By the numbers, the 2008 Arizona Cardinals are the worst team to ever make it to a Super Bowl.
They barely avoided getting outscored during the regular season, scoring 427 points while allowing 426. They are just the second nine-win team to get to the final game. How rare is it that a team that mediocre even wins its division?
Since 1985, only three teams won their division in a season they were outscored (the 1985 Browns, the 2004 and 2006 Seahawks). Only the 1979 Rams and 2003 Panthers were close to getting outscored in the regular season (14 and 21 points respectively) and - until now - those Rams were the only nine-win team to make it.
Arizona had games in which it allowed 47, 48 and 56 points this year. But those '79 Rams gave the mighty, mighty Steelers an epic fight in the Super Bowl. And, at this time last year, the Giants were being mentioned as one of the worst entrants ever.
We're not saying the Cardinals can't win. Just that their regular season ineptitude is�noteworthy.
49ers receiver Jerry Rice races past Chargers safety Darren Carrington in Super Bowl Under head coach Bobby Ross, the Chargers started the season on a tear, winning their first six. But with an offense triggered by Stan Humphries and reliant on the running of rookie Natrone Means (Business!) they went 5-5 down the stretch to finish 11-5.
The Chargers got a first-round bye, eked past the Dolphins, 22-21 in the Divisional Playoffs and broke the Neil O'Donnell led Steelers hearts at Three Rivers in the AFC Championship.
They then got to play the role of bewildered opponent against a rampaging 49ers offense in the Super Bowl, losing 49-26. Steve Young threw six touchdowns and the game wasn't as close as the final score indicates.
New England was a fairly star-free team that started the season 2-3, finished 11-5 and then went crazy in the postseason, winning three road games as a wild card to get to New Orleans to face the Bears.
New England didn't do anything really well in '85. They ran the ball OK with rookie Craig James. They were just average in the passing game with Tony Eason as the main man and veteran Steve Grogan getting time in place of the tender Eason. Defensively, they had Hall of Famer Andre Tippett and sturdy veterans like Steve Nelson and Julius Adams.
But they were out of their league when they got to the Super Bowl and the Bears embarrassed them 46-10.
These Patriots started the season 0-2 before Bill Parcells put the fear of God in them and they turned it around.
The Pats were a team that appeared on the rise -- not one that had arrived. And their 34-8 regular season loss to Denver was a clear indication that New England had a ways to go before it was a force.
But the Patriots defense got hot down the stretch. New England stunned the Steelers in the fog at Foxboro 28-3 while the Broncos were knocking Denver from the playoffs.
The Pats took care of the second-year Jags in the AFC Championship, 20-6, then put up a great fight in the Super Bowl before losing 35-21 to Brett Favre and the Packers.
They were 5-6 after 11 games and, with starting quarterback Pat Haden hurt, turned the team over to Vince Ferragamo who proceeded to throw five touchdowns and 10 interceptions down the stretch.
They edged the 8-8 Saints for the division crown, however, and Ray Malavasi's boys stunned the Cowboys, 21-19 in the divisional round on a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Ferragamo to Billy Waddy.
Then a deluge hit Tampa Bay the next weekend and, in the slop, the Rams managed three Frank Corral field goals in a 9-0 win over the 10-6 Bucs.
Facing the mighty Steelers in the Super Bowl, the Rams put together their best performance of the season. They led 19-17 headed to the fourth after a halfback pass by Lawrence McCutcheon gave them the lead.
But a brilliant catch by John Stallworth on a Terry Bradshaw pass turned into a 73-yard touchdown to make it 24-19 and the Steelers added an insurance score late.
New England started the season 0-2 with Drew Bledsoe at the controls and the gears were starting to churn toward a Bill Belichick firing. But Bledsoe got hurt, Tom Brady took over and the Patriots became perhaps the best band of overachievers in NFL history.
After dropping to 5-5 with a loss to the St. Louis Rams in November, the Patriots didn't allow a single opponent to score more than 17 points the rest of the way.
With a collection of castoffs on offense - running back Antowain Smith, wide receivers Troy Brown and David Patten, tight end Jermaine Wiggins - the Patriots started picking teams apart on the edges with the precise passes of Brady.
New England survived the Raiders in the Snow Bowl (thanks in no small part to the Tuck Rule), outsmarted the Steelers in the AFC Championship and then outhit the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Winners of the ugly contest that was the NFC in 2006, the Bears going 13-3 is more testament to how bad their competition was than how good they were.
But their stats -- second in points scored, third in points allowed -- indicated a pretty good team. And their defense stacks up against most anyone's.
But their offense was led by Rex Grossman, a self-styled gunslinger that couldn't shoot straight. In an era of passing precision where 60 percent completions are the norm, the quarterback of the NFC Champions completed 54 pecent of his passes and threw 23 touchdowns and 20 picks.
Chicago got to the Bowl in spite of Grossman and his inept Super Bowl performance in the Bears 29-17 loss to the Colts sealed the deal.
They went 10-6 during the regular season after an 0-2 start. After a 22-10 loss to Washington in December they seemed to be in disarray and Giants fans were ready to turn on head coach Tom Coughlin for another late-season swoon.
But a stirring, 38-35 loss to New England in the regular season finale got them revved up for the playoffs.
After a wild-card win over the horrible Bucs, New York traveled to Dallas to face the legendarily inept playoff coaching of Wade Phillips. They won there as well, 21-17.
Then New York outlasted the Packers in freezing conditions at Lambeau to get to the Bowl against the perfect Patriots. But the Giants took on the persona of that Pats team from 2001.
Not given a chance, they beat New England to a pulp, got some good fortune on a miracle pass and hung on to end New England's run at perfection.