The Super Bowl Losers Curse

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The Super Bowl Losers Curse is a superstition which asserts that the team and players who lose the Super Bowl have a below par performance in the season that follows. This curse is part of the larger Super Bowl Curse which also encompasses the Super Bowl Winners Curse and the Super Bowl Home Field Curse.

In the post-merger years between 1970 and 2010, 26 of the 40 teams to lose the Super Bowl did not win a playoff game the following season. In the whole of the Super Bowl era, now spanning 55 years, only two teams who have lost the Super Bowl went on to win it the following season.

Who has been affected?

Some of the most notable teams afflicted by the Super Bowl Losers Curse include:

The Buffalo Bills: since appearing in Super Bowl XXVIII in 1993, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys, the Bills have only won one playoff which came in 1995. Their last playoff appearance came in 1999.

Oakland Raiders: after losing Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002, the Raiders have never had a winning season. Their best record (8-8) came in 2010 and 2011 seasons. Aside from those two seasons, their record has not surpassed 5-11 during this period.

Cincinnati Bengals: After losing Super Bowl XXIII in 1988, the Bengals went on a losing streak of 15 seasons that ended in 2005. Other notable teams to seemingly suffer the curse include the Colts in 1969, the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, the Giants in 2001, the St. Louis Rams in 2003 and the Chicago Bears in 2008 among many others.

The Super Bowl Losers Curse has afflicted players as well. One of the most recent examples is Rex Grossman of the Chicago Bears. After the Bears lost Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, Rex, who had thrown 3,193 yards and made 23 touchdowns, plummeted to just 1411 yards and four touchdowns in 2007. Other Bears players also saw their numbers drop.

During the early 2000s star quarterbacks appeared to be particularly afflicted by the Losers Curse. In 2002 the St. Louis Rams lost Kurt Warner for 10 games to injury. The Raiders’ Rich Gannon missed nine games during the 2003 season and the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb was out for seven games in 2005. Other Super Bowl losers to lose their quarterback include the Patriots in 2008 and in 2012 when Tom Brady sustained injuries.

The Super Bowl Curse appears to have taken hold from the outset, with the Kansas Chiefs missing the 1967 playoffs the after having lost to the Chicago Packers in the Super Bowl. Between 1970 and 2013, just 21% of all Super Bowl losers had performed better in the regular season that followed. 67% of them performed worse while 12% maintained their record from the Super Bowl losing season.

Over the entire super bowl era, just 65% of losers make the playoffs the following season. Since 1993, when the Buffalo Bills made the last of four straight super bowl appearances, all of which they lost, no other team had ever played in the Super Bowl the year after losing it.

There have been a few exceptions to the Curse rules, with seven Super Bowl losers returning to the Super Bowl the following season. Between 1993 and 2006, just 6 out of 13 Super Bowl losers made the playoffs the following season and none went past the first round. Two of these have gone on to win the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys lost Super Bowl V in 1970 but came back to beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. The Dolphins then beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Who could be affected next season?

This year, the Seattle Seahawks were beaten by the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX so they are next in line to face the curse. It remains to be seen whether they will face the same fate as so many teams before them. Depending on how one interprets it, they had already overcome the Winners Curse by appearing in this version after having won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. We have to wait till February of 2016 to see whether they could conquer the Losers Curse too.

To many skeptics, the NFL Curse is just a result of the fact that teams appearing in the super bowl have better regular seasons on average and hence there is a greater reversion to the mean the following season. The fact that 79% of Super Bowl winners see a drop in performance the season after (65% for losers) perhaps lends credence to this assertion.