Thursday, January 31, 2008

Super Bowl XLII prediction

Football players are people, who have good days and bad days. Nothing is certain before it happens. The Giants absolutely could win the Super Bowl on Sunday night. As I've been documenting this week, it would be the biggest upset in the history of the SuperBowl, possibly the biggest upset in the history of the NFL playoffs. But it could happen.

I'd be absolutely shocked. Here are some of the historical reasons why it would be a shocking upset.

  • Teams which have a better regular season winning percentage are 204-79 (.721). The Patriots had a better record than the Giants.

  • Teams which have a better regular season Pythagorean winning percentage are 230-110 (.676). The Patriots had a better Pythagorean winning percentage.

  • In NFL playoff games, the team with the better offense (measured as points scored vs. league average) is 209-128 (.620). The Patriots had a better offense than the Giants.

  • The team with the better defense (points allowed vs. league average) is 198-139 (.588). The Patriots had a better defense than the Giants.

  • Teams which are better on both offense and defense are 109-40 (.732). The Patriots were better at both offense and defense than the Giants.

  • Teams with the advantage in all five of those statistics are 90-27 (.769). The Patriots are better in all five of those categories.

  • The cumulative disparity of 79.8% (offense and defense) between the Patriots and Giants is far and away the largest in Super Bowl history.

  • The point differential ratio between these two teams is 14.32, far and away the largest in Super Bowl history.

  • There has never been a Super Bowl with a 5 game difference in wins between the two teams. New England won six (6) more games than the Giants.

  • The New England Patriots Pythagorean winning percentage (.860) was 60.4% better than the Giants' (.536), far and away the biggest difference in Super Bowl history.

There are people picking the Giants. When I see those picks, they are invariably based on the perception that you've got a physical defensive team versus a finesse offensive team. The problem with that is this - the Patriots, despite the high-flying offense, despite all of the points scored, are still a tough, physical defensive team. And they're a tough, physical, wear-you-down offensive team. Perceptions are skewed by the number of points that they've scored, but this isn't a case where the prolific offensive team will get pushed around - the Patriots don't work that way.

People point to the 1990 Giants beating the high-flying Bills. Those two teams were each 13-3, and the point differential difference between them was very small. The Bills had a better offense, the Giants had a better defense.

People point to the 2001 Patriots beating the high-flying Rams. That was a major upset, but the Patriots had a better defense than the Rams, and their record, Pythagorean and offense were all closer to St. Louis' than the Giants' are to this year's Patriots'. In that case, you did have a finesse team against a physical team. As I've said, that's not the case this year.

And both of those underdogs had Bill Belichick, who is without a doubt one of the great game planners in the history of the game. The 2007 Giants will be facing him. Upsets happen when you get an underdog that's able to outmuscle or outcoach an overconfident or overrated favorite. None of that is likely to happen this week. This looks a lot more like Chicago-New England in 1985 than New England-St. Louis in 2001.

So, the Giants could win this game. But I can't see any reason to actually predict that. I don't see anything other than wishful thinking masquerading as analysis that would lead to someone actually predicting that result. The Patriots are on the short list of the all time best teams in NFL history. The Giants are, in many respects, one of the worst teams to ever reach the Super Bowl. They could win, but they'd have to play a perfect game AND have the Patriots play worse than I think there's any reason to expect them to. This is far more likely to end in a Patriots blowout than a Giants win. I don't see any scenario under which it results in a Giants blowout. I don't see any plausibly predictable scenario which leads to a Giants victory. "Tom Brady gets hurt on the first play," is not "plausibly predictable." It could happen, but you can't predict it.

And if you aren't going to predict that, how are you going to predict that the Giants either a) seriously slow down the Patriots offense or b) keep up with it?

The Patriots are a better offensive team. The Patriots are a better defensive team. The Patriots have advantages in special teams. I like Tom Coughlin, but the Patriots have a better coaching staff. In the end, the conditions will be perfect on Sunday, and the Patriots will score over 35, and the Giants won't be able to keep up.

My prediction: New England 42 - New York 17

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