Most of the trends leading up to Super Bowl XVIII seemed to forecast a Washington victory. The Redskins were the defending Super Bowl champs, and had only improved in the 1983 season, leading the NFL in point differential by a mile. According to SRS, there was a 90.1 percent chance that they were the league's true No. 1 team before the Super Bowl, one of the highest pre-Super Bowl probabilities since the merger.
The Raiders would have been an afterthought with their 4.2 percent pregame shot at No. 1, barely better than a 49ers team the Redskins had just dispatched in the NFC title game. Of course, that's why they're probabilities and not certainties -- Los Angeles went on to shellac Washington 38-9 behind Marcus Allen's 209 total yards and two touchdowns.
Go back to a time before the Bills suffered the first of their four consecutive Super Bowl defeats, and our method assigns them an NFL-best 71.4 percent chance that they were the league's top team in 1990. Buffalo led all teams in SRS during the regular season, then averaged 47.5 PPG in the AFC playoffs -- including a brutal 51-3 thrashing of the Raiders in the AFC title game.
The Giants were second in the league in SRS (albeit a distant second), and had a 42.6 percent probability of being one of the league's two best teams after easily disposing of the Bears and then outlasting the 49ers on the road to the NFC crown. Aside from the Super Bowl participants, the closest team to the top two was San Francisco (with a 15 percent chance of ranking either first or second), making 1990 a true two-team race.
Denver is currently favored in Vegas' estimation, but SRS says Seattle has a 51.2 percent chance of being the league's true best team (compared to Denver's 23 percent). The only other contender would be San Francisco -- which has a 40.3 percent probability of being in the top two -- but the Niners are the odd team out after falling to Seattle on the road in the NFC Championship Game.
This means that we have enjoyed all of the matchups we have wanted over the season's closing weeks, culminating in one of the best Super Bowl pairings in recent memory -- a welcome change from the trend toward more chaotic playoff outcomes that started roughly a decade ago.