Whether it's placing futures wagers on your favorite team to reach the Super Bowl or football parlay bets the NFL has proven to be the most popular sport to wager on in the United States. As the 2022 season approaches, let's take a look at some of the most unlikely Super Bowl matchups in NFL history.
Before we get started we must first mention the 1946 NFL Championship matchup between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Both teams only had three wins the previous season during the 10-game regular season. A finals matchup of teams that had a losing record in the previous only happened one other time (see #2 below).
#3: Super Bowl XXXV (2000 season) – Baltimore Ravens vs New York Giants
Baltimore was coming off of a .500 season the previous season and entered the season at +2200 to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens defense, led by 4th-year linebacker Ray Lewis, gave up a league best 10 points a game. The additions of rookie running back Jamal Lewis and future HOF'er tight end Shannon Sharpe helped improve the offense as the team went 12-4 during the regular season. They still finished behind the 13-3 Tennessee Titans in the AFC Central and had to win two road games in the playoffs to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
The Giants finished the 1999 season 7-9 and were +6000 to win the Super Bowl – only four other teams in the NFC had worse Super Bowl odds. New York was also led by a strong defense, giving up the 2nd fewest points in the NFC. Their offense featured a running back by committee with Tiki Barber and rookie Ron Dayne as the combined to run for 1,776 yards during the regular season. They also finished 12-4 during the regular season, giving them the #1 seed in the NFC.
#2: Super Bowl XVI (1981 season) – Cincinnati Bengals vs San Francisco 49ers
Both teams went 6-10 in 1980 and were tenth or higher in terms of odds rank to win their respective conferences.
Joe Montana was entering his third year for San Francisco but he had only started eight games in his first two seasons. Montana wasn’t exactly a sure fire Hall-of-Famer at this point as 49ers head coach Bill Walsh was using a quarterback by committee system with Steve DeBerg and Montana late into the 1980 season. In terms of points given up, San Francisco went from the 26th ranked defense in 1980 to second in 1981 thanks in part to arrival of rookie safety Ronnie Lott who was drafted eighth overall in 1981 NFL Draft.
The Bengals run to the Super Bowl was perhaps more surprising as quarterback Ken Anderson had been the starter since 1971. They made the playoffs twice in his first 10 seasons but were a combined 14-34 from 1978 to 1980. Rookie Cris Collinsworth provided a boost, leading the team in touchdown receptions and topping the 1,000 receiving yards mark.
#1: Super Bowl XXXIV (1999 season) – St. Louis Rams vs Tennessee Titans
Everyone knows the story behind the St. Louis Rams meteoric rise. After going 4-12 in 1998, the Rams signed Trent Green to be the starting quarterback only to lose him for the season after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in the final game of the preseason. St Louis turned to a former Arena Leaguer/famed grocery bagger in Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” was born. They closed at 150-1 to win the Super Bowl prior to the start of the season.
The Tennessee Titans were 30-1 to win the Super Bowl, which was the 7th lowest odds in the AFC. Tennessee had finished 8-8 the previous three seasons behind head coach Jeff Fischer. Steve McNair was entering his fifth season but patience was growing thin for the former 3rd overall pick in 1995 as the Titans brought in veteran Neil O’Donnell during the offseason. After finishing the regular season 13-3 Tennessee had to pull off the Music City Miracle in the Wild Card round before defeating the Colts and Jaguars on the road to reach the Super Bowl.