Who Will Win Super Bowl 48?
What should we consider when predicting the Super Bowl winner? Today on the blog Jeff Fogle shares his analysis for Super Bowl 48 between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Before the NFL postseason began, I posted some general guidelines for handicapping the NFL playoffs. Let’s quickly review these as we prepare to handicap the upcoming Super Bowl matching the Seattle Seahawks of the NFC and the Denver Broncos of the AFC.
Below are our five key factors for handicapping the NFL playoffs:
- #1: Multi-dimensional teams are better equipped for diverse challenges
- #2: Strength of schedule from the regular season matters
- #3: Defense still wins championships
- #4: Move the chains, avoid turnovers!
- #5: Game conditions loom large
Both Seattle and Denver qualify as multi-dimensional teams. Each can move the ball in the air or on the ground (Denver prefers the former, while Seattle prefers the latter, but neither have a clear weakness). Each have been either very strong or acceptably strong on the other side of the ball. This wasn’t a season where a top seed was one-dimensional while a dangerous “sleeper” lower on the totem pole was more balanced across the board. The top seeds were multi-dimensional and advanced through the brackets.
In terms of schedule strength, Seattle had played the toughest slate of any playoff team in either conference before advancing through their January gauntlet. Denver, however, was not penalized for not being battle tested. Regardless, this category still defined the AFC brackets. The biggest upset of the NFL postseason came when San Diego (#11 schedule strength in Jeff Sagarin’s end-of-season rankings at USA Today) won as underdogs at Cincinnati (#27). The two best AFC teams in this category (Indianapolis and San Diego) went 3-1 against market prices in their games, while the two worst AFC teams (Kansas City and Cincinnati) went 0-2 ATS and lost outright as favorites.
The “defense wins championships” school of thought bore out in the NFC, where Seattle ran the table. Denver entered the postseason with the second-best defense statistically of the AFC entries. The best defense belonged to Cincinnati, who had perhaps created the illusion of defensive greatness by playing the #27 ranked schedule.
Moving the chains? Denver converted a stellar 16 of 26 third down tries, winning that stat 62% to 42% in its two postseason encounters. Seattle tends to emphasize defense in this category, holding opponents to a shocking 6 of 23. The Seahawks would win the stat by a combined 36% to 26%.
Turnovers weren’t a difference-maker for the Broncos, who advanced despite losing the category 2-0. Seattle won the category 4-1, and their 3-1 advantage over virtual clone San Francisco was arguably the tie-breaker in a game that was a dead heat in so many other areas of play.
Game conditions? Well, January of 2014 will go down in history for its extreme game conditions! San Francisco and Green Bay basically played at the North Pole. New Orleans and Seattle played in rains and strong wind. Indianapolis and New England played in heavy rains and wind. Conditions certainly hampered teams who preferred to move the ball in the air, and assisted smash mouth teams who were able to succeed at the point of attack.
Super Bowl 48 Analysis
Now, moving to the Super Bowl, let’s see who has the advantage on a category-by-category basis:
No edge here in my view. Both are clearly multi-dimensional. Handicappers who prefer having an experienced big play quarterback may think Denver gets the best of it. Handicappers who prefer great defense may think Seattle gets the best of it. But, in terms of pure “dimensionality,” these are both championship caliber teams. No obvious exploitable weakness.
Strength of Schedule
Seattle wins this category going away. They faced the toughest regular season schedule of all playoff teams, then faced a tougher playoff slate than Denver did. Seattle is much more battle tested against elite competition this season.
A clear edge to Seattle again. Denver do seem to be playing better than its full season ranking in recent action. And that has to be taken into account. But, they still do a poor job at forcing turnovers. They didn’t force any vs. San Diego or New England. Seattle is better defensively per-play, and at forcing miscues.
Moving The Chains
Denver is much better offensively in this area, while Seattle is much better defensively. It’s going to set up a fantastic clash of titans as Peyton Manning tries to engineer scoring drives against one of the best defenses he’s ever faced in his Hall of Fame career. Edge to the Broncos in terms of overall differential.
Seattle had a turnover differential during the regular season of +20 while facing the toughest schedule of any playoff team. Denver had a turnover differential net zero while facing a below average schedule. In the playoffs, as I have already mentioned, Seattle were +3 while Denver were -2, and Seattle faced a tougher postseason tandem. This looks to be a huge advantage for the Seahawks. Seattle truly emphasizes taking the ball away while intimidating opponents with their physicality. Denver’s defense seems to lack the skill set.
Normally that’s not an issue in the Super Bowl. Or, if it is, that’s because playing in a dome or outdoors in great weather favours a pass-heavy team over a smash mouth opponent. This year, we have the first ever cold weather Super Bowl set for early February in New Jersey. Mild conditions would allow Manning to work his magic. Conditions were surprisingly friendly in the AFC Championship win over New England. Note that Denver won but couldn’t beat market expectations in a strong wind against San Diego. The worse the conditions, the more that favors the defensive, turnover forcing, smash mouth style of Seattle.
Super Bowl Betting Odds
Seattle opened as 1.5 point favourites when betting lines were first posted, with some books posting them as 1 point favourites while others posted the matchup as a pick'em. After a week of trading, Denver now find themselves favourites by 2 points.
When we look at head to head moneyline Super Bowl odds, we see, as reflected in the betting line, the Broncos are marginal favourites.
Finally, the total points over/under line for this season's Super Bowl is currently 47 points.
The Final Word
Personally, I have so much respect for the defensive and strength of schedule indicators that I’ll prefer Seattle in any weather conditions. I think their defense is ideally suited to disrupt Denver and set up some cheap points with takeaways. Their rush offense is even tougher and more dynamic than that of San Diego, a team that upset Denver at altitude late in the regular season, and then hung within a TD of Denver in the playoffs despite losing their starting running back for half the game.
Seattle matches up well with Denver. Seattle is exactly the kind of team that’s best designed to beat Denver. And, Seattle may be getting help from the weather!
For Denver to win, Manning has to play something close to mistake-free football, moving the chains and avoiding turnovers. He did that at home vs. San Diego and New England. It will be much tougher at a neutral site against a fantastic defense, particularly if there are swirling winds and chilly temperatures.
If weather isn’t a factor, I think Seattle wins by about 3 points. If turnovers go their way, the margin will be even greater. And if weather is a factor, Seattle wins comfortably.
Best of luck to you whoever you’re rooting for in the Super Bowl. Let’s hope we have a great finish to the 2013-14 season.
Looking for Super Bowl betting tips? Check our NFL Betting Tips Board before kickoff to get all of our community's picks for Super Bowl 48.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffFogle
Jeff writes about Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, and American college sports on his StatIntelligence blog