The Curse of the 15-1 NFL Team

Nickolas Loza | November 6th, 2019 

There have been six 15-1 teams in NFL History. The first two of those teams to accomplish the feat won the Super Bowl (1984 San Francisco 49ers, and the 1985 Chicago Bears) but the last four haven’t been so fortunate. The last four teams have all had one glaring weakness, and in this article, we will put that on display and why these great regular season teams couldn’t get it done come the postseason.

1998 Minnesota Vikings

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings were an offensive juggernaut, scoring an astounding 556 points on offense and allowing only 296 on defense. So this team was all around stacked beyond comprehension, so what could’ve been their downfall? The answer is, they weren’t battle-tested. The vast majority of their wins came in blowout victories, so the team itself hadn’t faced the adversity of being behind in a game and having to work together to come back.

They cruised into the NFC Championship Game at home against the Atlanta Falcons, who conversely to that narrative had been in nine games where they had won or lost by only 12 points. So when the Falcons started fighting back after being down 20-7, and the Vikings offense was uncharacteristically stalling, the Vikings began to unravel, and when their kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal all year long, got put into a pressure situation, he missed.

He hadn’t been in that position all year long, so when the pressure was on, and he could put the game out of reasonable reach, he missed his 38-yard kick to the left and gave the Falcons the ball in prime field position, where they drove for a 16-yard touchdown strike. The game went to overtime where Falcons kicker Morten Andersen kicked the game-winning field goal and sent the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII.

The downfall of this Minnesota Vikings team was specific situations and pressure situations. They had three possessions in between the Falcons game-tying touchdown and Falcons game-winning field goal to score. They just didn’t get it done. That was their downfall and why they didn’t go to Super Bowl XXXIII.

2004 Pittsburgh Steelers

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers were a defensive juggernaut, they allowed the least points that year with 251 points scored against them while scoring 372 points on offense. The offense was led by rookie sensation quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who led the team to a 13-0 record while he was starting after opening day starter Tommy Maddox was injured in a week two game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The offense was also led by Hines Ward, who put up a 1,000-yard receiving season along with being selected to the Pro Bowl. The defense was the real talking point of this team, led by James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, and Aaron Smith. This team recorded 12 games of allowing 20 points or less, and when the defense forced at least one turnover, the Steelers were 14-0.

The reason why I bring this point up is that without turnovers to set the offense up in good field position, this team wasn’t that great. In a week 13 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the defense was unable to force a turnover which caused the Steelers to nearly lose the game against Jacksonville, sneaking by with a Jeff Reed game-winning field goal with 0:23 left in the fourth quarter.

Later that year when the Pittsburgh Steelers met the New England Patriots at home in the AFC Championship Game, this point came to rear its ugly head. The New England Patriots never turned the ball over, and they managed to jump out to a 24-3 lead against the Steelers defense. The Steelers lost the game 41-27 and went home with no Lombardi Trophy while the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX to take home their third Super Bowl in four years. The Steelers lost because they couldn’t cause any turnovers, it’s as simple as that and that’s why they’re the second team of four to fall victim to the “15-1 Curse”

2011 Green Bay Packers

The 2011 Green Bay Packers were another 15-1 offensive juggernaut, led by MVP Aaron Rodgers, they managed to score 560 points while allowing an alarming 359 points on defense. The Packers would get into shootouts nearly every game, they allowed their opponent to score 20 or more points ten times. This became a glaring problem, along with the team’s inability to run the football, as the Packers passed on 64% of their plays and only ran on 36%.

Things all came to a head when the Packers faced the New York Giants at home in Lambeau Field, a place where the Giants had been victorious just four years earlier en route to their third Super Bowl title. The Packers utterly collapsed, they trailed for nearly the entire game and promptly lost 37-20. The Packers gave up ten points in the last 1:56 of the second quarter, totally quashing any momentum they had mustered. These ten points included an Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks Hail Mary at the end of the half to give the Giants a 20-10 lead.

The Packers failed to adjust to the Giants’ aggressive playstyle and lost because the Giants outmuscled them. The 2011 Packers proved that defense needs to be a staple on any team or they suffer a cruel fate when they face a team with strong scheming.

2015 Carolina Panthers

The 2015 Carolina Panthers were an extremely sound team all-around, scoring 500 points with an offense led by MVP Cam Newton, who torched the NFL for 45 scrimmage touchdowns, 35 of those through the air. The Panthers also had a defense that could clamp on teams, allowing 308 points which was good for sixth-best in the NFL. This team had no glaring issues, they had faced plenty of adversity and they had everything that was good and that you would want on a Super Bowl-winning team.

They coasted through the NFC playoffs when they met the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl L. The Broncos harassed Newton all game long, sacking him six times and intercepting him once. The Bronco assault was led by Von Miller, who sacked Newton 2.5 times and forced two fumbles, one of which was returned in the endzone for a Malik Jackson touchdown.

The Bronco assault led to a 24-10 victory, and the Panthers were sent packing back to the Carolinas disappointed. The glaring issue in this game simply came from a lack of game planning and a heavy reliance on the offense. That was the downfall of this team, who was, in my opinion, the best team out of these four because they were well-balanced.

Concluding Thoughts

So, based on this information it’s safe to say you really don’t want your favorite team to go 15-1, or else they may fall victim to the “15-1 Curse”.

Questions and comments?

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