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.
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?
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.
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.
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.