2015-2016 NFL Playoff Analysis and Picks

By | January 4, 2016

Every year I analyze each team in the NFL Playoffs to look for some value on a potential Super Bowl winner.  As I have stated in the past, we do not crown the best team of the season champion we crown the team that wins the tournament at the end of the year the champion.  Since deciding who the best team is can always be subjective we like having it settled on the field.  But that does open it up to an inferior team getting hot at the right time or getting favorable matchups to win it all.

Over the last 16 seasons just 4 of the 16 teams that had the best regular season record, or tied for the best record, went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2002 Buccaneers, 2003 Patriots, 2013 Seahawks, and 2014 Patriots (1 of 5 12-4 teams that year).  Looking for a long shot is usually beneficial.

I traditionally look at 3 filters to determine a potential winner for the Super Bowl.  It is a very basic strategy but a good way to weed out the teams that are highly unlikely to win it all.

Here are my filters

1. Team must have a total yardage differential >36 (just 8 teams won the Super Bowl with less)

2. Teams must be + in turnover differential (just 6 teams won the Super Bowl with a – differential)

3. SRS from Pro Footbal Reference >5.9 (just 9 teams had a lower ranking including the 2006 Colts at 5.9)

-34 of the 49 Super Bowl winners qualified for all 3 filters.

-The average Super Bowl winner has a +63 yardage differential and +8.9 TO differential.  Average SRS is 9.09

The yardage differential of Super Bowl winners since 2001 is where we see some weaker teams prevailing.  It is taking less dominant teams from a yardage standpoint to win it all.  The turnovers have become increasingly important though.  Since 1988 only 1 team has won with a negative TO ratio (2007 Giants). This makes sense because teams that are close in yardage differential need to create turnovers to outscore their opponent.

Here is a list of all the Super Bowl winners and their stats for that season.

Year Team Yards Diff / Game TO Diff SRS
1970 Baltimore 21 -2 0.4
1971 Dallas 112 16 9.9
1972 Miami 124 18 11
1973 Miami 59 1 13.4
1974 Pittsburgh 93 7 6.8
1975 Pittsburgh 88 5 14.2
1976 Oakland 58 -4 8.5
1977 Dallas 114 7 7.8
1978 Pittsburgh 52 7 8.2
1979 Pittsburgh 124 -10 11.9
1980 Oakland 0 5 4.2
1981 San Francisco 45 23 6.2
1982 Washington 47 8 7.4
1983 Los Angeles 59 -13 6.8
1984 San Francisco 74 16 12.7
1985 Chicago 106 23 15.9
1986 NY Giants 39 11 9
1987 Washington 36 -3 3.9
1988 San Francisco 83 12 4.8
1989 San Francisco 103 12 10.7
1990 NY Giants 37 20 7.7
1991 Washington 91 18 16.6
1992 Dallas 105 7 9.9
1993 Dallas 53 6 9.6
1994 San Francisco 76 11 11.6
1995 Dallas 49 2 9.7
1996 Green Bay 86 15 15.3
1997 Denver 75 10 10.7
1998 Denver 72 10 8.9
1999 St Louis 107 5 11.9
2000 Baltimore 65 23 8
2001 New England (29) 7 4.3
2002 Tampa Bay 60 17 8.8
2003 New England 23 17 6.9
2004 New England 47 9 12.8
2005 Pittsburgh 38 7 7.8
2006 Indianapolis 47 7 5.9
2007 NY Giants 26 -9 3.3
2008 Pittsburgh 75 4 9.8
2009 New Orleans 46 11 10.8
2010 Green Bay 49 10 10.9
2011 NY Giants 9 7 1.6
2012 Baltimore 2 9 2.9
2013 Seattle 65 20 13
2014 New England 21 12 10.5

Here are this years playoff teams

Year Team Yards Diff / Game TO Diff SRS
2015 Kansas City 2 14 9
2015 Houston 38 5 -0.8
2015 Seattle 87 7 11.3
2015 Minnesota (23) 5 5.8
2015 Pittsburgh 32 2 8.7
2015 Cincinnati 17 11 10.6
2015 Green Bay (12) 5 5.3
2015 Washington (27) 5 -1.9
2015 Carolina 44 20 8.1
2015 Arizona 87 9 12.3
2015 Denver 72 -4 5.8
2015 New England 35 7 7

Last season I added Passer Rating Differential to our analysis.  Simply put this stat looks at a teams Offensive Passer Rating and subtracts its Defensive Passer Rating.  This stat was shown to be relevant to Super Bowl success by the guys at Cold Hard Football Facts.  In their analysis they go back to 1940.  Here are some key points

– 18 of 75 NFL Champs finished #1 in Offensive Passer Rating (24%)

– 21 of 75 finished #1 in Defensive Passer Rating (28%)

– 27 of 75 finished #1 in Passer Rating Differential (36%)

– 45 of 75 finished in the top 3 in Passer Rating Differential (60%)

– 71 of 75 finished in the top 10 in Passer Rating Differential (94.7%)

Here are the Passer Rating Stats for each champion since 1970

Year Team OPR DPR PRDiff
1970 Baltimore 73.3 60.3 13
1971 Dallas 88.8 55.9 32.9
1972 Miami 86.9 47.4 39.5
1973 Miami 75.2 39.9 35.3
1974 Pittsburgh 48.9 44.3 4.6
1975 Pittsburgh 86.7 42.8 43.9
1976 Oakland 102.2 68.8 33.4
1977 Dallas 85.3 48.2 37.1
1978 Pittsburgh 81.5 51.8 29.7
1979 Pittsburgh 76.6 56.4 20.2
1980 Oakland 70 61.8 8.2
1981 San Francisco 87.7 60.2 27.5
1982 Washington 91.8 67.7 24.1
1983 Los Angeles 84.8 71.8 13
1984 San Francisco 101.9 65.6 36.3
1985 Chicago 77.3 51.2 26.1
1986 NY Giants 75 68.6 6.4
1987 Washington 80.7 69.3 11.4
1988 San Francisco 83.5 72.2 11.3
1989 San Francisco 114.8 68.5 46.3
1990 NY Giants 90.6 62.2 28.4
1991 Washington 98 58.9 39.1
1992 Dallas 88.8 69.9 18.9
1993 Dallas 96.8 75.3 21.5
1994 San Francisco 111.4 68.1 43.3
1995 Dallas 91.7 72.3 19.4
1996 Green Bay 95.7 55.4 40.3
1997 Denver 87.4 71.5 15.9
1998 Denver 93.5 80.5 13
1999 St Louis 106.6 64.1 42.5
2000 Baltimore 72.7 62.5 10.2
2001 New England 85.3 68.6 16.7
2002 Tampa Bay 86.3 48.4 37.9
2003 New England 84.3 56.2 28.1
2004 New England 92.5 75.3 17.2
2005 Pittsburgh 91.5 74 17.5
2006 Indianapolis 101 80.4 20.6
2007 NY Giants 73 83.4 -10.4
2008 Pittsburgh 81.9 63.4 18.5
2009 New Orleans 106 68.6 37.4
2010 Green Bay 98.9 67.2 31.7
2011 NY Giants 92.9 86.1 6.8
2012 Baltimore 86.4 80.6 5.8
2013 Seattle 102.4 63.4 39
2014 New England 97.51 83.96 13.55

Here are this seasons playoff teams and their PR Differentials

Year Team OPR DPR PRDiff Rank
2015 Kansas City 95.4 76 19.4 5
2015 Houston 85.3 82.8 2.5 12
2015 Seattle 109.8 78.1 31.7 1
2015 Minnesota 87.9 90 -2.1 17
2015 Pittsburgh 91.2 90.9 0.3 15
2015 Cincinnati 104.1 78.9 25.2 3
2015 Green Bay 92.7 80.1 12.6 7
2015 Washington 102 96.1 5.9 10
2015 Carolina 99 73.5 25.5 2
2015 Arizona 100.9 80.9 20 4
2015 Denver 76.3 78.8 -2.5 18
2015 New England 101.9 87 14.9 6

To reenforce the notion that passing and being able to stop the pass are the most important factors in championship success we will look at a couple more stats.  Yards per Pass and Yards Per Rush.  Both offensive and defensive and combined.

Here are the Super Bowl Winners and their rankings in these stats

 

 

Year Team OYPR Rank OYPP Rank DYPR Rank DYPP Rank Passing Combined Rushing Combined
1970 Baltimore 22 5 12 4 9 34
1971 Dallas 7 2 1 5 7 8
1972 Miami 2 1 12 4 5 14
1973 Miami 2 15 7 2 17 9
1974 Pittsburgh 2 22 3 2 24 5
1975 Pittsburgh 2 6 22 2 8 24
1976 Oakland 14 2 15 23 25 29
1977 Dallas 5 3 8 1 4 13
1978 Pittsburgh 21 1 2 5 6 23
1979 Pittsburgh 1 1 1 2 3 2
1980 Oakland 9 10 1 15 25 10
1981 San Francisco 26 9 21 4 13 47
1982 Washington 17 3 13 9 12 30
1983 Los Angeles 14 3 5 7 10 19
1984 San Francisco 2 3 21 8 11 23
1985 Chicago 5 6 7 2 8 12
1986 NY Giants 11 12 11 6 18 22
1987 Washington 5 1 11 16 17 16
1988 San Francisco 2 9 5 3 12 7
1989 San Francisco 11 1 9 3 4 20
1990 NY Giants 19 9 8 1 10 27
1991 Washington 17 1 15 2 3 32
1992 Dallas 10 8 3 3 11 13
1993 Dallas 3 4 18 1 5 21
1994 San Francisco 7 1 16 6 7 23
1995 Dallas 5 3 19 16 19 24
1996 Green Bay 12 7 4 1 8 16
1997 Denver 2 6 30 4 10 32
1998 Denver 2 5 8 11 16 10
1999 St Louis 2 1 6 7 8 8
2000 Baltimore 8 21 1 4 25 9
2001 New England 24 14 21 17 31 45
2002 Tampa Bay 27 19 4 1 20 31
2003 New England 30 13 6 1 14 36
2004 New England 17 9 11 15 24 28
2005 Pittsburgh 12 1 1 5 6 13
2006 Indianapolis 17 3 32 8 11 49
2007 NY Giants 4 28 8 19 47 12
2008 Pittsburgh 29 14 1 1 15 30
2009 New Orleans 6 3 26 15 18 32
2010 Green Bay 27 3 31 7 10 58
2011 NY Giants 32 3 23 20 23 55
2012 Baltimore 12 14 7 17 31 19
2013 Seattle 12 2 9 1 3 21
2014 New England 23 19 10 15 34 33

The average Super Bowl winner has averaged a rank of 7 in Offensive Yards Per Pass and 7 in Defensive YPP while averaging 12 in Offensive Yards Per Rush and 11 in Defensive YPR.  In just 11 of 45 Super Bowl winners did the winner have a better combined rushing ranking than passing.  Of those 11 the 1979 Steelers ranked first in 3 of the 4 categories with a 2 ranking in DYPP. The 1988 49ers were no worse than 9(OYPP) in any category. Last season The Patriots were pretty equal with a 34/33 split Passing/Rushing.

In just 11 of 45 Super Bowls the winner ranked outside the top 10 in Offensive Yards Per Play.

 

Here are this seasons teams

Year Team YPR Rank YPP Rank DYPR Rank DYPP Rank Combined Pass Rank Combined Rush Rank
2015 Kansas City 4 12 18 4 16 22
2015 Houston 28 30 17 5 35 45
2015 Seattle 7 2 4 6 8 11
2015 Minnesota 3 20 22 16 36 25
2015 Pittsburgh 8 3 6 18 21 14
2015 Cincinnati 21 4 23 3 7 44
2015 Green Bay 13 28 29 14 42 42
2015 Washington 29 7 31 26 33 60
2015 Carolina 9 8 9 1 9 18
2015 Arizona 11 1 8 10 11 19
2015 Denver 14 22 1 2 24 15
2015 New England 30 6 15 13 19 45

One last stat to look at is Scoring Margin.  Super Bowl winners have averaged a 9.55 scoring margin.  No team has ever won with a negative scoring margin.  Of the last 45 Super Bowl winners just 7 have finished with a scoring margin below 6.  Here are the list of past Super Bowl winners.

Year Team Scoring Margin
1970 Baltimore 6.2
1971 Dallas 13.1
1972 Miami 15.3
1973 Miami 13.8
1974 Pittsburgh 8.3
1975 Pittsburgh 15.1
1976 Oakland 8.1
1977 Dallas 9.5
1978 Pittsburgh 10.1
1979 Pittsburgh 9.6
1980 Oakland 3.6
1981 San Francisco 6.7
1982 Washington 6.9
1983 Los Angeles 6.5
1984 San Francisco 15.5
1985 Chicago 16.1
1986 NY Giants 8.4
1987 Washington 5.9
1988 San Francisco 4.7
1989 San Francisco 11.8
1990 NY Giants 7.8
1991 Washington 16.3
1992 Dallas 10.4
1993 Dallas 9.2
1994 San Francisco 13.1
1995 Dallas 9.0
1996 Green Bay 15.4
1997 Denver 11.6
1998 Denver 7.3
1999 St Louis 17.8
2000 Baltimore 10.5
2001 New England 6.2
2002 Tampa Bay 9.4
2003 New England 6.6
2004 New England 11.1
2005 Pittsburgh 8.8
2006 Indianapolis 5.3
2007 NY Giants 2.1
2008 Pittsburgh 7.8
2009 New Orleans 11.4
2010 Green Bay 9.7
2011 NY Giants 1.9
2012 Baltimore 4.6
2013 Seattle 11.6
2014 New England 9.7

Here is a lost of this seasons teams

Year Team Scoring Margin SM Rank
2015 Kansas City 7.4 6
2015 Houston 1.6 12
2015 Seattle 9.1 4
2015 Minnesota 3.9 9
2015 Pittsburgh 6.5 7
2015 Cincinnati 8.8 5
2015 Green Bay 2.8 11
2015 Washington 0.6 14
2015 Carolina 12 1
2015 Arizona 11 2
2015 Denver 3.7 10
2015 New England 9.4 3

 

This season I am taking a look at the average for each of the most important stats and finding the standard deviation from the mean for each team in each stat.  Here are the totals for all playoff teams this season.

Year Team Total
2015 Kansas City -2.4
2015 Houston -9.8
2015 Seattle 2.1
2015 Minnesota -9.6
2015 Pittsburgh -5.2
2015 Cincinnati -0.1
2015 Green Bay -9.2
2015 Washington -11.7
2015 Carolina 1.7
2015 Arizona 1.9
2015 Denver -6.8
2015 New England -2.9

I like this because it gives a quick look at who the best teams are.  Seattle ranks the best in the key Super Bowl stats coming in 2.1 total Standard Deviations above the mean for a Super Bowl winner.  Washington, Minnesota, Houston, Green Bay would all be the 2nd to worst teams to win a Super Bowl based on this calculation.  The 2007 Giants were the worst at -12.7.

Analysis

Whenever I am betting on a futures event with many possibilities I want to first eliminate the teams I do not think have a chance to win.  By having the numbers above I can quickly look at this years teams and see which are too far behind a typical Super Bowl team.  The quickest way is to look at the total Standard Deviations which summed the standard deviations for each team in each of the important statistical categories.  I will firstly eliminate any team that would finish in the bottom 10 if they were to win.  The 10th worst team to win using this metric was 1974 Pittsburgh at -2.88.

This season we toss out

Houston
Minnesota
Pittsburgh
Green Bay
Washington
Denver
New England

While some of these are not surprising you may have been considering others. Notably Pittsburgh, Denver and New England. You may also question some of the stats for Pittsburgh due to Ben Roethlisberger missing a few games. I added in his projected stats and while it does improve the Steelers it does not make them a contender. The defense is just not strong enough.

Denver is the top seed in the AFC and being eliminated right off the bat. The team was better offensively without Peyton Manning. He will be back under center for the playoffs. His arm strength has been a question mark for a few years and having a few weeks off won’t make it that much better. Manning has also not fared well in the post season with an 11-13 record. The story would be a great one but I don’t see why this team will be the one he wins with. He has had much better in the past.

New England is a team many will have. They are the favorites in the AFC despite being the 2 seed. The reason being the Patriots are generally over priced and the rest of the AFC looks very beatable. We can not pay top dollar for this team. Brady always scares you when you are against him however. He has an insane 21-8 record in the post season. That is worth something. But it is not enough to get me to wager on them at +350.

That leaves us with 5 teams.
Carolina +350
Arizona +450
Seattle +550
Kansas City +1800
Cincinnati +2800

Cincinnati without Dalton can not be played. If he is going to play this weekend that number will come down a bit but even if he plays it is hard to imagine he will be very effective.

That leaves 4 teams and only one from the AFC.

Kansas City Chiefs, +1800, 11-5

The Chiefs are +1800 and our sole survivor in the AFC. For that reason alone we need to have a piece of them. Of course the road to the Super Bowl will be tougher having to play during the Wild Card Weekend. We have seen 5 of the last 8 Super Bowl winners start there run without a bye however. The Chiefs have a respectable 16 combined ranking in passing efficiency. That is close to the 13 average for a Super Bowl winner. The troubling thing for KC is they are more efficient running it than they are passing. That has not been a good combination historically with just 14 of 45 Super Bowl winners doing the same. Of those 14 only 5 had a significant disparity in the 2. 8 of the 14 ranked better on their combined rushing efficiency numbers than passing. Showing that those teams were so good at stopping the run and running it that they were able to compensate for the weaker passing numbers. Kansas City does not fall into this category. The Chiefs are close enough and at the right price to take a shot. .1 Units

Carolina Panthers, 15-1, +350

The Panthers came one game shy of a perfect regular season but the dream of a Super Bowl victory is still very much alive.  The Panthers will be getting home field through the NFC playoffs.  That is a nice advantage for a team that was 16 points better than their opponents at home this season.  Looking through our Super Bowl contender stats Carolina qualifies in every category.  Carolina has a really impressive combined pass ranking of 9.  However that is the third best in this field and all 3 are in the NFC.  If things go to form the Panthers will be looking at a matchup with Seattle and then Arizona to get to the Super Bowl.  That is about as difficult a road as any 1 seed has ever had to face.  Primarily because Seattle may be the best 6 seed we have ever seen.  At +350 I am not getting enough value here so we will look elsewhere.

 

Arizona Cardinals, 13-3, +450

The Cardinals have been my bugaboo for 2 seasons now.  Betting against them ATS has proven to be very costly.  We did get some satisfaction with Seattle +7 last week however.  Arizona finished atop my rankings 1 point above Seattle.  The Cardinals come in with the second best overall Super Bowl numbers at 1.9 total standard deviations.  This team finished top 11 in all 4 efficiency categories including tops in Offensive Yards Per Pass.  The road to the Super Bowl likely looks like the winner of GB/Washington at home and then either hosting Seattle or at Carolina.  The NFC championship game is going to be rough for anyone who makes it.  Arizona is without question a contender.  The question is does the price warrant a play.  At +450 it is a fair price.  .5 Unit

Seattle Seahawks, 10-6, +550

Looking at the numbers it is hard to believe Seattle was only 10-6.  Their last game was a bit of a statement at Arizona.  Seattle knows how to win in the playoffs getting to the last two Super Bowls.  In many statistics they are a better team this year than they were the previous two years.  The Seattle formula has been passing efficiency.  This year is no exception.  2nd in offensive YPP and 5th in Defensive YPP.  That said they aren’t too bad when it comes to the rushing efficiency either finishing 7th in offense and 4th in defense.  Not quite as high as their 39 in 2013 the Seahawks boast the top Passer Rating Differential in the league at 31.7.  Seattle will likely need to beat Carolina and Arizona to get to their 3rd straight Super Bowl so it will not be easy.  Even with the tough road we will take them .5 unit at +550.

Recap

Kansas City +1800 .1 Units
Arizona +450 .5 Units
Seattle +550 .5 Units

 

BOL

Stats

 

 

 

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