After the Kansas City Chiefs’ win in Super Bowl XLVIII, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote an article ranking every Super Bowl champion in order, ranking every team using his DVOA data, estimating for teams that won before 1981 while accounting for the strength of the NFL in games that were AFL vs. NFL.
“DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10% better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20% worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative. Every year is normalized so the average for that year is 0%. For more detail, read below.”
Of the top 15 Super Bowl champions, Pittsburgh, which has won six Super Bowls, had two of the top-15 teams, with the 1975 Steelers placing eighth and the 1979 Steelers coming in at No. 15.
The 2005 Steelers was the franchise’s next-highest Super Bowl-winning team at No. 24, while the ’78 Super Bowl champions were No. 29. The 2008 Steelers placed 38th and the ’74 Steelers were No. 43. The 2023 Chiefs were in the bottom half of Super Bowl champions, just ahead of the ’74 Steelers at No. 42
The ’75 team ranked as highly as it did due to its regular-season success, going 12-2 and having the most regular-season success of any pre-1981 Super Bowl champion, per Schatz. The Steelers’ average winning margin in the playoffs was less than 10 points though, which precluded them from being ranked higher on the list. Their DVOA was 41.4%, the only Steelers team on the list to eclipse the 40% mark. Essentially, that means the Steelers were 41.4% percent better than the average team.
The ’79 Steelers also would’ve finished higher had it not been for two blowout regular-season losses, losing 35-7 against the San Diego Chargers and 34-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Despite being the first Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl, DVOA had the 2005 Steelers as the fourth-best team in the regular season, and beating the three teams that finished higher than them to reach the Super Bowl benefitted the Steelers in Schatz’s rating system. That team had a 31.7% DVOA. The 2005 team also got a mention in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast as WR Jauan Jennings became the first wideout to throw for a touchdown in the Super Bowl since Antwaan Randle El in Super Bowl XL.
The ’78 Steelers had a DVOA of 30.3% and benefitted from two blowout playoff wins, a 33-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in the divisional round and a 33-5 win over the Houston Oilers in the conference championship. They also finished the regular season 14-2 with two losses by just a combined 10 points.
The 2008 Steelers faced the toughest regular-season schedule ever by a Super Bowl champion, per Schatz, but their 27.4% DVOA is impacted by who they played in the Super Bowl. Their win over the Arizona Cardinals actually hurt Pittsburgh’s metrics, proving that it’s a valuable but still imperfect statistic. That’s by nature of the fact that Arizona had the weakest regular-season schedule ever for a Super Bowl team, the opposite of Pittsburgh, and outgained Pittsburgh in the game with the two teams running a similar number of plays.
Without the Super Bowl, Schatz wrote that Pittsburgh would’ve ranked 30th, but actually winning the game and getting the ring caused a precipitous 13-spot drop in the rankings. I think the Steelers are happy with the ring.
Finally, the 1974 Steelers had a 24.3% DVOA and pretty much cruised to a Super Bowl victory against the Minnesota Vikings. While they’re one of the lower teams on the list, their DVOA still ranks much higher than the 1970 Baltimore Colts, who with a 6.8% DVOA ranked as the worst Super Bowl champion. At the top of the list was the 1991 Washington Redskins, who had a 53.9% DVOA buoyed by a number of blowout wins in the regular season and a 37-24 Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills.