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The Denver Broncos Were One Of The Luckiest Champions In Recent Memory

Credit: USA TODAY Sports: Mark J. Rebilas

The Denver Broncos are one of the luckiest and least dominant Super Bowl winners of the last 20 years.

Let me start off by saying I am not trying to take anything away from the Denver Broncos’ performance in Super Bowl 50. They trudged out one heck of a game and maybe one of the best performances by a defense in Super Bowl history. They completely and utterly dominated the highest scoring offense in the league.

That all being said, when looking at Denver’s season as a whole, it is clear that they were one of the luckiest teams in recent Super Bowl history. In fact, when looking at all of the Super Bowl winners of the last 20 years, the Denver Broncos are probably one of the worst teams to win a Super Bowl.

To determine this, you need look no further than three simple metrics that show the dominance of the most recent Super Bowl champions. The metrics are all very similar, and in fact overlap a bit, but they each tell a slightly different portion of a story that when put together shows Denver in an unflattering light.

Point Differential

Point differential is one of the simplest stats in sports. Over the course of a season, it measures by how many points you beat an opponent. This metric is good because it not only rewards winning, but rewards winning in a convincing manner. When looking at the Super Bowl winners of the last 20 years, Denver doesn’t fare well.

Graphic: Adrian Nelson; Statistics: Pro Football Reference

Denver has the fourth worst point differential of the bunch. Although they won a lot of games, the Broncos didn’t win by much. They won nine of their games by a touchdown or less. Over a 16 game NFL season it seems as if the Broncos got a lot of favorable coin flips.

The counter argument here is that point differential isn’t the end all and be all, especially given the dominance of Denver on the defensive side of the ball. Denver gave up so few points that scoring wasn’t all that important. This argument is valid, and is taken into consideration by the next metric.

Pythagorean Expectation

Stay with me guys, we’re not calculating the length of a hypotenuse here. The Pythagorean Expectation formula is based on a formula that Bill James created for baseball. It calculates how many wins a team should have recorded given the number of points scored and given up.

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In a nutshell, your expected wins increase as the ratio between points given up and points scored decreases. So the earlier argument presented that Denver”s defense is so dominant that it doesn’t need to score points is taken into account by this metric. I’ll mention that in football, the exponent has empirically been found to be approximately 2.37 rather than 2, but that’s not a huge deal.

So how did Denver do?

Graphic: Adrian Nelson; Statistics: Pro Football Reference

As you can see, although Denver won 12 games this season, given the team’s production, it was only expected to win 9.7. In other words, the Broncos were lucky. When looking at how past Super Bowl winners have differed in terms of expected wins and actual wins, you see more of the same.

Win Difference

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Denver outperformed its expectation the third most of recent winners. When you think about the Broncos’ Super Bowl road, this becomes very important. The Kansas City Chiefs finished with 11.1 expected wins to Denver’s 9.7.

Had Denver finished 10-6 and the Chiefs 11-5, the Chiefs would have won the division, and the Broncos would have fallen to the Wild Card. They would not only have lost their home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they likely wouldn’t have played in the Mile High City at all.

Given that they beat Pittsburgh and New England by a whopping seven and two points respectively, and given that NFL home field advantage has been shown to be worth about three points, odds are that the Broncos would have missed the Super Bowl. I’m betting the Panthers would rather events to have unfolded that way.

So What?

Again, the Broncos played extremely well and deserved to win that game, but the  win doesn’t take away from the numbers. Point differential and Pythagorean Wins show that the Broncos were one of the worst Super Bowl winners in the last 20 years. And Win Difference shows that they are also one of the luckiest, which undoubtedly plays a factor in them even being a winner at all.

So celebrate this season, Broncos fans. Take note of your lucky pregame rituals, because they may have been the difference between a Super Bowl championship and a first round playoff exit.

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Jacob Greenberg.

According to Vegas, the Denver Broncos entered to Postseason with what odds to win Super Bowl 50?
Created 2/10/16
  1. 5:2
  2. 3:1
  3. 6:1
  4. 8:1

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