The Super Bowl Hangover, Fact or Fiction?

By William Ford

Reading Time: 4 minutes

28-3.  Too early?  It’s never too early for a 28-3 reference.

Congratulations Falcons fans!  It’s your team’s chance to experience the dreaded Super Bowl hangover!  Essentially, a Super Bowl hangover is the idea that the losing team in the Super Bowl will underperform or underachieve in the following season.  Many NFL fans, and by many NFL fans I mean Falcon fans, will argue that there is no such thing as a Super Bowl hangover.  Falcons fans should ask their division rival Carolina Panthers about it.  The 2016 Panthers are the textbook example of a team experiencing the Super Bowl hangover.  In 2015, the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 in the regular season but lost in the Super Bowl.  In the following season, the Panthers went 6-10 and missed the playoffs.  The Panthers can’t be the ONLY team to experience the Super Bowl hangover, right?  The chart below shows how teams have fared the following season after losing in the Super Bowl over the course of the past decade:

Super Bowl losing Team Record that season Following season record Playoff Result
2016 Falcons 11-5 10-6 DIV
2015 Panthers 15-1 6-10 DNQ
2014 Seahawks 12-4 10-6 DIV
2013 Broncos 13-3 12-4 DIV
2012 49ers 11-4-1 12-4 NCFC
2011 Patriots 13-3 12-4 AFCC
2010 Steelers 12-4 12-4 WC
2009 Colts 14-2 10-6 WC
2008 Cardinals 9-7 10-6 DIV
2007 Patriots 16-0 11-5 DNQ
2006 Bears 13-3 7-9 DNQ

DNQ = Did not qualify, DIV = Divisional round, WC = Wild Card game, NFCC/AFCC = NFC/AFC Championship game


As a group, the teams who lost in the Super Bowl combine to hold a regular season record of 128-31-1, an 80 percent win percentage.  However, the following season these teams’ win percentage dropped to 64 percent, with a combined regular season record of 102-58.  The teams dropped from an average of 12.8 regular season wins to 10.2 regular season wins, an average decrease of 2.6 wins the following season after losing in the Super Bowl.  It seems very evident that these teams struggled to match their previous season’s success in the win column for the regular season.  Looking at the data, seven of the ten teams had less wins the following season, while the 2011 Steelers were the only team to match their win total.  Despite matching their regular season win total from their Super Bowl runner up season, the Steelers fell victim to current minor league baseball player Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.  Only two of the ten teams increased their number of wins the next season.  The two teams to do this were the 2009 Cardinals and the 2013 49ers, who both added just a single win.  So very rarely did teams improve their win total following losing in the Super Bowl.

Additionally, no team managed to return to the Super Bowl.  The teams that came the closest were the 2012 Patriots and the 2013 49ers, who made it to the conference championship game, only to lose to eventual Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.   In the past decade, no team has been able to match the postseason success of the previous season, with three teams not even qualifying for the playoffs.  The other seven teams consist of two conference championship losses, three losses in the divisional round, and two losses in the wild card game.  So, while the majority of teams made it back to the playoffs, they all fell short of their previous season’s level of playoff success, a Super Bowl appearance, and only two of those teams managed to make the conference championship.

The statistically most “hungover” teams were the 2007 Bears, 2008 Patriots, 2010 Colts, and the 2016 Panthers, dropping by six, five, four, and nine wins from the previous season, respectively.  Of this group, only the 2010 Colts qualified for the playoffs.  However, the Colts would go on to lose to Mr. Butt Fumble himself, Mark Sanchez, and the Jets in the wild card game.  Talk about a nasty Super Bowl hangover.  Fun Fact: only Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have beaten both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the same playoff season.  An interesting group to say the least.

The 2008 Patriots are the most interesting of the group, since they lost Tom Brady for the entire season and still managed to win 11 games.  Despite being led to 11 wins by Matt Cassel, the Patriots did not qualify for the playoffs.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Matt Cassel won 11 games in a single season before.  I can’t begin to comprehend it so let’s just move on.

The 2015 Panthers had a spectacular season, going 15-1 in the regular season and making it to the Super Bowl, only to lose to Papa John, I mean Peyton Manning, and the Denver Broncos.  The Panthers would follow up this loss by dropping their regular season win total by nine games and failing to make the playoffs the next season.  The Panthers had by far the largest drop off in wins of the group, with the next largest drop in wins being six, done by the Bears in 2007.  While some of the teams managed to make it back to the playoffs, others fell completely off the rails the following season after losing in the Super Bowl.

So what does this mean for the Falcons this season?  Well, statistics told us that they would probably not return to the Super Bowl this season, and the statistics appeared to be correct. If the Falcons had returned to the Super Bowl this season, they would have been the first team to make it back to the Super Bowl since the Buffalo Bills did it back in 1994, over two decades ago.  The Bills infamously lost four straight Super Bowls from 1991-1994, a record that will probably stand forever.

The 2017 Falcons seemed to face an uphill battle.  No team in their situation over the course of the past decade have even made it back the Super Bowl, while most teams failed to even come close to winning it all.  The Falcons seemed to gain momentum after their Wild Card win, but the stingy Eagles defense, combined with home field advantage, proved too much for the Falcons to overcome. With the Super Bowl right around the corner, Eagles and Patriots fans should be warned about the potential hangover that looms following a loss this weekend. However, it will be an interesting storyline to follow next season as it seems unlikely that the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, and budding superstar Carson Wentz will allow their respective teams to feel the hangover effect.


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