The SRS (Simple Rating System) uses a team’s point differential and strength of schedule to assign a rating to each x, with 0.0 being considered average. The difference in the two teams’ SRS ratings could be viewed as a point spread if the teams were to play each other on a neutral field. SRS tells us who the best teams in the NFL are every year, but the tricky thing is that the best teams do not always win. Six of the last ten champions have dominated the regular season with an SRS over 9, but the 2011 Giants were able to win the super bowl despite their SRS rating of 1.59 that ranked 13th in a league that only sends 12 teams to the playoffs.
THIS YEAR, the SRS darlings are the Bills, Patriots, Cowboys, and Bucs, who all exceed the average SRS of the last ten super bowl winning teams (7.67) while the Chiefs continue to climb after a tough start. The Rams, Cardinals, and Colts have numbers on par with lower quality super bowl winners like the 2018 Patriots and the 2015 Broncos, two teams who were primarily carried by their defenses. The Ravens in 2012 were the last team to win the Super Bowl with an SRS of less than 5. So if we use five as our cutoff point, we can disqualify the Bengals, Ravens, Titans, Chargers, Niners, and Packers from title contention.
It takes balance to win the Super Bowl. The last two champions, the Chiefs and the Buccaneers, passed on over 60% of their plays. If you chart back ten years, you will find that super bowl winning teams have a pass-to-run breakdown of 57.31% pass plays and 42.69% runs. This is the balance needed to succeed. A balanced team should be passing between 52.31% and 62.31% of the time. The Niners, Titans, and Colts are too run-heavy, while the Chargers are teetering on becoming too pass-heavy.
Net yards per pass attempt factor passing yards, touchdowns, sacks, and interceptions to measure an effective passing offense accurately. Over the last five years, the Super Bowl-winning team has averaged 7.66 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, up from the ten-year average of 7.12 as the league becomes more pass-heavy. Surprisingly this year, only three teams hit the ten-year average, and they are all from the NFC; the Packers, Rams, and 49ers. The Chargers, Cowboys, Cardinals, and Bucs just miss the cut.
Who Meets the Mark?
With the cut off of an SRS of at least 5, a balanced pass rate between 52.31% and 62.31%, and adjusted net yards per attempt over 7 yards, over 4.1 yards per rush, and at least 2.20 points per drive, we can identify three teams who have the offensive profile of bonafide super bowl contenders; the Rams, the Bucs, and the Cardinals. The Buccaneers fit the profile nearly to a T which makes sense because their team last year, which was compromised of the same players, served as a critical data point. However, their recent rash of injuries could affect their play down the stretch. The Rams and Cardinals meet all of the criteria, but they are third and fourth in the conference in SRS, and one of them will have to play three road games to make the super bowl, not to mention neither Kyler Murray nor Matthew Stafford has ever won a playoff game.
The 2021 NFL season has been one of the craziest of all time, and with the Buccaneers injuries, the NFC could crack right open.
What about the AFC?
So, no AFC teams match all the criteria for a super bowl winner, but one of these teams will have to play in the super bowl, and at that point, anything can happen. The Bills and Patriots are 1 and 2 in the league in SRS this year, and their matchup this weekend will decide who wins the AFC East and possibly goes to the super bowl. The Bills and Patriots racked up their massive SRS totals primarily due to their defenses, so they miss some of these offensive benchmarks. But there is historical precedent for great defenses overcoming a lackluster offense and leading their team to a super bowl.
The two-time defending AFC champion and current #1 seed Kansas City Chiefs are also lurking. They had a slow start offensively, so their metrics don’t meet the usual mark, but you would be a fool to count out Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce when the calendar flips to January.
These metrics show us that this year, there is not one team that is head and shoulders above the rest, which leaves us with plenty of options for a super bowl winner.
Offensive metrics for super bowl winning teams
ANY/A(adjusted net yards per pass attempt)
SRS=Simple Rating System
SRS %of pass plays ANY/A yards per rush points per drive
2O2O Bucs 9.39 61.78% 7.6 4.1 2.72
2O19 Chiefs 9.14 61.43% 8.1 4.2 2.59
2O18 Pats 5.18 54.91% 7.3 4.3 2.27
2O17 Eagles 9.41 55.78% 6.8 4.5 2.21
2O16 Patriots 9.29 56.41% 8.5 3.9 2.41
2O15 Broncos 5.78 59.78% 5.1 4.2 1.58
2O14 Pats 10.95 59.59% 6.9 3.9 2.40
2O13 Seahawks 13.04 47.29% 7.3 4.3 2.12
2O12 Ravens 2.91 55.91% 6.2 4.3 1.88
2O11 Giants 1.59 60.18% 7.4 3.5 1.90
1O year average 7.67 57.31% 7.12 ` 4.12 2.21
offensive metrics of 2O21 contenders
Patriots 9.1 53.77% 6.8 4.2 2.36
Bills 9.6 61.22% 6.5 4.8 2.5
Bengals 2.0 56.15% 6.8 4.0 2.25
Ravens 1.0 56.17% 5.6 4.7 2.08
Titans 2.2 52.16% 5.1 4.4 2.05
Colts 6.2 52.15% 6.5 5.2 2.50
Chiefs 7.4 63.21% 6.8 4.5 2.60
Chargers 2.2 62.27% 7.0 4.5 2.59
Cowboys 8.2 58.84% 6.9 4.5 2.20
Packers 4.3 58.47% 7.7 4.1 2.46
Bucs 8.3 58.47% 7.1 4.4 2.48
Rams 5.4 6O.83% 7.9 4.1 2.58
Cardinals 5.5 54.79% 7.0 4.1 2.49
Niners 3.2 52.33% 7.5 4.3 2.35
Pass % >52.31<62.31
Adjusted net yards per pass attempt >7
Yards per rush >4.1
Points per drive >2.2O