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Guest Post: How Good Was The Super Bowl Champ Last Year?

Longtime commenter Jason Winter has chimed in with today’s guest post. Jason is a part-time video game journalist and full-time sports fan. You can read more of him at his blog: https://jasonwinter.wordpress.com/, and follow him on twitter at @winterinformal.

As always, we thank Jason for contributing. He submitted this article a couple of weeks before the season began, but I was a bit tardy in posting. But hey, it’s still relevant.

A couple of months ago, I happened upon Peter King’s NFL power rankings, where he listed Baltimore as his #1 team. “Really?” I thought. I mean, they were pretty good last year, going 10-6, but they were the #6 seed in the AFC and hadn’t done anything really notable in the offseason. Surely you wouldn’t rank them above obvious powerhouses like Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Indianapolis, or Denver, right?

We know that the best teams in any given year rarely are the best the next year. And sometimes teams can have complete turnarounds – for better (like the 1998-1999 Rams) or worse (like the 1993-1994 Oilers). But how uncommon would it be for a team like the 2014 Ravens to actually be the best team – or at least the Super Bowl winner – the next year?

Excluding the years following the two strike-shortened years, I took every Super Bowl-winning team in the NFL in the 16-game-season era and looked at how good they were the year before winning it all. I charted each team’s wins and SRS the previous year, as well as their league-wide rank in wins and SRS in those years. In case of ties, I averaged out the ordinal rankings, which is why you’ll see several fractional rankings in the table below.

Year NChampionYear N-1 winsYear N-1 rankYear N-1 SRSYear N-1 SRS rank
2014New England1245.98
2011New York Giants10102.113
2010Green Bay1167.45
2009New Orleans81949.5
2007New York Giants816.50.117
2004New England1416.94
2003New England913.548
2002Tampa Bay912.548
2001New England525-2.522
1999St. Louis426-2.317
1996Green Bay11465
1994San Francisco1079.71
1990New York Giants1226.44
1989San Francisco1084.86
1986New York Giants109.53.98
1984San Francisco105.58.72
1981San Francisco620-6.225

Some observations, all of which carry the qualifier of applying to teams that played 16-game seasons:

* The average team to win the Super Bowl in year N had 10.4 wins in Year N-1 (Baltimore had 10 in 2014), with a win rank of 8.6 (Baltimore: 11.5). Super Bowl Year N winners had an average 5.3 SRS (Baltimore: 4.6) in Year N-1, with an average rank of 7.8 (Baltimore: 8).

So, by those measures, King’s prediction of Baltimore as the best team in the NFL in 2015 doesn’t seem that absurd. The Ravens are below average by all four measures, though not exceptionally so.

* 9 of 34 (26.5%) Super Bowl winners didn’t qualify for the playoffs in their previous season. That seems unusually high to me, but maybe gives hope to fans in Philadelphia, San Diego, and Kansas City this year.

* Four times has a team with more wins than any other team in the NFL won the Super Bowl the following year: Pittsburgh in 1979, the year following the first 16-game-season, and, curiously, three years in a row, from 2004 to 2006. None of those teams were the only team with the most wins the year of their Super Bowl victories.

* The worst team to win the Super Bowl the next year? In terms of wins (4) and win rank (26), it was the 1998-99 Rams, but their -2.3 SRS in 1998 was actually almost around league average (17th). The 1980 49ers, as you might recall, had two more wins but a hideous -6.2 SRS, good for 25th in the league – out of 28 teams!

* It was an odd stretch from 1999 to 2003, when each Super Bowl winner had fewer than 10 wins the previous year, and four of the five never even made the playoffs. That was coming on the heels of 14 straight seasons of Super Bowl winners nabbing 10+ wins the previous year, and all of them making the playoffs.

* Then again, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the 8-8 1999 Ravens won the Super Bowl the next year. There were nine 8-8 teams that year, probably sparking any number of “Parity has come to the NFL” headlines.

* I think I knew this at the time, but it’s worth repeating. The 10-6 2010 Giants didn’t qualify for the playoffs. The 9-7 2011 Giants won the Super Bowl.

* Teams with win totals from four to 15 have won Super Bowls the following season – except for seven. Sorry, Vikings, Browns, and Saints fans (and fans of the 7-8-1 Panthers – no team with a tie has ever won the Super Bowl the next year either).

So, when you make your predictions, maybe you be like Peter King and go out on a limb and choose a feisty nine- or 10-win team instead of the obvious juggernauts. They might just surprise you.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Baltimore’s hopes for the Super Bowl just took a huge hit with the loss of Terrell Suggs, so I’m not sure about the Ravens making it back to the Super Bowl. There seems to be such a wide range of win totals for different SB winners in the history of that game, I’m not sure we can predict who will take it all this season.

    In terms of determining the best team, we’ll have to stick with on field results, unless a better system can be developed. I don’t want to see a best of three format in the playoffs with the SB played in March. I don’t think it’s too much to ask a real champion to win the games in exchange for the immortality of the honor. The 2007 Patriots had countless plays in SB 44 to change the outcome, and simply weren’t good enough to do so. They were even familiar with the Giants, having beaten them in the regular season.

  • Richie

    I assume that the Super Bowl winner isn’t always the “best” team from a given season. (Though I was surprised to see that New England had the best SRS last year. I assumed it was Seattle.)

    The 2013 Seahawks had the most wins and best SRS. Before that the last team to have the most wins AND the highest SRS AND win the Super Bowl was the 1996 Packers! So after 16 years of “the best” team NOT winning the Super Bowl, we’ve done it 2 years in a row. Part of that just shows how difficult it is for a team to have the most wins AND the best SRS.

    So, Peter King could correctly predict that the Ravens are the best team, but they could end up not winning the Super Bowl.

    My question to Jason – based on this, how easy would it be for you to use wins and/or SRS to determine the “best” team instead of Super Bowl champion?

  • Perrypiro

    So at least 8 wins as the low since ’02 to win a Super Bowl as set by the 08-09 Saints. 13 years is pretty good for that trend but as we’ve recently those can be wiped out very quickly. Another thing that is probably more coincidential but interesting nonetheless is the starting QB-coach combo of the Super Bowl winner has made the playoffs at least once in a prior season to the championship season since 2003. The Saints won a Super Bowl in 2009 and Brees/Payton made it to the playoffs three season prior. But a block of 11 years through 2014 and seems like a tenuous streak at best. You could eliminate a lot of teams this year looking for a Super Bowl winner with this trend,