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Super Bowl XLV Preview, Part 2
by Larry Ness - 02/03/2011
The Packers vs the Steelers make for quite a Super Bowl, as they comprise the first Super Bowl matchup of teams more than 75 years old. The Packers have been in business since 1919 and a part of the NFL since 1921 (hold the distinction as the only NFL franchise that is publicly owned) while the Steelers were founded by Art Rooney in 1933. Green Bay has won more championships (12) than any other team in National Football League history. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be making their eighth Super Bowl appearance (tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most appearances) and won the most Super Bowl titles (six) since the game’s inception during the 1966 season. The Steelers are tied with the Cowboys for the most all-time NFL postseason wins (33) but at 33-19 (.635), the Steelers trail the Packers (28-16, .636) for the best all-time winning percentage in NFL playoff history.
Green Bay won its first three titles by owning the league’s best record in a three-year stretch from 1929 through 1931 and nine more times since the NFL's playoff system was established in 1933 (1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1996). Green Bay is also the only NFL team to win three straight titles, having done it twice (1929-31 and 1965-67). The Packers won the first two Super Bowls (35-10 over Kansas City and 33-14 over Oakland), as well as a more recent one (35-21 over New England following the 1996 season). The NFL implemented a playoff system in 1933 and since that time, the Packers have played in the NFL's “deciding game” 12 times. That includes 10 NFL title appearances from 1936-67, including the first two Super Bowls plus two more Super Bowls after the 1970 merger, SB XXXI and XXXII. This year’s Super Bowl marks the team’s “lucky 13th” appearance in an NFL title game. Only the NY Giants (18) have played for more titles, 14 NFL championship games (but just three wins) and four Super Bowls (three wins).
The first four Super Bowls were played prior to the 1970 merger and since this year’s game is Super Bowl XLV, we have 40 years of history to look back on. The AFC won nine of the first 11 Super bowls after the merger but one must note that the Steelers (four wins) and the Colts (one win) claimed five of those nine wins and both were two of the three NFL teams which had agreed to leave the NFC and enter the AFC at the time of the merger (Browns were the third team). The NFC then completely dominated the Super Bowl over the next 16 years, winning 15 times. The lone exception was the Raiders’ 38-9 win over the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. That stretch included 13 straight Super bowl wins by the NFC from the 1984 season through 1996 (10-2-1 ATS). In that span, the average game score was 37.7-to-16.8 PPG favoring the NFC.
The Broncos upset the Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII, beginning a stretch in which the AFC has won NINE of the last 14 Super Bowls (6-6-1 ATS). The NFC’s Super Bowl dominance is a thing of the past and one can’t help but notice that this year’s Packers represent the 10th different NFC team to represent the conference in the “ultimate game” since the 2001 season. Find that hard to believe? Here’s the list. Rams in 2001, Bucs in 2002, Panthers in 2003, Eagles in 2004, Seahawks in 2005, Bears in 2006, Giants in 2007, Cardinals in 2008, Saints in 2009 and now the Packers in 2010. Note that since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990 (12 teams), only Detroit and Minnesota have failed to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That sure hasn’t been the case in the AFC, where in that same time frame, just nine teams have represented the conference in the last 20 Super bowls (missing from that list are the Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jags, Jets and Texans).
Going back to Super Bowl I, 26 of the previous 44 Super Bowls (59 percent) have been decided by more than 11 points, 22 of those by 14 points or more. However, since Super Bowl XXIX, a game that saw San Francisco close as an 18-point favorite over San Diego (by the way, according to the Gold Sheet, that game represented the biggest pointspread of the entire 1994 NFL season!) and win 49-26, we’ve seen some very competitive Super Bowl games. There have been 15 Super Bowl games since that San Francisco/San Diego blowout with underdogs covering nine times (seven of the last nine), favorites just four times plus two pushes. For those playing the over/under, history shows 20 overs, 22 unders and one push (no total for Super Bowl I) all-time. However, five of the last six Super Bowls have gone under with games averaging 41.8 PPG in that span (current total is 44 1/2, as of Thursday night).
In following this year’s postseason, I’ve begun with the year 1990, when the league expanded its playoff-field to 12 teams. That left us with a history of 80 wild card and divisional round games, 40 championship games and 20 Super Bowls. Note how similar the results have been. In the previous 80 wild card games heading into this year’s postseason, SU winners equaled ATS winners 87 percent of the time (67-10-3). The average margin of victory was 12.4 PPG with the average game score at 43.8 PPG (36 overs / 43 unders / one push). The 80 divisional round games saw SU winners cover 81.8 percent of the time (63-15-2) with an average margin of victory of 14.3 PPG and a game score of 42.9 PPG (38 overs / 41 unders / one push). The 40 championship game winners covered 85.6 percent of the time (33-6-1) with an average margin of victory of 13.1 PPG and a game score of 43.9 PPG (25 overs / 14 unders / one push).
What has this year’s postseason brought us? All 10 winners also covered the pointspread (100 percent), so that was really nothing new, although the average of the three rounds over the previous 20 years was 84.0 percent. This year’s wild card games saw a lower average margin of victory (8.5 PPG) but a higher average game score (46.0), although just one of those four games went over. The divisional round games this year saw a return to a more typical average margin of victory (13.0 PPG) but the game scores soared to an average of 60.5 PPG, as all games went over. Both championships games were close (unusual), the Packers winning by seven and the Steelers by five points while the games averaged 39.0 PPG (down from a 20-year average of 43.9). One game stayed under and the other went over (compared to that 20-year run which saw 64 percent of the title games going over).
Sticking with the same time frame (since 1990), the 20 previous Super Bowls have seen the winning team cover 14 times with four ATS losses and a pair of pointspread pushes. That figures to SU winners equaling ATS winners just 77.8 percent of the time, down from the 20-year average of of 84.0 percent over the first three rounds. Interestingly, three of the four games in which the Super Bowl winner lost ATS have occurred in the past seven Super Bowls (Pittsburgh after the 2008 season plus New England in back-to-back Super Bowls following the 2003 and 2004 seasons). The previous 20 Super Bowls have produced a 12.5 PPG average margin of victory (very similar to the other rounds) but a higher average game score (49.7 PPG), although overs and unders have been split evenly at 10 each.
The favored team has won 14 of the last 20 Super Bowls but to be fair, only four times has the favored team been less than a six-point choice and this year’s game (currently Green Bay minus-2 1/2 as of Thursday night) is just the second one under a FG. Seven of the last 20 Super Bowls have featured a double-digit favorite but note that each of the last three, New England minus-12 1/2 (SB 41), St Louis minus-14 (SB 36) and Green Bay minus-11 1/2 (SB 32) have lost outright! Some find it odd that the Packers, a 10-6 team are favored over the Steelers, who went 12-4. However, in each of the last seven Super Bowls, the team with the better regular season record has failed to cover. One has to go back to Super Bowl XXXVII when Tampa Bay (12-4) defeated Oakland (11-5) 48-21 to find a team with the better regular season record capturing the Super Bowl. However, in that game, despite owning the better regular season record, the Bucs were a 3 1/2-point underdog.
Let me also note in closing, that over the past two decades, there has been great turnover in playoff participants from one season to the next. This season's playoff-field included five teams that did not make the postseason in 2009, leaving seven ‘repeaters.’ The average over the last 20 seasons comes in at 6.2 playoff repeaters and 5.8 ‘newbies.’ When New England beat Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII, it marked the fourth time in five seasons that the Super Bowl champion was a team that did not even make the playoffs the previous season. That was followed by five straight Super Bowl winners being teams that had been in the playoffs a season earlier from SB XXXIV through SB XLIII but New Orleans won last season's Super Bowl after going 8-8 the previous season. Green Bay made the playoffs last season but Pittsburgh did not, thus giving the Steelers a chance to be the latest team to go from missing the playoffs one season to winning it all the next.
That’s all I’ve got. Enjoy the game.