ByPat Pickens

Jan 25, 2024

15 Best NFL Teams That Didn’t Win The Super Bowl

Football fans like to celebrate greatness, but we also love seeing history get derailed.

Much of the NFL’s greatness comes from its unpredictability. After all, anything can happen on any given Sunday, and even the greatest teams can be toppled in the one-and-done format of the National Football League postseason.

The Bills unfortunately know that very well after their latest Wide Right debacle.

Of course, we know those Bills teams of the 90’s were filled with Hall of Famers.

But it’s a different Buffalo team shows up on The Game Day’s proprietary list of the 15 best teams that failed to win the Super Bowl since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Poor Bills Mafia. At least they’ll soon have fresh company.

That’s because this year, any way you cut it, one of The Game Day’s all-time great teams is going to end up near the top of this list after the confetti rains down on Super Bowl 58.

Let’s take a look at how we determined which teams have the right to ask ‘What If?’ the most, and which team will be saying that this year.

The Methodology

The best teams from the 1978 season onward were determined by The Game Day’s proprietary formula that includes the following factors:

  • Win percentage
  • Total DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average)*
  • Strength of Schedule
  • Scoring Offense & Scoring Defense (PPG)

The team with the highest composite score was deemed the best, though the rankings aren’t fully era-adjusted.

*DVOA is an advanced metric that calculates team success based on the down-and-distance of each play, then grades each team based on the league average.

In this system, an 8-yard pass on 3rd-and-5 is weighted more favorably (i.e. deemed a more successful play) than an 8-yard pass on 2nd-and-15.

Best NFL Teams That Didn’t Win The Super Bowl

Edit
RkNFL TeamScore
12007 Patriots15.6234
TBD2023 Ravens15.6014
TBD2023 49ers14.2044
22022 Bills14.0134
32019 Ravens13.7146
42010 Patriots13.4186
52000 Titans12.6248
61987 49ers12.5364
71997 49ers12.4334
81983 Washington12.3824
91992 49ers11.8466
102005 Colts11.8246
112013 Broncos11.4638
122015 Panthers11.4628
132006 Chargers11.4206
142001 Rams11.1044
152022 Eagles10.9608

15. 2022 Philadelphia Eagles

Score: 10.9608 | Lost Super Bowl 57

This marked Jalen Hurts’ breakout season, when the Eagles’ star quarterback went 14-1 and easily led Philly to the top seed in the NFC.

Philadelphia started 8-0 then easily won the NFC by outscoring the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers 69-14 in its two postseason games.

The Eagles took a 10-point lead into the locker room in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs but lost 38-35 to Patrick Mahomes in the title game.

14. 2001 St. Louis Rams

Score: 11.1044 | Lost Super Bowl 36

The Greatest Show on Turf enjoyed its most dominant season, going 14-2 and averaging 31.4 points per game, led by NFL MVP Kurt Warner. The Rams started 6-0 and entered the Super Bowl as a two-touchdown favorite while riding an eight-game win streak.

But Warner and the Rams ran into Tom Brady and the upstart New England Patriots, who started their two-decade run of dominance with a stunning 20-17 win.

13. 2006 San Diego Chargers

Score: 11.4206 | Lost Divisional Round

Another casualty of the Brady-led Patriots, the Chargers had the NFL MVP in LaDainian Tomlinson, who posted 1,815 rushing yards and an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns.

San Diego went 14-2, averaging almost 31 points per game, led by Tomlinson, who finished with 2,300-plus all-purpose yards and 31 TD.

The Chargers also held an eight-point, fourth-quarter advantage against New England, before Brady and the Pats scored the final 11 points over four-plus minutes in their 24-21 win.

12. 2015 Carolina Panthers

Score: 11.4628 | Lost Super Bowl 50

The Panthers went 15-1 led by league MVP Cam Newton, who had 3,800-plus yards and 35 touchdowns passing, plus 636 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground. Carolina averaged 31.3 points per game then rolled through the NFC playoffs, outscoring the Seahawks and Cardinals 80-39.

But Newton and the Panthers fell victim to Von Miller and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Miller earned MVP honors with 2.5 sacks, and Denver sent Peyton Manning out on top with a 24-10 win in Super Bowl 50.

11. 2013 Denver Broncos

Score: 11.4638 | Lost Super Bowl 48

The 2013 Broncos were a juggernaut, scoring an NFL-record 606 points, and Peyton Manning threw a league-record 55 touchdowns, guiding Denver to a 13-3 record in his first year there.

Manning threw for 630 yards and four more touchdowns in Denver’s two AFC playoff games. However, the Broncos had no answer for the Legion of Boom and the dominant Seattle Seahawks defense in the Super Bowl. Manning turned the ball over three times in Seattle’s 43-8 win that left Denver one game shy of a championship.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43-8. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

10. 2005 Indianapolis Colts

Score: 11.8246 | Lost in Divisional Round

The 2000s Colts made a habit of regular-season success and playoff failure, but none was more memorable than the 2005 Indy team that finished second in both points-for (27.4) and points-against (15.4) per game while rolling to a 14-2 record.

These Colts were done in by Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh built a 21-3 lead and hung on for a 21-18 victory, made memorable by Roethlisberger’s last-second tackle of Nick Harper and Mike Vanderjagt’s missed field goal that would have tied the game.

9. 1992 San Francisco 49ers

Score: 11.8466 | Lost NFC Championship Game

After somehow missing the playoffs despite a 10-win season in 1991, the Niners roared back led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice. San Francisco went 14-2, finishing first in points-for (26.9) and third in points-against per game (14.8).

But Young was outdueled by stars Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith in the NFC Championship Game, and the Dallas Cowboys won 30-20 at Candlestick Park en route to their first of three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.

(Will the 2023 49ers win it all? Place a wager on them with our top sportsbook betting promos.)

8. 1983 Washington Redskins

Score: 12.3824 | Lost Super Bowl 18

The reigning champs were somehow even better the next season, posting a 37.2 DVOA and a 14-2 record while cruising to the conference championship game. Washington then held off the Niners 24-21 to qualify for its second straight Super Bowl.

But Joe Gibbs’ club was no match for Marcus Allen and the Los Angeles Raiders. Allen rushed for a Super Bowl-record 191 yards and two touchdowns, earning MVP honors in the Raiders’ 38-9 win.

7. 1997 San Francisco 49ers

Score: 12.4334 | Lost NFC Championship Game

The 1997 Niners lost their season opener, then ripped off 11 straight wins by an average of 14 points. San Francisco had offensive weapons galore, including quarterback Steve Young, running back Garrison Hearst, and wide receiver Terrell Owens, plus Defensive Player of the Year Dana Stubblefield.

San Francisco did not lose at home until the conference championship game against co-MVP Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, reigning Super Bowl champions. But Green Bay stymied the high-flying Niners 23-10, en route to its second straight Super Bowl.

6. 1987 San Francisco 49ers

Score: 12.5364 | Lost Divisional Round

So many people lament the 1990 Niners’ premature exit from the playoffs, but San Francisco could’ve three-peated in the strike-shortened 1987 season. After dropping their opener, the 49ers ripped off 13 wins in their final 14 games, led by Offensive Player of the Year Jerry Rice.

The Niners sewed up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they lost to the Vikings in a game when Joe Montana was pulled for Steve Young.

5. 2000 Tennessee Titans

Score: 12.6248 | Lost Divisional Round

A year after falling a yard short of the Super Bowl, Tennessee ran roughshod over the NFL by going 13-3 and losing those three by just seven points. The Titans had the No. 2 defense in football and finished a game ahead of the Ravens atop the AFC Central standings thanks to their 14-6 win.

Unfortunately, Tennessee couldn’t overcome Baltimore in the second of their two meetings. The Ravens stole a 24-10 win in Nashville on their way to the Super Bowl.

4. 2010 New England Patriots

Score: 13.4186 | Lost Divisional Round

The case could be made that the 2010 Patriots were the best New England team to fall short of the Super Bowl. The Pats finished with 518 points, led by Tom Brady, whose 3,900 passing yards and 36:4 TD:INT fetched him the second of his three NFL MVP awards.

But Brady and the Pats had their season ended in humiliating fashion with a 28-21 loss to Mark Sanchez and the rival New York Jets, who then fell to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace (97) during the third quarter of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

3. 2019 Baltimore Ravens

Score: 13.7146 | Lost Divisional Round

The 2019 Ravens were a juggernaut, scoring 531 points and finishing with the fourth-best point differential of the salary-cap era at +249. Lamar Jackson easily won the MVP, posting 4,333 all-purpose yards and 48 touchdowns with a 36:6 TD:INT.

Unfortunately, Baltimore ran into Ryan Tannehill and the Titans, who stymied Jackson in their 28-12 divisional-round win. Tennessee lost to the eventual champion Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

2. 2022 Buffalo Bills

Score: 14.0134 | Lost Divisional Round

The Bills lost just three games by eight combined points, including an OT defeat in the Justin Jefferson Game in Western New York and a two-point loss to the Dolphins despite outgaining Miami 497-212.

But Buffalo appeared affected by the late-season Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest, which canceled their 17th game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo finished as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, behind the 14-3 Chiefs, and stumbled at home to Joe Burrow and the Bengals in the divisional round.

1. 2007 New England Patriots

Score: 15.6234 | Lost Super Bowl 42

Could any other team top this list? The Patriots won their first 18 games and set a then-NFL record for regular-season points (589) while boasting the best DVOA through 16 games in NFL history (52.3).

But the pressure of capping the undefeated season clearly weighed on New England, and it was far less dominant in the playoffs. The Pats famously led by four points with two minutes left in Super Bowl 42 but let Eli Manning and the New York Giants go 83 yards in 12 plays for the game-winning score.

2023 Ravens & 49ers Would Rank Near Top Of List

Stunningly, two clubs still in this year’s playoffs and heavy favorites in Super Bowl odds would rank near the top of our power ratings if they fail to win it all:

  • The 2023 Baltimore Ravens sit as our No. 2-ranked team. Baltimore rode a 15.6014 rating into the AFC Championship Game.
  • The 2023 San Francisco 49ers (14.2044) are No. 3.

Regardless of what happens in Super Bowl 58, an all-time-great team, by our metrics, will join the ranks of the best to never win it all.

More Top Teams That Didn’t Win The Super Bowl

So many people remember the 1990 49ers, who were going for a three-peat, as one of the great teams to fall short of the Super Bowl. But the Joe Montana-led Niners (7.0926) were dead-last among the 23 best teams since 1978 and not anywhere close to the next-lowest team on the list.

Even the 1990 Bills, who also lost to the Giants in that year’s Super Bowl, were 17th on the list.

The 1998 Vikings, widely considered among the greatest teams to not win the Super Bowl, were also far down on the list based on our criteria. Due to Minnesota’s -1.36 strength of schedule – and oddly average 24 DVOA – the Randall Cunningham-Randy Moss Vikings slotted 18th.

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Author

Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered pro sports since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times, NHL.com, Bleacher Report, Sportsnet.ca, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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