The San Francisco 49ers’ journey to the Super Bowl is one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history. Just last year, they went 4-12 and had the second-worst record in the league.
So their rise from scrap heap to top of the heap is nothing short of remarkable.
In fact, ESPN has used a computer model to calculate the most-unlikely Super Bowl teams of all-time, and determined that the 2019 49ers are the second-most unlikely team ever.
But there was one team that stood out as the most unlikely: The 1999 St. Louis Rams.
Previous season: 4-12, 5.4 Pythagorean wins
Super Bowl season: 13-3, 13.8 adjusted Pythagorean wins
Why they improved: Even the 49ers would be amazed at how quickly the Rams turned things around. The other teams on this list improved their Pythagorean expectation by a number between 4.7 and 6.0 wins. The Rams improved by 8.4 wins, and they did so despite losing their starting quarterback to a torn ACL in the preseason. The 49ers were 40-1 to win the Super Bowl before the 2019 season. The 1999 Rams were 150-1. They ranked 25th in ESPN’s preseason power rankings. Nobody saw the Rams coming.
Much like the 2019 49ers, the Rams were smart in the draft and in free agency. They traded with the Indianapolis Colts to land future Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk, and used their first-round pick to land All-Pro wideout Torry Holt.
But it was the QB play that put the Rams over the top.
Under center for the 1999 Rams was Kurt Warner, who was a no-name backup heading into the 1999 season before starter Trent Green was injured in preseason. In his first year as a starter, Warner threw for 41 touchdowns and was named NFL MVP, setting numerous passing records along the way.
That season for Warner and the Rams culminated in a Super Bowl XXXIV win over the Tennessee Titans. Warner was named Super Bowl MVP after passing for a then-record 414 yards and two touchdowns.
As for the 49ers, they were very smart in their offseason approach as well. They drafted Pro Bowl DE Nick Bosa with their No. 2 overall pick, signed Richard Sherman in free agency, and also got big play from their QB.
Jimmy Garoppolo, who had only 10 career starts in five years before this season, played all 16 games and was among the most efficient passers in the league.
Will the 49ers be able to replicate the Rams and end their season hoisting a Lombardi Trophy?