The San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XVI to complete the 1981 National Football League season and thus became the first team to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy following a year with a losing record. Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl after compiling a 7 and 9 campaign in 2016.
Between the 49ers being the first and the Eagles the most recent to win the Super Bowl after a losing year there are two other teams that accomplished that feat. The 1999 St. Louis Rams, led by surprise Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner, downed the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV following a losing record in 1998. Two seasons after winning their title, the Rams were upset in Super Bowl XXXVI by the New England Patriots.
That was the first year Tom Brady started for New England and the Patriots have not had a losing year since … although they did have a 5-11 record in 2000 before Brady stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
So, what do we have here? We’ve had 52 Super Bowl winners and four of them had a losing record the season before they won it all. Or, put another way, 48 of the 52 winners did not suffer a losing year before winning the NFL’s top prize.
With that as a fact, if you want to pick a team to win Super Bowl LIII that didn’t compile a winning mark in 2017 you are pulling against a stat that wins 93% of the time … not normally the right side of the proposition. But, like any stat, percentages are just what happened and on game day, or on a season long bet, all wagers that don’t push are 100% winners or 100% losers.
Still, if we want to get on the right side of the odds, before this season even opens the summer training camps we can eliminate 14 teams from serious consideration based on them not earning a winning record last season. While that list includes the normal suspects, teams like the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and New York Jets, the losers from last year also include some teams that will get serious consideration.
For instance, the Green Bay Packers had a losing mark last year, 7-9, while they played a bulk of their season without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Two teams from the NFC East that have bright prospects in most years, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, both had losing records last year.
The Cincinnati Bengals had earned a postseason slot five straight years before missing the playoffs the past two seasons. Perhaps the biggest upset of the year is that Marvin Lewis held onto his job after two dismal seasons and having never won a postseason game in six tries. He got the job in Cincinnati for his work as defensive coordinator for one of the best defenses ever, the Super Bowl XXXV Champion Baltimore Ravens. But, nearly two decades later, he is still looking for his first postseason win since that triumph over the New York Giants.
If a team is to bounce from a losing year to a Super Bowl win it is not accomplished without a foundation that is built for success that simply hasn’t yet come to fruition. That was the case with the 49ers in 1981, which marked the beginning of the dominance of that franchise with Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young. The Rams were on the edge of success when their starting quarterback, Trent Green, was lost for 1999 to a season ending injury in August and replaced by future Hall of Fame member Kurt Warner.
The Patriots historic rise to NFL dominance began before Brady stepped in to compliment the coaching of Bill Belichick. And last year, the Eagles success was built on the continued development of second year quarterback Carson Wentz and a team that was motivated by his loss not unlike the 2001 Patriots were after Drew Bledsoe went down. The Eagles last season also had a defense that allowed backup quarterback Nick Foles to cash all the marbles.
Is their a team from the 7% bin that offers the same chances this year?
Two Florida teams fit the bill, the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Will either jump from a losing record to winning Super Bowl LIII?
Before the 2018 season kicks off we will release our prediction for the Super Bowl winner, and there is a lot of work and team chemistry to study before reaching that conclusion. But for a long shot winner Florida teams, throw the Jacksonville Jaguars in the mix, all have legitimate shots to collect the trophy next February in Atlanta.