The Super Bowl. One of the most watched events across the globe and everyone wants to know, "Who is going to win?" The question will be asked among friends, co-workers, and even those who only watch for the commercials.
There have been forty-five games prior to the upcoming Super Bowl XLVI, which takes place this February 5th in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. That leaves us with lots of data to analyze.
We will look at the last 20 Super Bowls and pick out the best predictors to help us determine who, statistically, has the best chance to win Super Bowl XLVI. We are concentrating on the past twenty seasons because the game has changed in many ways since Super Bowl I back on January 15, 1967.
The rules are different, the players are faster, the season is longer, and let's face it, the game is more awesome now than it ever was. Enough with the superlatives, let's get to the facts.
In the past 20 seasons, point differential has proven to be an excellent predictor of who will win the big game. It turns out that 80% of the past twenty Super Bowls have been won by the team with the higher regular season point differential.
Given the large percentage of teams being declared the victor after trouncing teams during the regular season, one might be inclined to lean heavily on its reliability. However, you would be wise to question it. Take a guess, when was the last time a team with a lower regular season point differential won the Super Bowl? If you guessed 2007, when the New York Giants won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots, you guessed correctly. We will also give credit if you said 2008, since it is the year the game actually took place.
During the 2007 regular season, the Patriots amassed a ridiculous point differential of 315, which was 127 points more than the Indianapolis Colts, who came in 2nd in that category. The New York Giants only had a regular season point differential of 22.
Super Bowl Experience
Many analysts point to playoff experience as a great indicator of playoff success. When we looked at Super Bowl experience as an indicator of success, we did not find much. Of the 19 teams who have played in a Super Bowl over the past 20 seasons, only 8 teams were able to capitalize on their experience.
However, there was an interesting statistic we were able to wring from the data. When a team has already lost a Super Bowl, and that team is not the Buffalo Bills, the team has won two-thirds of the time. Although the sample size was only 6 teams, three of them are the Giants, 49ers, and Patriots. Of course the wounds of the New England Patriots are the freshest, having lost to the Giants barely 5 years ago.
Defense Wins Championships
It is an old adage and is repeated year after year. Many fans remember Super Bowl XXXV in 2000, the year the Baltimore Ravens rode their top-rated defense all the way to a Super Bowl victory.
When we looked at the stats for the past twenty regular seasons and compared Super Bowl opponents, we found that the team with the best defense, when measured as the total number of points scored against, typically wins the big game. In fact, they win almost 74% of the time.
Did you know that during the 2001 season, which ended 1-yard shy of a championship for the Rams, the Super Bowl Champion Patriots had one less yard against them than the Rams? It came down to one yard over the course of an entire season! Amazing!
Vegas is Right
You know the saying, "The house always wins." Well, when it comes to the big game, it is true 75% of time. The people setting the lines in Vegas are experts, so this comes as no surprise. Betting against the house sounds like a bad idea, but is it?
We dug a bit deeper into the numbers and found something that may surprise you. These very experts, who are great at picking winners, are not as good at setting the line. Over the past twenty seasons, the odds-makers in Vegas only beat the line ninetimes. More specifically, there were six occasions where they could not cover the spread and five times where they were outright wrong (and two pushes).
For those looking for a little extra excitement during the game, you may have at least a 60% chance of beating Vegas. That is, if history is to be relied upon.
Scoring First & Halftime Leads
Momentum is a questionable force in football. Those on the field and in the broadcast booths talk about it, but does it really affect the game? We took a look at two statistics to help us determine if momentum can help us determine the winner.
The first statistic we looked at was who scored first. In this case, we would have to say that it is not a great indicator of success. Only 11 of the teams that scored first went on to win the game. The second statistic we looked at was who was leading at half time. What we found may not surprise you, but if a team is leading at halftime, they go on to win the game almost 85% of the time.
There are two recent examples that bucked this trend, which came in 2008 and 2010, when neither the Giants nor Saints were leading at halftime of their most recent victories. The only other example in the past 20 seasons is when the Dallas Cowboys overcame a 7-point halftime deficit to beat the Buffalo Bills.
For those counting at home, there was one halftime tie between the Patriots and Eagles in 2005.
Stats Not The Only Story
The Super Bowl is anyone's game. Will it be an experienced team or the best defensive team? Will Vegas pick correctly this year? The statistics can only help you so much, but that's why they play the game.
Either way, it's the greatest single game in sports!