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Historical trends and Super Bowl XLVIII

Tom Pennington

Since Sunday I've been wondering what historical trends might say about this game. After barking up a few (mostly irrelevant, since one can't recreate Aaron Schatz's life's work in a couple of days) trees, here are a few trends that seemed like they might be worth sharing. On the whole, they tend to confirm what our eyes tell us.

Tl;dr - defense may have a little bit of a historical advantage over offense, but this game looks really, really close.

Defense may, in fact, tend to win championships

You've probably heard this week that the #1 scoring defense has met the #1 scoring offense in four previous super bowls: 2002 (Bucs D, Raiders O), 1990 (Giants D, Bills O), 1984 (49ers O, Broncos D), and 1978 (Steelers D, Cowboys O). Defense has gone 3-1 against offense in those games. Although this is nice to know, there are a handful of obvious issues with this analysis, including the small sample size and the fact that the '84 49ers were third on scoring defense in addition to being first on scoring offense. What sets next week's game apart from those, though, is how bad the Broncos' defense is relative to the #1 offenses listed above.

This year's Broncos have a somewhat unique historical profile in being by far the best offense, but quite below average on defense (22nd in scoring defense at 24.9 ppg). To get a larger and hopefully more accurate sample size, take a look at playoff games between teams similar to the Broncos (top 5 scoring offense, scoring defense ranked 20-25) and teams similar to the Seahawks (top 5 scoring defense, top 15 scoring offense).

Admittedly, this sample comes with caveats: the Broncos are so much better on offense than most of these teams that it's difficult to compare them to any team in NFL history. Even so, if there's one piece of really good news in here, it's that the good defense never seems to get blown out - it's always in the game.

The good Defense went 8-2 in these games, winning by an average score of 24-14:

  • 2012 Seahawks (9th O, 1st D) over 2012 [DC] (4th O, 22nd D), 24-14
  • 2010 Packers (10th O, 2nd D) over 2010 Eagles (3rd O, 21st D), 21-16
  • 2005 Steelers (9th O, 3rd D) over 2005 Bengals (4th O, 22nd D), 31-17
  • 2003 Patriots (12th O, 1st D) over 2003 Colts (2nd O, 20th D), 24-14
  • 2000 Ravens (14th O, 1st D) over 2000 Broncos (2nd O, 23rd D), 21-3
  • 2000 Giants (15th O, 5th D) over 2000 Vikings (5th O, 24th D), 41-0
  • 1991 [DC] (1st O, 2nd D) over 1991 Falcons (5th O, 25th D), 24-7
  • 1998 Bills (14th O, 3rd D) over 1998 Oilers (2nd O, 22nd D), 17-10

Offense won two, including Peyton's only ring:

  • 2006 Colts (2nd-T O, 23rd D) over 2006 Bears (2nd-T O, 3rd D), 29-17
  • 1991 Falcons (5th O, 20th D) over 1991 Saints (8th O, 1st D), 27-20

Passer Rating Differential

You may have heard of Passer Rating Differential, which CHFF calls 'the mother of all stats' because of its accuracy in predicting Super Bowl winners - nearly two thirds of NFL champions have finished the season in the PRD top 3. Unfortunately, while Seattle is #1 with a PRD of 38.97, Denver is #2, with a PRD of 29.91 - a PRD differential (PRDD? Nah, let's not get carried away. Who am I, @KennethArthurS?) of 9.06. In 2010, CHFF and Sports Illustrated looked at the history of PRD in title games since 1940, and the top 25 PRD ratings of all time, irrespective of whether that team won the title.

First, the good news. Since 1990, the 2013 Seahawks have the 5th-best PRD. In that timeframe, there have been 7 other teams with PRD over 35, and 6 have won the Super Bowl. The loser was the ultimate outlier, the 2007 Patriots.

  1. 1994 49ers, 43.3
  2. 1999 Rams, 42.5
  3. 1996 Packers, 40.3
  4. 1991 Redskins, 39.1
  5. 2013 Seahawks, 39.0
  6. 2007 Patriots, 37.9
  7. 2002 Buccaneers, 37.9
  8. 2009 Saints, 37.4

Next, the less good news. Since 1990, teams with better PRDs are 15-7 in the Super Bowl. There have been only seven Super Bowls as close as this one in PRD (where the difference between the AFC and NFC Champions' PRD, or PRDD, was within 10.5 points). In 'close' PRD Super Bowls, the team with the better PRD is a whopping 5-2. Thus, PRD upsets have tended to be huge upsets - the 2012 Ravens, 2011 Giants, 2007 Giants, 2001 Patriots, and 1997 Broncos. I advise you to try not to look at which teams lost the 'close' PRD upsets.
Now, the bad news. In 2011 and 2012, PRD failed miserably: the 12th-ranked Giants (PRD 6.8) beat the 4th-ranked Patriots (19.6), and the 12th-ranked Ravens (5.8) beat the 4th-ranked 49ers (23.18). And in 2007, PRD had its worst failure ever (along with just about every other statistical prediction in the universe) when the perfect Pats got knocked off by Eli and Tyree. Thus, in the last six years, PRD is 3-3 in predicting champions.


Winner PRD Loser PRD Diff
2012 Ravens 5.8 Niners 23.18 -17.38
2011 Giants 5.8 Patriots 19.6 -13.8
2010 Packers 31.7 Steelers 21.47 10.23
2009 Saints 37.4 Colts 14.8 22.6
2008 Steelers 18.5 Cardinals -0.8 19.3
2007 Giants -10.4 Patriots 37.9 -48.3
2006 Colts 20.6 Bears 7 13.6
2005 Steelers 15.4 Seahawks 19.4 -4
2004 Patriots 19.2 Eagles 2.1 17.1
2003 Patriots 28.1 Panthers 4.8 23.3
2002 Buccaneers 37.9 Raiders 19.9 18
2001 Patriots 16.7 Rams 32.3 -15.6
2000 Ravens 10.2 Giants 9.4 0.8
1999 Rams 42.5 Titans 0.8 41.7
1998 Broncos 13 Falcons 15.9 -2.9
1997 Broncos 15.9 Packers 32.9 -17
1996 Packers 40.3 Patriots -1.7 42
1995 Cowboys 19.4 Steelers 0.2 19.2
1994 49ers 43.3 Chargers -0.7 44
1993 Cowboys 21.5 Bills 11 10.5
1992 Cowboys 18.9 Bills 4.8 14.1
1991 Redskins 39.2 Bills 32.4 6.8
1990 Giants 28.4 Bills 25 3.4

Peyton Manning is 1-3 coming off playoff games in which his passer rating is 100 or higher


The week after Peyton Manning has a passer rating over 100 in a playoff game (as he did last week against the Patriots, going for 118.4), his record is 1-3. In his 21 playoff games before last week, PM has gone over 100 five times. In one case, PM went over 100 in a game he lost (2010 in a 17-16 home loss to the Rex Ryan jets), therefore playing no 'next' game. He won his next game only once (in 2003). In the other three cases, including the super bowl against the Saints in 2009, he averaged 60%, 269 yards, 0.66 TDs, 2 INTs, and a rating of 64.

The regular season yardage leader in passing has never won the super bowl

Mildly reassuring, sourced here. Only four have appeared in it: Brady (07), Rich Gannon (02), Kurt Warner (01), and Marino (84).

2013 Peyton Manning Broncos 5477 ?
2012 Drew Brees Saints 5177 Missed playoffs
2011 Drew Brees Saints 5476 Lost division round
2010 Philip Rivers Chargers 4710 Missed playoffs
2009 Matt Schaub Texans 4770 Missed playoffs
2008 Drew Brees Saints 5069 Missed playoffs
2007 Tom Brady Patriots 4806 Lost Super Bowl
2006 Drew Brees Saints 4418 Lost NFC championship
2005 Tom Brady Patriots 4110 Lost division round
2004 Daunte Culpepper Vikings 4717 Lost division round
2003 Peyton Manning Colts 4267 Lost AFC championship
2002 Rich Gannon Raiders 4689 Lost Super Bowl
2001 Kurt Warner Rams 4830 Lost Super Bowl
2000 Peyton Manning Colts 4413 Lost wild card
1999 Steve Beuerlein Panthers 4436 Missed playoffs
1998 Brett Favre Packers 4212 Lost wild card
1997 Jeff George Raiders 3917 Missed playoffs
1996 Mark Brunell Jaguars 4367 Lost AFC championship
1995 Brett Favre Packers 4413 Lost NFC championship
1994 Drew Bledsoe Patriots 4555 Lost wild card
1993 John Elway Broncos 4030 Lost wild card
1992 Dan Marino Dolphins 4116 Lost AFC championship
1991 Warren Moon Oilers 4690 Lost division round
1990 Warren Moon Oilers 4689 Lost wild card
1989 Don Majkowski Packers 4318 Missed playoffs
1988 Dan Marino Dolphins 4434 Missed playoffs
1987 Neil Lomax Cardinals 3387 Missed playoffs
1986 Dan Marino Dolphins 4746 Missed playoffs
1985 Dan Marino Dolphins 4137 Lost AFC championship
1984 Dan Marino Dolphins 5084 Lost Super Bowl
1983 Lynn Dickey Packers 4458 Missed playoffs
1982 Dan Fouts Chargers 2883 Lost division round
1981 Dan Fouts Chargers 4802 Lost AFC championship
1980 Dan Fouts Chargers 4715 Lost AFC championship
1979 Dan Fouts Chargers 4082 Lost division round
1978 Fran Tarkenton Vikings 3468 Lost division round
1977 Joe Ferguson Bills 2803 Missed playoffs
1976 Bert Jones Colts 3104 Lost division round
1975 Ken Anderson Bengals 3169 Lost division round
1974 Ken Anderson Bengals 2667 Missed playoffs
1973 Roman Gabriel Eagles 3219 Missed playoffs
1972 Joe Namath Jets 2816 Missed playoffs
1971 John Hadl Chargers 3075 Missed playoffs
1970 John Brodie 49ers 2941 Lost NFC championship
1969 Daryle Lamonica Raiders 3302 Lost AFL championship
1968 John Hadl Chargers 3473 Missed playoffs
1967 Joe Namath Jets 4007 Missed playoffs
1966 Joe Namath Jets 3379 Missed playoffs

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