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Checkdowns: Beating both Super Bowl participants

Belichick does not approve of this table.

Over at the PFR Blog, we used to post Checkdowns from time to time, shorter posts that were often just data dumps. Every once in awhile a random question would come to mind and we usually had the database power to answer the question. So after spending a few minutes get our results, but there was little more to say. The question had been answered, but there wasn’t enough to write a full post (or we weren’t interested in analyzing the results any further). But why hide the results?

So today I’m bringing the Checkdowns category to Football Perspective. I was wondering how often a team defeated both eventual Super Bowl participants in the same season. There have been 42 Super Bowl champions since the merger (no team could have done this in the pre-merger era), and surprisingly, 16 teams have accomplished this feat. Most recently, the 2010 Patriots defeated both the Steelers and Packers (playing with Matt Flynn and not Aaron Rodgers). The table below lists all 16 teams, with linkable boxscores to the games in question. I’ve also shown the team’s overall record and winning percentage during the regular season. As always, all columns are sortable.

TeamYearSB WinnerSB LoserWin %Record
NWE2010GNB 31-27PIT 39-260.87514-2-0
PHI2008PIT 15-6ARI 48-200.5949-6-1
NYG2008PIT 21-14ARI 37-290.75012-4-0
JAX2005PIT 23-17SEA 26-140.75012-4-0
PIT2004NWE 34-20PHI 27-30.93815-1-0
WAS2000BAL 10-3NYG 16-60.5008-8-0
TEN2000BAL 14-6NYG 28-140.81313-3-0
DAL1996GNB 21-6NWE 12-60.62510-6-0
MIA1993DAL 16-14BUF 22-130.5639-7-0
SEA1986NYG 17-12DEN 41-160.62510-6-0
MIA1985CHI 38-24NWE 30-270.75012-4-0
CLE1981SFO 15-12CIN 20-170.3135-11-0
SDG1980OAK 30-24PHI 22-210.68811-5-0
DAL1980OAK 19-13PHI 35-270.75012-4-0
SDG1979PIT 35-7RAM 40-160.75012-4-0
RAM1978PIT 10-7DAL 27-140.75012-4-0

While some of these teams were in the same division as a Super Bowl participant, none of them swept their division foe and also defeated the Super Bowl representative from the other conference.

Each team on the list has its own interesting story. The 1981 Browns won just 5 games, but managed to beat both the 49ers and Bengals that season. The Don CoryellDan Fouts Chargers appear on this list in consecutive years. In 1979, San Diego blew out Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and finished the year with the NFL’s best record. But in one of the most improbable upsets in playoff history, the Houston Oilers and shocked San Diego and won, 17-14. In 1980, San Diego went 11-5 and won close games over both the Raiders and Eagles. After defeating Buffalo in the division round of the playoffs, Oakland upset San Diego 34-27 in the AFC Championship Game en route to becoming the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl.

What sticks out to you on the table?

  • Andrew

    I’m actually quite impressed that 3 separate times, both SB contenders were beaten by two different teams. Obviously, the SB contenders will be amongst the best teams in the league and almost certainly win most of their games. When you combine that with how few teams are played by both eventual SB teams, it’s a little strange that it happens that frequently. Aside from that, I find the grouping at the bottom of the list (’78, ’79, ’80) quite amusing. The number of times the same teams all pop up in different colummns would seem to show that those teams (SDG, DAL, RAM, PIT) had a ton of talent and were really dominant (even the Chargers, despite their lack of postseason success).

  • Richie

    This reminds me of the stat that used to be mentioned often (up until about 10-12 years ago) how no team that lost to Tampa Bay ever won (or went to?) the Super Bowl.

    I think this was mainly an issue of selection bias. Tampa Bay didn’t beat many teams AT ALL from 1976-1998, so the chances that they could beat somebody who made the Super Bowl was slim.

    How hard would it be for you to research any similar streaks? If we assume that the Tampa Bay streak ran from 1976 to 2000 (maybe you can check this), are there any current 24+ year streaks? When was the last time a team lost to, say, Cleveland or St. Louis and went on to win the Super Bowl?

    • Chase Stuart

      That sound like a future checkdown.

  • Chase Stuart

    Since this article was written:

    1) No team pulled off this feat in 2012.

    2) The Indianapolis Colts beat both the Seahawks and Broncos in 2013.

    3) The Kansas City Chiefs beat both the Seahawks and Patriots in 2014.

  • Since my update below 2 years ago:

    1) No team pulled off this feat in 2015, as the Panthers went 15-1.

    2) The Seahawks did it in 2016, beating both the Falcons and Patriots.