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The five greatest regular-season NFL teams to not win a Super Bowl: 1981-1995
The NFL's regular season champion doesn't necessarily translate into the Super Bowl champion. These teams snatched up thirteen or more victories over the season, thirteen or more regular season victories, but failed to win the Super Bowl.
These are the five greatest teams to not win a Super Bowl from 1981 through 1995. These teams are pure demonstrations that regular-season domination doesn't necessarily mean that you'll win the Lombardi trophy… or even represent your conference as a champion. All stats referenced from pro-football reference.
1992 San Francisco 49ers
The 1992 San Francisco 49ers and George Seifert were coming off their third 14-win regular season in four seasons. After Seifert coached the 49ers to their Super Bowl blowout victory against the Denver Broncos in 1989 and falling to their interconference arch nemesis, the New York Giants, in the 1990 NFC Championship 15-13, the 49ers began transitioning to Steve Young in 1991. Young was shaky in 1991 after going 10-6, but the magic was rekindled after a 14-2 regular season in 1992 that led to a NFC Championship match-up against the Dallas Cowboys.
Instead of enriching their 80s and 90s dynasty, the Cowboys started their own. The Cowboys and 49ers played an evenly matched game except for one critical difference: Cowboys won the turnover battle, 4-0. The Cowboys won 30-20 in Candlestick Park, repositioning the Cowboys as the NFC's elite team. The Cowboys would win three of the next four Super Bowls, although they were denied of a four-peat as the 49ers beat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship following the 1994 regular season.
1987 San Francisco 49ers
Bill Walsh's West Coast offense created league-wide havoc. From 1981 to 1988, Walsh captured three Super Bowl titles as 49ers head coach. Combined with underappreciated defenses, the 49ers were a consistent 10+ win threat that could dominate an entire season (1981-1984) or get hot at the most opportunistic moment (1988). The 49ers were also Super Bowl favorites entering the playoffs following a 13-2 regular season in 1987.
The Minnesota Vikings had other plans. Normally blinded by their disastrous luck in playoff games, the Vikings pulled off one of the NFL's most historic upsets at Candlestick Park during the divisional playoffs in January 1988. The Vikings outscored their opponents by one the entire season, finishing 8-7. The Vikings nearly missed the strike-shortened season after going 0-3 with replacement players. That didn't stop them from annihilating the New Orleans Saints, the NFC West's second best team and second best record overall, 44-10 in the Wildcard round at New Orleans.
The Vikings reward? A rested 49ers unit in Candlestick Park that averaged two touchdowns per victory over the regular season. The 49ers won two Super Bowls in the past few seasons, destined to win their third under Joe Montana and Bill Walsh. The Vikings carried their momentum into San Francisco with a 20-3 half-time lead. Montana had an uncharacteristically treacherous performance, and Steve Young wasn't enough of a spark for the 49ers to overcome their deficit.
The Vikings won 36-24, only to watch their Super Bowl hopes die inside the Redskins goal-line in the NFC Championship. The 49ers recovered, winning the Super Bowl the following season.
1986 Chicago Bears
The 1985 Chicago Bears are often considered the NFL's greatest team. That was supposed to be the beginning of greatness, the roots of a dynasty…
Charles Martin had other plans.
After Jim McMahon was knocked out of the second regular season collision between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, Mike Tomczak and Doug Flutie finished the regular season unblemished en route to a 14-2 mark. The Bears were relying heavily on their defense, which surrendered 187 points that season. Tomczak had two touchdowns to tag along with his ten interceptions, and the Bears seemed too one-dimensional to successfully defend their Super Bowl against the 1986 New York Giants in a potential NFC Championship match-up.
The Bears and Giants never met; Doug Flutie carried the Bears into the playoffs and they were immediately ousted by the Washington Redskins in the divisional round, 27-13. The Bears stagnant offense had little productivity and numerous blunders after the Redskins outscored them 20-0 in the second half. The Bears were never able to repeat upon their success from 1985 despite their suffocating defense.
1984 Miami Dolphins
Dan Marino is often recognized as the NFL's greatest quarterback…even overall player… to never win the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins were regular championship contenders, but they always fell short, often victimized during the Buffalo Bills streak of four consecutive Super Bowl losses.
Marino's closest bet to a championship came in 1984. At 23, Marino shattered the record of touchdown passes with 48 while leading the Dolphins to a 14-2 mark and an AFC Championship. After impressive victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, the Dolphins represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, playing the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers.
The West Coast offense prevailed as the 49ers won 38-16. The Dolphins jumped out to a 10-7 lead after one, but the 49ers second quarter surge put them up 28-10 at half-time. The 49ers accumulated nearly 550 yards of total offense against the Dolphins, and Bill Walsh secured his second Super Bowl championship.
The 49ers continued their dominance well into the 1990s, winning their next Super Bowl by 1988. The Dolphins would post impressive victories and record quality seasons under Marino (including being the only blemish on the 1985 Chicago Bears), but they were never to win a Super Bowl under Marino.
1983 Washington Redskins
The 1983 Washington Redskins lit up the scoreboard early and often, scoring 541 points throughout the season. This was the season that featured the 48-47 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Joe Theismann was the AP MVP, PFWA MVP, and AP Offensive Player of the Year, to name a few. Entering the playoffs at 14-2, no one would have been surprised had he been a Super Bowl MVP.
After eliminating Bill Walsh's 49ers from their second Super Bowl in three seasons, the Redskins were pitted against the Los Angeles Raiders. The Raiders were 12-4 and had outscored their playoff opponents 68-24 leading into this game. The Redskins were supposed to win. Instead, they were another example of an offensive juggernaut getting outdone in the playoffs by a superior defensive performance.
The Raiders led 21-3 after two defensive touchdowns. Theismann failed to record a touchdown pass and went 16/35 with two interceptions after having the best statistical season of his career. The Raiders won 38-9 and it was the first time the Redskins had scored fewer than 23 points that season.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 1990 San Francisco 49ers
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All stats and references from pro-football references.com. Accessed February 1, 2011.
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