Based on a similar “wins above average” (WAA) approach that I used for an Oakland Raiders‘ report card, I analyzed this year’s 2014 Super Bowl contenders. The method deconstructs a football team based on “win probability added” (WPA) and other statistics to carve out the contributions of specific team categories and positions.
In a team sport like football, it is difficult to determine the impact of player interactions. For instance, did the quarterback make a great throw or did the receiver make a great catch? Is the running back that super or is he getting a lot of help from the offensive line? WPA and WAA can help us to analyze these issues.
There’s no question that the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks pits strength against strength with a top-rated offense against a top-rated defense. Denver has scored 30 or more points in 13 out of 16 regular season games. On the other hand, Seattle, gave up 20 or fewer points in 13 of 16 regular season games. Something has got to give. Here, we take a closer look at how these teams got to the Super Bowl.
Using our statistical toolkit and especially wins above average, certain results are no surprise. Peyton Manning is one of the biggest keys in this game. During the regular season, Manning added an estimated 2.8 wins to his team. Interestingly, the statistics also show that the Denver has a tremendously strong and balanced offense.
Knowshon Moreno rushed for over 1,000 yards, averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry and contributed 1.0 wins to the Broncos’ season. The offensive line did a great job blocking for Moreno as well as protecting their quarterback. Manning, with his quick release, was sacked only 18 times, and the Broncos yielded only 20 sacks during the regular season, best in the league. The offensive line contributed 1.4 wins above average. In total, Denver’s offense contributed 5.8 wins above average. Denver’s defense cost the Broncos about -0.8 wins, but when the offense averages almost 40 points a game it is hard to fault the defense.
The Seahawks gained 4.3 wins above average from their defense with cornerback Richard Sherman being one of the standouts, adding about a win to the Seahawks’ total by himself. The Seattle safeties are also standouts, adding 1.5 wins to the Seattle total. Offensively, Seattle is a net positive WAA of 1.3 with quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch adding roughly 0.5 wins each.
If we total up the WAA for each team, we see that Seattle outperforms Denver 5.6 to 5.0. An average team will win eight games in a season, so this suggests that both teams are expected to win about 13 games during the regular season. Interestingly, this result also agrees with the expected wins for each team based on a Pythagorean approach. Various methods of using “points scored” versus “points against” also has Seattle slightly ahead of Denver. Still, the WAA results show that Peyton Manning is the elephant in the room.