Why the San Francisco 49ers Can Break the Super Bowl Hangover Trend
When NFL fans assess the Super Bowl hangover trend, they often think about the winning team struggling the following year due to factors such as lack of offseason preparation and in-season focus.
Lately, the hangover has been in full effect. Since the 2004 season, no team that has won the Super Bowl has made it to the big game the following year.
However, the Super Bowl loser faces an even worse trend.
The San Francisco 49ers have reason to believe they could be more immune to that fate than others in the past, but it would be foolish to completely dismiss that the Red and Gold are up against a curse of historic proportions.
Breaking Down Super Bowl Loser Hangover
The last team to make the Super Bowl after losing in the title game the year before was the 1993 Buffalo Bills. The only team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy the year after losing the Super Bowl is the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
That's a lot of evidence suggesting that losing in the Super Bowl has somewhat of a negative effect on teams the following year.
But that doesn't mean Super Bowl losers struggle during the next regular season.
Last year, the New England Patriots followed their Super Bowl loss with a 12-4 regular season. They made it to the AFC title game before losing to the Baltimore Ravens. The year before, the Steelers went 12-4 and lost in the Wild Card Round.
None of the last four Super Bowl losers have missed the playoffs.
This suggests that the hangover is less physical and more mental. For whatever reason, these four teams have combined to go 2-4 in the playoffs.
I'm sure most coaches would say, "Sometimes the breaks don't fall your way in the playoffs." But is there something more going on?
These teams entered their season with Super Bowl-or-bust expectations. The media pestered them with questions all year about winning the big game. And then, after performing well in the regular season, they all suffered defeat much earlier than anticipated.
Maybe they put too much pressure on themselves. Whatever it is, the Niners will attempt to figure out how to break the trend.
Why the 49ers Can Be Different
The 49ers have a bulletproof formula for winning in the NFL: They run the ball and play shutdown defense.
Of the last four teams that lost in the Super Bowl, only the 2010-11 Steelers had an elite defense. And only the 2011-12 Patriots had a stellar running game.
These issues cost the four teams in the playoffs. The 2009 Arizona Cardinals gave up 45 points in a loss to the New Orleans Saints. The 2010 Colts were outrushed 169-93 in a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets. The 2012 Patriots gave up 25 first downs and four touchdowns in a 28-13 loss to the Ravens. Quite simply, the 49ers are a more balanced team than the four previous Super Bowl losers.
Defensively, the majority of the key players from last year are back for the Niners. Sure, rookie safety Eric Reid has to fill the void left by Dashon Goldson, but as long as Reid plays well and the key players stay healthy, the 49ers should be back near the top of the defensive rankings.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners return the best offensive line in football and have a talented group of running backs. Finding a productive receiver to complement Anquan Boldin before Michael Crabtree comes back from his Achilles injury will be vital.
But the real wild card is Colin Kaepernick.
If he plays like he did in the playoffs for the entire 2013 season, he'll vault into the conversation of elite quarterbacks. After all, San Francisco did score a combined 104 points in his three playoff starts.
However, with just 10 starts under his belt, Kaepernick could just as easily hit a wall in his third season.
Kaepernick's emergence is what could separate the Niners from those other teams. The Ravens took advantage of Kaepernick's inexperience in the first half of the Super Bowl, and yet he still managed to lead an incredible second-half comeback that fell just short.
Whereas the previous four Super Bowl losers relied too much on their quarterback, the 49ers have the running game—which averaged 156 yards per game last year—and defense to take pressure off Kaepernick. If Kap can improve just a little bit, the Niners should be even better next year.
That being said, even if everything goes right for the Niners in the 2013 regular season, there are no guarantees in the playoffs. As 49ers fans know too well, all it takes is one uneven performance to vanquish a great team.
Since the 1972 Dolphins avenged their loss in the previous Super Bowl by winning the big game, 29 of 40 Super Bowl losers have at least made the playoffs the following year.
Will the 49ers break the Super Bowl loser trend?
Of course, all 29 of those teams have lost in the playoffs.
It's hard to explain. If anything, teams that get so close should be even hungrier. They should train harder in the offseason, be more focused during games and more self-sacrificing for the team.
Or maybe it eats at you so much that it affects your performance in the next playoffs.
Kaepernick already seems to be walking that fine line.
"(I'm) still not really over it," Kaepernick told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "It feels like something was stolen."
"I constantly think about it. I replay it. I rehash it. What could I have done better?"
Clearly the Super Bowl loss has motivated Kaepernick. But will it haunt him when it counts next season?
It could be the difference between the 49ers falling victim to or breaking the Super Bowl-loser hangover trend.
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