NFL Underdogs: The 6 Biggest Super Bowl Upsets Ever

Written By Brett Gibbons on February 6, 2022
Super Bowl upsets

Only six times in Super Bowl history has an underdog of  7+ points pulled off an upset. You can probably name a few of the great Super Bowl upsets — likely unbeaten Patriots are among them – but how do they stack up against one another?

Below, we’ll lay out the six biggest Super Bowl upsets by closing point spread.

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6 Biggest Super Bowl Upsets

Super Bowl XXV — New York Giants (+7) defeat Buffalo Bills, 1991

Final Score: Giants 20, Bills 19

Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. They were favored by seven against Bill Parcells, who would be coaching his last game for the New York Giants before moving onto the Patriots. Parcells already had a Super Bowl victory under his belt– 1986 in Super Bowl XXI. Despite the Giants fielding the NFL’s top scoring defense this season, the Bills were comfortable favorites thanks to their league-leading scoring offense.

As the age-old adage goes, Defense wins championships; and win the Giants a championship the defense did. For the Bills, it kicked off a run of four straight Super Bowl appearances (that’s good… right?) and potentially the most insidious stretch of winning football seasons ever.

Super Bowl XXXII — Denver Broncos (+11) defeat Green Bay Packers, 1998

Final Score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

The Green Bay Packers were back-to-back double digit Super Bowl favorites and coming off their first world championship since Super Bowl II. Co-MVP Brett Favre led the team against John Elway’s Denver Broncos. The Packers were expected to roll to another Super Bowl, listed as 11-point favorites. They took care of business in their two playoff matchups while the Broncos rolled by the skin of their teeth to make it to the title game.

While Elway claimed the fame, it was running back Terrell Davis who scored a trio of touchdowns while Elway threw for just 123 yards and an interception. (Warning from here on out: rarely were the underdog quarterbacks the reason for the upset.) Favre threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, but the Packers defense was unable to slow the roll of the Broncos rushing attack. The Broncos became just the third double-digit underdog to win a Super Bowl up to that point.

Super Bowl IV — Kansas City Chiefs (+12) defeat Minnesota Vikings, 1970

Final Score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7

Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs had a daunting task ahead of them: defeat the famed Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters, one of the greatest defensive units in NFL history. The victory came from a valiant defensive effort from the Chiefs themselves. Kansas City forced five turnovers and picked up just 273 yards of offense.

The Chiefs didn’t bolster a star offense that season. Dawson threw just nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions and they didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher. Instead, they ran a two-headed backfield that combined for 1,343 yards and eight touchdowns. In Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs used five running backs who combined for 140 yards. A late 46-yard pass to Otis Taylor (who had seven of Dawson’s nine touchdowns that year) iced the game.

Super Bowl XLII — New York Giants (+12) defeat New England Patriots, 2008

Final Score: Giants 17, Patriots 14

We warned you this would be on here. Due to the circumstances, this is considered one of the greatest upsets in sport history. The Giants snuck in the playoffs that season as a Wild Card and proceeded to thwart the New England Patriots’ shot at becoming the first 19-0 team in NFL history. This game screams iconic. David Tyree’s helmet catch. Eli Manning’s first Super Bowl. This game truly has it all.

12 points is a steep spread, especially in a Super Bowl. It’s tied for the seventh-longest in the Big Game’s history. The Patriots had the number-one scoring offense, a top-10 scoring defense, and one of the largest average point margins in NFL history (+17.5). Nevertheless, Manning began his tenure as Tom Brady’s kryptonite, which would last for another Super Bowl run for the Giants.

Super Bowl XXXVI — New England Patriots (+14) defeat St. Louis Rams, 2002

Final Score: Patriots 20, Rams 17

It’s not often that the Patriots were on the other end of “insurmountable odds” in a Super Bowl. They lost their star quarterback Drew Bledsoe after just two games and had been operating under an inexperienced, second-year quarterback out of Michigan. (guess who?) Brady was up against the Greatest Show On Turf, who themselves became the biggest Super Bowl longshots to win a title two years prior.

The Patriots were full two-touchdown underdogs against the St. Louis Rams, tied for the third longest odds in a Super Bowl, period. While Brady was the long term story coming out of this game, he threw for just 145 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots defense picked off Kurt Warner twice and sacked him three times. They held the Greatest Show On Turf to 17 total points and the Rams wouldn’t return to a Super Bowl until 2019.

Super Bowl III — New York Jets (+18) defeat Baltimore Colts, 1969

Final Score: Jets 16, Colts 7

The first among Super Bowl upsets was also the largest. What we remember most about this game is the Joe Namath guarantee. What may be lost in history is that the New York Jets were 18 full point underdogs. To compare this to 2022, that’s like the Jacksonville Jaguars guaranteeing a victory over the Chiefs. This game would have been downright infuriating for today’s analytics community. The Jets made three field goals of 32, 30, and nine yards (this was before the posts were moved to the back of the end zone).

Broadway Joe threw for 208 yards against Johnny Unitas’ 110 (he completed 11-of-24 passes). The Jets defense forced four interceptions of the Colts and forced a fumble. It was defensive slugfest in the original Orange Bowl. This is the second largest point spread in Super Bowl history– bested only by the 1995 San Francisco 49ers (-18.5) against the San Diego Chargers. It’s also one of the biggest upsets in sporting history.

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Brett Gibbons Avatar
Written by
Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

View all posts by Brett Gibbons