As of Saturday, the line on Super Bowl LVI is Rams -4, one of the closer spreads in the big game’s history. Though the Bengals are technically the home team, the Rams are, of course, playing in their own home stadium, so the current line suggests these are two evenly matched teams. Though the Super Bowl is meant to match up the two best teams in the sport, the game hasn’t always been so evenly matched.
Which game is the biggest upset? We rank them, see if you agree.
10. New England Patriots over St. Louis Rams, 2002
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when Tom Brady was the other quarterback in the Super Bowl. This was our introduction to TB12, who had filled in for injured Drew Bledsoe and was probably most famous at the time for the “tuck rule” in his controversial non-fumble against the Oakland Raiders in his first playoff game. Brady lost the ball on a hit by Charles Woodson, and the Raiders apparently recovered, but it was ruled an incomplete pass. Brady himself said he probably would have gone back to being Bledsoe’s backup if not for the tuck rule.
In Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady and Bill Belichick won their first title together as the Pats beat the heavily favored St. Louis Rams. The Rams had a high-powered offense featuring Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Tory Holt, but Belichick’s defense kept them in check and Brady did what would soon become a very Brady thing: manufacturing a game-winning drive in the final minutes. It was the first Super Bowl win for an AFC East team since the Miami Dolphins in 1974.
Score: New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
9. Philadelphia Eagles over New England Patriots, 2018
Another Tom Brady-Bill Belichick game is on the list, but 16 years after our introduction to Brady on football’s biggest stage, he found himself on the other end of the upset. This was the most explosive game in Super Bowl history, as the two teams combined for 1,151 yards and 74 points and just one punt. The Eagles were 5.5-point underdogs, facing the defending Super Bowl champions and playing with backup quarterback Nick Foles. Foles was the MVP of the game, as he completed 28 of 43 for 373 yards and most famously caught a 1-yard touchdown on a 4th-down conversion trick play that became known as the “Philly Special.”
It was the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, as well as a measure of revenge against Brady and Belichick, who beat them in 2005.
Final score: Philadelphia Eagles 41, New England Patriots 33
8. New York Giants over New England Patriots, 2012
We’re back to Brady — again, on the other end of an upset, this time against an Eli Manning-led Giants team that entered the playoffs with a 9-7 regular season record. In a closely matched game that saw the Giants take an early 9-0 lead, and then saw Brady overcome the deficit to make it 17-9, it was a call in the final minute by Bill Belichick that decided this one. With a minute remaining in the game and the Giants trailing by two, the Patriots defense allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score so that Brady would have ample time to make a game-winning drive down the field. Bradshaw realized too late what they were doing and tried to stop himself from falling into the end zone, but his momentum carried him through and put the Giants up 21-17.
But Brady, for once in his life, somehow wasn’t able to engineer a game-winning drive back downfield. Pats TE Rob Gronkowski was playing on an injured ankle, limiting his productivity, and the Giants defense stepped up against all odds to hold off Brady. Brady also cost his team a safety early in the game on an intentional grounding call.
Final score: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
7. Oakland Raiders over Philadelphia Eagles, 1981
The Raiders were the first ever wild card team to win a Super Bowl, following a four-turnover game from Ron Jaworski and the Eagles. Heading into the season, the Raiders had the 16th-best odds to win the Super Bowl and lost their starting quarterback early on in the season, lowering their chances even more. But out of the woodwork came backup Jim Plunkett, a Heisman trophy winner who had been the first pick of the 1971 draft but had largely failed to translate his success to the pros — until 1980. The Raiders boasted the DPOY in Lester Hayes that year, who was an interception machine. After a 2-3 start to the season, an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, and a weekend of partying in the French Quarter, the Raiders found a way.
Final score: Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
6. Kansas City Chiefs over Minnesota Vikings, 1970
The Vikings entered the game as 12-point favorites, making this game one of the largest point spread upsets in Super Bowl history. It was Super Bowl IV (back when the Latin numerals were still relatively easy to decipher), and the Chiefs defense absolutely smothered the Vikings, forcing three interceptions and two fumbles and limiting them to only 7 points — a real feat considering that the Vikings had scored 50-plus points in three different games that season. The Vikings defense was in the era of the “Purple People Eaters,” yet the Chiefs, led by QB Len Dawson, exhibited total domination throughout all four quarters.
A fun fact about this game: The halftime show was a reenactment of the Battle of New Orleans. They just don’t do it like that anymore, I guess.
Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
5. Denver Broncos over Carolina Panthers, 2016
In the final game of Peyton Manning’s career, the Broncos — having already made it past the defending champion Patriots team in the AFC championship — took an early lead against Cam Newton’s Panthers in Super Bowl 50 and never let up. This Super Bowl holds the record for most sacks — Manning was sacked five times to Newton’s seven — as well as for the combined third-down conversion rate for both teams.
The thought of a 39-year-old, deteriorating Manning who hadn’t even started for the second half of the regular season overcoming a dynamic young QB with a Pro-Bowl-filled offensive roster like Newton seemed outlandish, but Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and the Denver defense stepped up to the plate to suffocate the league MVP.
Final score: Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10
4. New York Giants over Buffalo Bills, 1991
The only Super Bowl in history to be decided by a single point, the Bills dropped the game after their place kicker Scott Norwood missed a last-second walk-off 47-yard field goal, sending the ball just barely wide right of the goalposts and giving the Giants the game. The “Wide Right” was the first loss of a four-game Super Bowl losing streak that the Bills would experience over the course of the following three years. The Bills, coming off a 51-3 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, had entered the game favored by seven points, the only favorable spread they would see in that four-year streak in the early ’90s, led by QB Jim Kelly.
The Giants held off the Bills’ hurry-up offense by employing a heavy run game, relying on Ottis Anderson to eat up the clock. The game plan worked, as the Giants had possession of the ball for over 40 minutes of the game, a Super Bowl record. In spite of that statistic, the game still came down to that final kick.
Final Score: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
3. Denver Broncos over Green Bay Packers, 1998
John Elway changed his legacy forever in this game, as the Broncos snapped a 13-year AFC losing streak with a stunning upset over Brett Favre’s Packers. The Packers were defending champions, double-digit favorites and a franchise looking to establish a dynasty. The Broncos had lost four Super Bowls, three of them with Elway, all in blowout fashion.
Denver’s Terrell Davis was the star of the game, rushing for 157 yards and a Super Bowl record three rushing touchdowns. Denver became just the second wild card team to win the Super Bowl.
Final score: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24
2. New York Jets over Baltimore Colts, 1969
“We’re gonna win this game. I guarantee it.”
Heading into Super Bowl III, the Jets were 18-point underdogs. Jets QB Joe Namath’s public response to a Colts fan would, in fact, come to pass in a shocking upset against a team that was touted by media at the time as the “greatest team in pro football history,” despite the Colts playing with a backup quarterback all season. The Jets’ star wide receiver had been injured in the AFL championship game, but that information wasn’t made public, so the Jets were able to use him as a decoy for the Colts defense to focus on, allowing Namath to take advantage of other open receivers — particularly George Sauer, Jr.
Despite a fourth-quarter effort in which Johnny Unitas, the Colts’ original starter who had been injured, was put on the field for the first time that season and scored a touchdown, followed by the Colts recovering an onside kick, the Jets were able to hold off the NFL champions.
Final score: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
1. New York Giants over New England Patriots, 2008
The Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII with a perfect record. They had gone undefeated all regular season, easily defeating the Jaguars and Chargers in the playoffs after overcoming a tight victory over the Giants in their last game of the season. The line was Patriots -12, and with 2:42 left in the game, the Patriots were up 14-10. It was Eli Manning’s turn to lead a game-winning drive, and drive he did — the final few minutes of this Super Bowl are NFL legend. On a 3rd-and-5 play, David Tyree completed the famous helmet catch for a gain of 32 yards, literally using his head to keep possession of the ball.
The Giants went on to score, and Brady was not able to get back downfield in 29 seconds. The perfect season was ruined in one of the greatest all-time upsets in professional sports history.
Final score: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14