If things in sports always played out as expected, we’d be deprived of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in NFL history.
Granted, it doesn’t happen every year, but there are occasionally Super Bowl shocks that rock the league to its core.
In fact, if you look back at some of the biggest NFL playoff shocks, some of them happened to be in the Super Bowl.
Biggest Super Bowl upsets
From our perspective, the biggest Super Bowl upsets aren’t just about the point spread heading into the game. It’s also about perception and how teams match up against their opponent heading into the big game. That’s why we were excited to put together a somewhat predictable but we hope unique ranking of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in NFL history.
10. Raiders over Eagles (Super Bowl XV)
For the Raiders, this whole season was an exercise in being an underdog. They started the year 2-3 and then lost starting quarterback Dan Pastorini. However, Jim Plunkett rallied the troops and got the Raiders to the Super Bowl, winning a pair of close playoff games to get there.
Oakland seemed a little outmatched on paper, but Plunkett threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter and the Eagles never recovered.
9. Redskins over Dolphins (Super Bowl XVII)
Two years later, the Dolphins would fall short as underdogs, while this was the year that Miami should have won the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins were three-point favorites but also led in the fourth quarter. However, the ageless John Riggins wore them down all game, ultimately running for 43 of his 166 rushing yards on a touchdown to give Washington the lead with 10 minutes left. Washington added another touchdown, turning a 17-13 deficit into a 27-17 win in the final quarter, as the Dolphins let this one slip away.
8. Ravens over 49ers (Super Bowl XLVII)
In this battle of the Harbaugh brothers, we forget that the 49ers were a comfortable 4.5-point favorite. Keep in mind that Colin Kaepernick had just emerged as an athletic freak of a quarterback, almost like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson before the Ravens had Jackson.
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Of course, Jackson’s predecessor Joe Flacco ended up as MVP of this game. With plenty of help around him, Flacco threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t let a little power outage bother him in leading the Ravens to a surprise Super Bowl win.
7. Broncos over Panthers (Super Bowl 50)
Let’s not forget that the Carolina offense looked unstoppable during a 49-15 win in the NFC Championship Game. Behind MVP Cam Newton, the Panthers went 15-1 and looked destined to win the Super Bowl.
However, Denver’s defense was more than up to the challenge despite the Panthers being favored by 5.5 points.
Surely, the Panthers would get going at some point, but that never happened.
One of the great offensive teams in recent memory was held to 10 points while allowing seven sacks and committing four turnovers. It was such a dominating performance by the Broncos that it had to be included on our list of the biggest Super Bowl upsets.
6. Giants over Bills (Super Bowl XXV)
Of Buffalo’s four straight Super Bowl losses, this is the one that fans rue the most. The Bills were a touchdown favorite and looked too good on their way to the Super Bowl not to win the big game, even if the Giants were also 13-3 during the regular season.
But the G-Men had over 40 minutes of possession, which didn’t leave the Bills much time to score points.
Of course, Buffalo did enough to win and just needed a field goal from Scott Norwood, who pushed the kick wide right. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in Super Bowl history, not to mention one of the most overlooked upsets.
5. Chiefs over Vikings (Super Bowl IV)
The Vikings have so many frustrating Super Bowl losses, but this might be the worst. They were a 13.5-point favorite at kickoff and had dominated so much during the regular season that it seemed like a foregone conclusion they would win.
However, the Chiefs led 16-0 at halftime and the Vikings just didn’t have an answer. The 1969 Vikings would end up going down as one of the best teams to lose a Super Bowl and victims of one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets.
4. Patriots over Rams (Super Bowl XXXVI)
Looking back, it’s a little silly that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were 14-point underdogs in this game. But this was New England’s first Super Bowl win of the century and nobody knew what was to come.
They were also playing “The Greatest Show on Turf” in its third and final year. Kurt Warner had another MVP season and had plenty of weapons around him, so it seemed like a given that this historically good offense would steamroll the Pats and win a second Super Bowl in three years.
But the New England defense stood on its head, taking a lead with a pick-six in the second quarter, and never looked back. Brady was able to do the rest, helping set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning field goal in one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets.
3. Broncos over Packers (Super Bowl XXXII)
In retrospect, it’s hard to remember why the Broncos 11-point underdogs in this game. Despite being a Wild Card team, they were 12-4 during the regular season and had John Elway still chasing his first ring, not to mention an emerging running back in Terrell Davis.
Super Bowl XXXII, 24 years ago today
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Yet, Brett Favre and the reigning champion Packers were heavily favored in this game.
Ultimately, Davis was able to shake off a mid-game migraine and rush for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. He was too much for the Green Bay defense while Elway made the plays he had to with the game on the line, giving the Broncos a memorable victory.
2. Giants over Patriots (Super Bowl XLII)
What could be more surprising than an 18-0 team losing to a team that didn’t even win its division during the regular season?
This was supposed to be New England’s historic night and the crowning achievement of Tom Brady’s career, leading the Patriots to a perfect season.
But the Giants had other plans despite being 12-point underdogs at kickoff. In fairness, the Giants gave the Pats a tough game to close out the regular season, so they knew they could play with New England. It also took a ridiculous catch from David Tyree to make happen. But the Giants pulled off the unthinkable, keeping the Patriots from a perfect season and football immortality.
1. Jets over Colts (Super Bowl III)
There’s no way that this game couldn’t top the list of the biggest Super Bowl upsets.
The Colts were 13-1 during the regular season and beat the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game. On paper, there’s no way for the Jets to keep up with them, which is why Baltimore was favored by 19.5 points.
But that’s why they play the games.
Famously, Joe Namath guaranteed that his team would be victorious despite being such heavy underdogs. For the record, Namath wasn’t anything special in the game despite being named MVP.
Instead, it was the Jets’ defense that stole the show, dominating the Colts from start to finish in a game that will be tough to ever top as the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.