Winning a championship is always the end goal in team sports, but since 1966 winning the Super Bowl has become the end goal in the NFL. But it’s not always easy to keep that momentum for another year. Making the playoffs is the first step to repeating as champions. If you ever wondered how many of those champions missed the playoffs the following year, this is the article for you.
The first Super Bowl occurred on January 15th, 1967, between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The first two champions were the Packers, and Bart Starr won both MVPs, and the Packers were also the first champions not to make the playoffs the following year. Since then, there have been 55 other champions, but how many have made the playoffs the next season?
Making the Playoffs:
As stated previously, there have been 56 champions in the history of the Super Bowl era. In those 56 years, 17 defending champions failed to qualify for the playoffs the following year. In an age with salary cap restrictions and free agency, it has become harder to keep a dynasty together, except for the New England Patriots.
As you read this article, you’ll find that 12 of these 17 teams to miss the playoffs are the same organizations. Two teams on this list missed the playoffs three times, while only one missed the playoffs twice, and nine teams only met the misfortune once.
Three Times Missed The Playoffs:
Two of the more successful organizations in history in terms of championships lead our list. The New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs three times after hoisting the Lombardi trophy the year prior. The Steelers have six Super Bowl titles under their belt, and each time they’ve missed the playoffs the following year, they finished with a .500 record or better.
The Steelers won back-to-back rings in 74-75 and again in 78-79. However, it wasn’t until 1980 that they fell short of defending the crown. Finishing 9-7 in 1980, it would be 26 years before they’d win another ring. This time, their franchise QB almost died in a motorcycle accident in the offseason and had his worst season. The team still finished 8-8 but missed the playoffs.
A couple of seasons later and the Steelers won a thrilling game over the Arizona Cardinals for their sixth ring, and the following year missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Essentially they finished outside of the postseason due to losing both division games to the division-winning Cincinnati Bengals.
New York Giants Miss Playoffs:
The Giants have four rings, and three of the four title defenses ended in week 17. In 1987, the replacement playersmessed up the title defense, and the G-men finished 6-9. In 1991 after winning the Lombardi on a missed field goal, the Giants finished 8-8, and after beating the Brady-Belicheck dynasty in 2011, the 2012 season ended with a 9-7 record and a failed postseason berth.
Missing Out Twice:
The Denver Broncos stand alone on this list of defending champs to miss out on the big dance twice. John Elway was a crucial piece in the success of the Broncos from 1983-1998. He led the organization to five Super Bowl trips and two rings. Three of Elway’s final four trips led them to the following season; they missed out on the postseason.
The Broncos won back-to-back in ‘97-‘98 and ‘99, they missed the playoffs. What’s the reasoning? Elway retired after winning his second ring. The year following, the Broncos fielded an offense led by Brian Griese and finished 6-10. Fast forward 13 years later, and Elway, now the GM, signed future Hall Of fame QB Peyton Manning.
Manning led the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl ring. The year after winning the Lombardi in 2015, Denver turned to Trevor Simien to replace a retired Manning. They missed the playoffs in 2016 with a 9-7 record after starting 4-0.
Our remaining teams to miss the playoffs after winning a ring are spaced out over 54 years. The first organization to accomplish this feat was the Green Bay Packers in 1968. The Kansas City Chiefs did it in 1970, and 10 years later, the Raiders fell victim to the Super Bowl hangover.
A player strike cut down two defending champions in 1982 (SF 49ers) and 1987 (Giants). The Washington Commanders suffered the hangover in 1988 with a 7-9 record. After the Broncos hangover in ‘99, the New England Patriots missed out with a 9-7 record in 2002 after pulling off one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets (or heists, depending on how you look at it) in history.
The Patriots have been to 11 Super Bowls and have only missed the playoffs twice after reaching a Super Bowl (‘02,’08). The following season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9, kickstarting a mediocre run that included 15 out of 17 seasons ending in no playoffs. The 2013 Ravens missed the playoffs after beating the 49ers for their 2nd ring with an 8-8 record.
The LA Rams will soon be the latest defending champion to miss the playoffs. Sitting at 3-9 after 13 weeks, 13 players on IR, and 12 starting o line combos, it’s all but over. LA will also be the first defending champion to miss the playoffs since the Broncos did it in 2016.
Every team on this list has some reason for not making the fullest of their title defense, whether it be injuries, performance drop-off, or lack of talent due to being gutted by cap restraints. They all have or will accomplish it and are part of a select few. Who will be the next?
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