Super Bowl win probabilities for 2016-17

It’s not surprising that New England has the highest Super Bowl win probability.

No Rob Gronkowski, no problem. The offense has been fine so far without the elite TE, and Belichick machine marches on.

However, it might be a surprise that Atlanta has the second highest Super Bowl probability over Dallas.

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta has the top ranked pass offense by my adjusted yards per attempt. The pass defense has been respectable at 8th.

Dallas has had a fantastic season, but Dak Prescott is still a rookie quarterback. Will he hold up now that defensive coordinators have a season’s worth of tape to study?

Still, the Cowboys have a 16.8% chance to win the Super Bowl, not far behind the Falcons at 19.1%.

Get a sample of my best NFL predictions

At The Power Rank, I combine predictions based on a number of different data sources to make the best possible football predictions.

It started with team rankings that take the margin of victory and adjust for strength of schedule. Back in 2008, I developed an algorithm that makes these adjustments, and you can see these points based predictions here.

The ensemble of predictions now contains calculations based on other data sources. For example, I use yards per play, a powerful efficiency metric, to evaluate teams.

I save these predictions for members of The Power Rank, as the NFL predictions went 53.1% against the closing spread during the regular season. You can get a sample of the NFL predictions by signing up for the free email newsletter.

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Methods for Super Bowl win probabilities

These win probabilities start with my member predictions that combine data from a number of different sources.

The predictions imply a win probability for each team in each game, and these numbers provide the parameters to simulate the playoffs.

Each simulation accounts for the shifting match ups based on seed (e.g. New England will play the lowest seed after this Wild Card Weekend) and neutral site of the Super Bowl.

Podcast: Market rankings for college football and NFL

With a bit of a break in college football, I devote this week’s episode of the Football Analytics Show to market rankings. These come from taking the closing point spreads in the markets and adjusting for schedule to rank teams.

These market rankings reveal some surprising opinions about college and pro teams:

  • The college football playoff team that is 8th in these market rankings.
  • The surprising top ranked college football team by the markets.
  • The ESPN pundits have Oakland as their top AFC team, but the markets beg to differ.
  • The college football team the markets didn’t give up on, even though media did.

To listen to the podcast on iTunes, click here.

To listen on the site, click on the play button.

Preview of the NFL conference championships, 2016

sb_trophyWhich teams will make the Super Bowl?

New England travels to Denver as a 3 point favorite. This goes against the numbers, but a strong subjective adjustment suggests that the markets have this one correct.

The story is different for Arizona at Carolina. A look at the match ups and injury situations go against the home favorite Panthers in the NFC championship game.

Let’s take a closer look at both games using the ensemble predictions available to members of The Power Rank.

Patriots at Broncos (Line: +3, The Power Rank: -3.8)

Both the Patriots and the Broncos have played two different seasons. Both teams started the season on fire, then struggled down the stretch.

Though their win-loss record didn’t take a big hit, the Broncos didn’t quite fit the part as the number one seed in the AFC. They’ve been flip-flopping between an “injured” Peyton Manning and the youngster, Brock Osweiler.

The defense kept the Broncos a consistent force all season. Despite, to be fair, awful play at quarterback by both Manning and Osweiler, the Broncos won important games down the stretch on their way to the number one seed.

What made the number one seed possible for the Broncos? The Patriots’ struggles.

After starting 10-0, the Patriots finished the season 2-4 as injuries affected the offense and the secondary struggled.

In my opinion, the Patriots didn’t exactly try to win the last two games of the season. They kicked off in overtime against the Jets and only threw the ball a handful of times against the Dolphins.

I would agree that avoiding the Steelers as the sixth seed was a better opportunity for the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl. With the Broncos knocking off the hobbled Steelers last weekend, this week is an even better opportunity for the Patriots.

The Patriots offense is suddenly healthy. With Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski all appearing close to 100% last week, Tom Brady ripped apart the Chiefs’ solid defense and silenced many doubters (including me).

The discrepancy in The Power Rank’s prediction (Broncos by 3.8) and the actual point spread (Patriots by 3) likely comes from the way these teams are trending health-wise. The Patriots statistical struggles down the stretch could be credited to both not exactly attempting to win games and preserving health for this very moment.

This current Patriots team is much closer to the team that started 10-0 as opposed to the team that closed the season 2-4 while losing to Brock Osweiler in overtime.

Though the Broncos’ defense is extremely stout (the best pass defense and sack rate in The Power Rank’s ratings), quarterback play will hold back this team. They rank just 19th in pass offense and yards per carry (both adjusted for strength of schedule).

I have sympathy for those currently backing the Broncos this week. There is some line value on a team with a great defense getting 3 points at home. But the uncertainty at quarterback position is frightening.

If you are a follower of The Power Rank, you know that rushing ability does not predict wins or losses. The Broncos must be willing to throw the ball on the Patriots’ secondary if they want to stay in this game.

Seeing that they were not willing to throw the ball against the Steelers awful secondary last week, I would not back either team of these teams. Point spreads are pretty efficient this time of the year and I don’t see the number coming off of three on either side throughout the week.

At 3 points, I’ll pass on the side and enjoy the last of the Brady-Manning rivalry that we’ve been blessed with for so many years.

Cardinals at Panthers (Line: -3, The Power Rank: +0.2)

A Cardinals-Panthers matchup is the most we could ask for this NFL season. These teams are very similar on paper and the point spread would suggest they are equals on a neutral field.

Both of these offenses are extremely talented, exciting, and efficient. Both defenses rank in the top twelve in the passing game. Lastly, the most underrated portion of this game is the aggressiveness of coaches Bruce Arians and Ron Rivera.

Though they have beat them twice, the Seahawks are by far the best team the Panthers have played this season. Their own division was very weak and their schedule-matched division this year was the NFC East. That combination alone led to an opponent 47-65 record.

The Panthers did beat the Packers, but we can all admit it wasn’t the typically strong Green Bay team. Overall, Carolina only played two teams in the top half of The Power Rank’s member rankings: Seattle and Green Bay.

The Power Rank’s advantage for the Cardinals comes from pass offense, 1st in the NFL, against the Panthers pass defense. After accounting for strength of schedule, the Panthers pass defense is merely average, 16th in the NFL.

I would agree with this assessment. Outside of Josh Norman, the Panthers secondary is questionable at best. Robert McClain, Cortland Finnegan, and Roman Harper are all liabilities when trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. Admittedly, Kurt Coleman has had a huge year with seven interceptions; however, this appears to be more of an aberration when you consider his previous seasons.

Let’s not downplay Cam Newton’s talent, either. He’s lost a total of one game this season while scoring loads of points despite being the only offensive threat on the team. You’ll have to forgive me as this is also my concern.

When looking at the matchup for the Cardinals secondary against Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess, and Kevin Norwood, I can’t say Cam has the upper hand this week.

Playing at home certainly does help. But if you’re giving me the entire three points with a good quarterback, the better secondary, and much better receivers, I’m going to take that every time. I may not agree that the Panthers should be underdogs in this game at home, but the whole three points is too many.

You can follow Frank Brank on Twitter.

Radio appearance on Eye on Gaming

eye_on_gamingJohn Kelly had me on Eye on Gaming, a radio show on KLAV in Las Vegas. We talk about the art in algorithms, efficiency metrics in football, and predictions for the Super Bowl between New England and Seattle.

I particularly appreciate the kind words from the Friday night regulars, Matt Hatfield and Robert Gary Ravdel, on my appearance. Listen for that after the interview.

To listen to the show, click here. (If it’s after the Super Bowl, you might need to click on the show “Stanford PhD Ed Feng analyzes Super Bowl XLIX.”)

Super Bowl preview for members, 2015

deflated_ball_cookiesIs there any edge in this Super Bowl between New England and Seattle?

The numbers slightly favor Seattle. I aggregated my numbers at The Power Rank with 8 other trusted sources, and this ensemble predicts Seattle by 0.46 points. This corresponds to a 51.3% win probability for Seattle.

The match ups do not seem to suggest an edge for either team. Frank Brank broke these factors down, and nothing persuaded him to favor either side.

However, there’s one additional consideration, and it comes from looking at the Patriots fumble data. I know, you might be sick of Deflategate and the fumble data. If so, check out this video for comic relief.

But there are missing insights in the fumble data. Let me explain.

The Patriots ball security

After the AFC championship game, a report claimed that 11 of the 12 Patriots game balls were deflated during the game. This lack of air pressure makes the ball easier to catch and not fumble, simple physics that makes sense to me.

Then Walter Sharp published some interesting data on the Patriot’s ball security. Over the last 5 seasons, they average 187 plays between fumbles lost, a much higher average than any other NFL team over this time.

To understand ball security, it’s more important to look at all fumbles, not only those lost to the other team. The Patriots have also excelled in this category, going 73 plays between fumbles over the last 5 years. Only Atlanta and New Orleans have fumbled less.

If you believe the Patriots are cheaters (not unreasonable given Spygate and Deflategate), this data supports your case. The Patriots purposely played with deflated balls, which allowed them to have better ball security.

The problems with this fumble data

However, there are many problems with this analysis. If you want to get it right, you should break down the Patriots fumbles based on who had the ball. This requires looking at play by play data to separate QB Tom Brady, ball carriers, receivers and special teams.

Deadspin looked at fumble rates on carries and receptions for the Patriots. Since 2007, their ball carriers have led the NFL, but not by a significant margin. For fumbles after catches, they’re third. For this data, check out the bottom part of this article.

This suggest the Patriots ball security boils down to Brady and special teams. Since Brady handles the ball far more than punters and kick returners, the Patriots low fumble rate is most likely due to him.

In addition, consider the other two teams with low fumble rates: Atlanta and New Orleans. Sharp suggested this was because they played in domes. However, dome teams don’t fumble less on carries and receptions according to the Deadspin results. In addition, Atlanta and New Orleans have elite quarterbacks (Matt Ryan and Drew Brees).

This data suggest that quarterbacks have some skill in protecting the ball. Most likely, Brady does this well, deflated ball or not. We’ll see if he can continue his elite ball security, even with that nagging cold he’ll drag into the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The missing insight from this fumble data

The Patriots are in the top 3 of fumbles but by far the best at fumbles lost. This suggests looking at the rate at which they recover these fumbles.

From Sharp’s data, we can estimate the fraction of the Patriot’s fumbles that they recover. Since 2010, they have jumped on 61% of their fumbles (51 of 84 fumbles), much larger than the expected 50-50 on fumble recoveries. Based on these 84 fumbles, their fumble recover rate is better than 2 standard deviations lucky.

Fumble recoveries do depend on where on the field they occur. Looking at huge sample of college football plays, Brett Theissen found that the offense recovers more fumbles on their side of the line of scrimmage (e.g. strip sacks of the quarterback) than downfield (e.g. fumble by a receiver after a catch).

If we can infer from the Sharp and Deadspin data that Brady doesn’t fumble at a high rate, then more of the Patriots fumbles occur downfield. This makes their 61% fumble recovery rate even more incredible.

And this fumble recovery rate has nothing to do with deflated footballs. Even the most conspiracy theory loving, Patriots hating fan will find it hard to argue that they’re better at jumping on bouncing footballs, even if they lack the proper air pressure.

Which side to take?

The data suggests Tom Brady is good at holding onto the ball and the Patriots offense has been incredibly luck with fumble recoveries. The latter should not continue into the future.

This makes me lean towards Seattle more, although not much more. The side is only enticing if you can find New England as a 1 or 2 point favorite.