Super Bowl XLIII Prediction

Steelers' Sixth - BtB predicts a Pittsburgh win by four
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
January 21st, 2009

After correctly predicting the winners of four of the last five Super Bowls, going 6-1-3 in the playoffs thus far against the spread, and coming off a year where we had Kansas winning March Madness (as of selection Sunday), the Red Wings taking the Stanley Cup, the Celtics beating the Lakers (in six) and the Phillies taking the World Series, sports simulation website WhatIfSports.com likes the Steelers to defeat the Cardinals by an average score of 20-16. Included in this feature are an explanation of the analysis, a representative boxscore with play-by-play, a brief game story related to the boxscore, prop bet odds, stats, stats and more stats from the simulations. If that is not enough, anyone can simulate this game (or the 1972 Dolphins vs. 1985 Bears, etc.) for free by using the SimMatchup feature.

WhatIfSports used its award-winning SimLeague Football simulation engine to "play" the Super Bowl 10,001 times. For each game, we make use of as many strength-of-schedule-adjusted statistics from the regular season and playoffs as we can find to determine the likelihood and potential outcome of each play. With 10,001 games looking at every play and every scenario, this is the most thorough way to analyze any matchup. With the Super Bowl, we are pulling out all the stops, using the results of those simulations to come up with more data than just about anyone could ever use (below). In short though, Pittsburgh wins 65.1% of those 10,001 games. The average score is 20-16, while the most common score is actually 27-13 Steelers. What follows is just one example of the play-by-play of the Super Bowl from those 10,001 games that just so happened to have the exact same score as the average game.

The Game: Super Bowl XLIII (click for boxscore)
Pittsburgh 20 vs. Arizona 16 - A fourth quarter comeback and a long, game-saving drive leads the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory en route to its sixth Super Bowl championship.

Not too surprisingly, a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown on Arizona's first possession of the game opens scoring midway through the first quarter. Pittsburgh answers that score with a 51-yard Jeff Reed field goal and an eight-yard Willie Parker TD run on its next two possessions, spanning a total of 117 yards on 16 plays over 9:40 in the late first and early second quarters. Three drives that end in punts later, Ben Roethlisberger is intercepted by Ralph Brown, who returns the ball to the Steelers' 41 with just 2:06 left in the first half. Arizona methodically moves the ball down the field, ultimately getting to the two yard line. Two stuffed Edgerrin James runs and a Kurt Warner sack by LaMar Woodley make it fourth-and-seven. Neil Rackers converts the 24-yard attempt to tie the game, but Arizona enters the locker room at halftime knowing that it let an opportunity for a crucial touchdown get away.

The third quarter is very quiet until an excellent Steve Breaston punt return puts the Cardinals in position to score again. They get as close as the 16, but again have to kick the field goal. Despite taking the 13-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, Arizona should be ahead by more and has to worry that its inability to convert good field position into scores will hurt the team in the fourth.

Opening the fourth quarter, another outstanding punt return sets up another disappointing Cardinal drive that ends in three points. Arizona has now started with the ball 60 yards or less from the endzone four times and only scored nine points out of those drives.

Enter the Pittsburgh offense and Ben Roethlisberger's fourth quarter exploits. Understanding they have been very fortunate in the game thus far, the Steelers take the ensuing kickoff and quickly march down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown on a Willie Parker one-yard run just 2:45 later. On the drive, Big Ben completes both of his attempts for a total of 49 yards, including a 35-yard bomb to Santonio Holmes and a screen from the 15 yard line to Hines Ward that he turns into a 14-yard play that gives Parker his chance.

Down one point, 17-16, with 11:51 to go, the Cardinals' offense sputters on two consecutive three-and-outs. Then, with 5:09 remaining, Pittsburgh gets the ball and does not let go. In epic Steelers' fashion, the team runs 4:45 off the clock and forces Arizona to burn all of its timeouts as Pittsburgh moves the ball 50 yards in 11 plays. A Jeff Reed 33-yard field goal with just 23 seconds to go appears to seal the victory, but the Cardinals would have the last say. After a pooch kick is returned to the Arizona 46 yard line, Kurt Warner attempts two Hail Mary's. The second attempt is actually caught along the sideline by Jerheme Urban, but Urban cannot quite break the plane of the endzone, falling just short of the winning score.

Parker's two touchdowns earn him game MVP honors, yet the Steelers' defensive stands on four important Cardinals' possessions are the difference. Warner ends the game with 218 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-31 passing. Roethlisberger's numbers are fairly similar with 217 yards and an interception on 16-of-23 passing. Fitzgerald grabs seven passes, yet is quiet in the second half and only tallies 64 yards to go with his one TD. Ward and Holmes best Fitzgerald's yardage total with 95 and 74 yards respectively.

Overall, Super Bowl XLIII is about what many would expect: a non-descript game where Arizona makes a few spectacular plays on offense, yet Pittsburgh plays smarter, hits harder and finds a way to win in the end.

Super Bowl MVP - Willie Parker - 23 rushes, 60 yards, 2 TDs (most likely MVP is actually Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona)

Team Stats: Results from 10,001 Super Bowl Simulations

Before we get too deeply into the stats, please note these few items. The difference between the average score and most common score is significant. As you can see, even though the Steelers only win by 3.6 points "on average," there is a significant chance that, when they win, the Steelers win by 14 or more. The actual likelihood of either team winning the toss is (and should always be) 50%; however, over the course of the simulations, the Cardinals win the toss a few more times than the Steelers. L2MinH signifies the likelihood that the team scores in the last two minutes of the first half. L2MinG is the same thing for the end of the game. And yes, we probably spent too much time coming up with a mathematical model to predict the length of Jennifer Hudson's performance of the National Anthem.

 Average Scores After Each Quarter

Team After 1st Qtr. After 2nd Qtr. After 3rd Qtr. End of Game
Pittsburgh 3.8 10.3 13.8 19.9
Arizona 3.3 8.7 11.6 16.3

 Most Common Scores After Each Quarter

Team After 1st Qtr. After 2nd Qtr. After 3rd Qtr. End of Game
Pittsburgh 0 10 20 27
Arizona 0 3 10 13

 Miscellaneous Team Percentages

Team Win Coin Toss Score First L2MinH L2MinG
Pittsburgh 49.77% 55.30% 46.14% 36.55%
Arizona 50.23% 44.70% 36.58% 21.11%

Game Stats: Results from 10,001 Super Bowl Simulations

 Average Game Results

PIT wins by > 7 Total Score > 47 Avg Long Play Nat'l Anthem
36.71% 14.90% 41.43 Yards 111 Seconds

Player Stats: Results from 10,001 Super Bowl Simulations

 Average QB Results

Player Team Comp.% Yards TDs INTs
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 62.68% 228.23 1.28 0.83
Kurt Warner ARI 56.97% 228.37 1.10 0.87

 Average RB Results

Player Team Rush Yards Rec Yards Total TDs
Willie Parker PIT 94.91 2.48 0.69
Mewelde Moore PIT 15.41 3.92 0.16
Edgerrin James ARI 40.21 10.55 0.29
Tim Hightower ARI 15.42 8.49 0.10

 Average WR/TE Results

Player Team Rec Rec Yards TDs
Hines Ward PIT 5.09 66.70 0.35
Santonio Holmes PIT 3.46 59.72 0.34
Heath Miller PIT 3.29 31.38 0.28
Nate Washington PIT 2.73 44.32 0.28
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 7.88 110.32 0.49
Anquan Boldin ARI 4.47 46.74 0.25
Steve Breaston ARI 2.43 29.78 0.25
Jerheme Urban ARI 1.35 11.61 0.09

 MVP Likelihood

Player Team Pos % Chance
Larry Fitzgerald ARI WR 25.6%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT QB 23.6%
Willie Parker PIT RB 18.3%
Kurt Warner ARI QB 13.4%
Hines Ward PIT WR 5.8%
Santonio Holmes PIT WR 2.5%
Edgerrin James ARI RB 2.0%
James Harrison PIT LB 1.9%
Nate Washington PIT WR 1.3%
Anquan Boldin ARI WR 1.2%
Troy Polamalu PIT S 0.8%
Karlos Dansby ARI LB 0.6%
Other 3.0%

Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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