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.
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.
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.