Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles had a chance to hoist their first-ever Lombardi Trophy and made the most of the opportunity. Their 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII gave the franchise its first title of any kind in nearly 60 years.
A year later and we’re guaranteed to not see a first-time winner. For Super Bowl LIII will feature the Patriots taking on the Los Angeles Rams. Pretty much every NFL fan, as well as sports fans in general, are well and truly aware of New England’s now nearly two-decade run of dominance. With a win in Atlanta on Sunday, they can claim their sixth Lombardi Trophy and tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for most in NFL history.
And though the Rams have been largely irrelevant for most of the 21st century, they boast their own experience in the big game. Their first appearance came in Super Bowl XIV when they fell to the Steelers in what remains the highest attended Super Bowl ever. 20 years later, they finally broke through. Led by Kurt Warner and a dynamic offense nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the Rams captured their maiden Lombardi Trophy and their first title of any kind since 1951.
That formidable machine returned to the Super Bowl two years later. And Vegas installed them as a two-touchdown favorite against a Pats squad with a second-year player taken in the sixth round of the 2000 draft by the name of Tom Brady under center. The rest, they say, is history. New England won Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17, giving us one of the NFL’s most precipitous watershed moments.
Potential Super Bowl Matchups Involving Teams That Can End Years of Frustration With a Win
Suffice it to say that these two teams have been on this stage before. They’ll officially boast a combined 15 Super Bowl appearances when the game kicks off this coming weekend. It’s in stark contrast to quite a few NFL franchises who’ve rarely made it this far. And if they did, they proceeded to come up short, oftentimes in soul-crushing fashion.
But what if some of those perennial underachievers finally got their act together. What if, instead of posting losing records year in and year out or making the playoffs only to crash out in earlier rounds, the stars align and those teams put together a legitimate Super Bowl run. It could give us the following matchups.
Who knows what would’ve happened had Scott Norwood made that kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV. Perhaps it would’ve given the Bills positive momentum that might have launched them to four straight Super Bowl wins, cementing those Bills teams with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and company as an all-time great dynasty. History proved quite differently with most associating them with one of the most dubious feats in all of the North American pro sports.
Like the Bills, the Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls. The only difference being Minnesota’s defeats came over an eight-year period. With Fran Tarkenton at quarterback and a smothering defense known as the “Purple People Eaters,” the Vikings were among the NFL’s most dominant teams during the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s. They appeared in four of the first 11 Super Bowls, more than any other team during that time. But they never could get it done on that biggest of sporting stages.
Someone will certainly replace “what could’ve been” with “we are the champions” if these two franchises ever contested a Super Bowl. Such a scenario isn’t a far-fetched eventuality over the next few years. Minnesota is a year removed from making it all the way to the NFC title game. And Buffalo has a treasure trove of cap space to play with this off-season. If Josh Allen is the 2019 version of Patrick Mahomes and the Vikings reemerge as a major player in the NFC North, watch out.
Perhaps no other two teams in the NFL have industrialized losing football more than the Browns and Lions. Since the merger, they’ve made it to the playoffs just 21 times between the two of them. To put that in perspective, the Green Bay Packers have 21 playoff wins, including two Super Bowl titles, since the 1993 season. However, the idea that they’ve been dumpster fires throughout their existence hints at a little recency bias.
The 1950s were a golden age for both organizations. Each of them won three NFL titles during that decade, more than any other team in the league. In fact, the Browns appeared in six straight championship games between 1950 and 1955 and they played the Lions in three straight from 1952-54. Cleveland carried that success into the 1960s, winning the 1964 title and making the playoffs in three of the first four years of the Super Bowl era.
The Browns have certainly come closest to ending their Super Bowl drought. Nowhere is this more evident than when looking at those dominant sides of the late 1980s. In two successive AFC title games, they fell victim to John Elway and “The Drive,” followed by Earnest Byner and “The Fumble.” The Lions’ lone NFC title game appearance was never really in doubt. They lost 42-10 to the Washington Redskins who went on to knock off the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.
Prior to 2018, the Browns were coming off two seasons where they went a combined 1-31. But right now, they look much more likely to exorcize their Super Bowl curse than the Lions do. They appear to finally have a franchise signal caller in Baker Mayfield. They boast talented playmakers on both sides of the ball. And their cap space situation remains favorable. On the other hand, Matt Patricia and company have a lot of work to do in order to turn the Lions into contenders.
These two clubs are inextricably linked in that they both began play during the 1995 season. It didn’t take long for both franchises to realize success. Both came within a win of making this matchup a reality in just their second year of existence when they made their respective conference title games only to come up short. Three years later, the Jags looked like virtual Super Bowl shoo-ins. Under head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Mark Brunell, they finished with the league’s best record but once again couldn’t get it done in the AFC title game.
After a protracted period in the wilderness of irrelevance, Jacksonville returned to winning ways in 2017. They won the AFC South, shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round, and gave the Patriots all they could handle before falling to 0-3 all-time in conference championships. It appeared to indicate that both they and their fellow expansion team from 1995 were on the cusp of regular contention after the Panthers also made the playoffs. But both sides suffered precipitous setbacks this season and must regroup in order to make their Super Bowl aspirations a reality.
The Panthers’ quarterback situation is much more ironclad than that of the Jags. Assuming Cam Newton returns from shoulder surgery at 100 percent, there’s no reason to believe he can’t lead this team to great things. After all, he won the league MVP and played for the Lombardi Trophy just a few years ago. For Jacksonville, there are plenty of solid pieces in place on both offense and defense. But until they rectify the quarterback position, it’s hard to see them contending in the AFC.
Much like the Bills, Vikings, and Panthers, both the Bengals and Falcons have played in multiple Super Bowls yet have never managed to win it all. But there are haunting similarities to how Cincy and Atlanta bungled it up in one of their two Super Bowl losses. It centers around the opponent’s generational quarterback leading his team to a comeback win.
The Falcons’ epic meltdown in Super Bowl LI by blowing a 28-3 second-half lead will forever live in NFL infamy. But it serves as just another confirmation of Brady’s legend and potential GOAT status. The only other player in NFL history with the credentials to challenge Brady is Joe Montana. And it’s his exploits against the Bengals that are a big reason why he’s in the conversation.
The Niners and Bengals first met up in Super Bowl XVI. It’s notable in that it was the first Super Bowl to take place in a northern city with the Pontiac Silverdome playing host. San Fran never looked back after taking a 20-0 lead into halftime, with the final 26-21 scoreline perhaps belying the one-sided nature of this game. That wasn’t the case seven years later when they faced off again in Super Bowl XXIII.
A 40-yard field goal by Jim Breech gave the Bengals a 16-13 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the game. All the team needed was one more defensive stand from a unit which ranked 10th defending the pass that year. But it was Montana’s time to further grow his legend. He led the 49ers on an 11-play, 92-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown toss to John Taylor with 34 seconds left. Just like the Falcons 28 years later, the Bengals had no answer to an all-time quarterbacking great.
Houston Texans – Arizona Cardinals
This is probably the least glamorous of the five potential Super Bowl matchups up for discussion here. But make no mistake about it. Both teams certainly merit inclusion. They’re essentially polar opposites from a historical standpoint. The Texans are the only NFL franchise that didn’t exist during the 20th century. The Cardinals, on the other hand, go all the way back to the league’s inaugural year of 1920 when they played in Chicago.
Much like Cleveland, Detroit, and Jacksonville, Houston still has yet to make it to the NFL’s showpiece event. And Arizona would be in the same boat if not for their appearance in Super Bowl XLIII where they narrowly lost to the Steelers who claimed their sixth and most recent Lombardi Trophy. It sure was a lean existence when it came to competing for titles prior to that. Their only league titles came in 1925 and 1947 with their last championship game appearance coming one year after their last triumph.
For the Texans, their first decade or so of existence resembled that of virtually the Cards entire existence. But they’ve been among the league’s most competitive teams in recent years. They’ve finished with a winning record in six of the last eight seasons and claimed four AFC South titles in that time. The team should remain a force to be reckoned with given their uber-talented core which includes Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt.
For that reason, Houston playing in its maiden Super Bowl is much more likely in the near future than Arizona getting to its second. Question marks certainly abound in the desert. The Cards jettisoned Steve Wilks after one year and replaced him with Kliff Kingsbury whose previous stop saw him finish with a losing record as head coach of Texas Tech. The hope is that he can develop Josh Rosen in the pros the way he did so with Patrick Mahomes in college. That said, of all the teams discussed here, Arizona is arguably the farthest away from putting a first-ever Lombardi Trophy into its trophy case.