Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Feb 2017

ESPN: Best Super Bowl Runners-Up

Inspired by Brian Fremeau's similar article on losers of the NCAA National Championship, here's a look at the best Super Bowl losers of the last 25 years according to DVOA. These ratings include the playoffs and remove "sit the starters" games. You know the 2007 Patriots are No. 1 but No. 2 and No. 3 are probably a surprise. And, honestly... I may need to look into why we have the 2001 Rams so low next time I go to improve the system.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 09 Feb 2017

7 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2017, 9:42am by Topas


by JIPanick :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 1:26am

I don't have insider, but let me take a guess:

10. 2001 Rams (given)
9. 2005 Seahawks
8. 2011 Patriots
7. 2012 49ers
6. 2010 Steelers
5. 1997 Packers
4. 2002 Raiders
3. 2013 Broncos
2. 2014 Seahawks
1. 2007 Patriots (given)

by ammek :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 1:21pm

I don't have insider either, but I'm not certain the Rams were evidently the best team of 2001. In addition to the flaws you mention in the intro, St Louis only won the turnover battle four times during the regular season (although they managed it twice in the playoffs), pulling out six victories in games where they turned the ball over three or four times. DVOA must really hate the game where they outgained the 1-15 Panthers by 10 yards while losing the turnover battle 3-1. However, the St Louis defense scored a pick-six on seven (26%) of its 27 interceptions, while its opponents had returned just one (4%) of 23 for a score prior to the Superbowl.

In addition, the Rams were below average in all aspects of special teams, including an abysmal showing on kickoffs (dead last in the league) and kickoff returns (third-last). This was somewhat disguised by their having the second most favorable adjustment between VOA and DVOA. Ignoring special teams, the Rams are clearly the top team of 2001, but the Eagles' all-time great special teams were better than than theirs by more than 15 percentage points of DVOA.

The schedule was kinda funky in 2001. The top quartile by DVOA played the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, 15th and 18th easiest schedules. (Champion New England, which finished outside the top quartile, played the 3rd easiest schedule.) This was mirrored at the bottom, where the worst teams faced the toughest opposition. I can't find another season where the schedules were so polarized.

It's also unique, I think, for a team (Philadelphia, of course!) to finish #1 in season-long DVOA but only tenth in weighted DVOA, especially as their record down the stretch (4-2, plus a Week 17 win with backups) was no worse than their 6-3 start. Quite why weighted DVOA was so high on NFC East rival Washington is a mystery: it finished third – ahead of the Rams – in weighted DVOA, but 17th over the whole season. That was Schottenheimer Sr's lone year in charge: an 0-5 start, a 5-0 middle, and a 3-3 finish, but most of the wins were narrow over unexceptional opponents.

ETA: When Aaron wrote the commentary for 2001, back in the dial-up era, the Rams finished #1 with 39.6% DVOA. Several reworkings later, they're down to #2 with 25.9% DVOA. Any chance that during the offseason you could guide us through some of the changes that DVOA has undergone over time, and how this has affected the numbers for teams such as the 2001 Rams?

by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 5:29pm

I think part of it was the introduction of adjustments for domes on offense/defense, but I can't figure out why it affected their offense so much more than defense. It's something I need to play with.

I wouldn't surprised if special teams changes were also an issue.

by ammek :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 6:59pm

That would make sense. However, the defense was 9.1 percentage points better off when you wrote the commentary, while the changes have knocked 'only' 5.1 percentage points from the offense.

I'd certainly be interested in your findings if you do get a chance to investigate.

by johonny :: Mon, 02/13/2017 - 3:01pm

I going to guess the 1968 Colts who out scored opponents by 258 are high on the list.

by Topas :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:39am

DVOA does not go back to 1968. Only last 25 years as mentioned in the intro.

by Topas :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:42am

I dont have Insider, but I hope there is some love for my 1990 Bills. Closest margin after 4 quarters (excluding this year) and decided on the last play.
Yes, I know, you are not measuring close loss, but DVOA. But nonetheless I would like to get some love for my Bills. Because I am not used to it :)