Since I first posted this article in 2018, two Super Bowls have been played. The New England Patriots won in 2019 and The Kansas City Chiefs won in 2020. It was the Chiefs’ first victory since 1970.
There are many ways to gauge the success of teams in the National Football League (NFL) and winning must be included in all of these. Some would say that winning in the Super Bowl is the ultimate measure of success of NFL football teams and that the same logic can also be applied to measure the success of NFL quarterbacks who lead their teams. Let’s look then at the win-loss records of the teams that have played in the Super Bowl in its 52-year history and the win-loss records of the quarterbacks who have played in these games. The records I use can be found at this link.
Top-Ranked Eight Teams and Quarterbacks
The first thing that pops out in these records is how lop-sided the statistics are: The top-ranked 8 teams played in half (26) the Super Bowl games and they won a whopping 35 of the 52 games. The New England Patriots, whom some are calling the greatest football team ever, ranks 4th in these team records behind Pittsburg, San Francisco and Dallas. The top-ranked 3 quarterbacks are Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburg (4-0), Joe Montana, San Francisco (4-0) and Troy Aikman, Dallas (3-0). Tom Brady, the often- praised New England quarterback has a so-so Super Bowl record of 5-3. Note also that the often-maligned Washington Redskins are ranked 8th in these records and have played in 5 Super Bowls with a 3-2 record.
The above analysis is what these records show, but I have no way of knowing exactly why the teams are rated precisely in the order listed. I believe the Pittsburg Steelers deserve the #1 ranking given in these records, having played 8 times in the Super Bowl with a 6-2 record. The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants both played 5 games each have 4-1 records but are listed at #5 and #6 respectively behind San Francisco, Dallas and New England, which has only a 5-5 record in the Super Bowl.
The Remaining Twenty Four Teams and Quarterbacks
The lower end of these records is as lopsided as the top end. Four NFL teams: Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville have never played in a Super Bowl game. However, Cleveland and Detroit each won four NFL Championship titles before the Super Bowl championship games began. Eight teams played at least one Super Bowl game, but never won. These include Buffalo and Minnesota, which each played 4 games. The biggest loosing quarterbacks in the lower end of these records is Jim Kelly who had a 0-4 record with the Buffalo Bills and Fran Tarkenton who had a 0-3 record with the Minnesota Vikings.
National Football Conference (NFC) VS the American Football Conference (AFC)
The first two Super Bowl games were dominated by the Green Bay Packers, but in 1969 Joe Namath quarterbacked the New York Jets to a 16-7 win over the highly favored Baltimore of the NFC, and the next year Len Dawson led the Kansas City Chiefs to a win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Jets, Chiefs or Vikings have never been back to Super Bowl. Both NFC and AFC have had their winning streaks, but after 52 Super Bowl games the win-lost record is nearly even: NFC 27 – AFC 25. Some of the games have been duds, others exciting, and this year’s game in which the Philadelphia Eagles (NFC) beat the New England Patriots 41-33 was a real thriller.
We’ve heard a lot about across-the board parity among NFL teams, but history shows scant evidence of that. Money is likely the biggest factor that helps separate the big winners and the big losers, but there must be lots of other factors. The disparity between big winners and big losers across the NFL is not reflected in win-loss records over the 52-year history of the Super Bowl – that is the best team from each conference appears to have matched up pretty well in the Super Bowl games based on the 27-25 record in 52 games.