Every year there are preseason Super Bowl Odds for every team. Sometimes the consensus favorite dominates the league on their way to a championship. There are other times when a team that was not expected to do much in the playoffs takes the league by storm and makes a miraculous run to the Super Bowl. It may be a team that got hot at the right time before the playoffs or a team that becomes a dynasty, but this was their first year of greatness.
Let’s look at five teams who were not Super Bowl favorites when the season started but were the ones who lifted the Lombardi Trophy by season’s end.
5. 2007 New York Giants
The biggest upset in Super Bowl history was the scrappy, hard-nosed New York Giants taking down the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The NFL sportsbook expected the Giants to be a .500 team at the start of the season, and they looked like it when the season started, losing in NFL Week one and NFL Week two. But then they rattled off six straight wins before their NFL Week nine bye week. They finished the season 10-6, ending the season in a hard-fought 38-35 loss versus the Patriots in NFL Week 17. That game was a sign that the unheralded Giants would be a tough matchup for mighty New England.
New York had a winning record, but their stats looked more like those of a .500 team, ranking in the middle of the pack in team offense and defense. The Giants’ defense, led by Michael Strahan, was formidable up front, however, and they flexed their muscles in the playoffs. The group limited the opposing offenses to under 275 total yards in three of its four playoff games. Their play allowed Eli Manning and the New York offense to do just enough to take the team to the Super Bowl, including a dramatic 23-20 overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers. As the Giants were a wild card team, all three of their NFC playoff games were on the road.
The 2007 New England offense was one of the best as Tom Brady and Randy Moss was a combination that was practically unstoppable during the NFL regular season. In the Super Bowl, it was a different story, and New York held the Patriots’ juggernaut to only 14 points. With 2:42 remaining, and the Patriots leading 14-10 lead, Manning led the Giants down the field with the most incredible play in Super Bowl history. Nicknamed “The Helmet Catch,” Manning managed to scramble away from a charging Patriots’ defensive line and hurl the ball, seemingly Hail Mary style, directly into the hands, and helmet, of David Tyree. Tyree pinned the ball to the top of his helmet as he hit the ground, giving the Giants a first down, and Manning capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress for the win.
Manning was named Super Bowl MVP, and the Patriots’ quest for perfection was dashed in what most consider the biggest Super Bowl upset ever.
4. 1981 San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers of the ‘80s are one of the greatest dynasties of all time. But in 1981, they were coming off a 6-10 season, and no one expected them to do much in the postseason. Their Super Bowl betting odds were +5000. San Francisco got off to a slow start, losing two of their first three games. They then proceeded to go on a tear, winning 12 of the next 13 games, and finished the season with a 13-3 record.
Joe Montana and receiver Dwight Clark had a special connection. Clark caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and four touchdowns that year, leading San Francisco in all receiving categories. It culminated in the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys with the “The Catch” and sent them to Super Bowl XVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Both teams were making their Super Bowl debut, and the Bengals had even longer odds to win the Super Bowl at +6000. San Francisco jumped to a 20-0 lead at halftime. While the Bengals tried to claw their way back, the 49ers pushed onward and captured their first Super Bowl Championship 26-21.
San Francisco kick-started their dynasty with the 1981 season, and it kind of came out of nowhere. The 49ers would go on to win four Super Bowls in the decade.
3. 2001. New England Patriots
Another dynasty came out of obscurity when the New England Patriots sent backup Tom Brady on the field to take over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in NFL Week two of the 2001 regular season. New England’s expected win total was 6.5 that year, and like many other teams on the list, they started slow. Losing three of their first four games, the Patriots looked to be in deep trouble with Bledsoe out with a sheared blood vessel and a struggling young quarterback.
After an overtime win against the San Diego Chargers in NFL Week five, the Patriots seemed to turn things around. The team finished the season 11-5, won the AFC East, and faced the Oakland Raiders in the divisional round. This game featured the infamous “Tuck Rule,” where the Raiders caused a fumble in the snow only for an official review to overrule it and give the ball back to New England. The Patriots made their way to Super Bowl XXXVI to take on the St. Louis Rams with that call.
The Rams were a massive favorite in the NFL odds. The line was -14 points in favor of St. Louis. Then the game started, and the New England defense shut down the explosive St. Louis offense, holding them to three points in the first three quarters. Unable to be held down for the whole game, the Rams came storming back in the fourth quarter, and it looked like they were going to be too much for the surprising AFC champions. Tied at 17 and 1:21 to go, Bill Belichick decided to put it in the hands of his young QB and let Brady try to win the game despite having no timeouts remaining.
TB12 threw multiple short passes on his way to the St. Louis 30-yard line. Adam Vinatieri then kicked a walk-off 48-yard field goal to win the Super Bowl. In his second year in the league, Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP, his first of five. The Patriots would go from underdogs to expected yearly champions seemingly overnight, as they had the most dominant 20-year run in NFL history.
2. 2017 Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles had +6000 odds to win the Super Bowl at the start of the 2017 NFL season, but second-year QB Carson Wentz was balling out, and the Eagles emerged as one of the best teams in the league. With their underdog mentality, one embraced by their die-hard fan baseupfront, who often wore dog masks in the stands, the Eagles looked like they would make a run at the post-season. Then Wentz blew out his knee in NFL Week 14, and Philly’s hopes fell. The team was not expected to have much success in the playoffs with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center.
Philadelphia finished the regular season 13-3 and was the number one seed in the NFC. Despite being the top seed, the Eagles were underdogs in every playoff game because the team had a backup starting at quarterback. Undeterred by their critics, Philadelphia succeeded in the NFL playoffs and arrived at US Bank Stadium in Minnesota to take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
The Eagles were 4½ point underdogs in the NFL sportsbook odds. Foles and the Eagles did not hold anything back in the last game of the season, and towards the end of the first half, Foles suggested that head coach Doug Peterson run “Philly Special.” The trick play had Foles pretending to make an audible call, as the center hiked the ball to Corey Clement, who pitched the ball to TE Trey Burton, only to have Burton toss the rock to a wide-open Foles in the endzone. The trick play worked as the Eagles took a 22-12 lead into halftime.
New England made a comeback and took a 33-32 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles fended them off and completed the miraculous playoff run with a 41-33 victory to give Philadelphia their first Super Bowl title.
1. 1999 St. Louis Rams
Looking back, the 1999 St. Louis Rams were an all-time great team. “The Greatest Show on Turf” took the world by storm with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Isaac Bruce. But before the season started, the Rams were at the bottom of the NFL preseason Super Bowl odds. The NFL sportsbook put the team’s win total for the season at over/under 5½ games.
Warner had signed with the Rams in December 1997 after lighting it up in the Arena Football League. He had also played in NFL Europe in 1998 and served as the third-string QB for the Rams behind Tony Banks and Steve Bono. After an injury and a trade before the 1999 season, Warner found himself the starter of the Rams. The previously unknown QB, who had spent some time bagging groceries for a living, went on to throw 4,353 yards and led the league with 41 touchdowns and a 65.1 completion percentage. St. Louis went well over the total and ended the season with a 13-3 record.
Warner, Faulk, and Bruce were all named to the Pro Bowl as the offense averaged 32.9 points a game. With their defense holding their own, at 15.1 points per game, the Rams met the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV in one of the most thrilling endings to a Super Bowl ever.
Both teams struggled to score points in the first half, but St. Louis managed to take a 9-0 lead into halftime. The scoring began to pick up, and then Warner hit Bruce for an electric 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play of a late fourth-quarter drive to take a 23-16 lead. This was the iconic Super Bowl where Titans receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled at the one-yard line as time expired, and the Rams held on to win their first Super Bowl.
Warner was named Super Bowl MVP with his 414 passing yards, two touchdowns with no interceptions. His story from third-string to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in the same season is one of the most remarkable rags-to-riches stories in sports history and clearly deserving of being at the top of our list.
Winning a Super Bowl is one of the hardest things to do in sports. The sportsbook posts the Super Bowl odds before the season, and sometimes the favorites prove their dominance and will lead wire-to-wire and be crowned champions. Other times, a team will emerge from the bottom and surprise the league to win it all. That is what these five teams did.
Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back on the Rams, Patriots, and 49ers, we do not imagine them being underdogs during their eras. Still, before they were a dominant force in the NFL, they had their breakout season that concluded with a Super Bowl victory.
While the Giants and Eagles are remembered for great upsets in the Super Bowl Championship game, it is essential to take a step back and look at the entire season to understand how their playoff run was truly remarkable. No matter how they got there or how they are remembered, these five teams are the greatest longshots ever to win a Super Bowl.