Can Data Predict the 
Super Bowl?

Points Scored and Allowed

2015 Regular Season and Postseason

Denver - Points Scored
Denver - Points Allowed
Carolina - Points Scored
Carolina - Points Allowed
Super Bowl 50 has a lot to live up to. The drama of last year made for one of the best match ups in recent memory. Down by 4 on the 1 yard line, time is running out. With one of the most dominant running backs in the game, the Seahawks throw it. It's the "Bill Buckner" of play calls. 

For the third straight season, the number one seeds from both conferences will meet in the Super Bowl. Denver and Carolina came into the playoffs in very different styles. Denver limped into the playoffs on the back of back-up quarterback Brock Osweiler, while Carolina stormed in almost undefeated. 

Cam Newton is starting to hit his stride as a mature NFL quarterback. In contrast, this will mostly likely be Peyton's last game as an NFL quarterback. 

Denver Broncos


12 - 4

Denver came into the playoffs as the number one seed in the AFC despite not having their star QB for almost half of the season. After last year's loss in post season the Broncos decided to shake things up; things being their coaching staff. Long time Texans head coach Gary Kubiak came in after spending a year as the Raven's offensive coordinator. With Kubiak as head coach, the plan was to create a strong run game and let your best offensive coordinator, Peyton Manning, handle the rest. The beginning of the season had its ups (7-0 start, Peyton broke the all-time passing record week 10) and its downs (Peyton led the NFL in interceptions and had a partial tear in his foot.) With the tear in his plantar fasciitis, Manning is put on the bench and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler takes over. Osweiler ultimately lost his job in Week 17 with the Broncos down 13-7 against the Chargers. Manning came in and went on lead the Broncos to a 27-20 win at Mile High, clinching the number one seed in the AFC. While Peyton may have been the most talked about Bronco this season the real star was the Denver Defense, ranking #1 in average total yards allowed in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers


15 - 1

The Panthers had a rough start to the 2015 season. They lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who had over 1,000 yards in 2014, to an ACL tear in a joint practice with the Dolphins during the pre-season. Running back DeAngelo Williams was waived after his less than impressive performance in the 2014 season. At first, this year didn't look like a promising season. Cam Newton and the explosive Carolina offense led the Panthers to finish at 15-1, scoring more points than any other team in the league. Another contributing factor to Carolina's success is their turnover ratio. During the regular season the Panthers had a +20 turnover ratio and +8 in their two playoff games (+7 of those coming from the Cardinal game in the NFC Conference Championship). Their only loss came in week 16 to the Falcons, whom they had crushed two weeks before (38-0). Newton had 45 touchdowns this season, 10 of those being with his feet. Carolina won their third consecutive NFC South Championship and clinched the top seed in the NFC, securing home field advantage for the playoffs. 

Denver

Average Points / Quarter

Denver - Points Scored
Denver - Points Allowed

Carolina

Average Points / Quarter

Carolina - Points Scored
Carolina - Points Allowed

The NFL's highest scoring offense will meet it's top ranked defense

Offense

2015 Season

Passing
Rushing
Passing
Rushing

Veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas led Denver in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Tight end Owen Daniels was also a big element of the passing game with 46 receptions for 517 yards.

Tight end Greg Olsen led Carolina in receptions and yards. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. had the most touchdowns of the Panther's receiving core in the 2015 regular season.

Denver running back Ronnie Hillman was the team's leading rusher with running back C. J. Anderson right behind him.

Pro bowl running back Jonathan Stewart led the team in rushing yards followed quarterback Cam Newton for Carolina.

Overall, the Bronco's offense ranked 19th in scoring with 355 points and did not have any pro bowl selections.

Carolina's offensive ranked 1st in scoring with 500 points, they also had 6 offensive pro bowl selections.

Quarterbacks

Peyton 
Manning

Peyton Manning Total Yards
Cam Newton Total Yards

Cam
 Newton

Peyton Manning broke the all time passing yard record while also leading the NFL in interceptions week 10. His season has been plagued by injuries, new and old, leading to his worst statistical season since his rookie year. 

Peyton finished the year with a career-low 67.9 passer rating, throwing for 2,249 yards and nine touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, only playing in 10 of 16 regular season games.

At 39, Manning will be the oldest QB to start in a Super Bowl, surpassing fellow Bronco John Elway.

Touchdowns per Passing Attempts

Peyton Manning
Cam Newton
Cam Newton is the obvious front runner for the NFL's regular season MVP. Despite losing his best offensive weapon in the preseason, he turned his core of second-rate receivers into the NFL's highest scoring offense.

Newton had one of his best seasons, throwing for 3,837 yards and a career high 35 touchdown passes, with 10 interceptions and a career-best rating of 99.4. He also added 636 yards and 10 more scores on the ground. 

Defense

Yards Allowed


Passing
Rushing
Passing
Rushing

The Broncos' defense ranked 1st in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and sacks.

The Panthers defense ranked 6th in yards allowed and 1st in interceptions (24 total INT). 

2

Turnover ratio in the postseason

8

Turnover ratio in the postseason

Conclusion

Conference Game Momentum

The Broncos defense was able to hold the Patriots (3rd best scoring offense in the regular season) to only 18 points in the AFC Championship game. The unrelenting pressure of the Denver defense forced Tom Brady to his first NFL game with a pass completion rating under 50% and 2 interceptions.

Cam Newton and the Panthers offense put 17 points on the board in the first quarter against the Cardinals. Newton would run for 2 and throw 2 touchdowns in the game, while the Carolina defense took the ball away 7 times. In the 49-15 blowout the Panthers dominated both sides of the ball all game.

Regular Season Point Differential

Denver Broncos
Carolina Panther

Best Super Bowl Stats

1. When looking at the best predictor of Super Bowl winners in the past twenty-one years, the most accurate predictor is point differential in the regular season. (correct ~81%)

Panthers (CAR 182 - DEN 59)

2. When a team has already lost a Super Bowl, and that team is not the Buffalo Bills, the team has won 66% of the time.

Broncos (Super Bowl XLVIII)

3. The team with fewer allowed points against in the regular season won 74% of the time.

Broncos (DEN 296 - CAR 318)

This being said, there is no secret formula to predict a winner.

Despite the clarity and insight that data can provide, when it comes to predicting the outcome of a game with so many variables in play, data has its limitations. That is part of what makes the Super Bowl interesting. No amount of data, in anyone’s hands, is able to conclusively predict who will win the game. Statistical analysis can’t account for a player's hustle and drive on the field. What spreadsheet can put a number to the motivation and leadership of Thomas Davis playing in the Super Bowl with a broken arm? The matchup of the NFL's highest scoring offense against it's top ranked defense leaves me with one question.

Super Bowl 50: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Tweet this