January 29, 2014

My Super Bowl prediction: Manning to regress toward mean

I don't know anything about football, but let me make a Super Bowl prediction. 

Las Vegas initially established the strong defense and run Seattle Seahawks as the favorite, but a flood of public money on Peyton Manning's high-scoring Denver Broncos reversed that. (Both teams are 15-3.) 

After all, Manning set records this years for touchdown passes and yards passing. In the regular season of 16 games, he tossed 55 touchdowns compared to only 10 interceptions and was sacked only 18 times. 

He had a great game in the AFC championship against archrival Tom Brady's New England Patriots, throwing for 400 yards. This is all despite the 37-year-old Manning being one of the weakest-armed and least mobile quarterbacks in the league. Much of the season, he looked more like a symphony conductor, waving his arms around to direct his players in what to do, than a football player.

I'm a big Peyton Manning fan, as I'm a big Tom Brady fan. In fact, the endless Manning vs. Brady debate helped inspire one of my bigger (and most boring) ideas: Back in 2009, when Malcolm Gladwell was denouncing Steven Pinker in the New York Times for citing known crimethinker Steve Sailer's research debunking Gladwell's contention that the performance of NFL quarterbacks "can't be predicted," Pinker and I got to discussing why humans are most fascinated by arguing over things that are least provable, such as who's best: Manning or Brady? Pinker told me, "mental effort seems to be engaged most with the knife edge at which one finds extreme and radically different consequences with each outcome, but the considerations militating towards each one are close to equal."

Still, that doesn't mean that Manning is bound to win.

The Seahawk's quarterback Russell Wilson is 25-years-old and in his second season in the NFL. He had strong statistics but not up in the stratosphere with Manning's. (Wilson, who is black, is remarkably short for an NFL QB: at 5'11" a half foot shorter than Manning.)

Since pro football is increasingly dominated by quarterbacks, you gotta bet on the guy with the big numbers, right? 

Maybe, but I have this hunch that Manning is due for some regression toward the mean. I mean, how likely is it that he's going to be better on Sunday than he was against New England or the average for his remarkable season? In contrast, what's the chance that playing outdoors in New Jersey in February is going to catch up with him?

And I suspect Seattle has devoted some careful thought over these two weeks to how they are going to make Manning feel less like a young philharmonic conductor and more like an old football player.

So, I'm picking Seattle.

By the way, I was wondering why the Seahawks' Russell didn't make the NFL until age 24. It turns out that, after redshirting his freshman year at North Carolina St., he started three full seasons, and completed his degree (in communications, of course) while playing minor league baseball in the summers. But after three good seasons as a starter, nobody invited him to the NFL draft combine -- he's under 6 feet tall.

So, he transferred to Wisconsin (without having to sit out a year because he enrolled in a graduate program at his new school) and had such a spectacular season, 33 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and winning the Rose Bowl, that he was drafted in the third round.

Russell comes from an upscale black family in Richmond. His father was a lawyer. I believe Russell's Wonderlic test score equates to an IQ of a 114, same as Manning's. Here are Wonderlic's for active Super Bowl winners:

Here are the Wonderlic scores of active Super Bowl winners, with the mean equaling 21 and two IQ points per additional right answer.

Eli Manning, Ole Miss 39 -- 136
Aaron Rodgers, Cal 35 -- 128
Tom Brady, Michigan 33 -- 124
Peyton Manning, Tennessee 28 -- 114
Drew Brees, Purdue 28 -- 114
Joe Flacco, Delaware 27 -- 112
Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) 25 -- 108

These guys probably study up for the Wonderlic, which boosts their scores, but still, it seems plausible that a 3-digit-IQ is an advantage for 21st Century NFL quarterbacks.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

It all hinges on how much experience Manning and his Denver teammates have with running that ultra-sophisticated offense in the cold and the snow and the ice.

If they've practiced that offense a ton up there in the nasty inclement weather at Mile High Stadium [or whatever they call it these days], then they should be okay.

But if the weather gives their offense any problems at all, then Seattle's defense will have a field day.

The Z Blog said...

There's quantitative support for picking Seattle. The team statistic that most correlates to winning is pass efficiency defense. The next statistic is run defense. Even with all of the rule changes to help the offense, defense is still the key to winning.

Over time, this has held up. The 15 times the #1 defense has played in the Super Bowl, they have won 12 times. The number one offense playing in the Super Bowl is something like 9-and-8. I forget the exact stat.

But, specifics of match-ups can bust trends. In this case, it strikes me that the match-up favors Seattle on both sides. What they do well corresponds with where Denver struggles. A lopsided win by Seattle is not out of the question.

craig said...

Agreed. The Denver defense could be exposed if Manning cannot give them an early lead.

Oclarki said...

How often is the weather in Denver inclement? Not as often as it is in Seattle or New York.

Anonymous said...

As an old quarterback, my opinion is that it's offensive lines that win championships. If Denver's line can give Manning the time he needs, he'll eat up the Seattle defensive backfield. He's a master of looking off.

Anonymous said...

How often is the weather in Denver inclement?

I think that that's the key to the entire game.

Green Bay lost to San Francisco, in this year's version of the "Ice Bowl", because San Francisco had the ability to go "Smash Mouth" and win ugly, whereas Green Bay did not.

There was a famous quote from Tom Osborne, during the lead-up to the 1995 Orange Bowl, when the Miami team was dogging it in practice, but Osborne was killing his players with sprints, and screaming something at them to the effect that "They will collapse in the fourth quarter!"

[Although I can't seem to find the exact quote from googling.]

And that was my impression of this most recent Green Bay / San Francisco Ice Bowl - that at the very end of the game, Green Bay finally collapsed, and San Francisco bulldozed their way to victory in the ice.

So if Denver has added sufficient many "cold weather" wrinkles to their offense, then they should be fine.

But if not, then it could be a very long night for them.

Anonymous said...

The stadium is known for its winds.

For Denver to win, they need a very strong day running the ball.

Geoff Matthews said...

The Seahawk's offense made some pretty key fumbles against the 49ers, and I can't help but think that they'll do this again.
I agree with the former QB, the offensive line is key. If they can protect Manning, he'll do well. If Manning is able to keep the TO's low, and he has time to pass, he'll earn MVP.

candid_observer said...

Yeah but even if Manning regresses to the mean, that's a hell of a mean to regress to.

And I second the point made above by the ex-quarterback above: if the offensive line gives him the sort of protection he got in the AFC championship, he doesn't have to be Peyton Manning to pass like Peyton Manning. In some of that pass "rush" he had time take up dance if he wanted to.

Dave Pinsen said...

The game may hinge on how well Denver runs the ball. If they can run it effectively, they can slow down Seattle's pass rush with play action, and maybe draw more defenders into the box to open up more pass options for Manning. Plus, they'd be able to dominate time of possession.

Anonymous said...

The stadium is known for its winds.

Again, this^.

What works on a balmy 72F clear sunny day in Pasadena, at noon, will probably not work in a 20F snowing hailing icing wind-swirling Meadowlands, as the sun is setting, and the frigid nighttime cold rears its ugly head.



Anonymous said...

Why are you predicting that it is Manning who will regress to the mean and not Seattle's defense? Manning has immense experience and is very consistent. Seattle's defense is young and strikes me as much more likely to lay a meanward-regressing egg on the big stage.

Anonymous said...

People look at Denver's latitude and mile high altitude at the foot of our most voluminous mountains and figure the city for brutal winters. What they don't see is that between a handful of brutal snowstorms Denver winter weather is very much like San Diego. Peculiarities like warm adiabatic winds and the rain shadow effect make Denver quite nice in December through February.

Denver had more nice days in the winter for throwing around a football in shirtsleeves than New Orleans or Jacksonville or Tampa.

The only time the Broncos faced really adverse conditions this year was the Boston game where they blew a 24-point lead.

Steve Sailer said...

"Why are you predicting that it is Manning who will regress to the mean and not Seattle's defense?"

One guy vs. eleven. Age 37 versus average age in their 20s. More likely potential bad weather will degrade skill more than strength.

Steve Sailer said...

On the other hand, with an extra week to prepare, Denver's defense could exploit Wilson's shortness. A decade ago, an old, short Doug Flutie had some spectacular games, but typically defenses would eventually figure out how to make it hard for him to see his receivers.

Sideways said...

If manning regressed to his mean, the Broncos will easily beat the Seahawks. It's weird seeing Steve misuse a term like that that he uses all the time.

It's like Steve is a different guy from the one writing about blacks regressing to a different mean earlier this week.

Sideways said...

Which is not to say that I expect Denver to win, but that I'd expect manning to be worse than his average

Anonymous said...

"why humans are most fascinated by arguing over things that are least provable,"

For the same reason the earliest written law codes are full of the rules in weird cases. Read the code of Hammurabi (maybe the first written legal code) and it is full of "if a freeman kills the cow of a slave, said freeman shall pay the slave's owner two sheep".

As my nationally famous professor explained, everyone knew the clear cases. If you killed someone, everyone knew what the penalty was . There was not need to write it down. It was the obscure cases that needed to be codified.

Glossy said...

Wow, of the seven QBs Steve listed, the one with the lowest Wonderlic score has done the greatest number of highly-publicized dumb things off the field:

1) Riding a motor bike without a helmet, which led to him shattering the windshield of someone else's car with his skull.

2) Being accused of sexual assault twice.

OK, I don't know if either of the two accusations had merit, but I don't remember any of the other guys on that list being accused of it.

Anonymous said...

Broncos. Seattle's defence is overrateed. Bronco's special teams, defence, and running game - underrated. It aint all on Peyton. (Who is properly rated though).

a Newsreader said...

The 2 Mannings are more than a standard deviation apart? (What's the variance of the Wonderlic test for the same player taking it multiple times?)

Also, Steve, have you seen this wonderful piece?

http://www.thenation.com/article/178140/feminisms-toxic-twitter-wars?page=full#

One group of feminists is annoyed by another group of feminists' illogical vitriol and lack of self awareness.

Percy Gryce said...

Isn't the Broncos' season too small a sample size for "regression to the mean" to mean anything for predicting the SuperBowl's outcome--except a fun catchphrase?

I think (hope) Manning steps up. But, as Anonymous says, it probably comes down to whether Denver's offense can operate in the cold.

Steve Sailer said...

"Isn't the Broncos' season too small a sample size for "regression to the mean" to mean anything for predicting the SuperBowl's outcome"

I would think the smaller the sample size, the more regression toward the mean you'd expect. Denver had the most passing touchdowns in league history. But that's only in 16 games.

ein viertel zurück said...

Against the 49ers Wilson had more than once this deer in headlights look after the snap(release time on average 3.35 seconds). He is vastly overrated as a pocket passer and only makes big plays when he buys time with his horizontal mobility. Since most of the secondaries in the NFL are 100 percent diverse they have little discipline and fall apart after a few seconds which allows Wilson at times to look like an elite qb. His roll outs from the pocket are quite predictable and it remains a mystery why defensive coordinators struggle to exploit it.
In contrast, Manning's release is the quickest in the NFL (2.33 seconds on average) and with five solid targets plus a running back with decent hands he should be able to stretch the defense and demoralize the Seattle Pharmacies pass rush.The weather might not be such a factor for Manning since the Broncos offense is build on short to intermediate passing mixed with occasional running to allow play action. The biggest problem for the Broncos will be reigning in Marshawn Lynch. By the way, Wilson is probably even shorter than 5'11" if Lynch is listed correctly. One aspect that most journalists and experts seem to ignore is the high risk of injury in the cold, especially on artifical turf. The loss of one or two key players early in the game could have a tremendous effect on the outcome.

Portlander said...

No comment on the 20 point IQ difference between Manning brothers? That's huge.

I'm very skeptical Eli is in the 130's. I think Eagle Dad borrowed a wad of Franklins from Peyton and fixed up Eli. Lower to mid-120's, sure why not, but 136? I wanna see a transcript.

regression to self-parody said...

Hey, what was Jim McMahon's score? Combined 24 from two attempts?

Anonymous said...

"Why are you predicting that it is Manning who will regress to the mean and not Seattle's defense? Manning has immense experience and is very consistent. Seattle's defense is young and strikes me as much more likely to lay a meanward-regressing egg on the big stage."

Defense, way more than Offense, is subject to emotional ups-and-downs. That's probably due to Defense by nature being more reactive than offense. That's why when a good team is upset by or has an inexplicably hard time against an inferior opponent, it's usually the fault of the defense, who find it difficult to be "up" for every single game. It's why Seattle almost lost at home to a woeful Tampa Bay team earlier this year. Rest assured though, with an extra week to prepare for the biggest game of their lives, Seattle's D will have no problem being emotionally up for this game, and there will be no regression towards the mean for them.

Anonymous said...

Manning has a career 8-11 record for games outdoors under forty degrees, which is most of the reason he lost important playoff games in New England.

deconstructingleftism said...

>>Eli Manning, Ole Miss 39 -- 136
Aaron Rodgers, Cal 35 -- 128
Tom Brady, Michigan 33 -- 124
Peyton Manning, Tennessee 28 -- 114
Drew Brees, Purdue 28 -- 114
Joe Flacco, Delaware 27 -- 112
Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) 25 -- 108<<

I don't know, I suspect most of these guys are smarter than this.

I feel I can judge someone's IQ pretty well, not because I'm such a genius, but because in the Marines, the unit roster was left out in the office. It had each member's test score, which was essentially their IQ. Guys with simple MOSs were usually around 100, more technical ones 110 to 120, officers 120's to 130's. (Mine was 146, which with my 1370 SAT should match pretty much with my IQ.)

I think these guys are at least as smart as the officers I knew in the Marines, probably smarter.

Anonymous said...

"...33 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and winning the Rose Bowl, that he was drafted in the third round."

Alas, Wisconsin lost that Rose Bowl too, thanks in large measure to De'Anthony Thomas (How he ended up at Oregon could be whole iSteve blog entry in and of itself).

Anonymous said...

>>Pinker told me, "mental effort seems to be engaged most with the knife edge at which one finds extreme and radically different consequences with each outcome, but the considerations militating towards each one are close to equal."<<

Can someone decipher Pinker's words into plain English?


Anonymous said...

"Green Bay lost to San Francisco, in this year's version of the "Ice Bowl", because San Francisco had the ability to go "Smash Mouth" and win ugly, whereas Green Bay did not."

I watched that game on TV and wasn't particularly attached to either team and that is not what I saw: I saw on San Francisco's last drive egregious holding by the o-line that gave Kaepernick the 8 or so seconds per pass attempt that his brain needs to process the situation and find a receiver or decide to take off running (as an aside: he's one leg injury away from being totally ineffective because he's a terrible pocket passer). On that last drive there were two times that the DT blew through the gap between the guard and center and the center placed him in a head lock from the rear to prevent a sack. It's almost as if the NFL wanted SF with its vibrant, diverse, young QB to advance.

Anonymous said...

On that last drive there were two times that the DT blew through the gap between the guard and center and the center placed him in a head lock from the rear to prevent a sack.

Huh.

I wasn't watching that closely.

Is there any video on youtube?

Modern Abraham said...

Steve,

A bit off-track but since it's sports and involves a better example of regression to the mean, here goes-

Reading a post-mortem analysis of the most recent World Series, the writer pointed out that the result was largely St. Louis's offense suffering a very unforgiving and very ill-timed regression to the mean for its team BABIP statistic. BABIP (batting average balls in play) basically says what the batting average is for balls that the defense has a reasonable shot at fielding. Since batters have a limited ability to control where the ball is hit, and since defenses now function at such a high level- routinely making plays that would have been highlights only 20 years ago- the average for this statistic should be around .300, with higher numbers indicating temporary luck that will eventually correct itself.

St. Louis's offense did not have much power (home runs are obviously not balls-in-play, and so did not contribute to its high team statistic) and relied too heavily on "seeing-eye" singles for its runs. This was illustrated pretty dramatically in NLCS Game 6 against the Dodgers, where at least on-paper they shelled probably the best pitcher in the game. Yet looking at what happened it is obvious the Dodgers were simply victims of bad luck: for 2 innings, lots of balls that were eminently playable simply happened to be hit outside the reach of Dodger fielders.

In the World Series St. Louis's luck ran out, and though they were able to put men on base with scattered singles, they simply could not drive them in as they were a low-power team that had relied too heavily on balls struck through the infield for their offense.

Again, one needs to really understand the mechanics of the sport to determine if a regression scenario is in effect. At the professional level batters have almost no control of where the ball will go on properly executed pitches, and any ball hit through the infield will, given the quality of today's defenses, result in an out no matter how well struck it was. Thus hits on balls through the infield is mostly a matter of placement, and therefore luck.

With Manning, the mechanics of the sport in no way indicate a regression is due. With Tim Tebow, who won those 8 straight games despite executing in a manner not geared for efficient scoring, yes. But Denver seems to have found an offensive system that works for them given the qualities of their quarterback. Ceteris paribus, a younger Peyton Manning would have a better shot than today's old one, but there is nothing indicating his performance is a way-out result from a very mediocre mean, rather than a better-than-expected one from a very high mean.

Statistical concepts like this assume a certain baseline of understanding of how things are supposed to work before they can be fruitfully applied. If it has a long snout and is big and heavy, regression tells you it's going to take a big dump on you because it's an elephant. Unless it's a tank.

Portlander said...

Manning has a career 8-11 record for games outdoors under forty degrees, which is most of the reason he lost important playoff games in New England.

Meh. Causation could easily be the other way... he has an 8-11 sub-40F record because of all the play-off games in NE.

Svigor said...

Can someone decipher Pinker's words into plain English?

Yeah: wiiner-takes-all tossups.

Anonymous said...

Okay, it's finally the morning of the sooper-dooper bowl, and, as of right now, Weather.com says that the freezing rain and the snow will not begin until midnight.

If that's true - if the freezing rain and the snow don't begin until just AFTER the game has completed - then it will be a massive advantage for Denver.

Svigor said...

Looks like everyone was wrong: Manning has regressed to choking in the big game, again. 'Course I'm just going by the score at Drudge, for all I know he was knocked out of the game in the first series.