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Steelers Fans: Fear Regression to the Mean, But Not a Super Bowl Loser's Curse

The Pittsburgh Steelers should not fear any so-called Loser’s Curse. Thirteen Super Bowl losers have missed the playoffs the following season. So have thirteen Super Bowl winners. The Super Bowl losers have performed worse than the Super Bowl winners the next season, but that can be explained by the fact that the winner was usually the better team. Here is the performance of the three selected groups the following season: the Super Bowl winners, the Super Bowl losers, and teams that lost a divisional round home game, since 1978.

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SB Win SB Loss Ch Game Div Round WC No Playoffs
WINNER 5 2 2 8 4 11
LOSER 0 4 1 9 6 12
DIV RD HOME 5 3 4 3 3 18

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What we can say is that no recent Super Bowl loser has rebounded to win the Super Bowl the next season (the last to do so: the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972), but they make the playoffs more frequently than, say, teams that lost at home in the divisional round.

As another way of testing how Super Bowl losers performed the next season, I paired each Super Bowl loser since 1978 with the playoff team (excluding Super Bowl winners) from the same season that had the most similar regular season power ranking by the simple rating system.

The results: the Super Bowl losers went from an average ranking of 6.7 points better than average in the year they lost in the final game, to 2.4 points better than average the next season. The comparables dropped from 5.9 points above average to 2.3 points above average. Fourteen of the comparables missed the playoffs the following season, compared to twelve Super Bowl losers.

What it does show is that any playoff team, including Super Bowl losers, is subject to regression toward the mean. Injuries, aging, change in luck all can result in a slightly worse performance the next year on average. We see that Super Bowl losers and their similar playoff counterparts both were still above average, but declined. The good news for Pittsburgh is that they have farther to go than the typical Super Bowl losing squad. This year’s team ranks as the 7th best of the Super Bowl losers (out of 32) since 1978, at +10.2 points above average.

[photo via Getty]

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