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Passer Rating Differential Of Super Bowl Teams

Roughly 72 hours from now, as the confetti is falling upon the team which reigns triumphant in Indianapolis, the media will most likely be talking about either Tom Brady or Eli Manning and how his performance was central to the winning effort. That so much attention is devoted to quarterbacks is a testament to how integral a good passing attack is in getting to the Super Bowl. Consider this: since 1970, only 4 teams have won the Super Bowl having had a regular season passer rating below league average. The average Super Bowl winner has had a passer rating of about 22% higher than league average. On the other side of the ball, six teams have won the Super Bowl with a below average passer rating allowed. Ideally, a team will be both efficient passing the ball and proficient at stopping the pass. To get a team’s Passer Rating Differential (PRD), we subtract the passer rating allowed from the team’s passer rating. In general, the greater a team’s PRD, the more successful that team will be. The team with the better regular season PRD has won 26 of the 41 post-merger Super Bowls and 7 of the last 11:

Breaking it down piece by piece:

This graph shows the offensive and defensive components of passer rating differential for the Super Bowl winners.. As you’ll notice, every team except for the 2007 New York Giants had a positive PRD. The 2007 Giants had a QBR of 73.0 (10% worse than league average) and allowed opponents to put up a QBR of 83.4 (3% worse than average). B0th figures are amongst the most unimpressive of the Super Bowl era and emphasize just how unexpected their Super Bowl run was.

This shows the QBR+ (passer rating relative to league average) of Super Bowl winning teams, broken down by the offensive (blue) and defensive (red) components. In general, Super Bowl winning teams have been better, relative to average, offensively than defensively in terms of QBR. However, there are a few more exceptions here than just the 2007 Giants. 10 of the 41 Super Bowl winning teams since 1970 had more success on defense than offense. Super Bowl winners have averaged an offensive QBR+ of 122 and defensive QBR+ of 112.

In terms of Super Bowl losing teams, we see mostly the same trends:

One interesting thing here is that the PRD tend to be a bit smaller for Super Bowl losers than winners. Since 1970, winning teams have had averaged a PRD of 24.5, whereas losing teams have averaged 18.6. As you can see in the chart above, the PRD of losing teams has been decreasing since the late 1970’s.

As with Super Bowl winners, Super Bowl losers tend to be better (relative to league average) on the offensive side of the ball than on defense. Super Bowl losers average an offensive QBR+ of 120 and a defensive QBR+ of 105.

Since 2000, there have been 6 Super Bowls where one participant has had a better defensive QBR+ than offensive QBR+. 5 of those 6 teams has gone on to victory, with the exception being the 2006 Bears. That’s a reversal from the previous trend where the more defensively inclined team had lost 6 of 8 matchups from 1970-1999.

This year’s Super Bowl participants stack up like this:

New England Patriots:

Offensive QBR: 105.7

Defensive QBR: 86.1

Offensive QBR+: 128

Defensive QBR+: 96

Passer Rating Differential: 19.6


New York Giants:

Offensive QBR: 92.9

Defensive QBR: 86.1

Offensive QBR+: 113

Defensive QBR+: 96

Passer Rating Differential: 6.8


On paper, it’s a very close match up of two teams with similar regular season stats. Both teams were a little below average in stopping the pass, but decidedly above average in passing offense. Like the 2007 Giants, both teams (especially the Giants) have played better defensively down the stretch than their final 2011 numbers indicate – although I’d expect both teams to struggle to contain their opponent’s passing attack on Sunday.

Ultimately, like most football stats, Passer Rating Differential isn’t particularly useful in predicting a winner in a 1 game sample with two pretty evenly matched teams. While they help us fill the two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, stats are no match for, and can’t really forecast, a great coaching effort and execution of a superior game plan (not to mention a little luck).

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