«

»

Mar 02

Super Bowl Super Study: The Most Unlikely Super Bowl Teams

Over two weeks, we’re conducting a super study to assess Super Bowl teams. With this painstakingly-detailed look at playoff team precedence, a few key outliers can illustrate which future playoff teams are likely to win the Super Bowl and which future playoff teams are likely to come up short. This study includes 13 statistical factors that impact a playoff team’s championship viability.

Today, we recap and analyze the results of this study. In total, there were 57 red flags and 88 amber flags handed down to the 98 Super Bowl teams, making approximately a 1.48-flag average per team. In total, 37 Super Bowl combatants (37.76 percent) didn’t receive a single flag. Considering both the percentages and the claim that we see the red flag as a worse offense than the amber flags, it ends up that three amber flags equal one red flag in this study. Putting that in context for summary, we can determine the most unlikely Super Bowl teams.

Check out the table below, which recaps each Super Bowl combatant.

Table 1: Super Bowl Teams, by Red Flags and Amber Flags

SB Winner Red Amber Points SB Loser Red Amber Points
I 66 Packers 0 0 0 I 66 Chiefs 0 0 0
II 67 Packers 0 1 1 II 67 Raiders 0 0 0
III 68 Jets 0 0 0 III 68 Colts 0 0 0
IV 69 Chiefs 0 1 1 IV 69 Vikings 0 1 1
V 70 Colts 1 1 4 V 70 Cowboys 0 4 4
VI 71 Cowboys 0 0 0 VI 71 Dolphins 0 1 1
VII 72 Dolphins 1 0 3 VII 72 Redskins 0 1 1
VIII 73 Dolphins 0 0 0 VIII 73 Vikings 0 0 0
IX 74 Steelers 0 2 2 IX 74 Vikings 0 0 0
X 75 Steelers 0 0 0 X 75 Cowboys 0 0 0
XI 76 Raiders 0 1 1 XI 76 Vikings 0 0 0
XII 77 Cowboys 0 0 0 XII 77 Broncos 0 0 0
XIII 78 Steelers 0 0 0 XIII 78 Cowboys 0 0 0
XIV 79 Steelers 1 2 5 XIV 79 Rams 4 4 16
XV 80 Raiders 0 3 3 XV 80 Eagles 1 0 3
XVI 81 49ers 1 1 4 XVI 81 Bengals 2 1 7
XVII 82 Redskins 0 0 0 XVII 82 Dolphins 0 1 1
XVIII 83 Raiders 1 0 3 XVIII 83 Redskins 0 1 1
XIX 84 49ers 0 0 0 XIX 84 Dolphins 0 1 1
XX 85 Bears 0 0 0 XX 85 Patriots 0 3 3
XXI 86 Giants 0 1 1 XXI 86 Broncos 0 6 6
XXII 87 Redskins 0 3 3 XXII 87 Broncos 0 2 2
XXIII 88 49ers 2 1 7 XXIII 88 Bengals 1 1 4
XXIV 89 49ers 0 0 0 XXIV 89 Broncos 0 1 1
XXV 90 Giants 0 0 0 XXV 90 Bills 0 0 0
XXVI 91 Redskins 0 0 0 XXVI 91 Bills 0 0 0
XXVII 92 Cowboys 0 0 0 XXVII 92 Bills 0 4 4
XXVIII 93 Cowboys 1 0 3 XXVIII 93 Bills 1 0 3
XXIX 94 49ers 0 0 0 XXIX 94 Chargers 1 2 5
XXX 95 Cowboys 0 1 1 XXX 95 Steelers 0 1 1
XXXI 96 Packers 0 0 0 XXXI 96 Patriots 2 1 7
XXXII 97 Broncos 0 1 1 XXXII 97 Packers 0 0 0
XXXIII 98 Broncos 0 0 0 XXXIII 98 Falcons 2 0 6
XXXIV 99 Rams 2 0 6 XXXIV 99 Titans 1 2 5
XXXV 00 Ravens 0 2 2 XXXV 00 Giants 1 1 4
XXXVI 01 Patriots 2 1 7 XXXVI 01 Rams 1 0 3
XXXVII 02 Buccaneers 0 0 0 XXXVII 02 Raiders 1 0 3
XXXVIII 03 Patriots 0 0 0 XXXVIII 03 Panthers 2 4 10
XXXIX 04 Patriots 0 0 0 XXXIX 04 Eagles 0 2 2
XL 05 Steelers 0 1 1 XL 05 Seahawks 1 0 3
XLI 06 Colts 1 2 5 XLI 06 Bears 0 1 1
XLII 07 Giants 8 2 26 XLII 07 Patriots 0 0 0
XLIII 08 Steelers 0 0 0 XLIII 08 Cardinals 6 0 18
XLIV 09 Saints 0 2 2 XLIV 09 Colts 0 1 1
XLV 10 Packers 2 0 6 XLV 10 Steelers 0 1 1
XLVI 11 Giants 6 1 19 XLVI 11 Patriots 0 2 2
XLVII 12 Ravens 1 5 8 XLVII 12 49ers 0 2 2
XLVIII 13 Seahawks 0 0 0 XLVIII 13 Broncos 0 0 0
XLIX 14 Patriots 0 1 1 XLIX 14 Seahawks 0 0 0

NOTE: Red flag = three points; Amber flag = one point

As you can see, very few teams ended up with double-digit points in this study. In fact, only a few more received more than six points worth of flags. Also, there isn’t a significant difference between winners and losers. There were 14 Super Bowl match-ups between teams with equal points. The team with fewer points went only 18-17 in the other 35 Super Bowl match-ups.

Does this mean that this study isn’t reliable in picking Super Bowl winners? Perhaps we need to look at the most notable mismatches to determine that answer. In the 14 match-ups featuring more than a three-point advantage, the team with fewer points went 8-6. This includes the recent stretch of outlier champions, as these precedent-based favorites own a 1-5 record over the last nine Super Bowls. We think the record is skewed by the outliers, but we’ll monitor how the precedent-based favorites fare in this postseason to see if we need to revisit this study. In the mean time, it remains as one of four legitimate factors to postseason success.

Now, for the most unlikely champions. Below, we listed Super Bowl by their point totals, from best to worst. We included the percentile ranks for each group, based on the standard score of this data set. We do this instead of calculating percentile from the data set itself because we want to determine how far teams with numerous flags stray from the “normal” Super Bowl team.

  • Zero points: 37 teams (73rd percentile rank)
  • One point: 19 teams (65th percentile)
  • Two points: 1974 Steelers, 1987 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, 2004 Eagles, 2009 Saints, 2011 Patriots, 2012 49ers (56th percentile)
  • Three points: 11 teams (47th percentile)
  • Four points: 1970 Colts, 1970 Cowboys, 1981 49ers, 1988 Bengals, 1992 Bills, 2000 Giants (38th percentile)
  • Five points: 1979 Steelers, 1994 Chargers, 1999 Titans, 2006 Colts (29th percentile)
  • Six points: 1986 Broncos, 1998 Falcons, 1999 Rams, 2010 Packers (22nd percentile)
  • Seven points: 1981 Bengals, 1988 49ers, 1996 Patriots, 2001 Patriots (15th percentile)
  • Eight points: 2012 Ravens (11th percentile)
  • Ten points: 2003 Panthers (4th percentile)
  • Sixteen points: 1979 Rams (1st percentile)
  • Eighteen points: 2008 Cardinals (1st percentile)
  • Nineteen points: 2011 Giants (1st percentile)
  • Twenty-six points: 2007 Giants (1st percentile)

Suggestion: If you want to calculate this yourself, put these numbers into the data set as negative integers. Remember that we’re discussing each team’s flaws, so these points take away from their Super Bowl credentials.

Using the normal distribution of this data set, we get some interesting odds for the four most unlikely Super Bowl teams. We’re talking each team covering less than 0.2 percent of the standard normal curve of this data set. We can truly appreciate the remarkable nature of these teams making a run to the Super Bowl. Let’s discuss in more detail. Remember that the percentages used below are NOT the odds of making the Super Bowl, but the odds of being a flawless Super Bowl contender based on this study of precedence.

1979 Los Angeles Rams (9-7, NFC #3 seed, approx. 0.09 percent)
Los Angeles RamsThe original Super Bowl Cinderella, the 1979 Rams relied on a backup quarterback of a 9-7 team to reach the big game, which was being played in their home county. Vince Ferragamo and this aging team first defeated the top-seed Dallas Cowboys, who beat them by a combined 58-6 score in the previous two meetings. Down with 2:16 left, Ferragamo led a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive to give the Rams a 21-19 victory. The following week, Los Angeles defeated the once-hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a sloppy 9-0 game. Thus, this Rams team became the first single-digit win team to reach the Super Bowl. It didn’t happen again for 29 years.

However, we must consider that the 1979 Cowboys received one red flag and two amber flags in this study. We also must consider that the 1979 Buccaneers received four red flags and three amber flags in this study. To be brutally honest, the 1979 NFC playoff picture was quite weak, so the eventual NFC champion was going to have major flaws. The upset win in Dallas was quite impressive, but the win in Tampa Bay could honestly be seen as the expected outcome, consider the two team’s respective preceding history.

2008 Arizona Cardinals (9-7, NFC #4 seed, approx. 0.02 percent)
Arizona CardinalsLike the 1979 Rams, the Cardinals won a weak NFC West division before finding its stride in the postseason. Like the 1979 Rams, the Cardinals nearly defeated a heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers team that won on a fourth-quarter comeback. Unlike the 1979 Rams, the Cardinals had no recent playoff success to suggest this run was possible. Instead, Arizona rode on the back of resurgent quarterback Kurt Warner and a red-hot wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals had two home wins in the process, while the road win was against a Carolina Panthers team that came out of nowhere in its own right. Arizona certainly got a break or two in reaching the Super Bowl.

Recall that the 2008 Falcons were a team with a rookie quarterback and roster fresh off a 4-12 season. Recall that the 2008 Eagles were a six seed that needed a miracle just to have a chance in Week 17 to play for a playoff spot. Those wins weren’t seen as true upsets, especially because they were played on Arizona’s home field. However, the Eagles were statistically much more stronger than their record suggested. They received only one red flag and one amber flag in this study. Meanwhile, the 2008 Panthers only received three amber flags in this study. The last two playoff wins should be considered notable playoff upsets.

2011 New York Giants (9-7, NFC #4 seed, approx. 0.007 percent)
New York GiantsFor NFL fans, the 2011 Giants was nothing but a retelling of the 2007 Giants run to win a Super Bowl. First, New York defeats the NFC South team that isn’t really fit to win a playoff game. Then, New York defeats the NFC’s top seed, both of which had a mighty offense. Next, New York defeats the NFC’s two seed in overtime, thanks in part to a gimme turnover. Finally, New York defeats the mighty New England Patriots with a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive made possible in large part by a spectacular highlight reel catch on the go-ahead drive.

There was only new wrinkle in 2011: the Giants were outscored in the regular season. However, this study says this team had fewer precedent-based flaws. Furthermore, the field in 2011 had less team balance than the field in 2007. The 2011 Packers had deficiencies in the run game and pass defense. The 2011 49ers didn’t have enough offensive firepower. The 2011 Patriots were deficient defensively.

Still, the last three wins were very impressive. The Packers didn’t receive a single flag. The 49ers received two red flags. And as you know, the Patriots received two amber flags. This study believes that only the 49ers had legitimate concerns about not being a normal Super Bowl contender. Instead, the 2011 Giants knocked out all opponents.

2007 New York Giants (10-6, NFC #5 seed, approx. 0.000003 percent)
New York GiantsBig Blue became the truest of underdogs to achieve the Super Bowl dream. Along the way, a quarterback with fresh playoff demons and questionable statistics put together a strong January and February performance. Also, a defense that yielded 80 points in the first two games turned into a pass-rushing menace. Suddenly, a team that couldn’t muster a winning record at home went on the road to take down titanic favorites. This includes the 16-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The Super Bowl win was arguably the greatest upset in sports history, but just getting there was a major feat.

Defeating the 2007 Buccaneers was not a shock to many, as the NFC South champions owned only a 9-7 record. We’re not going to discuss that victory. Instead, we’ll talk about the next three. The 2007 Cowboys earned the NFC’s top seed with a 13-3 record, and they received only two amber flags. The 2007 Packers were also 13-3 and had one last run with Brett Favre under center, which probably meant a playoff loss, anyways. Still, they did no receive a single flag in this study. Finally, the 2007 Patriots came into the big game with no losses and no flags. We don’t need to discuss anymore to realize that this Giants team had most impressive Cinderella run.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: