Just getting to the conference championship can be considered an achievement for the Patriots, and Super Bowl runner-ups everywhere.
Losing the Super Bowl has cast quite the curse on teams over the last two decades. Since the Bills had their string of four consecutive Super Bowl losses, the NFL’s second-place finishers have been fortunate enough to make the playoffs.
This year’s Patriots are the first Super Bowl runner-ups since the 1993 Bills to advance as far as the conference title game the following season. Nine teams — including the 2008 Patriots — did not even make the playoffs the year after falling in the Super Bowl. The 2003 Raiders went 4-12, the low watermark of the group.
But even the teams that can get past the pain of losing in the championship and advance to the playoffs the next year don’t get very far. Five lost in the wild-card round, most recently the 2011 Steelers, and four teams lost in the divisional round.
We haven’t seen back-to-back Super Bowl champions since 2003-04, but seeing a Super Bowl loser return to get revenge and win has been much rarer, with it last happening when the Dolphins won following the 1972 season, and the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens in the AFC title game ensured that streak will continue.
The Patriots are the ninth Super Bowl loser to reach double digit wins in the regular season since 1993. Here’s a look at the other eight teams and how they fared following losses in the Super Bowl (in chronological order):
2011 Steelers — Following a 31-25 loss to the Packers in the Super Bowl, the Steelers finished in second place in the AFC North, finishing 12-4, with 10 wins in their final 12 games. The Steelers’ playoff run was short, though, as they fell in the famous overtime loss in Denver, thanks to Tim Tebow’s game-winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
2010 Colts — Tracy Porter’s pick-six in the previous season’s Super Bowl had to be fresh on the minds of Peyton Manning and the Colts the next season. A three-game losing streak put the Colts at 6-6 entering December, but they finished strong with four consecutive wins to win the AFC South. The Jets’ defense, though, shut Manning down in the wild-card round, allowing for an early exit. The Colts fell 17-16.
2009 Cardinals — Out to prove the previous season’s NFC championship wasn’t a fluke, the Cardinals went 10-6 in 2009 and won the NFC West for the second season in a row. They won a wild overtime game against the Packers in the wild-card round 51-45, which ended on a Karlos Dansby fumble-return TD. The Cardinals’ run ended there, as the Saints dominated them in the divisional round, 45-14. Arizona has not been back to the playoffs since.
2008 Patriots — Tom Brady’s ACL tear in Week One had this season destined for failure, but Matt Cassel threw 21 touchdowns and got the Pats to an 11-5 regular-season record. While it stands as one of the better regular-season showings by a previous Super Bowl runner-up, it wasn’t enough to get to the playoffs in ’08, as they lost a tiebreaker to the Ravens.
2000 Titans — This team had arguably the most painful finish to a Super Bowl, which ended with Kevin Dyson a yard short of the goal line in a loss to the Rams. The Titans didn’t let it keep them down, finishing 13-3 in 2000, thanks in part to an eight-game winning streak in the beginning of the season. The Titans won the AFC Central and got a bye, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens 24-10 in the divisional round.
1998 Packers — Green Bay got off to a hot start to the ’98 season following their Super Bowl loss to the Broncos, winning their first four games. The Packers finished the season with a three-game win streak to secure a wild-card spot with an 11-5 record and a playoff matchup with the 49ers. Terrell Owens’ famous 25-yard touchdown catch gave the Niners the 30-27 win, sending the Pack home.
1997 Patriots — Pete Carroll had big shoes to fill in 1997, coming off the Patriots’ AFC title with Bill Parcells in charge. New England got off to a 4-0 start, with three of those wins coming by 25 points or more. The Pats finished the season 10-6 and won the AFC East. They beat the rival Dolphins 17-13 in the wild-card round, but lost 7-6 to the Steelers the next weekend. It was only the second time all season the Patriots failed to score in double digits.
1996 Steelers — A 24-9 loss to the Jaguars was not the way the Steelers wanted to start the ’96 season, coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys. But they rallied to win five in a row, and finished with a 10-6 record, good for first place in the AFC Central. The Steelers walloped the Colts 42-14 in the wild-card round, but then got pasted by the eventual AFC champion Patriots 28-3 the next week.