The 5 Worst Super Bowl Teams Since the Turn of the Century
Sometimes the Super Bowl doesn't represent the best teams in the NFL, but rather the most resilient teams -- the ones who go on runs and make plays when it matters. In a single-elimination tournament, anything is possible.
Teams like the '05 Steelers or the '07 Giants are champions -- there's nothing taking that away. But, as we all know, they weren't the best teams in the league when they won those Super Bowls. They weren't one seeds. They didn't go 14-2 or 13-3. They won when it mattered, and that's why they're champions. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were the most talented teams in the NFL that season.
So, naturally, I wanted to find out which Super Bowl teams -- out of the 30 we've seen over the last 15 years -- were the worst analytically. To do this, I looked at each Super Bowl team's nERD score since 2000. nERD is a nice, clean number that represents the number of points you'd expect a team to win by on a neutral field versus an average opponent. If, say, the Steelers have a nERD of 2.00, that means you'd expect them to win by two points against an average team (one that would have a nERD of zero). If they faced a team with a nERD of -3.00, the expectation would be that they'd win by five points on a neutral field.
Got it? Good. Let's take a look at the five worst teams we've seen in the Super Bowl since 2000.
5. 2011 New York Giants (nERD: 3.00)
A few years ago, Eli Manning led the Giants to a Super Bowl win after going 9-7 in the regular season. The team's point differential during the regular season that year was -6, which is just rough evidence that they weren't a strong group.
As a unit, the Giants' defense in 2011 ranked 18th in the NFL in terms of Adjusted (for strength of schedule) Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP). Offensively, they ranked ninth.
Interestingly enough, the 2011 Patriots team that lost to the Giants was the ninth-worst squad New England has had since 2000. Maybe that's why the G-Men were able to take them down.
4. 2012 Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 1.72)
An even worse Super Bowl winner? Joe Flacco's 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
You can't deny the team went on a ridiculous Super Bowl run, perhaps aided by a little luck (I'm looking at you, Rahim Moore). But in the regular season, the Ravens were just a little above average, with a 16th-ranked offense and a 14th-ranked defense.
According to nERD, the 49ers -- the team Baltimore beat in the big game -- were the ninth-best Super Bowl team since 2000. Good on you, Ravens.
3. 2007 New York Giants (nERD: 0.52)
It was one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history -- you didn't think it'd find its way onto this list?
The 2007 Giants epitomized what it meant to be an underdog. The undefeated Patriots were 12-point favorites against them, sporting a nERD of 19.08, over 4.5 points better than any other team in our database. The Giants, meanwhile, were average. Really average. In the regular season, Coughlin's group ranked 18th on offense in terms of schedule-adjusted NEP, and 14th on the defensive side of the ball.
But they won, because football is awesome.
2. 2008 Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 0.00)
Speaking of football being awesome, perhaps no Super Bowl was more up-and-down than the one that took place in February of 2009. The Steelers were seven-point favorites over Kurt Warner's Cardinals, who went on an incredibly surprising run after losing four of their final six regular season games. (Who needs momentum?)
That year, Arizona had just a +1 point differential, going 9-7. The defense, according to our metrics, ranked 25th best in the league during the regular season.
Arizona's 0.00 nERD represents a completely average team. That year, the Steelers had a nERD of 11.01. It would've been huge if the Cards won that game.
1. 2003 Carolina Panthers (nERD: -1.00)
And finally, we have the Carolina Panthers. More specifically, we have Jake Delhomme's Carolina Panthers.
In 2003, the Panthers were really overrated. They went 11-5 and won the NFC South, but they finished with a nERD of -1.00 -- they were a below average team. The offense ranked 24th within our NEP metric, while the defense was 11th.
Jacksonville ranked higher than Carolina in nERD that season (the Panthers were 17th).
They made it to the big game though, and if you remember, the game itself was a thriller. The Panthers and Patriots would play incredible defense, and then all of a sudden, the game would become a shootout -- 37 freaking points were scored in the fourth quarter.
This was also the Janet Jackson game. Yeah, now you remember.
If the Panthers had won that game, we'd be talking about one of the worst Super Bowl champions in NFL history. Instead, they were just another team fortunate to be there -- perhaps the most fortunate of any team we've ever seen.