Looking at the most unlikely Super Bowl participants of all time

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Inspired by the Vegas Golden Knights making it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence, Monday’s PFT Live included a draft based on what the Knights have accomplished: An unlikely berth in their sport’s championship game.

So which were the most unlikely Super Bowl participants in NFL history? Chris Simms and yours truly went back and forth, selecting some of the great teams from the past that had no business being in the game with the Roman numerals.

Who put together the better list? Check out our arguments and then share your comments below.

Regardless of the others, was there any more unlikely Super Bowl participant than the 1999 Rams? From 4-12 the prior year to free-agent arrival Trent Green tearing an ACL in the preseason to a grocery-bagging no-name quarterback who became NFL MVP, the Rams had no business making it to the playoffs much less the Super Bowl. Instead, they gave the NFL a story even more unforgettable that the Golden Knights.

44 responses to “Looking at the most unlikely Super Bowl participants of all time

  1. 1999 Rams came first to mind. People doubted them through the regular season, doubted them through the playoffs, right through the Super Bowl.

    2008 Cardinals would be up there too. 2011 Giants.

  2. I think the 2017 Eagles would have to rank high on the list of unlikely Super Bowl champions. After back-to-back forgettable 7-9 seasons, and under 2nd year coach Doug Pederson, who was called the least qualified coach in NFL history, few people thought this team would even make the playoffs, let alone win it all. To say that how the season turned out for them was a surprise would be putting it mildly.

  3. The 1999 Rams were juggernauts compared to the 1979 Rams team. That team had mediocre QBs, a horrible record filled with bad losses, and a ton of injuries.

    Not only did the make it to the Super Bowl, to come as close as they did to winning a championship is unbelievable as well.

  4. 2008 Cardinals?

    Team that had basically never been good, switched from Matt Leinart to a 37 year old Kurt Warner in Week 3 of the preseason, got crushed by the Jets 56-35 (after scoring late TDs) in Week 4 to drop them to 2-2 and also saw star WR Anquan Boldin have his jaw annihilated in the game. Only made the playoffs as a 9-7 winner of a very weak division.

    That’s pretty unlikely…

  5. I think the 2001 Patriots were more unexpected than the 1999 Rams so I vote with Chris. There was a lot of known talent on that Rams team, especially on offense. I thought they were Super Bowl contenders before Trent Green got hurt. When Green got hurt, I no longer considered them a Super Bowl contender because Warner wasn’t a proven NFL QB but I didn’t completely dismiss them as a playoff contenders. People love to talk about how Warner was bagging groceries before getting on the Rams but in reality he was one of the best arena football QB’s so it’s not like he wasn’t playing football or hadn’t shown any ability to play the position. If you watched arena football back then you knew how much the announcers loved Kurt Warner because of his accuracy. With the Patriots the best I was hoping for was the playoffs because they had so many new players on offense and it was hard to say how well they all would fit together and they were mostly just solid players with nothing flashy or dominant about them.

  6. Marshall Faulk was the key piece for them.

    Warner was a huge surprise, but Faulk is what mattered.

    Great story.

  7. The 2007 Giants had to win 10 straight road games to reach the Super Bowl and then defeat the undefeated Patriots. Mic Drop.

  8. It would’ve been the 95 Colts if they weren’t completely hosed by the refs in the AFC title game

  9. 1980 Oakland Raiders. Jim Plunkett started the season as Dan Pastorini’s back-up. 1st team to make it and win as a wild-card.

  10. Because of what’s happened since, and the establishment of Belichick and Brady as all time greats, I think people forget just how unlikely it was that the 2001 Patriots would make the play-offs, even before they started the season 0-2 and saw their starting QB go down with a serious injury. I don’t think anyone picked them higher than 4th in the AFC East before the season started. SI had them 5th out of 5 in the football preview issue. Belichick was still considered (incorrectly) to have failed in Cleveland, Bledsoe was an overpaid mediocrity (who paradoxically needed to carry the team) and no one had any idea who Brady was.

  11. The 01 Patriots had no offensive weapons. None. The Green Bay GM called the 01 Patriots a waiver wire team.

    The 85 Patriots were underdogs at the Jets, at the Raiders (who they had not defeated in years), and underdogs at Miami, whrtr they had not won in 18 years. Earlier that same season they lost to all 3 teams.

    The Patriots were also a joke franchise. The Giants as a franchise in 07 had already won 2 Super Bowls and many championships prior to the SB era. They were the #1 sports market and had a top draft pick for a QB going against a QB drafted #199.

  12. The 96 season had two teams in their second year of existence make their respective conference championship game – I’d say that’s kind of unlikely in itself.

  13. endtimesparty says:
    May 22, 2018 at 12:32 am

    The 01 Patriots had no offensive weapons. None. The Green Bay GM called the 01 Patriots a waiver wire team.
    ——
    Eh I wouldn’t say none… Troy Brown was a pro bowler in 01. Caught over 100 balls. Glenn was good too, although his stay on the 01 Pats was short.

  14. “The Patriots had just lost their franchise QB in Drew Brees”.

    But yeah, his picks were good. Mone would have been the Giants. The Pats were undefeated for crissake. On the other hand that Giants had stunk it up most of that year. It was only at the end they managed to hit the gass just hard enough to squeak into the playoffs and then…

    After that I did give it to the 2001 Patriots. As a Patriots fan that remains their SB that I enjoyed the most because every week I was thinking ‘ok what they pulled off was shocking and amazing so far but this week the competition is going to be too much’. I even thought that going into the SB. Wins are always more fun when you didnt think they were going to happen. (So yes, its more fun being a doubter than a believer).

    Then the Rams certainly deserve mention. Also there was a Broncos team back in the late 70’s I cant recall the exact year.

  15. 2001 Patriots at the time for sure. Looking back though, not so much. If you listen to Martz talk about their regular season match up with NE you realize they were already really good.

  16. GoodellMustGo says:
    May 22, 2018 at 9:50 am

    endtimesparty says:
    May 22, 2018 at 12:32 am

    The 01 Patriots had no offensive weapons. None. The Green Bay GM called the 01 Patriots a waiver wire team.
    ——
    Eh I wouldn’t say none… Troy Brown was a pro bowler in 01. Caught over 100 balls. Glenn was good too, although his stay on the 01 Pats was short.

    ———————————————-
    Almost forgot about A. Smith. Was a bulldog for that team out of the backfield. Was great in the Super Bowl too.

    🙂

  17. speicher145 says:
    May 22, 2018 at 8:47 am
    Packers as a 6 seed in 2011…won all their games on the road!

    —————-

    I assumed Green Bay would get to that Super Bowl. After they beat the Jets (who were very good that year) 9-0 I knew they were ready for prime time. They could win a game in any way.

  18. endtimesparty says:
    May 21, 2018 at 10:06 pm
    1985 New England Patriots

    ———-

    That’s definitely up there. Miami were the best team in the AFC that year for sure, and had beat Chicago in the regular season. The Patriots somehow upset them in the AFCCG only to be bludgeoned by the Bears pass rush in the Super Bowl.

  19. The 05 Steelers is up there. 6 seed, knocks off Denver in Denver and then the powerhouse Colts in their house in the championship game.

  20. 2005 Steelers – 6 seed, beat the #3, #1, and #2 seeds on the way to glorious SB victory.

  21. My how our perspective has changed. Its long forgotten the time when the deal in NE was “Aww geeez. Bledsoe is out, the season is over. Might as well use whats left of it to see if this Tom Brady kid is any good”

  22. crownofthehelmet says:
    May 22, 2018 at 10:30 am
    2005 Steelers – 6 seed, beat the #3, #1, and #2 seeds on the way to glorious SB victory.

    ——————
    That one though speaking for myself I thought they looked a lot better than their ranking so I wasnt surprised. In fact, I won some good money that year from people that wanted to bet their ranking.

  23. In addition to 6th seed with all games on the road, 2011 Packers had something like 15-19 guys on the disabled list.

  24. The 2011 Packers went 15-1 and lost in the divisional round, in embarrassing fashion of course.

  25. crownofthehelmet says:
    May 22, 2018 at 12:29 pm
    The 2011 Packers went 15-1 and lost in the divisional round, in embarrassing fashion of course.

    How’d your ’98 Vikings squad (15-1) end up? #WideLeft, which seems to be a common theme for Vikings playoff games.

  26. The 2011 Packers went 15-1 and lost in the divisional round, in embarrassing fashion of course.
    =====

    True, but that is near the bottom on the long list of McCarthy-induced disasters.

  27. The 2011 Packers went 15-1 and lost in the divisional round, in embarrassing fashion of course.
    —————————–
    Actually, Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2011. They lost in OT of the NFC Championship Game the following year in 2012 to Seattle. Nice try, though. 🙂

  28. spechier do some research. 2010 Pack won the SB (yes everyone knows it was calendar year 2011 when the bowl was played), 2011 Pack lost in divisional rd to giants, in embarrassing manner

    southpack, I am not a Vikings fan, keep up

  29. Actually, Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2011. They lost in OT of the NFC Championship Game the following year in 2012 to Seattle.
    ======

    Nope

    2012 was the Colin Kapernick game..

    579 yards of total offense… 444 to Kaepernick ALONE.. FOUR HUNDRED FOURTY FOUR.. to a middling QB that can’t find work..

    … how is McCarthy still employed?

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