Do NFL teams with animals in their name/logos get to the Super Bowl more often?

By Josh Orter

While Nate Silver and others employ sophisticated modeling or magic to pick playoff and Super Bowl winners, I’ve taken a different approach: animals.  (I've also looked into "bird" teams for the 2017 Super Bowl)

Specifically, with the Broncos playing the Panthers, I wondered if there was any anything unusual about two “animal” teams playing each other in the Super Bowl. Turns out, it’s exceptionally rare. This Sunday will be the 50th Super Bowl, but just the fourth to pit one animal against another. A scant 8%. Rather oddly, the first beast vs. beast contest didn't even happen until the 33rd year.

1999. Broncos vs Falcons.  
2007 Colts vs Bears.  
2014.  Seahawks vs Broncos.  
2016. Broncos vs Panthers.  (TBD)

You would be forgiven to think it's the result of fewer animals in the NFL, but such is not the case. In fact, exactly half the teams have an animal in either name or logo: 16 out of 32. 

So if it’s a rarity for two animals to play each other, what about one simply getting to the Super Bowl? Of the 100 teams to have made it, 39 have been animals. 39%. Not astoundingly lower, but for a group of teams representing 50% of the league, it's 22% lower than random chance. All other metrics aside, it's starting to appear that being an animal is a distinct disadvantage.

But what happens when an animal get into the Super Bowl, how do they make out? Horribly, it must be said. Putting aside the very rare all-animal contests, there have been 31 Super Bowls pitting animal against non-animal (the others have been non-beast games). Of these, the animal won eight. A dreadful 8 out of 31, barely more than a quarter.

Animal win percentages

There have been just 11 animal winners of the Super Bowl through 2015. Since two are playing this year, it's unavoidable that another will win, making 12 total. 12 out of 50 Super Bowls, or 24%. This is less than half that could be expected.

To recap, despite comprising half of the NFL, only 39% of the teams appearing in the Super Bowl have been animals; they've won just 24% of the Super Bowls in total and beat a non-animal team only about 26% of the time.

 But statistically speaking, there's a subcategory that fares even worse than animals in general: those with paws and hooves.

Land Animals
10 teams, or 31.25% of the NFL
25 Super Bowl appearances, 25% of total
Win percentage: 5 wins out of 25, or just 20% of appearances

In contrast, let us turn to winged animals.

Birds
5 teams, or 15.625% of the NFL
9 Super Bowl appearances, 9% of total
Win percentage: 3 wins out of 9 appearances, or 33.33%

So while land animals appear to make it to the Super Bowl more or less at the same rate as winged animals, they do considerably worse when they get there. That's not saying much, though, as they both have shameful winning percentages. This makes Super Bowl 50 all the more remarkable in that it pits two teams from the historically crappy land animal category for just the second time ever (the only other being the Colts vs Bears in 2007).

 

Other groups

I thought it might be worth checking out other cohorts and see how they fared. Three easy-to-classify groups were Marauding Seafarers, Cowboys & Indians, and Laborers.

Marauding seafarers
Buccaneers
Raiders
Vikings

Comprise 9.09% of NFL teams
10 appearances, or 10% of all Super Bowl teams (roughly in-line with their representation)
Win percentage:  4 of 10, or 40% of their appearances


Cowboys & Indians
Cowboys
Chiefs
Redskins

Comprise 9.09% of NFL teams
15 appearances, or 15% of all Super Bowl teams  (significantly better than their representation)
Win percentage: 9 wins out of 15, or a better than average 60% of their appearances


Laborers
Steelers  (steel industry)
Packers (meat packing)
49ers (gold mining)

Comprise 9.09% of NFL teams
19 appearances, or 19% of all Super Bowl teams  (way better than their representation)
Win percentage: 15 out of 19, an astounding 78.947% of their appearances.

 

Conclusion

Screw every other metric. Name your team after a blue collar industry and put the champagne on ice.