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At the start of the new season, every team has hope. Well, just about every team. And that made me wonder: how did Super Bowl champions look in the year before winning the Super Bowl?

The Jets were at -5.0 in the SRS last year: has any team ever been that bad (or worse) and won the Super Bowl the next season? Why yes, one — and only one — team has. The graph below shows the SRS ratings of each Super Bowl champion in the year before they won the Super Bowl. Note that I’m still using the Super Bowl year in the graph below, so if you go to 1972, you’ll see the 1971 Dolphins’ SRS.

tm srs sb n-1

The 1980 49ers, hamstrung by a particularly bad defense, had an SRS of -6.2. And while they had Joe Montana, he was not yet “Joe Montana” — after all, don’t you remember the calls for his head in September ’81?

Only two other Super Bowl champions had negative SRS ratings in the prior year, and those teams are no surprise: the ’99 Rams and ’01 Patriots, two of the most surprising Super Bowl champions ever.

What if we break down SRS into its two components?

Defensive SRS

The ’81 49ers are the Super Bowl champion with the worst defense (SRS of -5.0) in the prior year. The second worst? The ’09 Saints.

def srs sb n-1

Offensive SRS

Five Super Bowl champions had negative SRS grades on offense1 the year before they won the Super Bowl: the ’01 Patriots, ’99 Rams,’ 85 Bears, ’00 Ravens, and ’81 49ers.

off srs sb n-1

And, if you want to just look at the raw numbers, here you go. The table below shows the offensive, defensive, and total SRS grades for each Super Bowl champion in the season before they won it all.

YearTmOffDefTot
1966GNB1.210.511.7
1967GNB3.51013.5
1968NYJ3.6-1.22.4
1969KAN3.810.114
1970BAL0.52.53
1971DAL2.54.57
1972MIA2.45.37.7
1973MIA4.56.511
1974PIT4.84.18.9
1975PIT2.34.56.8
1976OAK5.51.36.8
1977DAL0.544.5
1978PIT3.92.36.2
1979PIT2.65.68.2
1980OAK3.803.8
1981SFO-1.2-5.1-6.2
1982WAS2.2-1.21
1983RAI6-0.95.1
1984SFO5.738.7
1985CHI-1.76.44.7
1986NYG2.11.83.9
1987WAS3.52.15.5
1988SFO8.84.213.1
1989SFO3.11.74.8
1990NYG1.94.66.4
1991WAS4.60.85.4
1992DAL3.70.84.4
1993DAL6.43.59.9
1994SFO9.9-0.39.7
1995DAL5.64.510.1
1996GNB3.52.56
1997DEN3.73.97.6
1998DEN8.12.610.7
1999STL-2.30-2.3
2000BAL-1.62.50.9
2001NWE-2.70.2-2.5
2002TAM0.73.34
2003NWE2.11.94
2004NWE2.14.96.9
2005PIT3.45.69
2006IND5.65.210.8
2007NYG1.2-1.10.1
2008PIT0.94.35.2
2009NOR6.8-2.84
2010GNB6.31.17.4
2011NYG1.70.42.1
2012BAL2.63.56.1
2013SEA4.57.712.2
2014NWE4.51.45.9

Enjoy!

  1. Note that I am not using the new, offensive-only SRS scores Thomas McDermott produced on Thursday. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    Really strange how a 1981 sportswriter could be so wrong about Joe Montana, in that era, young QBs were expected to take a few years to develop. Montana barely played in his rookie year of 1979, and showed improvement in 1980. His great comeback win late that season against New Orleans should have given hope for the future.

    The other aspect of 1981 was the impact of starting rookies in the secondary, that was controversial at the time, but really paid off. The 1980 49ers had retreads on defense, and it showed. Also, the ’81 Niners acquired Fred Dean during the season, a huge deal the likes we rarely see anymore.

  • Jason

    Good stuff! I didn’t see any averages computed, so here’s what I got:

    Averages:
    Off = +3.2
    Def = +2.9
    Tot = +6.1

    Averages since realignment (starting with 2002):
    Off = +3.3
    Def = +2.7
    Tot = +6.0

    I expect it’s easier– or at least, more probable– to make a big one-year jump in defensive quality.