The ultimate goal of every National Football League franchise is to survive an entire season as the last team standing and winner of the Super Bowl. That squad lives on in pro football history, forever a champion in what is the most popular professional sport in all of North America. There is a long list of all-time great players who, at some point during their careers, hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the middle of the field after winning a Super Bowl. This includes the likes of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Lawrence Taylor, Terry Bradshaw and so many others.
Then, there are the franchises that have never been to the mountaintop. Some of those teams have come close, advancing to a Super Bowl without ever winning the Big Game. Two of these clubs have made four Super Bowl appearances each, losing every one of those games. One franchise was run out of the stadium by a superior side in its single trip to the Super Bowl. Another came painfully close to forcing what would have been the first overtime of the Super Bowl era. There has, to date, still never been a Super Bowl go past four quarters. Perhaps that will change with Super Bowl XLIX.
Even more painful are the Super Bowl droughts including franchises that haven't even come all that close to winning a championship in the modern pro football era. Two are younger clubs that have not had all that many opportunities to win a Super Bowl when you compare them to historic teams such as the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Two others, however, were once proud franchises, teams that have NFL Championships on their resumes. It would be fitting if those two teams were to one day play in a Super Bowl, if only to guarantee one of those cities a pro football championship for the first time in decades.
13 Houston Texans
The Texans have existed as an active National Football League franchise for slightly over a decade, playing regular season games for the first time in 2002. While Houston has advanced to postseason play multiple times, the Texans have never appeared in an AFC Championship Game, let alone in a Super Bowl. The club's time may soon arrive, thanks in part to a menacing defensive end. J.J. Watt is the best overall defensive player in all of the NFL, and Houston needs to do well to find a true franchise quarterback sooner than later to ensure that Watt's talent is not wasted.
12 Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is one of two expansion teams that joined the league in 1995 to have not yet won a Super Bowl. While the Jaguars are still waiting to advance to the Big Game, the club does have two AFC Championship appearances in its history. It has been dark days for the Jaguars over the past several years, and there are no guarantees that the team has found an answer at the quarterback position. Blake Bortles showed flashes of being capable of leading a National Football League franchise during his first year in the league, but he also, at times, resembled Blaine Gabbert. Yikes.
11 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers, along with the previously mentionned Jaguars, joined the National Football League for the start of the 1995 regular season. Unlike Jacksonville, however, Carolina has played in the final game of a campaign. Carolina and the New England Patriots put on a show at Super Bowl XXXVIII, and the Panthers were in the contest right to the point that John Kasey booted a kickoff out of bounds with the game tied and roughly one minute left on the clock. New England started the subsequent drive at its own 40-yard line, and quarterback Tom Brady helped set up Adam Vinatieri for the kicker's second championship-winning field goal of his career.
10 Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals seemed on the cusp of winning a first championship of the Arizona era at Super Bowl XLIII, but then Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to work. Roethlisberger and wide receiver Santonio Holmes linked up several times on that drive, including on one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. Big Ben tossed a six-yard pass toward the corner of the end zone, and Holmes stretched out to grab full possession of the football as he kept the toes of both feet inside the field of play. It was a catch that broke the backs of the Cardinals, and Arizona hasn't since been back to a Super Bowl.
9 San Diego Chargers
San Diego's single trip to an NFL championship game came at Super Bowl XXIX. It did not, as most predicted heading into the game, end well for the underdogs. The San Francisco 49ers were heavy favorites to make light work of the Chargers, and that is exactly what happened on that night in Miami, Florida. San Francisco quarterback Steve Young hit the San Diego defense for 325 passing yards and six touchdown passes, three of which were thrown to legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice. Young deservedly won Most Valuable Player honors, and the 49ers cruised to a blowout 49-26 victory.
8 Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were merely on the wrong side of history when they made their first championship appearance at Super Bowl XXXIII. John Elway and the Denver Broncos were the defending Super Bowl champions heading into that contest, and destiny was, on that night, on the side of the Hall-of-Fame quarterback and his Broncos. Denver answered an early Morten Anderson field goal by taking a 17-6 lead into halftime, and Atlanta would never again come close to having a lead. Most casual fans had stopped watching by the time the 34-19 scoreline was finalized. Atlanta hasn't yet returned to the Super Bowl.
7 Tennessee Titans
The former Houston Oilers made its one and only trip to a Super Bowl during the 1999 season when they played against the St. Louis Rams at Super Bowl XXXIV. This contest will forever be remembered for one of the greatest finishes in the history of the National Football League. With the Titans trailing by seven points and seconds left on the clock, Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson reeled in a pass just shy of the end zone. One step away from potential greatness, Dyson was stopped short by St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones, and Dyson, even though he was at full stretch, could not get the ball to touch any portion of the goalline as time expired.
6 Philadelphia Eagles
Neither Super Bowl XV nor Super Bowl XXXIX went Philadelphia's way. The franchise's best chance to win it all was at Super Bowl XXXIX, when wide receiver Terrell Owens made a heroic return from a serious leg injury to put up one of the best performances in the history pro football championship games. Philadelphia is, to date, but one of three teams to lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles, as of January 2015, remain the only franchise out of the NFC East to have never won a Super Bowl in its history.
5 Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are arguably the least lucky National Football League franchise on this list. Cincinnati twice advanced to Super Bowl games – Super Bowl XVI and Super Bowl XXIII – and twice the Bengals ran into a National Football League dynasty in the San Francisco 49ers. Cincy came close in both encounters, but the Bengals were merely unable to make clutch plays in the closing minutes of those contests. Think about this: The Most Valuable Player awards for those two games were Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Good luck trying to compete against those all-time greats in a one-and-done championship contest.
4 Minnesota Vikings
Well before the days of the so-called “Boy I Love Losing Superbowls” were the “Purple People Eaters” who came up short in four championship games, Super Bowl IV, VIII, IX and XI. Minnesota's best chance to win a Super Bowl came when they faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs at Super Bowl IV. Favorites to win the game by 12-points, Minnesota supposedly entered that game overconfident, and it cost the Vikes big time. Kansas City scored 16 unanswered points in the first half, and one final score in the third secured a 23-7 victory for the underdog Chiefs.
3 Buffalo Bills
The Bills famously appeared in and lost four consecutive Super Bowl games; XXV, XXVI, XXVII, and XXVIII. It was at Super Bowl XXV where the Bills, led by a high-powered offense, were supposed to get the job done against the New York Giants. The Giants dominated possession of the football, however, surrendering only 19 minutes of game clock to the offense of the Bills. Buffalo still had a chance to win the game with seconds left on the clock, but Scott Norwood hit his field goal attempt wide right for an infamous miss. The Bills have never since come as close to winning a Super Bowl as they were on that night.
2 Cleveland Browns
The Browns were a respected franchise when they won the National Football League Championship in 1964. Those days seem like...well, like five decades to be exact. Cleveland has not seen a professional sports championship since, with the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians delivering multiple gut-punches to the city's faithful sports fans over that time. The Browns were yanked out of Cleveland by owner Art Modell in the mid-90s, and the “New Browns” have largely been a NFL laughingstock since returning to the league in 1999. Cleveland has never played in a Super Bowl, and the sad truth is that it doesn't look like the current edition of the team is close to making it to a title game.
1 Detroit Lions
There is little question that the current Lions are far and away better than are the current Browns. Detroit, like Cleveland, hasn't appeared in the Super Bowl once, but the Lions last won a National Football League Championship all the way back in 1957. It is not all bad times for the Lions heading into the 2015 offseason. Detroit has a solid quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and Calvin Johnson may be the best wide receiver in the game today. Good fortune has once again frowned on the club, however, as division rivals the Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers, the best QB in the business, along with other phenomenal weapons.