2023 Super Bowl: Rams, Bucs will have tough time re-summiting NFL like Eagles, Chiefs did
Either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Philadelphia Eagles will be the fifth team since 2000 to win two Super Bowls within five years. It’s a feat that is impressive for multiple reasons — we’ll get to that later — but even more striking when you juxtapose both the Chiefs’ and Eagles’ success with the previous two champions, the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just a year after the Rams and two years after the Buccaneers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, both clubs are trending in the wrong direction with no clear path forward after throwing all their chips into title contention.
Both teams accomplished what 30 others failed to do over the past two seasons, and their gamble paid off in the biggest way possible. But the cost has also left both teams spiraling. The Rams’ curated roster crumbled under the weight of injuries and roster holes and L.A. missed the playoffs in 2022, while the mostly intact Buccaneers championship squad looks like a shell of its 2020 self and bowed out of the playoffs after a middling performance against the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round.
Neither are failures. They both did the thing everyone in the league tries to do. And they did it differently, too: Los Angeles traded away copious amounts of draft capital to bulk up at important positions before getting a quarterback in Matthew Stafford, while Tampa Bay snatched Tom Brady in free agency and paid to keep its core roster intact.
But there is something to be said about staying power in this league. Brady knows that all too well from his two decades with the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick built those teams around Brady, a good offensive line and good defense. The Buccaneers and Rams did that during their respective runs but couldn’t maintain that for long.
There is time to turn it around for both clubs, but aging and expensive rosters without much youth or depth are hard to fix quickly.
How other recent Super Bowl champions returned
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Super Bowl hangovers have been well-documented over the years, both with winners and runners-up.
As mentioned earlier, only four teams since 2000 have won a second Super Bowl within five years of the first: the 2004 Patriots (who won three titles over a four-year span), the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (who also won in 2005), the 2011 Giants (who also won in 2007) and the 2014-18 Patriots (who also won three titles in a five-year stretch).
Broken down further: 14 of the past 22 champions made the playoffs in each of the next two seasons (including this season's Buccaneers). Eleven of those 14 teams made the divisional round at least once, with seven making it twice. Additionally, nine of the 22 champions returned to the playoffs at least four times over the next five seasons.
This history doesn’t necessarily doom the Buccaneers or the Rams. The Giants made the playoffs only twice after their Super Bowl in the 2007 season, and that team won it again in the 2011 season. The same goes for the Steelers after they won in the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
That difference is all four of those teams innovated on some level in between their Super Bowl titles. The Steelers changed running backs, added receiver Santonio Holmes and even hired a new head coach. The Giants upgraded their receiving corps and replaced the retired Michael Strahan with Jason Pierre-Paul on the defensive line. The coaching staff was mostly the same, save for new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
The Patriots’ most recent championship run is the major outlier because they made four Super Bowl appearances from 2014-2018 and won three of them with mostly the same roster around a top-five offense and defense. But Brady and Belichick have always bucked trends.
The Buccaneers and Rams, meanwhile, failed to elevate their teams and actually lost key contributors from their championship teams on both sides of the ball.
Tampa Bay lost starting guard Ali Marpet and tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement (as well as receiver Antonio Brown to, well, other stuff) while Los Angeles lost starting tackle Andrew Whitworth to retirement, edge rusher Von Miller to the Bills in free agency and receivers Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. Neither team found suitable replacements for any of those players. On the coaching front, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians retired to the front office in 2022 while the Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell left to coach the Minnesota Vikings this past season
Those changes affected both teams this season. Brady’s yards per completion fell below 10 for the first time as a starter and his 25 passing touchdowns are his lowest mark since 2019. He also led the NFL in sack percentage for the second consecutive year. The Rams' offense, meanwhile, went from ninth to 32nd in yards and 15th to 21st in points and the defense went from 15th in points allowed to 21st in a year.
Could the Buccaneers and Rams find their way back? Absolutely. Both remain ripe with top-end talent across their respective rosters. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are still among the best pass-catching duos in the league for Tampa Bay, while the veteran core of Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey remain elite for the Rams.
But both teams will need to make hard choices at important positions.
For one, the Buccaneers and Rams were the second- and third-oldest teams in the NFL in 2022, respectively. The Chiefs, meanwhile, ranked 26th, and while the Eagles are sixth, most of their core contributors are young. Age doesn’t define a team, but an influx of younger talent could help. The Buccaneers already have flash running back Rachaad White and the Rams saw a resurgence from third-year back Cam Akers.
There are obvious holes that could grow wider this offseason, though.
Tampa Bay could be looking at a new starting quarterback if Brady leaves, and there are serious concerns on the offensive line, in the backfield and on defense. Los Angeles needs Stafford to come back healthy and also find consistency at running back, receiver and in the secondary.
Chiefs and Eagles innovated
Juxtapose that with the current Super Bowl matchup between the Chiefs and the Eagles. Both teams have a chance to join that aforementioned list of repeat champs with either slightly altered or completely different iterations of their past championship teams.
The Chiefs still have their head coach-quarterback duo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Travis Kelce is still the primary pass catcher and the defense still has a potent pass rush with Chris Jones and Frank Clark. But the team adapted from losing arguably its best weapon in Tyreek Hill with a bevy of skill position players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore. And in the backfield, the Chiefs have found success with Jerick McKinnon and seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco.
The Eagles are a completely different story. This team looks almost unrecognizable compared with the one that beat the Patriots to win the Super Bowl at the end of the 2017 season. And that’s all thanks to general manager Howie Roseman. He hired head coach Nick Sirianni, drafted quarterback Jalen Hurts and traded for receiver A.J. Brown — three of the most important contributors in Philadelphia’s championship run. Sirianni, meanwhile, brought in offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, both of whom have developed and turned the team into the best in the NFC.
Both Kansas City and Philadelphia are prime examples of why complacency is the first step toward irrelevance. Neither team rested on the laurels of their championship team and instead found ways to recreate themselves either with the personnel they already had or by finding the missing pieces elsewhere
The Buccaneers and Rams got what they wanted in the end. Now, it’s a matter of if those clubs can turn their immediate futures around quickly or hit the reset button. They have time to do so, but resourcing could be an issue after everything both teams gave up to win a ring. The Buccaneers are projected to be $55 million over the salary cap in 2023, per OTC, and the Rams will be $14.2 million over the cap and won’t have a first-round draft pick for the seventh consecutive year.
None of that is conducive to longevity. But maybe that was the price they were happy to pay for a title. Or maybe an off year is all they needed to make a comeback. We’ll find out in 2023.