Looker Blog : Data Matters

Super Bowl LII: A Closer Look at the Matchup

Drew Kells, Customer Success Manager

Jan 31, 2018

As Super Bowl Sunday 2018 approaches, the matchup between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles is generating lots of different storylines. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are going for their astonishing sixth championship together, which would tie the all-time team record held by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Eagles are trying to overcome a devastating injury to MVP-hopeful Carson Wentz with the incredible redemption story of Nick Foles and three straight wins as an underdog. And of course, Sunday will mark a rematch of the great Super Bowl XXXIX matchup, 13 years later.

While there are many different angles to try and figure out who has an edge in the matchup, we wanted to take a closer look at what the numbers tells us by exploring NFL game and player data from Armchair Analysis.

Overall Team Comparison

At the surface level, the two teams’ stats are remarkably similar (and it’s clear why both have dominated the league). Despite early-season struggles by New England and the late-season injury to Wentz, both teams ended the regular season at 13-3 and as the #1 seed in their conference. You’ll notice a slight dip in production for Philadelphia after Week 14 when Foles took over, but that rust was shaken off emphatically with two impressive postseason wins over the Falcons and Vikings.

Both teams boast high-powered offenses with similar point totals and scoring margins of +187 (NE) and +198 (PHI). The Patriots hold an advantage on total offensive yards and touchdowns, while the Eagles have the edge on defensive yards allowed and interceptions.

There’s a reason these teams were able to make it to Minnesota, and the margins between them are slim.

Advantage: NE on Offense, PHI on Defense

Games Against Common Opponents

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Zooming in a bit from the statistics above, it’s always interesting to see how two teams fared against common opponents when dissecting a matchup. In the 2017 season, the Eagles and Patriots shared five of them: Atlanta, Carolina, Denver, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Both teams defeated the Falcons, with the Patriots winning much more comfortably. They both dominated the Denver Broncos, with the Eagles victorious by a field goal more. The LA Chargers proved a tough opponent for both teams, but both the Eagles and Patriots were able to eke out wins.

The Kansas City Chiefs might be watching Sunday’s game wondering what could have been as they were the only team that was able to defeat Philadelphia and New England this season, including a shocking 15-point victory over the Patriots in Week 1.

The only outlier was against the Carolina Panthers. While the Eagles handled their business with a 5-point victory, the Patriots found themselves on the wrong end of a last-second field-goal loss.

Take it with a grain of salt, but in this five-game sample the Eagles performed slightly better.

Advantage: Philadelphia

Quarterback Matchup

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There’s a reason why 12 of the past 20 Super Bowl MVPs have gone to the winning quarterback. It’s the most important position in football and you have to figure that the play of Nick Foles and Tom Brady is going to be a huge factor in the end result.

Since this game is being played in a dome at U.S. Bank Stadium and both teams play outdoors at their home fields, we’ve filtered this comparison to only look at their performance in indoor games (Foles has 13 in his career vs. 27 for Brady).

When looking at passer rating, completion percentage, passing yards per game, and passing touchdowns per game, Brady holds an edge over Foles in all four categories.

But these stats don’t account for the vast gap in experience between the two. Foles has 3 playoff starts and 0 Super Bowls in comparison to Brady’s 36 and 5, respectively. Brady’s stats advantage, plus that huge experience gap, gives him a major edge on Sunday.

Advantage: New England

Performance in the Clutch

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When the best teams from each conference meet with the Lombardi Trophy on the line, you can typically expect a close game. Seven of the past 10 Super Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less, so strong performance in the clutch is huge.

Clutch situations can be defined in many ways, but for this data set we looked at any games in the 2017 season where the game score difference was within a touchdown or less in the 4th quarter or overtime.

Not surprisingly, both teams fared well with the Patriots boasting a record of 7-3 and the Eagles having an even better 9-3. Both teams are battle-tested in the clutch and have proven they have the ability to win when the pressure is on. While the Eagles have two more wins under this definition, I don’t see that as enough of a disparity to consider it an advantage over the Super Bowl veteran Patriots.

Advantage: Even

Our Best Guess

So that’s what the data says.

As you can see, it’s pretty clear this matchup is a toss-up. The models of FiveThirtyEight have the Patriots as a 2.5-point favorite, and we tend to think it will be that close as well. While there is something to be said for the hungry first timer, the seasoned Pats have the leg up in this match. When in doubt, we lean towards the team that has done it five times before.

Prediction: New England 27, Philadelphia 24

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