NFL 2014: The Long History of Falling Short

By Russell S. Baxter

Pro Football Guru

Back in February at MetLife Stadium, the Denver Broncos were in position to win their first NFL title since the team captured Super Bowl XXXIII back in 1998.

That position ended quickly in a humbling 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

In 2014, the Broncos will hope to do something that we haven’t seen in the NFL in more than 40 seasons. In fact, it’s a streak that’s been going on far longer than the free agency era, which began in 1993.

Of course, we just turned our calendars to March. So to predict what lies ahead for the Broncos in 2014, as well as the champion Seahawks, is perhaps futile indeed.

And some of those predictions could be influenced by the status of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who on Monday (March 3) was undergoing what has become the norm in recent years. Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com has the details surrounding Manning’s annual after-the-season examination on his neck. Multiple surgeries caused him to miss the 2011 season with the Indianapolis Colts.

All signs point to no issues. Of course, when it comes to a team getting back to the Super Bowl, the complications have been far harder to explain.

Still, in this age of parity where repeating as Super Bowl champions has become tougher than ever, just attempting to rebound from a loss in the Big Game has never been harder.

Only twice in the history of the Super Bowl has a team lost that game, then rebounded to capture the Lombardi Trophy a season later. The 1971 Dallas Cowboys were the first, losers to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V in Miami and then winners a year later over the Miami Dolphins at New Orleans in Super Bowl VI. One season later, the Dolphins shook off that setback in historical fashion. Don Shula’s team went a perfect 17-0 en route to their 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Of course, a lot has to do with the league’s current era. We have not seen a team make consecutive Super Bowl appearances since the 2003 and ’04 New England Patriots, who also happened to win Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX.

But at least the opportunities have been there, which wasn’t the case for stretch. In 2014, the Broncos hope to be the sixth consecutive team to lose the Super Bowl and make the postseason tournament a year later.

The Arizona Cardinals (XLIII), Indianapolis Colts (XLIV), Pittsburgh Steelers (XLV), New England Patriots (XLVI) and San Francisco 49ers (XLVII), respectively, all made the playoffs each of the last five years. Then again, only the Pats (2012) and Niners (2013) got as far as the conference title game following their Super Bowl loss.

Prior to that and dating back to the New York Giants’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, seven of the eight teams that lost on Super Bowl Sunday (XXXV-XLII) failed to reach the playoffs the following season. The 2006 Seahawks (which had lost Super Bowl XL the previous year) proved to be the lone exception.

Also keep in mind that Super Bowl “losers” have fared better than winner the lost five years when it comes to getting back to the Super Bowl. The Steelers, Giants and Ravens each failed to get back to the postseason after winning Super Bowls XLIII, XLVI and XLVII, respectively.

But why the 40-plus year drought when it comes to the runner-up? It’s almost inexplicable because you would think that once a team goes through the Super Bowl experience they know what it takes to get back to that game.

We have now seen 21 Super Bowls played dating back to the start of the 1993 season. Thanks to the Seahawks’ victory over the Broncos in February, there have now been 13 different winners, with teams like the Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Giants and Ravens winning more than once. But those last 21 games have seen more than half of the current teams in the league (18) lose at least one Super Bowl, with New England and Pittsburgh the only repeat clubs on that latter list.

That’s quite a change from the pre-free agency era. Thanks to legendary squads such as the 1960s Green Bay Packers, 1970s Steelers, 1980s 49ers and 1990s Cowboys, as well as other significant runs by the Redskins, Dolphins and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, only 12 different teams won the first 27 Super Bowls. Over that same span, just 13 different clubs lost at least one Super Bowl. That includes multiple setbacks by the Vikings (4), Broncos (4) and Bills (3). Note: Buffalo’s fourth Super Bowl loss came during the first season of free agency.

Assuming Manning returns in 2014 (and there’s no reason to believe he won’t), what are the chances that John Fox’s team gets to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona?

As has been stated, it’s been a bit since a team got back to the Big Game. It’s been nearly impossible to return and walk away with the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

But are these Broncos capable of bucking the odds?

Russell S. Baxter is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com has been covering the NFL for 30-plus years on numerous platforms, including Bleacher Report and Pro Player Insiders. Follow me on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru and Facebook at Pro Football Guru.