Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor leads his team into Super Bowl LVI with the lowest winning percentage of any head mentor in league history. In his first two years at the helm of the Bengals, Taylor’s team was 6-25-1. This year, their AFC North Division title was won with a 10-7 regular season mark, and even adding the 3-0 postseason record that has led this unlikely squad to the Super Bowl, Taylor’s career winning percentage of .373 ranks at the bottom.
The Bengals are also the first team to advance to the final leg in the quest for the Vince Lombardi Trophy that won as few as six games in their previous two campaigns combined.
Yet, I invite you to go outside early tomorrow morning and look east. If your gaze finds the sun rising from that direction, go bet on the Bengals.
Because, like the sun always rising in the east, no team has ever won a Super Bowl that lost both sides of their bye week. The National Football League initiated a season with more weeks than games in 1990, and since they did that only four Super Bowl winners have lost the game headed into their open date, 27 have won it. Four Super Bowl Champions have also lost the game following their bye week, but those four teams were never the same squads that were downed headed into their off week.
Why is this important?
A team good enough to win with an open date next on their schedule is a squad that can take advantage of an opportunity. After two weeks off, a good team will come back ready to tackle the competition again. Now, if a team loses that last contest before their bye week, one can expect them to have added motivation in preparing for their next opponent and play with vengeance.
This season, the Rams were favored over the San Francisco 49ers headed into their open date and lost, 31-10. Two weeks later, the Rams were favored again, this time on the road against the Green Bay Packers, and lost again. Admittedly, the 49ers and Packers offered tough competition for Los Angeles both before and after their bye week, but that doesn’t erase the fact that they lost both games.
And no Super Bowl winner has ever done that.
There is one other arguably quirky fact that points to a Super Bowl winner, only once in the previous 55 Super Bowls has a team that lost at home on opening day gone on to win the Super Bowl. That was in 2002, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were upset on their home field in overtime by the New Orleans Saints and then completed that season with a victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Five teams that were prey to these obscure facts advanced to the Divisional Round this season. The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans both lost their home openers this season to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals respectively. Three squads lost both sides of their bye weeks, and in addition to the Rams, the other two were the teams Los Angeles beat the past two Sundays, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers.
In other words, once the 49ers eliminated the Packers three weeks ago, the NFC Super Bowl representative was going to be a squad that was looking to be the first in history to win the game that lost both sides of their bye week. I think that is why the Rams survived the challenge against both Tampa Bay and San Francisco, all three teams that had lost going in and coming out of their bye week.
How did the Bengals do on this chart in 2021?
They won at home on opening day, beating the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium. They got beat headed into their bye week by the Cleveland Browns but came out of their two weeks of preparation after that setback with a convincing road victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, 32-13.
Just like a Super Bowl winner would.