Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:51 PM
Handicapping Penalties for Super Bowl 55, Penalty Props
Super Bowl 55 – The GOAT and the Zebras
Watching the NFC Championship game, it didn't take long to pick up on two things.
One, Green Bay's defense couldn't get off the field on 3rd down early on as the Bucs converted a handful of 3rd downs in their first few drives, only one (that I can remember) being shorter than 3rd and 8.
You knew then that Green Bay was going to be tough (at least defensively).
Second, the referees were really letting the guys play on both sides, keeping the laundry in their pocket and hopefully (for their sake) letting the players decide it on the field.
Now the whole concept of referees “letting guys play” in the playoffs and when stakes are the highest is rather quite flawed in my opinion – a penalty is a penalty no matter what the stakes are.
But it's also something that is better to just accept as being the case, because it's just not going to change. As much as some officials want to make themselves the center of attention at times, when championships are on the line (conference, league title), the majority of them will keep that whistle in their pocket as much as they can.
The Green Bay pass interference penalty at the end of the game was definitely a penalty good enough for a 1st down to end the game (could have been called holding), but I understood the gripe of seeing the officials not call any of that all game and then decide on one of the biggest plays.
So it got me to thinking, in a one-and-done playoff format like the NFL, where not all penalties are created equal, and the timing of them (as well as the nature of the call) can have an enormous impact on the game, how much “help” has Brady and his teams gotten over the years in now getting to his 10th Super Bowl.
Not trying to take anything away from the remarkable career Tom Brady has had, but after going through plenty of past box scores, it turns out the GOAT and the Zebras have had a tendency to be at their friendly when the stakes are at their highest.
Now, predicting which team will end up getting flagged more in Super Bowl 55 is a near impossibility, but if the officials start to show a clear pattern early on – calling everything or calling nothing like I saw in the NFC Championship game - maybe this information can help those of you that prefer to get more action down via the live-betting route.
Officials in the Super Bowl
Before the light shines down on just how frequent and subtle the help has been for Tom Brady in the NFL playoffs over the years, I thought it best to provide some context on the situation.
I took a look back at every one of the box scores for the previous 54 Super Bowls and honed in on penalties taken, and penalty yards assessed to every team in relation to the winner.
Super Bowl Penalty-Yard Comparison
|Super Bowl Penalty-Yard Comparison|
Well in terms of the big picture, it's pretty much right what you'd want to see from the officials overall. There have been 26 Super Bowl winners that finished the game with fewer penalty yards than their opponent, and 26 Super Bowl winners that finished the game with more penalty yards than their opponent (two pushes in SB 19 and 20 on yardage totals.
In terms of number of penalties taken, 27 of 51 Super Bowl winners actually took fewer penalties than their opponent in the big game (three pushes), as the more disciplined team on a given day probably should have a slight edge there in the end.
However, as much as it looks like NFL refs have done a great job calling Super Bowls “right down the middle”, that doesn't exactly tell the whole story.
Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -6 or Higher)
|Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -6 or Higher)|
Of the 26 Super Bowl winners to finish the game with more penalty yardage called on them rather than their opponent, 14 of them had the favorite lined at -7 or higher, while 17 of them had closing point spreads of -6 or greater.
Those 17 “big” favorites went on to post a 14-3 SU record in those 17 Super Bowls, as hindsight can only suggest that maybe the zebras didn't have a problem tossing a few calls to the 'underdog' early to see if they can hang around and make it a game.
The majority of these games did come in the 1990's where the Super Bowl was slowly garnering a reputation of lacking excitement as it was nothing but blowouts for the NFC forever, as many teams thought of the NFC Championship game as the defacto title game.
Any attempts to perhaps keep the game competitive early probably would have been welcomed by the NFL back then- a league who still values viewership over almost everything to this day – although the reason behind the zebras making those calls is nothing but pure speculation on my part.
What makes that interesting for this year is the fact that of the 19 Super Bowls we've had with a closing point spread of -3 or lower, 11 times the team with fewer penalty yardage has won the game compared to only 7 defeats (one push in SB 19).
Considering this angle (had you known penalty yardage beforehand) is a perfect 4-0 SU the last four times we've had a SB lined in this range.
- Super Bowl 54 - Chiefs 31 49ers 20
- Super Bowl 53 - Patriots 13 Rams 3
- Super Bowl 51 - Patriots 34 Falcons 28 (OT)
- Super Bowl 49 - Patriots 28 Seahawks 24
And wouldn't you know it, this year's QBs – Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady – account for all four of those recent wins.
Must be nice for Brady to virtually know his opponent is going to be affected by more penalty yards in the big game. Can't ever really hurt.
Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -3.5 or Lower)
|Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -3.5 or Lower)|
Which now brings me to Tom Brady and the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Throughout this playoff run for Tampa it's been easy to see that the Bucs have been rather fortunate with the bounces and turnovers this postseason.
Green Bay could do next to nothing with Brady's 3 interceptions in the 2nd half of the NFC Championship game, while Tampa's gone on to force seven total turnovers these last two weeks when they've needed them the most.
But nobody in the entire NFL benefited from more penalty yardage calls than Tampa Bay did, as they were +300 yards in penalty yard margin (difference between penalty yards committed by Tampa Bay and their opponent.
Of the eight other NFL teams to finish the year +100 yards or better, only two others were +200 or more - Pittsburgh (+289) and Denver (+282) - and only two of them ended up being playoff teams (Pittsburgh, and Seattle +141).
NFL 2020 Penalty Stats Rankings
|NFL 2020 Penalty Stats Rankings|
In this postseason run so far, Brady and the Bucs had 22 fewer penalty yards than Green Bay, had 28 more than New Orleans, and one fewer yard than Washington.
Not egregious by any means, but the first thing I noticed when seeing those numbers was that Tampa's biggest advantage came in the game with the most at stake – NFC Championship.
So that got me thinking, for a guy who's been to nine Super Bowls and now 14 Conference Championship games, I wonder if there has been a pattern there with the GOAT (Brady) and the Zebras leaning on one another ever so slightly when the stakes are at the highest.
Well, counting just those 23 games (14 Conference Championships, 9 Super Bowls), it was interesting to see that Brady's opponent had more penalty yards assessed to them in 15 of those contests.
Brady's team has gone 11-4 SU in those 15 games, while he's just 5-3 SU in the other ones where it was his team that actually had more penalty yardage assessed.
Again, not all penalties, or penalty yardage is equal, but by definition a “penalty” is always going to be some sort of disadvantage to that team, meaning it's some sort of advantage for the opponent.
Brady's definitely been “the opponent” in that equation more often than not in late-January, early February.
In terms of Super Bowls only, Brady's teams had less penalty yards called against them in seven of those nine contests, going 1-1 SU in the two that he and the Patriots actually were a little undisciplined.
The loss came to the Giants in early 2012, but the win came over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, back when Kansas City head coach Andy Reid was patrolling Philadelph