The best NFL teams that didn't win a Super Bowl

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April 8th, 2020

So many expected the 2019 Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl, after the team posted a 14-2 record, behind quarterback Lamar Jackson’s exceptional play and its third-ranked scoring defense.

Instead, the wild-card Tennessee Titans embarrassed the Ravens in the Divisional Round and snapped Baltimore’s 12-game win streak.

The Ravens aren’t the only team to command the league in the regular season, then come up short in the postseason. Here are five of the best teams in NFL history that failed to seal the deal with a Super Bowl ring.   

5. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

Randy Moss took the league by storm in his first pro season. He hauled in 17 touchdown passes, the most by anyone that year, and the highest mark by a rookie in NFL history. Moss played alongside veteran wide receiver Cris Carter and quarterback Randall Cunningham, who put up an MVP-caliber season in 1998, with 3,704 passing yards and a 106 passer rating.

The Vikes had one of the best offenses in the league. The team scored a record 556 points, and placekicker Gary Anderson became the first player to convert every field goal and extra point he attempted in the regular season.

That year, Minnesota became the third team in NFL history to go 15-1. The other two teams that accomplished the feat (the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and 1985 Chicago Bears) went on to win Super Bowls.

Minnesota should have been next in line, but luck dried up in the NFC Championship Game. In a hard-fought battle with the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings held a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter and set up Anderson for a field goal to pad the score with three points. Anderson shanked the 38-yard attempt, which put the Falcons in striking distance.

Atlanta forced overtime and walked away with a 30-27 victory and a spot in the Super Bowl, where they fell to the Denver Broncos.

Minnesota has yet to win a Super Bowl and has lost in the last six NFC Championship Games it has played, dating back to 1978. 

4. 1968 Baltimore Colts

Another team to win all but one game in the regular season and not earn a Super Bowl title is the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

Coach Don Shula — a two-time Super Bowl champion as coach of the Miami Dolphins — should have collected his first championship ring in 1968, but a young Joe Namath stood in his way.

Earl Morrall filled in that year for Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, who got injured during the final game of the preseason. Morrall led the Colts to a 13-1 record and earned a Pro Bowl nomination, plus NFL MVP. In his first Super Bowl, however, he looked far from elite.

The New York Jets and Broadway Joe pulled off one of the biggest upsets in football history, when they defeated the Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III.

Baltimore’s offense couldn’t get anything going. Morrall threw three interceptions, before Unitas replaced him in the third quarter. The Colts’ back-breaking defense also struggled throughout, despite being the best in the NFL that year.  

The Colts and Unitas eventually won a Super Bowl in 1970, and Morrall went on to win three, including Super Bowl VII, as a quarterback on the 1972 Dolphins, who achieved the only perfect season (17-0) in NFL history.  

3. 2001 St. Louis Rams

The Rams were on the way to building a dynasty. They just needed a win in Super Bowl XXXVI to solidify it.

St. Louis set a franchise record with a 14-2 season and an 8-0 mark on the road. Quarterback Kurt Warner brought home his second NFL MVP and the third straight by a Rams player since 1999 (Warner won in 1999 and 2001, while running back Marshall Faulk took the honor in 2000).

The Rams were also the first team to score 500 or more points in a season and opened with six straight victories in three consecutive seasons. The “greatest show on turf” seemed primed for a Super Bowl run, but a future dynasty put a stop to it all.

A young Tom Brady replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season and led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record. The Pats hosted the Rams in the regular season and lost, 24-17, but Bill Belichick took plenty of notes and came prepared for the rematch in Super Bowl XXXVI.

While the Rams piled on 427 yards to New England’s 267, the Patriots stifled St. Louis in the end zone and held the team to just three points before the fourth quarter. In the final period, Warner led a pair of touchdown drives to tie the score, 17-17, with less than two minutes remaining. Many expected the Patriots to run out the clock and force overtime, but Brady pushed his team down the field and set up Adam Vinatieri for a game-winning, 48-yard field goal.

The Rams left the Superdome with their dynasty dreams crushed, while the Patriots began a two-decade-long chapter of dominance, with nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles.

2. 1990 Buffalo Bills

Before Belichick played spoiler to the Rams, he squashed the Buffalo Bills’ hopes of a Super Bowl in 1990.

Then the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, Belichick helped defeat Buffalo, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV — the only Super Bowl decided by one point.

The Bills and their no-huddle offense went 13-3 in the regular season and topped the league in points scored (428). Pro Bowl quarterback Jim Kelly led the NFL with a 101.2 passer rating, running back Thurman Thomas tallied the most yards from scrimmage for the second straight season, and Bruce Smith earned Defensive Player of the Year, after he totaled 101 tackles, four forced fumbles, and a Bills-record 19 sacks.

The Giants also posted a 13-3 record, with a ball-control offense and a smothering defense. When they met Buffalo in the Super Bowl, coach Bill Parcells milked the clock and set a Super Bowl record for time of possession (40 minutes, 33 seconds).

The Bills still had a shot to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl, when Scott Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field-goal attempt. With eight seconds left, his kick sailed wide right and handed the Giants the win.

Following that loss, the Bills made the Super Bowl three more times and became the only team to appear in four straight Super Bowls (1990-1993). The Bills lost all four and haven’t made it back to the big game since.

1. 2007 New England Patriots

Tom Brady had already won three Super Bowls with New England and was going for a fourth ring. The Patriots were chasing a 19-0 season and just needed to beat the 10-6 Giants in Super Bowl LII.

Fourth-year Giants quarterback Eli Manning paled in comparison to Brady that season. Manning completed just 56.1% of his passes and threw for 3,336 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. Brady secured his first NFL MVP and racked up 4,806 yards and a then-record 50 touchdowns on 68.9% passing. He also registered a career-best 117.2 passer rating, while Manning’s rating topped out at 73.9.

Brady’s excellence helped the Pats set a new record for points in a season (589), and first-year addition Randy Moss reeled in 23 touchdown passes, the most by any player in one season.

Logic said the Pats should win Super Bowl XLII, but luck — and David Tyree’s “helmet catch” — turned the tide in the Giants’ favor.

New York triumphed 17-14 and came back again to defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Brady eventually clinched three more titles for the Pats (2014, 2016, 2018), but a win in 2007 surely would have been the most gratifying of all.

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