Today I want to talk about the 10 best teams in the Super Bowl era that did NOT win a Super Bowl. Too many times teams have memorable seasons that are quickly forgotten because they didn’t finish the job and win the Super Bowl. What these 10 teams accomplished will always be remembered fondly by the fans of these teams. Others quite simply forget and remember these teams as “losers”. The ten teams listed here should be remembered for what they accomplished, not necessarily how they finished.
10) 1981 Cincinnati Bengals 12-4 (Lost Super Bowl XVI to San Francisco 26-21)
Led by the NFL’s MVP in 1981 Ken Anderson, the Bengals came out of nowhere to go 12-4 after 3 straight losing seasons. Veteran Wide Receiver Isaac Curtis and Rookie Cris Collinsworth (yes, THAT Cris Collinsworth) were a deadly combination along with standout Tight End Dan Ross. The Bengals had a stellar offensive line led by Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz. The Bengals had a solid defense led by Reggie Williams, one of the most underrated Linebackers in NFL history. The Bengals of 1981 are best remembered as the team that won the coldest game in NFL history – a 27-10 blowout of the high powered San Diego Chargers. A lot of people have mentioned that the Bengals only beat the Chargers because of the cold weather but they forget that the Bengals beat the Chargers 40-17 less than two months earlier at San Diego!
9) 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers 10-4 (Lost AFC Championship Game to Oakland)
In my opinion, the 1976 Steelers had the greatest defense in NFL history. After starting the season 1-4, the Steelers went on a historic 9 game winning streak. The most amazing fact about that streak is the fact that in those 9 games, the Steelers allowed a total of 28 points! They went on to blowout a very good Colts team in Baltimore 40-14. During the game, however, Running Backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were lost to injury and were unable to play the next week in a 24-7 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champions the Oakland Raiders.
8) 1990 Buffalo Bills 13-3 (Lost Super Bowl XXV to the Giants 20-19)
The 1990 Bills were, by far, the best of the four Bills team to make it to the Super Bowl. Led by a high scoring offense and a very good defense, the Bills were the dominant team in the AFC for the entire year. Their superiority was in full effect in that season’s AFC Championship Game where they completely dismantled the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3. Super Bowl XXV will go down as one of the greatest in history. The Giants dominated the time of possession (40 minutes to just 22 for the Bills) yet still were in danger of losing the game until the last seconds when Scott Norwood’s 48 yard field goal sailed wide right.
7) 1968 Baltimore Colts 13-1 (Lost Super Bowl III to the Jets 16-7)
The Colts will go down as losing the biggest game in NFL history. But their greatness was why the game was so important. The stat from this team that blows my mind is that they surrendered 10 points or less an amazing 10 times! Offensively they were just as good scoring 27 points or more 10 times and enjoyed a points per game differential of 18.4 and a 7-0 road record. Until losing Super Bowl III to the Jets, there were many who were calling the Colts the greatest team in NFL history. Truly a shame their accomplishments from that season are overshadowed by one bad game.
6) 1998 Minnesota Vikings 15-1 (Lost NFC Championship game to Atlanta 30-27)
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings scored a then NFL record 556 points. They were led by Randall Cunningham, a dominating offensive line and a high flying trio of receivers. Cunningham actually began the season as the backup to Brad Johnson, took over when Johnson was injured in week 3 and never looked back having the finest season of his NFL career. He accounted for 35 TDs and 3,704 yards passing. Rookie Randy Moss had a standout rookie season as did future Hall Of Famer Cris Carter. The Vikings accumulated 12 victories by 10 or more points. Unfortunately, the Vikings season came to an abrupt and heart breaking end in the 1998 NFC Championship game when they were upset by the Atlanta Falcons 30-27 in overtime.
5) 1983 Washington Redskins 14-2 (Lost Super Bowl XVIII to the Raiders 38-9)
The defending world champion Washington Redskins steamrolled through the competition in 1983 and looked like a sure bet to defend their title. Their two losses in the regular season were two of the greatest games of the 1983 season. They lost their season opener at home to Dallas 31-30 and lost mid-season 48-47 to the Green Bay Packers. They beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Raiders 37-35 in what many consider one of the finest regular season games in NFL history. The Redskins were led by 1983 NFL AP MVP Joe Theismann and the devastating running of John Riggins who, in his finest season, rushed for over 1,400 yards and a then NFL record 24 TDs. They rolled through the divisional round of the playoffs destroying the Los Angeles Rams 51-7. The NFC Championship was much closer as the Redskins raced to a 21-0 lead but had to hold on for a 24-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers helped by some very questionable calls during the 4th quarter.
4) 1967 Los Angeles Rams 11-1-2 (Lost Playoff Game 28-7 to Green Bay)
Led by quarterback Roman Gabriel and the famed fearsome foursome defense, the 1967 Rams dominated the competition. Their biggest win of the season was when they beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. They had 10 blowout victories by more than 10 points with a per game point differential of 14.4 and a turnover margin of plus 16. Unfortunately, the Rams were done in by a rule at the time which rotated home teams each year for the playoffs. This meant that even though the Rams had a better record than the Packers and even beat them during the season they still had to travel to Green Bay for what was called then the Conference Championship where they eventually lost 28-7. This was, perhaps, Coach George Allen’s finest team as they ended the season ranked number 1 on both offense and defense.
3) 1976 New England Patriots 11-3 (Lost Divisional Playoff to Oakland 24-21)
I consider this team the “Juggernaut” that history forgot. The Patriots came out of nowhere in 1976 to advance to the NFL playoffs for the first time in team history. The eventual Super Bowl champions suffered their only loss to New England 48-17. Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks was named NFL Coach of the Year for the amazing turnaround. The Patriots were led by a dominating running game that, for the season, averaged 5 yards per rush. The defense was led by Rookie Cornerback and future Hall of Famer Mike Haynes who would go on to be named Rookie of the Year. The Patriots looked dead in the water at mid-season with a 5-3 record but they ended up winning 6 straight games to make it to the playoffs where they would meet the Oakland Raiders again. The Patriots would go on to lose a classic 24-21 in the infamous “Ben Dreith” game where several controversial calls would eventually destroy the Patriots chances of winning the game. Patriots coach Bill Belichick who was then an assistant for the Detroit Lions in 1976 said “that Patriots team was one of the most talented teams he had ever seen”.
2) 1973 Los Angeles Rams 12-2 (Lost Divisional Playoffs to Dallas 27-16)
Chuck Knox’s first team was probably his best. The 1973 Rams started the season with 6 straight wins. Then came two close losses on the road to the Vikings and the Falcons. They followed that with another 6 game winning streak to end the season. They led the NFL in point differential, turnover margin and blowout victories. Harold Jackson led all NFL receivers in touchdown receptions with 13. Despite being tied with Minnesota and Miami for the best record in the NFL and despite beating Dallas earlier in the season, they had to travel to Dallas for the Divisional Playoff game where they were lost 27-16. Up until the mid-1970s, home field advantage in the NFL playoffs was not dependent on who had the best record. Home field was rotated between Division winners.
1) 2007 New England Patriots 16-0 (Lost Super Bowl to the Giants 17-14)
To me, there is little doubt about the number one spot on this list. If not for the miraculous off the helmet catch by David Tyree, the Patriots may have been considered the greatest team in NFL history. They are still the only team to complete a 16 game season undefeated. The 2007 Patriots point differential was an astounding 19.7 points per game! They won 12 games by 10 or more points with Tom Brady becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 50 Touchdown passes and Randy Moss catching 23 of those touchdown passes. They had a 6-0 record versus playoff teams, 3 of which were division winners. Without question, the 2007 Patriots were the best team not win a Super Bowl.