What does it take to win the Super Bowl? Well, if you or I could answer with repeatable certainty, we’d probably be a lot richer, but the truth is there is no certainty in predicting sports, and even trying to predict the Super Bowl winner from a list of 12 playoff teams requires a certain amount of guesswork- and simply good luck.
Be that as it may, it is interesting to draw some parallels between past Super Bowl champions, and the current playoff teams, to see if any of the current contenders may have the same key factors as past Super Bowl champions.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF PAST SUPER BOWL WINNERS
Recent Super Bowl champions have shared basically two key characteristics: a top 5 defense in points allowed, and a quarterback with an ANY/A (adjusted net yards per passing attempt) of over 7.00. There have been exceptions (the 2015 Broncos had Peyton Manning, but only a 5.14 collective team QB ANY/A, the 2014 Patriots had the 8th best defense). But on average, since the otherwise mediocre Ravens and Giants got hot in the playoffs, and for the most part prior to that, Super Bowl champions have had these two key traits.
Basically that translates into having a top defense and pretty good quarterback- neither of which are the least bit surprising.
This year, only the Vikings, Patriots and Eagles can claim both a top 5 defense, and a QB ANY/A over 7.00. The Steelers and Falcons are both close at #7/8 and 6.98/6.99 respectively. But I think it’s fair to eliminate the Eagles here, as that ANY/A belongs to Carson Wentz, who’s season has ended. Nick Foles ANY/A this year is 4.75.
#1 DEFENSE - TOUGH TO BEAT AT HOME
They say defense wins championships. And over the last nine post-seasons, the #1 defense in points allowed has not lost a home game. Pittsburgh and Seattle each lost a (neutral site) Super Bowl during that stretch, but no #1 defense has lost a playoff game at home, according to Pro Football Reference statistics.
And when the #1 defense in points allowed also has a first round bye, they have made it to the Super Bowl every time that’s happened (5 times) over the past nine years, and won it 3 times.
The Vikings #1 defense has allowed an average of 12.5 points per game this year at home, and no more than 19 points - back in week one. Tough to win a game scoring only 12 or 13 points on the road, let alone a playoff game.
#1 DEFENSE + ANY/A OVER 7.00 + 1ST ROUND BYE = VERY TOUGH TO BEAT
Playoff teams with both the #1 defense in points allowed, QB ANY/A over 7.00, and a first-round bye become even tougher to beat. It’s happened 4 times in the past 9 years. Their combined post-season record? 11-1.
Three of those four times that team won the Super Bowl - the 2016 Patriots, the 2013 Seahawks, and the 2008 Steelers.
One time that team lost the Super Bowl - the 2010 Steelers. They lost to the Green Bay Packers that year, who had the #2 defense, ANY/A over 7.00, but were a wild card team. They had suffered a number of injuries during the season, but had those players return in the post-season, leading to the Super Bowl win.
Not once in the past nine years has a playoff team with these traits not made it to the Super Bowl.
2017 VIKINGS MOST SIMILAR TO 2013 SEAHAWKS
Of the Super Bowl winning teams (and really all the Super Bowl teams) over the past 9 years, the Vikings this year are similar to the 2013 Seahawks in several respects:
- Both led the league in points allowed and yards allowed;
- Both have/had first-round byes in the playoffs
- Russell Wilson had a 7.10 ANY/A in 2013, Case Keenum has a 7.03 ANY/A this year;
- Both went 13-3 in the regular season
- Vikings offense is 10th in points, 11th in yards- Seahawks were 8th in points, 17th in yards.
- Vikings are #1 in 3rd down conversions allowed, Seahawks were 10th;
- Vikings are #3 in red-zone TDs allowed, Seahawks were 1st;
- Vikings offense is better than ‘13 Seahawks in 3rd down conversions and red-zone offense;
- ‘13 Seahawks beat the #1 offense (Denver) in the Super Bowl; Vikings beat #1 scoring offense (Rams), could face #1 offense in yards (#2 in scoring) in Patriots in Super Bowl
ODDS-MAKERS LIKE THE PATRIOTS AND VIKINGS
Given that only the Vikings and Patriots have a top 5 defense (#1 and #5 respectively), a QB starting in the playoffs with an ANY/A above 7.00 (Brady 7.56, Keenum 7.03), and a first-round bye, it’s no surprise that they are the odds-makers favorites to reach the Super Bowl this year.
The Vikings are better than 2-1 to reach the Super Bowl (1.75-1) for the NFC. The Saints and Rams have the next best odds in the NFC, at 4-1.
The Patriots are a prohibitive favorite in the AFC, at 1-1.4, meaning you’d have to wager $1.40 to win $1 picking the Patriots to win the AFC. The Steelers have the next best odds at 2.5 - 1.
A Vikings - Patriots match-up would put the #1 defense in the league against (arguably) the best offense in the league. The Patriots are 2nd in points and 1st in yards (Rams #1 in points, but 10th in yards). The Vikings already beat the Rams, allowing only 7 points to the #1 scoring offense.
On the other side, the Vikings are the 10th ranked offense, while the Patriots are, oddly, the 5th best defense in points allowed, but only 29th in yards allowed.
The reason for the bi-polar rankings on defense is largely due to the Patriots effectiveness in the red-zone, where they rank 4th defensively, but relative ineffectiveness on 3rd down, where they rank 21st. The Vikings offense ranks 9th in red-zone effectiveness, and 3rd best in 3rd down conversions.
The Vikings had a notably stronger strength of schedule than the Patriots at 0.99, while the Patriots’ was -1.24. The higher the number, the stronger the schedule.
But the Patriots have pulled off some Super Bowl magic more than once- including last year against the Falcons, and in 2014 against the Seahawks. Just about everyone on the Patriots team and coaching staff have Super Bowl rings. Only a handful of Vikings do. That more than makes up for the Patriots having to play a Super Bowl game ‘on the road’, if that were to happen - which is why the Patriots have the better odds than the Vikings - along with the AFC being weaker than the NFC.
But a #1 defense playing at home in the Super Bowl... still tough to beat.