The Super Bowl may not feature the two truly best teams in the NFL every year, but there is no doubt that they are among the best and most resilient teams in the league.
Making it this far into the playoffs is challenging and requires a lot of talent. It requires beating — sometimes upsetting — other talented rosters in difficult environments and consistently playing well enough to make it to the final game of the NFL season.
You’d think that a team that makes it to the Super Bowl would be an instant favorite to win it all year. But that’s not always the case. There is a general belief that teams that reach the Super Bowl are likely to do less well the following season and instead suffer from a Super Bowl hangover.
While there are undoubtedly countless hangovers any day around the world, there isn’t much data on Super Bowl hangovers, as there have only been 56 of them — just 55 with a full season the following year. That means there are only 110 consecutive seasons to track, and even fewer since the NFL-AFL merger.
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However, using the data that exists on Super Bowl hangovers, The Sporting News will sift through and determine if the Super Bowl hangover is myth or reality.
Super bowl hangover meaning
Have you ever stayed up late, had a good time, and then the next time you woke up, had a not-so-good time? Most of us were there.
The Super Bowl hangover is just that. Two teams stay on track over the last season, have a good time with lots of emotional highs — or lows — and then come into the next season trying to find the rhythm that takes them led to this great game in the first place.
There have rarely been repeat teams in the Super Bowl, and the general idea is that teams that reach the last game have a hard time repeating the previous season’s success, win or lose.
Is the Super Bowl hangover real?
Ask the Bengals and the Rams and they might just say yes. The Bengals lost their first two games of the 2022 season before beating the Jets in Week 3, and while the Rams are off to a 2-1 start, they have narrow one-point wins over the Falcons and Cardinals to a win led record.
Overall, however, the evidence doesn’t really point to a major Super Bowl hangover. More than half of the time, both teams will make the playoffs next season (51.9 percent of the time), and only 9.6 percent of the time will both Super Bowl teams miss the playoffs next season.
What if only one team from the big game makes the playoffs next season and the other doesn’t? That’s an even split of 19.2 percent and 19.2 percent, with the winners returning to the playoffs and the loser missing, and vice versa when the loser comes back and the winner is missing.
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Super Bowl winner next season
By a tiny margin, winning the Super Bowl is more indicative of future success in the following season than being the losing team, which would certainly make sense.
Super Bowl winners, on average, have a winning season the following year 80.8 percent of the time and have an average record of 11-5. They make the playoffs 71.2 percent of the time, return to the Super Bowl 25 percent of the time, and have won the Super Bowl 13.5 percent of the time.
The best record a team has ever had in the year after winning the Super Bowl came in the 2011 season when the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers won 15-1 in the regular season. The worst happened in 1982 when the 1981 champion, the 49ers, won 3-6 in a strike-shortened season. Without that campaign, the 1999 Broncos went 6-10 and the 1987 Giants went 6-9 (again due to a strike).
While it’s rare for teams to win the Super Bowl back-to-back seasons, a fair amount has happened. The last iteration came when the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. The only other teams to go back-to-back were the Dolphins (1972-73), Steelers (1974-75), Steelers (1978). -79), 49ers (1988-89), Cowboys (1992-93) and Broncos (1997-98).
A little less common is appearing in two Super Bowls in a row, winning the first and losing the second, although it’s been fairly common lately. The Chiefs won in 2019 but lost to Tampa Bay in 2020. Tom Brady was on both sides, winning the Super Bowl against the Falcons in 2016 and losing to the Eagles in 2017, while his Patriots stopped the Seahawks from winning in 2014 after beating the Broncos in 2013. The Packers were held back from back-to-back losses in 1997, Washington fell in 1983 after a 1982 win against the Rams, and the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in 1978 after winning in 1977.
Worst record after winning the Super Bowl
Depending on your perspective, that could be the 1982 49ers, the 1999 Broncos, or the 1986 Giants. Based on winning percentage, it would be the 49ers (.333) versus the Broncos (.375) and Giants (.400).
Overall, there have only been seven teams that have won the Super Bowl and come back the next season to set a losing record. It hasn’t happened since the Buccaneers went 7-9 in 2003, fresh from the 2002 Super Bowl win.
Super Bowl losers next season
The team that misses the Super Bowl has often been the target of hangover speculation. But the numbers don’t fully support the idea that teams that lose the Super Bowl fall behind the next year.
On average, Super Bowl losers are averaging a 10-6 record next season and have made the playoffs at the same pace as Super Bowl winning teams: 71.2 percent of the time. The most notable drop comes in terms of re-entering the Super Bowl. While 25 percent of winners made it back to the big game, only 15.4 percent of losers return next season.
And while there could be disputes over a reigning Super Bowl champion’s worst record due to labor strikes, there is no dispute as to which team was the worst after losing the Super Bowl. The 2003 Raiders, after losing to Tampa Bay in the previous Super Bowl, went out lean the next year, 4-12. Two reigning runners-up finished the race with just five wins (1990 Broncos and 1999 Falcons).
Three teams have bounced back from defeat on the sport’s biggest stage to go on to win the title next year. The most recent example is the Patriots, who lost to the Eagles in the 2017 edition but beat the Rams the following year. Perhaps the most famous example is the Dolphins, who, after losing to the Cowboys in 1971, had a perfect 1972 season with an undefeated regular season and a Super Bowl title. The Cowboys, who defeated the Dolphins team in 1971, were the first to lose one and then win the next after falling to the Colts the year before.
There have been five teams that have lost consecutive Super Bowls, although there is a small asterisk. The first were the 1973-74 Vikings and the second was the 1986-87 Broncos. The asterisk? That belongs to the bills of the early 90s. Buffalo has been three consecutive losers because it lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993. Not ideal.