Once in a while I feel silly having paid for ESPN Insider. Today was one of those times, after I read an article by KC Joyner on how the Giants should be considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. He lays out some reasons, like Eli Manning is an elite QB, the defense is solid, the offensive line is underrated, etc. I won’t bother trying to refute them because while Joyner uses stats, he just picks and chooses them anyway (some are outright stupid: Eli is an elite QB because he just put up the sixth-most yards in NFL history? That would be great if yards alone were a good measure, or if three of the six guys ahead of him weren’t also in the playoffs THIS YEAR). Instead I’ll use some simple math.
The Giants are the 4 seed in the NFC. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they are secretly the best team in the NFL despite what everyone in the world thinks. On a neutral field, they have an 80% chance to beat anyone they play. The top teams against the worst teams are usually about 80% favorites in the regular season; a team would never be 80% against another team in the playoffs since playoff teams are generally at least average. So we are giving the Giants a big benefit of the doubt here.
In the first round, the Giants are at home against the Falcons. Since they have an 80% chance on a neutral field, let’s put them at 90% at home. So 90% of the time they advance. Let’s say the Saints also beat the Lions (which is, unfortunately, highly likely) so that the Giants then play the Packers. They have to go on the road. That means we should drop their chances of winning to maybe 60%. Thus they have .9*.6 = .54 (54%) chance of making it to the NFC championship. Once they’re there, they’ll have to go on the road again, and be maybe a 60% favorite against the Saints. Then they have a 32.4% chance to make the Super Bowl.
Now let’s look at the Packers, who have home field advantage throughout. They get a week off, then hypothetically play the Giants. They have a 40% chance to win given what we said above. If they win, let’s say that regardless of whether they play the Saints or the 49ers they would have a 55% chance to win at home in the NFC championship. That gives the Packers a 22% chance to make the Super Bowl.
In that scenario, the Giants would indeed be a favorite to make the Super Bowl. Now let’s make it a little more realistic and say that the Giants are only 50/50 to win in Green Bay and New Orleans. That’s still pretty good for a road team, especially one that lost to both of these teams already this year (including the Packers in New York). The Giants’ chances of making the Super Bowl become .9*.5*.5 = 22.5% while the Packers’ are .5*.55 = 27.5%. And that’s all it takes to start moving the Packers (and pretty similarly the 49ers, and soon after the Saints) past the Giants as favorites. If you assume that the Giants are only good enough to be 50/50 on the road in Green Bay and New Orleans (and that they have a 90% chance to beat the Falcons), they drop to about the third-best option in the NFC alone. Presumably the Patriots and Ravens have similar chances to the Packers and 49ers, so the Giants are now at best fifth. For what it’s worth, gamblers agree: Bovada has the Giants at 7th in their odds to win the Super Bowl (18 to 1, behind the Packers, Patriots, Saints, Ravens, Steelers, and 49ers).
What KC seems to be missing is something that most stats guys talk about every time the playoffs start, which is how beneficial home field and a week off are. The Giants will only have home field once unless the Lions beat the Saints and the Packers, and the Giants don’t have a week off. That simple fact cuts into their chances of making the Super Bowl dramatically, even if we thought the Giants were an elite team. Unfortunately, that’s also not true. I have them roughly equal with the Falcons, so they basically only have home field in their advantage this weekend. They will then definitely be an underdog to the Packers (assuming the Saints beat the Lions) and definitely be an underdog to the Saints, and I would assume the 49ers as well, were they to make it to the NFC championship.
There’s really no way to argue that the Giants should be a favorite to make it to the Super Bowl, or win it for that matter. But that didn’t stop KC Joyner, and for some reason I pay to read his opinion.