The Carolina Panthers opened at 10-1 odds to win the Super Bowl in the 2016 NFL season. Given the history of Super Bowl losers the past four decades, anyone placing a bet on this outcome is simply throwing away their money.
Here is a sobering statistic for Panthers fans still licking their wounds from Super Bowl 50 and hoping next season will be better: No team in the past 43 seasons has lost the Super Bowl and come back to win it the next season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were the last team to accomplish this.
In addition, no team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills lost the Super Bowl and even made it back to the big game the following year. The Super Bowl loser's hangover is real.
In the past 43 seasons, the loser of the Super Bowl has made it back to the game five times — 1974 Minnesota Vikings; 1987 Denver Broncos and the Bills in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Only four Super Bowl losers have even made it back to the conference championship game the following season — 1977 Vikings, 1985 Dolphins, 2012 New England Patriots and 2013 San Francisco 49ers. In other words, 34 of the past 43 Super Bowl losers were eliminated prior to their conference championship.
In addition, 17 Super Bowl losers were one-and-done in the playoffs the next season and 12 missed the playoffs entirely. Panthers fans have some consolation in that the last seven Super Bowl losers made the playoffs the next season.
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Losing a Super Bowl is more devastating to a team than losing earlier in the playoffs or not making them at all. In the past 10 seasons, three teams won the Super Bowl the year after missing the playoffs and three had lost the conference championship game the year before.
Players and coaches of losing Super Bowl teams have spoken since the first game was played in 1966 of how devastating a loss is. After all, you've essentially failed in front of more than 100 million people and it's the last memory you have of your season. In the Panthers' case, the last image we will have is of their high-powered offense being throttled and Cam Newton not diving on a fumble for whatever reason.
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As Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told ESPN.com: "It was an all-time high getting there — and an all-time low when we lost. In a matter of hours you're going from thinking you're going to win to [being] at the bottom of the barrel. It's disheartening. You got there and you're kind of expected to get back to the next year and you don't."
Said Indianapolis Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney after the loss in the 2009 season: "Losing in the Super Bowl is very painful. I think this is something that you never really ever forget. You're anxious, next season, [to] move on with it, but I think it kind of stays with you."
Others have taken a statistical approach to determine why Super Bowl teams aren't as successful the following season. Jason Drake of SBN's Seattle Seahawks site Field Gulls concluded in 2014:
"A number of sage observations have been bandied about to explain the decline of Super Bowl participants. Factors such as injury, aging, loss of players via free agency, and adaptation by the rest of the league can be collectively described as regression to the mean, and a simple measurement shows that Super Bowl participants do not regress any more than expected for above-average teams."
Drake was examining whether the 2014would suffer a hangover after winning the Super Bowl in 2013, totally different from being a loser but his analysis remains solid. In this case, the Seahawks made it back to the Super Bowl the following year and wound up a yard away from repeating as champions. This year, the loser's curse struck again and Seattle was bounced in the Divisional round.
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My theory is that missing the Super Bowl a year after losing it tells us how difficult it is to make it to the game in the first place. A lot of good fortune and timing goes into even getting onto the Super Bowl stage.
For example, this year's Broncos trailed the four-win San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter of their Week 17 game. Had they lost, the Broncos would have gone from a No. 1 seed to a No. 5 seed, meaning all their playoff games would've been on the road. It's hard to see how Denver would have survived. In addition, the Broncos needed the Patriots to lose their Week 17 game to the 10-point underdog Dolphins to get home field advantage.
In the playoffs, the Broncos were lucky to be facing a Pittsburgh Steelers team without their best receiver Antonio Brown and needed a fumble recovery with six minutes left to spark a comeback. In the AFC Championship, one of the key plays was a missed Patriots extra point from a kicker who had made 523 in a row. Denver clearly deserved to be in the Super Bowl, but its last four wins prior were all decided by seven or fewer points, leaving little margin for error. It shows how thin the line is between winning and losing
The Broncos are just one example of good things happening to a Super Bowl team. And I can list several examples from just the past few years — the 2012 Baltimore Ravens miracle Hail Mary against Denver; the 2011 Patriots seeing the Ravens drop a touchdown pass and miss a chip shot field goal in the final 30 seconds; the 2013 Seahawks thankful that a 49ers go-ahead touchdown pass in the final seconds was not thrown six inches higher; the 2010 champion Green Bay Packers needing two improbable Week 15 upsets of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (by the Detroit Lions) and New York Giants (by the Philadelphia Eagles) to even make the playoffs. And so on.
The 2015 Panthers also had their share of good fortune. Like all teams, they had their share of injuries but five key players — Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Josh Norman — were healthy throughout the bulk of the season and into the playoffs.
The Panthers also had a favorable schedule. They played eight games against the weak NFC East and AFC South, where the best record was 9-7 and both division winners lost their playoff opener by double digits. In addition, they were 4-0 in games decided by four points or less, which allowed them to gain home field advantage.
History shows that luck might not be there for the Panthers in 2016. Can they stay healthy at key positions? Will Newton play at his MVP level or revert to the good-but-not-great quarterback he's been in prior years? The schedule will also get much tougher, with games against the AFC West and NFC West, where four of the eight teams made the playoffs. Among the games is a road visit to Denver, the team that just dominated them in the Super Bowl.
I understand that the past is not always a predictor of the future, and some year a Super Bowl loser will win it all the following season. But an 0-for-43 streak is not something to be taken lightly and I would bet the Panthers will make it 44 in a row in 2016.
Jim Buzinski is co-founder of Outsports.com.
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