By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots will be playing in the AFC Championship Game this weekend. That’s more than most Super Bowl losers have been able to say.
While “losers” is always a rough term to describe the NFL’s second-best team (at least in theory), it has nevertheless applied to almost every team that comes up short in the biggest game of the year. History has not been kind to teams that lose on football’s biggest stage.
That’s certainly been the case over the past 24 years, when not a single team that lost the Super Bowl has made it back to the Super Bowl in the following season. Not since the Buffalo Bills — in 1992, 1993, and heartbreakingly again in 1994 — has a team made it back to the Super Bowl after losing the final game of the NFL season. Only four other teams in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl made it back to the Super Bowl after losing it — the 1971 Cowboys, the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, the 1987 Broncos and the 1974 Vikings. The Cowboys actually won the Super Bowl when they returned, as did the Dolphins (obviously). But the other five teams (three Bills teams, plus the Broncos and Vikings) lost the Super Bowl in their returns the following season. (They lost big, too, losing by an average of 21.4 points in those five games.)
But forget about the Super Bowl. Most Super Bowl-losing teams fail to even sniff a conference championship the following year. In fact, many miss the playoffs entirely.
As I laid out last spring, since those infamous Bills in 1994, just two of the 24 Super Bowl-losing teams have reached the conference championship in the following season. The 2018 Patriots now bump that number up to three.
What’s more: Of those 24 Super Bowl losers, 10 of them (42 percent) didn’t even make the playoffs in the following season. And one of those two teams that previously reached the conference championship after losing the Super Bowl? That was, of course, the Patriots, who did that in 2012, after losing Super Bowl XLVI the year before.
So two out of 24 (8 percent) reached the conference championship, while 42 percent missed the playoffs entirely. Given their tremendous history, we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised that the Patriots find themselves in the smaller class of teams. We likewise shouldn’t be surprised that the Patriots now account for 67 percent of that smaller group.
Going back to the beginning of the Super Bowl era, the numbers are pretty stark:
–Two Super Bowl losers managed to win the Super Bowl the year after losing it (1972 Dolphins and 1971 Cowboys).
–Seven out of 51 Super Bowl losers (14 percent) reached the Super Bowl a year after losing it. It has not happened since the 1993 season.
–Twelve out of 51 Super Bowl losers (24 percent) reached the conference championship a year after losing the Super Bowl. Only two teams in the past 24 years (8 percent) have reached the conference title game a year after losing the Super Bowl.
–Fifteen out of 51 Super Bowl losers (29 percent) failed to qualify for the playoffs in the season following a Super Bowl loss.
–Thirty-three out of 51 Super Bowl losers (65 percent) failed to win a single playoff game in the season following a Super Bowl loss.
–Only 18 out of 51 Super Bowl losers (35 percent) managed to win at least one playoff game in the following season. Only eight teams (16 percent) managed to win more than one playoff game in the following season.
–Super Bowl-losing teams collectively own a .633 winning percentage in the season following their loss. Prorated (because many of those seasons weren’t 16 games long), that amounts to an average record of 10-5.
Thus far, the Patriots have already surpassed the outcome of most Super Bowl losers. They went 11-5 in the regular season, and they’ve already won a playoff game. They now have the chance to become just the eighth team in 52 years to make it back to the Super Bowl after losing it, and the first to do it in a quarter-century.
Simply put, coming off a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss that had the added weight of Bill Belichick’s controversial and questionable Malcolm Butler decision, history was positioned heavily against the 2018 Patriots from even making it this far. The team — and the fan base, to be sure — certainly wants more than to just outperform most Super Bowl losers. This team wants to win it all, which would be the first time it’s happened since Bill Belichick was a 20-year-old college student at Wesleyan back in January of 1973.
If the Patriots can reach the Super Bowl — and if they can win it — that would be quite a historic accomplishment. But frankly, what they’ve already done should be considered the same.