Is the NFL reverting back to the good old days? The early history of the Super Bowl featured low-scoring matchups where the favorite usually trounced the underdog. Joe Montana and a wave of elite QBs pumped scoring up in the 1980s and 1990s, with favorites typically outscoring underdogs by bundles.
Since the Brady and Belichick era took hold, Super Bowl underdogs have fared better than favorites, mostly because of old school, hard-nosed defense. In fact, the four biggest Super Bowl upsets of the 2000s were all spurred by superior defense. When determining your Super Bowl futures picks it's important to understand recent historical trends.
New England Patriots Upset St. Louis Rams (-14)
Super Bowl XXXVI - 2002
The St. Louis Rams were the "Greatest Show On Turf", featuring Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk leading the team to ridiculous offensive production during the regular season. This was during Faulk's incredible three-year run as the offensive player of the year.
Nobody had a clue about Tom Brady and New England back then, resulting in a 14-point spread favoring the Rams. Tom terrific would go on to win Super Bowl MVP based on his final, game-winning drive, but most of the credit should go to the Patriots defense.
New England linebacker Mike Vrabel blitzed to force a pick six for defensive back Ty Law. An Antwan Harris tackle forced a fumble which turned into seven points. Defensive back Otis Smith also picked Kurt Warner and ran to the Rams 33-yard-line, leading to a field goal.
Put simply, the majority of Patriots points were created by their defense, commemorating the start of New England's dynasty.
New York Giants Upset New England Patriots (-12)
Super Bowl XLVI - 2012
The New York Giants were nearly eliminated from the playoffs when their defense fell off a cliff during the middle of the 2011 regular season. A mid-season stretch of awful defending helped balloon the Giants to the seventh worst defense in the NFL that season, allowing 25 PPG.
Something clicked during the final few weeks of the regular season, though, allowing the Giants to sneak into a wild card spot through vastly improved defensive play. When the playoffs rolled around, New York turned into an amazing defensive squad, holding the Falcons to two points on wild card weekend. Aaron Rodgers was held to 20 points in the divisional round and the 49ers scored only 17 points in a classic NFC conference championship.
By the time the Super Bowl took place, the Giants were monsters on the defensive end, a fact which was mostly ignored when the bookies decided on a 12-point spread for the Patriots. Somehow, the Giants secondary quashed Brady's aerial threat, thanks in large part to a crucial interception. New York dominated possession and slowed the game to a crawl, eventually winning by way of a seemingly impossible helmet catch.
Seattle Seahawks Upset Denver Broncos (-3)
Super Bowl XLVIII - 2014
The Broncos were mild favorites for Super Bowl XLVIII, but the game quickly turned into a complete nightmare for Peyton Manning. Seattle and the "Legion of Boom" completely decimated Denver's attack, with LB Malcolm Smith winning Super Bowl MVP.
This was one of the most boring Super Bowls in history, because the Seahawks wouldn't let one of the best QBs move the ball forward. Manning was intercepted twice and Denver fumbled four times to finish with a total of four turnovers. Appropriately, the first points on the board came in the form of a safety which put Seattle up 2-0.
Denver Broncos Upset Carolina Panthers (-5)
Super Bowl L - 2016
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers nearly dabbed their way to a perfect regular season in 2015, making it to the 50th Super Bowl without much resistance. QB Peyton Manning was held together through the miracle of medical science and some scotch tape, while the Broncos defensive unit destroyed the opposition.
Similar to the Seahawks win over the Broncos a couple of years prior, Denver's defense blanketed one of the best offenses in the NFL. LB Von Miller would win MVP with a pair of strip sacks and five tackles, contributing to a total of seven sacks and four turnovers - including a crucial fumble recovery in Carolina's end zone.