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Thursday, January 24, 2008
Updated: January 25, 2:02 PM ET
Giants one of worst teams to reach Super Bowl

By Aaron Schatz

Eli Manning
QB Eli Manning needs to stay upright -- and avoid turnovers -- for the Giants to have any chance.
Can the New York Giants win Super Bowl XLII? Sure, they have a shot -- but if they win, it may be the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.

After all, the New England Patriots are the first NFL team to go 18-0 in a season, while the Giants are one of the two or three worst teams ever to reach the big game. And why is that?

Start with their regular-season total of 10 wins. A 10-6 record is a good season, but is not usually indicative of a Super Bowl season. Since the move to a 16-game schedule in 1978 -- and not counting strike years -- just two other teams have made the Super Bowl with a record worse than 11-5: the 1979 Los Angeles Rams (9-7) and the 1988 San Francisco 49ers (10-6). (The 49ers are the worst regular-season team ever to win the Super Bowl.)

During the regular season, the Giants outscored their opponents by a combined total of just 22 points. Only two other teams have reached the Super Bowl without outscoring opponents by at least 50 points during the regular season: the 1979 Rams (14 points) and the 2003 Carolina Panthers (21 points).

The Giants had a turnover differential of minus-10 during the regular season, which ranked 26th in the NFL. Only one team has ever made the Super Bowl with a worse turnover differential: the 1983 Los Angeles Raiders at minus-13. It is rare for a team to reach the Super Bowl with a negative turnover differential, and the teams that do make up for it by outscoring their opponents by a much larger margin than the Giants.

Super Bowl teams with negative turnover differential

Team Turnover differential Average margin of victory Win the Super Bowl?
1983 Raiders -13 6.5 Yes
2007 N.Y. Giants -10 1.4 ???
1979 Steelers -10 9.6 Yes
2001 Rams -10 14.4 No
1979 Rams -8 0.9 No
2003 Panthers -5 1.3 No
1976 Raiders -4 8.1 Yes
1992 Bills -3 6.1 No
1987 Redskins -3 6.3 Yes
1970 Colts -2 6.2 Yes

The Giants certainly have played better in the postseason -- but that's true of every single one of these unlikely Super Bowl participants. The 2003 Panthers won by a bigger margin in their first playoff game (19 points) than the Giants have in all three of their playoff games combined (17 points). That 1988 49ers team, you may recall, won its first two playoff games by 25 points each before beating Cincinnati 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII.

In fact, of all the teams needing three wins to reach the Super Bowl, the Giants have been the least dominating in the postseason.

Three playoff wins to reach Super Bowl

Team Average margin of victory in playoffs Win the Super Bowl?
2000 Ravens 15.0 Yes
1992 Bills 14.3 No
2003 Panthers 12.0 No
1985 Patriots 12.0 No
2005 Steelers 11.3 Yes
1997 Broncos 10.7 Yes
1980 Raiders 9.7 Yes
1999 Titans 9.3 No
2006 Colts 9.3 Yes
2007 Giants 5.7 ???
(Does not include 1982 strike season)

That's not to say the Giants can't overcome these negative statistics. After all, last year the Colts had the worst run defense and the worst scoring defense of any Super Bowl champion. And the year before that, the Steelers became the first team to win the Super Bowl as the sixth seed.

However, there are a couple of major differences between those teams and this Giants squad.

First, each of those teams struggled in the regular season because of a specific injury to a player who was in the lineup for the playoffs (Bob Sanders for the Colts, Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers). The Giants don't have a specific player whose absence was responsible for their regular-season struggles.

Second, those teams faced a different quality of opponent in the Super Bowl. This season's Patriots are not the 2005 Seattle Seahawks or the 2006 Chicago Bears. That may be the biggest difference of all.

Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of Pro Football Prospectus 2007 and 2008.