With the New Year comes the common question that circulates friend groups, work places, and a variety of social gatherings: Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
Following this question is the usual answer of: Oh I don’t know, the [fill in the blank team] have had a strong season, and [fill in the blank player] seems to be playing his best right now.
3 weeks later, the game is over, you picked the wrong team, and may have even lost 15 bucks.
Now, it’s January 12, 2018, there are eight teams left in the NFL Playoffs and here is your answer to: Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
I’ve recently taken the time to look at some past Super Bowls, but even before I could do that I wanted to decide what Super Bowls were worth looking at. Did I care about the pound it on the ground, slugfests of the 1940s? Or was I more concerned with the high-flying offenses of the 2000s? Somewhere along the line football changed. Early football was run-dominated and today’s football is pass-dominated, and sometime in the 1990s this change occurred. So, to ensure I was taking a modern approach to this all-important question, I began my research with the most recent Super Bowls beginning with 1997 (the last 20 years).
At the start of every season there are 32 teams that could win the Super Bowl, we know it’s a little easier now because there are only 8 teams to choose from. Those 8 teams being the: Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, and Minnesota Vikings. So, to get started let’s continue with the game’s newfound emphasis on passing, or in other words, quarterback play. In the last 20 Super Bowls, the starting quarterback of every winning team in the Super Bowl was also the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. This is true for 6 of the 8 remaining teams, the two outliers being the: Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. For a good chunk of the season the Eagles looked to be the favorite to win it all, but the unfortunate injury to Carson Wentz meant that Nick Foles had to step in and fill that QB1 role. The Vikings have experienced a slightly different plotline, as Case Keenum seemingly turned them into a contender after he took the reigns from an injured Sam Bradford. As impressive as the Minnesota backup has been, I’m sorry Vikings faithful; it just isn’t in the cards.
To break down stats and look at past trends is nice, but let’s take a step back and simplify things for one second. The only thing that a team must absolutely do to win the Super Bowl is: WIN. Nothing else, just win. In the previous 20 Super Bowls there have been some impressive champions, including: a few 14-win Pats teams, four 13-win teams, and seven 12-win teams. There has only been one team to win a Super Bowl in the last 20 years with fewer than 10 wins, and that was the 9-win Giants team that took down an undefeated Patriots team. That win included more than one miracle event, capped with the famous helmet catch on fourth down that may or may not have consisted of approximately 8 missed holding calls. Bottom line: your 9 wins aren’t going to cut it Tennessee, better luck next year.
You know, sports are great. They can bring an entire city from the depths of despair; like the Drew Brees lead Saints team did with New Orleans in the 2010 Super Bowl following the tragedy and rebuilding of Hurricane Katrina. At the same time, they can lead to enormous heartbreak. We saw that firsthand with the epic collapse of the Atlanta Falcons in last year’s Super Bowl. To recover from a loss like that takes dedication, hard work, and most importantly, time. In the last 20 years, no team has lost the Super Bowl and come back to win the following year, and let’s be real, none of those team lost like the Falcons did. Mend those broken hearts Atlanta, trust me, you’re not ready yet, but keep at it and you might win a few years down the road.
All that and we still have four possible teams to choose from: the Patriots, the Jaguars, the Steelers, and the Saints. At this point you’re welcome to stop reading and flip a coin a couple of times and pick your winner, it will probably be just as accurate a prediction as what I’m about to do.
To win the Super Bowl means you are the best of the best. The team that wins is the best team in the National Football League, they were dominant, they crushed the competition. Right? Not so much. In fact, it seems to be more of an award of mediocrity. Of the last 20 Super Bowl Champions, 10 teams had offenses ranking at 15th or worse in the league, and 7 teams had defenses ranking at 11th or worse. So, maybe there is a slight truth to the whole “defense wins championships” thing, but look; most of these teams are mediocre by statistical standards. Only one team has ranked inside the top 5 in passing, rushing, and total offense. That team happened to be “The Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. They ranked 1st in passing, 5th in rushing, and 1st in total offense. But 1 in 20 Super Bowl Champions to have all 3 offensive categories in the top 5 in the league, I think you’re better off being mediocre. This year the Saints rank 5th in passing, 5th in rushing, and 2nd in total offense. Look Sean, your team is too good to be true, try a little less next year.
Now, getting back to the importance of the quarterback. To be a productive quarterback you need to make decisions on the fly, elude oncoming pass rushers, and deliver passes on time and accurately. There are numerous other important attributes that would only further the point that: to perform as a productive quarterback you need to have experience, but also a young, sharp mind. In the last 20 Super Bowls, only 1 quarterback has come away victorious under the age of 24, and none over the age of 39. Don’t get me wrong Tom, 40 looks great on you, but it might be time to hang out with Gisele a little more. The Patriots won’t get it done this year, but don’t feel bad for Tom Brady, he’ll be just fine.
At this point, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel for answers. The Steelers or the Jaguars? I don’t think I would have been thinking about either of those teams at the start of the season, but that’s what I’m stuck with, so here we go.
In many sports, home field advantage is critical. Teams are more comfortable when they are at home, and they tend to perform better and in turn, win more. The Super Bowl is an interesting animal when it comes to home field advantage. The site for the Super Bowl is picked long before the season begins, and no one has any clue as to which teams will be playing come the end of the season. In the past 20 Super Bowls the winning team has never had the honor of playing in their home stadium. What’s even more shocking is that only 5 of the 20 victorious teams have traveled fewer than 900 miles to get to the Super Bowl Stadium. This year the Pittsburgh Steelers are 876 miles from the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For me, that’s a little too close for comfort. Don’t worry though; you’re looking better with Miami in 2020 and Los Angeles in 2021.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now. The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to win the 2018 Super Bowl. So party it up Jags Nation, and congrats on your first Super Bowl.