The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 3, 2010

PiRate Super Bowl Preview

The Particulars

Super Bowl XLIV—New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts

Date: Sunday, February 7, 2010

Location: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Turf: Natural Grass

Kickoff: Approximately 6:25 PM EST

TV: CBS (Pre-game coverage begins at 12:00 Noon)

Radio: Westwood One (go to www.followthegame.com for an interactive map of radio affiliates)

Forecast: Partly Cloudy with a 10% chance of rain and temperatures in the upper 60’s at kickoff falling to the lower 60’s by the end of the game.

The Numbers

Vegas Lines: Indianapolis by 4 ½, 5, and 5 ½

Offshore Lines: Indianapolis by 4 ½, 5, 5 ½, and 6

Totals: 56 ½ and 57 (both Vegas and Offshore)

Best New Orleans Money Line: +185 (MGM Mirage)

Best Indianapolis Money Line: -190 (Bodog)

100 Computer Simulations: Indianapolis 59  New Orleans 41

Average Sim Score: Indianapolis 30.2  New Orleans 25.6

Outlier Sim Score A: Indianapolis 41  New Orleans 17

Outlier Sim Score B: New Orleans 38  Indianapolis 23

An Explanation Of The Following Three Pro Football Ratings

 

The PiRate Rating

 

The NFL version of the PiRate Ratings was not the same as the collegiate version from 1979 to 2008.  The NFL version strictly used a statistical formula that could be reproduced by anybody who knew the equations used to devise the formula.  No subjective data was used.  Starting in 2009, a new PiRate formula was created and back-tested to 1999.  The results produced a more accurate rating.  This new formula is a close cousin to the formula used for years in the college PiRate formula.

 

The new formula begins with the previous season ending ratings with adjustments for experience, personnel aging, new coaching, injuries, and a couple dozen intangibles.  As the season progresses, the previous season’s results have less of an impact to where it has little effect by mid-October.  

 

The Mean Rating

 

Just like the PiRate Ratings, the NFL Mean Ratings are not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL Mean Ratings consist of a dozen different calculations.  Three calculations consist of different ways to look at point differential and strength of schedule.  Five calculations look at yards gained and allowed rushing and passing and special teams play with the strength of the opponents’ rushing and passing.  Point values are assigned based on each set of data.  The remaining four ratings are my old four pro ratings from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The 12 ratings are given equal weight, and then I take the average (mean) to get the rating.

 

The Bias Rating

 

The Bias Ratings consist of five of the components of The Mean Ratings.  The five ratings are not given equal weight.  The five ratings are weighted at 37.5%, 25%, 12.5%, 12.5%, and 12.5%.  I have back tested these ratings and found that this weighting gives the rating its best predictive percentage.

PiRate Rating Spread: Indianapolis by 1.3                  

Mean Rating Spread: New Orleans by 0.1

Bias Rating Spread: New Orleans by 5.0

 

Note: For the 2009 season, the Bias Rating was the most accurate, picking the winner against the spread almost 70% of the time.

Analysis

It’s being billed as Peyton Manning versus Drew Brees.  Football historians compare this game to the 1998 Super Bowl between Denver’s John Elway and Green Bay’s Brett Favre.  For those older readers, you might better compare these two gunslingers to the quarterbacks of Super Bowl II.  Manning is Bart Starr, while Brees is Daryle Lamonica. 

Manning is the mechanical quarterback.  Just wind him up, send him out there, and he operates like a machine.  If he throws 30 passes, 29 of them will look the same, and maybe one will be altered a tad.  He’ll complete better than 60% of his passes, three or more of which will go for 25 or more yards.

Brees tends to be more of a gambler.  He might force a throw for the reward of a long gain.  He will average more yards per completion and will most certainly connect for more than one touchdown.

All this comparison stuff is great for nostalgia buffs, but if you really want to know how this game will turn out, you are looking in the wrong direction.  Manning and Brees are not like the starting pitchers of game seven of the World Series. 

This game, like almost every NFL game, will be decided in the trenches.  If Brees and Manning are perfect on every throw, what will it matter if their offensive lines cannot protect them against the opposing defensive lines?  So what if either passer finishes the game 18 of 18 for 220 yards and three touchdowns, but gets sacked eight times and loses three fumbles because his offensive line cannot protect him?  I dare say, the other team will score at least three touchdowns off these turnovers.

What if none of the rushing plays work because there is no blocking?  It matters not how great the running backs play if they simultaneously receive the handoff and the defensive hit. 

What if the receivers continually break free and find themselves wide open, but the quarterbacks don’t get the time to set up and find them? 

Yes, the major discussion of this game needs to center on the four interior units plus the linebacker trios.  Knowing which team has the advantage in these areas will lead you to your Super Bowl Champion.

Let’s get something straight before we begin comparing players.  It is totally ridiculous the way most of the nation’s media waste their time and yours telling you which team has the better center, the better middle linebacker, the better tight end, etc.  Who cares if Reggie Wayne is somewhat more talented at wide receiver than Devery Henderson?  Tell me, at what point in this game will Wayne and Henderson be opposite each other on a scrimmage play?

There is only one way for the serious student of the game to analyze the talent by position.  Compare the offensive line to the opposing defensive line.  Compare the passing game to the opposing pass defense.  It is foolish to compare one wide receiver to one cornerback.  On the surface, that may sound like the way to go, but on most passing plays that cornerback may not be the defender who must break up a pass to that receiver.  Thus, we must compare the entire secondary to the entire receiving unit.

Without further adieu, here are the unit breakdowns according to the PiRates.

Running Game vs. Run Defense

When Indianapolis Runs

The Colts’ offensive line is better suited to block for the pass than the run.  However, when the Colts need one or two yards to convert a first down or to cross the goalline, the offensive line succeeds more than it fails.  Some of this success can be attributed to the threat of a Manning pass, but give the Colts a little credit for their short running game.  A two yard run on 3rd and one is much more successful than a seven yard run on 2nd and 10.  Rushing averages can be misleading.  It’s the number of successful running plays that matter.

The Saint’s run defense is underrated, maybe even more than the Colts’ running game.  Yes, New Orleans gave up more than 120 yard rushing per game, but if you throw out a couple of bad games, the Saints played well in this area.  In the playoffs, they have not been exploited by the opposition’s running game.

Indianapolis will run the ball about 24 times for 80 yards in this game.  If Joseph Addai consistently picks up three yards when the Colts need two or two yards when the Colts need one, I don’t see the Saints holding Indy under 28 points.  Those 80 yards could be big if they are the right 80.  If on the other hand, Addai picks up 20 yard on two separate attempts and then consistently gains two yards when the Colts need three and one when they need two, the Saints will exploit Manning’s one weakness and hold Indy under 24 points.  Our guess is the extremes will be split.  Addai will be about 50% successful, and Manning will be able to move his troops on half of their possessions.

When New Orleans Runs

The Saints have quality and depth in this department.  Their offensive line consistently opens enough running space, that it really doesn’t matter who totes the pigskin.  Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks will be the two best interior linemen on the field Sunday.  The Colts will have a hard time consistently stopping the inside running game, as middle linebacker Gary Brackett and defensive tackles Daniel Muhr and Antonio Johnson will need a lot of help here.  It will force Indianapolis to gamble with stunts and blitzes, leaving them vulnerable to quick hitters to the perimeter.

In past Super Bowls, teams that could consistently run the ball between the tackles have controlled the clock and kept their defense fresh.  I believe the Saints will run the ball about 22 times for 95 yards.  That comes out to a 4.3 yard rushing average.  I expect the Saints to pick up 40 yards in two of those attempts, so in the other 20 attempts, New Orleans should gain about 55 yards.  That’s just a 2.8 yard per carry average.  However, in about eight attempts, the Saints will be in a situation where one yard is needed to either convert a first down or score.  If they pick up that yard seven of the eight times, that will leave 48 yards for the other 12 attempts—the ones that will be vital in this game.  At four yards per carry in these attempts, Mardi Gras might begin around 9PM Sunday night.

Passing Game vs. Pass Defense

When Indianapolis Passes

Indianapolis’s pass blocking is second to none in the NFL.  Even so, they aren’t infallible.  The Jets forced Manning to the ground several times in the first half in the AFC Championship Game, and the Saints will affect his rhythm enough to force Manning into at least one mistake.  However, New Orleans could put themselves into a situation where they win most of the battles but lose the war if they become intent on getting into Manning’s head.  The warning that they are coming after him may not be the smartest ploy.  This pre-game threatening has backfired in past Super Bowls.  In the very first Super Bowl in Los Angeles in January of 1967, Kansas City’s Fred “The Hammer” Williamson told the press that he would put the hammer to Green Bay’s receivers and knock Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler.  Dowler indeed left the game with an injury early in that Super Bowl, but Williamson had nothing to do with it.  Veteran Max McGee came off the bench with a hangover and promptly caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.  As for Williamson, he was knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter when Green Bay running back Donnie Anderson banged his knee into the Hammer’s helmet.

As for this game, I expect Manning to play like a superstar.  He may go down a few times, but Manning knows how to take a dive better than Sonny Liston.  He won’t be injured, and he won’t pull a Favre and throw a dumb pass while under pressure.  If the Saints blitz too much, expect Manning to burn them with a big six on a long pass.

When New Orleans Passes

The strongest asset with the Saints’ passing game is its versatility.  Seven different Saints’ receivers caught 35 or more passes this season.  He can go deep to game breakers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson.  Tight end Jeremy Shockey commands attention in the middle zones, and a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage to Reggie Bush can quickly turn into a 20-yard gain.  Indianapolis cannot decide to stop one player and shut the New Orleans passing game down.

What hurts the Colts the most in this game are the hurts themselves.  End Dwight Freeney, their best pass rusher by a long stretch, has a severe ankle sprain that will greatly limit his effectiveness.  He might be able to hold his own against the run, but rushing the passer will be a tough assignment.   Cornerback Jerraud Powers is still questionable after suffering a foot injury against the Ravens and missing the game with the Jets.  The Colts have very little secondary depth, and no other linemen on the roster can begin to replace the effectiveness of Freeney.  Thus, I believe Brees will enjoy an excellent day, as the Colts may be forced to gimmickry to slow down the passing game.  Look for Brees to throw for 300+ yards in this game.

Special Teams Play

Special teams play is usually equalized in the Super Bowl.  Sure, you have your last second heroics in Jim O’Brien’s “kick heard ‘round the world” in Super Bowl V, and the missed chip shot field goal by Scott Norwood in Super Bowl XXV.  However, all in all, I don’t expect this game to be decided by special teams play.  

If one team returns kicks to the 30, while the other returns them to the 20, we’re talking one completed pass play’s worth of difference.  If one team has a net punting average of 42 yards, and the other just 38 yards, we’re talking a difference of one running play. 

The one true special teams stat that matters in this game will be which team kicks off the most.

Who Wins?

This is one tough game to predict.  As of Wednesday afternoon, the injury status of Freeney and Powers is still a concern, and both of these players need to be at least 75% effective if the Colts really do deserve to be the favorites.  If neither can effectively play, and I expect both to play, the Saints should be favored by up to a touchdown.

As I write this today, I expect New Orleans to prevail in an exciting game.  With the best quarterback in modern day football and A+ pass blocking, one can never count out the Colts’ offense as long as there is time on the clock.  However, the opposing offense isn’t chopped liver.  They will exploit the liabilities brought on by the injuries, and they don’t need much help to hang 35 points on the board.

My advice for those who must get action on this game is to find the most points you can get and take the underdog Saints and those points.  If you want to play the totals, look to the first half line.  There is always a chance the teams will begin playing a little tight and need a quarter to get their offenses really going.  At 28 ½ for a first half total, I see value in the UNDER here.  I wouldn’t play with the game total.  Miami is prone to pop-up showers, even in the dry season.  It has rained frequently, and there is a chance of rain.  

The Five PiRates Predict: New Orleans 30  Indianapolis 27

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