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The 2007 New York Giants: Worst Super Bowl Champion ever?

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 6, 2008

I was rooting strongly for the Giants in this past Super Bowl and was very impressed with New York's victory. I also know that being considered the worst super bowl champion ever is like being the least impressive gold medalist: all deserve credit and praise for achieving such an incredible feat. Winning on the field is what counts, and who really cares what I have to say, anyway?

However, I was curious to see where New York ranked relative to other champions. Here's a list of all 42 Super Bowl Champions, sorted by record:

mia1972	14-0-0	1.000
chi1985	15-1-0	0.938
sfo1984	15-1-0	0.938
rai1976	13-1-0	0.929
was1982	 8-1-0	0.889
was1991	14-2-0	0.875
den1998	14-2-0	0.875
sfo1989	14-2-0	0.875
nwe2004	14-2-0	0.875
pit1978	14-2-0	0.875
nyg1986	14-2-0	0.875
nwe2003	14-2-0	0.875
pit1975	12-2-0	0.857
mia1973	12-2-0	0.857
gnb1966	12-2-0	0.857
dal1977	12-2-0	0.857
clt1970	11-2-1	0.821
ram1999	13-3-0	0.813
gnb1996	13-3-0	0.813
sfo1994	13-3-0	0.813
dal1992	13-3-0	0.813
nyg1990	13-3-0	0.813
sfo1981	13-3-0	0.813
dal1971	11-3-0	0.786
kan1969	11-3-0	0.786
nyj1968	11-3-0	0.786
den1997	12-4-0	0.750
rav2000	12-4-0	0.750
pit1979	12-4-0	0.750
tam2002	12-4-0	0.750
dal1993	12-4-0	0.750
dal1995	12-4-0	0.750
pit1974	10-3-1	0.750
rai1983	12-4-0	0.750
clt2006	12-4-0	0.750
was1987	11-4-0	0.733
pit2005	11-5-0	0.688
nwe2001	11-5-0	0.688
rai1980	11-5-0	0.688
gnb1967	 9-4-1	0.679
sfo1988	10-6-0	0.625
nyg2007	10-6-0	0.625

The next table shows each team's regular season points scored, points allowed, points differential, and differential per game for each team.

ram1999	  526	242	284	17.8
was1991	  485	224	261	16.3
chi1985	  456	198	258	16.1
sfo1984	  475	227	248	15.5
gnb1996	  456	210	246	15.4
mia1972   385	171	214	15.3
pit1975	  373	162	211	15.1
mia1973	  343	150	193	13.8
dal1971	  406	222	184	13.1
sfo1994	  505	296	209	13.1
kan1969	  359	177	182	13.0
gnb1966	  335	163	172	12.3
den1998	  501	309	192	12.0
sfo1989	  442	253	189	11.8
den1997	  472	287	185	11.6
nwe2004	  437	260	177	11.1
rav2000	  333	165	168	10.5
dal1992	  409	243	166	10.4
pit1978	  356	195	161	10.1
nyj1968	  419	280	139	 9.9
pit1979	  416	262	154	 9.6
dal1977	  345	212	133	 9.5
tam2002	  346	196	150	 9.4
dal1993	  376	229	147	 9.2
dal1995	  435	291	144	 9.0
gnb1967	  332	209	123	 8.8
nyg1986	  371	236	135	 8.4
pit1974	  305	189	116 	 8.3
pit2005	  389	258	131	 8.2
rai1976	  350	237	113	 8.1
nyg1990	  335	211	124	 7.8
was1982	  190	128	 62	 6.9
nwe2003	  348	238	110	 6.9
sfo1981	  357	250	107	 6.7
rai1983	  442	338	104	 6.5
was1987	  379	285	 94	 6.3
clt1970	  321	234	 87	 6.2
nwe2001	  371	272	 99	 6.2
sfo1988	  369	294	 75	 4.7
clt2006	  427	360	 67	 4.2
rai1980	  364	306	 58	 3.6
nyg2007	  373	351	 22	 1.4

We can also sort the teams by 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. I've got a bit of evidence that indicates that the correct exponent is 2.60 instead of 2.37, but: 1) I'm not sure about that, and it's been on my to-do list to post about deriving the "correct" exponent for awhile; 2) in light of that, I'll go with the more generally accepted 2.37 number, since it doesn't matter too much, anyway. That link gives a full explanation of what the Pythagorean record is and why we should care about it.

Additionally, great defensive teams are generally undervalued when using the difference between points scored and points allowed, because a 35-17 win counts for more than a 13-0 win, despite it being reasonable to conclude that the latter win was more impressive or more dominant. Teams like the '02 Bucs, '78 Steelers and '00 Ravens shoot up this list, while the '98 Broncos, '68 Jets and '94 49ers fall a bit.

chi1985	0.878
pit1975	0.878
mia1973	0.877
mia1972	0.873
ram1999	0.863
gnb1996	0.863
was1991	0.862
sfo1984	0.852
gnb1966	0.846
kan1969	0.842
rav2000	0.841
dal1971	0.807
pit1978	0.806
tam2002	0.794
sfo1989	0.790
sfo1994	0.780
dal1992	0.775
nwe2004	0.774
den1997	0.765
dal1993	0.764
dal1977	0.760
den1998	0.759
pit1974	0.757
gnb1967	0.750
pit1979	0.749
nyg1990	0.749
nyg1986	0.745
pit2005	0.726
nyj1968	0.722
dal1995	0.722
was1982	0.718
rai1976	0.716
nwe2003	0.711
sfo1981	0.699
clt1970	0.679
nwe2001	0.676
was1987	0.663
rai1983	0.654
sfo1988	0.631
rai1980	0.601
clt2006	0.600
nyg2007	0.536

Note: by this method, the last two Super Bowl champions were the worst two of all time. The two teams are the only SB champs to allow 350 points in a season. The Giants, of course, have been at the bottom of each list presented here so far. Does that mean New York's the worst SB Champ ever?

To the extent that such a consensus exists, I'd posit that most have regarded the 2001 Patriots as the worst SB champion of all time. The 2006 Colts (last before this year's Giants in Pythagorean record) and the '88 49ers (last in actual record, tied with this year's Giants) were led by Manning and Montana, and both players were in their primes. Justifiable or not, that will exclude them from consideration for a majority of commentators. The '67 Packers weren't a very good team record-wide, but were middle of the pack in points differential and Pythagorean record, and were still The Lombardi Packers.

The '80 Raiders are probably the Pats best competitor for the title. The Silver and Black ranked last among the first 41 Super Bowl winners in points differential, third to last in record, and third to last in Pythagorean record. QB Jim Plunkett was never very good, and 1980 wasn't a particularly good year for him, either. Tom Flores won two Super Bowls but few consider him an elite coach, and his sub-.300 winning percentage in Seattle earns him no bonus points. Mark van Eeghen was nothing special (Antowain Smith-like?), and the Raiders ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards gained.

The '01 Patriots? New England ranked 19th in yards gained and 24th in yards allowed. Brady, Belichick, Light and Seymour were all unknowns at this point, and none of them besides Belichick were at an elite level in 2001. Whereas the '80 Raiders won four playoff games by 46 points, New England won its three playoff games by just thirteen points. The Pats beat better post-season opponents, but also won it particularly fluky ways. I think it's a pretty close fight between these two teams for the worst SB Champion ever. New England had four Pro Bowlers, Oakland six. According to the SRS, the Raiders have a +4.2 rating thanks to a slightly harder than average schedule, and the Patriots have a +4.3 rating thanks to a relatively easy schedule. (For first time readers of the blog, you can learn about the SRS here.) This one's a toss up, but do the Giants clearly steal the show?

New York had just one Pro Bowler. While Doug hasn't run the official 2007 SRS ratings yet, my less refined method (that usually comes within a decimal point or two) gives them a +3.3, thanks to having one of the ten hardest schedules in the league. That rating, of course, isn't very good for a Super Bowl champion. The Patriots, according to my preliminary system, rate at +20.1, which would be the highest ever by a wide margin. I've got no doubt that once Doug runs the numbers, New England's SRS rating will blow out every other team's since the merger.

Here's how the thirty-seven champs from 1970-2006 rank according to the SRS:

was1991	16.6
chi1985	15.9
gnb1996	15.3
pit1975	14.2
mia1973	13.2
nwe2004	12.8
sfo1984	12.7
pit1979	11.9
ram1999	11.9
sfo1994	11.6
mia1972	11.0
den1997	10.7
sfo1989	10.7
dal1992	9.9
dal1971	9.9
dal1995	9.7
dal1993	9.6
nyg1986	9.0
den1998	8.9
tam2002	8.8
rai1976	8.5
pit1978	8.2
rav2000	8.0
dal1977	7.8
pit2005	7.8
nyg1990	7.7
was1982	7.4
nwe2003	6.9
pit1974	6.8
rai1983	6.8
sfo1981	6.2
clt2006	5.9
sfo1988	4.8
nwe2001	4.3
rai1980	4.2
was1987	3.7
clt1970	0.4

The 2007 Giants will probably rank 2nd to last, or at best, third to last according to the SRS. You might wonder why the '70 Colts rate so poorly on this list; after all, Baltimore ranked 17th in winning percentage, 35th in Pythagorean record and 37th in differential. Well, the '70 Colts had the third easiest schedule of any team from 1970-2006, behind only the '70 Dolphins and the '99 Rams. That team had Unitas and won its three post season games by 30 points, but it certainly belongs in the discussion of the worst SB champion ever.

The '87 Skins ranked in the bottom ten in record, differential and Pythagorean record, and rank in the bottom three in SRS rating. If anything, those states are inflated by Washington's 3-0 record and +39 points differential in the three strike games. Washington was fortunate to avoid an excellent 49ers team in the playoffs, and Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder completed just 210 of 410 passes. This was a team with some good stars in their prime (Darrell Green, Gary Clark, Dexter Manley and Charles Mann), but was not a very deep team and won just two-thirds of its games played with non-strike players.

I think the '70 Colts, '80 Raiders, '87 Redskins, '01 Patriots and '07 Giants probably deserve their own subgroup as the five worst Super Bowl Champions of all time. The '88 49ers and '06 Colts might be close to them, but having two of the greatest QBs of all time eliminates them from this category (and no, I'm not being inconsistent; Unitas was in his last year as a starter for the Colts, and Brady was in his first year as a starter for the Pats). I'm trying not to be a Giants hater here, but I don't see how to objectively put this team among the 37 best Super Bowl winners.

I know the Giants of the playoffs were not the Giants of the regular season. New York went 0-4 against Dallas, Green Bay and New England in the regular season, losing by 46 points despite playing three of those games at home; in the playoffs, Big Blue went 3-0 against those opponents. But all Super Bowl Champions played well in the playoffs, right? That's why they went undefeated in the post-season. And fair or not, New York won its playoff games by just 20 points. This was not a dominating post-season by any stretch of the imagination, although I know they three of the four best teams in the league this year. But the thing is, most Super Bowl champions beat the best couple of teams in the league. Here's how the 42 Super Bowl winners rank in terms of margin of victory per game in the playoffs:

sfo1989	  3	100	33.3
nyg1986	  3	 82	27.3
chi1985	  3	 81	27.0
rai1983	  3	 73	24.3
dal1992	  3	 69	23.0
tam2002	  3	 69	23.0
dal1977	  3	 64	21.3
den1998	  3	 63	21.0
sfo1994	  3	 62	20.7
was1991	  3	 61	20.3
sfo1984	  3	 56	18.7
pit1978	  3	 56	18.7
rav2000	  4	 72	18.0
sfo1988	  3	 54	18.0
mia1973	  3	 52	17.3
gnb1996	  3	 52	17.3
gnb1966	  2	 32	16.0
was1982	  4	 62	15.5
pit1979	  3	 46	15.3
gnb1967	  3	 44	14.7
dal1993	  3	 44	14.7
was1987	  3	 43	14.3
dal1971	  3	 40	13.3
dal1995	  3	 40	13.3
pit1974	  3	 39	13.0
rai1976	  3	 38	12.7
rai1980	  4 	 46	11.5
nwe2004	  3	 34	11.3
pit2005	  4	 45	11.3
kan1969	  3	 33	11.0
nyg1990	  3	 31	10.3
clt1970	  3	 30	10.0
clt2006	  4	 40	10.0
den1997	  4	 39	 9.8
pit1975	  3	 28	 9.3
ram1999	  3	 24	 8.0
sfo1981	  3	 20	 6.7
nyj1968	  2	 13	 6.5
mia1972	  3	 17	 5.7
nwe2003	  3	 16	 5.3
nyg2007	  4	 20	 5.0
nwe2001	  3	 13	 4.3

The Giants don't look very good here, and the '72 Dolphins poor showing is one of the larger reasons Miami isn't unanimously (or even generally) considered the best team of all time. The '83 Raiders escape the title of "bad Super Bowl Champion" because of the dominant post-season run, even if Los Angeles has less than impressive peripherals. The '89 49ers are often in the conversation for best team ever, and the dominant playoff performance is a good reason why.

The '01 Pats rank at the bottom of the list, and arguably their wins were even less impressive than the margin of victory shows. But New England was probably a better regular season team than the Giants, and beat some excellent playoff teams. I think it's too close to call definitively who was the worst Super Bowl champion of all time: the Colts, Redskins, Raiders, Giants and Pats are all in the mix. But if I had to choose one, I'd go with the Giants. New England, for all the easy knocks against them in 2001, did end up going 11-3 with Brady at the helm, and I'm willing to give them a slight pass for the two "Bledsoe" games.

One final pro-Giants note: I've often heard the '90 Giants called the worst Super Bowl champion ever. That seems really silly, based on this post. I understand that Giants team ranked 15th in the league in points scored, and beat two teams that might have been considered the best ever had they won the Super Bowl. The '90 49ers were gunning for the three-peat, and had started the season 10-0. The Bills were 13-2 before losing a meaningless week 17 game, led the league in points scored, and then scored 95 points in its first two playoff games. Buffalo had nine pro bowlers and a fun offense. Maybe those wins created some resentment for the '90 Giants. But New York ranked tied for 18th best record, and while it ranked 31st in differential, it was 26th in the more telling Pythagorean record statistic. Further, New York didn't even rank in the bottom ten according to SRS, and deserves some credit for beating two very good playoff teams. Those '90 Giants are probably in the bottom half of Super Bowl winners, but definitely aren't in the running for worst ever Super Bowl champ.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2008 at 6:07 am and is filed under History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.