Super Bowl 2022: Which NFL teams made the Super Bowl after losing seasons?

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In just two years’ time, the Cincinnati Bengals have vaulted themselves from the worst team in the NFL to Super Bowl contenders. The Bengals overcame an 18-point deficit to knock off Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship. Evan McPherson continued his strong postseason when he converted a 31-yard field goal in overtime to secure a 27-24 victory. The Bengals are now set to play the Los Angeles Rams in their first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years. The Super Bowl is set for Sunday, February 13 at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock, and it will take place on the Rams’ home turf at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

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It was only two years ago that the Bengals finished with the worst record in the NFL with just two wins and 14 losses.  After making the playoffs for five straight seasons between 2011-2015, the Bengals endured five seasons without a playoff berth. Throughout that time span, Cincinnati posted a record of 25-53.

Just three seasons ago, in Zac Taylor’s first year as head coach, the Bengals posted a league-worst 2-14 mark. That abysmal record secured the first pick for Cincinnati in the 2020 NFL Draft and the chance to select one of the top quarterback prospects in recent memory in Joe Burrow. The Bengals’ hopes for success the following season were dashed when Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in November and Cincinnati finished with just four wins. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected Burrow’s LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick. Together, Burrow and Chase led the Bengals to the AFC North title as Cincinnati finished the regular season with a 10-7 mark. 

The winning has continued into the postseason. After enduring a 31-year playoff win drought, the Bengals defeated the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19, in the Wild Card round. Then, Cincinnati faced the AFC No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans and edged them, 19-16, thanks to a 52-yard field goal by McPherson as time expired. After knocking off the Chiefs and advancing to the Super Bowl, the Bengals have improved from being one the worst team in the NFL to one of the best.

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Which teams have advanced to the Super Bowl after having the NFL’s worst record two years prior?

  • 2021 Cincinnati Bengals – Finished the 2019 season with a 2-14 record, advanced to Super Bowl LVI vs. the Los Angeles Rams
  • 2003 Carolina Panthers – Finished the 2011 season with a 1-15 record, lost Super Bowl XXXVIII vs. the Patriots in the 2003 season
  • 1981 San Francisco 49ers – Finished the 1979 season with a 2-14 record, won Super Bowl XVI vs. the Bengals in the 1981 season

With a win over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, the Bengals join two other teams in NFL history that have advanced to the Super Bowl just two years after posting the NFL’s worst record. In 1981, the 49ers won Super Bowl XVI against the Bengals just two years after posting the league’s worst record at 2-14. The 49ers finished the 1979 season with two wins and then won six games in the following season before exploding for a 13-win season in 1981 that sent them to the Super Bowl. That season marked the first playoff appearance for the 49ers since 1972 and it set the pace for the rest of the decade as San Francisco would make eight playoff appearances over the course of the next 10 years, including three Super Bowl victories.

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In 2003, the Panthers advanced to their first Super Bowl in franchise history after posting just one win two seasons prior. Carolina finished the 2001 season with just one win and then improved to 7-9 in 2002. Former head coach John Fox led the team to an 11-win season and first place finish in the NFC South in 2003. The Panthers lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to Tom Brady and the Patriots but the playoff appearance snapped a six-year span without a postseason appearance.

Of the three teams that have achieved this feat in NFL history, the Bengals’ turnaround is perhaps the most impressive. While the 49ers and Panthers recorded eight wins apiece in the two years prior to their appearance in the big game, the Bengals recorded just six victories in the past two seasons combined. With a win vs. the Rams, the Bengals would clinch their first Super Bowl victory and complete one of the greatest (and fastest) turnarounds by a team in NFL history.

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