What Was The Best Super Bowl Ever? Ranking All 47 Games According To Watchability

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Sunday's Super Bowl was undoubtedly awesome. Big comeback. Dramatic finish. Weird NFL rules. Beyoncé. The question on everyone's mind: Was it the best Super Bowl ever?


To figure this out, we used an updated version of our watchability rankings, which measured games on quality of play (for viewers) regardless of the narratives coming into the contest. Each game was scored on a 0-100 scale. Here's the new methodology:

  • Upset (15 points): Determined by the difference between the final score and the betting line, with a bonus given to true upsets. Super Bowl III, in which Joe Namath led the Jets to a 16-7 win over the Colts despite being 18-point underdogs, gets a perfect 15.
  • Shootout (25 points): Based on the total points scored, because people like offense. The otherwise terrible Super Bowl XXIX, with 75 points scored in total, gets a perfect 25.
  • Closeness (50 points): Clearly the most important category. Determined by the worst fourth-quarter point differential faced by the game's eventual winner. Two teams have come back from seven-point deficits in the final quarter to take the title (Baltimore in Super Bowl V, 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII). These games get perfect 50s.
  • The Wire (10 point): To further reward closeness, 10 points are awarded for the four Super Bowls (1991, 2000, 2002, and 2004) that came down to the game's final, non-Hail Mary/kickoff return play. Games in which the lead changed on the final major drive got a five, and games that were close toward the very end but fizzled out in the last few minutes got a 1. The distribution of 1's is, admittedly, a little subjective.

Based on this methodology, here are the top 12 Super Bowls of all time:

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Our rankings put Super Bowl XLVII at eighth, maybe not the best ever, but certainly one of the best. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004), in which an insane 37 points were scored in the fourth quarter and the game ended on a 41-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, comes in at No. 1. The "wide right" game (1991) take the second spot, and Super Bowl XXXVI (2002), won again on Vinatieri's toe in a huge upset of the Rams, comes in third. While this methodology is imperfect—Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XXXIV probably come in too low, for example—the top rankings track closely with the lists put together by some other journalists, such as SI's Richard Rothschild.

The chart above raises another question: Are we living in the golden age of the Super Bowl? Below is a graph of the five-year average for Super Bowl watchability, the combined quality of the game for each year, the two years prior, and the two years post:

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Sure enough, after a rough period from 1993 to 1997, the Super Bowl has gotten more and more watchable (per our metric). However, since our rankings place Super Bowl XLII (2008) just ahead of this year's game, by our measurement the very best five-year stretch of Super Bowls was 2008-2012. The worst period was 1984-1988, when the Raiders, 49ers, Bears, Giants, and Redskins won in five consecutive blowouts.

You can check out detailed results here. Full rankings below:

RankBowlYearWinnerLoserUpsetScoreCloseWire Total
1XXXVIII2004New England 32Carolina 297194010 76
2XXV1991N.Y. Giants 20Buffalo 191084210 70
3XXXVI2002New England 20St. Louis 171373910 69
4XLIII2009Pittsburgh 27Arizona 23713445 69
5XXIII1989San Francisco 20Cincinnati 1677505 69
6XXXII1998Denver 31Green Bay 241216391 67
7XLII2008N.Y. Giants 17New England 14125455 67
8XLVII2013Baltimore 34San Francisco 31820351 65
9XVII1983Washington 27Miami 17811450 63
10XXXIV2000St. Louis 23Tennessee 16683910 63
11XLVI2012N.Y. Giants 21New England 1778425 62
12XLIV2010New Orleans 31Indianapolis 17913400 61
13XIV1980Pittsburgh 31L.A. Rams 19613420 61
14V1971Baltimore 16Dallas 1364501 61
15X1976Pittsburgh 21Dallas 1778441 59
16XIII1979Pittsburgh 35Dallas 31621320 59
17XXXIX2005New England 24Philadelphia 21711390 57
18XLV2011Green Bay 31Pittsburgh 25516341 56
19XXX1996Dallas 27Pittsburgh 17711340 52
20XXXVII2003Tampa Bay 48Oakland 21822180 48
21XVI1982San Francisco 26Cincinnati 21512310 48
22XLI2007Indianapolis 29Chicago 17512310 47
23XXVIII1994Dallas 30Buffalo 13510270 42
24XL2006Pittsburgh 21Seattle 1045320 41
25XXVI1992Washington 37Buffalo 24519180 41
26XXXIII1999Denver 34Atlanta 19415210 40
27IX1975Pittsburgh 16Minnesota 640340 39
28XXXI1997Green Bay 35New England 21616160 38
29XXVII1993Dallas 52Buffalo 17022160 38
30XXI1987N.Y. Giants 39Denver 20418130 34
31III1969N.Y. Jets 16Baltimore 7151180 34
32XI1977Oakland 32Minnesota 14312190 34
33XII1978Dallas 27Denver 1037230 33
34VII1973Miami 14Washington 750271 33
35XXIX1995San Francisco 49San Diego 2652520 32
36XV1981Oakland 27Philadelphia 1087160 31
37IV1970Kansas City 23Minnesota 7124130 29
38XVIII1984L.A. Raiders 38Washington 981280 28
39II1968Green Bay 33Oakland 1451280 25
40I1967Green Bay 35Kansas City 10311100 24
41XXII1988Washington 42Denver 1081400 22
42VI1972Dallas 24Miami 323160 21
43XXXV2001Baltimore 34N.Y. Giants 709110 21
44XXIV1990San Francisco 55Denver 1002000 20
45XIX1985San Francisco 38Miami 1621530 20
46VIII1974Miami 24Minnesota 745110 19
47XX1986Chicago 46New England 1001600 16

Earlier: All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To Watchability