With the NFL’s 100th season only a few months away from kicking off in earnest, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at the league’s most prolific teams and moments. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the league has been privy to hundreds of iconic ‘unforgettable’ plays, quotes, and events loaded with both elation and heartbreak. 53 times has the victory cry been called out and 53 times has a team returned home empty-handed, all of it in the search of one goal: hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy. Unfortunately, not every team gets their turn on the podium and some teams never get invited to the big show at all. Without further adieu, here are the top 5 NFL franchises to never win a Super Bowl. Note: To qualify for this list a team has to have earned at least one Super Bowl appearance. The unworthy teams are as follows: Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Sorry fans, they’re just not good enough.
#5 Arizona Cardinals (1 SB Appearance)
The Cardinals are as old a franchise as any in the NFL, and they had a degree of success as the Chicago Cardinals in the pre-merger era: being named NFL Champions in 1925 and winning one NFL championship in 1947. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans they left their success in Chicago, moving to St. Louis in 1960, then Phoenix in 1988, and finally to Arizona in 1994. Since then, things have looked up at times for fans in the red, white, and black, logging 5 post-season runs since their most recent relocation. In 2008, they earned their sole spot in recent championship history with a 27-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the closing moments of SB XLIII and since then, up and down seasons have gone from 10 wins to 5 to 13 to 3.
#4 Tennessee Titans (1 SB Appearance)
In 1960, the newly founded team known as the Houston Oilers won two consecutive AFL Championships, going on to narrowly miss out on a three-peat by a score of 20-17 in two quarters of overtime. Early success and long-term disappointment became staples of the Oilers/Titans franchise when in 1999 (their first year as the Titans and their third season in Tennessee) they logged their only SB ticket. To say what happened next was heartbreaking for Titans fans would be an understatement. St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones went down in history books for his tackle of Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson with only a yard to go for the potential game-tying score. Known as “The Tackle” by Rams fans and “One Yard Short” by Titans fans, the event is both famous and infamous in equal measure.
#3 Atlanta Falcons (2 SB Appearances)
The first team on this list with more than one appearance (but by no means the last) was founded in 1966, around the time when the NFL announced the merger. As the new league took shape, so too did the Atlanta Falcons, compiling an impressive 6 wins in their first 3 seasons (Side note: this is sarcasm). Despite their early troubles, the Falcons have had some success, averaging one playoff run every two years since 1991, and totaling two SB appearances in that time span. In 1998 they made their debut on the world stage in a sound beating by the SB MVP John Elway led Denver Broncos, but they came back for more in the 2016 season. Up 28-3 at halftime in SB LI, the Atlanta Falcons should never have been candidates for this list. What happened next will haunt the city of Atlanta forever.
#2 Minnesota Vikings (4 SB Appearances)
After their founding in 1961, it didn’t take long for the Minnesota Vikings to find their feet and take off running. They made their first playoff appearance in 1968 (only the second year under new head coach Bud Grant), and the very next year they graced the SB with their first outing. It was a disappointment, putting up only one score in the entire game, but it was the beginning of an era. They returned to the biggest stage in the game 3 more time over the next 7 seasons, including back to back showings in SBs VIII and IX, but to no avail. They weren’t able to put up more than 1 score in any SB but their last one, where they put up 2 in a 32-14 thumping by the Raiders. Since that 1976 season, they’ve been within reach of a title match appearance 6 times, but lost the conference game every time. They were, until the 1993 season, the only team in NFL history to lose 4 straight SBs.
#1 Buffalo Bills (4 Superbowl Appearances)
There is only one team in the history of the NFL to appear in 4 consecutive championships. To be able to come back and make it to the highest level of play in the entire nation back to back to back to back should be considered one of the greatest achievements in all of sports. Well, it would’ve been, if the Marv Levy era Buffalo Bills had won any of those championships. After battling their way to the end of a gritty matchup against the New York Giants, the notorious ‘Wide Right’ kick sent the Buffalo Bills hopes of winning their first ever Superbowl, well, wide right. They came back the next year and got handled by the Washington Redskins 37-24, then by the Dallas Cowboys the next two years 52-17 and 30-13. Despite massive success in the regular season after their Superbowl stretch, getting 10+ wins in 4 of their next 6 seasons, the Bills haven’t won a playoff game or their division since 1995.