Saturday, February 6, 2010

Who Will Win the Super Bowl? A Look at Sport Psychology & Stats (2010)

Based on research from the book, “Who Will Win the Big Game,” nineteen factors were studied that might help predict the winner of the Super Bowl. The results are based on every Super Bowl from Super Bowl I in January 1967 to Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, or forty-three games. The authors have been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and CNN Radio.
With an eye towards key concepts of sport psychology, as well as statistical analysis that attempts to identify factors that are as independent from one another as possible, five key statistical factors were identified. These statistics are related to principles of sport psychology such as experience, leadership, error control, and consistency. So important are these concepts to winning championships that they have proven to be common themes across all sports.
The team with more Super Bowl experience, as measured by Super Bowl appearances over the past three years, has won 63.6% of the Super Bowls. Although this may seem obvious, it's interesting to put a number on this concept. In fact, the 63.6% success rate of “Big Game Experience” in the NFL underperforms that of other sports partly because the Buffalo Bills had difficulties, going winless in four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1991 to 1994.
With a Super Bowl appearance in 2007, the Colts pick up experience points. Some people favor the Colts mainly due to this one key factor.
Most sports fans believe that "defense wins championships." Research shows that defense is, indeed, a crucial ingredient to winning the Super Bowl. A large majority of Super Bowls (68.3%) has been won by the team with the better defense, measured by points against. The Colts’ defense ranked number 8 this year, while the Saints’ defense was ranked number 20.
Quarterbacks, as the teams’ offensive leaders, are major factors in determining championships, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. Quarterback interceptions during the regular season are great predictors of Super Bowl success, but quarterback rating is not. Champions need high-level performance, but with few errors and mistakes. The team with fewer interceptions during the regular season has won 59% of the Super Bowls. This factor favors the Saints and their 12 interceptions, compared to the Colts’ 19 interceptions.
Interestingly, rushing yards per rush was the most important offensive indicator studied. The team with a better running game, as measured by rushing yards per rush, has won 59.5% of the Super Bowls. The Saints averaged 4.5 yards per rush this season, compared to 3.5 for the Colts.
The team that has achieved more double-digit wins during the regular season and including the playoffs has gone on to win 59.0% of Super Bowls. This category favors the Saints, with 10 double-digit wins, compared to 8 for the Colts. The Saints should be very confident as they prepare for the Super Bowl.
Research has shown that consistency measures are often more important to winning championships than the more exciting events that each particular sport has to offer. For example, defense and rushing yards/rush are more consistent parts of the game, as opposed to long TD passes and glitzy quarterback ratings.

Super Bowl Championship Characteristics
Factor Winning %
Defense – Points Against per Game (Rank)
19.2 (8)
21.3 (20)
Big Game Experience
2007 Super Bowl Appearance
Offense – Rushing Yards per Rush (Rank)
3.5 (30)
4.5 (7)
Fewer Interceptions
Double-Digit Wins
These are the five most important characteristics identified by an analysis of psychological and mathematical factors. Factor Winning % is that factor’s success at predicting the Super Bowl winner. Results are based on 43 Super Bowls, going back to Super Bowl I.
Many people favor the Colts in this year’s Super Bowl. Fans remember recent performance, and in particular, the Conference Championship games. However, data shows that this factor, as measured by margin of victory, in the Conference Championships, has very little correlation with winning the Super Bowl.
So who will win the big game? Will it be the Colts with their playoff experience and superior defense? Or will it be the Saints with their leadership, consistent running game, and confidence? In this article, we highlighted five factors - three of which favor the Saints. However, two of the strongest factors favor the Colts. PART 2 of this article has been posted.
Enjoy the big game!