For Super Bowl Fans: Visualizing NFL Scores with JMP
Jan 29, 2009 4:08 PM
Some rare NFL scores, such as 11-10, have made the news recently (Wall Street Journal article), and resident sports expert Bob Hickey thought about looking at the scores in JMP.
Pro-Football-Reference has lots of views into the historical scores data but no one place we could find that supplied all the scores. After a bit of work, I managed to collect historical score data by aggregating data from many Web pages on that site.
NFL scores colored by frequency
The Wall Street Journal article mentioned that the modern scoring era started around 1978, so I limited my explorations to games since then. Here is a plot of all scores. Each score combination is represented by a square, with more common scores being darker.
The most popular score for this era is 20-17, same as for the entire history, but tie scores are now rare. The graph shows the expected dominance of scores like 13, 14, 17 and 20, which are basic combinations of touchdowns and field goals. It's also evident that close games are much more common than blow-outs.
If you're looking to predict a score for this weekend's Super Bowl, you might want to see the breakdown for playoff games only.
NFL playoff game scores colored by frequency
Scores of 20-17, 27-20 and 27-17 tie for the most occurrences at 6. There's not enough data to get a good sense of the distribution, but it's not noticeably dissimilar from the larger set of games.
I don't know who's going to win Super Bowl 43, but I'll predict the final score to be 27-17.