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Super Bowl Intangibles

   by Matt Fargo - 01/27/2011

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 XVL.

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 44 Super Bowls, the winning team had more rushing yards in 36 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 30-12-2 ATS (71.4 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 146.8 ypg through the first 44 big games while the losing team has averaged just 86.1 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 3.96 ypc while the losing team has averaged 3.65 ypc.

The Super Bowl winner has been held to fewer than 100 yards only eight times in the history of the big game, with this surprisingly taking place the last three years. 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. The Steelers averaged 120.3 ypg during the regular season which was 11th in the league while their 4.1 ypc average was good for a tie for 18th. When you think of Pittsburgh, you think of smashmouth football but this season’s ypg average was their highest since 2007. It was relatively the same in home/road games but against the NFC, it averaged 141.8 ypg on 4.8 ypc compared to 113.1 ypg on 3.8 ypc against the AFC. The problem was in the redzone where they were just 110-210 (1.9 ypc).

The Packers style on offense is much different and that showed in the rushing numbers. Green Bay averaged only 100.4 ypg on 3.8 ypc which were 24th and tied for 25th respectively. Green Bay actually averaged more yards per attempt in losses than in wins (4.3 ypc to 3.6 ypc) but the real surprise is the team breakdown. The Packers gained 157 yards on 17 carries against the Redskins this season. They averaged more than 3.9 ypc against only one other team (Philadelphia - 4.0 ypc).

Green Bay was pretty solid defensively against the run as it allowed 114.9 ypg during the regular season which was 18th in the NFL. However, the Packers allowed 4.7 ypc which was tied for 28th in the NFL. That seems like it could be a real problem. Similar to prior years, the Pittsburgh rushing defense was extremely tough to move as the Steelers were the best in the NFL as they allowed only 62.8 ypg on 3.0 ypc. Based on the regular season, Pittsburgh has a clear edge on that side of the ball.

The breakout of running back James Starks against the Eagles has given the Packers the much needed postseason running game. Or has it? Starks has been very average since that game and the Packers are averaging fewer yards per attempt in the postseason than they did in the regular season (3.7 ypc to 3.8 ypc). Pittsburgh is averaging a half-yard more in the playoffs than Green Bay (118.5 ypg to 118 ypg) but is averaging only 3.2 ypc. Facing the Ravens and Jets (5th and 3rd in rushing defense) will do that to a team however.

In the regular season and postseason combined, Pittsburgh gains more ypc than it allows (4.0 ypc to 3.0 ypc), gains more ypc than Green Bay (4.0 ypc to 3.8 ypc) and allows less ypc than Green Bay (3.0 ypc to 4.5 ypc). That is fairly significant. Based on everything above, we have to give the edge to the Steelers in the rushing game but remember last Super Bowl when the Colts won the rushing battle but lost the game so there definitely are exceptions. Will it be another exception this year or will the trend hold true?

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