Hawks ride a Bronco's rodeo

In the Gentlemen’s last podcast I alluded to some descriptive statistics that I had discovered. During an afternoon tipple (I confess i drink strong freshly ground coffee) I read an article by Judy Battista, discovering that somebody had written the kind of discursive essay I was planning on writing, just with more numbers. So taking Judy’s fine work I am now going to embelish the art work with the colour of numbers.

In Superbowl XLVII, my feeling was that it was a battle between the pass heavy game and the read option, with the passing game winning out. This year my view is that it is the battle between offensive hammering and defensive hammering style of play, a right royal rumble in other words, the historic against the great as Judy put it. This sounds obvious for this season, but it is always nice to back up the apparent observed phenomena with some kind of recorded measurement. Luckily the NFL loves to record numbers of all sorts. On the Historic (the offense), the Bronco’s as we know, had a record breaking season, scoring the most points in the regular season (606), ever, Peyton Manning throwing the most number of touchdowns (55), ever, and equalling the record number of touchdowns thrown in a game (7). For the Great, the Seahawks sit at 17th in terms of points scored in the regular season, 417 in all, but led the way in fewest points allowed, 231 in all, and allowed the fewest yards per game (276.3 yds/game). Why, you may ask, am I focusing on the regular season and not including the post season? Well both teams have only played two games both at home in the post season (and the Superbowl is an away game for both teams), which as sample sizes go, is small and as it is a knock-out, you cannot glean any information on theĀ current roster teams post season performance. This is important as both teams have changed since the 12/13 post season. So the regular season will give us as good as a source of data for comparison and substantiating the points Judy Battista excellently raised in her article.

So let us break down the offense/defence split for each team. The Broncos’ hitoric offense has not always been backed up by the stoutest of defenses though they do have moments as they did against the Patriots, with key sacks and tackles (thinking of Knighton’s on Brady par example). Overall the points difference between total scored to total conceded for the Broncos was +207. For the Seahawks, with their great total defense, with a pretty handy offence, especially with Marshawn Lynch, the difference was +186. The mean (or average, with 95% Confidence Intervals as a measure of variability or where future points differences will fall) points difference per game for each team is 13.94 (say 14 points, +/-5.68 or 6pts) for the Broncos and 11 points (+/- 5.75, say 6, points) for the Seahawks. Both very close, supporting the consensus that this will be a close and good game. Admittedly this takes into account when the teams lost, having a negative points difference. What were the mean negative point differences I wonder? Well for the Broncos, it was -5.33 (over 3 games) and for the Seahawks it was -5 (from 3 games). As I am still relatively new to the sport I am still learning different game styles of play. Now I had understood, the defense heavy game lead to closer low scoring games and the offense heavy strategy lead to high scoring sometimes close but often not that close games. Even though the difference in the average points scored per game is 11 between the teams, the end result is, for me surprisingly the same: winning generally by over a score and a field goal (10pts) but only losing within one score. All these numbers do is support the notion that the Seahawks D and special teams unit supports the offense extremely well in a way acting more like a combined additional offensive unit (they have the highest number of interceptions made, with 28) in giving the offensive unit the best starting field position possible. The Broncos D on the other hand only has to stop the other team scoring, as the offense can make a scoring drive from anywhere on the field.

For me, there is no more to say, the numbers support what we know, that these are the two best teams facing each other in the Superbowl and if I was a betting man I wouldn’t bother because the odds should be evens (though the odds seem to be 4/5 Broncos to win with the Seahawks 11/10 to win, very close).

Alright I know that is not the whole story so let us continue to explore the numbers. The Seahawks have the best pass defence this season, we know this just by watching their games and how well in the second half of the NFC Championship game they stopped Kaepernick and secured the win. They only allowed a total of 2752yds this season compared to the 27th ranked Denver Broncos 4070yds. The Seahawks slip slightly in terms of rush yards allowed, being joint 7th with the Broncos in allowing only 101.6 yds/game. There must be more to this than just the mean values surely, this suggests both teams will cancel out each others run games but weather conditions are not conducive to a pass heavy game and is likely to be the coldest Superbowl on record, bad for the ball launching Manning. Taking a careful look at running yards alllowed per game, the Bronco’s allowed 101.625 yards +/- 23yds (meaning 95% of all games fell within 23yds of this mean) and the Seahawks allowed 102.88 yards/game +/-30.32yds (meaning 95% of all games fell within 30 yards of this mean). So, yes there is a strong possibility both teams will cancel out their passing game. But what about their rushing games? Well in the regular season the Broncos averaged 117.1 yards per game (+/-28 yards) with a total of 461 runs and the Seahawks averaged 136.75yards/game (+/-25.22 yards) with a total of 509 runs. Though the Seahawks average higher than the Broncos and are a bit more consistent, they do not rush for significantly more yards than the Broncos. The running game will be close and intense.

In a previous article about kickers, I covered the importance they play to both these teams. Against the Patriots, Matt Prater scored 12 of the 26 points (not including PATs), against the 49ers Steven Hauschka scored 9 of the 23 points. Both players opened the scoring for their teams. I would expect, therefore, that the kickers will play a key role especially if they are kicking with the wind. In line with the teams respective points difference, I really would not be surprised if this game was won by a field goal.

There is one final comparison that I find incredibly interesting though I am not sure how much importance to attribute it. The Broncos have a significantly higher 3rd down conversion efficiency compared to the Seahawks. The Broncos converted an average (mean+/-95%Confidence Interval) 46% +/-7% of 3rd downs per game where as the Seahawks converted only 37%+/-8% of 3rd downs. When I raised this in Gentlemanly conversation, I was asked how many third down attempts the Seahawks had compared to the Broncos, at the time I did not know and it was suggested that the Seahawks had fewer, but it turns out they have about the same, 204 attempts for the Seahawks to the Broncos 206. I’m not sure how important this will be but in a game that on paper, in hope and by the numbers suggests it is going to be a close game, 3rd down conversion on keeping a drive going could be a clincher.

I was not going to predict a winner, but some of the numbers do lean towards a Broncos win. On the flip side, and just for a bit of fun, here is a bit of a>b>c type thing to calculate who is going to win. Both teams were beaten by the Colts, who lost to the Patriots who beat the Broncos but lost to the Panthers who lost to the Seahawks and so by that logic it’s going to be a Seahawks win.

So here is hoping that the game will truly be historic and great and I hope you all enjoy it.

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Until next time,

Toodle Pip!