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What does it take for the Colts to be a Super Bowl Team?

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Faraz Majid analyzes Super Bowl teams from a statistical perspective and compares them to the Indianapolis Colts

Washington Redskins v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

“What does it take to be a Super Bowl team?” – This is a question that is frequently asked by football enthusiasts. Of course, this game is an inexact science, and thus finding an answer can be quite elusive. Luckily, we have statistics at our finger tips, which — if properly used — give us a useful tool to try to answer questions filled with complex elements.

In order to determine what it takes to be a Super Bowl team, I reviewed the rankings of the teams that participated in the last 5 Super Bowls and compared them to the last Indianapolis Colts over the same seasons.

The standings included in this data set are:

Defensive points allowed per game (Def Pts/G); Defensive yards allowed per game (Def Y/G); Defensive rush yards allowed per game (Def Rush Y/G); Defensive pass yards allowed per game (Def Pass Yds); Sacks; Takeaways; Offensive points per game (Off Pts/G); Offensive yards per game (Off Y/G); Offensive rush yards per game (Off Rush Y/G); Offensive pass yards per game (Off Pass Y/G); Giveaways; and Turnover differential.

The complete list is provided in the following table.

Super Bowl Participants + Colts Team Rankings

Year Team Def Pts/G Def Y/G Def Rush Y/G Def Pass Yds Sacks Takeaways Off Pts/G Off Y/G Off Rush Yds Off Pass Yds Giveaways Differential
Year Team Def Pts/G Def Y/G Def Rush Y/G Def Pass Yds Sacks Takeaways Off Pts/G Off Y/G Off Rush Yds Off Pass Yds Giveaways Differential
2016 W: Patriots 1 8 3 12 16 14 3 4 7 4 1 3
L: Falcons 27 25 17 28 16 16 1 2 5 3 1 4
Colts 22 30 25 27 19 26 8 10 23 5 16 24
2015 W: Broncos 4 1 3 1 1 7 19 16 17 14 29 19
L: Panthers 6 6 4 11 6 1 1 11 2 24 8 1
Colts 25 26 25 24 22 12 24 28 29 22 26 22
2014 W: Patriots 8 13 9 17 13 13 4 11 18 9 1 2
L: Seahawks 1 1 3 1 20 21 10 9 1 27 3 4
Colts 19 11 18 12 9 10 6 3 22 1 29 22
2013 W: Seahawks 1 1 8 1 8 1 9 26 4 26 4 1
L: Broncos 22 19 7 27 13 16 1 1 15 14 18 14
Colts 9 20 26 13 11 15 14 15 20 17 1 3
2012 W: Ravens 17 13 20 17 15 14 10 16 11 25 5 8
L: 49ers 3 2 4 4 11 15 11 11 4 23 2 9
Colts 21 26 29 21 23 30 18 10 22 7 23 26
All SB Teams Average Rank 9 8.9 7.8 11.9 11.9 11.8 6.9 10.7 8.4 16.9 7.2 6.5
Median Rank 5 7 5.5 11.5 13 14 6.5 11 6 18.5 3.5 4
Winners Average Rank 6.2 7.2 8.6 9.6 10.6 9.8 9 14.6 11.4 15.6 8 6.6
Median Rank 4 8 8 12 13 13 9 16 11 14 4 3
Losers Average Rank 11.8 10.6 7 14.2 13.2 13.8 4.8 6.8 5.4 18.2 6.4 6.4
Median Rank 6 6 4 11 13 16 1 9 4 23 3 4
All Colts Average Rank 19.2 22.6 24.6 19.4 16.8 18.6 14 13.2 23.2 10.4 19 19.4
Median Rank 21 26 25 21 19 15 14 10 22 7 23 22

With such a small sample size, I looked exclusively at the median numbers, as to try and mitigate the effects outliers may have on the outcome.

Here is a list of all the median team rankings, from best to worst, for all the Super Bowl participants of the last 5 years from the chart:

1. Giveaways

2. Turnover differential

3. Defensive points per game

4. Defensive rush yards per game

5. Offensive rush yards per game

6. Offensive points per game

7. Total defensive yards allowed per game

8. Offensive yards per game

9. Defensive pass yards allowed per game

10. Sacks

11. Takeaways

12. Offensive pass yards per game

You can see that 1 through 4 are close to each other in the hierarchy, and 1 through 7 are all within the top 10 of their respective categories. Within those 7, the split is even between offense and defense, with 3 groups on each side and turnover differential accounting for both sides of the ball.

Beyond the even distribution, some interesting patterns emerge.

First off, out of the top 4 categories, the only offensive statistic present is giveaways.

From there, defensively, rushing yards against and points allowed round out the top 4.

Considering the pass-happy nature of the modern-day NFL, it’s surprising to see rushing yards allowed crawling its way towards the top of the food chain, while passing yards drops closer to the bottom. This trend exists on the offensive side of the ball as well.

It seems the teams that take care of the ball, defend soundly, especially against the run, and can get their ground game operating smoothly, have tended to be the types of teams that reach the Super Bowl. With that in mind, along with recognizing that those statistics are some of the lowest numbers for the Colts the past 5 years, it may appear that the outlook in Indianapolis is bleak in the near future.

There are some key factors that can make a difference in Indianapolis this year.

One, the defense is almost entirely new, so any past statistics seem almost irrelevant on that side of the ball. Additionally, further improvements from the young players already on the roster could have a profound impact on the team’s run defense in 2017.

Offensively, the line is still developing and was improving towards the latter half of the 2016 season. A rookie running back has also been added to the roster in Marlon Mack who should help take some of the load off Frank Gore. These changes likely do not equate to becoming a top 10 rushing offense in 2017, but it’s reasonable to expect some positive strides.

That said, the strongest part of the Colts roster could also be creating a significant weakness for the team’s Super Bowl chances. We all know Andrew Luck is the main reason that Indianapolis hasn’t been picking in the top 5 of the draft almost every year, but we also are aware of one of his most well-documented flaws – turnovers.

Giveaways are the number one ranking for Super Bowl participants, and it is clearly something that Luck needs to work on. I am not going to blame him for trying to make plays, because without his heroics this team would be lost, but if other parts of the roster come together, improved efficiency will be key for #12.

While I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do it, my concern for this season is his injury. The healing process is going to take a while, and it has already deprived him off-season reps. Hopefully, he’s able to make up lost time when he finally gets healthy, but for now all we can do is cross our fingers.

I would love to go on further about the statistical tendencies of the last few Super Bowl entrants and their relation to the Colts, but I’ll summarize and let you dissect the results yourself.

What surprised me most was that sack totals were so low on the list. I very much believe a good pass rush is critical for a Super Bowl run, and still stand firm on that belief, but the numbers are an eye-opener. Of course, sacks aren’t always indicative of a good pass rush or pass rusher (think Erik Walden).

It seems a team that can play defense, especially against the run, and take care of the ball offensively, increases their chances of a trip to the NFL’s biggest stage.

While these are still numbers on a piece of paper and don’t always echo exactly what is occurring on the field, it gives fans another way to observe quantifiable evidence and spot trends.

What are your observations from these statistics? What area would you like to see investigated further relating to these numbers?