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Super Bowl Intangibles Part III: Rushing Game

   by Matt Fargo - 02/03/2007

It’s pretty common knowledge in football that winning the rushing battle usually means winning the football game. That is the case throughout the regular season, the playoffs and ultimately, the Super Bowl. Obviously, picking which team is going to win the rushing battle is not the easiest of tasks since if it was, everyone would be likely winning money on sports’ most wagered-on game. Let’s do some breakdowns and see who has the best shot to win the line of scrimmage for Super Bowl XLI.

The Rushing Game

Let’s take a look at some history first. Winning the rushing game usually means winning the Super Bowl but what exactly is the likeliness of that? Of the first 40 Super Bowls, the winning team had more rushing yards in 33 of those games which is pretty significant. More importantly for us and for the purpose of this article, the team with the greater rushing yard total is 29-11 ATS (72.5 percent). So not only predicting the rushing winner gives us the outright winner but it likely gives us a spread cover as well.

The Super Bowl winner has averaged 151.7 ypg through the first 40 big games while the losing team has averaged just 87.5 ypg. It can be argued that the winning team is likely sitting on the lead and piling on meaningless rushing yards while the trailing team is forced to abandon the run. Sure that is the case some of the time however looking at ypc averages strengthens the rushing theory. The winners have averaged over four ypc while the losing team has averaged 3.6 ypc.

The Super Bowl winner has been held to fewer than 100 yards only five times in the history of the big game, most recently Super Bowl XXXIV winner St. Louis. Seven times has seen the winner gain over 200 yards and its no surprise that the average margin of victory in those games was 20.3 ppg however this has not taken place since Super Bowl XXII in 1988. The most yards ever gained by a Super Bowl loser were 166 yards by Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.

Now let’s see if we can put history on our side and determine who will win the rushing game between the Colts and Bears. Coming into this matchup, Chicago is dubbed the better rushing team but that isn’t because of the offensive side of things. The Bears averaged 119.9 ypg during the regular season which was 15th in the league. Indianapolis was not far behind, averaging 110.1 ypg, which was tied for 18th. The Colts actually averaged more ypc than Chicago, 4.0 ypc to 3.8 ypc.

During the postseason, both teams have stepped things up. Chicago leads all playoff teams in rushing, averaging 158 ypg on 4.0 ypc in its two games while the Colts are averaging 137.7 ypg on 3.9 ypc in their three games. The Bears torched the weak New Orleans rushing defense for 196 yards in the NFC Championship after putting up 120 yards against the Seahawks in their divisional round game. The Colts have put up 188, 100 and 125 yards in their three postseason games.

Defensively, both teams have been successful in the postseason which is incredibly surprising for the Colts. Indianapolis was dead last in the NFL in rushing defense during the regular season, allowing a league high 173 ypg on 5.3 ypc which was also the most in the league. However, they have allowed only 220 yards rushing in three postseason games for an average of 73.3 ypg on 3.6 ypc. So the question lies which set up numbers do we look at to see which Colts defense is going to show up.

They had success against the Patriots, allowing just 93 yards but after running all over Indianapolis in the first half, New England abandoned the run as it rushed the ball only five times in the entire second half. If the Patriots had been more balanced, the outcome could have been different. Many are attributing the return of safety Bob Sanders to the success of the Colts stopping the run as he played only four regular season games. However, the defense allowed an average of 165.3 ypg in those four games he played.

Chicago allowed 127 yards on the ground against Seattle but held the Saints to just 56 yards as New Orleans ran the ball only 12 times. The Bears were dominant during the regular season, allowing only 99.4 ypg on 4.0 ypc, 6th and 12th respectively. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris missed the last four regular season games with a hamstring injury and all the talk is how his absence is taking its toll on the rushing defense. In those six games missed, the defense allowed only 84.2 ypg on 3.7 ypc so it hasn’t missed a beat.

These are some very interesting numbers to try to dissect. While Chicago had the rushing advantage during the regular season, it looks as though it has shifted during the playoffs to the Colts side. That is something that can be argued back and forth but in my opinion, one team does have the advantage heading into Super Bowl XVI which is likely going to be the difference in the outcome of the game. I am going to keep that opinion under wraps as it will be part of the foundation of the winning prediction.

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