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Repeating as Super Bowl Champions Is Hard to Do

Boston Globe via Getty Images

For all of the success the Patriots have had since capturing Super Bowl XXXIX — their third title in four seasons — they haven't been able to win back-to-back titles since.

No one in the NFL has.

After seven cases of repeat champions in the first 39 seasons of the Super Bowl era, we're in the midst of a 14-year drought without a team retaining its title the following season. Only two teams have even gotten back to the Super Bowl with a chance to repeat since Rodney Harrison picked off Donovan McNabb in scenic Jacksonville, Florida, at the end of the 2004 season.

In the 14 seasons since, defending Super Bowl champions are 7-9 the following postseason (the Patriots are 4-3), while five teams failed to qualify for the postseason altogether.

"With the success coach Belichick and the Patriots have had for two decades, we're going to get our best shot every week, it doesn't matter who we play," Duron Harmon said, pressed on the difficulties of repeating. "We know the reason: our game is always circled on everyone's calendar. As a competitor, you've got to love that, because everyone is always trying to take your spot."

Like Harmon, Devin McCourty has now been a member of three Super Bowl champions in New England. He pointed to the differences each season has, including a few years in which the Patriots were plenty talented enough to go to the Super Bowl, but fell in the AFC Championship Game.

"Why didn't we go in 2012? Or 2013?" McCourty asked. "Every year has a reason you do or don't. When you start a season, you've got to focus on what's happening right there."

With that in mind, here's a snapshot of the last 14 defending Super Bowl champions and how it shook out for them a year later.

2005 New England Patriots (10-6; lost in AFC divisional round)
Key contributors Joe Andruzzi, Roman Phifer, David Patten and Ty Law — who missed the final half of the 2004 season with a broken foot — all left via free agency, Ted Johnson retired on the eve of training camp and Tedy Bruschi missed the first seven games of the season with a stroke.

The rest of the AFC East, even back then, was still horrid, and Tom Brady had his best statistical season yet, leading the league in passing yards with 4,110. But the Patriots flamed out in Denver in the divisional round, suffering their first postseason defeat in the Brady-Belichick era after a 10-0 start. You may remember once and future New England tight end Ben Watson tracking down Champ Bailey in that one.

2006 Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8; missed playoffs)
Coach Bill Cowher's swan song didn't go nearly as smoothly as that of Jerome Bettis the year before.

Ben Roethlisberger, who sustained injuries to his jaw and nose in a motorcycle accident in June 2006, still wound up playing 15 games in the regular season for the Steelers, but led the league in interceptions, with 23. Head coach Mike Tomlin took over in Pittsburgh the following season.

2007 Indianapolis Colts (13-3; lost in AFC divisional round)
The lone Super Bowl champion of the Peyton Manning era in Indy responded as only a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team could: by gagging a home game in the divisional round as a double-digit favorite to the San Diego Chargers.

It's too bad, because the Colts proved a most worthy adversary in their lone regular season meeting with the unbeaten Patriots, suffering what was then their first loss of the season, 24-20, at home in Week 7. Manning wouldn't face New England again in the postseason until years later as a member of the Broncos.

2008 New York Giants (12-4; lost in NFC divisional round)
True, Michael Strahan retired following Super Bowl XLII, but unlike the 2007 Giants, who were merely average (their plus-22 point-differential was then the lowest of a Super Bowl champ), the 2008 Giants had the look of a great team.

That is, until wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a nightclub in New York City in November 2008. The Giants, 10-1 at the time of the incident, lost three of their final five games in the regular season. While they still secured a first-round bye, they were upset by Donovan McNabb and the Eagles at home in the divisional round.

2009 Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7; missed playoffs)
Though Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't be suspended for misconduct off the field until 2010, he was accused of sexual assault in June 2009.

The Steelers actually got off to a 6-2 start, but a five-game losing streak immediately after proved too deep a hole to dig out of. They would get back to the Super Bowl in 2010, losing to the Packers.

2010 New Orleans Saints (11-5; lost in NFC wild-card round)
It's not that you forgot the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season, it's just that you forgot that the franchise wasn't derailed by the Bountygate scandal until three years later.

With all-world tight end Jimmy Graham then in the fold, New Orleans was still a playoff team for two years following their magical run that helped lift the city out of a post-Hurricane Katrina malady, but went one-and-done in each instance.

2011 Green Bay Packers (15-1; lost in NFC divisional round)
The Packers were even better in the regular season a year after winning — to date — their only Super Bowl of the Aaron Rodgers era, winning five more games than they did during a 10-6 campaign that saw them win it all as a wild-card entrant.

But just like in 2007, the Packers played a role in allowing the Giants to go on a run and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. In 2007, a Brett Favre overtime interception doomed the Pack; in 2011, it was merely a systematic upset when New York strode into Lambeau Field and stunned a 15-1 Green Bay team, 37-20.

2012 New York Giants (9-7; missed playoffs)
Remember earlier, when we noted the 2007 Giants had the worst point-differential of any Super Bowl winner? They were bested by the 2011 Giants, who were actually outscored by their opposition in the regular season, 394-400. No Super Bowl-winning team before or since has posted a negative point differential.

Super Bowl XLVI remains the last postseason win for New York, if you were wondering.

2013 Baltimore Ravens (8-8; missed playoffs)
Hamstrung by a new contract for Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco — the largest in NFL history at the time — the Ravens parted ways with a record eight starters from their championship team, including Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed, Matt Birk and Danelle Elerbe, via either retirement, free agency or trade.

Flacco wasn't very elite in defense of Baltimore's title, throwing a career-high 22 interceptions against 19 touchdowns and completing a ghastly 59 percent of his passes.

2014 Seattle Seahawks (12-4; lost Super Bowl XLIX)
Finally, a team that at least made it back to the Super Bowl.

And the Seahawks didn't just make it back to the Super Bowl. They came, literally, 1 yard away from repeating as champs, until the most controversial play call in NFL history made Malcolm Butler a household name.

It wasn't the first time Butler would dominate the headlines after a Super Bowl. But it marked a turning point for both the Patriots, who were finally back on top after 10 years, as well as the Seahawks, who soon underwent a talent exodus, bringing an abrupt halt to a burgeoning dynasty in the Pacific Northwest.

2015 New England Patriots (12-4; lost in AFC Championship Game)
The Patriots did lose Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork and Brandon Browner from their legendary 2014 defense, but got off to a 10-0 start after Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate was overturned.

Perhaps no New England team of the Brady-Belichick era had a worse closing to the regular season than this group, however, when the chance to atone for 2007 devolved into a 2-4 slide marred by injuries to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. And a mortar kick. And a heavy dose of former Rams great Steven Jackson in the regular season finale.

They were just a two-point conversion attempt away from sending the AFC Championship Game in Denver to overtime, and almost certainly would have walloped the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. But Peyton Manning got the last laugh, improving his postseason record vs. New England to 3-2 with the win.

2016 Denver Broncos (9-7; missed playoffs)
Trevor Siemian's 84.6 passer rating was lightyears better than Peyton Manning's 67.9 from the year before... Denver's vaunted defense gave up only one more point in 2016 (297) than it did in 2015 (296)... future Patriot Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each had 1,000-yard seasons receiving... what did go wrong with the Broncos?

For starters, the division improved. After going 4-2 in the AFC West in 2015, Denver regressed to 2-4. The Raiders made the leap from 7-9 to 12-4, giving the division a third team that finished above .500 rather than just two the year before.

The Broncos got off to a 7-3 start before their bye week but stumbled badly down the stretch, losing four of six — including a 16-3 loss to the Patriots at home that indicated just how far Denver's offense had fallen since scoring a league-record 609 points in 2013. Even if Siemian was, statistically speaking, better than a broken-down Manning, the Broncos have been stuck in quarterback purgatory since Peyton rode off.

2017 New England Patriots (13-3; lost Super Bowl LII)
The Patriots reacted after overcoming a 28-3 deficit vs. the Falcons in Super Bowl LI like they'd blown the lead themselves, going on a spending spree in free agency and making several major trade acquisitions, which ultimately produced Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, David Harris, Dwayne Allen, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and Lawrence Guy.

Overall? The haul was a net disappointment. Ealy didn't even make it through training camp!

Though Gilmore redeemed himself with an All-Pro campaign in 2018, his first year in New England was up and down. Harris was washed up, Allen contributed next to nothing as a pass catcher, Gillislee forgot how to fall forward and Cooks never quite reached the level of being "the closest thing to Randy Moss" as Robert Kraft predicted.

After their usual September malaise, the Patriots won 11 of their final 12 regular season games — just in time for Seth Wickersham's explosive story on turmoil within the walls of Gillette Stadium. And still, they made it to the Super Bowl ... and still, they had a lead in the fourth quarter on the Eagles ... but Malcolm Butler played a solitary snap on special teams, leading to a drama-packed off-season that felt, once again, like the beginning of the end.

2018 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7; lost in NFC divisional round)
The Eagles returned virtually intact in defense of their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, but sunk from 13-3 to 9-7. Still, they won five of their final six games to qualify for the playoffs as a wild-card entrant and even won a game after Cody Parker's infamous double-doink 43-yard field goal attempt for the Bears.

The question is: did Philadelphia make the correct decision in committing to Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, over Nick Foles, who led the franchise to victory in Super Bowl LII?

Ultimately, probably. But Wentz is still yet to appear in a postseason game, while Foles is 4-2 in January and February.

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