Of all the teams in the NFC playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers had the best strength of schedule, as measured by the simple ranking system. Of all the teams in the AFC playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens had the best strength of schedule, as measured by the simple ranking system. But San Francisco’s SOS is markedly higher than Baltimore’s, to the point our system favors San Francisco by around 7.5 points.

 

2013 Super Bowl
NFC Team AFC Team NFC Win Pct Est. Point Spread
SF BAL 0.735 7.5

 

I suspect if Atlanta had won, we would be asking ourselves the question of whether SOS can be fooled. Advanced NFL Stats said, among other things, that Carolina was seriously underrated. If that were true of the whole NFC South, the Atlanta was actually playing better teams than their rankings suggested, and thus should have been more highly rated. But in the end, with 1:18 left to play, 3rd and 4 on the San Francisco 10 yard line, Atlanta was unable to get a first down, and San Francisco won a tough fought victory by 4 points. Two pivotal plays will markedly affect the narrative of this game.

Now to note, last year the New York Giants had the best strength of schedule of all the playoff teams, and they also won the Super Bowl. So I have to ask myself, at what point does this “coincidence” actually make it into the narrative of the average sports writer, or do they still keep talking about “teams of destiny” or other such vague language? Well, this kind of “sports journalist talk” hasn’t gone away in sports where analytics is an ever bigger factor in the game, sports like baseball or basketball. I suspect it doesn’t disappear here.