These insights were also part of a recent episode of The Football Analytics Show. If you’d rather listen to get a more complete analysis, click here.
On the surface, it seems like Jalen Hurts is better at not throwing interceptions than Patrick Mahomes. Both have interception rates better than the 2.3% NFL average during this 2022 season:
- Jalen Hurts – 1.2%
- Patrick Mahomes – 1.7%
However, interception rates for a QB are not that predictive.
In my research, I have found a r-squared value of 0.07 from season to season for QB interception rate. This means that randomness plays a huge role in interceptions.
If you’re the math type, this idea of regression and r-squared should be familiar. If this notion of predictability doesn’t make sense, I have a visual primer on linear regression and r-squared.
To understand the randomness inherent in interceptions, think back to the AFC Championship game between Cincinnati and Kansas City. With about 7 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the game was tied at 20.
Joe Burrow steps back and launches a ball downfield to Tee Higgins. Kansas City defender Bryan Cook has good coverage, gets his hand on the ball and tips it up in the air.
Sometimes, the ball lands harmlessly on the ground. Other times, the ball ends up in the hands of the defense.
In this case, Joshua Williams caught the tipped pass for Chiefs for a pick. It was a critical play in a game that could have gone either way.
To better predict interceptions, we need to look at these plays in which a defender gets a hand on the ball. The NFL play by play tracks pass defended, which includes these tipped passes as well as when a defender jars the ball loose with a hit.
To predict interceptions, consider bad balls, or the sum of interceptions and passes defended. In essence, adding passes defended expands the set of plays in which the QB puts the ball in a dangerous position.
Bad ball rate, or interceptions and pass defended per pass attempt, has a r-squared of 0.27 from season to season for the QB. This is as predictive as QB statistics get.
Let’s look at the bad ball rates for the two Super Bowl QBs compared to the NFL average of 12.3% in the 2022 season:
- Jalen Hurts – 11.4%
- Patrick Mahomes – 8.4%
In this MVP caliber campaign, Hurts has been better than average. His bad ball rate has improved from his 14.7% during the 2021 season, his first as a full time NFL starter.
In contrast, Patrick Mahomes is elite in not putting the ball in dangerous situations, as he has a bad ball rate about 32% lower than NFL average. He’s actually slacking this season, as he had a bad ball rate of 7.2% in 2021.
Kansas City has an edge in this Super Bowl, and it’s the ability of Patrick Mahomes to not put the ball in dangerous positions. My numbers already favor the Chiefs, but this analysis suggests the margin should be more than 2.
Data driven betting information
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