What Kind of Teams Are Super Bowl Winners?

What's the profile of a Super Bowl winner in the modern era? Does defense win championships? Are they predominantly elite offenses? Do they have to be above average on both sides of the ball? Are champions always dominant in the regular season? Is your team out of the mix for the Lombardi Trophy?

Here's the plot of every team's regular season Expected Points Added (EPA) for every team from 1999-2013. The horizontal axis represents their offensive EPA per game, and the horizontal axis represents their defensive EPA per game. The best teams are in the upper-right quadrant, while the worst are in the lower-left. (Click to enlarge...it's suitable for framing!)

And here is where the Super Bowl champions have come from. The red blob comprises the 'Champion Zone'. Certainly, Super Bowl caliber teams can come from outside this area, especially further up and to the right, but this is the region where they have come from. (Click to enlarge.)

And here is the plot of only Super Bowl Champions.

Note that of the 13 champions there are only 5 teams in the upper-right (good offense/good defense) quadrant. There are three teams in the lower-right (good offense/bad defense), and only one true elite offense/bad defense. The 2012 Ravens and 2011 Giants might be better classified as slightly above average teams with good fortune in the playoffs. We could throw the 2007 Giants and 2001 Patriots into that class too. There are 4 teams in the 'elite' defense/below average offense cluster in the top-left quadrant. That's nearly as many as the 5 all-around good/good teams. Despite what we know about the relative distributions of elite offenses and defenses, recent champions tend to skew toward solid defense.

Of course, we're only looking at a sample of 13 seasons, so we can't draw conclusions. And just because a team is 'within-zone' doesn't mean its of winning it all is equal to a dominant 'upper-right' team. But one thing that stands out is there are no champions from the lower-left quadrant--below average on both sides of the ball.

The most interesting is that the championship zone comprises the majority of teams. Only 12 will be both good enough and lucky enough to make the playoffs, but until then most teams are legitimate contenders. That's one of the reasons we keep showing up or tuning in every Sunday.

Where is your team right now?

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7 Responses to “What Kind of Teams Are Super Bowl Winners?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Could some of this result be an artifact that offenses have become more efficient on average over the last decade or so? Just eyeballing the graph, it seems like teams in the "good offense" quadrants disproportionately come from more recent years, "good defense" teams tend to come from earlier years in the sample.

    I wonder if the result would hold up if you adjusted for this by plotting the teams' EPA relative to the league average EPA for that season.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This website is so stupid.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Those Giants teams and last year's Ravens have to be the worst teams ever to win the Super Bowl.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Other Anon - The graph is actually saying that they are the worst teams to win it in the years examined.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was the second anon. First anon must be a Saints fan.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Whoops I meant I was the third Anon, and the fourth must be a Saints fan.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think it's intriguing because this is terrific evidence which supports the old saw "defense wins championships". Very few of these teams have below average defenses.

    It's also interesting that none come from the lower left quadrant - which you'd hope would be the case. That would completely undermine the NFL's drive for parity if truly bad teams won.

    That said, it's sad that even a few mediocre teams won because they found 'good fortune' come playoff time, especially if they backed into the playoffs (as some did).

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