Last night’s historic collapse by the Atlanta Falcons brought an interesting question to mind: how many times has the lesser team in the Super Bowl gone on to win the game? If the goal of the Super Bowl is to have the champion be the best team, how often is this not the case? Keeping this question in mind, let’s rewrite history and proclaim the rightful Super Bowl champions of the modern era (since 2001).
2016 — Atlanta Falcons: That was tough to watch. On 3rd and 1 with 6 minutes left we saw a pass, then a fumble. On 1st and 10 from the New England 22, up 8 with 4 minutes to go, they run, pass, pass, penalty, pass. Twenty-two yards lost. Unbelievable. Just awful decision making on the Falcons’ side. They could have knelt down 3 straight times and won this game with a field goal. There was no upside to aggression in that situation. While many are giving the Patriots (and Brady) credit for this win, this is all about the Falcons. The Falcons got up 28-3 and ran 14 plays the rest of the game. Nine were passes, five were runs. That is incredible. The Falcons were the best team in football this season, with an offense that rivals the best of all time. They deserved the win, and it showed in (the first half of) this game. If not for that sequence of disastrous play calls, they are the 2016 champs.
2015 — Carolina Panthers: Carolina, with the MVP at QB and #2 DVOA defense, go up against Peyton Manning and the #1 ranked DVOA defense. While I was cheering for Peyton Manning to win another title, as he is the greatest QB to ever play the game (future article teaser!), I fully believe the Carolina Panthers were the more deserving team. This fluke set football back, as the belief that run games and defenses win championships is still somehow running rampant…
2014 — Seattle Seahawks: Here’s a Super Bowl hot take: Seattle should not have run the ball. They simply picked the wrong pass. That play will go down in infamy as the worst Super Bowl play call of all time. Under no circumstances should that ball be thrown over the middle of the field. If anything, you need to play action out of a heavy set. This gets you a run-pass option with Russell Wilson. Worst case scenario is you throw it away. Best case is an easy TD. Seattle was the league’s best team that season, coming up 1st in DVOA. It showed on the field, as without the worst play call in Super Bowl history, they are the champions. They earned it.
2013 — Seattle Seahawks: The 2013 Seahawks had the 13th best DVOA of all time. This team was one of those teams that will never be appreciated as much as they should be. Why? This team boasted a rookie quarterback and a dominant defense. People automatically assume this means their offense was not very good and their defense simply carried them. While the defense was amazing (#1 DVOA, 7th best since 1989), the offense was pretty great, as well. They were 7th in offensive DVOA that year. It should be emphasized more that this team was one of the most dominant teams of this era. What’s even more remarkable is this: so were the Broncos that they demolished in the Super Bowl. The 2013 Denver Broncos were the 6th best offense in DVOA since 1989. While I do think the score was an absolute fluke, and if played again the game would be closer, it does demonstrate how truly dominant Seattle was that year.
2012 — San Francisco 49ers: Some of the Super Bowls coming up on our list are among my favorites of all time. This, however, was the opposite. With the power going out and lack for any real great QBs in the game, this was not as entertaining to me. However, the 49ers and Ravens both finished in the top 10 in DVOA that season, with the 49ers being superior at 4th overall. They were dominant on defense that season, finishing 2nd in the league. Really, they were superior to the Ravens by every measure.
2011 — New England Patriots: This is the one year Tom Brady and the New England offense was actually forced to carry an awful defense. The offense was ranked 3rd in DVOA, but the defense was ranked a dismal 30th. They were the 4th best DVOA team in 2011 and should’ve been the rightful Super Bowl champions. The 12th ranked New York Giants, thanks to an incredible Mario Manningham catch, stole this one. Really, the Patriots deserved this. The Giants were a good team, but not on the level of the Patriots in 2011.
2010 — Green Bay Packers: The outcome of this game remains the same. This was one of my favorite Super Bowls of all time. The game featured two of the 3 best teams in the league in DVOA that season, each starting great QBs. Green Bay actually ranks one lower than Pittsburgh in DVOA, but because they had the superior QB and won the close game, they were the rightful champions. Aaron Rodgers was and is an absolute freak show. He deserves another title, and I believe he will get one in the near future.
2009 — New Orleans Saints: The team that should have won did win. This might be my favorite Super Bowl of all time. Not only did the better team win, but these two were great teams with great QBs, and it turned out to be a thrilling game. An onside kick, an INT return for a TD to seal it, this contest had it all. New Orleans and Indianapolis were both top 8 teams, but New Orleans was simply a little bit better. Plus, who doesn’t love the New Orleans storyline?
2008 — Pittsburgh Steelers: This year’s champion was also the rightful champion. This is another one of those games that should have been much more of a blowout than it actually was. Arizona was a fluke that went on a run. They did not deserve to be in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was that rare exception of a dominant defense carrying an average offense to a championship. The #1 defensive team in the NFL in 2008, Pittsburgh was a well deserving champion.
2007 — New England Patriots: This team was one of the top 5 teams of all time, and it is an absolute travesty that they did not finish 19-0. The 2nd best DVOA team of all time, the New England Patriots, led by future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Randy Moss, obliterated the record books and defenses weekly. Brady: 50 tds to 8 INTs. Moss: 1500 yds and 23 tds. Simply unbelievable. This game should have been a 38-10 shellacking by the Patriots. This is the worst Super Bowl of all time. Period. Absolute garbage luck, and it is a shame one of the best teams of all time did not win.
2006 — Indianapolis Colts: Again, the rightful champs won the game. This game was actually closer than I remembered. Indianapolis was only up 16-14 at the half. They took over after the break, but with MVP Peyton Manning at the helm, it should not have been as close as it was. What is remarkable is how much Manning carried that team. His #1 offense carried the #27 defense and #26 special teams into the Super Bowl. It is one of the many reasons why Peyton Manning is the GREATEST QB OF ALL TIME, and it is not close (be on the lookout for this article!).
2005 — Seattle Seahawks: Seattle got hosed. Badly. The referees simply blew the game for them by making multiple terrible calls. They were the better team, and it was clear to anyone who watched.
2004 — Philadelphia Eagles: New England was the best team in the league this season. Philadelphia was also a fantastic team, finishing 4th in DVOA. With McNabb, Westbrook, and Terrell Owens, the Eagles were tough to stop. Brady was truly coming into his own as a QB by this point, leading the 4th ranked DVOA offense. HOWEVER, this was during the era of the worst cheating scandal in the modern era of the NFL: Spygate. As you will see during the next 3 Super Bowls, this absolutely egregious and blatant cheating puts the biggest black mark possible this era of football.
****2003 — Indianapolis Colts: On the surface, the right team won this game. This situation is very similar to that of 2015 and 2012. This time, the better team actually won the game. Carolina was an obvious fluke, finishing 18th in DVOA, with Jake Delhomme as the starting QB. This game should not have been as close as it was. HOWEVER, one team cheated and one team didn’t. It’s that simple. At the same time, Carolina was such a fluke, I cannot award them a Super Bowl victory, either. This will be the one time the Super Bowl is awarded to a team, in this case the Colts, who did not play in the game. I simply went to the championship games and analyzed the Colts and Eagles. The Eagles were an above average team (13th DVOA), and the Colts (3rd DVOA) were a great team. I declare the Indianapolis Colts the rightful, non-cheating 2003 Super Bowl champions.
2002 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The rightful champion won the Super Bowl. Oakland was a fantastic team and truly deserving of a Super Bowl appearance. However, they were a clear second to the juggernaut Buccaneers in 2002.
2001 — St. Louis Rams: The Greatest Show on Turf was the best team of 2001, and it wasn’t even close. New England was average in every sense of the word, finishing 16th in DVOA and breaking in a Qb that threw one TD pass THE ENTIRE POSTSEASON.
Add this to the Spygate cheating scandal and this was the easiest decision to change of any on the list.
Let me be clear: none of these changes have anything to do with where I live, nor any bias whatsoever. I do not “hate New England because I want to be New England.” I am not jealous. There’s no other ridiculous explanation. As clearly shown, I actually awarded the Patriots two Super Bowls they did not win. Why? They did not cheat and absolutely deserved to win both. In fact, I discussed heavily how historically great their 2007 team was. From 2000-2006, they did cheat. A lot. As such, they deserve neither accolades nor acknowledgements for success during that time. A quick reminder:
This cheating scandal was disgusting, and it is not talked about enough. Simply, this is what is right, and it applies to all teams. While I did not go back to 1997-1998, had I done that I would have awarded the Super Bowls won by the Denver Broncos to Green Bay and Atlanta. Why? Denver CHEATED.
Most have not heard about this. This is another egregious rules violation that cannot go unchecked. If you do not follow the rules, this is what results. I did not want this to turn into a New England Patriots article, but this needed to be clarified. If you ask me, 10 out of the 16 Super Bowls in this era of modern football were won by the wrong team, whether because they were worse than their opponent or because they cheated. It is remarkable how flukey the Super Bowl is and how often the game is won by the lesser team. Hopefully, it begins to correct itself sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we will continue to see poor narratives about individual players’ legacies based on the results of a single (team) game.