and led 28-13 in the third quarter. Kenny Anderson had 281 yards passing in that game, but how many of those yards came when the Raiders were in softer coverages?

    I think the 2016 Broncos are in big trouble, since Mark Sanchez has regressed since those early years with the Jets. The NFL is a QB-driven league, and teams aren’t going to be able to rely on defense alone for long term success. It’s also going to take time for either of the other two young Denver QBs to develop. Denver will struggle to make the playoffs in my opinion.

    • Without digging into the numbers, my guess would be not much. Remember this is a look at all Super Bowl teams, so our sample is strongly biased in favor of teams that had leads in the second half of games. Also, I am using ANY/A and not passing yards: that makes for a big difference on this issue. Finally, Oakland’s worst component of ANY/A was its yards per completion allowed, which would generally be biased *the other way* if the Raiders played a lot of soft coverages. This implies that Oakland was getting beat often for big gains.

    • Adam

      Sanchez has NOT regressed since his first two years. He was horrific in ’09 and bad in ’10, but people mistakenly think he was serviceable because of his team’s success. With the exception of a nosedive in ’12, Sanchez has improved since his first two seasons. Still doesn’t mean he’s any good, though.

  • Looking at the table prompted me to take a closer look at the ’99 Titans. I didn’t realize how “lucky” they were. They outperformed their Pythag by over 3 games in the regular season; they went 10-2 in one-score games (including playoffs); they won their Wild Card game on a “miracle” play; they won their Divisional Round game on the strength of their kicker (4 FGs and he told Fisher to challenge a huge play); and they got the Jags in the AFC Championship — a team whose number they seemed to have, for whatever reason.

    They might have come up a yard short of being the luckiest team of the Super Bowl era. As it is, I’ll take the 2011 Giants.

    • Clint

      Those Jags actually had a very easy schedule. The AFC Central was very week and the Titans were one of the only decent teams they ever played. The stars kindof aligned for both of em that year, in a way.

      • Indeed. The AFC was devoid of great teams that year, at least according to SRS. In fact, in the entire NFL the Rams were the only team above 8 SRS. For comparison, last year there were six such teams, and the year before there were four.

        At the time, I was routing heavily for the Titans in the Super Bowl, because Steve McNair was so much fun to watch, but in retrospect I’m glad the Rams won. Cinderella stories are fun, but there is something to be said for watching the best be the best.

        • Clint

          What’s funny, is the Rams were also a bit of a “Cinderella”. Who was Kurt Warner before 1999? The Rams were one of the worst teams in the league. Crazy story.

          I remember my expansion Browns playing the Jags twice, the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens were also bad. Aside from the Titans, they didn’t play a SINGLE winning team (though there were a few 8-8 teams). Even their first playoff matchup was against a pretty average Dolphins team. WALLOPED them btw.

          • “Who was Kurt Warner before 1999?”

            Iowa grocery bagger — if the fifty thousand times I’ve heard this mentioned are to be believed 🙂

            • Clint

              That part was supposed to be somewhat rhetorical. I imagine we all know the story.

    • Tom

      I was working on a post a while back regarding unlikely/underdog playoff runs; never finished the post, but still have the data. In Tennessee’s 4 playoff games that year, the average Vegas spread was +3.6 points, the 10th highest for Super Bowl contestants since 1970. If we use SRS to create the spread (basically just adding the two teams SRS ratings and throwing in home field advantage), the Titans were pegged to lose by an average of 8.5 points, #4 since 1970. So yeah, it seems like they might have been pretty lucky that year…

  • I’ll also note that the ’78 Patriots ranked 52nd on the list, just missing the cut-off. They exceeded expectations the most (+4.35) by any team in 1978 based purely on pass D, which is not surprising given the team’s offense.