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The Biggest Losers

Our resident Philanthropist poured over 46 NFL seasons to identify the "25 Greatest Teams To Not Win The Super Bowl." Jay Clemons

Print This January 30, 2012, 02:30 PM EST

16. 2006 San Diego Chargers

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 8-0 ... Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +11.8
Turnover Margin: +13
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: None

Philip RiversIn what has become an upsetting trend to Chargers fans, Philip Rivers and San Diego came up short in 2006.

OVERVIEW: The planets were aligned for head coach Marty Schottenheimer to experience a career breakthrough in 2006. The Chargers had a top-flight quarterback (Philip Rivers), formidable defense, supremely talented kicker (Nate Kaeding), the NFL's single greatest weapon (LaDainian Tomlinson), home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs and a path to the Super Bowl that didn't involve the notoriously stingy Ravens, who were upset by the Colts in the Divisional Playoff round. But a soul-crushing loss to the Patriots in the Divisional Playoff round -- where the Chargers couldn't retain possession of a crucial Tom Brady interception in the game's final moments -- forever (and unfairly) sealed Schottenheimer's fate as a Coach Who'll Never Win The Big One. But that's a shallow perspective for this survey, given the Chargers' 14-2 mark, seismic margins in point differential and turnovers and plum spot atop the highly competitive AFC West. Aside from the 2007 Patriots, no team in this century deserved a title more than the '06 Chargers.

17. 1967 Baltimore Colts

Regular Season Record: 11-1-2
Home: 5-1-1 ... Road: 6-0-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +14
Turnover Margin: +15
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: I was all set to include the vaunted '67 Colts into the Top 15. But my attitude subtly changed after reading Instant Replay, the seminal book co-written by the iconic Dick Schaap, depicting the daily life and times of Green Bay great Jerry Kramer during the Packers' title-winning season of 1967. In the book, Kramer respects the Johnny Unitas-led Colts, of course; but doesn't view the Horseshoes as a legendary team. (Ironically, Baltimore defeated Green Bay during the regular season.) Still, the 1967 Colts did not lose a game until the season finale -- a 34-10 defeat to the Rams that decided the NFL's Coastal Division title and sealed the Colts' fate as the greatest team in the Super Bowl era to NOT reach the postseason.

18. 2001 St. Louis Rams

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 6-2 ... Road: 8-0
Per-Game Point Differential: +14.4
Turnover Margin: -10
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 6-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Patriots)

OVERVIEW: Believe me, I'd love to reward the 2001 Rams (1st in scoring, 1st in point differential, 8-0 road record, 6-1 against playoff teams) with a top-10 ranking here ... but it's very hard to look past the club's minus-10 output in turnovers. When grading the NFL's greatest teams of the Super Bowl era without a curve, you won't find another one that invoked such a sloppy approach to closing out games -- while playing in a bone-dry dome, no less. Yes, QB Kurt Warner (4,830 yards passing, 36 TDs), RB Marshall Faulk (2,147 total yards, 21 TDs), WR Torry Holt (81 catches, 1,363 yards, 7 TDs) and WR Isaac Bruce (64 catches, 1,106 yards, 6 TDs) tallied monster numbers in Mike Martz's explosive offense; but there's really no defense for 38 forced fumbles and 22 Warner interceptions. I'll probably catch hell for being so nitpicky ... but the 2001 Rams are only a cut above the top 20.

19. 2005 Indianapolis Colts

Regular Season Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1 ... Road: 7-1
Per-Game Point Differential: +12
Turnover Margin: +12
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Steelers)

Peyton ManningICONPeyton Manning has a ring, but he didn't get it in 2005.

OVERVIEW: Sure, the Colts captured the Super Bowl crown one year later. But the 2005 club, in my opinion, stands out as Indy's best team of the Peyton Manning era. Indy opened that season with 12 straight wins, posted a 5-1 mark against playoff teams, tallied nine blowout victories and enjoyed a symmetrical bonanza in point differential (+12) and turnover margin (+12). The only things missing from that special season: A battle-tested kicker (Mike Vanderjagt) and a bit of good luck after goal-line fumble recoveries.

20. 1975 Minnesota Vikings

Regular Season Record: 12-2
Home: 7-0 ... Road: 5-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +14.1
Turnover Margin: +16
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 0-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: At first blush, the '75 Vikings got the short end of the stick in this countdown. Is a top-20 ranking really commensurate for a Minnesota squad that started the season 10-0 and allowed no more than 22 points just once that year? In this case, yes. As an unabashed devotee of NFL Films, I respect Jim Marshall (how is he NOT in the Hall of Fame?), Carl Eller and Alan Page for saying the 1975 team was the franchise's best during an unprecedented run of awesomeness from 1969-78 (9 division titles, 4 Super Bowl berths and 87 regular-season victories) ... but there are a few knocks here: The '75 Vikings played in a noticeably weak NFC Central and faced zero playoff opponents that regular season. It also doesn't help that Minnesota got booted from the playoffs by 10-4 Dallas, via the famous Hail Mary play. What a shame. In my mind, the 1975 Vikings could have gotten revenge on the Steelers in Super Bowl X ... but we'll never know.

21. 1976 New England Patriots

Regular Season Record: 11-3
Home: 6-1 ... Road: 5-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +10
Turnover Margin: +14
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3.5
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Raiders)

OVERVIEW: Ah, the 1976 Patriots ... the juggernaut that history forgot. Perhaps that's because New England averaged only four victories from 1965-75 and featured a starting QB (Steve Grogan) who threw more INTs than touchdowns his first four years in the league (1975-78). Did we forget to mention that Grogan succeeded Jim Plunkett, who was deemed an NFL washout after claiming the Heisman Trophy in 1970 before struggling as the Patriots' franchise 'savior' from 1971-74? But enough of the negatives. For one amazing season, the '76 Patriots steamrolled the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders during a three- week stretch in September and cruised to the AFC East title. The peripherals were similarly remarkable, with double-digit margins in point differential and turnovers ... and eight victories of 10 points or more, while playing in a top-notch division. How good were the '76 Pats? The Raiders, who lost only one game during that Super Bowl season (to New England), were VERY LUCKY to survive the Pats in the AFC playoffs. Here's the scene: New England led Oakland 21-17 in the waning moments of the Divisional Playoff round and should have had the Raiders in a 4th-and-long foxhole; but a suspect roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end 'Sugar Bear' Hamilton gave Kenny Stabler and the Raiders a fresh set of downs -- and the opportunity to post the game-winning touchdown. I have no ties to the New England area, or the Patriots; but who am I to deny the 1976 team from their rightful spot in this countdown?

22. 1979 San Diego Chargers

Regular Season Record: 12-4
Home: 7-1 ... Road: 5-3
Per-Game Point Differential: +10.3
Turnover Margin: +11
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: With Dan Fouts (4,082 yards passing, 24 TDs), TE Kellen Winslow, receivers Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson (1,090 yards, 10 TDs) executing the high-powered Air Coryell offense, the 1979 Chargers are easily this countdown's hippest team. But they also had substance -- notching nine blowout wins, scoring at least 26 points in 10 games and sporting a plus-11 turnover margin. Oh, and did we mention the Bolts whipped that year's Super Bowl combatants -- the Steelers and Rams -- by a combined score of 75-23 during the season? Of course, it's fair to wonder how San Diego fell at home to Houston in the Divisional Playoff round? Try as they might, modern-day Chargers fans cannot blame the '79 flameout on Marty Schottenheimer, a then-unknown linebackers coach with the Detroit Lions.

23. 2011 San Francisco 49ers

Regular Season Record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 ... Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +9.4
Turnover Margin: +28
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 6
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff Extra Credit: None

Jim HarbaughA 13-3 record still wasn't enough to get Harbaugh and the 49ers past a red-hot New York Giants team.

OVERVIEW: If we were to peruse every Sports Illustrated NFL preview from 1966 to the present ... it's possible the 2011 Niners would be the likeliest squad to finish 3-13 than 13-3 in preseason prognostications. But hey, that's why they play the games; and that's why San Francisco deserves major props for realizing its dream season without the benefit of mini-camp practices ... or some valuable winter/spring time to adjust to new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Yes, we could lament the giant step forward for QB Alex Smith (3,144 yards passing, 19 total TDs) or bankable production from RB Frank Gore (1,325 total yards, 8 TDs); but the story of the 2011 49ers begins and ends with the defense -- a group of fierce tacklers and menacing ball-hawkers who allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season (Seattle's Marshawn Lynch), two total rushing TDs and posted a league-high turnover margin (+28). Add in a supreme record against eventual playoff teams (5-1) ... and it's easy to see how the 49ers are stalwarts for this survey.

24. 2011 New Orleans Saints

Regular Season Record: 13-3
Home: 8-0 ... Road: 5-3
Per-Game Point Differential: +13
Turnover Margin: -3
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: In a bit of total honesty, I wanted to rank the 2011 Saints ahead of the 49ers, even though San Francisco had a better playoff seed and knocked out New Orleans in the Divisional Playoff round. But in the end, I caved to the pressure of common sense and deductive reasoning when comparing apples to apples. However, there's plenty to love about the latest incarnation of the Saints -- from Drew Brees's record-breaking feat in passing yards (5,476) and absurd number of TD passes (46) ... to the team's nine victories of 10 points or more and 10 outings of 30-plus points. Throw in a stellar record against playoff teams, an unsurpassed home-field advantage and a blitz-happy defense that tallied 33 sacks ... and it's fun to dream these Saints -- in any other season -- might have cruised to the Super Bowl. But alas, that's not how life in the NFL works sometimes.

25. 1978 Dallas Cowboys

Regular Season Record: 12-4
Home: 7-1 ... Road: 5-3
Per-Game Point Differential: +11
Turnover Margin: +1
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Steelers)

OVERVIEW: The 1970s belonged to the Steelers, Raiders, Dolphins and Cowboys; and for Dallas, Roger Staubach's full-time promotion ahead of QB Craig Morton in 1971 played a huge role in the team's transformation from Next Year's Best Team to two-time champions for that decade. Including the '71 and '77 title-winners, one could argue the '78 Cowboys were the most prolific squad of the Staubach starting era. Of the 26 teams on this list, Dallas ranks third amongst Super Bowl champions that fell short in bids to repeat the following season. At the time, the Cowboys also missed out on becoming just the fourth franchise to post back-to-back Super Bowl titles -- eventually bequeathing that honor to the (1978/79) Steelers, who outlasted the Cowboys in an epic Super Bowl XIV. The peripherals stand tall for the Cowboys 34 years later, going 12-4 amidst a brutal schedule and posting eight victories of 10 points or more. The only drawback: A pedestrian turnover margin of plus-1.

Special Mention: 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

Regular Season Record: 13-3
Home: 7-1 ... Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +7.9
Turnover Margin: +6
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 1.5
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl (Patriots)

OVERVIEW: The 2004 Eagles played in a haggard NFC East that season, and their ratios with point differential (7.9) and turnovers (+6) were anything but stellar. But there's no disputing Philly's greatness with both RB Brian Westbrook (1,515 total yards, 9 TDs) and Terrell Owens (77 catches, 1,200 yards, 14 TDs) in the starting lineup -- try 13-1. And it could have easily been 15-1 if a broken leg hadn't shelved Owens for most of December and all of January -- but not the Super Bowl in February, as T.O. defied standard recovery timelines and caught nine balls for 122 yards in the Eagles' loss to the Patriots.

Special Mention: 1986 Cleveland Browns

Regular Season Record: 12-4
Home: 6-2 ... Road: 6-2
Per-Game Point Differential: +5
Turnover Margin: +13
Wins Of 10 Points Or More: 5
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: Cleveland ranked only fifth in scoring, 11th in scoring defense, sixth in per-game point differential and fourth in turnover margin for that gleeful 1986 season -- average marks for this countdown. But the Browns warrant an honorable-mention slot based on one undeniable truth: In the Super Bowl era, no team has ever experienced a bigger punch-in-the-gut playoff defeat than the Browns in the AFC championship game ... surrendering a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to John Elway's Broncos to force overtime. Soon after that, Browns fans had to endure the sight of Rich Karlis's game-winning field goal for Denver -- although no hard video evidence confirms the ball sailing through the uprights.

Follow Jay on Twitter: @ATL_JayClemons

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