Winning the Super Bowl is is the ultimate goal of every NFL player and it is by far the most difficult. Repeating is even harder, as suggested by history. Only six teams have been able to win back-to-back Super Bowls. However, that’s understandable considering the Super Bowl champion always has a big bullseye the following season and repeating in any sport is difficult.
However, an even more distinct trend are the runners-up, the losers of the Super Bowl and what they do the following season. Ten losers in the big game have gone on to miss the playoffs the following season, for various reasons, be it the team aging, being unable to stay healthy or losing many key pieces to free agency/trades in the offseason. Now this year, the Denver Broncos still look strong as ever, even after the Seahawks thrashed them this past February. But the games still need to be played, right? Who knows how this year will go for Denver?
Here are the 10 teams who missed the playoffs after coming up short in the Super Bowl.
10) 1989 Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t seem to put the last three minutes of Super Bowl XXIII out of their minds in the 1989 season. After falling victim to some Montana magic on a late game-winning drive, the Bengals had trouble building off their great 1988 season, going just 8-8 the following year.
Starting off the season at 4-1 had many thinking they would in fact build off their Super Bowl appearance, but they stumbled to a 4-7 finish, going last in the AFC Central.
Despite having the fourth best scoring offence, they couldn’t find ways to close out games, losing four of eight contests by a touchdown or less.
Following a bounce-back 1990 season, where they finished 9-7, first in the Central, the Bengals would go 14 years without making it back to the postseason. During this stretch they affectionately became known as the “Bungles”.
The franchise still seemingly can’t fully recover from that devastating loss.
9) 1990 Denver Broncos
Just like the 49ers did to the Bengals, they shellshocked the Broncos into mediocrity, although San Francisco did so by crushing Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.
Still, with John Elway in the prime of his career, and a strong coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, QBs coach Mike Shanahan and linebackers coach Mike Nolan, there was no reason to think the Broncos couldn’t be Super Bowl contenders once again. Well, they wouldn’t quite recover until Elway began to hit the tail end of his career years later.
The 1990 Broncos were a disaster. A rough 3-4 start still had them hopeful going into their bye week, but a six-game losing streak following the bye did them in, as they finished 5-11. It was a six-game drop from their 11-5 record in 1989.
It was particularly frustrating because seven of their 11 losses were by less than a touchdown. It just shows you how little the margin of error is in the NFL and the small difference between a contender and a bottom feeder. The Broncos were dead last in the AFC West.
8) 1994 Buffalo Bills
Say what you want about the Buffalo Bills of the early ’90s; they sure knew how to rebound from Super Bowl losses. However after a fourth straight loss in the big game, in which they were once again victimized by the Dallas Cowboys, the Bills’ age and the grind of four straight Super Bowl seasons had finally caught up with them.
The Bills finished 7-9 and their division record was a mere 3-5, allowing the Colts, Patriots and AFC East-winning Dolphins to pass them. Ironically they beat the Dolphins twice that year, while losing in both meetings to the 6-10 Jets.
A 41-17 loss to New England in Week 16 eliminated them from the playoff race.
7) 1999 Atlanta Falcons
After what remains their most successful season in franchise history, a 14-2 campaign in 1998, their 34-19 loss in Super Bowl XXXIII to Denver sent them crashing down and they never got up.
The 1999 Falcons opened the season with four straight losses, and they never recovered. They entered a Week 10 bye at 2-7 and finished the season at 5-11, a nine-game drop from the 1998 season.
Quarterback Chris Chandler had more trouble staying healthy, starting in 12 games, his touchdown passes dropping from 25 to 16 and yardage falling by over 800. Without running back Jamal Anderson leading the offence (he played just two games before suffering a torn ACL), the Falcons dropped to 27th in total offence. Luck is a bigger factor than people realize in terms of success.
6) 2001 New York Giants
An all-star coaching staff of OC Sean Payton and DC John Fox helped the Giants storm to Super Bowl XXXV after defeating the Eagles and Vikings (a 41-0 victory in the NFC Championship game). However the Giants found themselves overwhelmed by the Baltimore Ravens’ defence and lost 34-7.
The 2001 season never quite came together for New York, going 2-4 against their division and five of nine losses were by a touchdown or less. All of a sudden they weren’t winning those close games they had a year before.
Michael Strahan set an NFL record with 22.5 sacks, but that was the bright spot in their disappointing season.
5) 2002 St. Louis Rams
The Greatest Show on Turf was no more following their stunning 20-17 loss to the underdog Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. However, while they were disappointed, the team still had the likes of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and company. They were expected to remain contenders for several years. However, the 2002 season began a downfall in the legendary Kurt Warner’s career, a tailspin from which would take him years to recover.
The Rams inexplicably started the season 0-5, with Warner throwing seven interceptions in three games, before suffering a broken hand. Warner would play just seven games the entire season, posting a pedestrian 67.4 QB rating.
Marc Bulger nearly salvaged the Rams season, winning in all six games he started and finished and the Rams bounced back to 5-5. Four losses in their final six ended any hope they had and the Greatest Show on Turf never got an encore.
4) 2003 Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have yet to make it back to the playoffs since their Super Bowl XXXVII loss to Tampa Bay.
As old as the Raiders were in the 2002 season, they were that much older in 2003 and age caught up to them. Rich Gannon was the biggest casualty. After enjoying a career year in 2002, a shoulder injury ended Gannon’s 2003 season, albeit after a 2-5 start, and his career would end after 2004 following a serious neck injury.
Oakland was left rudderless, with coach Bill Callahan losing control of the team, which finished 4-12, last in its division. The team had a five-game losing streak in which they lost by a touchdown or less, with many questioning Callahan’s game management. Al Davis fired Callahan after the 2003 season, which saw the Raiders begin their recent history, being known as bottom feeders.
3) 2004 Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers had a ferocious defence in 2003, along with a blossoming Jake Delhomme and young talent on offence such as Steve Smith and DeShaun Foster. Their dramatic 32-29 loss to the favoured New England Patriots was seen as a tough break, but only to start many great years. Well, 2004 wasn’t one of them.
The 2004 season got off to a horrendous start, with injuries decimating the Panthers’ lineup, causing them to start 1-7. The Panthers got healthier and made a late push, winning six of their last eight, but ultimately came up short, with crushing late season losses to division rivals. A 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta and a 21-18 loss to New Orleans saw them eliminated. One more win would’ve gotten them through, as both wild card teams in the NFC finished at 8-8 that year.
2) 2005 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles finally made it over the NFC hump in 2004, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb‘s first and only trip to the Super Bowl. Their 24-21 loss to New England was full of missed opportunities, but Andy Reid’s teams have usually been regular winners.
The 2005 Eagles though, saw a situation with Terrell Owens come to a head, as he became a distraction for the team while in a contract dispute. The team would ultimately suspend Owens for the season in November.
Injuries played a huge factor, with Philadelphia losing McNabb, running back Brian Westbrook, wide receiver Todd Pinkston, offensive tackle Tra Thomas, defensive lineman Jerome McDougle, center Hank Fraley, cornerback Lito Sheppard, and running back Correll Buckhalter to various injuries.
The Eagles went 0-6 against the NFC East that year and Owens would join the Dallas Cowboys the following year.
1) 2007 Chicago Bears
It’s still amazing to this day, that the 2006 Chicago Bears made it to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. Well, that stroke of witchcraft ran out the following season.
The Bears’ defence wasn’t nearly as dominant as they were in the 2006 campaign and the offence struggled mightily, as the Bears finished 7-9.
Tank Johnson’s arrest as well as contract disputes between the Bears and Lance Briggs, along with young sensation Devin Hester proved to be distractions in the offseason following their Super Bowl defeat.
The team also traded away Thomas Jones, who was a vital part to their offence, coming off a 1,210 yard season.
Not re-signing defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was the biggest mistake of all, as the Bears dropped to 16th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed.
Their 7-9 season was the first of three straight seasons in which they missed the playoffs. In fact, since 2006 the Bears have only made it back once, an NFC championship appearance in the 2010 season.