Can the Carolina Panthers reach the next step. That would be actually winning the Super Bowl instead of losing it in such a heartbreaking fashion. Heck, can they even get back to the Super Bowl?? Can they win their division again?? Or even get to the playoffs??
Well…who knows? It this day and age of parity, nothing is a given. I mean, who thought this Panther team would have gotten to the Super Bowl in the first place??? Just two years removed from a 1-15 season in which they lost the last 15 games. Not to mention that recent history is not on their side.
Over the past 5 seasons….only ONE of the Super Bowl losing teams actually made it to the playoffs in the next season [1999, 2000 Titans]. Over that span, those teams were 36-44 in the following season. Ugh. The Atlanta Falcons went from a 14-2 regular season record in 1998 to a 5-11 campaign in 1999. Double ugh.
Of course, the past 5 winners haven’t exactly lighted up the league either. Their record following their Super Bowl winning seasons is an average 42-38.….pretty much an 8-8 record. Of those 5 winners, only the ‘99 Rams and ‘00 Ravens actually made the playoffs in the following year…..and neither advanced to the Conference Championship Game.
You can actually take the streak further back. Back to 1987. From the 1969 Minnesota Vikings to the 1986 Denver Broncos….all 18 Super Bowl losers made it back to the playoffs the next year. Of the 16 Super Bowl losers since then, only half of them [which is 8] made it back to the playoffs in the following year. You know about the ‘99 Titans. The rest happened in a stretch from 1990 to 1997 where only the 1993 Buffalo Bills didn’t go back to the playoffs [Bills ‘90, ‘91, ‘92; Chargers ‘94; Steelers ‘95; Patriots ‘96 and Packers ’97]. And that brings us to the current 5 year period. Even the Super Bowl Champions have missed the playoffs FIVE times over the past 16 years [‘87 Redskins, ‘90 Giants,’98 Broncos, ‘01 Patriots and ‘02 Buccaneers….with the ‘91 Redskins and ‘99 Rams barely making the playoffs the following year].
And it isn't just the NFL. The last NBA team to lose in the Finals and make it back to the Finals was the 1997 Utah Jazz. And that was the only time since the 1988 Detroit Pistons. So once in the last 15 years. The 1991 Atlanta Braves were the last MLB team to lose the World Series then go back to the Series the next year. But lots of those teams made it back to the playoffs.
Which brings us back to the Panthers. Can they get back to the postseason?? Well….probably not. Last year, things really broke their way. They won 7 of the 11 games by a field goal or less….including a blocked extra point in Tampa which was an act of God and two more overtime wins on the road. Carolina only outscored opponents by a total of 21 points for the entire season. Also, they got some huge breaks. Vick’s leg break, for example, zapped the Falcons out early [they beat the Panthers with Vick late in the season]. Tampa had a Super Bowl hangover [see above]. Their schedule only contained FOUR teams that eventually went on to the playoffs [Colts, Titans, Cowboys and Eagles]. The Panthers were 1-3 against those teams.
Not to mention, the beginning of that 2004 schedule is pretty rough. Brett Favre and the Packers come in on opening Monday Night Football. Then the are at Arrowhead to play the offensive juggernaut Chiefs. A Week 3 bye before chasing Michael Vick and the Falcons around [which is the only team out of the first 5 games that didn’t make the playoffs in 2003]. Weeks5 and 6 are AT Denver and AT Philadelphia. Not to mention two games against the Buccs and Saints…and another one against Vick. They have the Rams and Seahawks on the slate. But, they do have cupcakes San Diego, Arizona and San Francisco…and who knows what Oakland will be.
Maybe the next Carolina.