When thinking of the betting history of the Super Bowl, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the rich history of big underdog winners. Rightfully so, but Super Bowl over/unders have played a role as well. They offer a different lens from which to examine Super Bowl lore, looking at actual and expected points scored.
TheLines continues its historical look at the Super Bowl with a dive into totals. We’ll start with a two-part article: the lowest Super Bowl totals and those that played out furthest under the closing number.
All lines and totals below via Pro Football Reference. Super Bowl I’s total, if there was one, has been lost to time, so all info applies to Super Bowl II onward.
Super Bowl Totals: General Facts And Stats
Before we fully dive in, here are a few interesting stats to note about the history of the betting total in the football’s biggest game.
- The over and the under are deadlocked at 27 apiece. That means the Feb. 13 showdown between the Rams and Bengals will break a tie for the time being.
- The average total is 44.9. The median total is 47. If these numbers look high, remember that the Super Bowl usually takes place either indoors or in pristine weather. The games also feature a disproportionate number of superstar QBs for obvious reasons.
- The average final score is 46.2, so the magnitude of the overs has come in larger.
- Every total from Super Bowl IV through Super Bowl XV was below 40.
- Starting with Super Bowl XXI, every total has been at least 40 with the exception of Super Bowl XXXV between the Giants and Ravens (closing total of 33).
Five Lowest Super Bowl Over/Unders
Without further ado, here are the five Super Bowls with the lowest market expected points. Naturally, these lean heavily toward early editions, before the rules (and Bill Walsh) conspired to create passing offenses with ever-greater efficiency.
5. 34, Super Bowl VI (Jan. 16, 1972, Dolphins Vs. Cowboys)
Despite totals topping out at 40, the under had come home in each of the previous three seasons. With margin to spare too, as only one of those wound up within a TD of a push.
The market responded by nudging the total for Super Bowl VI down to a record-low 34, but it still wasn’t low enough. The Cowboys had topped NFL offenses that season by a huge margin in scoring, pouring in 406 points (next best was 344). But, they leaned on their defense in a 24-3 win as Miami gained just 10 first downs and turned the ball over three times.
Dallas’ offense had a good day but it came mostly on the ground. They rushed 48 times for 252 yards to keep the clock ticking toward the under. Still, over bettors could have salvaged a push if not for Dallas’ own fumble with 1:53 left on first-and-goal from the 1.
T1. 33, Super Bowl VII (Jan. 14, 1973, Dolphins Vs. Redskins)
With the previous Super Bowl going under yet again, the market responded with an even lower number of 33. The Dolphins had a prolific offense — tops in the league in yards and points, second in YPP — but also boasted the No. 1 scoring defense. Washington finished third in that metric and allowed a total of 6 points in two playoff games.
Yet again 33 would prove not low enough. The Dolphins nearly shut out the future Commanders in a 14-7 rock fight to complete their perfect season. The only points Washington managed came on a blocked field goal that the kicker then fumbled for a house call.
Miami completely shut down the Washington passing game, holding them to 104 yards on 28 attempts. DB Jake Scott snagged two picks to earn MVP honors.
T1. 33, Super Bowl VIII (Jan. 13, 1974, Dolphins Vs. Vikings)
Another year, another 33 total in the season finale. The Dolphins put together a worthy encore season with the league’s most efficient offense but they again had the top scoring defense. This time, they ended the season matched against the No. 2 scoring defense of the Minnesota Vikings. So, a low total made plenty of sense here.
Yet again, however, the teams fell shy of this number. The Dolphins supplied all of the scoring until the fourth quarter in a 24-7 win. Twice, Minnesota produced drives into scoring territory, but they failed on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 6 and also threw a pick on the 32.
Frustrated over backers would get another low number next year in…
T1. 33, Super Bowl IX (Jan. 12, 1975, Steelers Vs. Vikings)
Perhaps you’re sensing a pattern here. Again, two of the top three scoring defenses met. The offenses had quite a contrast, though, with the Vikings entering top five in YPP and points thanks to their passing game. The Steelers favored a ball control offenses centered around RB Franco Harris.
Under bettors had to feel good about the 2-0 halftime score — Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton recovered a mishandled snap in his own end zone for the only points. Things “picked up” in the second half in a 16-6 Steelers win but the under still hit easily.
Pittsburgh’s ground game won out as the Vikings managed just 119 total yards. Tarkenton threw three picks while Harris rumbled for 158 yards and a TD to win MVP.
T1. 33, Super Bowl XXXV (Jan. 28, 2001, Ravens Vs. Giants)
More than 25 years would pass before we’d see a total so low again. It took one of the all-time great defenses in the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to produce a number so small it looks out of place — all but one of the previous seven Super Bowls even had a total below 50.
So strong were the Ravens on defense that they allowed just 16 points in three prior playoff games. The Giants produced a stout defense themselves, having shut out the high-powered Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship. Both teams’ offenses, meanwhile, barely cracked the top half of the league in scoring.
Sure enough, both offenses struggled mightily as they combined for fewer than 400 total yards. However, both teams returned a kickoff to the house and the Ravens scored on a pick-six to boost the scoring hugely. The 34-7 Ravens win cleared the total easily.
This record-low Super Bowl over/under of 33 figures to stand forever now that offense rules.
Five Super Bowls That Finished Furthest Under The Total
T5. 15.5 Points, SB XXXVI (Feb. 3, 2002, Patriots Vs. Rams)
The Rams had just blitzed the league with one of the greatest offenses ever seen a couple of years prior en route to a championship. In the 2001 season, they again had the best offense by a laughable margin — the difference between the Rams’ average score (31.4) and the second-place Colts (25.8) was the same as that between the Colts and the 16th-place Chiefs.
On their preferred turf surface in the Louisiana Superdome, the total closed at 52.5 as the market expected plenty of points.
The Rams did indeed move the ball plenty, dominating total yardage 427 to 267, with 26 first downs to 15. However, turnovers dogged them as they gave the ball away three times, enabling the Patriots to escape with a 20-17 win that went way under.
T5. 15.5 Points, SB XLVI (Feb. 5, 2012, Patriots Vs. Giants)
Not that Patriots-Giants game, although we’ll get to that one shortly. Both of these teams were carried by their offenses on paper, each unit ranking in the top 10 in both YPP and scoring. In particular, each brought a strong passing game to the table and had minimal interest in pounding the rock. In fact, the Giants ranked dead last in rushing YPA.
That led to a high total of 53.5.
What wound up happening, though, was both teams moved the ball with a lot of short passes. QBs Tom Brady and Eli Manning combined for 81 attempts and the teams converted 11 of 23 third downs to keep the clock churning. Three field goals under 40 yards also held down the scoring.
The Giants’ late TD gave them a 21-17 win in a lower-scoring affair than expected.
4. 16 Points, SB XL (Feb. 5, 2006, Steelers Vs. Seahawks)
Behind RB Shaun Alexander, who won MVP, the Seahawks produced the most efficient offense in the league in 2005. Pittsburgh had a solid offense as well, ranking ninth in YPP. But both teams were carried by their ground games, so the total was a more middling 47.
Sure enough, this turned into a slow grind as both punters stayed busy with six boots apiece. Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger had a miserable day for the Steelers, completing just nine passes for 123 yards and a pair of picks. Alexander was held in check as well with 20 carries for 95 yards.
Most of the Steelers’ offense came on two big plays, a 75-yard TD run by Willie Parker and a 43-yard TD strike on a trick play with former college QB Antwaan Randle El connecting with Hines Ward. The Steelers coasted to a 21-10 win after that fourth-quarter score.
3. 17 Points, SB III (Jan. 12, 1969, Jets Vs. Colts)
Compared to these other games, Super Bowl III had a modest total of 40.
By those days’ standards, though, this game matched two strong passing offenses. The Colts led the NFL with 8.6 YPA through the air finished second in points per game while the Jets averaged 29.9 PPG and 8.2 YPA passing, both second in the AFL.
The Colts had the best scoring defense by a mile in the NFL, though, and they were expected to shut down Joe Namath and the Jets as -18 favorites.
Instead, the Jets put the clamps on the Colts. They held them to a pitiful 4.4 YPA and snagged 4 INTs in the legendary 16-7 win.
2. 23.5 Points, SB XLII (Feb. 3, 2008, Patriots Vs. Giants)
Another game that will live in NFL lore forever.
The Patriots laid waste to the league in their perfect season that year, scoring a mind-boggling 36.8 PPG. In the final game of the regular season, these teams had combined for 73 points in a shootout as the Patriots offense rolled to 27 first downs and 346 yards passing.
The Giants, incredibly, had a bottom-five offense in terms of passing YPP, but the 54.5 total was nonetheless a Super Bowl record at the time.
As it turned out, a defensive struggle ensued with 10 total points scored heading to the fourth. The Giants overwhelmed the Patriots up front, holding them to just 45 rushing yards and sacking Tom Brady five times. New York didn’t fare a whole lot better but two fourth-quarter touchdowns gave them the 17-14 win in a massive upset.
1. 39.5 Points, SB LIII (Feb. 3, 2019, Patriots Vs. Rams)
To date, the 55.5 total posted here is the third-highest in Super Bowl history. The Rams averaged 32.9 PPG, second in the league, and the Patriots ranked fourth with 27.3. The Patriots’ two prior Super Bowl appearances in the previous two years featured 74 and 62 points. Nobody had figured out how to stop second-year Rams coach Sean McVay’s innovative offense.
With the game taking place indoors, another shootout seemed certain.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick unveiled a brilliant defensive plan that preyed upon the Rams’ offensive system, in which McVay relayed plays to QB Jared Goff after seeing the defensive formation. They shifted and moved frequently and relied on coverages and packages they rarely used during the season.
The Rams’ own defense played well too, particularly in the red zone, holding the Patriots to 13 points. But that proved more than enough in a 13-3 win that came in miles under the massive total. Alternate line bettors and under props hunters had a field day.