When something goes wrong for a team, fans sometimes attribute it to a curse. There have been plenty of them over the years, some more outlandish than others. These are always coincidences, but when the athlete who graces the cover of Madden NFL runs into some kind of misfortune year after year, people inevitably take notice. In recent years, a curse has afflicted the losing teams of the Super Bowl, causing most of them to miss the postseason in the year following their loss.
The curse takes off in the 2000s
The “losers’ curse” didn’t really take off until 1999. That was the season that both of the prior Super Bowl teams, the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, missed the playoffs. In the case of the Falcons, they lost their offensive workhorse, running back Jamal Anderson, to injury in Week 2 and never recovered.
It only snowballed from there. From 1999 until 2008, eight out of 10 of the previous season’s Super Bowl losers missed the playoffs in the following year. This list includes some of the decade’s most powerful teams, such as the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams and the Andy Reid-era Philadelphia Eagles. Only the 2000 Tennessee Titans and the 2006 Seattle Seahawks escaped somewhat, and even they failed to reach beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Even the mighty New England Patriots were not immune to the jinx. In the 2007 season, they famously finished with an 18-1 overall record. Unfortunately, that “one” was Super Bowl XLII, the one game that really mattered. In the opening week of 2008, the Chiefs’ Bernard Pollard knocked Tom Brady out for the entire season, shattering the Patriots’ hopes for redemption. New England did finish with 11 wins, but it still wasn’t quite enough to reach the playoffs.
The jinx seems to end in the 2010s
By the start of the new decade, this trend seemed to reverse. In seven out of eight seasons from 2010 to 2017, the losing team from the previous year’s Super Bowl returned to the playoffs the following year.
But even for those teams who did reach the playoffs, almost none made it back to the Super Bowl. The 2010 Colts lost in an upset to the Jets on a late field goal. The 2013 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game on a late interception. The 2017 Falcons fell to the Eagles in the divisional playoff when their late touchdown drive fell short.
The exception to this rule, of course, is the New England Patriots — specifically, the 2018 team. The year before, they’d lost Super Bowl LII to the Eagles. They recovered to finish 11-5, win the AFC East for the Xth consecutive year, and defeat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
A second wave of the losers’ curse
The past two seasons may have seen a resurgence of the Super Bowl “losers’ curse”. After losing the aforementioned Super Bowl LIII, the aforementioned Rams missed the playoffs in 2019. It was the first time they had missed the playoffs under Sean McVay’s leadership.
The most recent victim of the curse, of course, is this season’s San Francisco 49ers. Just a year ago, they were NFC champions and less than a quarter away from taking home the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title. With seven minutes to play, they held a ten-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs. Of course, we all know what happened next.
The 49ers did not recover from their Super Bowl defeat. In 2020 they finished a disappointing 6-10, becoming the third team in five years to fall victim. If the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t have enough incentive to win the Super Bowl — and they really should — then this should help.