Super Bowl Super Study Says Patriots, Broncos Built Like Champs
5. No Need for a Big Leap of Faith
While nearly all of this data focus on the “here and now” of the season, there is something to understand about what a championship team did relative to the previous season. Normally, teams that make a huge improvement from the previous season need to earn stripes in the postseason before they make a Super Bowl run. Meanwhile, a significantly-declining team rarely makes a Super Bowl run, and instead normally fade away in the playoffs.
The table below look at each Super Bowl combatant’s win differential from the previous season. Note that the 1978 Steelers and 1978 Cowboys played two more games than they did in 1977, so those results may be skewed. Also, the 1982 strike-season significantly skews those stats. Therefore, any seasons with an inconsistent amount of games will have a prorated win differential. The numbers for prorating the 1982 season are considered unreliable.
Given the ability to go from a competitive team (8-8 or 9-7) to go to an elite team (13-3 or 14-2), it seems like the upper bound should be a five-game improvement. Meanwhile, because a few plays can impact a handful of games, the lower bound should be a two-game decline.
Among the playoff teams, the 2012 Broncos just make the cut. They along the lines of non-outlying champions like the 2003 Patriots and 2009 Saints. Meanwhile, the 2012 Redskins also improved by five games, but they double their win total. Perhaps this could be invested further with a win differential study by percentages.
While two just missed the cut, two teams made the cut and will be the front-running candidates for overall regression in 2013. The 2012 Colts improved from 2-14 to go 11-5 despite the interim change of Chuck Pagano to Bruce Arians as head coach. Perhaps Pagano’s battle against Leukemia was the most inspirational story in the NFL this season. Meanwhile, the 2012 Vikings improved from 3-13 to go 10-6 as Adrian Peterson pursued the single-season rushing record less than a year removed from suffering a significant knee injury. While both stories are quite amazing, those regular season fairy tales will suffer a rude awakening in the postseason.
On the other side, the 2012 Packers regressed from 15-1 to 11-5, but they fit a similar path to that of the 2005 Steelers. Simple regression can explain this outlier, so the Packers’ chances aren’t severely hurt.
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