For the first time since the 2009 regular season finale, the Dolphins are preparing to face a defending Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens’ visit to Sun Life Stadium coming up on Sunday.
Because Super Bowl champions don’t become Super Bowl champions by accident, this has proven to be quite a challenge through the years.
The Dolphins will enter the game Sunday with an 8-15 regular season record against defending Super Bowl champions, although they have fared better in such games lately with a 5-5 mark over the past 15 years.
There was another game scheduled against a defending Super Bowl champion that never was played. In 1987, the one Dolphins game that was wiped out after the schedule was shrunk from 16 to 15 games because of the players’ strike was a matchup against the New York Giants, who had defeated the Denver Broncos in the previous Super Bowl.
The Dolphins also have faced a defending Super Bowl champion in the playoffs three times without any success, although it should be pointed out two of the losses came against teams that would go on to repeat — the 1998 Denver Broncos and the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the regular season, the Dolphins have a 3-1 record against defending champs who would go on to repeat, with victories against Dallas in 1993, Denver in 1998 and New England in 2004 along with a loss to the Patriots in that ’04 season.
The game against Baltimore Sunday will come exactly 11 years after the Dolphins also faced a defending Super Bowl champion at home, in that case the New England Patriots. The Dolphins beat Tom Brady and company that day, pulling out a 26-13 victory.
Incidentally, that 2002 game also came after the Dolphins had started the season 3-0 before losing in Week 4. The one difference is that New England came to Miami that day with a 3-1 record, whereas the Ravens will bring a 2-2 mark.
That last fact, incidentally, is a rare occurrence for a Dolphins game against a defending Super Bowl champion. Excluding two season openers— in 2006 against Pittsburgh and in 1999 against Denver — only three times out of the other 21 games did the Dolphins face a defending Super Bowl champions that did not have a winning record.
In 2005, the Dolphins faced the 4-4 Patriots in Week 10; in 1997, they faced the 1-1 Green Bay Packers in Week 3; and in 1981, they faced the 4-6 Oakland Raiders in Week 11.
Overall, the Dolphins will take a better record than its opponent in a matchup against a defending Super Bowl champion for only the eighth time.
In a bizarre trend, the overwhelming majority of the Dolphins’ battles against defending Super Bowl champs have come late in the season, with only five of the previous 23 coming before the halfway mark. Those five include the two season openers, the 2002 game against New England, the Green Bay game in 1997, and another game against the Patriots in 2004.
This will be the 13th time the Dolphins have faced a defending Super Bowl champion at home — they had a 5-7 record in the first 12, compared to a 3-8 mark in road games.
The Dolphins have held their own in close games, splitting 10 matchups decided by seven points or less. At the other end, there has been only one Dolphins regular season game against a defending Super Bowl champion decided by 20 points or more, a 44-20 victory by the San Francisco 49ers in Miami in 1995.
When it comes to the significance of beating a defending Super Bowl champ in the regular season, the Dolphins have made the playoffs in four of the eight seasons where they’ve beaten the reigning champions. They’ve also finished with a winning record seven of those eight seasons, the only exception coming in 2004 when they stunned the New England Patriots, who would go on to repeat, in a Monday night game in December after coming in with a 2-11 record.
Here’s the complete rundown of the Dolphins’ victories against defending Super Bowl champions, along with the teams’ record at the time of the meeting:
2005, Week 17, Dolphins (8-7) beat New England (10-5) 28-26, finish the season 9-7
2004, Week 15, Dolphins (2-11) beat New England (12-1) 29-28, finish the season 4-12
2002, Week 5, Dolphins (3-1) beat New England (3-1) 26-13, finish the season 9-7
1999, Week 1, Dolphins (0-0) beat Denver (0-0) 38-21, finish the season 9-7
1998, Week 16, Dolphins (9-5) beat Denver (13-1) 31-21, finish the season 10-6
1993, Week 12, Dolphins (8-2) beat Dallas (8-3) 16-14, finish the season 9-7
1978, Week 10, Dolphins (6-3) beat Dallas (6-3) 23-16, finish the season 11-5
1971, Week 10, Dolphins (7-1-1) beat Baltimore (7-2) 17-14, finish the season 10-3-1