After enjoying a well-contested Superbowl that seemed to appropriately represent the teams, the season, and the league in terms of the level of play and competitiveness, I started wondering about how the big game compares to regular season play. I wondered if teams performed better or worse, on average, given the pressure and scrutiny of the championship game.
I thought a simple place to start examining this question would be to look at Superbowl scoring versus regular season scoring. Below is a chart showing the difference (Superbowl Score – Average Regular Season Score) for all 46 Superbowls.
At the far right, we see the results of Superbowl 46: Giants 21, Patriots 17. The league average in scoring this years was 22 points per game, so the difference here is 38 – 44 = -6.
It seems as though it is more common for more points to be scored in the Superbowl than in an average regular season game. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stories one could tell about why that might be so: better teams (and therefore better offenses) make it to the Superbowl; defenses are more susceptible to pressures of the big game; the extra preparation time gives offensive coordinators and advantage.
So how could we more rigorously explore the quantitative characteristics of the Superbowl?