The Best and Worst Bets to Win Super Bowl LII Based on 2016's Metrics
Just hours after winning the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick was talking to the media about how he and his staff were five weeks behind almost every other NFL team in preparation for the 2017 season.
The man is sick.
But he's not wrong. As soon as James White scored the game-winning touchdown to end Super Bowl LI, the offseason began for New England. And it began for NFL fans, too.
Betting sites released their Super Bowl LII odds today. To many, looking at the numbers posted by sportsbooks is a ridiculous thing to do a day after the Super Bowl. For some, though, it's a good chance to get in on a team early.
Especially when you can add some sweet mathematical context around the probabilities.
nERD to the Rescue
We know that a win-loss column doesn't tell us the entire story about a team. The 2015 Carolina Panthers, for instance, were good, but they weren't 15-1 good. Because in order to lose just one game across an entire NFL season, lots of things have to go your way. You've got to have some luck.
This -- natural regression -- is just part of the reason why Carolina wasn't nearly as strong of a team in 2016.
At a high level, this is why we use our nERD metric at numberFire. Instead of judging a team by their win-loss record, we look at their advanced analytics (mainly using our Net Expected Points model) to form a nERD rating, which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average squad on a neutral field.
In 2016, the team with the best nERD was New England. They just happened to win the Super Bowl. But there were teams that appeared to be really good based on their record, like Oakland, who actually rated out as an average group. And other teams, like New Orleans, were a lot better than their record indicated.
So, in the spirit of nERD, the chart below depicts each team's 2017 Super Bowl odds, via Bovada as of this morning, next to their 2016 nERD, or the way they actually performed.
As you can see, things generally line up as you'd expect, but there are some teams Vegas has listed as too high and too low based on their 2016 metrics.
Of course, so many things are bound to change. Teams will see new quarterbacks, coaches, and coordinators. Teams will lose important players in free agency. Teams will draft impactful players. But, even still, it can't hurt to take a look at some of the best and worst bets based on the table above.
Note: These are not premium numberFire selections. This is a very simple look at our metrics versus what oddsmakers think at this point in time.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos finished 2016 with the league's best defense according to our metrics. And it wasn't even close -- the difference between Denver's unit and the 2nd-place Houston Texans was roughly the same as the Texans and the 11th-ranked Patriots. If they end up making a push for a Tyrod Taylor or Tony Romo in the offseason, all of a sudden you've got a top-tier team with the sixth-best Super Bowl odds.
New Orleans Saints: Believe it or not, the New Orleans Saints were nERD's ninth-ranked team this season. How? Well, despite winning just seven games, they had a +15 point differential, and they ended up losing four games by three or fewer points and seven games by six or fewer points. We know they've got the quarterback position locked and loaded, which makes them an even more intriguing option for 2017.
Los Angeles Chargers: One of the best bad teams from 2016, the Chargers finished on the plus side of nERD all while winning just five games. They were plagued by injury (again) this past season, though, and like the Saints, they've got a quarterback who can carry an offense. They also had an underrated, 12th-ranked defense when adjusted for strength of schedule this year as well.
Detroit Lions: The Lions were fortunate to squeak into the playoffs, but our algorithm was down on them for most of the year. Though Matthew Stafford finished as our ninth-best passer this year, the rest of the team struggled: per our schedule-adjusted numbers, the Lions had the 19th-best rushing offense, the 26th-best rushing defense, and the absolute worst pass defense in the NFL this season. They also won nine games despite the fact that they finished the year with a -12 point differential.
New York Giants: New York's defense was very legitimate in 2016 after a bevy of offseason signings, but the offense -- especially quarterback Eli Manning -- couldn't get things going, ending the year as our 27th-ranked unit while scoring on just 29.0% of their offensive drives (fifth-worst in the NFL). They'll need to make a significant jump on that side of the ball to be true Super Bowl contenders again.