Every year, the Vince Lombardi trophy is awarded to the top football team in the world, but does the best team always win? The NFL playoffs aren’t like the post-seasons in hockey, basketball or baseball. Playoff games in the NFL mean a lot more than they do in those other sports because there is no best-of-seven series. Teams have one game to get the job done. If they don’t bring their A-game on that particular day, they will find themselves heading home, no matter what their regular season record was.
More often than not, the best team in the NFL ends up winning the Super Bowl. If we go back just one year, there aren’t many people that would argue that the Seattle Seahawks weren’t the best in the NFL. Seattle showed up and stunned a high-powered Denver offence, and when the game was done, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who the top team in the NFL was, but things rarely go as planned. This year, we could agree that Seattle and New England were the best teams in the NFL and either team would make for a worthy champion.
Since the Super Bowl era began, there are plenty of talented teams loaded with hall-of-famers that didn’t even make it to the dance. A lot of times, a high-powered offense doesn’t match up against a ferocious defense, and sometimes a rock solid defense gets exposed.
In the end, if you don’t win the Super Bowl there’s a good chance that fans won’t remember how good you were in the regular season. In the short-term, teams are judged by how much they win and lose, but in the long-run, all people remember is the team that is left standing at the end.
This is a list of the 10 best teams that failed to win the Super Bowl. Some of the teams had their hearts crushed in the big game, and some were shocked in the divisional round, but there is no denying that these teams were loaded with talent. This isn't a list of franchises that failed to win, but rather a particular year in which a great team fell short.
10 2011 Green Bay Packers (15-1)
The Green Bay Packers are an organization rich in tradition, but the 2011 team may have been the most talented Packers roster in history. Unfortunately for Packers fans, this group may also have been the one that underachieved the most as well.
Green Bay opened the season with 13 consecutive wins until they dropped a 19-14 decision in Kansas City. The Packers closed the regular season out with two wins over their division rivals in Chicago and Detroit, but they flopped in the playoffs. Despite going 15-1 in the regular season, the Packers were one and done in post-season when they dropped a divisional round game to the New York Giants.
Aaron Rodgers put up video game numbers throughout the season (560 total points scored), but the Packers’ defense looked average as the season wore on. The unit surrendered 359 total points (22.4 per game) which was good for 19th in the NFL.
9 1969 Minnesota Vikings (12-2)
Led by Hall-of-Fame coach Bud Grant, the ’69 Vikings were one of the most complete teams in NFL history. They had the number one offense in the league (27.1 points-per-game) and they had the number one defense in the game (9.5 points-per-game).
The Vikings dropped the first game of their regular season to the New York Giants, 24-23 but they rattled off 12 straight wins before they lost another game. Minnesota ended the regular season with a 10-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but they defeated the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns in their first two playoff games.
Minnesota faced Kansas City (11-3) in the Super Bowl, and it was the Chiefs that stunned the Vikings, 23-7. Vikings quarterbacks Joe Kapp and Gary Cuozzo combined to throw three interceptions in the loss.
8 1992 San Francisco 49ers (14-2)
Steve Young and Jerry Rice combined to lead the ’92 San Francisco 49ers to a strong 14-2 record. That season was Young’s coming out party in the NFL. Young, a late bloomer, was 31 years old during the 1992 season, but his statistics were impressive. He completed almost 67% of his passes and he threw for 3,465 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Rice was 30 in 1992 and he was as consistent a wide receiver as the NFL has ever seen. Rice posted a stat line that any pass catcher would envy. He caught 84 passes for 1,201 yards (the lowest amount he finished with since 1987) and he hauled in 10 receiving touchdowns.
The 49ers ended the regular season on an eight game winning streak, and they also won their divisional round playoff match up against the Washington Redskins. Things didn’t go as well for San Francisco in the NFC title game. The Niners lost dropped a 30-20 decision at home to the Dallas Cowboys. If the Cowboys weren't as good as they were in the 90s, the 49ers likely would've enjoyed a second dynasty.
7 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1)
The ’98 Vikings improved by leaps and bounds from the team they fielded in 1997. The ’97 edition of the Vikings finished 9-7, while the new-age Vikings led by Randall Cunningham and rookie receiver Randy Moss went an incredible 15-1. Moss, 21, had an incredible stat line when it was all said and done. He finished his first season with 69 receptions, 1,313 yards and 17 touchdown grabs.
Cunningham started the season as Brad Johnson’s backup, but when Johnson went down to injury in Week 2, Cunningham stepped in and really changed the Vikings’ offense. Cunningham had a 60.9% completion percentage and he passed for 3,704 yards, 34 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions.
The Vikings' only regular season loss came in Week 9 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-24. In the post-season, Minnesota defeated the Arizona Cardinals 41-21 in the divisional round, but lost a heartbreaker in the NFC title game to Atlanta, 30-27.
6 1990 Buffalo Bills (13-3)
The thing the Buffalo Bills are most remembered for is their string of four straight Super Bowl losses from 1990 to 1993. No matter how devastating those four losses were for the organization, no one can deny that the 1990 Buffalo Bills were loaded with talent.
The Bills were led by a group of players who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame. Quarterback Jim Kelly had completed over 63% of his passes and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 24:9. Running back Thurman Thomas amassed 1,297 yards rushing and 532 yards receiving. Receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton finished the season with 945 and 712 yards receiving respectively.
On defense, Bruce Smith was a force to be reckoned with. Smith registered 101 tackles and an incredible 19 sacks on the year. In 1990, the Bills sent four defensive players to the Pro Bowl (Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett and Shane Conlan).
The Bills defeated Miami and the Los Angeles Raiders in the Divisional and Conference Championship rounds, but they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal in the dying moments of the game, and the Bills season was over.
5 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4)
The Steelers entered the 1976 season as the two-time defending Super Bowl champions (they would win two more titles in 1978 and 1979). No team on this list has lost more games than the ’76 Steelers, but what they accomplished after a slow start can’t be ignored.
The team opened the season by losing four of their first five games, but they rebounded in a huge way down the stretch. Not only did the Steelers win their final nine games of the regular season but they pitched five shutouts in the process (including three in a row from Weeks 7-9).
Not only did Pittsburgh have a great defense, but they also had difference makers like Franco Harris and Lynn Swann on offense. Starting quarterback Terry Bradshaw was forced to miss four games due to injury, but backup Mike Kruczek did a fine job in Bradshaw’s absence.
The Steelers defeated the Baltimore Colts by a landslide, 40-14 in the divisional round, but they were exposed in the AFC title game against the Oakland Raiders. Bradshaw was just 14-of-35 with 176 yards passing and an interception, and the Steelers lost the game, 24-7.
4 1968 Baltimore Colts (13-1)
The 1968 Baltimore Colts had a solid offense and a stingy defense, but what stands out about that team was its coaching staff. Don Shula was the team’s head coach, while Chuck Noll was in charge of the team’s defensive backs.
The Colts started the season 5-0, before they dropped a 30-20 decision to the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore averaged an impressive 28.7 points-per-game which was good for second in the NFL, and they only allowed 144 points which was tops in the league.
Legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas was a 35-year-old during that season, but he was the backup to Pro Bowl/All-Pro quarterback Earl Morrall. Running back Tom Matte, tight end John Mackey, left tackle Bob Vogel and receiver Willie Richardson all represented the Colts’ offense in the Pro Bowl. That team also had three defensive players in the Pro Bowl.
The Colts defeated the Vikings in the divisional round, and they avenged their regular season loss to the Browns by shutting them out 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game. Unfortunately for the Colts, they ran into Joe Namath and the New York Jets in the Super Bowl. They were defeated 16-7 in that game.
3 1984 Miami Dolphins (14-2)
This year was Dan Marino’s coming out party. The 23-year-old quarterback was just in his second year as a pro, but it was his best year statistically. He was never able to surpass many of the incredible stats he put up during that season. Marino set career-highs in completion percentage with 64.2%, passing yards with 5,084, and touchdown passes with 48.
The Dolphins started the season off 11-0, before they lost an overtime game (34-28) to the San Diego Chargers. The Dolphins then lost a Week 14 match up to the Los Angeles Raiders. Miami ended the season with an overall record of 14-2. The Dolphins finished the season with an NFL best 513 points scored and a point differential of plus-215.
They breezed by the Seattle Seahawks, 31-10, in the divisional round of the playoffs, and they put up 45 points in the AFC title game against the Steelers. Unfortunately for Marino and the Dolphins, they were unable to stop the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
2 1983 Washington Redskins (14-2)
The Washington Redskins entered the 1983 season as defending Super Bowl champions. Quarterback Joe Theismann had led the Skins to an 8-1 record in ’82, and he was probably even better the following season. Washington scored at least 23 points in every game except the Super Bowl loss to the Los Angeles Raiders.
Running back John Riggins rushed for over 1,300 yards and an incredible 24 touchdowns in 15 games, while receiver Charlie Brown had 78 receptions, 1,225 yards and eight touchdown receptions that season. The most impressive stat from that season may just be their +43 turnover margin.
On defense, the Redskins had future Hall of Famer Darrell Green in their secondary. Green was 23 in his rookie season. He had two interceptions and 109 tackles in 1983.
Washington didn’t suffer from much of a Super Bowl hangover. They lost two games all season, and both by just a single point (Week 1 versus Dallas, Week 7 at Green Bay). The Redskins destroyed the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 51-7 in the divisional round, and they squeaked out a 24-21 win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. Unfortunately for Washington, their offense went cold in the Super Bowl. They were blown out by the Los Angeles Raiders (a team they beat in the regular season) by a score of 38-9.
1 2007 New England Patriots (16-0)
The 2007 edition of the New England Patriots were the dominant team in football that season. They blew by all of their competition until they reached the Super Bowl. Even then, it took a miraculous drive by Eli Manning, David Tyree and Plaxico Burress to prevent New England from being perfect. Quarterback Tom Brady passed for a league-high 4,806 yards. His 50 touchdown passes (which was a record back then) were 14 better than Tony Romo, who was second with 36. Brady dropped back to pass 578 times in 2007, but he was only intercepted a mind-blowing eight times.
There’s no doubt that Brady did a lot of damage to opposing defenses in 2007, but he couldn’t have done it without his star receiver, Randy Moss. Moss, 30 at the time, still holds the NFL’s single season record for most touchdown receptions with 23.
As for the Patriots’ defense, their unit allowed just 274 points against, which was fourth best behind only Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. The shocking number in all of this is the fact that the Patriots had a point differential of plus-315, when the next best team in that category was Indianapolis (plus-188).