Over the years, Dr. Jay Granat, a psychotherapist, and I have studied championship factors related to sports psychology to predict the winners of major championships. Much of our research has focused on concepts such as consistency and minimizing errors.
These factors are often overlooked by most sports fans and analysts. Our regular series of "Who Will WIn" quant facts predictions have been correct about 63% of the time, while regularly picking underdogs. The results are based on championships going back several decades – and across major sports including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and professional tennis and golf.
Big game experience and the related factor of confidence play a large role in winning -- in every major sport we have studied. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots take this championship factor, winning the Super Bowl just two years ago and being perennial Super Bowl contenders. Edge: New England.
The old adage, "Defense wins championships," has proven to be true. Defense is associated with hard-nosed, gritty work. Defense is typically more consistent – and interestingly, can overcome glitzy offenses - which are sometimes able to "run up numbers" against weaker opponents during the regular season. A large majority of Super Bowls (63%) has been won by the team with the better defense, measured by "points against." The Patriots led the NFL in this category this season. Edge: New England.
Even with today’s high-octane NFL offenses, ball control remains one of the most important offensive indicators studied in both professional and college football. The team with a better running game, as measured by "average yards per rush," has won a majority of all Super Bowls. Matt Ryan and the league-leading Atlanta Falcon offense were not only good in the air, they were strong on the ground, as well. The Falcons were near the top of the NFL this area. Edge: Atlanta.
Similarly, stopping your opponent’s running game is related to winning the big game. The team with the better rushing defense has won almost 60% of the Super Bowls. Interestingly, although New England has the better overall defense, Atlanta edges New England in this crucial championship factor. Edge: Atlanta.
Champions need to execute at a high-level, while minimizing errors and mistakes. The quarterback, as the team’s offensive leader, has a huge impact in determining championships. In particular, quarterback interceptions during the regular season are great predictors of Super Bowl success. The team with fewer interceptions during the regular season has gone on to win a majority of all Super Bowls. This has always been a strength of Tom Brady's Patriots. Although Matt Ryan had a phenomenal season, the Patriots as a team threw just two (2 ! ) INTs all season! Edge: Patriots.
The championship factors favor the Patriots 3-2, so New England will be our official quant fact prediction. It is very interesting that the Atlanta Falcons edge the Patriots in two key fundamental areas. This could actually lead to interesting game plans. At the time of this article, New England is a very slight favorite at Patriots -3. Enjoy the big game!
Carlton Chin, a graduate of MIT, is a portfolio strategist and fund manager -- and has worked on sports analytics with sports organizations. Jay Granat is a psychotherapist and founder of StayIntheZone.com. They are authors of “Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological & Mathematical Method” and have been quoted by the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, and ESPN.
The Super Bowl is this coming Sunday, February 5, 2017. Do you have your Square Pool box yet? If you are participating in a square pool (where only the last digit for each team counts), you are randomly assigned a digit for each team, such as New England 7, and Atlanta 0. Many fans have an idea of what numbers are “good.” Here, we compute Super Bowl Square Pool probabilities by quarter, based on recent historical results.
Most people prefer numbers like 7, 3, and 0 due to the key numbers associated with touchdowns and field goals. But how often do those numbers hit? And what about the 4, 6, or 1? A few years ago, we took a look at the probabilities of the digits winning at the end of each quarter – based on every Super Bowl ever played. The results were originally published by the New York Times in their Super Bowl Sunday spread several years ago (full link below):
This year, we refreshed the results to reflect the NFL’s adoption of the two-point conversion since 1994. We used every Super Bowl – along with Conference Championship games – since 1994. In addition, we computed the probabilities at the end of each quarter. The results are also informed by which team is favored to win the game. The impact of longer distance extra points, since 2015, is trickling into the data.
So, what numbers are good?
For the team that is favored (New England, this year), the best numbers to have for the final score are: 1, 4, 7, and 3, in this order. These numbers each have about a 13% to 16% chance of hitting -- for the final score, based on our data sample.
The best numbers for the underdog’s final score (Atlanta) are 4, 7 and 0 – in that order.
The best overall numbers, to win at the end of any quarter – favorite or underdog – are 0, 7, 4, and 3, as expected.
The 0, 3, and 7 are particularly good to have at the end of the first quarter and first half.
By the end of the game, the 4 and 7 are the best.
The worst numbers are the 2 and 5, but by the end of the game, every number has won in our data set, since 1994.
Look up your numbers in the charts below to find the percentage of your numbers hitting, for each quarter.
Square Pool Odds - First Quarter
Square Pool Odds - Halftime
Square Pool Odds - Third Quarter
Square Pool Odds - Final Score
Note that if there is a 0.0% in a given square, it does not mean that this event is impossible. It just means that during our sample size since 1994, that set of numbers has not occurred for the given quarter. Please keep an eye out for our “Who Will Win” analysis for this year’s Super Bowl. Enjoy the game!
Carlton Chin, CFA, is a fund manager and quantitative researcher focused on the financial markets and sports analytics. He has been quoted by the New York Times and Wall St. Journal and has worked on sports analytics with sports organizations, including Draft 3.0 with the Sacramento Kings.
Don La Fronz, CFP, is a financial advisor and originated the idea for this article.
We quantify concepts of sports psychology including leadership, confidence & experience, and consistency. In our work with sports organizations, we use more advanced analytics -- but even our simplified methods have correctly predicted the winner of major sports championships at about a 64% clip -- while picking underdogs regularly.
The Cubs won a powerhouse-like 103 games during the regular season. They started the season winning almost 80% of their games, and won their division by 17.5 games. In blowout games, the Cubs went 42-13, winning these games at a .786 clip. In a nutshell, the Cubs were the talk of 2016.
On the other hand, Cleveland started the season hovering around .500 until they heated up in June. The Indians finished with 94 wins, but it is noteworthy that Cleveland finished the season ranked No. 2 in the American League in both runs scored and team ERA. How do the teams stack up in our sports psychology quant facts?
Especially during short baseball playoff series, leadership in the form of pitching at the top of the pitching rotation is a key championship factor. The Cubs, led by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who combined for 37 wins during the regular season take this category over the Cleveland Indians. Edge: Chicago.
During pressure-filled moments, the ability to find "consistency" and stay on "your game" has proven to be connected with winning the big game. Indeed, Dr. Jay Granat, a psychotherapist who has worked with athletes of all levels -- often encourages athletes to find a "ritual" to improve consistency. In baseball, our measure of consistency is each team's league rank in batting average. The team with the better batting average has won almost two-thirds of the World Series over the past three decades. This edge goes to the Cleveland Indians, who ranked third in the AL, compared to the Cubs who had the sixth best batting average in the NL. Edge: Cleveland.
The ability to minimize errors while performing at a high level is key to winning championships. In baseball, errors occur relatively infrequently - especially when compared to hits and walks. However, their importance cannot be underestimated from both an on-field and psychological perspective. The team with the better league rank in fielding percentage has won almost 65% of the World Series over the past 30 years. This year, both World Series participants were sixth in their respective leagues. Edge: None.
Big Game Experience
Across all major sports we studied, experience in previous championships -- and the related confidence -- had a mathematical connection with improved chances of winning the big game. Our official indicator is appearances in the World Series over the past three years. Neither team has been to the World Series in recent years, but the Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series last year. Three years ago, the Indians lost in the American League Wild Card game. Edge: Slightly to the Cubs.
One particularly interesting factor that we have researched is the "consistency" factor. In football, for instance, consistency factors such as running statistics are more closely related to winning the Super Bowl than glitzy passing stats. In baseball, batting average is more closely correlated to winning the World Series than the home run. In fact, teams that rely more on the home run are regularly "shut down" by the higher level of pitching during the playoffs and World Series. This oddball factor favors the Indians slightly. Edge: Slightly to the Indians.
We will call the quant facts a draw at 1.5 to 1.5. We prefer to make a prediction for major championships, but we believe that the quant facts do, in fact, tell a story. The Cubs are heavily favored to win the World Series, with the Cleveland Indians being 2-1 underdogs. Sports fans may find value on the Indians, because the quant facts predict this year's World Series might be closer than many think. Enjoy the games!
Carlton Chin, CFA, is a fund manager, MIT-trained quantitative analyst, and co-author of “Who Will Win the Big Game?" He has worked with the Sacramento Kings on the Draft 3.0 Analytics Advisory Council. Dr. Jay Granat, the owner of StayInTheZone.com, was named one of America's Top 10 Mental Gurus by Golf Digest, and has worked with high school and Olympic athletes. Carlton and Jay have been interviewed and/or quoted by ESPN, the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.