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Ravens Insider: Count the 2023 Ravens among the 10 best teams not to make the Super Bowl


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It’s not a club anyone wants to join.

“Every day and every night, it still pisses me off,” Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton once told the St. Paul Pioneer Press of playing for perhaps the finest team in NFL history not to win a Super Bowl.

At least Tarkenton played in the biggest game three times. Plenty of great teams never got that far, and the 2023 Ravens now reside prominently on that list.

Aaron Schatz created defense-adjusted value over average — DVOA — as a means of measuring team efficiency relative to competition, and by his reckoning, the Ravens are the second best team since 1981 not to make the Super Bowl, behind only the 2010 New England Patriots.

“The best indicator of a championship team is big, dominating wins, and the Ravens had a series of big, dominating wins, but not against bad teams, against good teams,” Schatz explained. “Also, they were tremendously well-balanced — good at passing and running, good against the pass and the run and good on special teams. There are not a lot of teams in history that have been top eight in all five.”

These teams come in many varieties. Some fell short for one year in the middle of glorious runs. Others were slightly lesser editions of previous champions. Still others never did reach the summit.

The Ravens hope they don’t fall into the last category, but as Schatz noted, there’s no guarantee. Many of the best teams not to reach the Super Bowl did not bounce back to do better the following season.

“There’s just a lot of randomness in a sport where you play only one game [to avoid elimination] in the playoffs instead of seven,” he said.

As fans continue to process their disappointment with the Ravens’ ending, here’s a countdown of the list they joined — the 10 best teams that did not make it:

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 15: Clark Haggans #53 and Joey Porter #55 of the Pittsburgh Steelers sack Peyton Manning #18 of the Inidanapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoffs January 15, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Clark Haggans;Joey Porter;Peyton Manning
The Steelers’ Clark Haggans and Joey Porter sack Colts quarterback Peyton Manning during an AFC divisional round playoff game Jan. 15, 2006, at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

10. 2005 Indianapolis Colts

Record: 14-2

Point differential: +192, best in the league by 11

Eliminated: 21-18 in AFC divisional round by Pittsburgh Steelers

Next year: 12-4, won the Super Bowl

Here’s a hopeful tale for Ravens fans wondering if quarterback Lamar Jackson will ever break through. Peyton Manning was in his eighth season in 2005, with two NFL Most Valuable Player Awards on his shelf. His Colts, featuring an elite offense and an opportunistic defense masterminded by coach Tony Dungy, won their first 13 games. But they fell behind 21-3 to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round, and Manning, who took five sacks, could not rally them. To that point in his career, he had made one AFC championship game in six postseason appearances. Why, critics wondered, could he never win the big one? Well, the next year, Manning took a lesser team to Super Bowl glory.

9. 2006 San Diego Chargers

Record: 14-2

Point differential: +189, best in the league by 17

Eliminated: 24-21 in AFC divisional round by New England Patriots

Next year: 11-5, lost in AFC championship game

Ravens fans suffered their own bitter playoff disappointment as they watched a 13-3 team fall at home to the hated Indianapolis Colts, but the Chargers were even better and crashed just as hard. The defense featured All-Pros Shawne Merriman and Jamal Williams. Quarterback Philip Rivers forged a beautiful connection with tight end Antonio Gates. But this season belonged to running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 508 yards and another three scores. Not even the Patriots could bottle up Tomlinson in the playoffs, but they befuddled Rivers to pull the upset. The Chargers were so distraught that they fired coach Marty Schottenheimer coming off his greatest season.

8. 1973 Los Angeles Rams

Record: 12-2

Point differential: +210, best in the league by 17

Eliminated: 27-16 in NFC divisional round by Dallas Cowboys

Next year: 10-4, lost in NFC championship game

The Rams were cousins to the Vikings of the same era, making 10 playoff appearances and reaching double-digit wins 10 times over 14 years from 1967 to 1980 but never breaking through to win the Super Bowl. Their 1967 team, which kept one of Johnny Unitas’ best Colts teams out of the playoffs, could have made this list just as easily. Coach Chuck Knox’s 1973 bunch was beautifully balanced, with All-Pro quarterback John Hadl steering the league’s best offense and Hall of Fame linemen Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood — with a big hand from All-Pro linebacker Isiah Robertson — anchoring its top defense. The Rams won their last six regular-season games, all by at least 11 points, but Hadl fell victim to a fearsome Cowboys pass rush after Dallas built a 17-0 lead in the NFC divisional round.

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2008 file phot, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, left, talks with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) at the end of the game in their NFL football game in New Orleans. The Saints and the Packers open the 2011 NFL football season on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, right, talks with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the end of a game Nov. 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

7. 2011 Green Bay Packers/New Orleans Saints

Record: Packers 15-1, Saints 13-3

Point differential: Saints +208, Packers +201

Eliminated: Packers 37-20 by New York Giants, Saints 36-32 by San Francisco 49ers, both in NFC divisional round

Next year: Packers 11-5, lost in divisional round; Saints 7-9, missed playoffs

This is a cheat, but it’s remarkable that one conference featured two all-time great offenses, and neither team made it past the divisional round. In fact, they set a tone when they met in the season opener, a 42-34 shootout won by Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers won MVP honors that year, throwing 45 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Drew Brees matched him, throwing for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns as the Saints actually topped the Packers in DVOA. Neither team balanced its offense with a top-10 defense, and it showed in the playoffs.

6. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

Record: 15-1

Point differential: +260, best in the league by 68

Eliminated: 30-27 in NFC championship game by Atlanta Falcons

Next year: 10-6, lost in NFC divisional round

This was the team that put Brian Billick in position to coach the Ravens, because his offense, with Randall Cunningham throwing bombs to a rookie Randy Moss, set a new record for points scored (34.8 per game). The Vikings were not a DVOA juggernaut. Schatz’s method nicks them for so-so competition and for rolling up their huge offensive totals in a dome. But there was no doubting their big-play majesty, which they never quite recaptured despite Moss’ ongoing brilliance. Coach Dennis Green’s team simply ran into a very good version of the Falcons with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

Ravens Michael Pierce is dejected on the bench as the Chiefs defeated the Ravens 17-10 in the AFC Championship game. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)
Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce looks on from the sideline during the AFC championship game. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

5. 2023 Baltimore Ravens

Record: 13-4

Point differential: +203, best in the league by nine

Eliminated: 17-10 in AFC championship game by Kansas City Chiefs

Next year: TBD

It’s a difficult choice between this team and the 2019 edition that rolled up a greater scoring margin with the league’s best offense. But the 2023 Ravens hit higher peaks against better competition, were more balanced and advanced deeper in the playoffs. Jackson was statistically superior in his 2019 MVP year, but he’s expected to win the award again this year, and the 2023 defense was better, leading the league in sacks and takeaways while allowing the fewest points. The Ravens are in mighty company on this list, but their missed opportunity will sting for a long while.

4. 1970 Minnesota Vikings

Record: 12-2

Point differential: +192, best in the league by 47

Eliminated: 17-14 in NFC divisional round by San Francisco 49ers

Next year: 11-3, lost in divisional round

Coach Bud Grant’s Vikings fielded several candidates for this list, not to mention some of the best teams to lose in the Super Bowl. Minnesota won 10 division titles in a span of 11 seasons and won at least 10 games (when the NFL played a 14-game schedule) seven times in eight years. Younger fans remember the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s as an also-ran dynasty, but the Vikings were better. This pre-Tarkenton edition featured a middling offense but dominated anyway because of the “Purple People Eaters” defense, which allowed just 10 points a game thanks to Hall of Fame defensive linemen Alan Page and Carl Eller. The Colts brought Baltimore its first Super Bowl win at the end of this season, but they were lucky not to face Grant’s crew. The team they did beat, the Cowboys, lost to the Vikings 54-13 in October.

3. 1987 San Francisco 49ers

Record: 13-2

Point differential: +206, best in the league by 55

Eliminated: 36-24 in NFC divisional round by Minnesota Vikings

Next year: 10-6, won Super Bowl

The 1981-1998 49ers were the Patriots of the previous generation, winning so frequently for so long that their success obscured several great teams that fell short in the postseason. The 1992 team that went 14-2 and the 1995 team that featured perhaps the best offense and best defense in the league were candidates for this list, but we’re going with the 1987 edition led by coach Bill Walsh, quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice at his young apex (22 touchdown catches in 12 games). The 49ers led the league in total offense and total defense and won their last three regular-season games by an average score of 41-2. But they fell behind early and never recovered in an inexplicable flameout against the 8-7 Vikings.

2. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 10-4

Point differential: +204, best in the league by 33

Eliminated: 24-7 in AFC championship game by Oakland Raiders

Next year: 9-5, lost in divisional round

Coach Chuck Noll’s Steelers were going for a Super Bowl three-peat and crushed the Colts, perhaps the league’s second best team behind MVP Bert Jones, 40-14 in the divisional round. The roster featured all the stars — from “Mean” Joe Greene to Franco Harris to Jack Lambert to Terry Bradshaw — we associate with the “Steel Curtain” dynasty. By scoring margin, it was Noll’s second best team behind only the 1975 edition. But coach John Madden’s Oakland Raiders had Pittsburgh’s number in 1976, beating the Steelers in the season opener and finishing them off the day after Christmas. This great team was not done, of course, picking up two more Super Bowl wins in 1978 and 1979.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked by Drew Coleman #30 of the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by the Jets’ Drew Coleman during an AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

1. 2010 New England Patriots

Record: 14-2

Point differential: +205, best in league by 57

Eliminated: 28-21 in AFC divisional round by New York Jets

Next year: 13-3, lost in Super Bowl

We tend to think of the Patriots’ run with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as one of unremitting good fortune and big-game excellence. But we forget that Belichick and Brady went nine straight years without a Super Bowl win in the middle of their run, and perhaps their most dominant teams were among those that fell. The 2007 team that lost in the Super Bowl finished with the highest regular-season DVOA ever, but the 2010 version that bowed out two rounds earlier was nearly as good. Brady threw 36 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, and the Patriots closed with a fury, winning their last eight regular-season games by an average score of 37-16. That string included a 45-3 thrashing of the Jets, who would eliminate them on the same field six weeks later. The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl a year later (as Ravens fans remember all too well) but did not win it all again until 2014.

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