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02-04-2011, 11:57 PM
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The Fifth Down - The New York Times N.F.L. Blog
February 3, 2011, 4:30 pm
Keeping Score: Which Stats Can Predict a Super Bowl Winner?

In our book, “Who Will Win the Big Game?,” we studied factors related to sports psychology that might help predict the winner of the Super Bowl. The results are based on every Super Bowl starting in January 1967, or forty-four games. With an eye towards key concepts of sport psychology, as well as statistical analysis that attempts to identify factors that are as independent from one another as possible, five key statistical factors were identified. These statistics are related to principles of sport psychology like experience, leadership, error control and consistency. So important are these concepts to winning championships that they have proven to be common themes across all major sports. Last year these factors accurately predicted a Saints’ victory over the Colts.

Experience: The team with more Super Bowl experience, as measured by Super Bowl appearances over the past three years, has won 60.9 percent of the Super Bowls. This success rate in the N.F.L. is lower than in other major sports partly because the Buffalo Bills went winless in four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1991 to 1994. With a Super Bowl appearance two years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers pick up experience points.

Defense: Our research shows that defense is, indeed, a crucial ingredient to winning the Super Bowl. A large majority of Super Bowls (66.7 percent) have been won by the team with the better defense, measured by points against during the regular season. The Steelers and the Packers ranked first and second in that category, with Pittsburgh allowing 14.5 points per game, and Green Bay giving up 15. The teams are closely matched in this category, but Pittsburgh has the slight edge.

Leadership and Minimizing Errors: Quarterbacks, as offensive leaders, are major factors in determining championships, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. Quarterback interceptions during the regular season are great predictors of Super Bowl success, but quarterback rating is not. Champions need high-level performance, but with few errors and mistakes. The team with fewer interceptions during the regular season has won 60 percent of the Super Bowls. This factor favors the Steelers and their 9 interceptions, compared with the Packers’ 13 interceptions.

Confidence: The team that had more double-digit wins during the regular season has gone on to win 60 percent of Super Bowls. This category slightly favors the Steelers, with six double-digit wins, compared with five for the Packers. Green Bay is the favored team, largely because of its recent performance, but our data shows that recent performance has a low correlation with winning the Super Bowl.

Consistency: Contrary to what some people might think in today’s high-powered offensive game, ball control is one of the most important offensive indicators studied. The team with a better running game, as measured by rushing yards per carry, has won 60.5 percent of the Super Bowls. The Steelers averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season, compared with 3.8 for the Packers.

The championship factors all point to Pittsburgh, but many of the factors are relatively close.

Though I would have considered seeing if "Which team has lost the most O-line players, including in the last 2 weeks?" was a meaningful stat too!