Winning the Super Bowl is the goal of every single team at the start of the training camp, and every season, 31 teams suffer heartbreak during the next four months. It doesn't matter if you win four, eight, or twelve games. If you don't win the Super Bowl, history remembers you as a failure.
But there are some teams who, despite an inability to win the Super Bowl, deserve to be mentioned among history's best. These are the teams that were easily the best in the NFL during the regular season. These are the teams that featured multiple Pro Bowlers and shattered records. Had they won the Super Bowl, they would be remembered among the top individual teams in NFL history.
The following ten teams, along with an honorable mention thrown in, were absolutely awesome teams. Yet in the postseason these teams just choked. Seven of the teams lost the Super Bowl, two lost in the conference championship game, and two failed to make it past the division round.
Honorable Mention: 1983 Washington Redskins: 14-2 (541-332)
The 1983 Washington Redskins set a single-season record in points scored with 541, an average of almost 34 per game. They were incredibly consistent, scoring at least 23 points in every game. Their two losses? 31-30 and 48-47.
Quarterback Joe Theismann earned Most Valuable Player honors, throwing for 3714 yards and 29 touchdowns, with a 97.2 passer rating. Running back John Riggins rushed for 1375 yards and an NFL-record 24 touchdowns. Incredibly, both Theismann and Riggins were 34 years old and among the oldest in the NFL at their position.
On defense, the Redskins absolutely shattered the NFL record by forcing 61 turnovers, including four or more in each of the last eight games. Safety Mark Murphy intercepted nine passes and three defensive linemen posted double-digit sack totals.
In the postseason, the Redskins absolutely annihilated the Rams, 51-7. They blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead against Joe Montana and the 49ers, but hung on to win 24-21. However, in the Super Bowl, they were clobbered by the Raiders 38-9, which was the largest blowout in Super Bowl history.
10. 1984 Miami Dolphins: 14-2 (513-298)
The Dolphins turned in the second 500-point season in NFL history, scoring at least 21 points in every game, and setting a single-season record with 70 touchdowns.
They were led by NFL MVP Dan Marino, who set NFL records with 5084 yards and 48 n touchdowns, while posting a 108.9 passer rating. Pro Bowl wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper each topped 1300 yards receiving, and Clayton's 18 touchdowns set a single-season record for a wide receiver.
In the postseason, the Dolphins dominated the Seahawks 31-10, and blew out the Steelers, 45-28, to advance to their fifth Super Bowl. In the Super Bowl, the Dolphins faced the 15-1 49ers, led by the legendary Joe Montana. They lost 38-16, despite Marino throwing for 318 yards and a touchdown, and are probably the only top ten team to lose to a superior opponent in the Super Bowl.
9. 1967 Oakland Raiders: 13-1 (468-233)
The Raiders turned in arguably the greatest season in franchise history, winning seven games by at least 20 points. This included a 51-0 stomping of Denver in the first game, in which the Broncos posted -53 passing yards. They scored 468 points, an average of 33.4 per game, and ranked second in defense (16.4 points per game).
Quarterback Daryle Lamonica earned All-Pro honors, tossing 30 touchdowns (the sixth highest total in history), and posting a spectacular 80.8 passer rating. Fullback Hewritt Dixon, receiver Fred Biletnikoff, and tight end Billy Cannon earned Pro Bowl honors, as did 40-year young kicker George Blanda.
Future Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown intercepted seven passes, and as a defense, the Raiders forced 45 turnovers in just 14 games (30 interceptions, 15 fumble recoveries).
The Raiders destroyed the Houston Oilers 40-7 in the conference championship game to advance to the Super Bowl. However, they were picked apart by the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, proving once more the superiority of the NFL to the AFL.
8. 1987 San Francisco 49ers: 13-2 (459-253)
The 49ers rolled through the regular season, posting a 13-2 mark, and winning their final three games by the combined score of 124-7. They boasted the NFL's top ranked offense and the number three defense.
Quarterback Joe Montana tossed 31 touchdowns and posted a phenomenal 102.1 passer rating, while backup Steve Young threw for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in three starts. Wide receiver Jerry Rice shattered the single-season record by catching 22 touchdown passes, earning him the Bert Bell award as the NFL Player of the Year.
Safety Ronnie Lott anchored the defense, intercepting five passes. In all, an incredible 15 players on the 49ers' defense intercepted at least one pass.
However, the 49ers were manhandled in the postseason by the surprising Minnesota Vikings, who at 8-7, were one of the worst playoff teams ever. The game was so bad that the legendary Joe Montana was benched for Steve Young in the third quarter, the beginning of the most famous quarterback controversy in NFL history.
7. 2005 Indianapolis Colts: 14-2 (439-247)
Peyton Manning and the Colts turned in arguably their best season of the decade, finishing second in the NFL in points scored and points allowed. The Colts began their season with 13 straight wins, including Manning's first ever win against the Patriots. They posted a +192 point differential and could have easily reached +225 had they tried in their last two games.
Manning threw for 28 touchdowns and posted a 104.2 passer rating, the second highest of his career. Edgerrin James rushed for 1506 yards and 12 touchdowns, and receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne each topped 1000 yards.
The Colts boasted Pro Bowlers at defensive end (Dwight Freeney), linebacker (Cato June), and safety (Bob Sanders). Robert Mathis was arguably the team's best defensive player, posting 11 sacks and forcing eight fumbles.
In the Colts' first postseason game, Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed a 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, and the Colts were eliminated after a wild 21-18 contest against the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
6. 2001 St. Louis Rams: 14-2 (503-273)
The Rams turned in the biggest single-season defensive improvement in the history of the NFL, allowing 198 points fewer than in 2000. They scored over 500 points for the third consecutive season and boasted an unbelievable point differential of +230.
Quarterback Kurt Warner earned his second MVP award, throwing for 4830 yards and 36 touchdowns, for a passer rating of 101.4. Versatile running back Marshall Faulk accumulated 2147 yards, scored 21 touchdowns, and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors for the third consecutive season. Pro Bowl receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 2469 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Newly acquired cornerback Aeneas Williams earned his seventh Pro Bowl selection, while end Leonard Little posted 14 sacks and defensive back Dre Bly intercepted a team-high six passes.
The Rams dominated Brett Favre and the Packers 45-17, forcing eight turnovers, before defeating the Eagles to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams suffered an embarrassing loss to the Patriots, 20-17, and ended any chances of the Greatest Show on Turf becoming a dynasty.
5. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-4 (342-138)
The Steelers began their season with just one win in their first five games, and after quarterback Terry Bradshaw suffered neck and wrist injuries, the season appeared to be over. Then the Steelers embarked on arguably the greatest nine game stretch by a team in NFL history. They won all nine games, outscoring their opposition 234-28. They posted five shutouts, forced 28 turnovers, and allowed just two touchdowns.
Running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier both topped 1000 yards, and Harris's 14 touchdowns led the league. Cornerback Mel Blount and safety Glen Edwards each intercepted six passes, leading a defense which forced an average of 3.3 turnovers per game.
The Steelers bulldozed the Baltimore Colts, 40-14, in the division round before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, 24-7, in the conference championship game. Although they did play against Oakland without Harris and Bleier, they also allowed more points than their eight best defensive outputs of the season combined.
4. 1998 Minnesota Vikings: 15-1 (556-296)
The Vikings turned in arguably the best one-year wonder season in NFL history, shattering the single season record for points scored (556), and boasting the fifth best point differential (260) in NFL history. They scored at least 24 points in every game, and their only loss was by three points.
Aging quarterback Randall Cunningham earned the Bert Bell Player of the Year award, throwing for 34 touchdowns and posting an incredible 106.0 passer rating. Running back Robert Smith earned Pro Bowl honors with 1478 total yards and eight touchdowns. Cris Carter earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection by topping 1000 yards and 12 touchdowns, and 21-year-old rookie Randy Moss turned in the greatest rookie season in NFL history (69 catches, 1313 yards, 17 touchdowns).
In the postseason, the Vikings blasted the weak Arizona Cardinals 41-21, advancing to the conference championship game against the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons. After the greatest season by a kicker in NFL history, 39-year-old Gary Anderson missed a potential game-clinching field goal, and the Falcons defeated the Vikings in overtime, 30-27. This concluded maybe the most heartbreaking end to a season by a team that has grown used to extreme disappointment in the postseason.
3. 1968 Baltimore Colts: 13-1 (402-144)
The Colts boasted the greatest point differential in the 14-game era of the National Football League, winning by an average of more than 20 points per game. The Colts were remarkably consistent, scoring exactly 27 or 28 points eight times, and topping 40 points three times. On defense, they allowed single-digit points seven times, including three shutouts.
Quarterback Earl Morrall filled in for the injured legend Johnny Unitas, and earned MVP honors, throwing for 26 touchdowns, and posting a 93.2 passer rating. Receiver Jimmy Orr averaged an unbelievable 25.6 yards per catch, scoring six touchdowns. Running back Tom Matte and tight end John Mackey each earned All-Pro honors, combining for 14 touchdowns.
In the postseason, the Colts edged out the Vikings, 24-14, and then dismantled the Cleveland Browns, 34-0, to advance to Super Bowl III. In one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the Colts lost to the Jets 16-7, in a game forever remembered by Jets' quarterback Joe Namath's guaranteed win.
2. 1969 Minnesota Vikings: 12-2 (379-133)
The Vikings set a Super Bowl era record by outscoring their opposition by a 2.84-to-1 ratio, a mark that will likely stand forever. They boasted the NFL's top-ranked offense, as well as a record-setting defense, which ranked first in virtually every single statistical category.
Quarterback Joe Kapp (19 touchdowns, 78.5 passer rating) and wide receiver Gene Washington (21.1 yards per catch, 9 touchdowns) earned Pro Bowl selections.
The Vikings' Purple People Eaters defense forced 42 turnovers, including 30 interceptions. Three defensive linemen--tackles Gary Larsen and Alan Page, and end Jim Marshall--earned Pro Bowl selections, as did safety Paul Krause (five interceptions).
In the postseason, the Vikings edged by the Rams, 23-20, before pounding the Browns, 27-7, to advance to Super Bowl IX, where they were favored by 14 points against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Vikings turned in a clunker, committing five turnovers, and losing 23-7.
1. 2007 New England Patriots: 16-0 (589-274)
In completing the first 16-0 season in the history of the National Football League, the Patriots shattered records in points scored (589), total touchdowns (75), total players scoring touchdowns (21), longest touchdown (108 yards), and, most importantly, point differential (315). They won eight games by at least 20 points, and won four games with fourth quarter comebacks, including a huge midseason game in Indianapolis, which was dubbed Super Bowl XLI 1/2.
Quarterback Tom Brady turned in one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, throwing for 4806 yards and 50 touchdown passes, a new record. He posted a 117.2 passer rating and easily earned MVP honors. Slot receiver Wes Welker caught 112 passes, while future Hall of Famer Randy Moss turned in a recordbreaking season (98 catches, 1493 yards, 23 touchdowns).
The Patriots sent three defensive players to the Pro Bowl: linebacker Mike Vrabel (12.5 sacks). cornerback Asante Samuel (six interceptions), and nose tackle Vince Wilfork (36 tackles).
In the postseason, the Patriots brought down the Jaguars 31-20, as Tom Brady completed an NFL record 92.9 percent of his passes. The Patriots defeated the Chargers 21-12 to advance to Super Bowl XLII, where they were 14-point favorites against the surprising New York Giants.
However, one of the biggest upsets in the history of professional sports resulted in a 17-14 win for the Giants, highlighted by David Tyree's miraculous helmet catch with under one minute remaining. After Eli Manning floated a game-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress, the Patriots' dynasty had officially ended.