Numbers That Stand Out When Picking A Super Bowl Winner

Jay Pryce

Monday, July 11, 2016 4:53 PM UTC

Monday, Jul. 11, 2016 4:53 PM UTC

The 2016-17 NFL season is right around the corner. Who will win Super Bowl 51? That is a question worth putting a wager on. Let us help you narrow down potential candidates using some baseline stats and recent trends.

Rejoice sports bettors! The NFL preseason is only one month away, and soon you will make handicapping the pigskin a weekly delight. But why wait to get in on the action? Sportsbooks offer a host of futures wagers prior to the season, including the most popular option: the Super Bowl winner. Let us help you uncover a valuable winner.

There are obviously many different factors to consider when weighing an NFL futures bet, particularly if trying to pin down potential Lombardi Trophy holders. Here are two key metrics you can use to narrow down your list of candidates headed into the 2016-2017 season.


Average Scoring Margin
Measuring a team’s points differential (points scored minus points allowed) from the prior year is a great tool for forecasting Super Bowl winners. The metric gives a good indication of the strength of particular teams headed into the upcoming campaign and is a solid baseline when handicapping a futures wager. Typically, the greater the disparity between two teams, the more likely the one on top will win.

When employing this metric, one has to believe change tends to come slowly in the NFL. For the most part, it does, barring some key injuries or significant organizational changes reflect on NFL odds. Oddsmakers think so. Just compare the win totals market from last year to this season, and you will find all but a few teams fall within a one-and-a-half game difference. In fact, in any given year, the real number of wins above or below the betting market’s expectations average right around two games. It takes years to build a title contender.

With this in mind, over the last 15 years, only two organizations have won the Super Bowl after posting a negative scoring differential the previous season: the Patriots in 2002 (with the emergence of Tom Brady under center), and the Giants in 2008 (miracle catch anyone?). Moreover, only five teams with a negative ratio have even made it to the championship game during this time.

If one combines a team's average scoring margin over the course of two seasons, believing it takes an even greater time to craft a champion, the Patriots and Giants are the only two victors to total less than a 3.5-point margin—a key number in NFL betting. Headed into 2016, half the league’s teams total a negative scoring differential over the last two seasons: Titans (-19.3), Saints (-5.7), Redskins (-9.0), Rams (-5.0), Raiders (-14.9), Lions (-0.5), Jaguars (-14.7), Giants (-2.6), 49ers (-11.4), Falcons (-2.6), Dolphins (-4.0), Colts (-0.6), Buccaneers (-13.0), and the Bears (-11.0).  It’s wise to avoid betting any of these organizations to shock the sports world come February. They are extreme long shots for a reason. The Vikings (2.5), Ravens (1.8), Eagles (1.3) and Cowboys (0.1), although showing a positive number, sit just below the significant field goal mark.


Yards Per Pass Attempt
Another key statistic worth considering is Yards per Passing Attempt (YPPA). Unless one’s head has been buried in the sand over the past decade, they will have noticed the NFL is becoming a more pass-centric league every passing year. In today’s game, a team has to be adept at throwing the ball efficiently, or equally skillful at preventing its opponent from doing so if it wants to win the Super Bowl. In fact, some studies show the passing game is anywhere from three-to-four times more important to a team’s overall performance than an efficient running game in the NFL. That is not to say the rush does not aid in the passing game’s effectiveness, but if singling out raw data, the numbers speak for themselves.

With this understanding, in the last 10 years, all but one Super Bowl (2005) contained a conference champion ranking first or second in either YPPA or opponent YPPA the prior season. We analyzed this earlier in the year handicapping potential AFC and NFC league winners, and you can find a table showing their rankings here. If the trend continues, expect to see at least one of these four teams playing, and likely winning, Super Bowl 51: Cardinals, Panthers, Broncos or Steelers. 

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