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What the Expected Yards Model Reveals About Who Holds the Edge in Super Bowl 55

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

Just how good is the Kansas City Chiefs’ passing attack?

It’s so good that when teams know they’re going to pass, the Chiefs somehow become even better at throwing the football.

How do you know this? Well, evaluating team performance is a tricky task.

Counting stats are one method, but using a stat like total yards can miss much of the context associated with how those yards were achieved, and it’s not very predictive. Rate stats are slightly more predictive and can help to standardize yards gained per opportunity, thereby removing differences in total opportunities.

However, rate stats still miss the context of how those yards were achieved. For instance, a four-yard pass on third-and-3 is more valuable than a seven-yard pass on third-and-9, even though the seven-yard pass is three more yards.

One way to combat this is to look at each play contextually to identify how many yards an average team would be expected to get, and then compare a team’s performance to that expected number. In our expected yards model, we’ve elected to use several situational factors (down, yards to go, yards from goal, quarter, time remaining in the quarter and score difference) to determine the expected number of yards a team will achieve on each play.

We can apply a similar model to determine the expectancy of a pass play or run play. Using these two models, let’s take a look at the two Super Bowl teams to identify some places where each team has success.

Kansas City Offense

Across the regular season and playoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs trailed only the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Tennessee Titans in expected yards added per play at 0.83.

Their success primarily came from, surprise, throwing the football. They averaged 1.06 yards added when throwing the football, third in the NFL behind the Houston Texans and the Las Vegas Raiders.

Travis Kelce (87), Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill have been one of the most fearsome trios in the NFL. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

The combination of Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce is incredibly tough to stop. That has been evident in the playoffs, where the Chiefs have averaged 1.92 yards added when throwing the football. They’ve actually been better against some of the best teams in the NFL than they were in the regular season.

When observing our play type expectancies, Kansas City is adding 2.97 yards on passing plays when the situation dictates pass. So, as we mentioned earlier, the Chiefs are even better at throwing the football when opponents know they’re going to pass.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ pass defense has gone through many ups and downs this year, but it’s been a little more consistent over the last month or so. It’s certainly not the best pass defense in the league, but they do suppress passing yards by 0.32 yards per play.

(For these charts, higher is better for offenses and lower is better for defenses)

The run game for the Chiefs has been above average, though not to the same quality as the passing game. During the regular season they added 0.38 yards per rush, 10th in the NFL.

But like their passing game, they’ve been even better in the playoffs, adding 1.01 yards per rush. They have a stout test against the Bucs run defense, which our model has as the highest performing rush defense in the NFL — suppressing yardage by 0.69 yards per play.

Offenses know it, and over the course of the season the Bucs saw the lowest percentage of rushing attempts in neutral situations, where the expectation of rush or pass is not significant enough to denote expected rush or expected pass.

Tampa Bay Offense

The Buccaneers offense currently sits at 10th in the NFL at 0.57 yards added per play and like the Chiefs, it’s the passing game that makes it work.

Though the passing game has been only a little above average the last two weeks, the Bucs were hot coming into the playoffs.

Led by Tom Brady and the passing game, the Tampa Bay offense is 10th in the NFL at 0.57 yards added per play. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In fact, after their wild-card round game, their three-game rolling average eclipsed two yards added per passing play. They were under expected against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, before returning to form in the NFC championship against the Packers.

They’ll have their hands full with a Chiefs pass defense that has had the best performance of any playoff team thus far, suppressing yards by 1.13 per play. Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward are physical press-man corners, and it will be a fascinating matchup against Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two of the most physical receivers in the NFL.

The Buccaneers rush offense has been almost completely average: In the playoffs, they’ve added 0.02 yards per rush. However, the Chiefs rush defense is exploitable.

Kansas City was 19th in suppressing rush yards during the regular season and has allowed an extra 0.68 yards per rush during the playoffs.

The Bucs still have a bit of a question at right guard, but left guard Ali Marpet is one of the best run blockers in the league. Look for them to run right over him and try to generate some extra yards against the below-average run defense of the Chiefs.

 

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