I used to have this awesome computer program called NFL Math back in the day when I was a little squirt trying to learn my multiplication tables. Whenever I wanted to “do some homework” and “become more proficient at math,” I’d throw this sucker in the CD-Rom drive and just go to town. Technically, NFL Math was an educational program but it never felt like it. You’d answer math questions and the success you had on each question would determine the success of the play on the field (replete with over-the-top sound effects, of course). Needless to say, I FREAKING CRUSHED those problems and was the mathematical equivalent of the ’72 Dolphins for most of my childhood. Did playing NFL Math roughly 3,000 times between the ages of 8 and 12 possibly foster a mutual love of football and math in my heart? It’s tough to say. But yes. Yes, it did.
As a result, you get the nerdy side of this blog in which I try to take all the fun out of the NFL by reducing all the plays and games of the entire season to mere digits and decimals. Why not do the same for the postseason?! Now if you believed that each team that made the playoffs has an equal shot of ultimately winning the Super Bowl, you would basically be saying that each team has an 8.33% chance of going all the way (since 1/12 = .0833333333333… and all that). Of course, we know that not all teams have an equal shot at winning the whole thing: some teams only have to win three games instead of four, home-field advantage is a big deal, the Colts don’t actually have any chance, etc. Thus, if we wanted to know the exact probability of each team’s Super Bowl chances, we would need something a little more, shall we say, nuanced.
Fortunately, Nuance is my first name! Or, at the very least, begins with the same letter as my first name. Using the values from SSLYAR’s Predictive Yards per Play Metric, I calculated each team’s chance of winning all three (or four) postseason games, summarized those findings below, and grouped each team into a general tier. Do the percentages you see below truly summarize each team’s chances in a completely accurate fashion? Of course not. But they’re fun conversation starters! Let’s count this thing down from the bottom, shall we?
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12. Indianapolis Colts
No room for inspiration in math! The Colts ranked 31st in the final Predictive Yards per Play rankings and though that’s probably too low compared to their actual quality, it’s tough to find something that they’re actually good at. 26th in Yards per Carry, 21st in Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed, 31st in Yards per Carry Allowed – even just 18th in Net Yards per Attempt, the area they’re supposed to be most proficient in. And that’s before we factor in their -12 turnover differential or their soft schedule (the easiest in the league, according to Pro Football Reference). Of course, the Colts don’t pay attention to logic, so we might as well just be saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…“
Statistical Probability the Colts Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)24.72%*(DIV)17.69%*(AFCC)21.85%*(SBXLVII)22.14% = 0.21%
Probability Doppelganger: Catching a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game
11. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are boring and uninspiring, which was more than enough to secure a wild-card in the AFC this year but not actually enough to make them a Super Bowl contender. Even if they beat Houston this Saturday (and PY/P doesn’t find this as likely a scenario as conventional wisdom does right now), it’s pretty tough to imagine Shawshank leading his troops into Denver and out-dueling Peyton Manning, right? Silver lining: they’ll be on the road no matter what this postseason, so they’ll be spared the ignominy of having a playoff game blacked out.
Statistical Probability the Bengals Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)37.44%*(DIV)28.71%*(AFCC)34.59%*(SBXLVII)35.08% = 1.30%
Probability Doppelganger: Being born a twin in North America
Slightly Better than a Snowball’s Chance in Hell
10. Minnesota Vikings
They’ve arguably played their best football of the season over the past three weeks and I hear their running back is pretty good, so they have a puncher’s chance against the Packers and an even better shot at the Falcons were they to get past Green Bay. With all that said, though…Christian Ponder leading a team to three straight road victories and THEN the Super Bowl? Sorry, Ragar, not buying it. I do like the chances of Ponder’s wife being at the Super Bowl, however.
Statistical Probability the Vikings Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)36.83%*(DIV)45.82%*(NFCC)28.74%*(SBXLVII)42.51% = 2.06%
Probability Doppelganger: The Jets’ chance of making the playoffs after their loss to Seattle Nov. 11 (note: they did not make the playoffs)
9. Washington Redskins
They’ve won seven in a row, what’s another four? If RGIII is close to 100%, there’s always the possibility this offense starts shooting giant fireballs out of their collective keester and lays a scorched-earth policy to everything they come in contact with. Unfortunately, RGIII hasn’t looked close to 100% the past two weeks. And even if he did, the Redskins’ leaky pass defense would almost certainly do them in anyway. Obviously, Washington’s likely eventual playoff loss will be a HUGE disappointment to a fanbase that hasn’t experienced the postseason in five years and was prepared for another long offseason two months ago.
Statistical Probability the Redskins Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)40.37%*(DIV)38.75%*(NFCC)37.48%*(SBXLVII)42.54% = 2.49%
Probability Doppelganger: Rolling a pair of sixes with two dice on one roll
The One-and-Done Club
8. Houston Texans
Oh man. Things sure looked a lot rosier two weeks ago, didn’t they, Houston fans? Let’s be frank here: the Texans were always going to need home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in order to have a good shot at the Super Bowl and now that’s gone. They’re reliably above-average just about everywhere, but short of J.J. Watt collecting 20 sacks and knocking down 50 passes over a four-game span (don’t count this out, actually), there’s little reason to think the Texans could go into New England and then Denver and still come out alive. On the bright side, you still clinched the best record in franchise history, Houston fans! So that’s something, right? Right?
Statistical Probability the Texans Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)62.56%*(DIV)37.08%*(AFCC)41.89%*(SBXLVII)40.75% = 3.96%
Probability Doppelganger: Being a sociopath
7. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are the masters of winning a playoff game and then bowing out gracefully. Short of a climactic final scene getting added to the eventual #Chuckstrong movie Sunday, that once again seems to be the path Baltimore will venture on. Like Houston, they’re decent in everything, great in nothing (except special teams, so if there was any time for you to start returning two kickoffs for touchdowns a game, Jacoby Jones, THIS WOULD BE IT). Their chances are slightly better than the Texans simply because they’re more likely to win their Wild-Card game. After that? No bueno.
Statistical Probability the Ravens Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)75.28%*(DIV)34.18%*(AFCC)39.39%*(SBXLVII)39.57% = 4.01%
Probability Doppelganger: Getting hemmorhoids
Probably One-and-Done, But…
6. Green Bay Packers
Let’s all assume Adrian Peterson doesn’t run for 400 yards Saturday night and circle the Packers’ potential NFC Divisional Round game against the 49ers as the single most important game of the postseason. Green Bay is listed here as only having the fourth-best odds of any NFC team of winning the Super Bowl because Predictive Yards per Play thinks they have little chance of beating San Francisco at Candlestick Park. If they were to beat the Niners, however? Then things open up quite a bit, not just for the Pack but for every other remaining team in the postseason as (SPOILER ALERT) the presumptive favorite would be down for the count, slain in majestic battle. Subjectively, I think the Packers should be ranked above the next team.
Statistical Probability the Packers Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)63.17%*(DIV)32.51%*(NFCC)52.32%*(SBXLVII)49.34% = 5.30%
Probability Doppelganger: Being born with an extra rib
Only Because They Have a Bye…
5. Atlanta Falcons
Look. We’ve all had our fun pointing out the Falcons’ flaws – of which, there are many. They don’t run the ball well…or stop the pass very well…or stop the run effectively…actually, all they really do well is pass. But the fact of the matter is they’re the #1 seed and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and get to skip a round that eight other teams have to participate in. As you’ll see below, Predictive Yards per Play doesn’t favor them to win any individual round they appear in. However, when you only have to multiply three percentages together instead of four, you wind up with higher percentages overall. That could be the slogan for the Falcons’ 2012 postseason campaign: “Pick us! We don’t have to play as often!”
Statistical Probability the Falcons Will Win the Super Bowl: (DIV)48.12%*(NFCC)38.94%*(SBXLVII)40.28% = 7.55%
Probability Doppelganger: The San Francisco Giants’ chances to defend their World Series title in 2013
4. Seattle Seahawks
If there’s one team from Wild-Card weekend that could follow the path of the last two Super Bowl champions and win four games in a row, this would probably be the one. Seattle ranked second in Predictive Yards per Play to end the season and is on an incredible offensive tear. They’re great at everything (except stopping the run – they’re 23rd in Yards per Carry Allowed) and, in inverse relation to the Falcons, are actually favored by PY/P in each round of the postseason. The reason why the next two teams are ahead of them? That whole bye and not having to play four games thing. Maybe next year you shouldn’t lose to Arizona, guys!
Statistical Probability the Seahawks Will Win the Super Bowl: (WC)59.63%*(DIV)54.29%*(NFCC)52.56%*(SBXLVII)58.52% = 9.96%
Probability Doppelganger: Haruki Murakami’s chances to win the Nobel Prize in Literature as of August 23, 2012 (note: he did not win the Nobel Prize)
3. New England Patriots
According to Predictive Yards per Play, there is roughly a 75% chance that either this team or the next will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Is that because they’re far and away the two best teams in the conference and control both byes? PERHAPS. I don’t think I need to sell you on the possibility of the Patriots winning it all – I’ve personally found it pretty easy to imagine that scenario. I will explain, however, that the reason why PY/P considers them less likely than Denver to win the Super Bowl is shoddy pass defense. When the Pats don’t force turnovers (which isn’t very often), they’re extremely easy to throw on. If they do end up having to play the Broncos in the AFC Championship, they’ll have to get that area straightened out.
Statistical Probability the Patriots Will Win the Super Bowl: (DIV)64.94%*(AFCC)48.35%*(SBXLVII)47.18% = 14.81%
Probability Doppelganger: Getting arthritis
2. Denver Broncos
Slightly better odds than last year, no? It really is amazing to see how much this team has improved in one year – remember, Tebow wasn’t the only issue with the Broncos in 2011. They had real problems stopping the pass and forcing turnovers…and, yes, Tebow wasn’t very good. Now they’re one of the four or five toughest teams to either pass or run on, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have taken over for Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as the Elite Pass Rushing Closer Duo in the NFL…and, yes, Peyton has been pretty good. They haven’t been able to run the ball since Willis McGahee got hurt, but they’re outstanding everywhere else. Is John Elway an even better executive than quarterback?
Statistical Probability the Broncos Will Win the Super Bowl: (DIV)71.01%*(AFCC)62.04%*(SBXLVII)50.05% = 22.05%
Probability Doppelganger: One of the 144 golfers in a professional tournament hitting a hole-in-one
1. San Francisco 49ers
On paper, this is as close to a bulletproof team as you’re going to find. You’ve known about Frank Gore for about five or six years now and you know that Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman are utterly terrifying and it’s nothing short of obscenity that they all play on the same defense. Now it looks like they’ve got a real quarterback – an inexperienced one, yes, but a real quarterback nonetheless. The only passer who got more Net Yards per Attempt this season than Colin Kaepernick was Peyton Manning and it’s fair to say that Colin might be a bit more mobile than Peyton at this point. Could David Akers’ field goal woes come back to haunt them at some point? Yes. Could the lack of having a 100% Justin Smith do irreperable harm to their defensive line? Absolutely. Are there limitless more scenarios I could list in which the 49ers lose so I can answer my own rhetorical questions? You bet. From where we are right now, however, the San Francisco 49ers look like the favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII. Now go out and bet your life savings on that happening because a 26% chance is obviously good as gold.
Statistical Probability the 49ers Will Win the Super Bowl: (DIV)66.45%*(NFCC)65.17%*(SBXLVII)60.73% = 26.30%
Probability Doppelganger: An American watching an online video at some point today