Despite losing Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, pretty much anybody who has a fair understanding of the NFL and the game of football understands that the Carolina Panthers are one of the most talented teams the game has to offer. There’s a reason the team went 17-2 this past season and is coming off a run of three straight NFC South titles.
The Panthers have built a solid coaching staff led by Ron Rivera, an explosive and powerful offense with MVP Cam Newton under center, and a clutch defense led by Luke Kuechly. With the depth of their roster and the success that they’ve experienced recently, experts already mark Carolina as favorites to return to the Super Bowl next year.
While, on paper, the Panthers could easily make it back to the NFL’s biggest stage next February, a “curse” may go against their cause. In seasons past, there was a popular notion that the losing side in the Super Bowl suffers a “hangover” effect the next season and fails to live up to expectations. However, does history support this claim? Let’s take a trip back through the NFL archives to determine if Carolina could fall victim to Super Bowl loser downfall.
The early years
Early on in NFL history, following the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, losing the Super Bowl didn’t seem to matter for the league. In that 1970 season, the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, but then came back the very next season to win Super Bowl VI. The loser in Super Bowl VI was the Miami Dolphins, who went on to win Super Bowls VII and VIII.
The losers in Super Bowl VIII were the Minnesota Vikings, who rebounded the next season to reach Super Bowl IX, only to lose again. So in the ’70s, losing teams in the Super Bowl were able to recover, for the most part at least. The 1980s were a bit of a different story, however, as only the Denver Broncos in 1987 reached the Super Bowl again after losing the previous season, although they lost in their second appearance as well. Most teams that lost on the big stage were able to rebound and make the playoffs the next season, but failed to reach the game’s pinnacle in that next season during the ’80s.
The 1990s started with a trend of the Super Bowl loser making the big game again the next season, as the Buffalo Bills did it not once, not twice, but three times to begin the decade. Of course, the Bills infamously lost all four of those Super Bowl appearances, but their curse is a story we’ll save for another day. Throughout the rest of the decade, no other losing Super Bowl squad was able to reach the big game again in the following seasons, but most of those losers were able to find some success and make the playoffs in the next campaign.
Since 2000, with the full 32-team league we see today, the trend of Super Bowl losers has differed from the trend the league saw in its earlier decades. The 2001 season saw the Super Bowl XXXV-losing New York Giants out of the playoffs. Same with the 2002 St. Louis Rams who lost Super Bowl XXXVI; the 2003 Oakland Raiders who lost Super Bowl XXXVII; the 2004 Carolina Panthers who lost Super Bowl XXXVIII; and the 2005 Philadelphia Eagles who lost Super Bowl XXXIX.
Finally, a Super Bowl loser broke through in 2006, as the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs after losing the previous season’s big game. However, only one other Super Bowl loser, the 2009 Arizona Cardinals, was able to recover and make the playoffs the next season during this decade.
Since 2010, the trend looks more like that of the early years, as every Super Bowl runner-up has made the playoffs in the season following their loss. With that being said, no Super Bowl loser since the Buffalo Bills in 1993 has rebounded to make it back the next season, marking a 23-year stretch since that feat occurred.
So, what should we expect out of the Panthers?
History, for the most part, tells us that the Panthers’ Super Bowl defeat this season doesn’t hurt their chances of having a successful season in 2016, as most teams that suffered a Super Bowl loss throughout the league’s history have been able to recover and make the playoffs the very next season. However, that nearly decade-long run of ineptitude for Super Bowl losers in the 2000s is somewhat indicative of what could happen to Carolina next season.
With free agency and a thin line between the best and worst teams in the NFL today, any team could rise and any team could fall during any given season (maybe with the exception of the Cleveland Browns). Furthermore, it appears to be an extremely difficult task to rebound from a Super Bowl defeat to make the championship game again in the following season. (It took this year’s champion, the Denver Broncos, two years to recover from their big loss in the Super Bowl.)
In reality though, there isn’t really a “curse” on Super Bowl losers. Similar to the ever-popular Madden player curse, it’s clear that a multiple-season trend convinced many that this curse was legitimate, but that trend (as with most) has swung in the opposite direction of late. With that, we expect this talented Carolina team to make the playoffs once again in 2016 and to have a serious chance of making the Super Bowl next February.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.