So decades later, it is appropriate revenge that sports has evolved into a culture of stat-heads. Bill James was the primary culprit, at least for baseball, as he used statistics and arcane terms such as regression theory and coefficients to determine the intrinsic value of a Texas leaguer over a frozen rope. So it was with some trepidation that I attempted to discover a statistical method that would support my theory that an improved Saints defense under Steve Spagnuolo would guarantee another Super Bowl championship.
That would make sense since the Saints offense under Drew Brees has been the most proficient in recent NFL history. The Saints offense has ranked No. 1 in the league four of the past six years, so it makes sense to a simple mind that the league's best offense merely needs a good defense that would not fritter away all those points. So, as Casey Stengel would have recommended, let's look it up. How did the defenses of the most recent Super Bowl champions rank? I looked at the six Super Bowl champions since Katrina (hey, everything else we talk about is framed "Before Katrina" or "After Katrina").
At first glance, the defensive rankings proved nothing. Supporting the theory were the Steelers, ranked No. 1 after the 2008 season; the Packers, ranked No. 5 after the 2010 season; and the Giants, ranked No. 7 after the 2007 season. But the other three winners had defenses ranked well down the list. The Giants last year ranked No. 27 in the league, the Saints in 2009 ranked No. 25, and the Colts of 2006 ranked No. 21. And that is when the lightning bolt struck home!
Defensive rankings are misleading because they are determined strictly by total yards given up. If one team takes a big lead, they might call off the dogs and give up some late gratuitous bend-but-don't-break yardage. The key to any defense is how disruptive are they? Sure enough, five of the past six champions ranked fifth or higher in turnover ratio. Although the Saints' defense in 2009 ranked only 25th, they were disruptive picking off balls and forcing fumbles. And we have seen some of the same during the pre-season. More interceptions and more fumbles created.
So our season prediction is simply this: If the Saints' defense ranks among the top five in turnover ratio and its offense continues to perk along, the Saints will win the Super Bowl. Since all predictions are worth what you paid for them, I must interject the logic of a headline I once read while I was a newspaper man in Baltimore. The prescient headline writer wrote: "Colts must score points to win." Even Bill James couldn't argue with that!
by Jim W. Miller
Jim Miller's new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com
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