Analyzing trends on a game that is only played once a year is tricky business even if conditions are static, and in this case they aren’t. The NFL is in a constant state of flux and there have been many changes in the last decade or so that make results from too far back irrelevant. Changes such as free agency, timekeeping (there are 15-20% fewer plays in games today as compared to 20 years ago) and the salary cap make Super Bowl scores from the 60s, 70s and even the 80s meaningless when predicting future outcomes.
That doesn’t mean the task is impossible; it just means you have to be a little more careful when using your results. It is an arbitrary choice I admit, but for the purposes of this column, I looked at Super Bowls from the 1990 season and beyond.
All of these games are played at neutral sites so the first place to start is to look at favorites and underdogs. Favorites over the last 14 years are an impressive 10-4 (71%) straight-up (SU) in Super Bowls, but only a perfectly average 6-6-2 (50%) against the spread (ATS).
My next step was to look at offenses and defenses. I made notes of how each team was ranked in the entire NFL that season on both sides of the ball in terms of points for and against. Then I compared to see how the team with the higher ranked offenses did and how the teams with the higher ranked defenses did.
At first, there didn’t appear to be much difference between the two sets of results as the better offensive teams were 11-3 SU (79%) and 7-5-2 ATS (57%), while the better defensive teams were 12-2 SU (86%) and 8-4-2 ATS (67%). There was a slight lean to the defense, but with only 14 games in the sample, it is tough to say with any certainty.
But a little more analysis turned up some interesting stats. In these 14 Super Bowls, the #1 ranked defense has won 5 games and the #1 ranked offense has won 5 times. The catch is that a #1 ranked defense has not lost, while the #1 scoring unit has 3 times (including twice in the last three years with the Rams losing to the Patriots in 2001, and the Raiders losing to the Bucs in 2002).
In fact, no defense ranked in the top 3 has lost a Super Bowl in this time frame while an amazing 7 offenses ranked in the top 3 have lost (please note that 4 of these losses were to other offenses ranked in the top 3)! In total, defenses ranked in the top 3 are a perfect 8-0 SU and were 5-2-1 ATS (71%). That seems a lot better to me than the 6-7-3 (46%) ATS record of top 3 offenses (this adds to more than 14 because of the head-to-head games between the top scorers).
Another point on defenses to consider is that the last 4 Super Bowl winners have all had a defense that ranks higher than their offense. That comes on the heels of 9 straight games where the winner had a better, or equal, ranked offense. Consider your last 4 winners:
2000 Baltimore Offense #14 Defense #1
2001 New England Offense #6 Defense #5
2002 Tampa Bay Offense #16 Defense #1
2003 New England Offense #12 Defense #1
Perhaps the winds of change are afoot and defenses are even more important in the NFL right now than they have been even over these last 14 seasons.
Another important point on the topic of defenses is that for trends to be of any value there has to be a logical explanation and in this case I think there is. The Super Bowl is the largest bet single game in North America by far. There is an incredible amount of beginner and novice bettors playing this game and they tend to prefer teams that can score. This attraction to the high-scoring teams (who are usually the favorites, Denver in 1997 being the lone exception) drives the pointspread up as books try to balance action and creates a little extra advantage for those that play the defensive underdogs.
And one last trend!when a team has a higher ranked offense and a higher ranked defense than their opponent, they are a perfect 9-0 SU and a very impressive 5-2-2 ATS (71%).
Ok, now that we have the past behind us let’s look at the present. How do the two teams in this game stack up?
New England scored 437 points (ranked 4th) and allowed 260 (ranked 2nd).
Philadelphia scored 386 points (ranked 8th) and allowed 260 (ranked 2nd).
If you consider Philly gave up 58 points in the last two weeks to weak opponents because they dressed their back-ups for those meaningless games, you could be tempted to give their defense the nod for a higher rank. However, the Eagles did play in the weak NFC, so you could make a case for the Pats defense. Regardless, it looks like this is going to be a tough game to call, and hopefully exciting to watch. Whichever D you prefer is probably the place to put your money.
Enjoy the game. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Aspirin and maybe some Alka Seltzer to make Monday morning a little easier.
Good luck with your wagers!
I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at rob@Bodog.com
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino