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The unlikely four

NFL conference finalists are an unpredictable quartet

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Posted: Wednesday January 10, 2001 12:32 AM
Updated: Wednesday January 10, 2001 12:51 AM


By Ryan Hunt,

So these are exactly the four teams you predicted to make the NFL's conference title games. Yeah, and you had Oklahoma winning the college football national championship, too.

It's fitting that in a year the college title winner went from 7-5 to 13-0 that three of the NFL's final four teams were not above .500 last season.

This is life in the get-rich-quick NFL: For the third consecutive season, a team will advance to the Super Bowl despite not having a winning record the previous season.

At 10-6 in 1999, the Minnesota Vikings were the only team among this year's final four to have a winning record last season. Baltimore and Oakland, combatants in the AFC Championship, were 8-8 a year ago. The New York Giants were 7-9.

Turning it Around
From a .500 or worse season to the Super Bowl
Year  Team  Before  After  Result 
1999  Rams  4-12  13-3  W SB XXXIV 
1999  Titans  8-8  13-3  L SB XXXIV 
1998  Falcons  7-9  14-2  L SB XXXIII 
1996  Patriots  6-10  11-5  L SB XXXI 
1994  Chargers  8-8  11-5  L SB XXIX 
1989  Broncos  8-8  11-5  L SB XXIV 
1988  Bengals  4-11  12-4  L SB XXIII 
1982  Redskins  8-8  8-1*  W SB XVII 
1981  49ers  6-10  13-3  W SB XVI 
1981  Bengals  6-10  12-4  L SB XVI 
1973  Vikings  7-7  12-2  L SB VII 
* Strike-shortened season in 1981

The combined 1999 winning percentages of this year's final four was .516, which is the third lowest from the previous season(see chart below) since the merger in 1970.

Here's other interesting facts about this year's conference finalists:

  • If the Giants win the Super Bowl, they will be only the third team to accomplish the feat after a sub-.500 season -- joining the '99 St. Louis Rams, who went from 4-12 to world champions.

  • The Baltimore-Oakland winner will be the seventh AFC team to make the Super Bowl in the past 20 years to advance to the Super Bowl despite a non-winning season the previous year.

  • The last time the four conference finalists all made the playoffs the previous season was 1997. In the past two seasons, only three of the final four missed the postseason the previous year.

  • Last year's Super Bowl between the Rams and Titans featured two teams that did not have winning seasons the previous year. The only other time that has happened was 1981, when both San Francisco and Cincinnati made it to Super Bowl XVI after 6-10 seasons in 1980.

    All the Way Back
    Year  Conference Finalists (Prev. Yr. Record)  Prev. Year
    Win Pct. 
    1996  Packers (11-5), Patriots (6-10), Panthers (7-9), Jaguars (4-12)  .438 (28-36) 
    1999  Rams (4-12), Titans (8-8), Buccaneers (8-8), Jaguars (11-5)  .484 (31-33) 
    2000   Giants (7-9), Raiders (8-8), Vikings (10-6), Ravens (8-8)   .516 (33-31)  
    1991  Redskins (10-6), Bills (13-3), Lions (6-10), Broncos (5-11)  .531 (34-30) 
    1981  49ers (6-10), Bengals (6-10), Cowboys (12-4), Chargers (11-5)  .547 (35-29) 
    1998  Broncos (12-4), Falcons (7-9), Jets (9-7), Vikings (9-7)  .578 (37-27) 

    Related information
    Statitudes: NFL's stingiest defenses
    Statitudes: Giants get three-peat vs. Eagles
    Divisonal Playoffs -- By the Numbers
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