The Carolina Panthers went 15-1 last year but lost in the Super Bowl; obviously the natural follow-up question there is does this mean the 2016 Panthers will be cursed? If this was a decade ago, the answer would almost certainly be yes. Because there was a very scary Super Bowl loser’s curse that went on for about 9 straight years:
The 2006 Bears had a fantastic defense and made the Super Bowl; in ’07, Chicago went 7-9.
The 2005 Seahawks won 13 straight games (excluding a meaningless week 17 performance) before falling in the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh; in ’06, Seattle dropped to 9-7.
The 2004 Eagles started the season 13-1 and were the clear dominant squad in the NFC; after losing in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia and Terrell Owens imploded, and the Eagles went 6-10 the next season.
The 2003 Panthers lost the Super Bowl on the last play of the game; the next year, Carolina went just 7-9.
The 2002 Raiders were favorites entering the Super Bowl, but went 4-12 the next season.
The 2001 Rams were heavy favorites in the Super Bowl, but went 7-9 in 2002.
The 2000 Giants went 12-4, but dropped to 7-9 in 2001.
In 1999, the Titans lost in the Super Bowl to the Rams, and then had Jeff Fisher coach the team for another 11 years.
The 1998 Falcons went 14-2, lost in the Super Bowl, and then went 5-11.
In those 9 years, the Super Bowl loser won an average of just 7.2 games the following year. However, in the eight years since, the Super Bowl loser has won an average of 11.1 games, and has won double digit games every season!
The 2007 Patriots, as you may have heard, lost the Super Bowl. I suppose some might want to include them in the cursed column — New England missed the playoffs and Tom Brady tore his ACL — but the team did win 11 games the next year.
The 2008 Cardinals were a fluky Super Bowl entrant, but Arizona won 10 games in 2009: one more than during the ’08 season.
The 2009 Colts lost the Super Bowl, but won 10 games in 2010.
The 2010 Steelers went 12-4, lost the Super Bowl, and then went 12-4 again. In fact, that was the first of four straight Super Bowl losers to go 12-4 the next season, followed by the the 2011 Patriots, the 2012 49ers, and the 2013 Broncos.
The 2014 Seahawks followed up a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss with a 10-6 season.
The graph below shows the winning percentage of both Super Bowl teams in the year following the Super Bowl.
What’s driving the Super Bowl curse narrative is mostly regression to the mean, along with one other fact. In 1970, the Cowboys lost in the Super Bowl to the Colts, but beat the Dolphins in the Super Bowl the next year. Miami followed that defeat by going undefeated in 1972. But the ’71 Cowboys and ’72 Dolphins are the only Super Bowl champions that lost in the Super Bowl the prior year.
That said, Cam Newton and the Panthers look to be one of the top teams in the NFL again this year, so there isn’t much reason to worry about a Super Bowl loser’s curse. Of course, as for the curse among AP MVPs who lost in the Super Bowl? Well that’s still very real. Since 2000, Cam is the 7th AP MVP to lose in the Super Bowl, and the other six didn’t fare so well the following year, with five of them suffering a serious injury.