Top teams never to win Super Bowl: Nos. 40-21

With no pro football on the docket this week, here’s an updated,
numbers-based look at the Greatest Teams To Not Win The Super Bowl —
a list that researches 47 NFL campaigns (1966-2012) and rewards
regular-season record, per-game point differential, turnover margin,
strength of schedule, divisional superiority, blowout victories (and
any other bits of extra credit that may vault certain teams into the
countdown).

The one significant caveat: Only teams
with 10 or more wins from 1966-77 (the NFL had a 14-game schedule) and
11 or more victories from 1978-2012 (16-game schedule) are considered.

Below are Nos. 40 through 21 on the list.

MORE: Who made the top 10? | Who are Nos. 20-11?

40. 2011 New Orleans Saints

Regular-season Record: 13-3
Home: 8-0 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +13
Turnover margin: -3
Wins by 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

At first blush, I wanted to rank the 2011 Saints ahead of last season’s 49ers, even though San Francisco had a better playoff seed and knocked out New Orleans in the divisional playoff round. But in the end, I caved to the pressure of common sense and deductive reasoning when comparing apples to apples. However, there’s plenty to love about the 2011 Saints — from Drew Brees’ record-breaking feat in passing yards (5,476) and absurd number of TD passes (46) to the nine blowout victories and 10 outings of 30-plus points.

Throw in a stellar record against playoff teams, an unsurpassed home-field advantage and a blitz-happy defense that amassed 33 sacks — and we’re talking about the ideal club to start this countdown.

39. 1980 Philadelphia Eagles

Regular-season Record: 12-4
Home: 7-1 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +10.1
Turnover margin: +7
Wins by 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Raiders)

OVERVIEW

History will remember the 1980 Eagles for two reasons: It represented the high point of Dick Vermeil’s highly successful tenure in Philly, leading a downtrodden franchise to unprecedented heights (in the Super Bowl era). It also signaled the end of the Cowboys’ dominant run as NFC champions, even though Dallas would make the conference title game for the 1980, ’81 and ’82 seasons. 

38. 2012 Atlanta Falcons

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +7.5
Turnover margin: +13
Wins by 10 points or more: 6
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 3
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None (subject to change)

OVERVIEW

Throughout the season, the 2012 Falcons were largely panned by the national media as a good team benefiting from an easy schedule. And while no one can debate the merits of facing the Raiders, Cardinals and hapless Chiefs, this Atlanta squad also earned its 13-3 record and No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs with impressive wins over Peyton Manning’s Broncos and Robert Griffin III’s Redskins. In all, the Falcons swept opponents from the AFC West and NFC East.

37. 1974 Oakland Raiders

Regular-season record: 12-2
Home: 6-1 … Road: 6-1
Per-game point differential: +9.1
Turnover margin: +13
Wins by 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff extra credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Steelers)

OVERVIEW

This might have been the No. 2 Raiders team during the John Madden/Ken Stabler era, running only behind the 1976 Super Bowl champs. In a five-week span during the season (all victories), Oakland posted four games of 28-plus points — a stellar number at the time. As a capper, the Raiders knocked off the two-time defending champion Dolphins in the divisional playoff round — the famous “Sea of Hands” game — in what ranks as one of the 10 greatest playoff clashes in NFL history.

36. 1978 Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season record: 12-4
Home: 7-1 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +11
Turnover margin: +1
Wins by 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Steelers)

OVERVIEW

The 1970s belonged to the Steelers, Raiders, Dolphins and Cowboys. For Dallas, Roger Staubach’s full-time promotion ahead of QB Craig Morton in 1971 played a huge role in the team’s transformation from “Next Year’s Best Team” to two-time champions in that decade. Including the ’71 and ’77 title-winners, one could argue the ’78 Cowboys were the most prolific squad of the Staubach era.

At the time, the Cowboys missed out on becoming just the fourth franchise to post back-to-back Super Bowl titles — eventually bequeathing that honor to the (1978/79) Steelers, who outlasted the Cowboys in an epic Super Bowl XIII. The peripherals stand tall for Dallas 34 years later: going 12-4 amidst a brutal schedule and posting eight victories of 10 points or more. The only drawback: A pedestrian turnover margin of plus-1.

35. 1986 Cleveland Browns

Regular-season record: 12-4
Home: 6-2 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +5.1
Turnover margin: +13
Wins by 10 points or more: 5
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

With all due respect to the NFL Network, which holds the 1986 Browns in super-high regard, Cleveland ranked only fifth in scoring, 11th in scoring defense, sixth in per-game point differential and fourth in turnover margin that season — average marks for this countdown.

However, the Browns warrant a top-40 slot based on one undeniable belief: In the Super Bowl era, no team ever has incurred a bigger punch-in-the-gut playoff defeat than the Browns in the AFC Championship Game: surrendering a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to John Elway’s Broncos to force overtime.

Soon after that, Cleveland fans had to endure the sight of Rich Karlis’ winning field goal for Denver — although no hard video evidence confirms the ball sailed through the uprights.

34. 1968 Dallas Cowboys

Regular-season record: 12-2
Home: 5-2 … Road: 7-0
Per-game point differential: +17.5
Turnover margin: +8
Wins by 10 points or more: 11
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

The 1967 Cowboys have garnered more acclaim from NFL historians, based on The Ice Bowl defeat to the eventual-champion Packers in the NFL championship. But the ’68 Cowboys actually topped their predecessors in overall record, point differential, turnover margin and blowout victories. It’s too bad they had to play (and lose to) the 10-4 Browns in Cleveland that year, despite owning a better record.

33. 2012 New England Patriots

Regular-season record: 12-4
Home: 6-2 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +14.1
Turnover margin: +25
Wins of 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None (subject to change)

OVERVIEW

Can you believe it? Only Arizona held the high-powered Patriots to less than 20 points this season, a remarkable achievement for a Cardinals club that eventually dropped nine straight games from October through December.

As for Tom Brady’s latest incarnation of the Pats, his club scored an average of 34.8 points per game — highlighted by a run of 45, 37, 59 and 49 points from Weeks 8-12 (four straight outings) — and bore the look of a Super Bowl shoo-in. But that’s not how things played out against the Ravens in the AFC title game.

That aside, history shall remember this team fondly. It may even recall that Rob Gronkowski (11 TDs) missed five of the final eight games because of injury (broken arm).

32. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +7.9
Turnover margin: +6
Wins by 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 1
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Patriots)

OVERVIEW

The 2004 Eagles played in a haggard NFC East that season, and their ratios with point differential (7.9) and turnovers (+6) were anything but stellar. But there’s no disputing Philly’s greatness with both RB Brian Westbrook (1,515 total yards, nine TDs) and Terrell Owens (77 catches, 1,200 yards, 14 TDs) in the starting lineup — try 13-1.

The Eagles easily could have been 15-1 if a broken leg hadn’t shelved Owens for part of December and all of January — but not the Super Bowl in February, as T.O. defied standard recovery timelines and caught nine balls for 122 yards in the Eagles’ loss to the Patriots.

31. 2008 Tennessee Titans

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +8.8
Turnover margin: +14
Wins by 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

Of the teams listed in this countdown, only the 2008 Titans boast a pair of running backs with 25 total touchdowns — Chris Johnson (1,488 total yards, 10 TDs) and LenDale White (789 total yards, 15 TDs). From a defensive standpoint, Tennessee ranked second in the NFL for points allowed (14.6 points per game) and turnover margin (plus-14).

And this occurred with quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning (twice) on the schedule.

30. 1973 Los Angeles Rams

Regular-season record: 12-2
Home: 7-0 … Road: 5-2
Per-game point differential: +15
Turnover margin: +18
Wins by 10 points or more: 10
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

The 1973 Rams might have been Chuck Knox’s most efficient team of his storied coaching career (Rams, Bills, Seahawks, Rams again). It was also his first club as a head coach, adding spice to the Rams’ ranking here. For the year, Los Angeles led the NFL in point differential, turnover margin and blowout victories (10 points or more). Plus, receiver Harold Jackson led all receivers with 13 touchdowns that season.

One last thing: Despite tying the Vikings and Dolphins for the NFL’s best record in ’73, the Rams didn’t host a single playoff game (losing at Dallas in the NFC semis).

29. 2005 Seattle Seahawks

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 8-0 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +11.3
Turnover margin: +10
Wins by 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 1
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Steelers)

OVERVIEW

The 2005 Seahawks had all the elements of a juggernaut that season: a top-three running back (Shawn Alexander — 1,958 total yards, 28 TDs), top-10 quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck — 3,459 yards passing, 24 TDs) and superb pass defense (six games of allowing less than 200 yards passing). They were also the NFC’s best club by a long shot that year.

The only drawback to that dream season: An underwhelming 21-10 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL — although the referees may have robbed the Seahawks of two additional touchdowns on that Super Sunday in Detroit.

28. 1981 Cincinnati Bengals

Regular-season record: 12-4
Home: 6-2 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +7.3
Turnover margin: +13
Wins by 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 3
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to 49ers)

OVERVIEW

Some Chargers stars of the 1970s and 80s (Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Hank Bauer) have identified the 1981 team as San Diego’s best of the Don Coryell era. If that’s the case, then the 1981 Bengals deserve extra credit for toppling the Chargers twice that year — once in sunny San Diego (40-17) and once in chilly Cincinnati (27-7) in the 1981 AFC title game, aka “The Freezer Bowl” (wind chill of minus-59).

Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson (3,754 yards passing, 29 TDs) captured NFL MVP honors that season, and running back Pete Johnson bulldozed opponents for 1,397 total yards and 16 touchdowns.

27. 1997 Green Bay Packers

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 8-0 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +8.8
Turnover margin: +0
Wins by 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 7-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Broncos)

OVERVIEW

You may recall that Brett Favre’s Packers were 17-point favorites to beat John Elway’s Broncos in Super XXXII, a presumption that Green Bay would easily capture back-to-back Lombardi trophies for the second time in franchise history.

Obviously, that didn’t happen for Favre and Co. on that Super Sunday in San Diego — but it also doesn’t detract from a ’97 campaign that featured nine blowout victories (tops in the NFL) and seven regular-season wins against playoff teams. (A record four teams from the NFC Central made the postseason.)

26. 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

Regular-season Record: 12-4
Home: 8-0 … Road: 4-4
Per-game point differential: +7.4
Turnover margin: +9
Wins by 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5
Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (49ers)

OVERVIEW

In 1988, the AFC Central had three teams with records of 10-6 or better, with Cincinnati taking honors at 12-4. That’s an acceptable scenario for a club posting a 4-4 road mark, and still earns the ’88 Bengals a prominent spot in this countdown. At home, they were a dominant club, rolling for 20-plus points in every game at Riverfront Stadium — highlighted by a four-outing run of 36, 44, 42 and 35 points.

One last thing: Cincinnati was less than 40 seconds away from beating San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIII and capturing its first Lombardi trophy.

25. 2011 San Francisco 49ers

Regular-season record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 … Road: 6-2
Per-game point differential: +9.4
Turnover margin: +28
Wins by 10 points or more: 6
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

The 2011 Niners warrant major props for enjoying a special season without the benefit of mini-camp practices (NFL lockout), or any valuable winter/spring time to adjust to new head coach Jim Harbaugh. And while QB Alex Smith (3,144 yards passing, 19 total TDs) and bankable tailback Frank Gore (1,325 total yards, 8 TDs) had great stats that season, the defense carved out the true identity of this 13-3 club. The 49ers allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season (Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch) and two total rushing TDs and posted a league-high turnover margin of plus-28.

Throw in a supreme record against eventual playoff teams (5-1), and it’s easy to see how the 49ers are stalwarts for this survey.

24. 1976 New England Patriots

Regular-season record: 11-3
Home: 6-1 … Road: 5-2
Per-game point differential: +10
Turnover margin: +14
Wins by 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3.5
Playoff extra credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Raiders)

OVERVIEW

Ah, the 1976 Patriots, the juggernaut that history forgot. Perhaps that’s because New England averaged only four victories from 1965-75 and featured a starting QB (Steve Grogan) who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first four years in the league (1975-78).

For one amazing season, the ’76 Patriots steamrolled the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders during a three-week stretch in September and cruised to the AFC East title. The peripherals were similarly remarkable, with double-digit margins in point differential and turnovers — and eight victories of 10 points or more while playing in a top-notch division.

How good were the ’76 Pats? The Raiders, who lost only one game during that Super Bowl season (to New England), were very lucky to survive the Pats in the AFC playoffs. Here’s the scene: New England led Oakland 21-17 in the waning moments of the divisional playoff round and should have had the Raiders in a fourth-and-long foxhole; but a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Ray ‘Sugar Bear’ Hamilton gave Ken Stabler and the Raiders a fresh set of downs — and the opportunity to post the winning touchdown.

23. 1979 San Diego Chargers

Regular-season record: 12-4
Home: 7-1 … Road: 5-3
Per-game point differential: +10.3
Turnover margin: +11
Wins by 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

With Dan Fouts (4,082 yards passing, 24 TDs), TE Kellen Winslow, receivers Charlie Joiner (1,008 yards, four TDs) and John Jefferson (1,090 yards, 10 TDs) executing the high-powered Air Coryell offense, the 1979 Chargers are easily this countdown’s hippest team. But they also had substance — notching nine blowout wins, scoring at least 26 points in 10 games and sporting a plus-11 turnover margin. Oh, and did we mention the Bolts whipped that year’s Super Bowl combatants — the Steelers and Rams — by a combined score of 75-23 during the season?

Of course, it’s fair to wonder how San Diego fell at home to Houston in the divisional playoff round. Try as they might, modern-day Chargers fans cannot blame the ’79 flameout on Marty Schottenheimer, a then-unknown linebackers coach with the Detroit Lions.

22. 1967 Baltimore Colts

Regular-season record: 11-1-2
Home: 5-1-1 … Road: 6-0-1
Per-game point differential: +14
Turnover margin: +15
Wins by 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

The 1967 Colts did not lose a game until the season finale — a 34-10 defeat to the Rams that decided the NFL’s Coastal Division title and sealed the Colts’ fate as the greatest team in the Super Bowl era to not reach the postseason.

21. 1986 Chicago Bears

Regular-season record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1
Per-game point differential: +10.3
Turnover margin: +0
Wins by 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff extra credit: None

OVERVIEW

The ’86 Bears might not have the sexiest peripherals of teams in this countdown, but it’s hard to deny a 14-2 club of prominence — especially one that steamrolled all comers the previous season. (NFL Network ranks the 1985 Bears as the second-greatest Super Bowl champion.)

It’s also worth noting the following: By my count, the ’86 Bears are the only club listed here to start four different quarterbacks in a single campaign (Jim McMahon, Steve Fuller, Mike Tomczak and Doug Flutie).

MORE: Who made the top 10? | Who are Nos. 20-11?