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Sunday we move on to the 55th edition of the Super Bowl (or if you’re a stickler who still fights over the fact that the first four “Super Bowls” were AFL-NFL Championship Games), this Sunday will feature the 51st NFL title game.
There’s been plenty of great games, great moments, and even great teams over the years that have defined a decade or been part of a dynasty, making the NFL the world’s most popular sport.
On the other hand, there’s been plenty of teams that you likely were quick to forget when it came to winning a Super Bowl, teams that frankly were pretty “blah” when it came to any sort of identity and teams that at the end of the day didn’t seem to be the cream of the crop in the league.
Today with Sunday’s game closing in we take a look at 10 of those “blah” teams, highlighting what we call the “10 Super Bowl Champions That Had No Business Winning The Big Game.”
Feel free to leave a comment if you think there was a better option, or if one these teams was just that good and we missed the boat on them.
10. 2015 Denver Broncos (Super Bowl 50)
Denver boasted the league’s top defense in 2015, and for the first half of the season they looked like world beaters, but then the bottom seemed to drop out when starting quarterback Peyton Manning went down with an injury.
The Broncos had lost in the divisional round of the playoffs during three of the previous four seasons, and the team felt it had enough of John Fox, and brought in Gary Kubiak to take his place. Kubiak was a coach that GM John Elway knew well from him being the HOF QB’s backup during the 1980’s.
Denver started 7-0, but had major flaws, including Manning leading the league in picks before in week 10 he suffered a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.
Brock Osweiler took over and played okay, as he helped Denver eventually land the #1 seed in the AFC in the last week of the regular season.
Manning came back, and wrapped up the season with a career-low 67.9 passer rating, throwing for 2,249 yards and nine touchdowns, with 17 picks. Osweiler threw for 1,967 yards, putting up 10 TD’s to six interceptions.
The team got past a beat up Steelers squad without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell in the Divisional Round, and in the AFC Title game it was Manning outplaying old rival Tom Brady, beating New England 20–18 after a failed two-point conversion by the Pats with 17 seconds left.
The Super Bowl was one shining moment for the Broncos, as their defense stopped the 15-1 Carolina Panthers, forcing Cam Newton into a couple huge mistakes while the Broncos offense was pretty bad, amassing just 194 yards and 11 first downs.
Four turnovers sealed the 24-10 win for Denver as Manning finished his career like his GM in Elway did, winning a Super Bowl and celebrating at midfield with the Lombardi Trophy.
9. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Super Bowl XXXVII)
Just about all anyone remembers about the 2002 Bucs was the fact that they had inherited Jon Gruden as their head coach, and coming over from Oakland he knew all too well about his old team by the time they went to battle in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The Buccaneers defense was their strength in 2002, as they led the NFL in total defense (252.8 yards per game), pass defense (155.6 yards per game) and points allowed (12.3 points per game).
The 12-4 Bucs took home the NFC South, earning a playoff home game against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional round, a game they dominated again with their D by a final of 31-6.
Many felt they were doomed the next week, heading to the final ever game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to play in the cold against an Eagles team that seemed destined to get back to the Super Bowl.
Instead again it was Gruden’s defense that led the way, and the offense led by Brad Johnson and company did just enough, as a late pick six by Ronde Barber sealed a 27-10 win and a trip to San Diego for the Super Bowl.
The week leading up to the big game was highlighted by Gruden playing the role in practice of Raiders QB Rich Gannon, and overall the Bucs knew everything there was to know about the Raiders during the 48-21 blowout.
The Bucs clinched the win with two pick sixes in the final 1:18, turning what could have been a respectable 34-21 final into a 48-21 blowout.
The following season the Bucs clearly had a Super Bowl hangover, as they went 7-9 and haven’t been heard from since, that is until the team was able to sign some QB named Tom Brady in the 2020 offseason.
8. 1970 Baltimore Colts (Super Bowl V)
No cheating – who was the coach of the Colts in 1970? No, it wasn’t Don Shula, who had a messy divorce with the Colts the offseason prior to head to Miami to be the coach of the Dolphins.
It was Don McCafferty, who led Baltimore to an impressive 11-2-1 mark, helped out by a rebirth of 37-year-old quarterback Johnny Unitas.
The Colts all season had to hear about the loss in Super Bowl III to the 18-point underdog New York Jets, who beat them in the big game 16-7 in a game that simply ate away at many of the Colts stars.
By 1970 the team’s sole focus was to get to the Super Bowl and this time close it out. The Colts beat the Bengals and Raiders at home to advance to the Super Bowl in Miami to go up against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys.
It was a Super Bowl to forget, as the two teams combined for 11 turnovers, and a combined 4-for-24 on third downs.
There was no flow whatsoever to the game, as the teams played super tight throughout. The game was tied at 13 all with 7:35 left when Tom Nowatzke scored on a two-yard touchdown run.
Then in the final minutes on a 2nd-and-35 Dallas QB Craig Morton threw a pass that slipped through the hands of running back Dan Reeves and bounced for an interception into the arms of Colts linebacker Mike Curtis.
Curtis got the ball to the Dallas 28, and with five seconds left it was Jim O’Brien nailing a 32-yard field goal to make it 16-13 Colts.
It took two years, but the Colts finally got redemption for what happened two years earlier against Joe Namath and the Jets.
7. 2011 New York Giants (Super Bowl XLVI)
The 2011 Giants were built on a legacy of two things, Eli Manning and his heroics in the postseason, and the team’s epic win over Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
This Giants team was pretty average, as they ranked 25th of 32 teams in points scored in 2011, putting up 25 points per game.
The team went 9-7, and it was going to take two road wins to get to Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of Super Bowl XLVI.
The team sported a four-game losing streak in November into December to put them at 6-6, but won three of their last four to end the year at 9-7.
They beat up the Atlanta Falcons at home in the NFC Wild Card game 24-2, and then had to go on the road to take on Aaron Rodgers and a Packers team that was 15-1 during the regular season.
The Giants played the aggressor, scoring 10 points in the final 1:51 of the first half to go up 20-10 at half. The backbreaker was Hakeem Nicks pulling in a 37-yard hail mary on the final play of the half to put the G-Men up 10.
They team dominated from there, taking a 30-13 lead with 6:48 to play, stamping their ticket to the NFC Title game in San Francisco the following week.
Many thought the Niners, who entered the game 14-3, would beat up the Giants, but again never underestimate Tom Coughlin and Manning.
The game went into overtime tied at 17, and the Giants were able to create a huge turnover on a punt return as the Niners Kyle Williams put the ball on the ground, giving New York a great chance to win the game.
They did just that, as Lawrence Tynes hit a 31-yard field goal to seal the 20-17 win.
Super Bowl XLVI was expected by many to be “Brady’s Revenge” for what happened a few years prior in Glendale when the Giants spoiled the Pats chance at going undefeated.
On this day the Giants took a 9-0 lead after one quarter, only to watch the Pats take a 10-9 halftime lead.
The nip and tuck affair saw the Pats go up 17-9 on an Aaron Hernandez score, but the Giants came back with two field goals to make it 17-15.
The tightly played fourth quarter saw Manning hit a pass play to Mario Manningham to set up the winning score, which was an Ahmad Bradshaw six-yard run with 57 seconds left.
Once again it was a Giants team spoiling the Pats dynasty, and at that time no one beat the Patriots, more so twice on the biggest stage.
6. 2018 New England Patriots (Super Bowl LIII)
New England getting to the Super Bowl was commonplace at this point, and after going 11-5 and earning the second-seed in the AFC, it was almost expected they would get to the Bowl yet again.
This team in a lot of way didn’t have the mojo of Pats teams of the past, but maybe that’s what made them so special, as they ranked 4th of 32 teams in points for that season, and 7th of 32 teams in terms of giving up points.
The club started fast in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, beating the San Diego Chargers 41-28, setting up an epic game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs.
Tom Brady turned on his magic again, and in a shootout played in sub-zero temps, the Pats were just a little bit better as they outlasted the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime, taking the ball on their first drive and scoring a touchdown for the win.
Many felt Super Bowl LIII would be another offensive showcase as the Pats took on the Los Angeles Rams, a game that many felt would be along the lines of 35-31 or some score similar to that.
Instead, it was a game that was dominated by the New England defense, as they won their sixth title with a ho-hum 13-3 win.
The Pats D held the Rams to 260 yards, amassing 407 yards of their own. This wasn’t a team that many felt could win yet another title, and while it did, it truly marked the end of the Pats dynasty as they were knocked out in the wild card game the following year.
5. 1995 Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XXX)
Barry Switzer had the responsibility of trying to get Dallas back to the promised land after Jimmy Johnson led Dallas to a pair of Super Bowl wins in 1992 and 1993 over the Buffalo Bills.
The Cowboys went 12-4, but many saw a number of weak spots, starting with the fact they had issues closing out tight games, losing back-to-back games to the Redskins and Eagles to kickoff December.
They had a memorable performance the last week of the regular season 37–13 on Christmas night in Arizona to clinch the NFC East with 12 wins, and in the postseason they pounded the Eagles in the Divisional round 30-11.
Many felt it would be Dallas and San Francisco in the NFC Title game, but the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre upset the Niners, setting up a trip to Dallas for the right to play for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Dallas outplayed the Pack, and outscored them, as they beat Green Bay 38-27 to advance to play the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
The Cowboys were double digit favorites to beat the Steelers, and midway in the second quarter they lead Pittsburgh 13-0 and it looked like a route.
Then the Steelers rallied, and cut it to 13-7 at half, and in the second half got within 20-17 with 6:36 to play and they had the ball.
Dallas was shutdown on offense, and the Steelers were in stride on offense, but a huge mistake by Neil O’Donnell who threw two crushing picks to MVP Larry Brown, gave Dallas a short field and they clinched the game with an Emmitt Smith score.
This was the end of the Cowboys era, as they haven’t been back to a Super Bowl since, playing in 14 postseason games since that day in Tempe, AZ, amassing a mark of 4-10.
4. 1980 Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XV)
The Raiders were 11-5 in 1980, and had a season that seemed to have a number of ups and downs unlike many Super Bowl clubs.
The team sat at 2-3 at one point, but won six in a row before losing to the eventual NFC Champion Eagles to fall to 8-4.
Jim Plunkett was inserted into the lineup after an injury knocked out Dan Pastorini who was just 2-3 as a starter.
Plunkett, a former Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 18 touchdowns and 16 picks during the season, while their running game was led by Mark van Eeghen who ran for 838 yards and five scores.
The team qualified as a wild card club after they lost out on the AFC West to the Chargers. The Raiders easily beat up former quarterback Ken Stabler and the Houston Oilers 27-7 in the wild card round, setting up a road divisional game in Cleveland.
In a game played in minus 20 wind chill, the Raiders hung tough with the favored Browns, and had a 14-12 lead late in the fourth quarter.
The Browns though drove deep into Raiders territory, when Brian Sipe tried a pass to Ozzie Newsome in the end zone, and Mike Davis stepped in front of it to make the pick to seal the 14-12 win.
The next week Oakland was more in their element, as they went to San Diego and put up 21 first quarter points in eventually holding off the favored Chargers 34-27 to advance to Super Bowl XV.
The Super Bowl played at the SuperDome in Louisiana saw the Eagles and Raiders go to battle, and it was the Oakland defense that was the story.
They forced four Eagles turnovers, and Plunkett threw three touchdowns in the win. The MVP was Rod Martin, who set a Super Bowl record with three interceptions.
Again a decent team that was able to put it all together, but clearly not one of the great NFL teams of all-time.
3. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XL)
Don’t remember much about this Steelers team that finally won their 5th Super Bowl in early 2006? That’s okay, all you need to know is that Jerome Bettis went out in his hometown of Detroit a champion, and that was the overwhelming storyline all week leading up to the affair against Seattle.
The Steelers were 7-5 at one point in the season, and had to win their last four games just to qualify for the postseason.
From there they went to Cincinnati and got revenge on the Bengals, who had beaten them earlier in Heinz Field to basically clinch the AFC North.
The following week they played maybe their most memorable game in years, as they stopped the #1 seed Indianapolis Colts 21-18 after building an early lead and hanging on.
The AFC Title Game was a blowout for the Steelers, as they beat up Jake Plummer and the Broncos in Denver to send them to Ford Field in Detroit for the 40th Super Bowl.
Seattle fans will tell you the game was fixed as the officials made some very questionable calls, but in the end Pittsburgh outplayed the Hawks, who entered the game with the number one offense in the NFL.
Bettis retiring on stage was the most memorable moment of the night, and while it wasn’t a team that reminded you of the 70’s Steel Curtain, it was enough to clinch a title.
2. 2000 Baltimore Ravens (Super Bowl XXXV)
All you need to know about this Super Bowl champion team was that Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback when the team took the field in Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants.
Everyone remembers one thing about this Ravens team, and that was how good their defense was.
They ended the season ranked first in points allowed at just 10.3 points per game, and that was enough for the club to go from 5-4 to winning seven straight to end the year 12-4.
The Ravens offense was mediocre at best, but they did have a solid rookie running back in Jamal Lewis, who ran for 1364 yards and six touchdowns.
The postseason saw Baltimore shutdown the Broncos 21-3 at home, then land their first postseason upset in Tennessee against the Titans, beating them 24-10.
The AFC Title game in Oakland saw the Ravens defense lay the smack down on Rich Gannon and the Raiders offense, as they knocked him out of the game and scored more than enough on offense for a 16-3 win.
The Super Bowl was another defensive showcase by the Ravens, as they held the Giants to seven points in a 34-7 runaway to give the Ravens their first Super Bowl championship.
The team dumped Dilfer following the Super Bowl, but it was enough to finally land long time owner Art Modell the Lombardi trophy.
1. 2006 Indianapolis Colts (Super Bowl XLI)
After years of getting close, the Colts finally got over the hump of Tom Brady and the Patriots, beating them in the AFC Title game at home setting up a matchup with the Chicago Bears in rainy Miami.
Peyton Manning helped the Colts offense amass 430 yards in the title game, while the Indy defense which finally had stepped up in the postseason held Chicago to just 265 yards.
The Colts season saw the team go through a stretch where they allowed not just a few, but massive chunks of yards on the ground.
After the team started 9-0 the club went 3-4 in their final seven games, at one point giving up 375 yards rushing to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Many counted the Colts out, but somehow in the postseason their defense quickly got right, as they started the postseason with a home win over the Kansas City Chiefs 23-8.
The next week the team went on the road to Baltimore, and they played a close affair against the Ravens, a game that came down to the kicking foot of Adam Vinatieri, who nailed five field goals in a 15-6 win.
The Pats beat the #1 seed Chargers to set up yet another encounter in the AFC Title game in Indianapolis, and while the Colts found themselves down 21-6 at half, they rallied to get the win when Marlon Jackson picked off Brady in the final seconds to seal the win.
No one recalls that fondly this Colts team, with many thinking it was just a matter of time before they finally were able to hoist a Lombardi Trophy.
While they did it against Rex Grossman and the Bears, it was a win that Colts fans had long waited for as they celebrated their first title since moving to Indianapolis.