Super Bowl XLV, Packers vs. Steelers Statistical Preview: Irresistible Force vs. Immoveable Object

This kiss is consensual, I swear! (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It's Super Bowl Sunday, so $3 million commercials are only hours away. Although it may come as a shock, actual football will be played between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers in between those commercials (and musical interludes).  And to analyze what the statistics say is likely to transpire while the football happens, here I am. Unfortunately, the stats seem to suggest that this is going to be one of those games where stats don't really matter. What do I mean? Well, I've perused the data, and what I've found is that we're in store for one heck of a game that pits the 2 most-balanced elite teams in the NFL. I've thrown around the phrase "irresistible force vs. immoveable object" before in my stat previews, but Super Bowl XLV represents - by far - the most appropriate dip into that well.

To take stock of how rare such an evenly matched Super Bowl this is, I consulted Football Outsiders' DVOA archives, which go back to 1992. Here's a table showing the final regular-season DVOA rankings for each Super Bowl team from 1992-2010 (winners in bold):

Year

NFC

Rank

AFC

Rank

2010

GB

3

PIT

2

2009

NO

6

IND

8

2008

ARI

21

PIT

5

2007

NYG

16

NE

1

2006

CHI

6

IND

7

2005

SEA

3

PIT

4

2004

PHI

7

NE

2

2003

CAR

17

NE

4

2002

TB

1

OAK

2

2001

STL

1

NE

12

2000

NYG

10

BAL

3

1999

STL

1

TEN

5

1998

ATL

7

DEN

1

1997

GB

1

DEN

3

1996

GB

1

NE

8

1995

DAL

2

PIT

4

1994

SF

3

SD

7

1993

DAL

2

BUF

12

1992

DAL

1

BUF

7

As you can see from the table, there have been only 2 Super Bowls during the DVOA era involving 2 teams as highly ranked as the Packers and Steelers: the Super Bowl XXXVII matchup between the Buccaneers and Raiders (#1 vs. #2) and the Super Bowl XXXII matchup between the Broncos and Packers (#1 vs. #3).

After the jump, more discussion about how rare this matchup is, and a bunch more in the way of statistical previewing ...

Before I go on with my history lesson, I need to first give you a little more detail about the DVOA rankings for GB and PIT (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

GB

23.2%

3

14.7%

7

-10.8%

2

-2.2%

27

PIT

37.3%

2

17.9%

5

-18.5%

1

0.9%

16

So, Super Bowl XLV involves 2 teams that were in the Top-8 in Total, Offense and Defense DVOA. How rare is that? Well, only that DEN-GB game can stake claim to the combination of play-by-play efficiency and balance. In addition to the #1-vs.-#3 matchup overall, that game pitted DEN's #2 offense against GB's #3 defense and GB's #4 offense vs. DEN's #8 defense. Super Bowl XXXII went down to the wire, so I have this strange sample-size-equals-1 feeling that Super Bowl XLV is going to transpire in the same way.

Given how evenly matched these 2 teams are, it's not surprising that the strength vs. weakness (SVW) cupboard is bare. Here, though, are a couple of meaningful matchups that came close:

Situation

GB Rank

PIT Rank

PIT DEFENSE VS. GB OFFENSE ON 3RD & SHORT

24

6

PIT KICK RETURN UNIT VS. GB KICKOFF UNIT

27

11

So I guess my keen statistical insight suggests that you pay special attention to when the Packers' offense is in 3rd & Short and when the Packers are kicking off. For the sake of Nostradamus-ness, I'll predict a PIT return for a TD on the opening kickoff. Don't hold me to it though.

What's more interesting - and far more fascinating - to me than the SVW matchups are the strength vs. strength matchups that make Super Bowl XLV the result when you wiki "irresistible force vs. immoveable object." Check out just how many game situations qualify according to DVOA:

Situation

GB Rank

PIT Rank

GB PASS OFFENSE VS. PIT PASS DEFENSE

6

2

PIT PASS OFFENSE VS. GB PASS DEFENSE

1

3

GB OFFENSE VS. PIT DEFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF

4

1

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF

4

3

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF

3

5

GB OFFENSE VS. PIT DEFENSE WHEN GB IS WINNING BY 8+

8

2

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE WHEN GB IS WINNING BY 8+

8

1

GB OFFENSE VS. PIT DEFENSE INSIDE GB 21

2

1

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE INSIDE GB 11

1

10

GB OFFENSE VS. PIT DEFENSE ON 1ST DOWN

5

1

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE ON 2ND DOWN

6

7

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE ON 3RD DOWN

5

4

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE ON 2ND & SHORT

4

5

GB OFFENSE VS. PIT DEFENSE ON 3RD & LONG

5

9

PIT OFFENSE VS. GB DEFENSE ON 3RD & LONG

3

4

Just to drive the point home further, let's add to this long list the fact that we have the #10 PIT offense inside the 10 trying to score against the #1 GB defense in goal-to-go situations, as well as the #5 GB offense on 3rd & long trying to get a 1st down against PIT's #9 defense in that situation. Clearly, then, we're looking at a game in which both teams meet their equal on both sides of the ball.

Where we finally do find some daylight is in the trenches (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

GB OL

23

32

21

7

18

28

25

9

21

PIT DF7

1

12

1

3

11

3

10

13

3

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

PIT OL

19

7

31

18

17

5

12

27

29

GB DF7

20

19

28

21

25

16

2

28

4

 

It's no secret that the Packers don't make much of an effort to play smash-mouth football, and the stats confirm that aversion. However, what may be GB's dirty little secret is that they run to the outside right a lot more frequently than the average NFL team, and they find themselves up against a defense that's stout in that direction (i.e., PIT DF7 vs. RE). The only other thing to glean from these stats is that this year's XLV version might end up breaking the Super Bowl record for combined sacks between the 2 teams (10). Interestingly enough, the Packers hold a share of that record: Patriots-Packers in Super Bowl XXXI and Patriots-Bears in Super Bowl XX.

 

BOTTOM LINE: I feel like I've failed you today. Sure I've provided little nuggets of Super Bowl wisdom like the combined sack record, but I haven't presented much else in the way of matchup advantages that might give a glimpse into the championship crystal ball. As a summation, though, I'm pretty confident that Super Bowl XLV is going to go down to the wire. If there was ever a matchup that predicted overtime, this one is it. Will we get extra GEICO does-a-bear-(site decorum)-in-the-woods commercials if that happens? I'm crossing my fingers for it, that's for sure. If you want a prediction, you're out of luck. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I'll be rooting for the Steelers, so a TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward to take the lead followed by a sack of Aaron Rodgers to end the game seems OK with me.

**DVOA, ALY, and ASR statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

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