How the Super Bowl Hangover Has Impacted Teams in the Past Decade
Whenever a team loses the Super Bowl, a popular refrain is that the franchise is built to return as soon as the next season. The reality, however, is a second consecutive trip often does not happen anymore.
And then, the Super Bowl hangover takes another victim.
During the last decade, only the 2018 New England Patriots have reached the Big Game after losing there in the previous year. Not only that, but several runner-ups have missed the playoffs altogether.
This discussion has shades of correlation vs. causation, but the best explanation is that winning games is really hard. We're looking back at how Super Bowl losers have fared since the 2012 season—and the trend that the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to avoid.
Missed the Playoffs
2016 Carolina Panthers
The previous season, Cam Newton won league MVP honors and propelled the Panthers to a 15-1 record. They lost in the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos, who clipped Carolina in the 2016 season opener, too. And it just didn't get better for the Panthers.
Carolina dropped five of its first six contests, quickly fading from serious playoff contention. Although the Panthers bounced back with an 11-win season in 2017, they trudged to a 6-10 finish in 2016.
2019 Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay rapidly turned the Rams into a title contender, posting a combined 24-8 record in his first two seasons. Los Angeles made the championship stage in 2018 before falling to the New England Patriots.
In 2019, it seemed the Rams were again destined for the postseason after ripping off three straight wins to begin the campaign. However, a three-game skid followed. Two late losses to the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers sealed the Rams' fate. They ended at 9-7 and a game behind the Minnesota Vikings for the second wild-card spot.
2020 San Francisco 49ers
One year later, the Rams' division rival experienced a similar letdown. San Francisco had a great shot to topple the Kansas City Chiefs but squandered a fourth-quarter lead during the 2019 season's Super Bowl.
Put simply, the Niners didn't come close to the postseason in 2020. Injuries wrecked the roster, sidelining quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive end Nick Bosa, cornerback Richard Sherman and other key players. San Francisco tumbled from NFC champions to 6-10.
Lost in Divisional Round
2014 Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning's record-setting 2013 season ended unceremoniously with the Seattle Seahawks destroying the Broncos by 35 points in the Super Bowl. Still, the offense remained an elite unit in 2014 and carried Denver to a fourth straight AFC West title.
In the playoffs, the second-seeded Broncos lost to Manning's former team. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts knocked off Denver at Mile High.
The bright side is the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl in 2015, beating Carolina and sending Manning into retirement as a champion.
2015 Seattle Seahawks
At the peak of the "Legion of Boom" era, Seattle made the postseason in five consecutive years, won a Super Bowl and lost in another. It's fair to say 2015 marked the beginning of the end, though.
While the Seahawks continued to annually contend for the playoffs after this campaign, it was the final season they boasted an elite offense and defense. Both units earned top-five rankings in scoring and yards per game, helping the team finish 10-6 in the regular season.
Seattle escaped Minnesota in the Wild Card Round because Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a go-ahead 27-yard field goal during the final minute of regulation. But the Panthers jumped out to a 31-0 lead in the Divisional Round and held off a second-half charge to eliminate the Seahawks.
2017 Atlanta Falcons
Good news or bad news first?
Among the NFC's six playoff qualifiers from 2016, only the Falcons returned to the postseason. However, they couldn't atone for the prior year's iconic, gut-wrenching collapse to New England despite a marked improvement on defense.
Atlanta posted a 10-6 record and upset the third-seeded Rams in the opening round. The dream of a return trip vanished when the Philadelphia Eagles—the eventual champions—knocked out the Falcons with a 15-10 victory in the Divisional Round.
Lost in Conference Championship
2013 San Francisco 49ers
You might vividly remember the moment the Niners' pursuit of another NFC crown died. It involved Seahawks corner Richard Sherman deflecting a pass that led to the game-sealing interception and, in his postgame interview, calling Michael Crabtree a "sorry receiver."
Yes, that was this season. And it followed that Super Bowl in which the lights went out and the Baltimore Ravens held off a memorable near-comeback to clip San Francisco.
Not exactly the happiest two-year stretch for the Niners!
2021 Kansas City Chiefs
After winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 2019 season, the Chiefs had an opportunity at back-to-back triumphs. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dashed those hopes, but Patrick Mahomes and Co. put together another deep run in 2021.
Kansas City went 12-5 and won the AFC West, demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round and pulled off an epic comeback to bounce the Buffalo Bills. Then, the Chiefs soared to a 21-3 second-quarter edge on the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game and appeared bound for a third consecutive Super Bowl trip.
It wasn't to be, though. Cincinnati engineered an 18-point comeback and shocked the Chiefs, winning in overtime.
Returned to Super Bowl
2018 New England Patriots
If you've watched the NFL over the last two decades, it's no surprise New England is the lone runner-up to reach the Super Bowl the following year.
And the Patriots brought home a very noteworthy title.
New England defeated the Rams 13-3, giving legendary quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick the sixth and final championship of their 20-year partnership. Brady played one more season with the Patriots before joining the Bucs in 2020.
Prior to the Pats' victory, a runner-up hadn't recovered to win a Super Bowl the following season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.