Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Aug 2014

MMQB: Why NFL's Best Team Won't Win Super Bowl

This week, Peter King says the Seahawks are the most talented team he's seen all summer, but he doesn't like their odds of repeating. Plus, thoughts on Sam Bradford's fate, a peek inside Arizona's war room on draft day, Joe Haden on new pass coverage rules, and more.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 25 Aug 2014

35 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2014, 1:59pm by Dennis


by RickD :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 1:57pm

But I’m not picking them. History is the reason. Stuff happens. It always does. And the game is justsoclose. Since New England’s second Super Bowl win a decade ago, and not including the ’13 Seahawks, this is the total playoff victories of the eight Super Bowl champions the following year:

That's going to change.

The stat cited is not a meaningful stat. It's a statistical fluke. Absent injury, the Seahawks are going to win at least one playoff game this year.

by Travis :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:26pm

And it's worded really misleadingly, since the 2005 Patriots won their first playoff game. (The next eight champions did not.)

by RickD :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:37pm

Good point.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:32pm

At least Ol'Kingy took the time to inform us that it is "sad and scary" when a guy gets beheaded.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:36pm

Yeah, I'd go further than that. If they get HFA, which, to be fair, is going to be a challenge in that division, I'd say that they have a better than 60% chance of returning to the Super Bowl. I'd also say that the only way they aren't measurably better this year is via injuries. Their qb alone should be a lot better in his third year, given his maturity and work habits.

by Guido Merkens :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:38pm

This reasoning would be valid if he used it to conclude that, since there are 32 teams and at least 10-12 of them have the talent to compete meaningfully for the championship, it is foolish to pick a champion at the beginning of the year and expect the pick to be right.

However, given that King is going to pick a champion anyway, he appears to be using it to argue that some other specific team is more likely to win a championship. It's like looking at a roulette wheel and noting that it's likely that 17 won't win, so therefore I'll pick 18.

by BJR :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 5:50pm

Well not exactly. The NFL isn't a roulette wheel; we are allowed to pick a 'most-likely' winner. And that may not be Seattle, even if we agree they are the best team in the league right now. Denver and New England, for example, have significant upside with new additions and key players returning from injury, and figure to have a much smoother path to the Super Bowl. That would be solid logic.

However, King's logic for not picking Seattle (i.e. repeating is tough to do) turns out to be idiotic, as is his pronouncement that they probably will not repeat as some sort of revelation.

by RickD :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 6:04pm

Yes, PK practically says "the Seahawks are the most likely winner, but since teams usually don't repeat, I'm not going to pick them." If you replace "most likely winner" with "best team", this is literally what he says.

There may be an explanation forthcoming as to why "best team" isn't "most likely winner" - the toughness of the NFC West, a hard schedule for the Seahawks, the difficulty of getting the #1 seed, and/or a matchup problem with a specific team could be the explanation. One could say "the Seahawks are a better team than the Saints, but the Saints have an easier schedule, are in good position to get the #1 seed, and are very hard to be in the Superdome". (I'm not saying this, just saying that it's a plausible argument.) But given how early we are in the process, that kind of prediction feels too contrived. I would just go with "the best team should be considered the favorite." Right now that looks like Seattle.

The AFC/NFC split is a different issue. It's arguable that there are only two serious candidates for the Super Bowl in the AFC (again: "arguable", don't make me defend this position) and at least five in the NFC. That could be the reason for picking an AFC team to win - even if the NFC were projected to win the Super Bowl 60% of the time, the "favorite" could be from the AFC simply because the path to the Super Bowl is easier for the best AFC team (whatever that is).

by Tofino :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 3:43pm

Content aside, that is some of the most awful, stilted writing I've seen outside of internet forums.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 4:43pm

Hell, by the standards of Ol' Kingy, this week's column is practically Hemingway.

by Chris West :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 6:40pm

At one point seven consecutive Super Bowl losers had missed the playoffs the following year (Falcons, Titans, Giants, Rams, Raiders, Panthers, Eagles.) I wonder what happened to that streak?

Also, if we're talking about streaks, the Seahawks have won at least one playoff game in their last six postseason appearances. Which streak matters more! I must know!

by Dennis :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:36pm

But there's no guarantee they'll make the playoffs, so both streaks can continue.

by The Ancient Mariner :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:02am

No, the first one's dead already, and long since.

by Dennis :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 2:43pm

I thought his comment of "Which streak matters more!" was referring to the original post of "the total playoff victories of the eight Super Bowl champions the following year: Zero" and his own comment "the Seahawks have won at least one playoff game in their last six postseason appearances".

Again, both streaks can continue if the Seahawks don't make the playoffs.

by nickbradley :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:55am

A more accurate statement would be that the Seahawks are going to advance to the divisional round. Hosting a hot team in the Div Round could knock them out -- it happens all the time

by PatsFan :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:08pm

Good old Peter King. Can't be bothered to fact-check his columns. The 2004 Patriots were the winners of NE's 3rd SB, not their 2nd. Admittedly not a big deal and not particularly germane to the point he's attempting to make, but have some pride in your work, dude.

by RickD :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:16pm

I think it's clear from the context that King is talking about the second in a row. PK is regularly accused of being a Pats homer and I doubt he's forgotten that the Pats won three Super Bowls in four years.

This isn't the kind of thing that's fact-checked.

by Guido Merkens :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:40pm

This is the most prominent national column from perhaps the preeminent NFL writer (at least, if awards are to be believed). Why isn't this the kind of thing that's fact-checked? You don't think that the site could afford to arrange for some intern in journalism school to fact-check this thing?

by RickD :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 2:49pm

Nobody is fact-checking "does Peter King think that the Pats only won two Super Bowls" because everybody at SI knows that Peter King doesn't think that. There's no need to fact check "how many Super Bowls did the Patriots win?" any more than there's a need to fact check "what team does Peyton Manning play for?"

So, if we know that PK knows that the Pats won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and that he is specifically talking about the difficulty of repeating as SB champion, that when he says "second" he means "second of the two I'm talking about."

At best this is a question of grammatical construction or unclear writing.

by tuluse :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:05am

There is probably some need for him to have real editing to make his sentences clearly understood. That ship sailed year ago though.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 6:41pm

If there's a better argument than "the most likely team to win is therefore the least likely team to win", well, I certainly haven't heard it.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:18pm

Why is everyone beating up PK for saying the Seahawks are the best team but they won't win? In any given year the best team has at most a 20%-30% to win the SB. So even if the Seahawks are the best team and on the high end of that spectrum, they will still fail to win the SB 7 times out of 10.

by Rhombus :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 8:18pm

It's the reason he gives that's the issue, not the subject itself. He supposes that because there aren't very many teams that repeat a Super Bowl the following year, then it is "difficult to repeat". What he's actually observing is that it's incredibly difficult to win ONE Super Bowl. Although I have done no rigorous statistical analysis, my guess is that after winning one you have just as much of a chance as any other top contender, which is usually 20% or less.

Also consider that in sports where there are best-of-seven or even best-of-five series and longer regular seasons, the best team in the league is usually the champion. In many cases, because of the single elimination NFL playoff system, the best team in the league does not win. Which will increase the unlikelihood of repeat champions.

And the worst part of it is, he will be proved "right" unless the Seahawks once again beat out 31 other teams.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 8:55pm

I would think a defending Super Bowl team has less of a chance than the year before, for several reasons. 1. Complacency 2. Playing with a target on your back for 16 weeks straight, which can lead to 3. Injuries. 4. Every team in the league breaking down your success in the offseason. 5. The Super Bowl Winner's offseason starting later than 30 other teams in the league.

Even the Patriots, the last team to repeat as champions, had a letdown year in 2002 between Super Bowls.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 12:09pm

I'm happy to go with history shows it's difficult to repeat and that a defending champion has less of a chance than other teams for reasons stated above*

Most people were crowning the last two standout champions (2009/2010 Saints & Packers) as going to repeat but neither did. In fact the Packers looked better the following season going 15-1 but they still lost to the Giants in the divisionals. I wouldn't

* I agree with four of the five points listed. Injuries affect all teams chances and I don't think being SB champion significantly sets you up for any more than any other team.

by BJR :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 7:09pm

Narrative like that becomes easy to justify when it describes something that is statistically improbable anyway.

In all, there have been 8 repeat champions out of 47 since the merger. One in six Super Bowl champions repeating is pretty much exactly the number I might expect given the nature of the competition. And I'm almost certain each one of those 8 teams would say the determination to prove their victory was not a fluke was what drove them to victory the following year.

by Dennis :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:16am

Really? People called teams like the 1966 Packers, 1974 and 1978 Steelers, 1988 49ers, 1992 Cowboys, and 2003 Patriots flukes?

I think it's much more likely that the reason they repeated was because they were damn good teams, not "the determination to prove their victory was not a fluke".

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 8:27am


by BJR :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 9:56am

Sorry I don't understand, where did I say those victories were flukes?

I was simply suggesting that teams that have just won a championship probably repeat at about the rate you would expect over the history of the NFL, given they are of course likely to be very good teams. Then I attempted to show that you can easily concoct a woolly narrative as to why a team might be more likely to repeat, in response to the earlier comment which used similarly woolly narratives to suggest why teams are not likely repeat (complacency, target on back etc.)

by Dennis :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:59pm

Next time use the sarcasm tags because it sure read like you were seriously saying that those teams' first victories were considered flukes.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 8:25am

So here's a question ... if it's so statistically improbable, why do journalists so often jump on the bandwagon of saying a team will repeat? It seems to me that PK is actually going against the flow here.

by BJR :: Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:02am

I wouldn't pay any heed to journalists. Try looking at the Sportsbooks. In spite of Seattle being one of the most dominant Super Bowl winners in recent memory you will find plenty of books offering 6-to-1 odds on them repeating. So yeah, improbable.

by Dired :: Mon, 08/25/2014 - 8:57pm

It's almost like a correlation = causation argument. If a thing has happened, it will happen again because it's happened. Why does it happens? What am I, some kind of Nostradamus? There are many coherent, logical reasons why Seattle might not have the easiest path to the championship, but this isn't it. Just because I toss heads eight times in a row doesn't mean it isn't 50/50 next time. Well, unless the coin is weighted, but determining that would require analysis, expertise and observation. And that's work!

by ManCty :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 11:19am

PK can say anything he wishes to on Aug 25th, even in print. No-one will care and most won't remember come next Feb 1st. These guys don't write what they believe - it's probably best that they don't believe - they write whatever's more likely to get us to respond.

Freedom of Speech = Freedom of Drivel.

by runaway robot :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 11:11pm

What does suppression of speech equal?