The Statistical Profile of A Super Bowl Contender: Bills, Bucs, Rams, 49ers Odds Offer Potential Betting Value

The Statistical Profile of A Super Bowl Contender: Bills, Bucs, Rams, 49ers Odds Offer Potential Betting Value article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Bills WR Stefon Diggs, Bucs QB Tom Brady, Rams CB Jalen Ramsey

This is the time of year when the Super Bowl contenders are separated from the pretenders.

Since Football Outsiders' DVOA is one of the most commonly cited metrics, I wanted to take a look at the DVOA profile of Super Bowl teams. To do this, I looked at how Super Bowl winners and losers ranked in the following DVOA categories since 2002, which is when the NFL expanded to 32 teams:

  • Overall DVOA
  • Offense
  • Pass Offense
  • Rush Offense
  • Defense
  • Pass Defense
  • Rush Defense
  • Special Teams

Let's run through how those categories rank from most to least important in terms of average ranking, what it means for this season's field of playoff teams, and which should be considered "true" contenders through this lens.

DVOA Profile of Super Bowl Teams

Avg. Rank
of Winners
Avg. Rank
of Losers
Avg. Rank of
2022 Contenders
Overall DVOA5.35.48.63
Pass Defense8.313.213.25
Pass Offense8.66.48.38
Total Offense9.05.78.38
Total Defense9.513.012.38
Rush Defense11.014.113.13
Rush Offense12.58.510.63
Special Teams14.814.217.63

» What is DVOA? Football Outsiders' metric measures efficiency by comparing a team’s success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent. Learn more here.

1. Overall DVOA

  • Avg. Rank: 5.3 (winners), 5.4 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (winners), 1 (losers)
  • Worst previous ranking: 15 (winners), 21 (losers)

Unsurprisingly, a team's average rank in overall DVOA correlated to Super Bowl wins more than any particular facet. This is also the category with the highest cut-off for Super Bowl winners, as no team ranked lower than 15th has won it since 2002.

The honors for the lowest-ranked team in overall DVOA to win it all goes to none other than the 2007 Giants, who knocked off the No. 1-ranked Patriots.

What it means for this postseason: The cut-off of 15h is notable, as not one, but two playoff teams rank outside the top 15 in overall DVOA: The Bengals (17th) and the Titans (20th). It's fitting that Bengals-Titans is the first game on the docket for the Divisional Round because it's more like an extension of Wild Card Weekend.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

2. Pass Defense DVOA

  • Avg. Rank: 8.3 (winners), 13.2 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 21 (winners), 31 (losers)

It turns out pass defense has been the most important individual facet that predicts Super Bowl winners, narrowly edging pass offense.

The lowest-ranked Super Bowl winner in pass-defense DVOA was 21st (2016 Patriots), the second-highest cut-off after overall DVOA. Five teams made the Super Bowl ranked 22nd or worse in DVOA against the pass — and all of them lost. The gap of 4.9 between the average Super Bowl winner's ranking and average Super Bowl loser's ranking is the largest of any category.

What it means for this postseason: The Chiefs (23rd) and Bengals (24th) both profile as Super Bowl losers at best. The Chiefs' biggest defensive weakness is Daniel Sorenson in coverage, while the Bengals have struggled at defending deep passes.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

3. Pass Offense

  • Avg. Rank: 8.6 (winners), 6.4 (losers)
  • Best: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 28 (winners), 27 (losers)

Although this category clocks in third in average rank of Super Bowl winners at 8.6, there have been four teams to win despite ranking below average, most recently the 2015 Broncos. The Ghost of Peyton Manning was so bad that year that Brock Osweiler was statistically the best quarterback on that team.

What it means for this postseason: Not much. None of the final eight teams this season are below the threshold of 28th, and the three worst-ranked teams — Bills, Bengals, Titans — can all be dangerous through the air in different ways.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

4. Total Offense

  • Avg. Rank: 9.0 (winners), 5.7 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst: 24 (winners), 18 (losers)

This is another category in which we see the losers ranked higher than the winners, on average., reinforcing the importance of being able to pass and stop the pass. On average, a team ranked below average in total offense will win a Super Bowl every 4-5 years.

What it means for this postseason:  This is another category that doesn't look to be a differentiator this year, as no team falls short of the winner's threshold, and all of the worst-ranked offenses can be explosive.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers
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5. Total Defense

  • Avg. Rank: 9.5 (winners), 13.0 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 26 (winners), 31st (losers)

While total defense ranks fifth in terms of average rank of importances, the average ranking gap of 3.5 between winners and losers is second-highest. Teams that rank above average in defensive DVOA went 15-12 in the Super Bowl, while below-average units posted a 4-7 record.

Only one team ranked below 21st hoisted the Lombardi trophy (2006 Colts).

What it means for this postseason: If either the Packers (22nd) or Chiefs (24th) won the Super Bowl, they would join the 2006 Colts as the only teams to win a championship since 2002 despite ranking outside the top 21 teams in defensive DVOA.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

6. Rush Defense

  • Avg. Rank: 11.0 (winners), 14.1 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 31 (both)

Some of the savviest defensive coordinators in the NFL all but beg opposing offenses to run, and now we can see why: More than half of the Super Bowl winners since 2002 did not feature a top-10 run defense, and four teams ranked 20th or lower won — the most of any category save for special teams.

What it means for this postseason: If the Chiefs or Packers fail to win the Super Bowl, it will likely be due to more than run defense alone.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

7. Rush Offense

  • Avg. Rank: 12.5 (winners), 8.5 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 27 (winners), 28 (losers)

Running Backs Don't Matter truthers: It's victory lap time.

The run game clocks in with the worst average rank among Super Bowl winners aside from special teams, and winners ranked four sports below losers on average. Unless your team fields a bottom-five rush offense, there's little cause for concern

What it means for this postseason: Many of the league's top running backs are still alive in the playoffs, but ultimately, the outcomes are going to come down to the performance of guys like Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo rather than Derrick Henry and Elijah Mitchell.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

8. Special Teams

  • Avg. Rank: 14.8 (winners), 14.2 (losers)
  • Best previous ranking: 1 (both)
  • Worst previous ranking: 28 (both)

Special teams contain a lot of randomness and has not been a big factor in determining Super Bowl winners — unless you have a bottom-four special teams unit, that is.

What it means for this postseason: It's evident special teams doesn't mean as much as offense and defense in the fact that we have some pretty shaky special teams units in the final eight, but only one — the 32nd-ranked Packers — fall short of the winning threshold.

The Packers have been bad almost across the board on special teams, ranking 32nd on field goals and extra points, 31st on kickoff returns, 30th on punt returns, and 25th in kickoff coverage. Mason Crosby has missed nine field goals and two extra points, and rookie Amari Rodgers hasn't been a difference-maker in the return game.

Rankvs. Avg Rank
of Winners
vs. Avg Rank
of Losers

Who Are the True Super Bowl Contenders?

With the obligatory "this is but one way to look at things and we're dealing with a small sample size" disclaimer out of the way, four teams profile as true Super Bowl contenders by virtue of not falling below any of the Super Bowl winners' thresholds (Super Bowl odds courtesy of DraftKings):

  • Bills (+500)
  • Bucs (+550)
  • Rams (+750)
  • 49ers (+1000)

If you believe in the model, you could place a wager on each of those four teams and profit if any of them wins, since there are four and each pays out at 5-to-1 or better (calculate payouts with our Betting Odds Calculator).

Some other interesting notes:

  • Both conference favorites — the Packers (+350) and the Chiefs (+400) — don't make the cut. According to our public betting data, the majority of the public is backing both of those teams to win and cover as favorites this weekend. However, in both cases, the majority of the handle is on the underdog.
  • Three of the four teams are in the NFC (-115), which is favored by only a slight margin to win over the AFC (-105).
  • Two of the four contenders are from the NFC West, which is posted with +400 odds of winning, i.e. just a 20% implied probability.
  • Of the four teams on the list, three are underdogs in the Divisional Round: The Bills (+1.5), 49ers (+5.5) and Rams (+3).
  • If the Chiefs beat the Bills, the only teams that profile as Super Bowl winners will come from the NFC.
  • If the Packers beat the 49ers, the only NFL Super Bowl contender according to this model will come from the winner of the Bucs-Rams game.

For those who are curious, here’s a table with all the Super Bowl teams' ranks in each category since 2002 (winners are bolded):

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