Given the way things ended in Houston last February, the question has been one of the most frequently asked ones all offseason.
Is the Super Bowl Hangover a real thing?
It seems to be drummed up by the media every summer in regards to the team who lost the previous Super Bowl. What kind of a start will they get off to, and can they get back to the big game?
As the dog days of summer pile on, I decided to get to the bottom of this. I examined all 50 seasons that have already been played by Super Bowl losers, trying to crunch some numbers.
Is it real?
Only twice in NFL history has a team lost the Super Bowl one season, and gone on to win it the next year. In fact, it happened in back to back years. In 1971, the Dallas Cowboys responded to losing a heartbreaker to the Baltimore Colts in February by winning it all. Then in 1972, the Miami Dolphins laid waste to everybody in their path en route to the only perfect season in NFL history off the back of losing the previous year.
Other than that though, the Super Bowl hangover is alive and kicking in terms of not allowing teams to go from agony to ecstasy in 12 months. The worst though is losing more than one.
Nobody was better at this than the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s, who famously lost four consecutive Super Bowls. Season after season, they put the Super Bowl hangover away and marauded through the AFC to make it back to the Super Bowl, only to find a way to cough up their chance at a Lombardi trophy. The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings have also suffered this pain of losing back-to-back that the Atlanta Falcons are hoping to avoid.
The most common fate for runner-ups is returning to the postseason, but falling short of retaining the conference championship. 28 out of 50 times this has happened, with the divisional round claiming the most victims at 16. Six different teams have done this a pair of times, headlined by the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys. Even the Hall-of-Famers struggle with the hangover. Peyton Manning’s Broncos lost in the divisional round after being dismantled in Super Bowl 48 by the Seahawks. Roger Staubach’s Cowboys were taken out in the last eight twice in four years after losing the Super Bowl.
Moving on to the work of the grim reaper, 15 times the hangover was too much for the Super Bowl loser to overcome, and they missed the playoffs altogether. This phenomenon has been pretty common all the way through Super Bowl history. The first losers, the 1967 Kansas City Chiefs, failed to qualify for the playoffs the next year. The longest run came in the early 2000s, with it happening six times in eight seasons.
The most staggering stat of all is that in 33 out of 50 seasons, the defending runner-ups failed to win a playoff game next year. 40 times, or 80%, the team only won one or no playoff games. The ultimate goal is to get back to the Super Bowl and win it, but with the hangover it is extremely rare.
Now to the lowest of the low, and it gets pretty bad. The worst record a team has ever finished with the year after making the Super Bowl was the 2003 Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Rich Gannon went on injured reserve in week seven, and the team never recovered. The defending AFC champs fell into the black hole by posting a 4-12 record, including going 0-8 away from home at the Coliseum.
The next worst record ironically came from the Atlanta Falcons after their only Super Bowl appearance prior to the 2017 collapse. The dirty birds sputtered to an 0-4 start that culminated in a dismal 5-11 finish.
One more thing I wanted to look at was the bad Super Bowl losses, and how that translated into next season. We can all agree that nothing was worse than the way Atlanta choked away a potential first title in franchise history, but there have been some comparable situations in the past.
The heftiest defeat in Super Bowl history came when the an Francisco 49ers thrashed the Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. This bad loss was too much for John Elway to handle, as his team fell off a cliff going 5-11 in 1990.
Even though the score doesn’t suggest it, one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever was in 1995, where the 49ers blasted the San Diego Chargers. The score was 42-10 Niners late in the third quarter, but San Diego added some consolation scores to make it look more respectable. San Diego followed it up by started the season 4-7. They scraped into the playoffs as a wild card, but the damage was done as the Colts took them out 35-20 in the Wild Card round.
In 2002 and 2004, Adam Vinatieri as a Patriot crushed the dreams of the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers respectively with last second field goals to win the Super Bowl. Neither team could respond from the crushing losses, with both going 7-9 when play resumed in September.
The only real exception to the rule since the early 1970s has been the Buffalo Bills. Other than that anomaly of making four consecutive Super Bowls, this study has been extremely clear.
The Super Bowl hangover is a real thing, and it strikes even harder when teams lose dramatic Super Bowls.
Good luck, Atlanta. You’ll need it to fight off this voodoo.