Football can be a crazy game. Teams can make history and go on extended winning streaks throughout the NFL season looking super dominant and still lose before reaching the Super Bowl. Nothing’s given in the NFL, and favorites don’t mean anything on the field when it’s “any given Sunday.”
Some teams have had the unfortunate luck of not reaching the Super Bowl despite looking like title favorites for the bulk of a season. Let’s look at some of the best teams from the past five seasons (2014-2018) who were oh so close to the big game:
1. 2018 New Orleans Saints
After possibly the most egregious no-call on pass interference in NFL history, the 2018 New Orleans Saints suffered the most heartbreaking loss I have ever seen in the NFL. Though that one call against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship shouldn’t be blamed as the sole reason, it was the most publicized and it will be the most remembered when it comes to the painful memories from that game.
Those Saints looked dominant during the 2018 season, ripping off 10 straight wins during the middle portion of the campaign with a balanced offensive attack and bend-don’t-break defense. In addition, Drew Brees broke the record for most passing yards, and the Saints dominated the undefeated Rams to hand them their first loss of the season.
With home-field advantage guaranteed, a lead versus the Rams in the NFC Championship, and desire to eliminate the bitter taste from the previous year’s “Minnesota Miracle,” the Saints’ heartbreak only increased following the loss. They had a real chance to win Super Bowl 53.
2. 2018 Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes officially arrived in 2018, taking the league by storm and putting on an offensive clinic. The 23-year-old was making his case for MVP, and ended up winning it after throwing for 5,000+ yards and 50 TDs. After several recent years of crushing playoff games, the Chiefs finally grabbed the top seed in the AFC behind their booming offense, and were in prime position to head to the Super Bowl.
Nevertheless, they hosted the always tough New England Patriots in the AFC title game at Arrowhead. Though the defensive flaws (that were disguised by KC’s offensive prowess throughout the season) were fully exploited by New England, the Chiefs rallied to make a comeback after being down in the game. Yet, like the Saints, the Chiefs were one play away from the Super Bowl if Dee Ford didn’t get called for offsides. Despite the game heading to OT, the Pats got the ball and ran it all the way to the Super Bowl.
We will never know if Pat Mahomes could have led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl in his first full season as a starter, and like the Saints, one play defined their season.
3. 2016 Dallas Cowboys
With Tony Romo injured, in entered QB Dak Prescott who was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys. After a tight Week 1 loss to their division enemy New York Giants, the Cowboys went on an unprecedented run that was led by two rookies, Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. They ran roughshod over their next 11 opponents, which featured the likes of the Packers, Eagles, Steelers, Ravens, and Vikings. Many thought these Cowboys had a shot at the Super Bowl, considering they plowed their way to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC.
Yet, these star rookies could not overcome Aaron Rodgers and the Packers twice, falling behind quickly in the 2016 NFC Divisional round, only to rally and watch Rodgers throw a signature, perfectly placed pass to Jared Cook which sealed the game. Elliott and Prescott have not been as successful in the subsequent campaigns, and they would have played host to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship if they had won. We will never know if two rookies could have led America’s team to the big game.
4. 2014 Green Bay Packers
The Packers have always been in contention for the better part of this decade, including a run of eight consecutive playoff berths from 2009-2016. Though they only reached the Super Bowl once, the end of the 2014 campaign, in which they went 12-4, was their next closest shot.
The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round and faced the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFC Championship. Throughout a whopping majority of the game, the Pack pushed the Seahawks around and had their way, until one spark from Seattle late in the fourth quarter instigated a major collapse for Green Bay.
The end of this game was tough to watch for Green Bay fans, considering there was a trick-play touchdown, Marshawn Lynch going beast mode, a botched onside kick, and a Super-Bowl clinching TD throw by Russell Wilson in OT. This was the Packers’ game, and a massive downturn of luck thwarted a terrific attempt for Rodgers to reach his second Super Bowl, which would have been a dream matchup against Tom Brady.