The Bengals Introduce the Dynasties of Heartbreak

Cincinnati Bengals RB Chris Evans
Cincinnati Bengals RB Chris Evans
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - We'd like to thank the Cincinnati Bengals for losing the Super Bowl in crushing fashion and helping us introduce the Dynasties of Heartbreak. When Aaron Donald took over the last couple of plays in the Super Bowl, finishing the Rams comeback and handing the Bengals their third-ever loss in the championship game, it was heartbreaking for Cincinnati fans. They had a lead with 90 seconds left in the season, and yet came away from 2021 without the title that has eluded them for their entire franchise history. It's alright, though—with young superstars such as Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, 2021 is going to be a temporary setback. The core of this current Bengals team will one day get the opportunity to hoist a Lombardi Trophy high in the air, and give the good people of Cincinnati the ticker-tape parade they have been waiting for since the heyday of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, and…

… what are those sounds coming from Minnesota and Buffalo? It sounds like some strange combination of laughing and sobbing simultaneously. Huh. That's weird.

The history of the NFL is littered with teams which have etched their names in legend. Teams that have dominated the league for years at a time, vanquishing all that came before them and defining the shape of the league. But we're not here to talk about those guys. Instead, we're here to talk about the runners-up. To celebrate the agony of defeat. To salute those who tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it didn't even matter. As part of our ongoing quest to highlight every single significant run in NFL history, we are proud to present our Dynasties of Heartbreak—the teams that could have, and in some cases should have, come away with far more glory than they actually managed.

The teams we're highlighting this year include some of the most interesting cases in NFL history. When we did the dynasty rankings or the anti-dynasty rankings, we were talking about actual results. We know what the league looks like in a world where the Patriots trampled their 21st century competition, or the Packers ran over everyone in the 1960s. We know what the state of football is in Cleveland and Arizona after decades of failure. We live in the world created by these outcomes. Ranking those teams just involves documenting what everyone has already seen.

But somewhere out there in the Multiverse of Madness, there are other possible outcomes. What if The Catch had not been Caught, The Drive not been Driven, the Immaculate Reception not Immaculately Recepted? What if the Seahawks had just given the damn ball to Marshawn Lynch, if Scott Norwood had hooked his kick six inches to the left, if Bart Starr had slipped on the ice? Somewhere out there, there must be a world where Marty Schottenheimer's Browns won a title, or Marty Schottenheimer's Chiefs won a title, or Marty Schottenheimer's Chargers won a title. These Heartbreak Dynasties allow us to imagine what if outcomes had been slightly different—would the Oilers have left Houston? Would the Rams have left Los Angeles? Would Philip Rivers be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Would we be lifting the Owen Trophy instead of the Lombardi?

These second-place and runner-up teams can sometimes get forgotten, at least outside their own fanbases. Or worse yet, they're remembered only for failure, ignoring the fact that you have to be quite good to get into position to lose multiple Super Bowls and conference championships in a short period of time. There can only be one champion a year, and just because you run into a 1980s 49ers or 1970s Steelers doesn't mean you shouldn't be remembered and celebrated. At least, that's our excuse for digging up and relitigating some of the most painful moments in various franchise's history.

And yes, we acknowledge that this is very subjective—even more subjective than declaring a team the most or least successful in the history of the NFL. A team's most crushing season is the one that happened when you were 10 years old and could devote a larger part of your hopes and dreams into men wearing the same shirt as one another. We're trying to figure out which teams would hurt the prototypical 10-year-old the most, but what we're really doing is using the excuse of a list and ranking to talk about a bunch of fun teams from the past in a vaguely organized fashion. In short, we expect and welcome arguments about who should be higher or lower, because quantifying pain is so much more subjective than quantifying success. And arguments are half the fun during the June doldrums anyway.

Links to the full series:


For a single season, a team's heartbreak score is broken down into three parts—their win-loss record, their DVOA, and their playoff run.

Win-loss record is easy: the more games you win in the regular season, the more painful it is to not come away with a championship. Teams earn points based on how far above .500 they were in any given season, with a perfect season getting 100 points and an 8-8 year getting 0. Specifically, it's (win-loss percentage - 0.5 * 200). Last year's Bengals went 10-7 for a win percentage of .588, giving them 17.6 heartbreak points. The 13-4 Packers got 52.9, the 9-8 Eagles got 5.9, and so on and so forth.

DVOA is easy—the better your team was, the more painful it is to not come away with a championship. That, too, is simple. We take a team's positive DVOA, capped at 50%, and multiply it by 200. Last season's Bengals actually had a slightly negative DVOA, but we don't penalize them for that. There are no negative heartbreak points as that would imply that a team would be pleased for some reason that they didn't win a Super Bowl. But the league-leading Cowboys' DVOA of 30.9% earned them 61.8 heartbreak points; a dominant regular season leads to more pain when you eventually collapse. For 1950 to 1980, we use Andreas Shepard's Estimated DVOA, and for 1920 to 1949, we use SRS-to-DVOA conversions.

Playoff run points are more complicated. They are based on two assumptions. First, losing deeper into a playoff run should hurt more. All things being equal, it hurts to lose a Super Bowl more than it hurts to lose a wild-card game. Secondly, it hurts more to lose a close game than a blowout. Bills fans are pained more by Scott Norwood hooking his field goal wide right than they are from the Cowboys blowing them off the field two years later.

Teams thus get points for how deep they went in the postseason, modified by how close the game actually was. A Super Bowl loss is worth between 100 and 200 points, a conference championship loss is worth between 50 and 100, a divisional round loss is worth between 30 and 50, and a wild-card loss is worth between 0 and 20. You get the full value if you lose by one point or in overtime. You get the minimum if you lose by more than 20 points. A more accurate system would take into account if the losing team had the ball with a chance to score at the end of the game, or if they padded the point differential with garbage-time points and so on and so forth, perhaps taking into account average win probability over the course of a matchup, but the play-by-play data needed to do that simply isn't available for the majority of NFL history. To keep everything on a fair playing field, we're just linearly sliding down by margin of defeat. The Bengals earn 180 heartbreak points for their 23-20 loss in the Super Bowl, which gives them 197.6 heartbreak points for 2021 when combined with their other points. By comparison, the Cowboys' wild-card exit only earned them 14.0 heartbreak points. So even though they were the better team than the Bengals for the regular season, their 2021 only picked up 117.0 heartbreak points. Playoff failures are what stick in the memory and are the most important part of any heartbreak rankings.

The perfect season would earn 400 points—an undefeated regular season, a DVOA over 50.0%, and the closest possible loss in the Super Bowl. That has never happened, but the 2007 Patriots managed to score a 390 when the Giants knocked them off in Super Bowl XLII. That comes out as the most painful individual season in this system, joining the 1942 Bears, 1968 Colts, 2001 Rams, 1948 Cardinals, and 1990 Bills as the only seasons worth 300 points or more.

But we're not interested in single-season heartbreak. It sucked for Patriots fans that they lost in 2007, but they won Super Bowls on both sides of that loss. The Bears won plenty in the 1940s, the Colts rebounded from Super Bowl III to win Super Bowl V, and so on and so forth. While those seasons sucked in the moment, we have to take into account all the success that happened around them in order to truly judge how painful an era was. Even the most painful Super Bowl defeat is somewhat soothed by a full trophy collection.

Each championship a team wins radiates out heartbreak-soothing rays, diminishing the pain of any lost years around them. One year removed from a Super Bowl win in either direction knocks off up to 400 heartbreak points. Two years away removes 200 points, three years 100 and four years 50. Those stack, too—the 2002 Patriots season, bookended by three Super Bowls, has a 1,000-point penalty, because no one feels bad that New England didn't win four out of four Super Bowls. With these penalties included, the 1990 Bills season becomes the most painful in NFL history; all the other notably painful years had championships around them which counteract some of the heartbreak.

Yes, this means that a season can become less painful retroactively, but I think that makes sense. If the Bengals win the Super Bowl in 2022, 2021 will be looked back at as a building year and a learning year, and an important step on the way to their eventual glory. If they don't, it's a horrendous missed opportunity, but only time can provide the proper context!

To calculate a team's score over multiple years—which is how we're ranking them here—we use a weighted system. A team's run starts the first year they would earn points before the championship penalty. It ends when they either have back-to-back non-scoring seasons (either a losing record, or a .500 record with a negative DVOA) or they win a championship. Their total score is computed by summing 100% of their heartbreak score for their best season, 95% for their next-best season, and so forth. This prevents a team from just compiling wild-card losses and pretending that's as bad as a Super Bowl loss, a way of balancing both breadth and depth of heartbreak.

That leaves us with 44 Heartbreak Dynasties, 44 runs of teams that earn at least 400 points. We're going to spend the next couple weeks counting them down and celebrating, and at the end, we'll declare which team in which era caused the most pain. We're keeping the final list secret until the end because we're not making distinctions between quantity and quality at this time around. I have a sneaking suspicion certain fan bases may be able to predict the names at the top.

Circle the wagons, fly Eagles fly, and chant Skol; we have some painful memories to unearth.

No. 44: 1986-1990 Cincinnati Bengals

Total Heartbreak Points: 404.2
Playoff Points: 216.4
Win-Loss Points: 85.0
DVOA Points: 102.8
Record: 43-36 (.544)
Playoff Record: 3-2 (one Super Bowl loss, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 7.9%
Head Coach: Sam Wyche
Key Players: QB Boomer Esiason, RB James Brooks, WR Eddie Brown, TE Rodney Holman, OT Anthony Munoz, G Max Montoya, DT Tim Krumrie, S David Fulcher

The current Bengals squad is young and exciting, and seems on pace to be a perennial contender, despite a disappointing loss in a close Super Bowl to a California team. Yeah, about that…

While the Bengals made two Super Bowls in the 1980s, those Cincinnati squads were more of a flash-in-the-pan team—they lost some of their young talent to the upstart USFL, they traded away their planned successor to Ken Anderson, they had multiple players suspended for illegal drug activity, and their head coach left after 1983 to go coach the Packers, viewing that job as an upgrade. That opened the door for Sam Wyche, who built a team that would have a more extended run of success.

Wyche brought a few offensive innovations with him to Cincinnati, some more effective than others. Wyche was obsessed with giving his offense a personnel advantage, getting spread sets against heavy defenses and vice versa. This went through several false starts. First, he tried having his offense huddle on the sideline, with 20 or so players around him to confuse the defense. The actual players involved in the play would sprint to the ball and snap quickly once it was ready to prevent the defense from substituting. The NFL put the kibosh on that quickly, so Wyche went to what he called the "sugar huddle," where 12 or 13 players would huddle on the field quickly, with the extra players running off the field when the huddle broke. This was also quickly nixed by the league, which was getting annoyed at Wyche messing with the huddle. Well, then, what if the Bengals simply never huddled at all?

In 1986, Wyche and coordinator Bruce Coslett installed the no-huddle offense as a base package, making Cincinnati the first team to use it as their regular offense. By the time they had worked out all the kinks in 1988, the Bengals were nearly unstoppable on offense, leading the league with a 31.3% DVOA. Wyche's teams were in the top 10 offensively for six straight years, but the no huddle took it to a new level, with Boomer Esiason dealing to Eddie Brown and Tim McGee, and James Brooks and Ickey Woods splitting time in the backfield. The NFL, again, wasn't pleased, threatening to penalize the Bengals every time they went no-huddle in the AFC Championship Game, but Wyche fought back against that and won. Marv Levy and the Bills, who lost that game, were so frustrated by the Bengals attack that they ended up copying the tactic for their own teams in the 1990s, which we will get to in due time. The league eventually had to introduce new rules regarding substitutions to keep up with Wyche's offense; it changed the game.

The Bengals only made the playoffs twice in this era, but that's understating how good they were. They missed out in 1986 despite going 10-6. The 1987 strike season killed the no-huddle because Wyche was not about to teach that to a group of replacement players. In 1989, four of their eight losses were by a touchdown or less. In 1990, they did make the playoffs, but were missing Anthony Muñoz and other key starters for their divisional matchup with the Raiders—an absence which explains why Greg Townsend was able to sack Esiason three times in a 20-10 Cincinnati loss.

But no, the Bengals make this list because of 1988 and Super Bowl XXIII, a game in which the best Bengals team in DVOA history had the opportunity to get revenge for Super Bowl XVI and give Wyche a win over his old boss Bill Walsh. It did not go super well. Esiason was nursing an aching shoulder, forcing the Bengals to rely more heavily on their run game. Fullback Stanley Wilson ended up missing the game entirely after relapsing into cocaine addiction the night before the game, angering and upsetting the locker room and throwing a monkey wrench into the game plan. Tim Krumrie shattered his ankle in the first quarter, costing the Bengals a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Despite all this, the Bengals took a 16-13 lead with 3:10 left in the game, pinning the 49ers all the way back to their own 8-yard line. All they had to do was stop Joe Montana and Jerry Rice from putting together one of the greatest drives in NFL history. Simple! 151 seconds later, John Taylor is running into the end zone celebrating, and the Bengals are vanquished once again.

No. 43: 1996-1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

Total Heartbreak Points: 407.2
Playoff Points: 153.8
Win-Loss Points: 149.4
DVOA Points: 104.0
Record: 45-19 (.703)
Playoff Record: 4-4 (two AFCCG losses, one division loss, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 13.6%
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin
Key Players: QB Mark Brunell, WR Jimmy Smith, WR Keenan McCardell, OT Tony Boselli

It's convenient that the Jaguars follow the Bengals as we start the list. The Bengals showed that all you really need is one painful Super Bowl loss to crack the very bottom of the list. The Jaguars, conversely, show that you don't even need to reach the title game to cause heartbreak. You can generate plenty of angst and ennui just by being very good and repeatedly falling short.

Pity the long-suffering Jaguars fan, who had to experience one whole solid year of suffering before producing a team that could compete for championships. The Jaguars turned an expansion team into a contender almost overnight, focusing on building a young core that would quickly grow together. The 1996 team that reached the AFC Championship Game had just two starters in their 30s, with center Dave Widell being the only offensive starter older than 27. Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, and Keenan McCardell grew and developed together for seven years, helping the Jaguars to a top-10 offensive DVOA in five consecutive seasons. Tom Coughlin took these young players and molded them into a team that become first competitive and then dominant as everyone aged into their prime.

Not all championship seasons are made equal. The 1996 Jaguars were fortunate to reach the AFC Championship Game, starting 3-6 before midseason personnel changes helped kick their offense into gear. They still needed the Falcons to miss a 30-yard field goal at the end of their Week 17 matchup to qualify for the postseason, but it happened, as did the upset over the heavily favored Broncos in the divisional round. Four turnovers against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game did them in, but the Jaguars were fortunate to be in that position to begin with; they had a -1.2% DVOA for the year and a questionable defense. It was beyond the wildest expectations for a team in their second year of existence, something to be lauded more than dismayed.

That was kind of the pattern over the next two years, too—a strong, young offense dragging a questionable defense forward. John Elway and the Broncos got revenge for their 1996 loss in the 1997 wild-card round, holding on to the ball for 41 minutes while the Jacksonville defense got flattened first by Terrell Davis and then by the seldom-used Derek Loville. In 1998, the Jets held the ball for nearly 40 minutes themselves in a divisional-round win over the Jags, with both Keyshawn Johnson and Curtis Martin going over the 100-yard mark and Brunell throwing three interceptions as he tried to keep Jacksonville in the shootout to no avail.

By 1999, this had become a pattern—stronger teams would just keep the ball away from the Jaguars offense all game, and the overmatched defense couldn't keep up. So in 1999, Coughlin brought in Dom Capers to be his defensive coordinator, and that immediately flipped a switch. The Jags went from 19th to sixth in defensive DVOA overnight. Coupled with the still-productive offense, it produced the greatest team in Jaguars history. Their 14-2 record is a little padded by a soft schedule—they had a VOA of 34.5% but a DVOA of 26.6%—but they were still a very good team in great team's clothing. They stormed through the regular season, only losing to the Titans twice. They drove a stake through Dan Marino's career, throttling the Dolphins to the tune of 62-7 in the divisional round, the most lopsided playoff game since the introduction of free substitution. That gave them a third game against the Titans in the AFC Championship Game … where the offense just collapsed. Tennessee forced six turnovers and a safety; the Titans scored 16 points off of turnovers while the Jaguars managed just 14 points altogether. Unlike 1996, the Jaguars were the team with all the expectations here, and 1999 ends up as the most painful season in Jacksonville history.

After that, all of those young players started getting to their second contracts, giving the Jaguars salary-cap problems that broke up their corps. Coughlin was fired three years later and Jacksonville hasn't had consecutive playoff appearances since.

No. 42: 1968-1972 San Francisco 49ers

Total Heartbreak Points: 407.8
Playoff Points: 197.6
Win-Loss Points: 102.5
DVOA Points: 107.8
Record: 38-22-4 (.625)
Playoff Record: 2-3 (two NFCCG losses, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 11.3%
Head Coach: Dick Nolan
Key Players: QB John Brodie, RB Ken Willard, WR Gene Washington, TE Ted Kwalick, C Forrest Blue, LB Dave Wilcox, CB Jimmy Johnson

I'm biased because I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, but I really believe that the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry is the best in the NFL. Despite not having played in the same division since 1960, the two franchises play an oversized part in each other's history. They have met each other eight times in the postseason, facing off in six NFC Championship Games. No other pairing has happened more than three times in either conference. The Cowboys hold a 4-2 advantage in championship games, and here is where younger fans think I'm pivoting to the Triplets against Steve Young and Jerry Rice, but no—that was an even, back-and-forth rivalry. In the 1970s, Dallas just ate San Francisco's lunch over and over again.

Dick Nolan was a Cowboy. He was Tom Landry's defensive coordinator, learning from the best in the business. In 1968, he took over a 49ers team that was wandering around in mediocrity; four years in a row with single-digit estimated DVOAs and three years in a row within half-a-game of .500. It wasn't really the offense that was the problem. While they were inconsistent, they had John Brodie frequently leading the league in passing yards and a plethora of skill position players came in and out. No, it was the defense that was letting them down, regularly finishing 10th or worse in estimated DVOA in a 15-team league.

Nolan and Landry had together invented the 4-3 flex defense which had kicked off the Cowboys run of success in the mid-1960s. The flex was a notoriously confusing system, described as the "most obscure, least understood defense in all of football" by contemporary reporters. Basically, it was just a zone defense against the run, designed to improve pursuit angles to stop the Lombardi sweep, letting defenders flow to open gaps and block them out—something new and novel at the time. It was much more mentally taxing on defenders of the age than "this is your gap, stop it," and it was somewhat neturalized in the 1980s when the passing game opened up, but it was the hot new defense at the time. It makes total sense that the 49ers would bring in Nolan to import this defense, and while it took a couple years to fill out the roster with players who could run his system, it ended up working. While the 49ers remained an offensive-focused team in Nolan's reign, improved defensive play meant they stopped losing shootouts and started running over people.

Everyone, that is, except for the Cowboys. Plenty of great teams have squashed plenty of very good teams throughout NFL history. We'll see plenty of squads that were held back by the 1970s Steelers or 2010s Patriots and so on. But there's really no other example of a team being stopped by just one opponent. The 49ers made the playoffs three times in a row in the 1970s, and every time, Landry and the Cowboys were there to stop them. For while the 49ers ran the flex, the Cowboys owned it.

The 1970 NFC Championship Game saw rookie Duane Thomas running all over the 49ers' gap defense to the tune of 143 yards, while Lee Roy Jordan and Mel Renfro both picked off MVP Brodie in the third quarter, directly leading to 14 points in Dallas' 17-10 win. They faced off again in the NFC Championship Game the next season, and again the Doomsday Defense baffled Brodie, with Jordan, Cliff Harris, and George Andrie taking turns pulling his passes out of the air in 14-3 Cowboys win.

In 1972, the 49ers were going to get their revenge. This time, the two teams met in the divisional round, and the 49ers' defense was out for blood. They forced five turnovers—two interceptions of Craig Morton before he was pulled for Staubach, and lost fumbles by Morton, Staubach, and Calvin Hill. The 49ers, however, let Dallas hang around—they missed a few short field goals, they threw an interception at the goal line, they didn't translate all the Cowboys mistakes into points. Still, they had 21-3 lead in the first half—no team had ever come back from a deficit that large in playoff history at that point. But when Staubach was placed into the game in the third quarter, the Cowboys began to bite into that lead bit by bit. Still, though, the 49ers held a 28-16 lead with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Staubach found Billy Parks with a minute and change left to make things a one-score game. The Cowboys were forced to onside kick, and San Francisco safety Preston Riley saw the ball bounce right into his hands … and then right out, allowing Mel Renfro to fall on top of it. Staubach marched the Cowboys down the field and threw another a touchdown pass, and the 49ers were beaten yet again. The pupil just couldn't outshine the master.

No. 41: 2019-2021 San Francisco 49ers

Total Heartbreak Points: 414.4
Playoff Points: 239.4
Win-Loss Points: 79.2
DVOA Points: 95.8
Record: 29-20 (.592)
Playoff Record: 4-2 (one Super Bowl loss, one NFCCG loss)
Average DVOA: 18.1%
Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan
Key Players: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, WR Deebo Samuel, TE George Kittle, OT Trent Williams, DE Nick Bosa, LB Fred Warner

Unlike the dynasty rankings or the anti-dynasty rankings, heartbreak dynasties can see their score go down retroactively. Super Bowls reduce heartbreak points in the years immediately leading up to them, so what seems painful now might be soothed some in retrospect if the team in question ends up with a parade when all is said and done.

There are five active teams that will show up on this countdown, but only three of them have secured their place on the rankings in perpetuity, with enough pain far enough in the past that even winning the Super Bowl this season wouldn't fully erase their history. Our first two modern teams, including these 49ers, are only here provisionally as we await to see what history has to say about their eras when all is said and done.

No team believes they're going to be failures while their runs start. When you lose in a championship game, it hurts, but you expect that you'll be right in that same position again the next year. Or the year after. Or the year after. No one knows that they're part of a team that will ultimately never realize its full potential—until after it happens.

And that's where Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers currently sit. Over the last three seasons, they have been either one of the league's predominant contenders or hurt. They had a two-score fourth-quarter lead in a Super Bowl, which they ended up losing. They had a two-score fourth-quarter lead in an NFC Championship Game, which they ended up losing. Shanahan has never repeated 28-3, but he's now building a track record of failing to hold on to winning situations in crunch times of key games—not failing to stage a comeback, but to have victory in his grasp and watch it slip away. He has built arguably the best offense possible in today's NFL without a superstar quarterback.

There are three paths the 49ers can go from here. They could eventually cash in, and turn this recent run of success into a title. If Trey Lance and company win the Super Bowl this year, it would wipe out all of the 151.4 heartbreak points San Francisco earned from falling to the Rams last season and knock 100 points off of the loss to Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LIV—not completely erasing it, but making it no more painful than some of the seasons where Joe Montana or Steve Young couldn't get it done in the end. If that's the case, the 49ers would not appear on this list in a decade.

The 49ers could also collapse entirely. The three first-round picks traded for Lance could end up being a disaster that cripples the 49ers for years to come. Key players such as Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa could end up fighting their way out of town. This era of success could be as fleeting as the 1990s Jags or 1980s Bengals—one that doesn't have a massive fingerprint on NFL history, per se, but will always be remembered with mixed degrees of fondness and regret by the fanbase. That would keep them down here in the 40s on the heartbreak rankings.

Or maybe the 49ers will continue as they have been. Maybe Shanahan really can't win the big games, and the 49ers will keep on showing significant success throughout the 2020s, only to fall short over and over to teams with better quarterbacks and better fourth-quarter strategy. It is entirely conceivable, maybe even believable, that this 49ers squad could be the birth of the next great failures; a team remembered not for what they did well, but their failures in the clutch. Only time will tell, but this team could be the start of something truly special … one way or another.

The Rankings So Far

We'll update this table every time we add another entry to this series, so you can not only see the full list, but also which teams earned their pain in which ways. You can see which teams are sitting here on the back of one painful Super Bowl loss, and which slowly accumulated pain with years of solid play and little to show for it at the end.

Dynasties of Heartbreak ... So Far
Rk Years Team W-L Avg
41 2019-2021 SF 29-20 18.1% 239.4 79.2 95.8 0.0 414.4
42 1968-1972 SF 38-22-4 11.3% 197.6 102.5 107.8 0.0 407.8
43 1996-1999 JAX 45-19 13.6% 153.8 149.4 104.0 0.0 407.2
44 1986-1990 CIN 43-36 7.9% 216.4 85.0 102.8 0.0 404.2

Five Men Out

Before we go, there are five franchises who we will not get to see during this countdown. To have a truly heartbreaking era, you need to be both good and unsuccessful, and some teams just don't have the back catalog of suffering to really punch with the heavy hitters. Fans of these franchises deserve their turn in the sun to moan and complain as well, so as a public service, we're giving them a chance to acknowledge the closest their teams have come to true suffering. Here are those five franchises, franked from most to least heartbreaking.

The 2014-2020 Baltimore Ravens may make this list yet; if they have any sort of winning record in 2022 without winning a Super Bowl, they'll build on their 389.3 points and firmly enter the countdown proper. While their run begins in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVII and Joe Flacco's evolution to elite status, that title win means they didn't start actually earning points until 2017. So at the moment, we're really talking a four-year run of double-digit DVOA without ever getting past the divisional round. The most painful individual year in franchise history is 2019—Lamar Jackson as MVP, their best win-loss record ever, first team ever to average 200 passing and rushing yards per game in the same year, and a 28-12 faceplant against Derrick Henry and the Titans in the divisional round. We would be singing a different tune had the Ravens lost the Harbaugh Bowl, thus being contenders for most of the 21st century without a title to show for it. That theoretical Ravens team would make the top 10 all-time, but Lombardi Trophies cure a lot of ailments.

The 2009-2019 Houston Texans have one of the longer runs on the leaderboards, but it's more long than deep. They only have two seasons above 100 heartbreak points—2011, when T.J. Yates threw three interceptions in the divisional round against the Ravens, and 2012, when the Patriots wiped the floor with them in the divisional round. The Texans have only had one year of positive DVOA since 2012, and while they do have some playoff exits in that time frame (most notably blowing the 24-0 divisional lead against the Chiefs in 2019), they really just don't have enough success to even be a heartbreak compiler. They end up petering out at 379.0 points. This run is officially over. Pick your signifying moment—that blowout against the Chiefs, DeAndre Hopkins being traded for peanuts, or Jack Easterby taking over football operations. That's a different kind of pain than the one we're cataloging here.

The 1931-1934 Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions slide in with 302.9 points. Yes, Lions fans, it has been a little while since you were last regularly competitive. The Spartans can feel particularly aggrieved over the start to the 1930s. In 1931, the 12-2 Packers cancelled the last game of their season against the 11-3 Spartans—didn't forfeit, just outright cancelled, so the Spartans couldn't catch them for first place. And in 1932, they finished tied with the Chicago Bears at 6-1 (ties weren't counted). Rather than invent new tiebreakers, which was the way these things were settled in the 1920s, the NFL decided to add an extra "play-off" game, indoors, on an 80-yard field (including end zones); a game where field goals would be banned, and which the Bears won on an illegal forward pass. If not for the 1935 City of Champions team—the year the Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings all won championships, while Joe Louis, Gar Wood, and Eddie Tolan excelled at their own individual sports—the Spartans would be way higher up on the list. But Potsy and Dutch Clark did eventually get their share of glory, and so the pain of the early 1930s was diminished.

The 2008-2009 Arizona Cardinals is a very short and very modern run for the NFL's oldest franchise, but the Cardinals just do not have a long legacy of quality play to back them up—there's a reason they were all over the top of the Anti-Dynasty rankings. Their most painful individual season, the 1948 loss in the NFL Championship Game, is wiped out by their 1947 title. So instead we have the peak Kurt Warner years, including the loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, clocking in at 266.2 points. Going 9-7 with a negative DVOA limits your potential heartbreak points, even in a Super Bowl year. You can't quite hook the Warner years up with the Carson Palmer years, as 2010-to-2012 is too big of a gap to cross. If you could, however, the Cardinals would head over 500 points, with the 2015 13-3 year helping flesh out their total.

And then we arrive at the franchise with the least amount of heartbreak, tipping our hats at the 1979-1982 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nearly all of Tampa Bay's history has either had them be laughingstocks, or winning the Super Bowl. In a vacuum, their most painful seasons would have been 2021, just off the back of a Super Bowl win, and 1999, which gets severely tamped down by the 2002 Super Bowl win. Even if you put an artificial break between the Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden eras, those Buccaneers would have capped out at 324.5 points and not qualified for the main list anyway. Instead, we tip our caps to Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, and Lee Roy Selmon and their very brief period of contention. It was bolstered by the expanded 1982 playoffs and a weak NFC Central in 1981, but they did make the NFC Championship Game in 1979 after a few upsets, and that counts for something. Specifically, it counts for 182.7 points as Buccaneers' fans pain has more commonly been associated with being terrible rather than being close.


110 comments, Last at 14 Jun 2022, 4:46pm

1 It's kind of funny to…

It's kind of funny to realize, if Lance busts, shanahan and Lynch are going to get fired. It's as if all of those previous successes get rendered as irrelevant. 

This ties into the Tanier article contrasting the Browns and the Rams as it effectively applies to Snead vs Lynch. Win the sb and all sins are forgiven. Do everything but win the sb and seemingly none of it matters.

This is why I made the comment that if you plot fan and team utility by wins, it's effectively flat with one spike to infinity the moment the confetti drops

23 "It's kind of funny to…

"It's kind of funny to realize, if Lance busts, shanahan and Lynch are going to get fired."

This is exactly what I was thinking the day they made the trade. I knew they had pretty much tied their careers to whoever they were going to draft. 

24 Win the sb and all sins are…

Win the sb and all sins are forgiven. Do everything but win the sb and seemingly none of it matters.

I really don't agree - Andy Reid had 13 years in Philly and only ended up getting fired after a season when his son committed suicide in training camp. And 4 years later the team was like "oops, our bad, let's... just try to undo that whole mistake." Jason Garrett got 10 years in Dallas and it practically took a comedy of errors for him to get fired. Zimmer was in Minnesota for 8 years with 4 different QBs and he certainly had a better than 50/50 shot to keep his job that last year, too. And we'll see how happy the teams are about those decisions in a few years, too.

Really, to me that looks like "be a good coach and you'll have plenty of opportunities" (and Garrett and Zimmer aren't great coaches).

Shanahan and Lynch are in year 6 and their overall record is underwater. Where are all of those "previous successes" you're talking about? Why would it be surprising for a HC/GM pair with an overall losing record to get fired? How much credit do you really expect for 2 winning seasons?

28 Actually, I guess I should…

Actually, I guess I should come at it from the other angle: how much leeway would Shanahan have actually gotten if he had won the Super Bowl?

Thanks to Mr. Belichick, it's actually pretty hard to find coaches who've gotten fired who won the Super Bowl since, well... there aren't that many of them recently. But the last ones were McCarthy, Gruden, Kubiak, and Billick. Kubiak's a bit of a special case since there's the whole Manning collapse/retire thing.

The others all got around 7 years after a Super Bowl win. So OK, maybe Shanahan would get another 2-3 years (since he's got this year plus almost certainly next year)? But all of them were at least 0.500 coaches in non-Super Bowl years, and if Lance is terrible and they're worse than that, it's not super-surprising.

37 Oh, I completely screwed up…

Oh, I completely screwed up Kubiak, he shouldn't even be on there anyway. I completely forgot he retired because there was that whole kerfluffle when he wanted to return and Fangio didn't want him and then went to the Vikings. I was trying to list coaches who had been fired rather than retired (like Coughlin, Dungy, Cowher, and now Payton). Kubiak's the only one who's returned to coaching in any capacity so that's what messed me up.

Going back farther you also pick up Shanahan Sr., who won two Super Bowls and only got 10 years post, so clearly any "Super Bowl freedom" you gain isn't linear. :)

49 Thanks to Mr. Belichick, it…

Thanks to Mr. Belichick, it's actually pretty hard to find coaches who've gotten fired who won the Super Bowl since, well... there aren't that many of them recently. But the last ones were McCarthy, Gruden, Kubiak, and Billick. Kubiak's a bit of a special case since there's the whole Manning collapse/retire thing.

Doug Pederson was fired by the Eagles in 2020 and Tom Coughlin was given the chance to quit before he was canned by the NY Giants in 2016.

71 Yeah, I should've clarified …

Yeah, I should've clarified - I was trying to exclude "one-hit wonder" type coaches - so like, Dan Quinn had a pretty significantly losing record outside of his Super Bowl year (7 games underwater, I think) so him getting fired isn't surprising. Pederson's the only "one-hit wonder" Super Bowl winner who won a Super Bowl but outside of that had a losing record.

I forgot Coughlin got forced out, so yeah, he should be in there: in which case he got 4 years post Super Bowl. In fact looking at the full list I don't actually think there's even much of a difference at all between the Super Bowl winning coaches and the losing coaches with the exception of John Fox's Broncos stint.

35 My point is, SB wins buy you…

My point is, SB wins buy you some leeway, sb losses don't. It seems as soon as you have your first big down year, you are fired. Very rarely are coaches afforded a chance to live out a terrible cycle to rebuild. Sean Payton serving as a good example of this.

Ron Rivera, Jon Fox, Ken Wisenhunt, Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, Mike Smith, and Jim Harbaugh come to mind. 



39 Wrong Falcons coach, that…

Wrong Falcons coach, that was Dan Quinn.

And first big down year? The only 2 of those coaches (*) who weren't underwater outside of the Super Bowl year were Lovie Smith and Jim Harbaugh. And Lovie Smith got 6 more years, and Harbaugh was definitely not fired because of a down year.

I don't see how Lovie Smith post Super Bowl loss is that much different than Jon Gruden post Super Bowl win. They both got 6 more years, during which Gruden won 45 games and Smith won 52. So the Super Bowl win bought Gruden like what, 1 season?

(*: OK, Fox was above water for the stint with the Broncos, but the Broncos were really impatient due to Manning. And those Broncos were weird because the head coach was only partly a head coach.)

40 So you are basically saying…

So you are basically saying whatever leeway a SB win as opposed to a SB loss grants you is completely marginal?

Poor Jim Caldwell would love a word with you. And John Fox is in line afterwards. 

Besides, none of this negates my basic point. If Trey Lance ends up a bust; Kyle Shannahan is going to get the blame and get fired. I think if he had won the sb and the same moves were repeated, he probably survives that outcome. 

47 Neither the Colts nor the…

Neither the Colts nor the Broncos gave their head coach any credit for *getting* to the Super Bowl. They had Manning: that was the expectation. That's the point.

It's not a coincidence the two coaches fired the fastest after a Super Bowl loss both got there with Manning.

72 Kyle Shannahan is going to…

Kyle Shannahan is going to get the blame and get fired. I think if he had won the sb and the same moves were repeated, he probably survives that outcome. 

As has been noted above, Doug Pederson would like a word with you. That's a very good comparison to "Super Bowl winning coach gets fired after his QB flames out."

78 But this was inside…

But this was inside reporting. Not just window dressing. On the FO's own thread, it reads this, "Per Ian Rapoport, the decision came around in part because Pederson was sick of people telling him what to do."

But honestly, we can probably save each other's time and stop this endless back and forth we could state our disagreements plainly. I tried earlier but will endeavor once more. 

Do you believe that there is no material difference for a coach's job security whether he wins or loses the SB? 

79 Yeah, and the other part was…

Yeah, and the other part was "First, ownership was reportedly dissatisfied with the team's 4-11-1 performance this year." As in, "Doug, the team sucked this year, what's your plan for getting better." "You stop telling me what to do." "Well, your decisions sucked, so bye."


Do you believe that there is no material difference for a coach's job security whether he wins or loses the SB? 

I do not see any evidence for a significant difference between the two. Maybe it buys you a season.. I can hem and haw about why Fox was fired from the Broncos, you can hem and haw about why Pederson was fired. On average, winning coaches have been fired around 6-7 years after both Super Bowl wins and Super Bowl losses once their winning percentages dipped close to 0.500.

I think the primary driver is just winning percentage. If the 49ers go 6-11 next year, Shanahan's at a 0.460 career win percentage and that includes a year where he made the Super Bowl.  I have no idea how you wouldn't look at that and be like "yeah, that was a fluke." I don't think Trey Lance matters one whit - if Lance is promising I think they'd consider firing Shanahan faster.

81 Honestly, I think it's a…

Honestly, I think it's a combo of how quickly ownership gets fed up and how much it looks like there is a "plan" and how good the coach is at dealing with ownership. Basically, I don't think there is any pattern as it just varies according to the owners whims. And often, how much they want to fire coaches vs GMs. 

83 Yeah, that's basically what…

Yeah, that's basically what I meant. There are plenty of coaches who were given plenty of leeway to completely rebuild after a Super Bowl loss (Reid, Lovie Smith) and plenty that were fired shortly after a Super Bowl win (Pederson, Coughlin). Pretty much the only common factor is that coaches tend to get fired when they stop winning a ton or if they piss off ownership.

Which is why John Fox in Denver sticks out: I think pretty clearly he's the one guy you can point to and say that he got fired for losing the Super Bowl. But that's really a special case because Fox wasn't entirely the head coach anyway.

2 I wonder if some concession…

I wonder if some concession needs to be given to preseason expectations? Or maybe that's a future article: The Most Disappointing Teams of All-Time. But there's a lot of heartbreak for fans expecting the team to contend for a Super Bowl only to see them drop three of their first four on their way to a 7-10 season.

69 I think that's a separate…

I think that's a separate list. From personal experience, watching Dak on the sideline in street clothes in 2020 while the Cowboys played out the string was sad, but it was a totally different kind of sadness than the picture of Romo sitting on the field pulling down on his facemask in Seattle.

4 Goering, too

And right-footers don't hook kicks to the right. They push them. And to think I haven't even gotten to the teams yet.

6 Even in addition to ...

In reply to by BigRichie

... Enabling the combining of grammar policing with Nazis (as Analyst Tarzan analyzed, "Nazis BAD!"), this series is one great idea. (and useful for June) Kudos!

5 Vikings fans have the most…

Vikings fans have the most refined palates for bitterness. They have tasted it at every point of elimination,  and it has never been balanced by the sweetness of a championship. True, their Super Bowl losses have all been one sided, but having one of them happen with the Vikings as 13 point favorites counts for a lot. Beyond the Super Bowl, however, Vikings fans have seen last second heartbreakers in 3 conference championships, a divisional round game lost lost when the term "Hail Mary pass" was first coined, and a wild card game lost in the closing seconds due to a shanked 20 yard field goal. Even missed a playoff spot on the last play of the regular season, on an ref's call that is no longer allowed. I don't even count a 41-0 NFCCG loss, because that was probably the Vikings team I hated most in the 50+ years (sigh) I've been watching them.

20 As stated above, I've seen…

As stated above, I've seen it all in this category. Of all the nightmare games I've experienced, however, Vikings at Saints, January 2010 NFCCG, was the worst. To lose a that game in ot, after dominating both lines of scrimmage and Favre outplaying Brees, was just hideous, and made worse when the Saints won the Super Bowl.

32 80s Broncos have a…

80s Broncos have a reasonable shot at a high finish too. Like a lot of folks my age in the UK that was when I picked a team, and I had friends just moved to Colorado and always liked orange... 

To be honest the mid-80s to late-90s AFC in general are going to do pretty well here, the Browns of that era never even got to a Superbowl but were a decent team for long enough to deserve more than they got.

104 I would guess...

...the 1968 to 1982/1983 Vikings will rank first.  In those 15/16 seasons, they had:

*12 winning seasons (in 1983 they were .500)

*12 playoff seasons

*7 seasons with winning percentages of .700 or better (all in an 8 season stretch from 1969 to 1976)

*4 Super Bowl losses (1969, 1973, 1974, 1976)

*1 NFCCG loss (1977)

*7 divisional round or divisional round equivalent losses (1968, 1970, 1971, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1982)

The length of the Vikings' run of falling short and the high quality of many of their regular seasons likely puts them ahead of the 1988 to 1999 (or 2000) Bills, who had a somewhat shorter run of success, somewhat less successful regular seasons in general, and fewer playoff appearances in total (they made the playoffs 10 times in those seasons, missing in 1994 and 1997, but also did not advance past the wild-card round after 1995 or past the divisional round after 1993).

Ironically, the team that beat the Vikings in their last Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders, likely ALSO rank on the list (even with winning a Super Bowl and getting points penalties for 1972-1975) because they frequently had good teams from 1963 to 1975 and often lost in the AFC (or AFL) championship game, plus one Super Bowl.  The Raiders had winning records in 1963 and 1965-1975, made the playoffs every year except one from 1967 to 1975, and lost one Super Bowl (1967) and an amazing SIX AFL or AFC championship games in 8 years (1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975).  (For good measure, the one Raiders playoff loss not in a Super Bowl or AFL/AFC championship game was the "Immaculate Reception" game in 1972.)

Super Bowl 11 (Raiders/Vikings after the 1976 season) really was about finding out which team would finally achieve ultimate glory after years of heartbreak.

109 The potential funky twist…

The potential funky twist for the Vikings is that SB 4 was the last played before the merger took effect. So the Vikings did win the NFL championship.   It's probably going to be counted the same as a not yet existent conference title, but we will see.

25 The worst part for Minnesota…

The worst part for Minnesota fans is that the one year when it seemed like they had just, I dunno, paid off the devil or something and everything seemed to be going their way (Case Keenum, top 5 QB! Totally gifted conference championship!)... the year ends in an absolute curb stomping by a team most people had written off.

I felt so bad about the Eagles demolishing the Vikings that year.

Well... okay, just for a minute.

26 If Minnesota paid the Devil,…

If Minnesota paid the Devil, then Philadelphia sold everything including their socks and underware to the Devil to secure that SB win. Seriously, I never imagined it was possible for the Eagles to win; unless NE's offense had a meltdown for the ages. 

41 Absolutely, Philly splatting…

Absolutely, Philly splatting Minnesota that year was absolutely a "franchise misery? are you kidding me? hold my beer" moment.

unless NE's offense had a meltdown for the ages. 

I have no idea why you'd think that? The knock on New England was their god-awful defense in 2017, with my favorite FO comment in the preview being "New England's secondary did not have the best coverage metrics according to SIS charting" - yeah, um, that's understating things just a bit.

The other thing working in Philly's favor is that Belichick had very little film to work with: the Eagles practically swapped out an offense in the postseason. And that's a terrible thing for New England's defense. New England's defense in '17 started out awful, so there was a lot to be concerned about.

8 "First, losing deeper into a…

"First, losing deeper into a playoff run should hurt more. All things being equal, it hurts to lose a Super Bowl more than it hurts to lose a wild-card game. Secondly, it hurts more to lose a close game than a blowout."

Not entirely sure about that. Ideally, you'd do something like compare records or DVOA to get a favorite and go from there. (maybe add seeding in there)

Losing earlier in the postseason as a favorite hurts more.

Being blown out as a favorite hurts more. 

Maybe to much work, but it's tough to factor in expectations. I would actually go like this.

Losing early postseason as favorite hurts alot, Less pain in conference champion ship, more pain in SB. 

45 Forty-Niners season review

An interesting comparison point will be the 2019-2021 Niners vs the 2019-2021 Packers. I think it's clear that the Packers suffered significantly more heartbreak over that period (and it's possible that the numbers will agree), specifically because the Niners lasted longer in the playoffs.

70 I actually disagree with…

I actually disagree with those (yay subjectivity). On occasions where my team has been blown out, I feel less heartbreak because the outcome is clear long before the end of the game. It's also harder for me to play the "what if" game. Conversely, if it's a last-second loss, the pain is more immediate and the what-ifs are so much more prominent. If only Purdue hadn't allowed Virginia to complete that long inbounds pass, or made another free throw. If only Patrick Crayton had held onto that first down pass deep in our own territory. If only...

84 "Losing earlier in the…

"Losing earlier in the postseason as a favorite hurts more."

Agreed.  I suspect the Colts will be very low on this if at all since their title came in the middle of their competitive run, but if I had to rank losses I would say

1. '06 PIT (clear favorites not just in game, but overall.  Heartbreaking ending after coming back)

*huge gap*

2. '08 SD (wanted another shot at NE and Rivers was hurt)

3.  NE losses (simply because of opponent)

4.  NO SB loss. (lost to a equal team)

Luck and Rivers era losses never really hurt because they were never the better team.  Even the NE losses early wouldn't have stung as much if it had been a different opponent who was clearly better.

"Being blown out as a favorite hurts more. "

Disagree on this one.  Wondering "If he only caught that pass/didn't drop INT/made kick" is much more frustrating than getting absolutely curb stomped.

85 You've nailed the problem…

You've nailed the problem with the Manning Colts -- since the title comes right smack dab in the middle of the run, it ends up breaking his era in two, so they don't generate enough points on either side to qualify.  As opposed to, say, the Unitas Colts who had a decade+ between their 1959 title and their Super Bowl V win; they generate a bunch of points, even though you could (at a stretch) also describe them as a great Colts team led by the best QB in league history who won one title in the span of a decade.


The Manning Colts were an issue in the early planning stages, as I was trying to figure out endpoints and how to treat teams with any title at all.  Briefly, I considered just removing ANY team with a title, but that ran into a whole different kettle of fish.  When you try to measure a century of history history with one system, sometimes things fall through the cracks.  

101 a great Colts team led by…

a great Colts team led by the best QB in league history who won one title in the span of a decade


What's funny is that you could argue this describes either the Manning Colts or the Unitas Colts.

87 The NO SB loss was the worst…

The NO SB loss was the worst loss I've ever experienced as a fan and a sign that I had fallen into an unhealthy balance as a fan.

The Pitt loss almost brought me to that conclusion many years earlier but not quite. I spent almost a month in a state of mourning.

103 I just can't be that upset…

I just can't be that upset about it.  PIT loss was way more devastating especially in the moment.  Plus it led to insufferable SB coverage.  Did anyone out here know that Jerome Bettis is from Detroit?  

The onside kick in the SB was infuriating, but going in, I wasn't confident in a victory and the Saints and Brees were likable enough that losing to them didn't bother me.

9 Great article

Interesting, informative, and amusing.  Great job.

10 And arguments are half the…

And arguments are half the fun during the June doldrums anyway.

This is a case of hitting the nail on the head.

Tim Krumrie shattered his ankle in the first quarter, costing the Bengals a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. 

This, plus the Niners' OT Wallace getting a compound fracture of his fibula (I clearly remember his leg magically developing a new joint between knee and ankle) IMO makes SB 23 the most gruesome Super Bowl ever.  I was fortunate enough to not be paying close attention when Krumrie's ankle disintegrated and assiduously avoided looking at the replays.

       And call me a curmudgeon if you will, but as far as I'm concerned SB 23 is still top 5 because I don't consider pinball scores an indication of a great game - points should be at a premium.

12 Ravens

their run begins in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVII and Joe Flacco's evolution to elite status

What you did there. I see it.


13 Penalize

"The NFL, again, wasn't pleased, threatening to penalize the Bengals every time they went no-huddle in the AFC Championship Game......"

Has the NFL made this threat, or similar ones, often?  

15 It's rare to see that happen…

In reply to by Flashheart

It's rare to see that happen during a season.  You certainly have seen a lot of "we're going to change this rule immediately" after the year, but changing how penalties are ruled during a season? That usually is a "the integrity of the game is threatened" situation, or a "it's the 1920s and we do not know what we are doing" situation.  The main issue against the Bengals is that the rules for substitution and what not weren't really as codified in the 1980s as they are today; there was no need to be super specific on how players could swap on and off the field as long as everyone was doing it in an orderly fashion.  Once the no-huddle became A Thing, first with the Bengals and then spreading out throughout the '90s, the NFL suddenly had to make a bunch of nitty-gritty specifics on just how everything should work.  I think the call to the Bengals that year was kind of a panic move, and Wyche rightly called them out on it.

People were really upset with the Bengals messing around with how plays happened!  You can kind of compare it to Jeopardy! players bouncing around the board looking for Daily Doubles, and not doing the categories in order; they're playing the game more efficiently at the expensive of what people had been trained to expect.  That annoys a lot of people!

67 Possession and a football move

I believe you're referring to the Jesse James catch that happened after the Juju Smith Schuster long catch and run in Pittsburgh in the regular season, which immediately preceded the Duron Harmon endzone pick on the Roethlisberger fake spike.

It didn't really hurt the Steelers in the AFCCG in '16, other than a good tackle from I believe Patrick Chung which held the Steelers just short of the EZ at the end of the 1st half, which then lead to a goal line stand where Tomlin settled for a 4th down Field Goal.

I do think you're correct though in that the catch rule was officiated differently in the '17 SB, I believe it was the Ertz catch which directly paralleled that Jesse James catch yet swung the opposite way.

14 So, this should be fun,…

So, this should be fun, right?

Heartbreak and pain is far more subjective than just success and failure, and these lists of tinkering to get to a spot where I was happy with the final results.  I was surprised, initially, at the makeup of the top five, but the more tinkered and the deeper I delved, the more I was happy with the results. 

There are a lot of potential ways to measure this stuff, and some people in the comments have already come up with some solid ideas for tweaks and changes, which is good -- that's, again, part of the point of lists like this; to get people thinking about the idea and trying to weight preseason expectations versus painful postseason moments versus regular season success and so on and so forth.


A couple responses to things so far:

 Adding some kind of modifier for winning or losing a playoff game as a favorite versus as an underdog was something that was really considered. The two major problems with it were a lack of data on betting odds and expectation from the very early teams, the '20s through really the '60s, as well as all the extra time it would add for comparatively little change in the rankings as a whole.  

In addition, we do get a bit of favorite status by including DVOA and win-loss record as part of the system.  I never included "DVOA of your opponent" as a factor, but I did mess around with including DVOA of the best team in the league/conference/division, just to add another expectation factor; it's more understandable that a team wouldn't win a Super Bowl if they're in the same year as an all-time juggernaught.  Not including that might make the '70s teams a little overrated, because the 1970s were the era giants walked the earth in the NFL, but mostly it doesn't end up making a big enough difference to justify the added complication.

Also, about preseason rankings: most of these teams had high expectations, because we're mostly talking about runs of at least five years, and if you've been near the top of the playoffs for half a decade, people expect you to win.  Down here at the bottom of the list, there are a few more very brief runs where preseason expectations wouldn't be as universally high, but in the terms of the list as a whole, it doesn't make that much of a difference.  It does if you're talking about individual seasons, but that's a story for another time.

30 I think the preseason…

I think the preseason expectation part has more effect on the long vs short stretches. Like, if you get a very surprising Super Bowl, it really sucks when you fall apart again after, because, well... the team got your hopes up. The Bengals are pretty much the most surprising Super Bowl loser... ever...? I mean, they basically had a 6-game over/under. I don't think any Super Bowl loser's ever had that. If they win 5 games next year Bengals fans are gonna go nuts.

Kinda similar for the 49ers, too - they were a decently unexpected Super Bowl team in '19, as well as the Falcons in '16, the Cardinals in '08, and of course none of them got back there (at least, not without massive regime change for the 49ers). For some reason those teams losing like that just seems worse.

34 Yeah, the idea of a …

Yeah, the idea of a "greatest one-hit wonders" list has been bandied about a bit in the past, and might be something to tackle in the future.  The 2021 Bengals would certainly qualify for that list if they crumble in 2022!

They wouldn't be the only Cincinnati team high on that list either; the 1981 Bengals were +6000 to win the Super Bowl before the season started, 22nd out of 28!  That's better than the +15000 odds the 2021 Bengals had, but not by a heck of a lot.  1998 Falcons were at +6000 too; the 1994 Chargers were at +7500...lots of potential stuff there.

For the record, the Bengals earned 207.6 heartbreak points for 2021, leaving them at an active total of, uh, 207.6.  That's the 10th-highest active score.  Five active teams are on the list (including the above 49ers).  The 2014-21 Bills just miss out at 399.1; they'll join next year if they don't win a Super Bowl or utterly collapse.  The 2014-20 Seahawks also just miss at 390.1, but it feels like their run is basically over by now.  And then you have the 2013-20 Ravens we talked about in the "others receiving votes" section.

The other active teams:

  • 2016-21 Titans (285.6)
  • 2021-21 Bengals (207.6)
  • 2018-21 Colts (176.9)
  • 2018-20 Bears (115.8)
  • 2020-20 Browns (77.5)
  • 2020-21 Cardinals (58.2)
  • 2020-21 Dolphins (39.8)
  • 2021-21 Raiders (31.6)
  • 2021-21 Chargers (23.3)
  • 2020-20 Football Team (6.0)

53 You can look forward to a…

You can look forward to a discussion of THAT two weeks after the Heartbreak Dynasty finishes, because we'll have 1981 and 1982 DVOA to reveal!


That's right, this is all a very complicated advertisement for the reveal of two more years of DVOA.

105 Good to hear!

That answers one of my questions from the article.  (I saw the "1950 to 1980 estimates" comment in the article and was going to ask whether the 1981 and 1982 data was becoming available.)

I'm already looking forward to seeing how highly the Air Coryell Chargers (and individual players on that offense, like Dan Fouts and in 1982, Wes Chandler) rank on offense and how badly the 1981 Colts rank on defense and overall.  (The 1981 Colts did play a very tough schedule but were so badly beaten in most games that I'd guess they have to rank very highly on the list of worst defensive and overall teams in the DVOA era.)

Incidentally, my other comment is a note about the 1972 49ers' loss to the Cowboys.  THAT game happened the same day as the Immaculate Reception in Pittsburgh when the Raiders lost to the Steelers.  It is likely that day - December 23, 1972 - is the worst day in San Francisco Bay Area sports history.

36 It's hard to capture…

It's hard to capture expectations. There is a complete difference to the NE losing in 1986 vs, say 2007. It hurt for the fans, but pretty much everyone knew they wern't winning that first one, while everyone thought they would win the second.  Them beating the Greatest Show on Turf in 2001 would be the reverse, although that one ironicly looks a bit better in hindsight. (There were 1986 comparisons at the time IIRC). 

A simple way to add it might be seeding. I.e. #1 seed losing to a 4th seed type stuff. (+x per difference for a loss as higher seed, -x per difference for loss as a lower seed). You could even modify the x based where in the postseason it happened. (x=3 for first round and SB, 2 for divisional round, 1 for conference championship). Losing the conference actually feels the least painful to me. 

Probably not worth the effort but these things are all about fun anyway. 

Individual seasons would be interesting, but you spoiled it already and it's pretty easy to guess

106 Not sure I totally agree...

...with the 1985 to 2007 comparison.  I mean, yes on one level you absolutely correct.  But on the other hand, the 2007 Patriots won the Super Bowl only three years earlier (as well as 5 and 6 years earlier).  That mitigates things.  By contrast, the 1985 Patriots were part of a string of better than average Patriots teams (from 1976 to 1988 the Patriots only finished below .500 once) that sometimes had very painful playoff losses (1976 AFC divisional - look up the name "Sugar Bear Hamilton", 1978 AFC divisional, to a lesser degree 1986 AFC divisional) and never could fully put things together, with the aforementioned 1976 and 1978 seasons being their best opportunities.

16 Great idea for an article!…

Great idea for an article!

There's no way we can talk about the Bengals heartbreaking loss against the Niners in the Super Bowl, however, without mentioning the dropped interception in the game-winning drive. That Bengals defender had the title right there between both his hands and he let it go.

The omission is particularly... heartbreaking... because I thought we were going to talk about those what-if moments.


19 Lewis Billups' dropped…

Lewis Billups' dropped interception was not on the game-winning drive!  That was at beginning of the fourth-quarter, on the drive where the 49ers tied the game at 13.  It kept San Francisco out of the end zone and forced them to settle for a field goal, but there was still full quarter left to play.  On the final drive itself, Montana only threw one incomplete pass; an out-of-bounds shot to Rice that was kind of a throw away.

It's interesting how our memory twists these things!

17 Increasing heartbreak points…

Increasing heartbreak points due to losses to hated rivals would have been an interesting factor to include. Those Jaguars losses to the Titans and 49er losses to the Cowboys must have been extra painful due to who they were facing.

As a Cowboys fan I think I'd gladly take a NFC championship game loss rather than watch one more early playoff exit -- but as my point about rivals goes, I rather the Cowboys not make the playoffs at all if it means a loss to the Packers or Eagles.

21 Under the theory that the…

Under the theory that the worst losses for your team is the one that happens when you are 10 years old, I can confirm that, yes, the 49ers losing to the Cowboys carries with it a little extra sting.

29 Heartbreak isn't the right…

Heartbreak isn't the right way to describe it (maybe frustration?) so it wouldn't be tracked in this series, but I'd be interested in seeing who the most wasted units were. For example, from 2004-12 under Lovie Smith the Bears average Offensive DVOA was -15% and their average Defensive DVOA was -11.1% meaning they spent nearly a decade trotting out a top 5 defense and bottom 5 offense

33 I do think there is…

I do think there is something to losing early in the playoffs when you're heavily favored that is more crushing to a fan than losing in a conference championship game or a super bowl. As examples, the historically good (by DVOA) 2010 Patriots losing to a good but not great Jets team at home in the divisional round, a few weeks after beating them 45-3. Or the 2011, 15-1 Packers losing to a mediocre Giants team at home in the divisional round. As a Patriots fan, that loss to the Jets was more crushing than the losses to the Ravens and Broncos in the AFCG in later years, or to the Giants in 2013. Of course, nothing will top the loss to the Giants in 2007 (and yes, I am fully aware that I have nothing to be crushed about as a Patriots fan, but the loss to the Jets was crushing at the time, much moreso than the other AFCG and SB losses). As stated above, probably doesn't change the rankings all that much, so not worth the effort to quantify it most likely, but I think it's true.

To use another sport as an example, when the Tampa Bay Lightning set the record for most points in a season (in the 2018-2019 season I think it was), and then they got swept in the first round by Columbus - that had to be just excruciating for a Lightning fan, more than a loss to worthy team in a conference final or stanley cup final would have been.

38 You're right, and the…

You're right, and the rankings do reflect that a little bit.  Lets take the Patriots for a moment -- and ignore the championship penalties which reduce some of these scores.

The ten most heartbreaking seasons in Patriots history, by this methodology, go:

  1. 2007, the undefeated season where they lost to the Giants
  2. 2011, the OTHER season where they lost to the Giants
  3. 2017, when they lost to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl
  4. 2010, with the divisional loss to the Jets
  5. 2006, with the AFCCG loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts
  6. 2015, with the AFCCG loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos
  7. 1996, the Super Bowl loss to the Packers
  8. 2012, the AFCCG loss to the Ravens
  9. 1985, the Super Bowl loss to the Bears
  10. 2013, the OTHER AFCCG loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

So yeah, because the 2010 Patriots were significantly better than the the 1985 or 1996 Super Bowl teams, their loss ends up earning more heartbreak points (before correcting for championships) -- everyone "knew" New England was going to get crushed by the Shufflin Crew, but any Brady-led team post 2003 or so was an automatic Super Bowl favorite.

43 Thanks for the response…

Thanks for the response Bryan! So, essentially the rankings do somewhat reflect this because the Pats were so good in 2010. This is a very interesting project, looking forward to the rest.

52 This was viscerally painful…

This was viscerally painful to read...ridiculous right, how dare any Pats have any heartbreak???  And yet, hearts hurt, even when logic says they shouldn't.  

This ranking is fantastic / horrifying.   Curious how 2005 to the Broncos rates?  Losing early to Jake the Snake when there was a chance at the league's first Superbowl 3-peat was not fun.  Falling just short on a comeback is tough too, I'd forgotten they almost did 28-3 back then.

62 Remind me on the last…

In reply to by HitchikersPie

Remind me on the last article, and I'll at least toss up the biggest scores for each franchise.  I considered posting a top 10 for everybody, but the articles are already a zillion words long!

If there's any team in specific you'd like to hear about, though, I'll be more than happy to post them...or, at least, I will once their last entry debuts on the list!

107 I'm not a Patriots fan...

...but I suspect many long-time Patriots fans would say subjectively say the following games were more painful losses than at least some of the games shown above, especially the losses in 2006, 2015, and 2017 (and possibly even 1985 and 1996):

*1976 AFC divisional round loss to the Raiders (most notable for the questionable roughing the passer call on Sugar Bear Hamilton when the Raiders had an incomplete pass on 3rd and 18 late in the 4th quarter trailing by 4 points; additionally though the Patriots were 11-3 and the Raiders were 13-1, the Patriots manhandled the Raiders 48-17 in the regular season to hand them their only loss)

*1978 AFC divisional round loss to the Oilers (Patriots were favored at home against the wild-card Oilers but totally distracted by the firing and reinstatement of head coach Chuck Fairbanks)

56 But there's really no other…

But there's really no other example of a team being stopped by just one opponent. The 49ers made the playoffs three times in a row in the 1970s, and every time, Landry and the Cowboys were there to stop them. For while the 49ers ran the flex, the Cowboys owned it.

I agree that the Cowboys-9ers rivalry is better. There is another example of one team stopping another team 3 times in a row in the playoffs that I will get into. Actually I know there are other examples (outside the Patriots) too I mean 95-97 GB beat SF 3 straight years in the playoffs too but as I'll illustrate that doesn't reach the level of DAL-SF or DAL-GB. The key to the Cowboys-49ers is that they were both division winners in 70 and 71. In 72 while the Cowboys lost the division to Washington their 10-4 record was still tied for 2nd best in the NFC. So it was powerhouse being stopped by powerhouse.

What the Cowboys did to the Packers from 93 - 95 was notable for a different reason. There is more to it than just the playoffs. The Packers also had to keep playing at Dallas in regular season! The Packers had 7 games at Dallas in 4 seasons without a single home game. So Cowboys fans being all emo about recent losses to GB or at GB can just go cry in a corner. You didn't have to deal with 7 road games in a row!

  • 93: Lose 14 - 36 @ Dallas in week 5. Lose 17 - 27 @ Dallas in the Divisional round. Packers were 9-7, Cowboys 12-4 so the regular season loss doesn't have a huge impact on the postseason. The loss hurt, but it was also the Packers first time in the playoffs since 82 and with 82 being a weird year anyway you could say it was the first time in the playoffs under a normal season since 1972. So that mitigated it a lot. This was the ascension of Favre era afterall
  • 94: Lose 31 - 42 @ Dallas in week 13. Lose 9 - 35 @ Dallas in the Divisional round. Packers again were 9-7, Cowboys 12-4 again so once again regular season loss to non divisional opponent didn't impact location of of the game. But it was getting very frustrating to have to keep playing IN Dallas. That was 4 games in a row there.
  • 95: Lose 24 - 34 @ Dallas in week 6. Lose 27 - 38 @ Dallas in the Conference Championship game. Packers were 11-5, Cowboys 12-4. That regular season loss did affect playoff seedings. Also come on SIX road games without a home game against the *!%*$# Cowboys! Are you kidding me!
  • 96: Lose 6 - 21 @ Dallas in week 12. But the Packers finished 13-3 and the Cowboys 10-6. Carolina took care of the Cowboys in the playoffs. Packers go on to win Super Bowl. But even that was still tainted a bit by not having beaten the damn Cowboys yet.
  • 97: WIN 45 -17 @ Green Bay! Now we can actually celebrate that Super Bowl win fully because once we finally got to play the bastards at home we crushed them!

So yeah while the stakes were often higher for the Cowboys and 49ers and I do think it was a better rivalry than GB - DAL for out of division opponents. There is a reason that I can't get as worked up about GB - SF rivalry that also exists in the playoffs and regular season. GB had tasted success and they didn't always have to play in SF with that one. It was much more back and forth. It was not some damn brick wall that kept you from the ultimate success when it had been decades since the team had tasted any real success ( just scroll that down and look at records and playoff results after that 67 Super Bowl. A couple of blips in 72, 82, and 89 but a whole lot of losing and mediocrity.

To start tasting success only to have to go to Dallas again and again and again and again and again and again and again only to lose. I mean over those 8 games from 93-97 the home team was 8-0 the "Americas scheduling cheating bastards" just happened to have 7 of those 8 games!

So yeah I will never hate a team quite as much as I hate the Cowboys and that run is why. Also yes I'm aware that if some of those games were in Green Bay the result likely doesn't change. Home field mattered way more in the 90's than it does today but they were never really close games. But to the bitter fan? Oh that sucked so much.

I realize the 96 Super Bowl win will likely keep that run out of the list, but I'm serious I didn't fully celebrate that Super Bowl win until we finally beat the Cowboys in 97, I don't care that they were a shell of what they had been by then, they had be vanquished. Also the NFL schedule makers were in real danger of all being lynched. I actually don't think the current scheduling could allow a team to have 3 straight road games in the regular season against an opponent at least not in 3 consecutive years.

I think that 93-97 run for GB and DAL is fairly unique. There are other similar situations I'm sure, but the bitterness that created.

63 Post Season Rivals

That all got me thinking bout NFL post season rivals. I of course revile the Cowboys the most, because of what I outlined (they also beat GB in 82 which is the first playoff loss I remember for the Packers), but of course Cowboys may hate GB because of the Lombardi era Packers or even the 2 exits at the hands of the McCarthy-Rodgers Packers. Overall they are 4-4 against each other in the post season. Post seasons tend to define non division rivals, so what does the data say? Is my Cowboys grudge from the 90's where my anger should really be aimed?

The only modern NFC team they have never faced in the post season in New Orleans so I guess all the other teams are potential rivals. Of course there are a couple ways to look at the NFL post season and it's not as simple as pre and post super bowl either. 1970 - today are basically the same deal with the 2 conferences even if there have been several changes in seedings and number of teams to make the post season. 66-69 it was AFL vs NFL and pre 66 you've got several different deals. Or since it's rivals I'm more worried about you could be a little more simple and have pre and post modern free agency as free agency was a huge change to team building and could have a big impact on how a rivalry is viewed. That started in 1993 (which for my case lines up nicely for the splits too since Favre was traded for in 92).

The Packers in the Free Agency (or Favre-Rodgers) era are 23 - 20 in the post season. They are 17 - 5 as DVOA favorites and 6 - 15 as DVOA underdogs. They were 13 - 5 before free agency, 10 - 3 as PFR's SRS favorites and 3 - 2 as SRS underdogs since I don't have access to DVOA for those teams (well I guess I'll have access to 82 soon enough and I could have used estimated DVOA for some but it was just easier to use SRS when I didn't have DVOA).

So since I started out with just the Favre-Rodgers stuff the order on this is a bit weird. The first set is "free agency" playoff records. The 2nd set in the () is the pre-free agency, and the 3rd set in the [] is the overall.

  • ARI: 0 - 2 (1 - 0) [1 - 2] *0-2 vs ARI Cards, 1 - 0 vs STL Cards
  • ATL: 2 - 2 (0 - 0) [2 - 2]
  • BAL: 0 - 0 (1 - 0) [1 - 0]
  • CAR: 1 - 0 (0 - 0) [1 - 0]
  • CHI: 1 - 0 (0 - 1) [1 - 1]
  • CLE: 0 - 0 (1 - 0) [1 - 0]
  • DAL: 2 - 3 (2 - 1) [4 - 4]
  • DEN: 0 - 1 (0 - 0) [0 - 1]
  • DET: 2 - 0 (0 - 0) [2 - 0]
  • LAR: 1 - 0 (1 - 1) [2 - 1] *2-0 vs LA Rams 0-1 vs STL Rams
  • MIN: 1 - 1 (0 - 0) [1 - 1]
  • NWE: 1 - 0 (0 - 0) [1 - 0]
  • NYG: 1 - 2 (4 - 1) [5 - 3]
  • PHI: 1 - 1 (0 - 1) [1 - 2]
  • PIT: 1 - 0 (0 - 0) [1 - 0]
  • SEA: 3 - 1 (0 - 0) [3 - 1]
  • SFO: 4 - 5 (0 - 0) [4 - 5]
  • TAM: 1 - 1 (0 - 0) [1 - 1]
  • WAS: 1 - 0 (1 - 1) [2 - 1] *1-1 vs WAS Redskins, 1-0 vs BOS Redskins

So really I suppose it should the 9 post season games (in 29 seasons) against San Fran and one of the few losing records in the post season at 4 - 5. If my fandom were purely the Rodgers Packers where he is 0-4 vs SF in the post season that would likely be the case, but since I stretch back to the 80's and have those 0-4 against DAL (plus the regular season crap) before Rodgers went 2-0 it's still DAL. 0-2 vs ARI under Rodgers should sting too, but I still can't take ARI seriously until they get more consistent.

I guess that also lines up with "what hurts a 10 year old the most) though I was post high school for all but the 82 Dallas stuff and it still scarred me.

This also just highlights again how damn lucky Packers fans have been with QBs. That 29 year rivalry with SF has seen 2 Packers QBs for those 9 post season games. SF started 4 different QBs and had a 5th play the majority of one of the games because of an injury. Young (4) with Grbac playing most of one of those starts, Garcia (1), Kaepernick (2), Garoppolo (2). 

I mean don't get me wrong, if we lose to SF in the post season with Rodgers at QB again my frustration with that team will get close to what I have for DAL. I also have a tiny taste of that New England dislike for the Eli Manning giants who also ruined a couple of Packers seasons. Those losses are 2 of the 5 DVOA playoff favorite losses for Favre and Rodgers. They are also the 2 biggest post season upsets against the Packers by DVOA difference; 19.1 in 07, and 18.9 in 2011. The other 3 DVOA favorite losses were 0.9 over PHI in 03, 6.2 over MIN in 04, and 14.6 over ARI in 09 (call it 14.1 if you want to use the week 16 ratings and ignore the week 17 game the two teams played where ARI didn't care because it didn't matter if they won or lost).

So yeah there is certainly so of that sting of losing when favored.  I know by traditional odds, seedings, and records that several of the losses to SF have been upsets, but by DVOA all 4 of Rodgers losses to them have been with the Packers as DVOA underdogs. That's another reason they don't sting me quite as much while they might sting other fans harder. A couple of those SF losses have been huge DVOA differences 4.3 in 2012, 24.5 in 2013 but GB's DVOA was dragged way down by Rodgers missed games in the regular season, 21.3 in 2019, and 8.0 in 2021.

Now that being said the fact that DAL always had the better DVOA in the 90s didn't really help, but of course I didn't know about DVOA back then. But it does actually lessen the sting a bit when you lose to a team that is better than you by a metric you trust. Even without DVOA everything else pointed to DAL being the favorites in all those games too, the repeated failures though really add up.


So take aways for the project
Some factor for losing to the same team multiple times in a row or with only a 1 year gap probably should be added. It may not add heartache but it definitely adds bitterness. Gaps matter. While 07 and 11 suck, the gap was long enough that I don't think 07 made 11 suck any more. But 2019 did make 2021 suck more. Did 2013 make 2019 suck more? Not really but when you take 2012, 2013, and 2019 together that does also make 2021 suck more. So 4 times in 10 seasons, so if the average gap of a span is less than 3 years it could add to it. That gets annoying to track.  Does any win break that up too? Does the SF win in 98 stop the accumulated pain of losing to GB in 95, 96, and 97? Or is that all still there when they lost in again in 01? (4 losses over 7 years certainly seems like it should qualify).

Not fully sure how but I'm down with the 70-72 losses to DAL and the 95-97 losses to GB making it worse for SF just like the 93-95 DAL losses and the 19 and 21 SF loses make it suckier for GB.

As others have mentioned some factor for losing as a favorite still feels appropriate. As you've addressed can't get betting odds, but you can use SRS/DVOA/conversions whatever as part of the factor and then W-L differences as another part. Tweak the balance of those factors against the betting odds you do have. While betting odds aren't always team fan odds I bet getting that model to correlate as best you can to them would give you a pretty good proxy for fan perception of who the favorite was and since that is really more what you are after anyway that seems good to me.

Still have to figure out how to scale the over/under differences and how much weight to the overall heartbreak of course. But yes having watched some "highlights" of that 07 game again and getting back into that headspace, yeah losing that game as such heavy favorites really did suck a lot more than many other individual playoff losses. It wasn't worse than the 95 loss to DAL as I think the brick wall factor is nastier than the the upset factor, but yeah it sucked.


Though I'm guessing as far as the team rankings neither factor would likely change the ordinal rankings too much. But reading the details if the 70's 9ers were the most heartaching of the group presented today because of the repeated losses I'd agree with it. I think if I were a fan then I'd have hated that more than what happened in 2019-2021 because well I hate what happened in 93-95 for GB more than what happened in 2019-2021 and I've got feeling those 2 ranges (removing the 96 SB for GB) are gonna have strong similarities.

65 Great Rundown

This is a hilarious history I didn't know about due to not being old enough at the time and its legacy being overshadowed by the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry. It provides a faint ray of light in my sea of deep contempt for the Pack.

But it does not halt my primal need to see Rodgers lose to his former coach and the %@#@#% Cowboys in the postseason.

80 Yep I don't begrudge you…

In reply to by Romodini

Yep I don't begrudge you wanting the Packers to fail against the Cowboys at all. Just like I don't begrudge younger Packers fans for feeling a lot more hatred towards the 49ers than I do because they didn't experience the Favre Packers shutting down the Young 49ers multiple times in the early to mid 90's. I also wouldn't begrudge and older 9ers fan from still not feeling like the recent 9ers success against GB in the playoffs erases those those Young-Favre scars.

That's all part of the "fun" to this type of thing. I also think it's a testament to getting the formula mostly right concerning time frames. The past matters and can influence your feelings but personal experiences have a much greater impact on any decision. If just knowledge of history were enough it wouldn't keep repeating. But knowledge is not the same as experience even if it can influence it.

So I fully endorse you wanting the Packers to be humiliated and I will still need to see the Cowboys suffer a few more frustrations and embarrassments before I can let go and I think we are both perfectly justified in feeling the way we do.

66 I'm glad - I think "glad"…

I'm glad - I think "glad" isn't quite the right word lol - to see the Jaguars get some recognition here. I loved The Good Place, but I'm rather annoyed that it laundered the idea that the Jaguars are the League's laughingstock into the popular consciousness. They weren't! They were really good right from the jump! They demolished Dan Marino and made the AFCCG twice! Jimmy Smith was preposterously underrated and should be in the Hall of Fame! And even after that flamed out, throughout the Del Rio/Leftwich+Garrard era they were at least generally solid. The bottom didn't really fall out until 2012, and while they've pretty much stayed there since (save that 2017 blip of sudden excellence), on the balance they were pretty successful!

(I have explained this, repeatedly and at length, to my non-NFL-watching, Good Place-fan housemate. As you can imagine, they definitely care and want nothing more than to hear me rant about it again!)

Jags fans are right to feel at least a little heartbroken! They had two winnable AFCCG games - they even led the Titans at halftime! - and while they probably were underdogs in either of those hypothetical Super Bowl matchups, seeing Brunell-Taylor-Smith go toe-to-toe against Warner-Faulk-Bruce+Holt would've been ridiculously entertaining. Alas.

And as far as League laughingstocks go, I mean the Cards are right there. To never be good enough to be proper heartbreakers in 100 damn years of history is downright amazing.

68 … what are those sounds…

… what are those sounds coming from Minnesota and Buffalo? It sounds like some strange combination of laughing and sobbing simultaneously. Huh. That's weird.

I know this is limited to the NFL, but the 1990s in Buffalo were maybe the most soul-crushing decade in sports. Opening with four straight Super Bowl losses and closing with two of the most controversial plays in sports history (Hull's No Goal and the Music City "Miracle") followed by an NFL-record playoff drought. Ugh.

90 Dynasties within dynasties

If I'm following the methodology right, the Patriots had a heartbreaker dynasty (2005-2013) within their regular dynasty. That should be an interesting discussion. 

91 Did you miss the Super Bowl…

Did you miss the Super Bowl penalties? Those years would accumulate absolutely *massive* penalties: over that '05-'13 stretch they'd pick up -1150 from the first 3 and -900 from the latter 2. That's over 2000 penalty points. Because of the weighting scheme they would've needed 300 points every year to break even. And, I mean, '07 and '11 certainly help, but the ~60 points in Brady's injury year puts them way off the pace.

94 I'm surprised those years…

I'm surprised those years havn't shown up too. 
Edit: Right, forgot the 100
Here is the modifiers
2005 -650
2006 -300
2007 -150
2008 -50

2010 -50

2011 -100

2012 -250

2013 -500
You would think 2007 to 2011 would get over 400, even with the penalties. Years that are zero due to penalties don't end the run, so...maybe. If it's gonna show up and it hasn't yet, gotta be in the next one. 

95 You don't have the penalties…

You don't have the penalties right: it's -400, -200, -100, -50 by year removed. So 2005 would be -650 (04, 03, 01), etc. And 07 would be -150 (04, 03), and 08 is -50. Total 'em up for both sides and I think it's -2050.


97 This caused confusion with…

This caused confusion with the editors too, so I'll try make it a little clearer.


2002 would, in theory, lose 1000 points -- 400 from the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowls, 200 from the 2004 Super Bowl.  But you can't lose points you don't actually have.  There are no negative points, because that would imply that you should be happy you didn't win a Super Bowl?  Didn't really make sense, conceptually.

And you can't borrow from other years to make up the deficit.  If your season is worth 142 points, and you have a penalty of -200, you only lose 142.  You can't hit up the year before and go "hey, I'm a little short, can I borrow some points?  They're going to take my thumbs."  The penalties cover individual seasons, not the runs at a whole.

The Brady/Belichick Patriots are slammed with penalties from all sides.  Whether or not the penalties are strong enough to completely negate two Super Bowl losses as well as all the other deep runs they had? We'll have to wait and see.

102 There are no negative points…

There are no negative points, because that would imply that you should be happy you didn't win a Super Bowl?  Didn't really make sense, conceptually.

I could totally see someone in New England saying "no, I'm glad the team lost there, player X sucks and needs to be replaced if we're going to win 19 more Super Bowls this century and Belichick needs to realize that."

Lots of Patriots fans were totally irrational in the late 2000s, completely rationalizing away everything that happened. That's what a triplet of Super Bowl wins in 4 years gets you.

Ugh. Now I agree, the Patriots having a heartbreak dynasty in the late 2000s-early 2010s is just godawful. Although I'm sure from a methodology standpoint it was hard to find a way out of it without being complicated or seeming arbitrary, but hey, that's life - the Patriots Super Bowl runs from 2000-2020 are unique, so you'd expect unique problems to show up.

96 Vikings

If I'm understanding the methodology correctly and not missing something, the Vikings will have a 1968-1983 run and a 1992-1999 run on the list. I'm guessing the former is second to the Bills but easily the longest on the entire list while the latter is in the next installment (21-30). It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

I fully expect the Reeves-Phillips Broncos teams to make an appearance but based on what has already appeared I don't think the '70s teams are showing up. I was thinking this would be a list where my father and I would see our teams dominate but I think it's really just that the Vikings (his team) will.

98 What will be really…

In reply to by Shattenjager

What will be really fascinating is that the 1980s Broncos and the 1980s Browns will likely be on the list, but those Broncos teams are the bete noir of the Browns.

That almost deserves an editorial swap if the Broncos finish higher; yeah, they still drowned in sorry, but they were standing on the head of some poor bastard even deeper in the pool.

99 Bills vs Vikings

In reply to by Shattenjager

If I'm reading the rules correctly, the Bills hb dynasty runs from 1988 to 1999 so not as long as the Vikings. (Bills had losing seasons in 1986 and 1987 and 2001, plus an 8-8 season with negative DVOA in 2000.) Bills seem to have around 1,200 hb points so that will be tough to beat. Losing 4 sbs in a row is a lot of heartbreak.  

100 I'm sure this is of zero…

In reply to by Crouchback

I'm sure this offers zero consolation to Bills fans, But given how real the super bowl hangover is, It's a pretty incredible thing that they've been to four straight super bowls.

110 Broncos

In reply to by Shattenjager

After looking at the specifics again, I think the Vikings will actually end up not having the longest HB dynasty, because the Broncos actually I think count 1973-1991. I had the 1980 and 1981 records flipped in my mind and therefore thought that '81-2 would be a cutoff. The weighting of the seasons and the margins of the Super Bowl losses will still be enough to keep them at least below the '88-'99 Bills and '67-'83 Vikings, I should think, but it's probably actually in the top five.

Bryan hinted at this, but the internet might explode when the '05-'12 Patriots end up in the top ten, which feels likely now that we're halfway through the list.

I think the playoff losses and particularly the margins of them are weighted quite a bit too high in this exercise for me, which I had not realized was as extreme as it is until going through some individual seasons to figure out when some of these dynasties begin/end.

108 I'm fully ready... an Eagles fan for the 2000 to 2014 Eagles to show up on the list in the top 10, the 1988 to 1996 Eagles to make an appearance (which would be the 1987 to 1996 Eagles if the 1987 replacement player games were excluded; the Eagles went 7-5 in regular player games but 0-3 in replacement player games), and possibly the 1978 to 1981 Eagles to qualify as well.

I remember all of the first two runs and the tail end of the third (earliest) one.