Monday, January 22, 2007
Updated: January 24, 6:18 PM ET
The Ultimate Leftovers
When Page 2 compiled its rankings of the 80 Super Bowl participants, it also occurred to us that many teams left out of the big game over the years were actually better than a number of the participants.
With that in mind, we ranked the top 10 teams that failed to reach the Super Bowl:
10. 1986 Chicago Bears (14-2, 0-1)
On the heels of one of the most dominating seasons in NFL history, the Bears tied the Giants for the best record in the league. Despite the departure of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who took over as head coach of the Eagles, the Bears again allowed the fewest points and yards of any NFL team. However, injuries to Jim McMahon -- including a season-ending body slam by Green Bay's Charles Martin -- left Chicago with a revolving door of Mike Tomczak, Steve Fuller and Doug Flutie at quarterback, and the Bears lost their playoff opener to a wild-card Redskins team.
9. 1973 Los Angeles Rams (12-2, 0-1)
Chuck Knox went 66-15-1 as coach of the Rams from 1971 to '77, but he never could get them to the Super Bowl. Although the Rams reached the NFC Championship Game in 1974, '75 and '76, we'll argue that the 1973 model was the best of the bunch. Its offense, powered by John Hadl and Lawrence McCutcheon, ranked first in the NFL in points and second in yards. Its defense, anchored by Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood, ranked fourth in points allowed and first in yards allowed. But the Rams lost in the first round to Dallas, a team with two fewer regular-season victories.
8. 1996 Denver Broncos (13-3, 0-1)
This is the best example of a team that let its guard down and never recovered. Denver clinched homefield advantage through the AFC playoffs after cruising to a 12-1 start. It went 1-2 to close the regular season while resting most of its key players. Was lost momentum a factor in this team's demise? We'll never know for sure, but a scrambling Mark Brunell and an upstart, second-year Jacksonville squad shocked the top-seeded Broncos in the first round. John Elway and Terrell Davis headed a list of nine Broncos named to the Pro Bowl that year.
7. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1, 1-1)
The Steelers are one of just two teams to win 15 regular-season games without reaching the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh also defeated both Super Bowl participants (New England and Philadelphia) during the regular season. Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger managed the offense effectively. It didn't hurt that Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley anchored a rushing attack that chewed up the second-most yardage in the league. The Steelers had nine players named to the Pro Bowl. This team could be ranked higher, but don't forget it was this close to losing to the Jets in the divisional round.
6. 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (14-2, 1-1)
This team was so impressed with itself that it recorded "Uh, ooh, the Jaguars' Super Bowl Song." The rushing tandem of James Stewart and Fred Taylor headlined a rushing attack that gained 2,091 yards and 20 touchdowns, ranking second in the NFL in each category. Of course, there would be no Super Bowl for Jacksonville, which went 0-3 against the Titans and 15-0 against the rest of the league. The Jaguars allowed the fewest points in the league in 1999, but Tennessee scored 94 points in the teams' three meetings.
5. 1979 San Diego Chargers (12-4, 0-1)
The Air Coryell offense put up big numbers for several seasons in San Diego, but this was the season the Chargers played defense, too. In fact the Chargers' defense ranked higher statistically than its offense in '79. Dan Fouts piloted a passing attack that led the league in yardage and had two 1,000-yard receivers in John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner, but Fouts threw as many interceptions (24) as touchdowns that season. Sure enough, Fouts threw five picks -- four by Vernon Perry -- as the Chargers lost to an Oilers team playing without Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini in the divisional round.
4. 1994 Dallas Cowboys (12-4, 1-1)
Dallas was trying to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls, but it was derailed in Barry Switzer's first season as head coach. This team's only weakness was its No. 13 ranking in offensive yardage, yet it outgained the mighty 49ers by 157 yards in the NFC Championship Game. But the Cowboys couldn't overcome three first-quarter turnovers and a 21-point deficit against the 49ers. Dallas had 11 players named to the Pro Bowl, and its largest margin of defeat in the regular season was seven points.
3. 1992 San Francisco 49ers (14-2, 1-1)
Two years before the 49ers used turnovers to defeat Dallas for the NFC championship, it was the other way around as the Cowboys used four turnovers to oust top-seeded San Francisco. This was Steve Young's first season as a full-fledged starter in San Francisco, and a rookie, Ricky Watters, carried the rushing load for the team. Nevertheless, the 49ers' offense led the league in points and yards, and its defense allowed the third-fewest points. It did, however, give up yardage in chunks.
2. 2005 Indianapolis Colts (14-2, 0-1)
After blazing to a 13-0 start, the talk surrounding this team wasn't of a Super Bowl victory -- that was pretty much assumed. Pundits wondered if the Colts, who finally had a solid defense, would be the first to go undefeated in a 16-game schedule. Peyton Manning topped the 100 mark in passer rating for the second consecutive season, and the trio of Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined for a gaudy 4,044 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns. But the Colts dug themselves a 21-3 fourth-quarter deficit against Pittsburgh in a divisional playoff game, and it was too much to overcome.
1. 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1, 1-1)
Minnesota put on an intense display of offensive fireworks, scoring an NFL-record 556 points. Then the Vikings ran up against a determined Atlanta squad in the NFC Championship Game. Randall Cunningham enjoyed the best season of his career, with a 106.0 passer rating, and Robert Smith racked up 1,478 yards from scrimmage. Cris Carter and Randy Moss teamed up for 2,324 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns. The Vikings' only regular-season loss was by a field goal on the road. Few in football circles gave the Falcons, 11-point underdogs, much of a chance. But who could have anticipated Atlanta's Chris Chandler throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns? And as any Vikings fan will tell you, the backbreaker was Gary Anderson's 38-yard missed field goal attempt with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter. Anderson had been perfect on 37 previous tries that season, but he missed with the season on the line, and Minnesota lost in overtime. So unexpected was Atlanta's victory that The Miami Herald announced "Denver Broncos vs. Minnesota Vikings" across the top of an early edition of its Sunday paper.
Still on the outside looking in:
2006 San Diego Chargers (14-2, 0-1); 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-3, 0-1); 1997 Kansas City Chiefs (13-3, 0-1); 1995 Kansas City Chiefs (13-3, 0-1); 1990 San Francisco 49ers (14-2, 1-1); 1979 Houston Oilers (11-5, 1-1); 1969 Oakland Raiders (12-1-1, 1-1); 1967 Los Angeles Rams (11-1-2, 0-1).