Our NFL handicapper looks into some key metrics for handicapping Super Bowl 50 between the Panthers and Broncos so you can have an additional when placing your NFL picks.
There is no golden NFL metric to measure the power, skill, and performance of a team. Nor is there one to determine the predictive qualities of a particular matchup. But some correlate better than others in evaluating a team's ability to score and prevent points, and win. What are the best ways sports investors can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Panthers and Broncos headed into Super Bowl 50? Instead of piecing together an infographic comparing the teams' offensive and defensive statistics, I wanted to analyze two productive stat categories that relate well with winning percentages in today's game: yards per play (YPP) and passing efficiency (yards per passing attempt, YPPA).
Yards Per Play (YPP)
YPP is one of the simplest and safest methods handicappers use to compare two teams, and is a decent predictor of future performances, correlating to winning percentage in the 60-70 percent range per season. Many efficiency measures like this one situate points as a foundation, but that can get messy when attempting to determine the true value of a particular offense or defense. YPP is good because it negates special teams points, scoring off turnovers, and some other forces. This metric is not without its flaws, though. For one, it overvalues big plays and dismisses the notion of individual drives, field position, garbage time or clock-chewing plays, and more. Not that I condone this method, but some bettors use YPP differential as a simple procedure to set lines, equating roughly 0.15 yards per point. The Broncos, with 5.4 YPP earned and and NFL-best 4.4 allowed tied Arizona for the top differential in the league at 1.0. The Panthers are not far behind with a 0.7 advantage (5.5 YPP, 4.9 YPP allowed). The wrong team is favored on the Super Bowl odds board if this method is your foundation for handicapping the big game.
Passing Efficiency (Yards Per Passing Attempt, YPPA)
Passing efficiency is another key metric to measure NFL offenses and defenses. The league has been gravitating to a more pass-centric one since the 1970s, and without any signs of slowing down. Statistical analysis has shown that in the modern game, passing efficiency is three times as important as rushing in measuring team performance, and four times more when factoring in interception rates. Like YPP, there are other forces at play being ignored, but the fact of the matter is, teams need to be built to throw and pass block effectively, pressure the QB, and roll out a solid secondary.
The Panthers enter the contest putting up 7.4 yards per passing attempt on offense (6th in NFL), while yielding 5.8 on defense (second-best). Denver, meanwhile, owns the league's No.1 mark on defense at 5.7 yards, but sinks to 22nd on offense with just 6.4 passing yards per attempt. The league average is 6.8.
When using key stats like YPPA, I approach the season as organic and always-changing, and tend to measure how teams performed above or below league average per game. Carolina only played four teams allowing 6.8 or less yards per attempt like Denver, and was incredibly efficient with 8.08 YPPA (24.0 attempts, 194 passing yards on average). The Broncos, on the other hand, put up 6.9 in seven games. Against teams tossing at a better than middling rate, Denver yielded 5.8 yards in 12 contest. In seven contests against teams at league average or below, the Panthers equaled the Broncos mark at 5.8 YPPA allowed.
Other Key Areas To Measure Performance
When comparing teams, I also find it useful to isolate each and look for performance measures in other key areas. Every franchise is its own beast, and each season unique, so short-term trends and patterns can sometimes be useful in giving investors added confidence in their wager. The Broncos, for example, performed better against teams averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry entering a contest (9-0 SU, 5-3-1 ATS) than more (4-4 SU, 2-5-1 ATS). Why? Did opponents keep the team's pass rush, which is its strength, honest? Rushing yards allowed stayed relatively the same between both. It is actually on the offensive side of things where the numbers stick out in this scenario. Denver scored 23.6 points to 20.9, and their time of possession dropped on average by three minutes. Perhaps the more efficient running teams were more effective rushing on key downs or drives? It's beyond the purview of this write-up to make sense of this, but for what it's worth, the Panthers read-option/power running game enter the game putting up 4.27 yards per carry.
A similar blemish can be found in Carolina's schedule this season. Although they only lost one game straight up, the Panthers struggled to cover the number against teams that relied on the pass almost exclusively. Against offenses with a pass-to-rush ratio of 1.52 or more entering the contest, they were 1-5 ATS (Saints, Giants, Colts, Falcons). What sticks out in these contests is that the defense yielded 11.8 fourth quarter points on average. Did the pass rush or secondary get fatigued? Did the unit roll over in prevent mode? Again, there may be something valuable in this situation given the team and its individual strengths and weaknesses. The Broncos enter the big game with a 1.42 ratio. Carolina was a perfect 12-0 ATS against teams with a number fewer than 1.52.