Better Regular Season Record: Does it Correlate to the Super Bowl?

Among Super Bowl contenders, how much do regular-season wins correlate with winning the title – or even covering the spread?

The 16-0 Patriots (2007). The 15-1 Panthers (2015). Both favored to win the Super Bowl. Both lost.

Were these anomalies, or is there a trend here? The numbers point to a clear trend. Line-setting bookmakers and bettors apparently have overweighted the value of Super Bowl contenders with great regular-season records.

We might point to anecdotal factors contributing to surprising letdowns. For example, the 2007 Patriots famously ran with their starters in a seemingly meaningless Week 17 contest against the 10-5 Giants. New England was trying to become the first undefeated team since the 1972 Dolphins.

The Giants’ backfield ran the ball only 16 times in that game, despite leading for most of it. They applied that and other lessons in their Super Bowl rematch.

Meanwhile, facing the Broncos in the Super Bowl was something entirely new for the 2015 Panthers. After going 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, they appeared to be sufficiently battle-tested. But Denver led the league in sacks (52), fewest opposing passing yards, and fewest opposing rushing yards per carry.

Carolina moved the ball well. But four turnovers – including two lost fumbles on sacks – doomed them. It was a case of a great team playing the toughest defense they’d faced all season. Not a “better” team based on win-loss record but a more formidable matchup nonetheless.

The following findings highlight actionable intelligence based on the market continually overvaluing teams’ wins at the expense of context.

The Super Bowl team with the better regular-season record has won the title five times (26%) and lost 11 times (58%). In the other three contests (16%), both teams had the same record.

This trend is even more compelling in recent years. Since the 2009 season, the team with the better regular-season record has won the Super Bowl only twice (15%) and lost eight times (62%). The other three times, both teams had the same record.

Those two victories could have gone either way. The 2016 Patriots won in overtime after trailing the Falcons 28-3. Last year, the Rams converted a fourth down and two third downs on their final drive to score the game winner with 1:25 remaining.

The Super Bowl team with the better regular-season record has covered the spread only once (5%). They haven’t covered 15 times (79%) and pushed three times (16%).

This marked a true A-HA moment in the research. It’s not just wins and losses. It’s also about the market’s inflated perception of teams with better records.

The only team with a better record to cover the spread in the Super Bowl? Once again, that would be the 2016 Patriots, who were three-point favorites heading into the game. It took the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to upend what had been a bankable trend.

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