It is impossible to predict which teams will line up for Super Bowl LVI
The NFL may be many things, but consistent is not one of them. In fifty-five Super Bowls, only seven teams have managed to deliver back-to-back wins, and only one of those has achieved the feat twice. Since 2000, only the New England Patriots have lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy in consecutive seasons.
Look a little closer, and it is even worse than that. Since 2000, only the 2015 Seattle Seahawks, the 2018 New England Patriots and the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs have managed to make it back to the big game as runners up, while a third of the winners have failed to even make it through to the playoffs the season following their big victory.
No leading teams
Aside from the New England Patriots, who have made it to no less than nine Super Bowls since the turn of the century, winning six of them under Tom Brady, no other team has really asserted dominance in the NFL. There have been thirteen different winners and a further seven teams have been runners up. That means twenty out of the thirty-two NFL teams have tasted Super Bowl glory in just 21 years.
Compare this to the English Premier League in soccer. Here just six teams have won the league since 2000, and just two others have taken second or third place. Eighteen out of the twenty-two titles since 2000 have been won by just three teams: Manchester United (8), Chelsea (5) and Manchester City (5). The same is true in other leagues, such as Serie A in Italy, where Juventus and Internazionale have won sixteen of the seventeen titles since 2005, with Juventus winning nine on the trot between 2012 and 2020.
The pattern continues
Overall, seventeen runners up have suffered a Super Bowl hangover and failed to make the playoffs the following year, and eleven of them failed to even reach a 50% record, including 2019 Super Bowl losers the San Francisco 49ers who went 6-10 the following year.
The failure to repeat is continuing this year in the NFL, with the Super Bowl runners up, the Kansas City Chiefs already 6-4 at the time of writing, compared to their 14-2 run last season. The Super Bowl winners, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, aren’t faring much better standing at 6-3 after an 11-5 record last term. Kansas City Chiefs are already out to 10-1 7th favourites with sports betting sites, and are far from guaranteed to even make the playoffs in a highly competitive AFC West.
A level playing field
Of course, part of the reason for the competitive nature of the NFL is that it is designed that way. Unlike European soccer, where the big money attracts the big players, keeping the big clubs far above the smaller ones, the NFL aims to level out the championship with the draft system. With the lowest placed team getting first pick of the top college players, and the Super Bowl winners picking last, things can change very fast for teams. The arrival of a star quarterback can radically change fortunes, as the Chiefs proved with the arrival of Patrick Mahomes and the Bucs proved with the robotically reliable Tom Brady.
If nothing else, the unpredictability of the NFL keeps things interesting for the fans and the teams alike. Success one year never guarantees the start of a golden era for a team or the beginning of a new dynasty. Superbowl winners and runners up are just as likely to fall flat the following season as they are to rise up to greater heights. And that’s what makes this ever-changing game so intriguing for millions of fans across the United States and around the world.