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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Best Super Bowl Loser Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 20, 2009

A year ago, I wrote that the 2007 Giants were arguably the worst Super Bowl Champion of all time, with the '70 Colts, '80 Raiders, '87 Redskins and '01 Patriots hot on their heels. That subgroup is, IMO, the bottom tier of Super Bowl winners.

Some comments requested a showing of the opposite -- the best Super Bowl losers ever. We all know the answer to this one: the 2007 Patriots, right? Well, maybe not. Let's take a look. For starters, let's take a look at the regular season record of each of the 42 Super Bowls losers.

nwe2007	16-0-0	1.000
rai1967	13-1-0	0.929
clt1968	13-1-0	0.929
was1983	14-2-0	0.875
mia1984	14-2-0	0.875
atl1998	14-2-0	0.875
ram2001	14-2-0	0.875
min1969	12-2-0	0.857
min1973	12-2-0	0.857
den1977	12-2-0	0.857
kan1966	11-2-1	0.821
min1976	11-2-1	0.821
buf1990	13-3-0	0.813
buf1991	13-3-0	0.813
gnb1997	13-3-0	0.813
oti1999	13-3-0	0.813
phi2004	13-3-0	0.813
sea2005	13-3-0	0.813
chi2006	13-3-0	0.813
was1972	11-3-0	0.786
mia1982	 7-2-0	0.778
mia1971	10-3-1	0.750
dal1978	12-4-0	0.750
phi1980	12-4-0	0.750
cin1981	12-4-0	0.750
cin1988	12-4-0	0.750
buf1993	12-4-0	0.750
nyg2000	12-4-0	0.750
dal1970	10-4-0	0.714
min1974	10-4-0	0.714
dal1975	10-4-0	0.714
den1987	10-4-1	0.700
nwe1985	11-5-0	0.688
den1986	11-5-0	0.688
den1989	11-5-0	0.688
buf1992	11-5-0	0.688
sdg1994	11-5-0	0.688
pit1995	11-5-0	0.688
nwe1996	11-5-0	0.688
rai2002	11-5-0	0.688
car2003	11-5-0	0.688
ram1979	 9-7-0	0.563

Ten of these teams won over 85% of their games. Let's not forget that we're dealing with some great teams here. They just weren't perfect.

Record isn't everything, though -- the next table shows each team’s regular season points scored, points allowed, points differential, and differential per game for each team.


nwe2007 589 274 315 19.7
clt1968 402 144 258 18.4
min1969 379 133 246 17.6
rai1967 468 233 235 16.8
ram2001 503 273 230 14.4
mia1984 513 298 215 13.4
was1983 541 332 209 13.1
kan1966 448 276 172 12.3
sea2005 452 271 181 11.3
dal1978 384 208 176 11.0
chi2006 427 255 172 10.8
buf1990 428 263 165 10.3
phi1980 384 222 162 10.1
mia1971 315 174 141 10.1
atl1998 442 289 153 9.6
min1976 305 176 129 9.2
min1973 296 168 128 9.1
rai2002 450 304 146 9.1
den1977 274 148 126 9.0
gnb1997 422 282 140 8.8
buf1991 458 318 140 8.8
den1989 362 226 136 8.5
was1972 336 218 118 8.4
min1974 310 195 115 8.2
phi2004 386 260 126 7.9
mia1982 198 131 67 7.4
cin1988 448 329 119 7.4
cin1981 421 304 117 7.3
nwe1996 418 313 105 6.6
buf1992 381 283 98 6.1
den1987 379 288 91 6.1
dal1975 350 268 82 5.9
dal1970 299 221 78 5.6
buf1993 329 242 87 5.4
nyg2000 328 246 82 5.1
pit1995 407 327 80 5.0
sdg1994 381 306 75 4.7
nwe1985 362 290 72 4.5
oti1999 392 324 68 4.3
den1986 378 327 51 3.2
car2003 325 304 21 1.3
ram1979 323 309 14 0.9

Not surprisingly, the '07 Pats rank at the top of this list, too. But three pre-merger teams aren't too far behind, along with three great offenses on modern teams. Like we did before, we should also look at Pythagorean record. The Pythagorean record is calculated by taking the points scored number raised to the 2.37th power, and dividing it by the sum of itself and the points allowed number raised to the 2.37th power. Explaining what the correct exponent should be is still on my to-do list, but 2.37 works for now.

Why use this? Points differential is biased towards great offense teams. A 10-0 victory may be more impressive than a 21-10 victory -- we might infer that the former victor had a lower chance of ever losing that game. Once we use Pythagorean record, guess what? The 2007 Patriots don't come out on top, for a change. The '69 Vikings and the '68 Colts had all time great defenses, and that was partially hidden when we used points differential.

min1969	  0.923
clt1968	  0.919
nwe2007	  0.860
rai1967	  0.839
den1977	  0.811
dal1978	  0.810
ram2001	  0.810
mia1971	  0.803
min1973	  0.793
min1976	  0.786
phi1980	  0.786
mia1984	  0.784
chi2006	  0.772
sea2005	  0.771
was1983	  0.761
buf1990	  0.760
kan1966	  0.759
den1989	  0.753
min1974	  0.750
was1972	  0.736
atl1998	  0.732
mia1982	  0.727
gnb1997	  0.722
phi2004	  0.718
rai2002	  0.717
buf1991	  0.704
cin1981	  0.684
cin1988	  0.675
buf1993	  0.674
dal1970	  0.672
buf1992	  0.669
nwe1996	  0.665
nyg2000	  0.664
den1987	  0.657
dal1975	  0.653
nwe1985	  0.628
sdg1994	  0.627
pit1995	  0.627
oti1999	  0.611
den1986	  0.585
car2003	  0.539
ram1979	  0.526

None of those measures adjust for strength of schedule, though. Unfortunately, because of the lack of inter-league play, we've only got SRS ratings from since the merger. Here’s how the thirty-eight runner-ups from 1970-2007 rank according to the SRS:

nwe2007	  20.1
was1983	  13.9
ram2001	  13.4
den1977	  11.3
dal1978	  11.0
rai2002	  10.6
mia1984	  10.6
atl1998	  10.0
phi1980	   9.7
min1976	   9.3
den1989	   9.3
sea2005	   9.1
buf1990    8.6
min1973	   8.6
mia1982	   8.0
chi2006	   7.9
mia1971	   7.7
gnb1997	   7.7
dal1970	   7.0
was1972	   6.3
cin1988	   6.1
min1974	   6.1
nwe1985	   5.8
phi2004	   5.6
cin1981	   5.5
den1986	   5.2
nwe1996	   5.1
buf1993	   4.8
pit1995	   4.6
den1987	   4.4
buf1992	   4.3
dal1975	   4.1
sdg1994	   3.6
buf1991	   3.6
nyg2000	   2.4
oti1999	   1.0
ram1979	  -0.6
car2003	  -0.9

One last table. If this season has taught us anything, it's that the regular season isn't exactly a perfect predictor of the post-season. When you've got a nine win team in the Super Bowl, you might argue that we should really be focusing on playoff success when we look at teams. So how did our lovable losers do in the playoffs?


buf1990 3 57 19.0
clt1968 3 35 11.7
dal1978 3 31 10.3
mia1982 4 40 10.0
ram2001 3 30 10.0
was1972 3 29 9.7
dal1975 3 29 9.7
phi2004 3 27 9.0
nwe1996 3 25 8.3
car2003 4 33 8.3
nyg2000 3 24 8.0
cin1981 3 22 7.3
rai1967 2 14 7.0
gnb1997 3 20 6.7
sea2005 3 19 6.3
was1983 3 18 6.0
nwe2007 3 17 5.7
mia1984 3 16 5.3
chi2006 3 16 5.3
oti1999 4 21 5.3
cin1988 3 15 5.0
buf1991 3 13 4.3
pit1995 3 13 4.3
phi1980 3 11 3.7
min1974 3 10 3.3
rai2002 3 10 3.3
dal1970 3 9 3.0
min1976 3 8 2.7
min1969 3 7 2.3
min1973 3 7 2.3
buf1992 4 8 2.0
buf1993 3 6 2.0
mia1971 3 3 1.0
nwe1985 4 0 0.0
den1977 3 -1 -0.3
ram1979 3 -1 -0.3
kan1966 2 -1 -0.5
den1987 3 -3 -1.0
atl1998 3 -10 -3.3
den1986 3 -11 -3.7
sdg1994 3 -18 -6.0
den1989 3 -28 -9.3

Now that we've got all the data we need, let's get to some analysis. Looking through these lists, nine teams stand out. Honestly all nine teams deserve some consideration, so a thorough analysis was needed. All nine teams are probably top 50 teams in the Super Bowl era, so we're going to have to pick nits, here. We're trying to say which team is the 30th best out of 1200 teams and which team is the 25th best. That's an impossibly difficult task. Comparing across eras is tough enough, but these teams are all on the same level of elite. So bare with me and try to understand where I'm coming from when I make some of these "negative" comments.

9. The 1990 Buffalo Bills. This was Jim Kelly's best season, Thurman Thomas was in his prime, and Bruce Smith had 19 sacks. Key stat: The Bills scored 95 points in their two AFC playoff games. Further fueling their cause is that Buffalo had arguably the closest loss of any SB champ. And, oh yea, nine Bills made the Pro Bowl.

That said, this team was not flawless. The defense was good but not great. They had an easy schedule which makes a lot of their peripheral stats look better than they were. And fair or not, I can't help but wonder how this team would have done in the NFC East instead of the AFC East. They were the kings of the inferior conference. They were star studded and are remembered fondly, but I can't put them ahead of any of the other SB losers.

8. The 1984 Dolphins. Great record, finished very high in points differential and SRS score. Had arguably the greatest QB of all time having his greatest season. An all time great coach. Scored an incredible 28 points in sixteen of their first eighteen games. A juggernaut offense but with a inferior run defense. While 1990 Buffalo gets credit for losing a paper-thin Super Bowl, Miami gets credit for losing to one of the best teams of all time.

7. The 1990 Bills had a HOF RB and a HOF QB; the 1984 Dolphins had maybe the greatest passing offense ever. So how come they fall behind the 1983 Redskins? Because those teams didn't have the offense to match up with Joe Gibbs' squad. The '83 Redskins might have been the best team Washington's ever had. They held the record for points scored in a season until the '98 Vikings topped them. John Riggins rushed for 24 TDs, and Joe Theisman threw 29 TDs and led the league in my quarterback rating system. Arguably the greatest offense of all time. They lost a game 48-47 to the Packers and they lost on opening day 31-30 to the Cowboys. That means this offense carried the team to a 16-1 record over the middle seventeen games and the only loss came when they scored 47 points.

Unlike the Bills and Dolphins, this team was also the defending Super Bowl champs. They had a very good run defense. They faced a slightly harder than average schedule so their stats are legit. This team was very close to being 18-0. The only reason they don't make my top five? One of the most embarassing Super Bowl performances of all time.

6. The 1967 Oakland Raiders. Somehow this team has been forgotten in NFL lore, but I don't know why. That great '83 Redskins offense averaged 33.8 PPG; this Raiders team averaged 33.4 PPG. This was a better team than the '66 Chiefs, but I think because they both lost to the Packers people sort of group them together. But Oakland went 13-1, with the only loss coming on the road against the Jets, a tough trip for a West Coast team against largely the same team that won the Super Bowl the next season. And the Raiders avenged the loss with a win at home against New York later in the year. The Raiders avenged their only loss and then won 40-7 in the post-season to capture the AFL crown. 1967 was a great year for QBs -- Jurgensen, Namath, Tarkenton, Unitas, Gabriel and Hadl all had big years, but Daryle Lamonica was right there with the rest of those guys. The Raiders 33 passing TDs tied for the NFL-AFL lead while their 19 rushing TDs ranked second. Like the four teams before, this was another all time powerful offense. Unlike the other three, this Raiders team played some defense, too. Oakland scored more than twice the number of points they allowed.

The blemish, of course, is an ugly Super Bowl performance. And the '67 Packers were maybe the weakest Packers championship squad of the bunch. Much like Buffalo and the AFC in the '90s, it's hard to ignore that the Raiders were literally in a different league than half of the other team.

Those four teams had terrific, all time great offenses. Thurman Thomas may have been the best weapon on any of those four teams but the number of points the last three teams put up was too much to ignore. As great as those offenses were, and as close as some of them were to being perfect, they all miss out on the top five. I hope tomorrow I'll be able to prove to you why.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 at 7:45 am and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.