The NFL can be a cruel world. These eight teams were fantastic, but because they failed to win the big game, history remembers them as losers.
Oakland Raider’s late owner Al Davis once famously said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The goal of every NFL team is to win the Super Bowl. As unrealistic as it sounds, falling short on that count means your season was a failure.
• The 2007 Patriots were the best team ever to lose the Super Bowl
• The 1968 Colts lost while 18-point favorites over the Jets
• The Vikings 2009 NFC Championship loss was a bitter pill to swallow
Some teams were incredibly successful during the regular season and playoffs, but failed in their quest for Super Bowl glory due to a poor game, half-game, or even a few seconds. In the unforgiving, “win only” world of the NFL, that means their seasons’ were failures.
These are the best teams in history who didn’t win the Super Bowl. History would have been a lot different if things had turned out otherwise.
#1: 2007 New England Patriots, 16-0
The 2007 edition of the New England Patriots were the only team in NFL history to go a perfect 16-0 during regular reason. They deserved the distinction of “best team in NFL history.” That is, until they lost Super Bowl XLII by a score of 17-14 to the New York Giants.
Online sportsbooks in the US favored the Patriots by a whopping 14 points. The game is remembered as the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And of the 2007 Patriots? They’ve largely been forgotten, proving that history doesn’t remember losers.
#2: 1990 Buffalo Bills, 13-3
The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls between 1991 and 1994. There were first loss was doubtlessly the worst. Behind the prolific “K-Gun” offense of quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas, the Bills were heavily favored to win Super Bowl XVII against the Giants.
They blew the game, losing 20-19 when kicker Scott Norwood missed a chip-shot in the final seconds. The game is still a topic of despair in Buffalo.
#3: 2001 Saint Louis Rams, 14-2
The Rams of the late 1990s and early 2000s were one of the most exciting teams in NFL history, revolutionizing the game with a shotgun offense featuring four and five wide receivers. The 2001 team was hailed as the Rams best, due to the fact that its explosive offense was backed by a strong defensive unit.
They actually topped their season average in yards—427 to 418—against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. But the Pats, led by a previously unknown quarterback named Tom Brady, won 20-17.
#4: 2009 Minnesota Vikings, 12-4
Some lists have the 1998 Vikings, which had a 15-1 record, as one of the best teams ever to not win a Super Bowl. And there is some truth in that. But the 2009 team was better. It had a better quarterback, Brett Favre, and a much better defense.
That Vikings team lost to the New Orleans Saints in overtime in the NFC Championship Game by a score of 31-28. The Saints went on to win the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts. Vikings fans are still bitter, and still blame the loss on poor officiating.
#5: 1968 Baltimore Colts, 13-1
The Colts were led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, were roundly considered the best team in the NFL, and were favored by each of the largest bookmakers in the world by 18 points to beat the New York Jets, a ragtag bunch led by boisterous young quarterback Joe Namath.
Namath famously told members of the media that he “guaranteed” a Jets victory. Everyone laughed, but he delivered on his promise, with the Jets winning 16-7 in Super Bowl III.
#6: 1986 Cleveland Browns, 12-4
The mid-1980s was about the last time in history that Browns football was good. That year the boys from Cleveland looked poised to win the Super Bowl; all they had to do was get past the Denver Broncos and young gunslinging quarterback John Elway in the AFC Championship game.
The Browns led 20-13 with six minutes to play. The Broncos handed Elway the ball and he led them on “The Drive,” marching downfield and tying the game. The Broncos went on to win in overtime.
#7: 1984 Miami Dolphins, 14-2
Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino is perhaps the best player ever to retire without winning a Super Bowl. 1984 was his best chance to do it. The Dolphins finished the regular season as the AFC’s best team by far.
Super Bowl XIX was when things went wrong, however. The Dolphins had the bad luck of matching up with the San Francisco 49ers, arguably the best team in NFL history. The Niners won 38-16.
#8: 2013 Denver Broncos, 14-2
The Broncos had it all: offense, defense, coaching, experience, youthful energy. All-World quarterback Peyton Manning had turned in the most statistically-impressive season of his career. The Broncos were favored by 2.5 points to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks stole the game and ran with it, trouncing the Broncos by a score of 43-8, one of the worst losses in Super Bowl history. Online and mobile betting sites made a killing on the game, as the vast majority of bettors picked the Broncos.