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2/5/06 10:36 AM
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Edited: 05-Feb-06
Member Since: 06/08/2002
Posts: 5009
Feb. 05, 2006
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Numbers point to Seahawks play

Handicapper's math model favors Steelers to win but Seattle to cover in Super Bowl



One of the best quarterbacks in the NFL was ignored for most of the season, so being shoved into the shadows the past two weeks was nothing new for Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck.

An argument can be made that, although running back Shaun Alexander is the league's Most Valuable Player, Hasselbeck is most valuable to the team.

But not many arguments are being made on behalf of the Seahawks, who are 4 1/2-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers in today's Super Bowl at Detroit. The betting public, and the media's focus, has been on Pittsburgh.

Another approach is to ignore the hype, run every number possible through a computer and attempt to get the most likely result to the game -- Pittsburgh 24, Seattle 23 -- according to handicapper Bob Stoll.

"The Steelers may be worthy of being called the favorite in this game, but the line should not be more than 2 or 2 1/2 points, and the Seahawks are certainly the percentage play," said Stoll, also known as Dr. Bob of drbobsports.com.

Stoll rates Seattle getting the points as a "strong opinion" and he has no opinion on the total (47).

"The point spread in the Super Bowl is determined by public perception more than a normal NFL game because more amateur money is going to be placed on this game than on any other game all season," said Stoll, who started his handicapping service in 1987 while studying statistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stoll's in-depth analysis is based on unique mathematical valuation models, and here are excerpts of his analysis of today's game:

The public deemed Pittsburgh's playoff road wins at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver as more impressive than Seattle's two home wins over Washington and Carolina, and thus Pittsburgh is an undeserving 4 1/2-point favorite in this game. I don't want to diminish the Steelers' playoff accomplishments, as beating the Colts and Broncos on the road is a great achievement, but two games is an awfully small sample size, and the Steelers simply aren't much better than the Seahawks when you look at each team over the course of the season (and even in the playoffs only).

Seattle is getting criticized for playing an easier schedule than the Steelers and that is absolutely true, but my math model compensates each team's statistics for the level of the opponents they faced, and those compensated numbers are pretty close. The Seahawks' offense was one of the best in the league this season, as their balanced attack would average 5.79 yards per play against an average NFL defense. That number was derived by compensating Seattle's offensive numbers by the defensive numbers of its opponents (and the level of the opponent's opponents) while excluding games against the Colts in Week 16 and against Green Bay in Week 17, as the teams rested many of their starters.

2/5/06 10:37 AM
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Edited: 05-Feb-06
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The Seahawks' compensated yards per rush is 4.70 (ypr) and Hasselback's compensated yards per pass play (including sacks) is 6.91 (yppp). The league average for yards per play is 5.13 (yppl). I take kneel-downs and quarterback spikes out of my stats, which is why that number is different from the official stats), so Seattle's offense is 0.66 yppl better than average.

The Steelers' defense would allow 3.66 ypr, 5.35 yppp and 4.60 yppl to an average offensive team and a team's compensated defensive numbers are adjusted depending on opposing quarterbacks faced. For instance, my ratings adjust for facing backup Jon Kitna for all but two plays in the Steelers' first playoff game against Cincinnati instead of facing Carson Palmer. Pittsburgh's defense is 0.53 yppl better than average, so the Seahawks' attack has a slim 0.13 yppl advantage against Pittsburgh's defense.

Seattle has proven itself against good defensive teams, averaging 5.5 yppl in games against Jacksonville, Washington (twice) and Carolina -- the four games it played against teams that allowed fewer than 5.0 yppl for the season. Those teams would combine to allow 4.8 yppl to an average attack, so the Seahawks were 0.7 yppl better than average against good defensive teams, the same as they were overall this season.

Pittsburgh's offense was without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in four games this season (Weeks 6, 9, 10, and 11), and the Steelers' attack with Roethlisberger would average 5.67 yppl against an average NFL defense. Roethlisberger averaged an impressive 7.90 yppp this season and would average 7.81 yppp against an average defensive team. Seattle is better defensively than most people think, as the Seahawks would allow just 3.76 ypr, 5.64 yppp and 4.81 yppl to an average NFL team, which isn't much worse than Pittsburgh's compensated defensive numbers.

The Steelers are 0.54 yppl better than average offensively and the Seahawks are 0.32 yppl better than average defensively, so Pittsburgh has a 0.22 yppl advantage when it has the ball.

Pittsburgh faced four better-than-average defensive teams with Roethlisberger at quarterback (New England in Week 3 when the Pats had their secondary intact, San Diego, Baltimore and Chicago) and the Steelers averaged 5.1 yppl in those games against teams that would allow 4.7 yppl to an average team, so Pittsburgh was not quite as good offensively against good defensive teams as they were overall.

I project 5.32 yppl for Pittsburgh in this game and 5.23 yppl for Seattle by using the compensated numbers for each team and matching one team's offensive numbers with the other team's defensive numbers.

Projected turnovers are only slightly in favor of the Steelers, and special teams are slightly in favor of the Seahawks. Overall, my math model favors Pittsburgh by only 0.7 points.

Some might argue that Pittsburgh is playing better now than it played during most of the season, but you might be surprised to find out that Seattle has actually played better the last two weeks than Pittsburgh has. The Steelers averaged 5.13 yppl in their playoff wins at Indianapolis and at Denver and allowed 5.52 yppl, for a difference of 0.39 yppl. The Colts and Broncos would combine to outgain an average NFL opponent at home by an average of 1.23 yppl, so Pittsburgh was in fact 0.84 yppl better than an average team in those two games from the line of scrimmage.

Seattle had a differential of plus-0.99 yppl in its two playoff victories over Washington and Carolina (5.38 yppl on offense and allowed 4.39 yppl) and the Redskins and Panthers would combine to outgain an average opponent by 0.24 yppl on the road, so Seattle was 1.23 yppl better than an average team from the line of scrimmage in two playoff wins, which is considerably better than Pittsburgh's compensated performance the last two weeks.

So, those of you making a case for the Steelers based on their playoff results should actually be favoring the Seahawks in this game if playoff performance is your criterion for Super Bowl success -- which it should not be because a full season of games is much more predictive than just two games.

Another way of calculating a fair point spread involves using each team's individual game ratings and creating a matrix using those ratings. The matrix has a median cell of Pittsburgh by 2 points and has the Steelers with an advantage in 55.6 percent of the cells, which would represent their chance of winning straight up.

Using that percentage and a standard distribution of NFL margins of victory, Seattle has a profitable 59.2 percent chance of covering at plus-4 points (57.8 percent at +3 1/2, 60.2 percent at +4 1/2).
2/5/06 4:54 PM
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Edited: 05-Feb-06
Member Since: 06/10/2002
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I took seattle to win. Pitt was a huge underdog to win the superbowl at the start of the playoffs. Their luck will run out tonight. Seattle's offense will find a way to score and the steelers won't be able to keep pace.
2/15/06 2:13 PM
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Edited: 15-Feb-06
Member Since: 01/01/2001
Posts: 2281
I won a grand on the steelers but I was nervous as hell when I saw how Seattle came out. That just couldnt capitalize. I bought the line down to 3 so at the end it was pretty much I win a grand or Seattle get to within 3 and I push.

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