Early betting lines predict that Super Bowl 49 will be close. Our statistical model agrees. According to the numbers, who is more likely to come out on top on Super Sunday?
The top seeds from both the AFC and NFC are set to meet in Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots deflated (sorry!) the Colts in the AFC championship game, while the Seahawks made one of the most miraculous comebacks in playoff history to reach their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Most people watch the Big Game with absolutely no rooting interest, and everyone wants a good game. So, will the Seahawks finish off their back-to-back championship run or will Tom Brady and Bill Belichick earn their long-coveted fourth title?
(By the way, for all your real-time Super Bowl analytics demands, be sure to check out numberFire Live on the day of the game.)
To project the game, we use our internal metric at numberFire.com, Net Expected Points (NEP). A quick refresher on NEP:
NEP compares every single play over a season to how a league-average team should perform on that play. Every situation on a football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation (given down, distance-to-go and yard line). For example, the Chiefs may be playing the Steelers, facing a third-and-two on the 50. That’s a ton of variables, but numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be “expected” to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the “expected” point value of the next play to 4.23 (still an estimated number) points. Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP total. That’s Net Expected Points.
The Seahawks and Patriots are, not surprisingly, our No. 1 and No. 2 power-ranked teams with ratings of +9.75 and +9.49 respectively. That means both teams would be expected to beat a league-average team by almost 10 points on a neutral field.
The Patriots own the No. 3 opponent-adjusted offense in the NFL. They added +10.92 NEP per game this season, mostly through the air, adding one point for every four passing attempts. Seattle, while about half as efficient through the air (+0.11 NEP per pass play), was the most efficient rushing offense since 2000 thanks to Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks posted +5.40 rushing NEP per game after adjusting for the strength of opposing defenses—almost an additional touchdown per game. While New England ranked second in the same category, they earned a relatively measly +1.53 rushing NEP per game.
Both Tom Brady and Russell Wilson were among the 10 most efficient quarterbacks in 2014, Brady at No. 5 and Wilson at No. 9.
Advantage: New England +3.25 points
Seattle is the No. 1 opponent-adjusted defense in the NFL, preventing 5.77 NEP per game that a league-average defense would allow. The Seahawks are so dominant because of their balanced defense, which ranks No. 3 and No. 4 in passing and rushing defense respectively across the league.
We should not sleep on New England, though. The Patriots posted -2.41 NEP per game defensively—meaning they allow almost a field goal less per game than a league-average defense. Those numbers are No. 6 in the NFL and the Patriots specialize in defending the pass; they rank fourth in passing defense, just behind Seattle.
The big matchup will come between the Seahawks’ prolific rushing attack and the Patriots’ mediocre run defense. The Patriots were No. 17 stopping the run, and they allow an additional point above expectation for every eight rushing attempts they face.
Advantage: Seattle +3.37 points
In a game that is listed as a pick ’em almost everywhere, our projection is no different. We give the Seahawks the slight edge, and a 52.3% chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Projected Final Score: Seattle 24, New England 23
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