The Best NFL Teams That Never Won the Super Bowl

  • 10. 2005 Indianapolis Colts

    This was the team that let off the gas pedal too early, and when it tried to jump back on the pedal, it was too late.

    After starting 13-0, talk of an undefeated season started to weigh on Indianapolis. It fell in Week 15 to San Diego. With a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the AFC locked up, the Colts didn’t play Peyton Manning and some other starters in their final two games and lost to Seattle, 28-13, before squeaking by Arizona, 17-13.

    Nearly a month after that loss to the Chargers, sixth-seeded Pittsburgh came to Indianapolis and pulled off the upset, 21-18, in the divisional round.

    What made matters worse was Denver upset Indianapolis’ biggest road block, New England, the previous night.

    The Colts dominated the regular season, winning an NFL record 12 games in which they never trailed. That included Manning finally getting by Brady in a 40-21 shellacking of the Patriots.

    The Colts squandered all of that momentum, but Manning got his ring a year later.

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  • 9. 1992 San Francisco 49ers

    Before Aaron Rodgers seamlessly stepped in for Brett Favre in Green Bay and Andrew Luck filled Peyton Manning’s shoes in Indianapolis, Steve Young showed them how to take the place of a legend in San Francisco.

    Steve Young waited in the wings behind three-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana until finally getting his chance to start in the 1991 season. Young led the league in passer rating that season and came back even stronger a year later. He topped the NFL in touchdown passes (25) and passer rating and was awarded the MVP.

    It didn’t hurt that Young had Jerry Rice to throw to and Ricky Watters to run the rock. The 49ers scored more points than any other team, won eight games by double-digits, and entered the NFC Championship against the Dallas Cowboys on a nine-game winning streak.

    Dallas, the eventual Super Bowl champions, derailed San Francisco’s run with a 30-20 victory, in large part because of four 49ers turnovers. San Francisco, who went 5-1 against playoff teams in a 14-2 regular season, didn’t go the distance because it turned the ball over eight times in two playoff games.

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  • 8. 2001 St. Louis Rams

    The 2001 Rams truly lived up to the nickname, “The Greatest Show on Turf.” From 1999-2001, St. Louis became the first team in NFL history to post 500 or more points in three straight seasons, while quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk were the only teammates in NFL history to finish 1-2 in MVP voting in three consecutive seasons.

    The Rams ruled the NFL. They won the Super Bowl title in ’99, set an NFL record for total offense in 2000, and came back even better in 2001. Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith took over as defensive coordinator and St. Louis signed veteran cornerback Aeneas Williams. Mike Martz’s spread offense, also featuring the likes of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim at wide receiver, now had a talented defense to complement it.

    The Rams won nine games by double-digits, went undefeated on the road, and picked up 14 regular season victories.

    After all that success, St. Louis was a 14-point favorite to upstart New England in the Super Bowl, the largest point spread this century, according to Vegasinsider.com. While most fans thought the Rams would run over the Patriots and cement themselves as a dynasty, the Patriots had other ideas and started a dynasty of their own — albeit with Spygate allegations attached.

    The Rams were dismantled a short time later and still haven’t recovered. They’ve had just one winning season since.

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  • 7. 1983 Washington Redskins

    The only thing separating the Redskins from one of the top spots on this countdown was a lopsided defeat in Super Bowl XVIII.

    Up until that point, there was no slowing down Washington. The Redskins went 14-2 in the regular season, with each of their losses coming by one point, and posted a record 541 points behind MVP Joe Theismann.

    The Redskins also had the league’s top run defense, an incredible turnover margin of plus-43 and 11 double-digit victories.

    They were destined to win back-to-back titles. Then they crumbled like no other team on this list in the Super Bowl to a team they beat in the regular season.

    The league’s No. 1 rushing defense allowed Marcus Allen to run for a Super Bowl-record 191 yards; the Los Angeles Raiders blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown; and Theismann threw a pick six on a screen pass in the Raiders’ 38-9 victory.

    The offense that dominated the NFL seemingly didn’t show up. Theismann went 16-for-35 with two interceptions; John Riggins ran for only 64 yards on 26 carries; and Art Monk had one catch for 26 yards.

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  • 6. 1984 Miami Dolphins

    The foundation of Don Shula’s Dolphins teams in the 1970s and even early ’80s was defense. The undefeated 1972 team, for example, only allowed opponents to reach 20 points three times.

    When Dan Marino came to town, that all changed. With Marino under center, the Dolphins turned into an offensive juggernaut. He broke the league records for passing yardage (5,084) and passing touchdowns (48) in his second year in 1984. To put those numbers in perspective, Peyton Manning didn’t throw for 49 touchdowns until 2004 and Drew Brees didn’t break the yardage mark until 2011 in the new pass-happy, don’t-even-breathe-on-a-receiver NFL.

    The Dolphins scored a franchise record 513 points, held a 13.4-point margin of victory, and won their first 11 games on the way to a 14-win campaign. Marino won the MVP and ran into another pretty good quarterback in the Super Bowl, Joe Montana, who won his second ring. Marino never got his.

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  • 5. 2013 Denver Broncos

    This team broke just about every regular-season record in the book, but folded like a lawn chair when it mattered most in Super Bowl XLVIII.

    The Broncos, behind a solid offensive line and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play, produced offensive numbers the league hadn’t ever seen. Denver became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger to reach 50 points in three games in the same season. The Broncos reached the end zone 76 times and scored 606 points, both NFL records.

    Peyton Manning, the league’s MVP, shattered the old passing touchdowns record (50) by five and threw for an astounding 5,477 yards. Manning did it with an All-Star supporting cast that included five players — Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas — that each had 10 or more touchdowns — another league record.

    The offense that averaged 37.9 points per game in the regular season managed just eight in a 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

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  • 4. 1990 Buffalo Bills

    There was no more crushing Super Bowl defeat than when Scott Norwood’s infamous field goal in the closing seconds went wide right in Super Bowl XXV, giving the New York Giants a one-point victory.

    This team was the first of four straight Bills squads to play in the Super Bowl. It also was arguably the most talented and it certainly came the closest to delivering Buffalo the pro sports championship it is still waiting on.

    The 1990 Bills had all the ingredients of a championship team. Quarterback Jim Kelly led the league in passer rating, running back Thurman Thomas paced the league in yards from scrimmage, and Buffalo had the No. 1 scoring offense.

    On the opposing side of the ball, Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith recorded 19 sacks and 101 tackles for the NFL’s sixth-stingiest defense.

    The Bills got hot at the right time, too, posting 44 points in an AFC Divisional playoff win over the Dolphins before dismantling the Raiders, 51-3, in the AFC Championship Game.

    The only way New York slowed down Buffalo in the Super Bowl was by dominating possession. The Giants held the ball for an unbelievable 40 minutes, 33 seconds. The Bills had the ball for just eight minutes in the second half.

    Still, if Norwood’s field goal hadn’t gone wide right, that all would’ve been forgotten.

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  • 3. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

    A three-point loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9 was all that separated the Vikings and regular-season perfection. Minnesota still became only the third team in NFL history to go 15-1, but became the first 15-win team to not win it all.

    The 1998 Vikings were expected to be strong with a top-flight defense, running back Robert Smith, and Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter, but Minnesota also got some unexpected help. After Brad Johnson was intercepted twice and injured in Week 2, backup Randall Cunningham (34 touchdowns) stepped in and took the Minnesota offense to new heights. One of the main reasons for his success was rookie wide receiver Randy Moss, who took the league by storm with 1,313 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns — still a rookie record. Minnesota didn’t pick and pop much, instead opting for the big play and they usually got it. The Vikings had 52 plays go 25-plus yards.

    On top of all that, John Randle had 10.5 sacks and anchored the sixth-best defense in points allowed and Gary Anderson made his first 35 field goal attempts. The Vikings won 12 games by 10 or more points, but blew a 20-7 halftime lead in the NFC Championship Game. Anderson receives much of the blame to this day for missing a 38-yard field goal with about two minutes to play that would’ve put the Vikings up by 10, but Minnesota still allowed the tying touchdown after that and did nothing in multiple overtime possessions before the Falcons kicked a 38-yarder to win it.

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  • 2. 1968 Baltimore Colts

    If you weren’t around to witness this team — and chances are you weren’t — the only number you really need to know to understand the Colts’ dominance is 18.4. That was their average point differential during their 13-1 season. Only one team in this countdown can even come close to matching that, and they’re at No. 1.

    Baltimore, coached by Don Shula, allowed only 144 points, while scoring 402. The Colts’ only loss came by 10 to the Cleveland Browns, a team they went on to obliterate, 34-0, in the league championship game.

    Even with Earl Morrall under center instead of Johnny Unitas, Baltimore looked like an immovable force for the perceived weaker New York Jets of the AFL. The Colts, an 18-point favorite in Super Bowl III, fell behind 16-0 to Joe Namath and co. before Unitas stepped in and led Baltimore to a fourth-quarter touchdown. It was too little too late, and many people still consider it the greatest upset in Super Bowl history.

    On the bright side, the Colts’ loss strengthened the credibility of the AFL and played a role in the AFL and NFL merging soon afterward.

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  • 1. 2007 New England Patriots

    The difference between the New England Patriots topping the list of greatest teams to ever play, instead of this one, was an unsung wide receiver trapping a ball against his helmet and somehow holding on in Super Bowl XLII.

    New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning shed the grip of three would-be tacklers before flinging an ill-advised duck down the middle of the field and David Tyree snagged the ball with his right hand and pressed it hard against his helmet.

    It kept the Giants in the game, and they made the Patriots pay when Manning connected on the game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress three plays later with 35 seconds to play.

    The Patriots fell 35 seconds short of perfect and just about everyone was shocked. How could they not be after what New England did in the regular season? The Patriots became the first team to go 16-0, won 12 games by double-digits, and really only had two games that weren’t out of hand by the fourth quarter (Ravens, Giants).

    Quarterback Tom Brady finally had the deep threat he had been waiting for and threw 23 of his 50 touchdown passes to Randy Moss (on two of the top three teams on this list). Both numbers were NFL records. The Patriots offense also scored a record 589 points and New England held a point differential of 19.7, the greatest mark in league history.

    Nearly every statistic points to them being the greatest team ever, except the final score in the Super Bowl.

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  • Indianapolis Colts
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Marshall Faulk
  • Joe Theismann
  • Dan Marino
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Randy Moss
  • Johnny Unitas
  • Tom Brady

Heading into Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, much of the focus is on which team will have its greatness validated with a Lombardi trophy.

The winning team’s players will raise the trophy to the sky as confetti pours down, participate in a parade, and eventually will receive rings to commemorate a title that can’t ever be taken away from them.

Sounds pretty great, right?

Here’s the kicker: One of the teams is going to lose. Its players are going to spend the night wiping away their own tears and are going to have reoccurring nightmares about what could’ve been. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone from the 49ers, who had multiple chances at a ring over the last few years and continuously came up short. Or ask the Bills of the 1990s, who lost four straight Super Bowls, including one on the last play of the game.

This game isn’t always fair and someone has to lose. It might even be the better team. This isn’t baseball, hockey or basketball where a bad game can be overcome in a best-of-seven series. One mistake — a missed field goal for example — can cost a great team in the end. Some of the NFL’s greatest teams never received rings because they either lost in the Super Bowl or didn’t even make it there.

Here is the list of The Best NFL Teams That Never Won the Super Bowl, and here’s to hoping your team doesn’t join this list on Monday.

Follow Brett on Twitter at @bpoirierNB

image via The Sporting News/Getty Images