The 10 Greatest Sports activities Betting Upsets in Tremendous Bowl Historical past

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Sitting in my basement, watching the “Greatest Show on Turf,” and the 2001 Rams get upset by the “out-of-nowhere” Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVI), I got my first betting “thrill” as a 15-year old. My brother, Jeremy, now owed me $20 with a Patriots upset win. Which, if you don’t remember, $20 for a 15-year old may as well have been $1M dollars (adjusted for candy inflation). Jeremy, bless his four-years-older-than-my heart, couldn’t imagine a game where a backup QB from his hated rival Michigan (Jer went to Illinois), who couldn’t even hold the starting job in college from a baseball player (Drew Henson), could beat the almighty Rams. He offered me a 2:1 bet, meaning I only had to put up $10 to his $20. Beyond my ensuing “$20 shopping spree of candy, baseball cards and one Maxim magazine’s worth of adolescent male happiness,” the rest was history. Although that was the first time my feeble brain witnessed an upset, it wasn’t the Super Bowl’s first, nor last. In this piece, we will look back on the Biggest Betting Upsets in Super Bowl History through 3 different vantage points.

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According to Betfirm, over $150M is bet on the Super Bowl (LEGALLY, it’s estimated that over $5B in total are bet on the game every year). It’s undoubtedly America’s most widely wagered sporting event. After almost 70 years, the Super Bowl has offered various outcomes, from big upsets to obvious favorites smoking inferior opponents (many times where it felt like the preceding AFC/NFC Championship game was the actual super bowl). Diving into the biggest upsets in super history, we’ve patch-worked various definitions of what an “upset” is, at least in the context of sports betting. That is, there are many different ways to measure an “upset,” so we’ve broken it down as follows.

  • Underdogs winning the Super Bowl outright, ranked by pregame ATS spread
  • Underdogs winning the Super Bowl outright, ranked by the difference in margin of victory and ATS spread
  • Favorites winning the Super Bowl outright but failing to cover the ATS (meaning the UD covered)

It’s no surprise that Joe Namath, his #1 finger-wagging and “we’re gonna win, I guarantee it,” is at the top of the list. Back in 1969, only a couple of years since the juggernaut NFL allowed the AFL to merge and play in an end-of-the-year championship, so few expected that the upstart AFL could even compete with a veteran NFL squad, and was priced accordingly. The 3-touchdown underdog’s upset swayed public perception of competitiveness among the AFL/NFL moving forward and did much to generate new eyeballs to this exciting game, in its first year with the new title: The Super Bowl (Super Bowl III). You’d think the betting public would have learned their lesson, but the very next year, the far less publicized (possibly because it was lacking Namath sex appeal) 1970 Chiefs victory over the Vikings as 12 point dogs (Super Bowl IV) comes in second on the board. 

Although this upset finds itself 4th on the list above, I would venture to state, the greatest super bowl upset of all-time happened in 2008. As 12 point dogs, the New York Giants upset one of the best teams of all-time, the 2007 New England Patriots (XLII). Why is this so, you ask. Beyond being the only 16-game undefeated team EVER, most advanced analytics websites (you know, the ones that answer such critical barroom questions) like Football Outsiders listed the 2007 Patriots as the 2nd greatest team of all-time. If you’re asking yourself who is the first, that was the 1991 Redskins, who won the Super Bowl. Here is their  list based on DVOA (which teases out variance/garbage time, compares to an average baseline for every play, and adjusts for opponent strength at every level, but you can learn more here):

As you see, beyond the 5th best, 1987 49ers, no other “best team ever” in the top 5 failed to win a super bowl. And beyond that, you can see in this FO article picked up by ESPN; the 2007 Patriots lost to one of the worst super bowl opponents ever, the 2007 Giants. All of this adds up to some pretty compelling evidence that, along with their +12 point number and strong “hometown betting volume” that comes with a New York team playing in the Super Bowl, tells us this is the worst upset in Super Bowl History (sorry Joe).

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Nonetheless, for the sake of being comprehensive, we wanted to share a couple of other vantage points to finding the “Biggest Super Bowl Upsets.” Below you will find the ranking of underdogs that won, ordered by the highest difference in final point total outcome vs. the spread number given pregame by sportsbooks:

Personally, I find this list more interesting than the first set. Zooming out a bit, remember a pregame betting spread is based on an estimated number given by sportsbooks and then what the betting market adjusts it to. In other words, if we were to go back in time, until the moment before the ball was kicked off, the equilibrium point, the fairest handicapped number, was set at the above spreads. Meaning, teams like the 2013 Seahawks (Super Bowl XLVIII) were thought to be almost a field goal worse than Broncos, yet beat them by 35 points (which adds up to 37.5 points for this data-set). 

Lastly, let’s look at the “ugly stepsister” of “Super Bowl Upsets”: the upset in the form of a favorite not winning enough. We mention this only because it is so rare. Frankly, it’s pretty rare across an entire NFL season, really in all sports, when the point spread rarely matters. What does this mean: play the money line. The favorite has only won the Super Bowl outright, YET failed to cover the number only 6 times in its history (1976, 1989, 1996, 2004, 2005, and 2009). These unsung heroes to the misguided public betting “middlers” are as follows:

In other words, this is a list of Underdogs that lost, YET “kept it closer” than the ATS number predicted. A “close but no cigar” group, if you will. Not a very exciting list, with the 2004 Eagles (Super Bowl XXXIX) leading the chart, but hopefully, it helps remind us that we should just bet the moneyline.

There you have it, from 3 different viewpoints, the Biggest Betting Upsets in Super History.

Check out our Prop Bet Cheat Sheet for the top bets of the Super Bowl >>


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