Is it possible to predict which team will win the Super Bowl in 2021 based on nothing but Salary Cap position distribution? Over the past three months, I have been diving deep into how NFL teams choose to pay each position group to find an algorithm that can predict future success. What I found, was that if I were able to see how every championship team chose to divide its salary cap, I could create a blueprint for future Super Bowl winners.
First, what does every Super Bowl champion have in common? There must be a correlation between spending and winning. We saw the Cowboys choosing to pay a large percentage of their cap to a quarterback, running back and a wide receiver (Dak, Zeke, Cooper) but history has shown us that this is not a blueprint for success. In fact, since positional spending started being tracked, nobody has ever won a Super Bowl while paying their running backs and wide receivers as much as the Cowboys do. Since 2013, when positional group salaries first started being tracked against the cap, every team who won a Super Bowl fell into a similar mold. We have also seen a continuous pattern of quarterbacks leading their team to a Super Bowl on their first contract, but once they get paid big money, they never find the same success. No quarterback since the ’90s (excluding the Manning brothers and Tom Brady) has ever won a Super Bowl on their second contract with a team, except for Aaron Rodgers, who won his ring in the season where the NFL experimented with no salary cap (2010).
(Note: All figures are in millions. 30.9= $30,900,000)
The figures above show the minimum and maximum any given position group has ever been paid on a Super Bowl-winning NFL roster. For example, in 2021 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid their quarterbacks $30.9 Million (mostly for Tom Brady) in cap dollars, which is the most of any Super Bowl-winning team in NFL history. In 2013 the Seattle Seahawks paid their linebackers only $7.3 Million which is the least amount that position group has been paid on a Super Bowl-winning roster (in the modern era of course). So, if a team is currently paying their quarterbacks more than $30.9M they would not meet the qualification required for that position. For a team to meet a qualification they need to fall in between the minimum and the maximum for that position.
The only position group that had no correlation with super bowl winners was the defensive line. Although, I should mention that only eight teams in 2020 spent less than $13.5M in cap money on the defensive line. Of those eight teams, every single one had losing records and none of them made the playoffs. On the flip side, out of the ten teams with the most expensive defensive line, eight of them won ten or more games and made the playoffs that year. The ten teams in 2021 with the most expensive defensive lines appear in the chart below.
Using the algorithm I created, I am going to look at every NFL Franchise and how they are paying each position group to show which teams have the greatest chance at winning a Super Bowl next year. I will break down each team’s chances by tiers.
Tier 1 – Meets all seven position-spending qualifications
San Francisco 49ers meet all seven qualifications of a Super Bowl-winning team. Former Super Bowl Champions with similar salary makeup: 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Los Angeles Rams meet all seven qualifications of a Super Bowl-winning team. Former Super Bowl Champions with similar salary makeup: 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tier 2 Meets six/seven position-spending qualifications
The Baltimore Ravens meet 6/7 qualifications. The WR group is underpaid by $1.7M. Former Super Bowl Champions with similar salary makeup: 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
The Kansas City Chiefs meet 6/7 qualifications. The WR group is overpaid $0.1M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2019 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Carolina Panthers meet 6/7 qualifications. The TE group is underpaid $4.4M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2015 Denver Broncos.
The Green Bay Packers meet 6/7 qualifications. The QB group is overpaid $9.5M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2018 New England Patriots.
The Miami Dolphins meet 6/7 qualifications. The WR group is overpaid $12M.Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
The Indianapolis Colts meet 6/7 qualifications. The OL group is overpaid $0.2M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Detroit Lions meet 6/7 qualifications. The WR group is underpaid $3.5M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers meet 6/7 qualifications. The WR group is underpaid $2.1M. Former Super Bowl Champions with a similar salary makeup: 2014 New England Patriots.
The obvious outlier here is the Detroit Lions, who are expected to struggle in the upcoming season. This is not an exact science because players can be overpaid, causing them to meet a qualification they would miss if they were paid the appropriate salary. There are also teams that are underpaying their players (usually players on rookie deals) which caused them to miss certain criteria.
The NFL is extremely unpredictable. Did most people expect the Nick Foles-led Eagles to upset Tom Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl 52? Did anybody think that 39-year-old Payton Manning would upset the 15-1 Panthers in Super Bowl 50? I would assume not, but all we can do is project; I mean what else is the off-season for? I believe this algorithm is going to get us closer than ever to predict who has the best shot at hoisting that coveted Lombardi trophy come next February.
Honorable Mentions (5/7 Qualifications)
Better Luck Next Year (4/7 or less)