Best NFL Teams That Didn't Play in the Super Bowl

Best NFL Teams That Didn't Play in the Super Bowl

Narratives and legacies have been defined in Super Bowls throughout the NFL’s history. 

But what gets lost in the hall-of-fame-worthy moments and glorification of individual players and teams are the groups who came up short. The dominant teams throughout the majority of the season that fell short in the Super Bowl or even failed to reach the biggest game in American sports. 


To determine the best teams not to reach the Super Bowl, we looked at how each fared in six different categories: regular-season record, team offense and defense rank that season, pro bowl players, postseason Super Bowl odds and the size of the spread in the team’s playoff loss. We then took the 10 best teams who ranked the highest in these categories and ranked them 1-10 in each stat to determine the final list. 

For instance, the 2019 Baltimore Ravens had the most Pro Bowlers of any team on this list, so it would receive a 10 in this category, while the 1990 49ers had the least with five, giving San Francisco 1 point for this stat. The Minnesota Vikings went 15-1 and were given 10 points for having the best record and the 1980 San Diego Chargers had 1 point for an 11-5 mark. With the postseason Super Bowl odds, both the 2005 Indianapolis Colts and 1990 San Francisco 49ers earned 10 points for the lowest odds at -125, while the 1995 Kansas City Chiefs had the highest odds at +600 and 1 point.

The numbers in parentheses behind each team's category signify how many points it earned.

The rest of the categories were graded using the same system. 

1. 1998 Minnesota Vikings (53 points)

Regular season record: 15-1 (10)

Offensive Rank: 1 (10)

Defensive Rank: 6 (5)

Pro Bowlers: 9 (10)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +120 (8)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -11 (10)

The Minnesota Vikings have a dubious history. Its lone accomplishment in the big game of being the first franchise to make it to four Super Bowls is marred by the fact the team was also the first to lose four Super Bowls and is one of 12 teams never to win a Lombardi Trophy. But the franchise has not been to one since 1977, when it fell 32-14 to the 0akland Raiders. 

Minnesota has been to a playoff game in 26 seasons since but has experienced heartbreak in each of those instances. But none may hurt more than the 1998 season. 

The Vikings featured one of the best offenses in the NFL at the time, with Randall Cunningham (3,704 yards, 34 touchdowns) throwing passes to rookie Randy Moss and veteran Cris Carter. Moss led the team with 1,313 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns, while Carter added 1,011 yards and 12 scores. Robert Smith was a threat on the ground with 1,187 yards and six touchdowns. 

Minnesota set a league record with 556 points, a mark that has now been bested by the 2013 Denver Broncos (606) and was the only team at the time to score at least 24 points in every regular-season game. Including the playoffs, only the Vikings and the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs have scored at least 24 points in 18 games during the same season.

After a 15-1 season, the Vikings were the Super Bowl favorite before the postseason began (+120). And for six quarters, Minnesota appeared poised to make its first Super Bowl since 1977. The Vikings topped the Arizona Cardinals 41-21 in the NFC Divisional round for a playoff win and led the 11-point underdog Atlanta Falcons 20-7 at halftime of the NFC title game. 

Minnesota still led 27-17 early in the fourth quarter after Cunningham connected with Matthew Hatchette for a 5-yard touchdown and was ahead 27-20 with just over two minutes left when kicker Gary Anderson came out for a 38-yard field goal to make it a two-score game.

He missed. It was the only kick he missed that season.

Atlanta tied the game with a minute left in regulation to force overtime where Minnesota’s vaunted offense would stumble. Needing just one score, the Vikings were forced to punt on two drives that went just 13 and 12 yards. 

Atlanta’s Morten Andersen hit a 38-yard field goal for the 30-27 victory and deliver another gut-wrenching postseason loss to the Vikings. 

2. 2019 Baltimore Ravens (49 points)

Regular season record: 14-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 1 (10)

Defensive Rank: 10. (6)

Pro Bowlers: 6 (10)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +175 (7)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -10 (8)

In 2019, Lamar Jackson had success as a mobile quarterback not seen since prime Michael Vick. The second-year quarterback led the Ravens to the best record in the NFL while the team set the single-season record for most team rushing yards in league history with 3,296. 

Jackson recorded the most rushing yards for a quarterback with 1,206, 55 more than the Miami Dolphins roster. He also set a franchise record with seven rushing touchdowns, more than the New York Jets (five) and Jacksonville Jaguars (three). 

Jackson’s 6.85 yards per attempt were also an NFL record for a player with at least 150 rushing attempts. His 3,127 yards passing made him the first player in NFL history to eclipse 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. Jackson also led the league with 36 passing touchdowns. 

All of these stats and records led Jackson to be named the second undisputed MVP in league history, joining Tom Brady as the only other player to receive every MVP vote. 

It was a historic season for the Ravens, who also had the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 3 defense. But it was for naught when they opened the postseason against the Tennessee Titans. 

The Titans knocked off Brady in his last game as a New England Patriot to set up a showdown with Jackson and the Titans in the AFC Divisional playoffs. Despite the upset, Tennessee wasn’t respected by the sportsbooks and entered Baltimore as a 10-point underdog. But for all of Jackson’s records and Baltimore’s No. 1 offense, the Ravens’ explosive rushing attack was stymied by Tennessee. 

The Titans jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led 28-6 before Baltimore would score its first touchdown. Titans' running back Derrick Henry outperformed Jackson with 195 yards rushing and a touchdown pass of his own to give Baltimore just its third loss of the season and end its Super Bowl aspirations. 

3. 2005 Indianapolis Colts (44 points)

Regular season record: 14-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 2 (5)

Defensive Rank: 2 (8)

Pro Bowlers: 7 (6)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: -125 (10)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -9.5 (7)

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was coming off two consecutive MVP seasons. Running back Edgerrin James, wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and center Jeff Saturday were among the best at their respective positions. The offensive talent of the Indianapolis Colts made them a preseason Super Bowl favorite at +500, which would be the best odds available on a team that started the season off 13-0. 

Sports talk near the end of the season centered on debates about whether the team should rest its starters in pursuit of the first perfect season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The team went 444 minutes and 3 seconds of game action without trailing and had the second-best scoring offense (27.4) and defense in the league (15.4). A Super Bowl appearance seemed like a formality. 

The Colts were -125 to win the Super Bowl before the postseason began, tied for the lowest mark in NFL history for a team not to make the title game. They fell behind 14-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and would eventually see the deficit grow to 21-3 before Manning orchestrated two touchdown drives to cut the deficit to 21-18. 

Then the game got weird. 

Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis fumbled as the Steelers attempted to run out the clock. Indianapolis’ Nick Harper recovered and appeared set for a go-ahead touchdown until Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a game-saving tackle. 

Still, the Colts had one more chance, even after Manning was sacked for a turnover on downs on the last possession when the team’s season appeared over. 

Indianapolis moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 29, giving kicker Mike Vanderjagt a chance to send the game to overtime. Instead, he shanked it right. It was only Vanderjagt’s third missed field goal all season and the second one wide at home.

4. 2006 San Diego Chargers (40 points)

Regular season record: 14-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 1 (10)

Defensive Rank: 7 (4)

Pro Bowlers: 8 (8)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +200 (6)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -5 (2)

Before the usual running back by committees we see the NFL regularly use in the backfield today, teams could ride backs to success throughout a game and over the course of a season. Few were better at this in recent history than San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson. 

In 2006, Tomlinson put together the best season of his career, rushing for 1,815 yards and averaging 5.2 per attempt. He would also set the record for most total touchdowns in a season with 31, including 28 rushing and three receiving. 

To complement Tomlinson, Phillip Rivers was solid in his first year as an NFL starter after backing up Drew Brees for two seasons. Rivers earned a Pro Bowl selection after throwing for 3,388 yards and 22 touchdowns to nine interceptions, while tight end Antonio Gates caught 71 passes for 924 yards and nine scores. Together, the trio led the Chargers to the top-scoring offense in the league (30.8)

Defensively, the Chargers were led up front by Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams and linebacker Shawne Merriman, who led the NFL with 17 sacks and would also earn a Pro Bowl nod. 

Unlike other teams on this list who would fall behind early and couldn’t rally to complete a comeback, the Chargers saw their season end in heartbreaking fashion. 

San Diego led the New England Patriots 21-13 with 6:25 left in the AFC Divisional round. Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense faced a fourth-and-5 at the San Diego 41. San Diego would force an interception, caught by Marlon McCree, who fumbled and allowed New England’s Reche Caldwell to recover. Five plays later, Brady threw a touchdown to Caldwell and the Patriots converted the 2-point conversion to tie the game. 

The Chargers' offense went three-and-out on its next possession and New England scored on its next possession when Stephen Gostkowski converted a 31-yard field goal for a 24-21 advantage. 

Still, the Chargers had one last shot. Rivers drove the offense to the Patriots' 36, but Nate Kaeding’s 54-yard field goal sailed wide, as the five-point favorite Chargers suffered one of the more disappointing losses in franchise history. 

T5. 2011 Green Bay Packers (38 points)

Regular season record: 15-1 (10)

Offensive Rank: 1 (10)

Defensive Rank: 19 (1)

Pro Bowlers: 6 (2)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +175 (7)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -10 (8)

Following a Super Bowl victory in 2010, the Green Bay Packers appeared at the cusp of a dynasty. Green Bay continued its momentum into next season with a 15-1 record, winning 21 of its last 22 games before the Super Bowl XLV run. 

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted the best season of his career and had numerous dynamic playmakers around him, such as fellow Pro Bowler Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. The team scored 560 points, which at the time, was the second-most in league history. Rodgers was named MVP and set the single-season QB passer rating record (122.5) that still stands today, completing 68% of his passes for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 15 games. 

Green Bay entered the season with the best Super Bowl odds at +700 and would see those shrink to a league-low +175 before the playoffs started. The Packers were also favored to win the NFC title game at -130. But for how great the offense was and the record Rodgers set, there were concerns on the defensive side of the ball that would foreshadow the team’s demise. 

The Packers allowed an NFL-record 4,988 passing yards and ranked last in yards allowed per game (411.6), making it more impressive that the team was able to win 15 games behind its explosive offense. 

But the offense couldn’t carry the team in the divisional round against the New York Giants. Rodgers was largely ineffective, completing just 26 of 46 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and the running backs combined for just 82 rushing yards. 

Meanwhile, the defense allowed Eli Manning to pass for 330 yards and three touchdowns, including a 37-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks on the final play of the first half to give the Giants a 20-10 halftime advantage it would not relinquish.

The Packers fell 37-20 as 8-point favorites at home to become the first 15-win team not to win their playoff opener, and see their potential dynasty come to a close.

T5. 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (38 points)

Regular season record: 14-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 6 (3)

Defensive Rank: 1 (10)

Pro Bowlers: 7 (6)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +250 (7)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -7 (4)

In just their fifth season as an NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars emerged as a Super Bowl threat. Jacksonville made the playoffs in just its second season and would reach the AFC title game before falling to the Patriots. The Jaguars would continue to make postseason berths the following two seasons and entered 1999 with the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl at +600. 

Quarterback Mark Brunell passed for a career-high 20 touchdowns during the season and was named to the Pro Bowl the two previous years. In the backfield, Fred Taylor and James Stewart combined to gain 1,663 yards in the 1999 season, while receiver Jimmy Smith had a career season, posting highs in catches (116) and yards (1,636). 

Jacksonville also had the best defense in the league, allowing just 13.6 points per game. Tony Brackens, Kevin Hardy and Gary Walker formed a dynamic pass rush, with Brackens tallying 12 sacks, Hardy recording 10.5 sacks and Gary Walker finishing with 10. 

The dominant Jaguars defense ended the career of Miami quarterback Dan Marino in the divisional round. Marino completed just 11 of 25 passes for 95 yards in his final game, which was never competitive. Jacksonville led 41-7 by halftime and would finish with a 62-7 dominant showing to set up an AFC Championship game with the Tennessee Titans. 

If it weren’t for the Titans, the Jaguars would likely be one of the best teams in NFL history. Tennessee was the only team to beat Jacksonville during the regular season. Despite the two regular-season losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville was listed as 7-point favorites in the AFC finale. 

The Jaguars appeared prepared to put their past Tennessee struggles behind them when Stewart broke free for a 33-yard touchdown to give Jacksonville a 14-7 lead with 4:36 left in the second quarter. But it would be the last time the Jaguars would score. Tennessee would win going away, scoring 26 unanswered points for a 33-14 win to give the Jaguars their third loss of the season.

T7. 1990 San Francisco 49ers (35 points)

Regular season record: 14-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 8 (2)

Defensive Rank: 2 (8)

Pro Bowlers: 5 (1)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: -125 (10)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -8 (6)

No football team has won a Super Bowl title in three straight seasons. Since 1933, only the Green Bay Packers when they won the 1965 NFL title before capturing the first two Super Bowls the following seasons have managed to secure three titles in a row since the NFL title games. 

The 1990 San Francisco 49ers were the closest to becoming the first to win a title in three consecutive years during the Super Bowl era.

After winning the Super Bowl in 1988 and 1989, the 49ers entered the 1990 season as the Super Bowl favorite for the third straight season and were +350. They lived up to expectations early on, starting out 10-0 before finishing 14-2. Quarterback Joe Montana was stellar again, finishing with 3,944 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to being named MVP for the second straight season. Wide receiver Jerry Rice caught 100 passes for 1,502 yards and linebacker Charles Haley recorded 16 sacks to lead a 49ers defense with the second-best scoring defense in the league (14.9). 

San Francisco rolled past Washington 28-10 in the divisional round and would meet the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game. San Francisco was listed as an 8-point favorite with the Giants having to rely on backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler as Phil Simms was out because of a broken foot. 

It was a defensive battle with neither offense scoring a touchdown until Montana found John Taylor for a 61-yard score and a 13-6 lead in the third quarter.

The Giants would add two more field goals before the game turned in their favor when Leonard Marshall sacked Montana and forced him out of the game with a vicious hit from behind. Backup Steve Young couldn’t lead the offense to more points, and New York kicker Matt Bahr made his fifth field goal — a 42-yard attempt as time expired — to secure the 15-13 upset victory and put a pause on the San Francisco dynasty. 

New York would go on and win Super Bowl XXV.


Getting Offensive

The old saying in football is that offense wins games and defense wins championships. Well, our list of best teams that didn’t make the Super Bowl might just be the poster children for that adage. Of our Top 10 teams, six of them had the best offenses in the league. Here are the numbers for those top offenses on our list and how they ranked against the rest of the NFL that season.


T7. 1974 Oakland Raiders (35 points)

Regular season record: 12-2 (8)

Offensive Rank: 1 (10)

Defensive Rank: 9 (3)

Pro Bowlers: 8 (8)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +300 (3)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -5.5 (3)

Wide receiver Cliff Branch was recently selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022, further solidifying the 1974 Oakland Raiders offense as one of the greatest of all-time. Branch was the seventh member of the Raiders offense to make the hall of fame, making it the most on one side of the ball from a single team. Linemen Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell; receiver Fred Biletnikoff; tight end Dave Casper; and quarterback Ken Stabler were the other members of the offense to be elected to the Hall of Fame. 

The decorated Raiders offense led the league in scoring in 1974, averaging 25.3 points per game. Stabler was named MVP after passing for 2,469 yards and 26 touchdowns, while Branch led the league with 1,092 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. 

Oakland also featured Hall of Famers Ray Guy, the first punter to be honored in Canton, and cornerback Willie Brown. 

The Raiders finished 12-2 and entered the postseason as the Super Bowl favorite at +300. Oakland recorded a 28-26 win over the Dolphins in the divisional round before facing Pittsburgh in the AFC conference title game with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

In the third quarter, Stabler found Branch for a 38-yard score to give the Raiders a 10-3 advantage entering the fourth quarter. But Franco Harris scored twice for the Steelers and Terry Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for another touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 24-13 comeback playoff victory. The loss ended Oakland’s bid for its first NFL title and cemented this group’s place as one of the best teams never to reach the Super Bowl. 

9. 1995 Kansas City Chiefs (29 points)

Regular season record: 13-3 (2)

Offensive Rank: 12 (1)

Defensive Rank: 1 (10)

Pro Bowlers: 7 (6)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +600 (1)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -10.5 (9)

The 1995 Kansas City Chiefs were one of the biggest overachievers on this list. Joe Montana ended his career by playing the 1993 and 1994, leading the team to an AFC Championship before retiring. In the '95 season, it was 33-year-old Steve Bono’s turn to lead an offense after he had been a backup for much of his career. 

Nowadays, the Chiefs are known for their high-scoring offense led by elite playmakers such as Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. But before the team’s electric offensive identity that we see today, the franchise had teams in the 1990s led by a stingy defense. The 1995 group was one of the best from this era, allowing a league-low 15.1 points per game.

Linebacker Derrick Thomas finished with eight sacks, while defensive end Neil Smith led the team with 12 and defensive tackle Dan Saleaumua added seven. Those three, in addition to cornerback Dale Carter, were named to the Pro Bowl and led the Chiefs’ defense. 

Bono held the team together with 3,121 passing yards and 21 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and had a 79.5 QB rating. The offense would lean more on running backs Marcus Allen (890 yards) and Greg Hill (667) to control the ground and allow the defense to grind teams down.

Behind their defense, the Chiefs went 13-3 and earned the top seed in the AFC. Before the start of the postseason, Kansas City was the AFC Super Bowl favorite at +600 and was a 10.5-point favorite in an AFC Divisional matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. 

The game started well enough for the Chiefs. Bono connected with Lake Dawson for a 20-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead before the end of the first quarter. But that would be the last time Kansas City would score. Bono threw three interceptions and eventually be replaced by Rich Gannon. 

Despite Bono’s ineptitude, there were still opportunities for the Chiefs to score. But Lin Elliott missed three field goals, including his first two attempts from 35 and 39 yards. The last miss came from 42 yards out with 42 seconds left and would have tied the game. But the kick missed wide and allowed Indianapolis quarterback Jim Harbaugh to take a knee to secure the upset and advance to the AFC conference championship. 

10. 1980 San Diego Chargers (19 points)

Regular season record: 11-5 (1)

Offensive Rank: 4 (4)

Defensive Rank: 18 (2)

Pro Bowlers: 8 (8)

Postseason Super Bowl Odds: +300 (3)

Spread in Playoff Loss: -4 (1)

Between the Pittsburgh Steelers' dominance of the late 1970s and the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, one of the signature franchises of the era was the San Diego Chargers. Behind quarterback Dan Fouts, the Chargers featured one of the most explosive passing offenses that had San Diego either first in yards or points in the league from 1980-83. 

In 1980, the Chargers had the top passing game in the league. Fouts completed 59% of his attempts for a league-high 4,715 yards, while the team had three 1,000-yard receivers in John Jefferson (1,340), Kellen Winslow (1,290) and Charlie Joiner (1,132). 

The Chargers entered the season tied with the Houston Oilers for the second-best odds in the AFC to win the Super Bowl at +700, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers (+240), who missed the postseason. After an 11-5 regular season record to earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Chargers had the best AFC odds to capture the Super Bowl at +300, and those would shrink to +160 by the time the team met the Oakland Raiders in the AFC title game, making them the overall Super Bowl favorite in either conference. 

San Diego was a 4-point favorite in the AFC Championship against the Raiders but fell down 28-7 as three turnovers proved costly. The Chargers scored 17 unanswered to cut the deficit to 28-24 but never managed to take the lead in what was one of this group’s best shots at a Super Bowl. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story had the 2019 Ravens record as 15-1. They were 14-2.


The 2007 New England Patriots were 18-0 before losing in Super Bowl XLII. The 1968 Baltimore Colts were 15-1 before losing in Super Bowl III. The 2001 St. Louis Rams were 14-2 before losing in Super Bowl XXXV. The 1969 Vikings were 14-2 before losing in Super Bowl IV.

Although there are a few teams that have been, but never won a Super Bowl, the list of teams that haven't been is a little smaller. Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans have won some playoff games, but never made the Big Game.

The Patriots and Steelers have six Super Bowl wins, with New England getting all of its wins since 2000. The Steelers won most of theirs in the 1970s. The 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have five Super Bowl titles. The Packers and Giants have four Super Bowl wins.

The Patriots and Broncos have lost five times. The Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings are both 0-4. The Cincinnati Bengals are 0-3, the Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams have lost three, as have the Miami Dolphins. The Vikings and Buffalo Bills have the most losses not to win a Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers beat the Chiefs 35-10 on Jan. 10, 1967. It was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game and was the first meeting between the competing leagues. It was first dubbed "Super Bowl" in 1969, so the Jets could technically be the first team to win a Super Bowl.