Today’s the Super Bowl, and it seems like everybody and his brother is picking the Giants to win. That makes no sense, by the way.
I mean, don’t get me wrong; in one game, luck is way way waywayway overpowering. The surest possible thing is maybe 60% likely to win any given game — just ask the Denver Broncos, who built an entire playoff run (and quite possibly an entire career for Tim Tebow) on luck. So I’m certainly not saying the Giants can’t win. I’m just saying that I can’t find any way of looking at it that doesn’t make the Patriots overwhelming favourites. Let’s go down the list, shall we?
1) Defense: This is the thing, innit? We all know the Patriots can’t win because their defense is shit. Everybody knows the Patriots have shit defense. The badness of their defense is the subject of many an epic example of skaldship. Only one question: is their defense really as bad as people make it out to be? I see here that the Patriots allowed 342 points this season. That’s not exactly awesome, but you know what? League average is 354.9. The Patriots have allowed fewer points than the average team, which is not the hallmark of a terrible defensive line.
One could argue that this number is skewed by the fact that the Patriots never had to defend against their own offense, which scored an outrageous 513 points. I’d suggest that one shouldn’t mention the overpowerance of the Patriots’ offense in an argument about how bad they are, but never mind; the point is valid. So what now? We get nerdy up in this shit, that’s what.
The Patriots scored 32.1 points per game. League average is 22.2. So let’s assume that, instead of facing an average team, the Patriots had had a Mortal Kombat Mirror Match, and played against themselves. We would expect them to allow an additional ten points that game, giving them a season total of 352. This total is still slightly better than average.
It’s not that I’m trying to be difficult, lord knows; I just honestly cannot locate a metric by which the Patriots play meaningfully worse than average defense. Pro Football Ref’s weirdo Defensive SRS stat has them at -0.1 for the year — just a tiny tiny bit below average. And how do they stack up against the Giants? Well, the Giants have allowed 400 points this year and have a DSRS of -1.5. That’s much, much worse defense than the Patriots.
Okay, defense is a little bit skewed, but offense is downright unfair. Behold:
Patriots: 513 points scored
Giants: 394 points scored
Ouch. Now, the Giants are not a bad team, offensively — they scored an above-average number of points, and PFR has them as a respectable 3.1 OSRS. But the Patriots are obscene. They scored an outrageous number of points, and accumulated a 9.4 OSRS for their trouble. Offensively, there simply isn’t any comparison. But if you need the whole package assembled for you, here we are:
Patriots point differential: 171
Giants point differential: -6
The Patriots are awesome. The Giants… well, it looks like 9-7 involved a bit of good luck. They should be an 8-8 team. And, no, I’m not bothering to renormalise the offensive stats to account for not playing against own defense; trust me, it doesn’t close a 119-point gap.
3) Clurtch: Oh, but the Giants have Momentum and Destiny and Voodoo and all that other shit that doesn’t really exist on their side! I don’t care if they have Bigfoot, Xenu, and Charles Bronson on their side — turns out stuff that isn’t real doesn’t help very much.
But okay, okay. I’ll play along. We’ll pretend this stuff actually matters. How do we define "momentum" here, and why do the Giants have it? By definition, any team in the Super Bowl has won its last few games, so it can’t be that. Maybe it’s the team that’s won its last few games by the biggest margins. Is that it?
Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (3 points)
Giants 20, 49ers 17 (3 points)
Oh. Well, can we go back a round, then?
Patriots 45, Broncos 10 (35 points)
Giants 37, Packers 20 (17 points)
Oh. Uh. I guess maybe that’s not what momentum is about. Maybe… maybe momentum is about who had the longest winning streak at the end of the regular season. That would make sense. Let’s check:
Patriots: won last 8 games
Giants: won last 2 games
Hrm. Nope, no Giants-favourable momentum there either. Actually, it turns out the only way to present the bullshit "momentum" argument in the Giants’ favour is to say that, since the Giants won the last time these two teams played in the Super Bowl, they have the all-time Super Bowl momentum!
Do I need to tell you why that’s insane? I didn’t think so.
So what is it then? I really, honestly can’t find anything to suggest that the Patriots aren’t the overpowering favourite in this matchup. I’m beginning to suspect that people place more emphasis on what they feel in their intestines than they do on actual data!
Might want to reserve your place in the comments now so you can edit in an "I-told-you-so" in a good position when the Giants win.