Who Will Win the Big Game? Super Bowl LI (2017)

By wangchin
Jan. 31, 2017

Over the years, Dr. Jay Granat, a psychotherapist, and I have studied championship factors related to sports psychology to predict the winners of major championships. Much of our research has focused on concepts such as consistency and minimizing errors.    

These factors are often overlooked by most sports fans and analysts.  Our regular series of "Who Will WIn" quant facts predictions have been correct about 63% of the time, while regularly picking underdogs.  The results are based on championships going back several decades – and across major sports including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and professional tennis and golf

The results below are based on every Super Bowl ever played, since the first Super Bowl in January 1967. Last year, we correctly predicted that the underdog, Denver Broncos, would win the Super Bowl.  

Big Game Experience 

Big game experience and the related factor of confidence play a large role in winning -- in every major sport we have studied.  Tom Brady and the New England Patriots take this championship factor, winning the Super Bowl just two years ago and being perennial Super Bowl contenders.  Edge: New England. 

Defense

The old adage, "Defense wins championships," has proven to be true.  Defense is associated with hard-nosed, gritty work. Defense is typically more consistent – and interestingly, can overcome glitzy offenses - which are sometimes able to "run up numbers" against weaker opponents during the regular season. A large majority of Super Bowls (63%) has been won by the team with the better defense, measured by "points against." The Patriots led the NFL in this category this season.  Edge: New England.

Consistency

Even with today’s high-octane NFL offenses, ball control remains one of the most important offensive indicators studied in both professional and college football. The team with a better running game, as measured by "average yards per rush," has won a majority of all Super Bowls. Matt Ryan and the league-leading Atlanta Falcon offense were not only good in the air, they were strong on the ground, as well.  The Falcons were near the top of the NFL this area.  Edge: Atlanta.

Defensive Consistency

Similarly, stopping your opponent’s running game is related to winning the big game. The team with the better rushing defense has won almost 60% of the Super Bowls. Interestingly, although New England has the better overall defense, Atlanta edges New England in this crucial championship factor.  Edge: Atlanta.

Minimizing Errors

Champions need to execute at a high-level, while minimizing errors and mistakes. The quarterback, as the team’s offensive leader, has a huge impact in determining championships. In particular, quarterback interceptions during the regular season are great predictors of Super Bowl success. The team with fewer interceptions during the regular season has gone on to win a majority of all Super Bowls. This has always been a strength of Tom Brady's Patriots.  Although Matt Ryan had a phenomenal season, the Patriots as a team threw just two (2 ! ) INTs all season!  Edge: Patriots.

Summary

The championship factors favor the Patriots 3-2, so New England will be our official quant fact prediction.  It is very interesting that the Atlanta Falcons edge the Patriots in two key fundamental areas.  This could actually lead to interesting game plans.  At the time of this article, New England is a very slight favorite at Patriots -3.  Enjoy the big game!  

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Carlton Chin, a graduate of MIT, is a portfolio strategist and fund manager -- and has worked on sports analytics with sports organizations. Jay Granat is a psychotherapist and founder of StayIntheZone.com. They are authors of “Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological & Mathematical Method” and have been quoted by the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, and ESPN.