2023 49ers – Best Team of the Super Bowl Era?

Michael Salfino
December 8, 2023 8:33 AM

The San Francisco 49ers are the best team in football.

Okay, that’s barely newsworthy. But what if I told you that they currently sit as the most dominant team in the entirety of the Super Bowl Era?

The key stat in football from the time of Lombardi and even going back to the Paul Brown/Otto Graham teams at the dawn of the Modern Era is a pretty simple one: Yard per pass play for minus yards per pass play allowed.

(Yes, Lombardi’s Super Bowl champs won by dominating the passing game, not via the running game where they had no edge.)

Teams that have won this stat by any margin win their game irrespective of any other stat at a 74% rate since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to Stats, LLC.

And there is always a winner, unlike turnovers.

Also, note the winner often wins by relatively tiny margins as opposed to having 100% or even 50% fewer turnovers than the opponent.

Net Yards Per Pass Attempt Is Predictive

Unlike largely random turnovers, a team that is obliterating the opponent in net yards per pass play is likely to continue to beat opponents in the stat, and by a large enough margin that increases win probability to near certain.

Look at Week 13, when the Niners traveled to the Eagles as surprising favorites. It’s because they had such an edge in this key stat.

You may not have heard of it. You may never hear it mentioned on NFL broadcasts.

But I assure you that Vegas knows about it and it’s heavily weighted in their lines.

The Niners destroyed Philly in the stat, 10.7 to 5.6 yards per pass play (sacks are pass plays, and sack yards are subtracted from the passer’s yards).

That’s about twice the margin we should have expected.

As things sit entering Week 14, the Niners are plus-3.26 yards per pass play (the Eagles are a pedestrian 10th (plus-0.5).

Let’s see where this San Francisco dominance ranks among all teams in the Super Bowl Era (since 1966):

RkTmYearGWLTW-L%NY/ANY/A AllowedDiffSuper Bowl?

Seven of the nine top teams advanced to the Super Bowl, with five of those clubs winning the big game.

Yes, five games are remaining and we should expect some regression for the Niners in the stat.

But they are trouncing the field and will be well above the net 2.0 threshold that was identified by the late Bud Goode 60 years ago as the key stat for predicting which teams are on a Super Bowl path.

Goode consulted with a multitude of Clubs beginning in the 1960s as the Bill James of the NFL and became a celebrity for correctly predicting Super Bowl winners.

Here are how all the 2023 teams fare in the statistic, to assess the 49ers’ dominance relative to the current field:

1San Francisco 49ers930.7508.55.33.2
2Miami Dolphins930.7508.15.52.6
3Baltimore Ravens930.7506.74.22.5
4Dallas Cowboys930.7506.95.41.5
5Buffalo Bills660.5007.05.71.3
6Kansas City Chiefs840.6676.55.21.3
7Detroit Lions930.7507.06.40.6
8Houston Texans750.5837.36.70.6
9Minnesota Vikings660.5006.55.90.6
10Philadelphia Eagles1020.8336.56.00.5
11Seattle Seahawks660.5006.35.80.5
12Green Bay Packers660.5006.25.80.4
13Los Angeles Rams660.5006.35.90.4
14New Orleans Saints570.4176.15.90.2
15Indianapolis Colts750.5836.05.90.1
16Jacksonville Jaguars840.6676.66.50.1
17Atlanta Falcons660.5005.85.9-0.1
18Los Angeles Chargers570.4176.26.5-0.3
19Cleveland Browns750.5834.85.2-0.4
20Las Vegas Raiders570.4175.86.2-0.4
21Tampa Bay Buccaneers570.4176.06.6-0.6
22Pittsburgh Steelers750.5835.46.1-0.7
23Chicago Bears480.3335.66.4-0.8
24New York Jets480.3334.45.2-0.8
25Denver Broncos660.5005.86.7-0.9
26Tennessee Titans480.3335.66.5-0.9
27New England Patriots2100.1675.16.1-1.0
28Cincinnati Bengals660.5005.77.1-1.4
29Arizona Cardinals3100.2315.06.5-1.5
30Carolina Panthers1110.0834.25.9-1.7
31Washington Commanders490.3085.47.2-1.8
32New York Giants480.3334.36.4-2.1

The Ravens and Dolphins are rated by the Net-NY/A statistic as true Super Bowl-caliber teams (anything plus-2.0 or better).

The Cowboys grade about a touchdown better than the Eagles on a neutral field based on it.

The Eagles are coming off a terrible game that perhaps skews the numbers but they have no business being 10-2 given their paltry season-long edge here.

The funny thing is that the Eagles are so analytics-driven that they doubtlessly know this.

Houston Is Better Than We Think

This 2023 data through Week 13 says the Texans are Detroit’s equal.

That may seem shocking initially but if you think about it for a bit you can see the case for the teams being evenly matched on a neutral field.

Houston is easily the best team in the AFC South, according to this metric.

They’re eighth overall (we’re rounding using Pro-Football-Reference numbers). The Colts and Jaguars are 15th and 16th, respectively.

We’ve already written about how point differential says the Bills are far better than their record and here’s another data point that supports it.

Buffalo is a top-five team and much stronger than their Week 14 opponent, the Chiefs, which explains a line that’s puzzling to many but not followers of this stat.

Buffalo based on Net-NY/A alone should be favored by a couple of points even in Kansas City rather than being 1.5-point underdogs.

Interestingly, bettors are 90% invested in the underdog Seahawks in San Francisco this week.

The public view is that the point spread has a recency bias given the team’s dominance over the Eagles in Week 13. But a 2.7-yard edge over an opponent is worth about 15 points on a neutral field.

It’s just massive.

So beware. Net-NY/A says the current spread is shorting the Niners.


About the author

Michael Salfino writes about sports and the sport industry. His numbers-driven analysis began with a nationally syndicated newspaper column in 2004. H...

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