Since the beginning of the Super Bowl era, it’s been the dream of every NFL player to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier said than done. Certain franchises, often basement dwellers, don’t get invited to the big show, and crumble when they get there. Some don’t get invited at all. After the Philadelphia Eagles’ memorable win over the Patriots in 2018, the list of Lombardi-less teams shrunk to only 12, but who’s next? We’re ranking the ringless to see who’s lined up to break the cycle of sadness. Let’s get into it.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
We start at the bottom, so the only way to go is up. The same could be said of the Jaguars, utterly rudderless and without several of the most important pieces needed for success. They ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major statistical category besides sacks (7th) in 2019, and they used their 2019 1st-rounder on another defensive lineman. Jacksonville is 1 of only 4 teams to never make it to the Super Bowl, and their chances still aren’t great. Not only have the Jags never made it to the big game, but their odds to win the Super Bowl in 2020 are also the worst in the league. It may be safe to say no one will be shouting ‘DUVAL!’ in Tampa next February.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Drafting Joe Burrow 1st overall won’t be enough for the Bengals, as they have a lot more rebuilding to do. Tee Higgins isn’t A.J. Green, but he’s going to have to fill those enormous shoes sooner rather than later, and even then, it’s going to be some time before this Cincinnati team has all the pieces to the puzzle.
A largely ineffective defense, an offensive line in shambles, and a franchise without a true identity makes for a problem that can’t be fixed in 1 season. The Bengals should just focus on getting better this season. Leave the playoffs for the real contenders. It’s not like they ever had a shot, really, sharing the division with the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns.
10. Detroit Lions
Innumerable players have wasted their careers in Detroit, and Matthew Stafford is unfortunately one of them. That cycle may continue for a while, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t contend in the future, as their passing game is still solid and Matt Patricia hopes to instill the same level of defensive play that he held ownership of in New England by drafting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah 3rd overall. A candidate to surprise, the Lions are sneaky wild-card contenders but are missing that ‘Oomph’ to get them past a 1st-round exit.
9. Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey became the highest-paid running back of all time this offseason, but the Panthers only seem to be running in circles. In the middle of an apparent rebuild, their focus on defense (all 7 of their draft picks in 2020) is somewhat disconcerting for a team that was middle of the pack in all offensive categories in 2019.
Either way, their roster has a lot of young talent that could flourish under the right coordinators and coaches. The hope is they found the right staff this offseason: OC Joe Brady, DC Phil Snow, and HC Matt Rhule. If not, it’ll be a long rebuild for Panthers fans.
8. Los Angeles Chargers
With the departure of Philip Rivers, the Chargers finally left the last of their San Diego ‘Greats’ in the dust, and their rebuild can begin in earnest. However, a lot of unanswered questions plague the team, such as: Is Justin Herbert an NFL-calibre starting QB? How will Rivers’ departure affect the locker room? Do they have any fans? This may be an interim year where the Chargers choose to develop, as it’s going to be very difficult to contend with the current champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, in what would otherwise be a relatively weak division. Nonetheless, the future may be bright in L.A.
7. Cleveland Browns
If the Browns had their ship in order, they may have contended for a Super Bowl already. Instead, they’re here, wallowing in the fact that a talented (and likely underpaid) roster doesn’t guarantee success. Former 1st-round TE David Njoku wants out, officially requesting a trade and creating a position of need late in the offseason for an unsteady Browns offense trying to gel and create the success expected of them last season.
Unfortunately, despite getting him the best talent they could afford, the Browns front office didn’t see the growth they assumed starting QB Baker Mayfield would show, and the pressure will be on him to get comfortable quickly before the franchise that has started over 20 QBs in the past 20 years decides to move on. Again.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Quite possibly one of the most tragic franchises in NFL history, the Vikings are the epitome of ‘so close, but so far’. Four different Super Bowl runs spanning from 1970-1977, including 2 consecutive ones in ’74 and ’75, all ended in heartbreak for the hardy Minnesotans. Still, in a historically difficult division, they’ve done all they can to contend, and still do so now.
Their high-flying passing offense may still have what it takes to bring their team to further success, but it remains to be seen whether or not 2020 22nd-overall pick Jusin Jefferson has the chops to fill former-WR1 Stefon Diggs’ shoes. These Vikings aren’t there yet, but they won’t go down without a fight.
5. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons shouldn’t be on this list. There, it’s been said. They had no right to choke away potentially the easiest 2nd-half lead they’d ever had to defend, but they did, and so, the score of ‘28-3’ will forever be ingrained in the public consciousness of NFL fans everywhere, much to the chagrin of Matt Ryan and company.
Still, all hope is not lost. A significant portion of their Super Bowl roster remains intact and the Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection is as strong as ever. Imagine the relief when Atlanta finally shakes the monkey off their back and hoists that Trophy for the first time ever. Stay hopeful, Falcons fans.
4. Houston Texans
Some may not rank these Texans so high after the loss of arguably the best WR in the league for pennies, but we won’t truly know the impact of that trade until the season is done. One thing we do know is that Deshaun Watson is a legitimate dual-threat. On land or in the air, he’ll punish any defensive lapse, however momentary.
The hole left by DeAndre Hopkins is inevitably going to need filling, and they opted not to address that need in the draft, but their roster is relatively stable outside of that new void. A healthy J.J. Watt, alongside their newfound playoff experience, could sling this optimistic unit to Super Bowl contention.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray shows flashes of brilliance and growing pains, but as long as he’s growing, Cardinals fans are sure to be happy. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and it only cost a 2nd-round pick for the Texans’ treasure. The Hopkins trade gifts Murray a new security blanket, a sure set of hands, and the All-Pro’s unreal catch radius.
There are only 2 hurdles to be dealt with if the Cardinals want to win their 1st Super Bowl. First, Kyler Murray needs to take the leap from aspiring rookie QB to a league-calibre starter. Secondly, they need to either fix or replace the offensive line that had Kyler running for his life in 2019. These 2 issues are likely all that stands between Arizona and genuine competitiveness.
2. Tennessee Titans
This fearsome AFC zone-run offense made itself known in mid-2019, after it finally found its identity, along with a starting QB in former-Dolphin Ryan Tannehill. Their defence was stoic, their offence was brutal, and they had one of the most surprising playoff runs in recent memory. If they can replicate the success of their previous campaign, and keep that spark alive, these Titans might just be the first team on this list to take all the chips home with them in February. It’ll be a tough slog through an unforgiving AFC playoff bracket, but if anyone can go blow for blow with championship-calibre teams, it’s Tennessee. Nashville might get one for the trophy cabinet after all.
1. Buffalo Bills
Now we’re talking. No other team in NFL history has gone to 4 Super Bowls in a row and that, despite losing them all, is an incredible feat. These aren’t the Bills of the ’90s, but you won’t be surprised by the comparison: A cannon-armed QB at the helm, a clear-cut star WR, and a defense that forces the offense through barbed wire for every yard. Stefon Diggs will easily be worth the 1st-round pick it cost to get him in Buffalo if he can help elevate this offense and take Buffalo to the top of the heap.
Arguably the best defense in the NFL going into 2020 (and definitely the best on this list), they lost only 1 starter on the roster, quickly replaced by a flurry of free-agent talent at the defensive line to likely upgrade the team’s most significant weak spot. Watch out world, the Buffalo Bills might just blow the lid off of the 2020 season.