Happy Hour at Hooters

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 14, 2009



Here in post-draft malaise of the NFL off-season – in those few rare moments when we can pry our hands free of beer cans and Buffalo wings – we've been studying the factors that distinguish the 43 Super Bowl champions from the run-of-the-mill schleps who comprise the rest of the league year after year.
 
It's was during this process that we made the statistical discovery of the century, a veritable Pythagorean theorem of pigskin.
 
It's a discovery that confirms, in harsh, irrefutable detail, three Cold, Hard Football Fact that we had already known and that now not even our harshest and most factless critics can refute:
  • ONE – Proficiency in the passing game – on both sides of the ball – is the single most important factor for success in pro football.
  • TWO – The 2007 Giants were the most unlikely Super Bowl champions and their victory over the Patriots was the greatest upset in Super Bowl history.
  • THREE – We like boobies.
Happy Hour at Hooters
We've been sizing up all 43 Super Bowl champions statistically to see what traits they had in common to determine which factors were truly important when it came right down to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band of winning championships.
 
One factor – beyond the 40 DDs – leaped off the spreadsheet like a CHFF reader who was just informed of new Happy Hours at Hooters.
 
Every Super Bowl champion – well, all but one of them – ruled the passing game. Most were downright dominant in the passing game:
  • Every Super Bowl champion but the 2007 Giants boasted a better offensive passer rating than a defensive passer rating.
  • Every Super Bowl champion but the 2007 Giants boasted a higher average per pass attempt on offense than they surrendered on defense.
In fact, the average Super Bowl champion was a stunning 25 points better in offensive passer rating than it was in defensive passer rating (24.8 points better, to be more precise).
 
That's a dominant statistical difference, and it reinforces what the Cold, Hard Football Facts have long told us: the NFL is all about the passing game.
 
Here's a look at the offensive and defensive passer ratings of every Super Bowl champion
 
SUPER BOWL CHAMP PASSER RATINGS
(bold denotes league leader; italics denote conference leader)

 

Offensive Passer Rating

Defensive Passer Rating

Net

1966 Packers

102.1

46.1

+56.0

1967 Packers

63.7

41.5

+22.2

1968 Jets

74.8

52.4

+22.4

1969 Chiefs

71.4

42.1

+29.3

1970 Colts

73.3

60.3

+13.0

1971 Cowboys

88.8

55.9

+32.9

1972 Dolphins

86.9

47.4

+39.5

1973 Dolphins

75.2

39.9

+35.3

1974 Steelers

48.9

44.3

+4.6

1975 Steelers

86.7

42.8

+43.9

1976 Raiders

102.2

68.8

+33.4

1977 Cowboys

85.3

48.2

+37.1

1978 Steelers

81.5

51.8

+29.7

1979 Steelers

76.6

56.4

+20.2

1980 Raiders

70

61.8

+8.2

1981 49ers

87.7

60.2

+27.5

1982 Redskins

91.8

67.7

+24.1

1983 Raiders

84.8

71.8

+13.0

1984 49ers

101.9

65.6

+36.3

1985 Bears

77.3

51.2

+26.1

1986 Giants

75.0

68.6

+6.4

1987 Redskins

80.7

69.3

+11.4

1988 49ers

83.5

72.2

+11.3

1989 49ers

114.8

68.5

+46.3

1990 Giants

90.6

62.2

+28.4

1991 Redskins

98.0

58.8

+39.2

1992 Cowboys

88.8

69.9

+18.9

1993 Cowboys

96.8

75.3

+21.5

1994 49ers

111.4

68.1

+43.3

1995 Cowboys

91.7

72.3

+19.4

1996 Packers

95.7

55.4

+40.3

1997 Broncos

87.4

71.5

+15.9

1998 Broncos

93.5

80.5

+13.0

1999 Rams

106.6

64.1

+42.5

2000 Ravens

72.7

62.5

+10.2

2001 Patriots

85.3

68.6

+16.7

2002 Bucs

86.3

48.4

+37.9

2003 Patriots

84.3

56.2

+28.1

2004 Patriots

92.5

75.3

+17.2

2005 Steelers

89.4

74

+15.4

2006 Colts

101.0

80.4

+20.6

2007 Giants

73.0

83.4

-10.4

2008 Steelers

81.9

63.4

+18.5
Average
86.3
61.5
+24.8
 
 
The Husky (or the results that other, healthier outlets might call "the skinny")
Almost every single Super Bowl champion featured a dominant passing offense or a dominant passing defense – and, in some cases, both.
 
Even teams we consider porous in certain aspects of their passing game were, in fact, generally dominant in the passing game when we compare both sides of the ball.
 
Most fans make fun of the Brad Johnson-led offense of the 2002 Buccaneers. But the truth is that those Bucs passed the ball quite effectively (86.3 passer rating). Coupled with a dominant pass defense (48.4 defensive passer rating) it made the Bucs a statistically obvious Super Bowl champ. Their +37.9 point differential in passer rating is the best this decade.
 
The 2006 Colts, meanwhile, did not impress anybody in particular with their 80.4 defensive passer rating. But coupled with Peyton Manning-led 101.0 offensive passer rating, it made the Colts a statistically dominant passing team – nearly 21 points better on offense than they were on defense. That's the best differential of any Super Bowl champ of the past five years and third best this decade.
 
But the Giants stick out like a sore thumb. They're the only Super Bowl champion whose passing offense was worse than its passing defense. And it wasn't even close. New York's -10.4 point differential in passer rating is 35.2 points lower than the differential of the average Super Bowl champion, and 15.0 points lower than the second worst team, the 1974 Steelers (+4.6).
 
At least the Steelers, though, despite a very poor offensive passing game that year, could depend upon one of the stiffest pass defenses in NFL history, with a 44.3 defensive passer rating.
 
Upset of the Century
When it comes down to Biggest Upset in Super Bowl History, there are really only two games vying for the title:
  • Jets over Colts in Super Bowl III
  • Giants over Patriots in Super Bowl XLII
We've contended that Giants-Patriots was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history since the moment it happened.  There are two basic reasons why:
  • The 2007 Patriots went 16-0 and were more dominant than the 1968 Colts, who went 13-1
  • The 2007 Giants went 10-6 and were not as good as the 1968 Jets, who went 11-3.
In other words, the gap between the Giants and Patriots was greater than the gap between the Colts and Jets.
 
The Patriots were six games better than the Giants – the widest gap that's existed between any two Super Bowl or NFL championship game contenders in history. The Colts were merely two games better than the Jets.
 
The Patriots were the most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era, outscoring opponents by +19.7 PPG. In fact, they surpassed those defeated 1968 Colts (+18.4 PPG) for the honor of most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era.
 
The Giants were the most mediocre team of the Super Bowl Era as measured by point differential (+22 all season).
 
So Super Bowl XLII was a bigger upset by almost any statistical measure.
 
Super Bowl III is mostly a cultural upset, but a not a statistical upset on par with Super Bowl XLII: many observers believed there was an insurmountable gap between the old NFL of the Colts and the young AFL of the Jets.
 
But as we learned in Super Bowl III, and then again in Super Bowl IV, the gap between the leagues was not as wide, if it even existed, as many observers insisted.
 
The Upset in the Passing Game
The 2007 Patriots, as noted above, and as everybody knows, were a vastly superior team to the 2007 Giants during the regular season.
 
But the magnitude of the upset is made more profound by the fact that the Patriots were vastly superior in the one area that, throughout pro football history, typically ensures success: they were vastly superior in the passing game.
 
The Giants entered Super Bowl XLII after a season in which they posted a sub-standard 83.4 defensive passer rating. It's the single worst defensive passer rating of any Super Bowl champion.
 
The Patriots, meanwhile, entered Super Bowl XLII with the greatest offensive passer rating of any Super Bowl contender: a remarkable 116.0. In fact, in all of NFL history, only the 2004 Colts boasted a better offensive passer rating (119.7).
 
It's simply one more way that New York's upset is unprecedented: the Patriots enjoyed the biggest statistical mismatch in the passing game of any Super Bowl contender in history.
 
The Exception that Proves the Rule
So how did the Giants manufacture this upset of the century?
 
They did with a remarkable turnaround in their passing-game productivity on both sides of the ball in the 2007 playoffs.
 
A team that was substandard in the passing game both offensively and defensively changed dramatically in the playoffs: the Giants in the 2007 playoffs were well above average on offense, and dynamic on defense (especially considering they faced the NFL's three best passing attacks in the playoffs that year, the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots).
  • Quarterback Eli Manning and the G-Men posted a 95.8 offensive passer rating in the 2007 playoffs.
  • Defensive end Michael Strahan and the G-Men posted a 70.4 defensive passer rating in the 2007 playoffs.
Note that New York's 25.4 point advantage in postseason passer rating is nearly statistcally equal to the average 24.8 advantage in passer rating Super Bowl winners enjoyed during their championship seasons.
 
So the surprising 2007 Giants didn't rewrite the standards by which champions are made. They simply picked the right time of the season to follow the rules of success.

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