With the NFL season right around the corner, everyone's trying to get a leg up on predicting who will win Super Bowl LI. We know all the old cliches. "Defense wins championships." "You have to win the turnover battle." "The quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard." But which stats actually matter — and which are just window dressing? We looked back at the past 10 Super Bowl winners to find some commonalities and sorted through the numbers you can ignore. While not every one of the recent champions necessarily fits each of the categories 100 percent, the trends are clear enough to come to a few conclusions. If your favorite team is going to win the title this year, here's what it'll need to do.
Getty ImagesJared Wickerham
MATTERS: Taking care of business on the road
Eight of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had winning records away from home, and the 2012 Ravens were 4-4 on the road. Green Bay dropped the ball at 3-5 in opponents' stadiums in 2010, but the Packers made up for it with a top-10 offense and defense in both scoring and yards per play. That losing road record was kind of a fluke for the Packers, in retrospect -- and they proved it by winning all three of their NFC playoff games on the road.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY SportRobert Hanashiro
DOESN'T MATTER: Super Bowl experience (or lack thereof)
Seven of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had little team-wide experience on the biggest stage, which didn't prove to be a problem. On the other hand, with the Broncos, Giants, Patriots and (arguably) Ravens all bringing their own championship experience to recent Super Bowl wins, it's equally hard to say that a previous appearance in the title game harms a team's chances. It really just depends on the team — and the experience.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
MATTERS: Dominating opponents in margin of victory
While people like to say that the NFL playoffs are a crapshoot due to their single-elimination nature, the fact is that the best teams tend to win the Super Bowl. Nine of the past 10 champs had an above-average margin of victory, with seven of those teams in the top 10 (and four ranking either first or second). The lone exception: the 2011 Giants, who were actually outscored (400-394) on the season.
Getty ImagesChris Graythen
DOESN'T MATTER: Top-notch special teams
This is a little harsh, to be fair. We've seen time and time again how big of an impact a kicker, returner or punter can have on a Super Bowl. In the aggregate, though, there's no evidence that teams with elite special teams units are more likely to play for a championship. Using Football Outsiders' DVOA, a metric that tries to capture the aggregate value of everything that happens on the field, five of the past 10 champs have ranked in the bottom half of the league in special teams. On the other hand, three teams (the Patriots, Seahawks and Ravens) boasted top-five units, so it's definitely worth trying to be great in all facets of the game.
MATTERS: A bone-crushing defense
Defense certainly does win championships. Eight of the past 10 Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 10 in either scoring defense or yards allowed per play. While an elite offense is less important, it's absolutely necessary if you don't have one of the game's best defenses. The 2006 Colts and 2009 Saints made up for their porous squads with the second- and first-ranked scoring offenses in the NFL in their respective championship seasons.
DOESN'T MATTER: A top running game
Only the 2007 Giants and 2009 Saints won a title with a top-10 running game (in terms of yards per attempt) in the past 10 seasons. The rest of the champions, starting from 2006 and working toward the present? Tied for 16th, 29th, tied for 26th, 32nd, tied for 12th, 12th, 24th, and 14th. A running game is great to hold a lead, but passing efficiency has been a better indicator of title success (although by no means a meaningful statistic in its own right).
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MATTERS: An elite quarterback
Or, you know, Joe Flacco, who played like an elite QB for most of Baltimore's Super Bowl run in 2012. The other quarterbacks to win titles in the past 10 years: Peyton Manning (no, he wasn't elite last year, but he's still an all-timer, and his 2006 Colts are on this list as well), Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. There's not a Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson in the group. On the other hand ...
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DOESN'T MATTER: Keeping the QB upright (or INTs)
Again, we're not talking about individual plays or even one game. Plenty of fans will tell you how big a sack or an interception at the right time can be. In general, however, there's no correlation between sacks and the past 10 Super Bowl winners. Those champions have been slightly above average at rushing the opposing QB, but they've also allowed some of the highest sack percentages on a year-to-year basis. Furthermore, teams have managed to win the Super Bowl despite lofty interception totals from Peyton Manning (2015), Eli Manning (2011), Ben Roethlisberger (2008) and Eli again (2007). The turnover battle is important, but it's by no means the most significant factor in identifying a champion.
AFP/Getty ImagesGABRIEL BOUYS
MATTERS: Converting in the red zone
Offense as a whole might not be the most crucial factor, but you better capitalize on your scoring opportunities. Every Super Bowl winner since 2006 has been above-average in TD percentage in the red zone except for last year's Broncos, with six of those teams finishing in the top 10. Even the 2012 Ravens, who were 16th in yards per play that season, were a top-five team inside the 20.
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DOESN'T MATTER: Field position
That's right — we're taking one more swipe at special teamers. But the numbers don't lie; the past 10 NFL champions are all over the place in both their average starting field position and that of their opponents. Some of the most recent Super Bowl winners were in the top five, but an equal number were in the bottom five. As with most of the things that "don't matter" on this list, winning the field position battle is great. It's just that you can easily win it all without having to rely on your kicker and punter.