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Longest streaks as a favorite



On its own, this week five game against San Francisco doesn’t stand out as anything special. The 0-4 Rams were traveling to San Francisco with Jamie Martin at quarterback, who led the team to just 10 points the previous week in Dallas after Kurt Warner broke his pinky finger. The 49ers were coming off of a bye week, and would send Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens to the Pro Bowl, while Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow led a top-six ground game. San Francisco should have, and did, win convincingly.

The reason that’s a notable game is precisely because the 49ers were six-point favorites. That marked the first time since week 2, 1999 — when the Rams had not yet been recognized as the Greatest Show on Turf — that St. Louis was not favored to win a game. For the final 14 regular season games and the three playoff games in 1999, all seventeen games in 2000, all 19 games in 2001, and the first four games in 2002 — a stretch of 57 straight games — the Rams took the field as favorites. That’s the longest streak since 1978, and perhaps ever. And I’m not sure if this makes that fact more of less impressive, but all things considered, the Rams’ record wasn’t that great during the stretch. Part of the reason for the streak was that St. Louis generally had a weak schedule those years, but continually being favored to win games without a great record is an interesting (and rare) sign of respect.

TeamStreakYear StartYear EndRecordStreak Ender
STL571999200240-17-0 vs. SFO
SFO391984198630-9-0 vs. MIA
DAL361981198326-10-0 vs. SFO
PIT351978198026-9-0 vs. HOU
SFO341989199029-5-0 vs. NYG
CHI331985198728-5-0 vs. DEN
SFO291991199324-5-0 vs. DAL
SFO281994199521-7-0 vs. DAL
WAS281991199223-5-0 vs. KAN
DAL271993199423-4-0 vs. SFO
DAL231995199616-7-0 vs. PHI
GNB211997199816-5-0 vs. MIN
DEN211998199917-4-0 vs. TAM
NWE202007200819-1-0 vs. NYJ

The list isn’t too surprising. You have the great ’84 49ers and some residual goodwill going to Joe Montana’s crew second at 39 games. The Cowboys, in the post-Roger Staubach era, made the NFC Championship Game in 1980, 1981, and 1982, so their third-place slot maybe isn’t so surprising. Dallas was favored in the ’81 NFCCG (the “Catch”) and caught a bit of luck facing the ’82 Skins in Washington during the strike (and, in many ways, in what was *the* replacement game). In a sign of how well-regarded this Cowboys team was, remember that in ’82 Washington won the Super Bowl and in ’83 the team was arguably even better, going 14-2 and setting a record for points scored with 541. But Dallas traveled to D.C. in both the ’82 playoffs and the opener of the ’83 season, and was favored in both games. The streak didn’t end until they were a pick’em at San Francisco in the finale of 1983, a game we’ll come back to later. 1

I don’t have points spread data before 1978, so I don’t know if another Steel Curtain team had a longer streak. I can tell you that the streak in the table didn’t start in 1977, as Pittsburgh was a 3-point dog against the Rams in 1978, and the 35-game streak didn’t start until the first playoff game that season.

The 49ers won the Super Bowl in ’88 and ’89, and nearly threepeated. But San Francisco was just 10-6 in 1988, and was an underdog in week 3 of the 1989 season. That came at Veterans Stadium, site of one of Joe Montana’s most famous comebacks: the 49ers were 3-point underdogs, the Eagles defense sacked Montana 8 times, and Philadelphia took a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter. But Montana threw four touchdowns in the final frame, and San Francisco was favored in their next 34 games. One narrative regarding the ’90 Giants, who upset the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, is that they were a gritty underdog in the mold of the ’01 Patriots. That’s not true at all: in the recently released 1990 DVOA regular season ratings, the Giants were number one. Here’s more proof: the Giants were 1.5-point favorites in week 1 of the 1991 season, and beat San Francisco 16-14. I don’t actually know, but I suspect the ’02 Rams would have been something like a six-point favorite if they had opened that season at Foxboro.2

How would the streaks look if we ignored the postseason? Not much would change at the top, although the Rams would drop to 50 games and the 49ers steak that ended in ’86 would be only 35 games long. That matches a later streak from the same franchise: from week 8, 1993, until week 10, 1995, the 49ers were favored in 35 straight regular season games. San Francisco was favored in 39 of 40 total games during that streak, as the 1993 NFC Champinship Game (played in January 1994) in Dallas was the only time the 49ers were underdogs. In fact, those 49ers teams were favorites just about any time they weren’t playing Dallas. In week 7, 1993, the 49ers were 6.5 point underdogs in Dallas, and week 11, 1995, the Elvis Grbac-led team was a 13.5-point underdog in Dallas. That means for 71 straight games, the 49ers were favorites 68 times, and played in Dallas the other three times.3

These guys kept the 49ers as favorites for awhile

These guys kept the 49ers as favorites for awhile.

The ’96 through ’98 49ers were favored in 33 straight regular season games. After a week 7 game in Green Bay against Brett Favre and the Packers, San Francisco was favored in their final 10 games of the year, every game in ’97, and their first seven games of ’98…. until heading back to Lambeau Field. During that streak, the only times the 49ers were underdogs were in two playoff games against Green Bay.

How’s this for impressive: Starting in week 12, 1991, and ending in week 18, 1998, the 49ers played 131 games, including the postseason. They were underdogs in only eight of them: three in games in Dallas (all in years the Cowboys won the Super Bowl), including one in the playoffs; four in games against the Packers (three of which were in Lambeau), two of which were in the playoffs, and one game against Miami, in a game featuring against Dan Marino when Grbac was the starter. And in that game, the 49ers won in Miami 44-20, when Grbac threw for 382 yards and four scores.

But here’s the craziest stat. In week 16 of the 1983 season, the 49ers were a pick’em in a game against the Cowboys. That was the last regular season home game the 49ers weren’t favored to win until facing Warner’s Rams in 1999. That’s a streak of 123 consecutive games! Jerry Rice had already caught 1,175 passes, gained 17,939 receiving yards, and caught 166 touchdowns before he played a regular season home game as an underdog. And the 49ers were not underdogs (as opposed to favorites) in 139 straight regular season games, as including the push against Dallas stretches the streak back to the middle of the ’81 season. Incredible.

In non-49ers news…. excluding the postseason, Washington was favored in 32 straight regular season games from 1990 to 1992, and the Cowboys in 31 straight from ’81 to ’83.

The longest active streak belongs to the Patriots, who are at 18 including their week three matchup against Tampa Bay. But that might change when New England goes to Atlanta in week four. The second-longest active streak belongs to Denver at 14, including the Broncos’ week three game against the Raiders. That one looks pretty safe for awhile. But the obvious takeaway: It’s Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s world, we’re just living in it.

  1. Dallas opened the ’84 season in Los Angeles and was a two-point dog against the Rams, so the “not being an underdog in any game” streak didn’t last much longer. []
  2. Further support: the Rams were 4/1 to win the Super Bowl that year, while the Patriots were at 20/1, per RJ Bell. St. Louis was also an 8.5-point favorite in Foxboro in 1999. For what it’s worth, the ’90 Giants were just 3.5 point underdogs against the 49ers in the greatest game there ever wasn’t. []
  3. San Francisco was also an underdog in week 12, 1995, as Grbac was still the starter in a game in Miami. As for the Cowboys teams of that era…. late in the ’92 season, Dallas was a three-point dog at defending champion Washington. The Cowboys were also an underdog in the NFCCG that year in San Francisco and then in week 1 of the ’93 season in Washington; that was the last time Dallas was an underdog until week 11 of the ’94 season, when they traveled to San Francisco (that ended the 27-game streak in the table). They were favorites the rest of the year, then underdogs in San Francisco in the NFCCG (which they lost). Dallas was then favored in every game until playing in Philadelphia in 1996. []
  • james

    Do you have a list of all the teams that were favored in all of their regular season games?

    • Chase Stuart

      Yes, I can put this on the to-do list.

      • james

        Based on the play index, I got 15 teams that were favored in all 16 games. The 85 Niners and 00 Rams were both 10-6 despite being favored in all 16 games. The best record vs the spread was the 84 49ers 12-4 vs the spread record. The worst record vs the spread in that group is the 86 Bears 6-10 record.

        No team was underdogs in all 16 games, but 39 teams were favored in only 1 game most recently done by the Chiefs and Jaguars last year.

  • Richie

    It’s Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s world, we’re just living in it.

    All my Seahawk friends on Facebook seem to disagree.

    On another note, everybody should take a few minutes to cast some votes in the team ratings: http://footballperspective.tooshay.us/teamrate.php

    Sorry about the errors with Jacksonville and the Jets. I set the system to only include matchups between teams within 250 points of each other, and those 2 teams are now 250+ points away from anybody else. So if you get an error, just reload the page.

    Eventually, I want to post some data tracking the week-by-week progress of the rankings.

  • While I understand the reasoning for it, it’s interesting still that for all of Bill Walsh’s well-deserved accolades, the Seifert-era 49ers were a more consistently dominant team, and these numbers definitely show that. Three of the eight top streaks on that chart are those teams. That’s just frightening.

    • Richie

      I think that these streaks are a bit circumstantial. If you just happen to get to play another great team at home, or the other great teams in your conference seem to change each year, you are less likely to play them. (From the schedule rotation, if the next-best team in year X is not the next-best team in year X+1, you may not play team X+1.) Also, if you have a weak schedule, you are more likely to be favored.

      I assumed the 1990-ish 49ers would have been tops on this list. But the 2000-ish Rams make sense, because the other good NFC teams at that time weren’t great. The Bucs, Giants, Eagles were the teams competing for NFC titles at that time, but none were really great teams.

      • Richie

        From 1981 – 1988 it looks like Walsh was the favorite in 98 out of 120 games (82%), including the 3 scab games. [I began with 1981 because that was the first year that Walsh really had the 49ers as a good team. Seifert had the advantage of starting with a defending Super Bowl champ. The 49ers were only favored 7 times in 1981 – that year hurt him the most.]
        From 1989-1996 Seifert was favored in 121 out of 128 games! (95%).

        It looks like gamblers were more wrong with Walsh. In the 16 games where he was the underdog, the 49ers went 10-6 (straight up). But Seifert was only 3-4 as a dog.

  • DJH

    covers.com reports the Patriots were a 1-point favorite against the Jets on 09/14/08.


    meaning the NE streak would have extended 3 more games, til they were 6 point dogs vs the Chargers.

  • Chase Stuart

    Including the playoffs, the Broncos were favored in 32 consecutive games — the first 2 of the 2014 season, all 19 games in 2013, and the final 11 of the 2012 season (including one playoff game). That’s the 7th longest streak since 1978, but it ends in week 3 of the 2014 season, as the Broncos are a 5-point underdog in Seattle.

    Note: Some sites have the Broncos as 1-point dogs for the Patriots road game in 2013, although PFR has Denver as a 2.5-point favorite for that game.