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Super Bowl Intangibles

   by Matt Fargo - 01/28/2009

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 XLIII.

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 42 Super Bowls, the winning team had more rushing yards in 35 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 31-11 ATS (73.8 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 151.2 ypg through the first 42 big games while the losing team has averaged just 87.1 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 4.00 ypc while the losing team has averaged 3.64 ypc.

The Super Bowl winner has been held to fewer than 100 yards only six times in the history of the big game, most recently last season when the Giants rushed for 91 yards. 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 on to this season. When you talk about rushing, you talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers. This year is no exception but more so with the defense. The Steelers were second in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing only 80.3 ypg on 3.3 ypc. This does not bode well for the Cardinals who finished last in the NFL in rushing offense with 73.6 ypg and 3.5 ypc which was 31st in the league. In making a comparison, when the Cardinals played the NFL’s best rushing defense against Minnesota, it gained only 43 yards but they ran it just seven times the entire game, averaging a solid 6.1 ypc.

Offensively, Pittsburgh was only 23rd in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 105.6 ypg on 3.7 ypc which was an even worse 29th in the league. Willie Parker did miss five games but he topped 100 yards only four times and only twice in his last nine games. This after going over 100 yards eight times in 14 regular season games a season ago. Arizona was decent against the run, allowing 110.3 ypg on 4.0 ypc which were ranked 16th and 11th respectively. Those averages went up by 12.4 ypg and 0.1 ypc from last season.

The postseason is a different time of year and one that can lead to drastic changes. Arizona has allowed only 77.3 ypg but its average per attempt allowed went up to 4.1 ypc. Pittsburgh is averaging 108.5 ypg on 3.1 ypc so it is obvious it is running more but having less success at it. On the other side, the Cardinals are running for more yards in the postseason, averaging 111.0 ypg but their average per attempt is just 3.3 ypc. Pittsburgh has stiffened up even more, allowing only 44 ypg on 2.4 ypc.

What can this tell us? I think it is pretty clear cut that Pittsburgh has the edge in the running game department. The offense has been very average but the success of the defense more than makes up for it. History shows this has been good enough for a win and cover but last year, the Patriots had the better numbers in the playoffs leading up to the big game and the Giants ended up winning the line of scrimmage battle. Will we see a similar turnaround or are the Steelers too good for that to allow happening? Stay tuned.

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