The Cold, Hard Football Facts bow to no man.
It's not that we have too much dignity. We don't.
We're just too fat to bend over.
But if we could, we'd bow to the Lord of Postseason Stats: interceptions.
We first looked at the Lord of Postseason Stats a year ago, before the start of the 2005 playoffs.
Essentially, this is just a quick review of the all-powerful importance of INTs in the postseason, updated to include the playoff data from 2005 and the 2006 wild-card round.
The beer and pizza theory
Of course, it's hardly news that teams that turn over the ball are likely to lose football games. What's shocking is just how strong the correlation is between INTs and defeat. It's like the correlation between beer and pizza. To deny it is to deny pigskin humanity itself.
Interceptions will hurt your team so bad that historical data shows it's actually more important not to throw INTs than it is to throw TDs.
We looked at every postseason game of the Super Bowl Era (371 games through the 2006 wild-card round) and discovered that:
  • Teams that toss more TD passes than their opponents are 198-56 (.780 winning percentage).
  • Teams that toss fewer interceptions than their opponents are 248-52 (.827 winning percentage).
Think about that. The name of the game, obviously, is to score points. So the correlation between throwing TDs and winning is easy to understand. The fact that throwing INTs has a higher correlation to defeat than throwing TDs does to victory is pretty surprising.
The simple truth is:
  • Quarterbacks who throw INTs lose playoff games.
  • Quarterbacks who do not throw INTs win playoff games.
There are a lot of factors that can cause a QB to toss picks: poor pass protection, tipped balls, lousy route-running, you name it.
The bottom line, though, is that a quarterback has an obligation to keep the ball out of the hands of the opposition. If he does not, he'll lose.
The Buffalo wing parade
The breaking point seems to be two INTs. If you throw fewer than two INTs, your odds of winning are fairly strong. But once a quarterback throws that second interception, his team's odds of winning drop dramatically.
In Super Bowl Era postseason play:
  • Teams that toss fewer than 2 INTs are 305-149 (.672).
  • Teams that toss 2 or more INTs are 66-222 (.229).
Hall of Famer Dan Marino, universally proclaimed as the best passer of his generation, and perhaps of all time, provides a perfect individual case study:
  • The Dolphins were 7-1 in postseason play when Marino threw fewer than 2 INTs.
  • The Dolphins were 1-9 in postseason play when Marino threw 2 or more INTs.
As we noted last year, and again earlier this week, the two winningest QBs in postseason history are Tom Brady (11-1) and Bart Starr (9-1). They also rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in lowest postseason INT rate: Brady has thrown INTs on 1.25 percent of his postseason passes; Starr threw INTs on 1.41 percent of his postseason passes.
Interceptions and defeat move in lockstep, like the Cold, Hard Football Facts crew following a Buffalo wing parade.
A historic anomaly
The Colts actually pulled off a statistical anomaly Saturday with their 23-8 win over Kansas City. Peyton Manning threw three INTs, but the Colts still won ... and won big.
They're just the 15th team in the Super Bowl Era to win a playoff game despite throwing three INTs.
Here's a look at the records of teams based upon the number of INTs they've thrown in playoff games. This list includes every playoff game of the Super Bowl Era (371 games through the wild-card round of the 2006-07 playoffs).
Winning %
Statistically speaking, the Colts were all done after Manning's third pick, early in the third quarter.
Except they weren't.
The fact that they overcame this historic handicap and won big certainly bodes well for the rest of their playoff run (or exceedingly poorly for the future of Herm Edwards as a legitimate postseason coach). If the Colts could win on a day when their QB tossed three picks, one wonders what they might do on a day when he throws none.
He certainly can't throw three again against a team like Baltimore.
You can only tiptoe past the Lord of Postseason Stats so many times before bowing at defeat.