Each 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 etc winning it all.
Over the last 14 seasons just two of the 14 teams that had the best regular season record, or tied for the best record, went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2002 Buccaneers and the 2003 Patriots. Looking for a long shot is usually beneficial.
I like to 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 7 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)
-33 of the 47 Super Bowl winners qualified for all 3 filters.
-The average Super Bowl winner has a +64 yardage differential and +8.6 TO differ ential. Average SRS is 9.
1976-1988 there were 6 teams of the 13 winners who missed on at least one qualifier and 2001-2012 there have been 6 of 12 winners to not qualify in at least one category. We are in the midst of a cycle where weaker teams are winning the Super Bowl. The yardage differential is where that is showing up. 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.
This year was a very good year for favorites. Favorites went 136-114 against the spread in 2013. In the past 20 seasons 1998 and 2005 would be comparable as far as favorites covering. In those seasons Denver and Pittsburgh qualified for all 3 filte rs.
Here is a chart of all the Super Bowl winners
|Year||Team||Yards Diff / Game||TO Diff / Game||Yards +TO’s||SRS|
Here are this years playoff teams
|Year||Team||Yards Diff / Game||TO Diff / Game||Yards +TO’s||SRS|
Team (record) odds
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) 12-5
Seattle qualifies easily for all three filters. They did last year as well and were one of our long shot picks. This season the price is much shorter however. Seattle finishes with the best record in the NFC and gets home field throughout. That is a nice advantage for most teams but a huge advantage to Seattle. Seattle was 7-1 at home this season. The loss was Russel Wilsons first at home as a pro. The Seahawks average +15.4 points at home this season. Against playoff teams Seattle was 3-1. +20 in turnovers is the number I really like. Russel Wilson is one of the smarter Qb’s in the league and he is only in his 2nd season. Seattle was -27.5 in offensive passing yardage differential from opponents average. That is a little misleading because of the style they play and the fact that they had so many big leads. They do however average 7.7 yards per pass attempt which is 4th in the league. So when they need to throw it they can. As far as stopping the pass no team was better. Teams threw it 49.9 yards less in the air against Seattle than their average. That means Seattle was able to stop other teams from passing even when they were playing catch up. That is impressive. I took Seattle in the preseason to win the Super Bowl and I will not back off that. I hate taking chalk but I will have to take Seattle at 12-5 as one of my teams to win.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3) 14-5
Denver finished the season very similar to last season. They were 13-3 and the top seed in the AFC with a 107/-1/10.1 stat line for my above filters. They are nearly identical. They were 4-3 against playoff teams this season. They will likely have to beat 3 top teams in a cold and windy game. 2 at home and the Super Bowl in New Jersey. The cold is not what I worry about with Manning but the wind is a different story. Manning does not throw tight spirals. In the wind you have to throw it tight to be effective. His strength is reading defenses and getting his team in a play that best suits them. If he has to fit one in he starts to turn it over when the wind picks up. That has been his downfall in the past and there is no reason to think that won’t happen again. There is always a chance he gets 3 perfect weather days and makes a run but that is hard to bet on. Denver also ranks 24th in my defensive rankings with a 29 ranking in defensive passing. I feel like the team who wins this year will need to stop the run. I am going to toss out Denver as there is no value and plenty of questions.
3. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) 7-1
If there is one team in the NFC that scares me about taking Seattle it is San Francisco. On paper they show just a +7 yards per game differential. That is enough to rule them out. What worries me is I get the feeling SF held back Kaepernick this year. They want to keep him healthy for the playoff run. If I am correct we could see SF open it up more and use Kaepernick in more read option, pass/run option type plays. If they do then their regular season stats may prove to be useless. But that is really just my gut feeling and I have nothing to base it on. Perhaps defenses are playing them differently and they can not run those same types of plays. The one thing I know they can do is throw the ball deep and with Crabtree back they have a lot of weapons to do that. Nobody in the league has a stronger arm then Kap. When he is running it and throwing it deep they are dangerous. They were 2-2 against playoff teams. They can win on the road averaging +7.4 point differential on the road. They will need to be good on the road as they will unlikely have any home games. We had SF last year as one of our picks and we came close. This year I am going to reluctantly stay away.
4. New England Patriots (12-4) 17-2
The Patriots are a perennial contender but they have not won a Super Bowl since 2004. They fall short in 2 of 3 categories with just a +11 yardage differential and 5.9 SRS. They do of course have Tom Brady and he can win games by himself. But in the playoffs it is tough to not get a full team effort to win it all. The team around him is not very strong. The defense ranks 21st in passing. I really think a team that can stop the pass is going to win the Super Bowl. The Pats are 2-2 against playoff teams. They could have easily been 0-4 or 4-0 in those games so I guess 2-2 was right. There are better teams at better prices in this tournament. I will pass on New England.
5. Carolina Panthers (12-4) 10-1
We start to get into some nice prices as we look at the lower 2/3 of the tournament. Carolina started slow but really heated up down the stretch. Cam Newtons 3rd season has shown some maturity. Turnovers were the key as they are +11 turning it over just 19 times. They went 3-2 against playoff teams. Defensively they were solid, 2nd overall and 11th against the pass. My concern is can they get in a shootout and win. Points are going to be scored and they will have a game they need to outscore somebody. They are the 26th passing team in my rankings. I don’t think that will be good enough. I will pass on Carolina.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) 20-1
Unusual to see a team 8-7-1 be the 6th choice but this team was better than their record. With Aaron Rodgers they went 6-2. This team was in the top 5 of my rankings when he went down. I do not believe we have seen a bigger affect on the point spread with a single player being injured in recent time. Rodgers was worth upwards of 10 points and probably could have been more. 20-1 is probably a better price than you would have gotten if he played all season. That does make this a decent value. The problem is right out of the gate they play a team in the 49ers that they have had a lot of problems with. If they do get by them they will likely have to beat Seattle in Seattle for the NFC Championship. That seems like a very tough hill to climb. The Pack went 0-3 against playoff teams. The defense was 20th against the pass. They do not qualify on any of the filters. I will pass on Green Bay.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) 20-1
The Eagles come in winners of 7 of 8 and are as hot as any team in the league. With Foles taking over this offense looks very formidable. They finish 4th overall in offense, 1st in rushing and 13th in passing. Defensively they can not stop the pass. They ranked dead last. They are just +23 in yardage differential. Against playoff teams they went just 1-3. Outside of being a team that is playing well late in the year there is not much else I like about this team. I will pass on the Eagles.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) 20-1
Cincinnati was pretty quiet this season going 11-5. They did most of their damage at home going 8-0. On the road they were just 3-5. To get to the big game they will need to win at least one playoff road game and likely 2. They almost qualify in all three categories missing out on the SRS. Defensively this team can stop the pass finishing 3rd in the league. On offense they are 8th best in passing. I like that combination. Against playoff teams they went 4-0 albeit 3 of those were at home. The talent is there to make a run to the Super Bowl. I think the AFC is a bit open with the top 2 seeds having big question marks. They miss on the SRS but at 20-1 I will be in on the Bengals.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) 30-1
There is always a team that has a really good season but nobody gives much of a chance to win it all. This year that team is Kansas City. Those teams also never seem to do more than the public expects either. Kansas City was 1-5 against playoff teams. That tells you all you really need to know. They beat up on the teams they were supposed to beat, taking advantage of a last place schedule. When they faced the better teams they could not win. -31 yardage differential can not get it done in the post season. If they do it will be a new low for a Super Bowl team. Nice year for the Chiefs but it will end soon. Pass on KC.
10. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 30-1
I feel like everyone loves Andrew Luck a whole lot more than I do. He is a good player for sure. He has a long way to go before he is in the top 5 QB in the league discussion though. He did a real nice job of not turning the ball over helping the Colts get to a +13 in the TO differential. Yardage wise they fall short at -15. They are a bit scary though as they seem to play up or down to their opponent. They were 4-2 against playoff teams beating SF, Seattle and Denver. Maybe Luck takes a step in the direction of becoming one of those guys this post season. I do not see anything that will make me bet on it though. At 30-1 you get a nice price but I am going to pass.
11. New Orleans Saints (11-5) 30-1
The Saints are one of the longest shots on the board for one reason. They are terrible on the road going just 3-5. They likely won’t see the Super Dome where they were 8-0 this season. And to top it off they will need to win outdoors if they do make it to the Super Bowl. That is a tall order for a team that thrives in the dome. New Orleans just about qualifies on all 3 fronts so if you are looking for a live long shot they could be one. They are 2nd in passing offense and 5th in passing defense. 2-3 against playoff teams. A team with their stat line is normally an auto bet for me but this is an unusual team built for indoor play. I am going to pass on them and hope I do not miss out on a 30-1 shot that fits what I like in every way but one.
12. San Diego Chargers (9-7) 50-1
Most people would automatically dismiss San Diego and give them no chance but we have seen in recent years long shot wild car teams make deep runs and win it all. With that said I do not see where this team gives you any hope of winning a Super Bowl. They miss out on all 3 qualifiers. They rank 24 against the pass. If you want to hang your hat on one thing they are battle tested. 7 games against playoff teams and they won 5 of them. Granted one was against the KC practice squad in OT to get into the playoffs. Nobody would be more surprised than me if they won it all. I will save my money.
I already have a preseason bet on Seattle that I may add to here as they look to be the best team on paper going in. I will be taking some Cincinnati as my lone long shot pick. I usually have 2 or 3 long shots to choose from but this is an unusual season. It has been very chalky and I think the playoffs stay the same way.
Get Every Playoff Selection from the Statsational Model