Super Bowl XLVIII: Broncos-Seahawks The Statistically Perfect Super Bowl

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 21, 2014



American football is a chaotic, complicated and violent game – all three attributes reasons why we love it so and have made it the undisputed national sport.

We’re captivated by the colorful, swirling chaos of 22 large, fast men racing around the field and into each other with detached, oblivious disregard for their own safety.

We’re fascinated by the chess-match complexity of each of those 22 men attempting in the seconds before each snap to outwit and out-flank the other before springing into that chaotic action.

And we’re enthralled by the primitive human violence that ultimately determines the outcome of each play, often leaving wounded and broken young bodies in its wake.

Newcomers to the sport find football confusing, majestically violent and entertaining. There is an instinctive appeal to the pageantry of it all.

And even the most seasoned and devoted fans find it impossible to digest every aspect of the game at one time. Hell, coaches spend their life dissecting film of past games over and over in an effort to truly understand themselves and their opponents.

Yet for all the seeming complexity and chaos, football follows a rather simple, distinct and definable statistical pattern: your ability to score points and win games rises and falls on the efficiency of your quarterback.

When your quarterback is more efficient than the opposing quarterback, you almost always win. When the opposing quarterback is more efficient, you almost always lose.

Quarterback is the marquee position in all of sports and he is the star, whether the QB at your local high school or the national homecoming king Peyton Manning of the AFC champion Denver Broncos.

That unique status for the quarterback comes for very deserved reasons.

 

The Perfect Super Bowl

In these respects, the fact that football is all about winnning the battle of QB efficiency, Super Bowl XLVIII is the Statistically Perfect Super Bowl. It's a meeting of the two teams that dominated the battles of QB efficiency and passing efficiency better than any other teams in football this year.

There are two great ways to measure this relationship between the efficiency of your QB and that of your opponents. We call them:

(Real QB Rating is calculated much like traditional passer rating, but measures all aspects of QB play, passing + rushes, sacks, fumbles and rushing TDs).

The Broncos and Seahawks each dominated these battles of efficiency from opposite ends of the statistical spectrum.

Denver was led largely by the best, most efficient quarterback in football, Peyton Manning, and rode his dizzying efficiency to a NFL-best (and league record) 606 points.

Seattle was led largely by the best defense in football, the one that rendered opposing quarterbacks the most inefficient, and rode the inefficiency of those opponents to an NFL-best 231 points allowed.

Denver-Seattle: Scoring, Passing and QB Efficiency

CategoryDenverRankSeattleRank
Scoring offense (PPG)37.91st26.18th
Scoring defense (PPG)24.922nd14.41st
Scoring differential 2071st1862nd
Offensive Passer Rating114.41st102.45th
Defensive Passer Rating84.517th63.41st
Passer Rating Differential29.92nd38.971st
Real QB Rating106.11st915th
Defensive Real QB Rating77.917th57.61st
Real QB Rating Differential28.142nd 33.361st

 

The Seahawks had the statistical upperhand this season because they paired the best defense in football (i.e., the one that rendered opposing quarterbacks the least efficient) with a surprisingly efficient and largely underderrated young quarterback in Russell Wilson. 

Denver dominated its games because it was led by one of the great quarterbacks in the history of football in Peyton Manning, who only turned out the greatest statistical season the NFL had ever seen. He was dominate enough to make the Broncos a statistical juggernaut despite being paired with a largely mediocre defense.

 

Scores, Victories Rise and Fall With QB Efficiency

Here’s a graphical look at how the 2013 seasons unfolded for both the Broncos and Seahawks, based upon Real QB Rating Differential and Point Differential.

It shows how efficiency at quarterback and score of the game move together.

 

 

It’s not perfect statistical lockstep. You’ll never get that in sports: after all, sports are not pure mathematics, in which the same input always provides the same output.

If that was the case, we wouldn’t need to watch football. Instead, fallible, imperfect humans determine the outcome in sports. But these outcomes do follow the clear patterns demonstrated above.

Denver, by the way, was a perfect 13-0 this year when it won the battle of Real QB Rating; they managed to go 2-3 in game that they lost the battle of QB efficiency. Seattle was 12-2 when it won the battle of Real QB Rating, and somehow managed to go 3-1 even when losing this key statistical battle. 

Great teams find ways to win, however. And the Broncos and Seahawks both fit the bill in 2013, with a combined record of 5-4 even when being outplayed at quarterback. the rest of the NFL produced a .141 winning percentage when it lost the battle of QB efficiency.

 

The Historic Importance of Quarterback Efficiency

Real QB Rating Differential is a fascinating way to size up football teams because it’s Correlation to Victory essentially proves that the game is all about the quarterback.

We introduced the indicator in 2011 and it has produced the highest Correlation to Victory of any stat in football each of those three seasons. Teams that won the battle of Real QB Rating Differential went an incredible 219-36 (.859) in 2013.

Those results make it slightly more important than Passer Rating Differential, which went a nearly as incredible 205-50 (.804) in 2013.

We have long list of historical data, however, for Passer Rating Differential that we don't have for Real QB Rating. And the results are pretty dramatic.

  • 26 of 73 NFL champions since 1940 finished the year No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential. That's 36 percent of all NFL champs, or better than 1 in 3 for those of you keeping score at home.
  • 40 of 73 NFL champions since 1940 finished the year No. 1 or No. 2 in Passer Rating Differential. That's 55 percent of all NFL champs, or better than 1 in 2 for those of you keeping score at home.

No matter who wins Super Bowl XLVIII, it will give us 41 of 74 NFL champions since World War II who finished 1 or 2 in Passer Rating Differential. That's the reason we call PRD The Mother of All Stats.

It's pretty remarkable that league dominance in one single indicator has correctly identified more so many champions over such a long stretch of NFL history. We're not sure another indicator in any sport is so effective at picking out champions.

This historic data also helps confirm that Denver-Seattle is The Perfect Super Bowl.

Those results all bode well for Seattle. After all, they dominated Real QB Rating and Passer Rating Differential all season long, topping both indicators at the end of the season. But the proof will have to be found on the field, not on a computer keyboard, stat table or line graph.

More importantly for football fans, the data here in 2013 and throughout history confirm some very simple truths about a complex game.

Despite all the violence and chaos we see swirling about us on the field, victory and defeat in the NFL are easy to define in clear statistical patterns: Football is all about the quarterback. And it's ALWAYS been all about the quarterback.


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