When people discuss the so called "Super Bowl Curse", they are typically talking about the effect losing the game has on a team. There are several cases where a team was built with a "championship or bust" approach, and upon falling short were dismantled the following year in an attempt to rebuild. There is also the "Host Team" curse as no team has ever played a Super Bowl on their home field. Each of these curses has been given ample media time in the months and weeks leading up to the big game each year. The curse receiving the least amount of airtime among sports media outlets is the Winners curse.
The Winners Curse may be given much less time by mainstream media, but in the Super Bowl era it has just as much supporting evidence as the Losers curse. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions was the New England Patriots, who won Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX over the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles respectively. Since the Patriots repeat performance, no defending Super Bowl champion has advanced past the Divisional round of the playoffs in the following season. In the Super Bowl era, the winning percentages of the winners is 66.7% versus 64.3% for the losing team. The playoff return rates are also fairly similar, as the winners have returned to the playoffs 32 of the 47 seasons, with the losers returning 33 of the 47 seasons. The biggest difference between the Winners and Losers comes in the big game itself, the winners who manage to return to the Super Bowl have won 8 out of 11 times while the losers have managed just 2 wins in 7 return trips (of course the Buffalo Bills account for nearly half of those losses).
The 2014 season will signal the 20th year the NFL has used a Salary Cap, of the 8 teams to repeat as champions in the Super Bowl era only 2 of those teams have done it in the salary cap era. For fans of parity in the NFL the rate of repeat champions in the pre-salary cap era was 22.2% (6/27) vs. 10.5% (2/19)with the cap, which is one sign the system is indeed working. In fact since Super Bowl XL, 2 of the 8 possible losers and 4 of the 8 possible winners (including both of the two most recent winners) missed the playoffs entirely in the following season. Many of you TSTers are probably scratching your heads wondering why I'm rambling on about Super Bowl winners and losers when the Rams haven't made the playoffs since 2004. The Rams, and the NFC West in general, may have had their fair share of struggles over the past decade but recent history is more favorable and quite relevant. The NFC West is home to both the most recent example of a Super Bowl loser to complete a season, as well as the defending champion.
The San Francisco 49ers were the first Super Bowl loser to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs since the Buffalo Bills run of four straight losses. The 49ers were one under-thrown pass away from their second straight trip to the big game, and their chance to become the first Super Bowl loser since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win it the following year. Oddly enough, their 12-4 2013 regular season record actually happens to be identical to the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers and 2012 New England Patriots. That odd coincidence seems to be just another indicator of recent Super Bowl losers actually faring better than the teams that beat them in the big game. Looking at the offseason moves of the Denver Broncos, and it wouldn't be too surprising for the trend to continue in the 2014 season. The Broncos are in all out "win now" mode as they anticipate the inevitable decline in skills and/or retirement of Peyton Manning.
The 2013 season was much less kind to the Super Bowl XLVII Champion Baltimore Ravens, who finished the regular season as the very definition of average at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Following their Super Bowl victory a combination of franchise cornerstones as well as valuable role players departed via retirement and free agency. Of course the massive contract given to Joe Flacco also created complications for the Ravens front office in their efforts to replace those players. The Ravens also happened to suffer a serious injury to Dennis Pitta; a very important player in their championship run and was likely expected to help ease the pain of the loss of Anquan Boldin. Winning a championship has a tendency to impact NFL teams, aging veterans often decide to "go out on top" while young free agents are often overvalued by outside teams making them impossible to retain. These things tend to thin out the depth of championship caliber teams which is in turn compounded by injuries during the season.
The Seattle Seahawks will certainly garner plenty of buzz as the 2014 season approaches. The sports media will go on and on about the youth and depth of the Super Bowl XLVIII champions. They will dismiss the offseason losses as mere role players who will easily be replaced by the shrewd personnel decisions of Jon Schneider and Pete Carroll. They will wax poetic about Russell Wilson and how his certain improvement from year two to three will carry the Seahawks through tough times. Like so many other defending Super Bowl champions they will be expected to repeat. Like so many other defending champions the Seahawks may find the road tougher the second time around. When sports media talks about how tough the NFC West is they are usually referring to how difficult it will be for the Arizona Cardinals or St. Louis Rams to surpass the 49ers and Seahawks.
While it is certainly true the Rams and Cardinals are looking up at their division rivals, neither of them are likely to sit back and concede the division. This is the double edged sword the NFC West has become, survive the division and you are likely a legitimate Super bowl contender, but merely surviving the division looks to be even tougher in 2014. For the Seahawks there will be the inevitable injuries coupled with the surprising difficulty in replacing a so called "role player", but the biggest threat to their chance at a repeat may be within their own division. Recent history would suggest winning a Super Bowl only gets harder every year, fans of Super Bowl champions should learn to savor the victories as the days of Dynasties may well be behind us. Couple the Winners Curse with the toughest division in football and you very well could find the defending champs watching the playoffs from home for the third straight year in 2014. Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!