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Missed Opportunities

In light of the Falcons Super Choke, and our friends from Wisconsin talking about how many Super Bowls they haven't won over the last 25 years of Hall of Fame QB play, which teams haven't made the most of their opportunities?

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What if.

It haunts certain teams, never lets their fan base truly rest. What if the ball bounces one way, and not the other? What if that obvious penalty was called? What if that catch was made? What if that fumble didn't happen?

What if that kick wasn't wide left, or wide right?

What if.

The reason I brought this up is that over in Green Bay, some fans are complaining that with the back to back careers of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers should have more than two Super Bowl titles over the last 25 years. Setting aside the 'are you kidding me' attitude of that statement when compared to the Vikings, the point has some merit.

And it all started innocently enough, with this tweet from a Green Bay Packers account:

And I thought to myself 'self, that's not even close to accurate.' It's tough to say a team underachieves when it wins two Super Bowls, and they've played in three. So I asked the question on Twitter, and threw out some examples. And lo and behold, I got a reply from an old friend and colleague from my Off Tackle Empire Days, Tom Ksobiech:

Since it's the off season, let's take a look and see what teams, from what eras, arguably underachieved the most. How you define underachievement, well, I'll leave that up to you. I have a hard time saying teams underachieved getting to the playoffs as consistently as they did, yet when you win at such a high level, you expect ore than the 'happy to be here' feeling at some point. For some, even getting to the Super Bowl is seen as hollow, so is not even getting to the Super Bowl more of an underachievement than going and losing? What if you had one of the all time great offenses or defenses, and there was an expectation to win more than one Super Bowl, much like some of our friends from Green Bay have said? Yeah, you won a Super Bowl, but still, there's an unfulfilled expectation there, a 'we should have won more. A lot more.'

So yeah, how you define 'underachievement', I'll leave to you. But let's take a look at some of the candidates Tom and I came up with. And please, feel free to add your own teams in the comments below.

The candidates:

1970's Minnesota Vikings.

Playoff Appearances: 10

Division Titles:10

NFC Championship Games: 4

Conference Titles: 3

NFL Championship Games: 1*

NFL Championships: 1*

Super Bowl Appearances: 4

Super Bowl Wins: 0

*1969 was the last season before the NFL-AFL merger, so technically the Vikings were the last NFL champions, although they lost Super Bowl IV. So, yeah...whatever...

Analysis: When I say '70's Vikings, I'm specifically talking about the time from 1968-78, so there's a little bit of a bleed over. Still, consider what the Vikings had during that period of time. At quarterback, they had Fran Tarkenton from 1973-78, and Joe Kapp in 1968-89. Out of that entire decade, they had subpar QB play (sorry, Gary Cuozzo) in only 2 seasons. They had one of the best defenses in NFL history, the legendary Purple People Eaters that had Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Alan Page, and Paul Krause. They had a Hall of Fame QB, two Hall of Fame offensive linemen, a Hall of Fame coach, and a Hall of Fame GM.

They also had, from 1973 through the rest of their run, a running back in Chuck Foreman that literally transformed the position, and an offense that was, arguably, the forerunner to what would become the West Coast Offense. During that time period they went 112-42-2, a winning percentage of .717, and averaged 11 wins a year. In their prime run between 1969-76, which bracketed their first and last Super Bowl appearance, the Vikings were a staggering 87-24, or nearly 11 wins a year back when the regular season was just 14 games. Yet, other than Super Bowl IX, the Vikings were overmatched on the game's biggest stage, and never really had a chance.

1990's Buffalo Bills

Playoff Appearances: 10

Division Titles: 6

AFC Championship Games: 5

Conference Titles: 4

Super Bowl Appearances: 4

Super Bowl Wins: 0

Analysis: Like the Vikings, there's a bit of a bleed over for the Bills, as their run started in 1988 and arguably lasted through 1999. But during that time, they had the best defensive player in the NFL on their team in Bruce Smith, and an offensive set of Triplets in Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed that was as good an offensive combo that has ever played together in the NFL. They had some incredible moments, like the biggest come from behind win in NFL history against the Houston Oilers, but other than their first Super Bowl appearance against the Giants, they were overmatched in their other three appearances.

Yet in the regular season and playoffs, the Bills were one of the most dominant teams of the '90's. They went 124-68, making the playoffs 10 of 12 years, and an incredible four straight Super Bowl appearances. No team in history has made four straight, and even though you can call that a missed opportunity, to make four Super Bowls in a row is an impressive feat. Coach Marv Levy, Kelly, Smith, and Thomas are in the Hall of Fame, as is WR James Lofton. Lofton spent most of his career elsewhere, but had some good seasons as Jim Kelly's number 2 wide receiver behind a guy that should be in the Hall of Fame, Andre Reed.

1980's Chicago Bears

Playoff Appearances: 7

Division Titles:6

NFC Championship Games:3

Conference Titles:1

Super Bowl Appearances:1

Super Bowl Wins:1

Analysis: Again, some bleed over here as the Bears run started in 1984 and ended in 1991. It's a bit of a smaller window than the rest of these teams, who all had a decade or more, but they do have a Super Bowl title, something none of these other teams have. However, when you look at just how dominant that Bears defense was, there's a case to be made that this era of Bears football should have produced two or three championships. It all started with the hiring of Hall of Fame player Mike Ditka, who transformed the Bears into his image, and along with ex-Vikings GM Jim Finks and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, they built what many people think is the best defense in the history of the NFL. Led by Hall of Famers Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and Dan Hampton, the Bears had what seemed like perennial Pro Bowlers at the other positions, as players like Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik, Wilbur Marshall, and Otis Wilson terrorized opposing offenses week in and week out.

They also had a good quarterback in Jim McMahon, and one of the three best running backs in NFL history in Walter Payton on offense. Yet, the offense seemed to always fall short of the defense, and McMahon's injury history short circuited what were legitimate Super Bowl-caliber teams in 1986, '87, and '88. Still, the dominant fashion in which they won Super Bowl XX still makes it hard for me to say this is one of the biggest missed opportunities a franchise has had, especially when they were playing in the same era as the Joe Montana led San Francisco 49ers.

1990's Kansas City Chiefs

Playoff Appearances: 7

Division Titles: 3

AFC Championship Games:1

Conference Titles: 0

Super Bowl Appearances: 0

Super Bowl Wins: 0

Analysis: There is a case to be made that Marty Schottenheimer, who was Kansas City's coach from 1989-1998, is one of the best coaches in NFL history in the regular season. He consistently produced well disciplined teams that played smart, hard nosed football, and were fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball. They weren't very flashy, but they could beat just about anyone. Until they got to the playoffs, that is. Playing in the same division that has the John Elway Broncos, Scottenheimer went to the playoffs seven times in eight years from 1990-1997. The Chiefs only won the division three times, but put together some really good teams, going 87-42 in that stretch, to include double digit wins in every year except 1994 and 1996, when they won nine games.

They used the new free agency rules as well as anyone in the early 1990's, adding aging superstars Joe Montana, Neil Smith, and Marcus Allen to complement up and coming players, like Derrick Thomas and Willie Davis. But come playoff time, the Chiefs faltered, going one and done in five of those seven playoff appearances, to include teams that went 13-3 in 1995 and 1997. As good as he was in the regular season, Schottenheimer only went 3-7 in the playoffs for KC, with only one AFC Championship game to show for it, and no Super Bowls.

'00's Philadelphia Eagles

Playoff Appearances: 9

Division Titles: 6

NFC Championship Games:5

Conference Titles:1

Super Bowl Appearances:1

Super Bowl Wins: 0

Analysis: This was really a remarkable run by the Eagles from 2000-2010, a level of success that's difficult to maintain over that long a period of time in the salary cap era. It all started with the drafting of Donovan McNabb, and carried over with one year of Michael Vick. Although McNabb is persona non grata in Minnesota, he built what is arguably a Hall of Fame career in Philadelphia from 2000-2009. They went to four straight conference championship games from 2001-2004 (five overall), made the Super Bowl in 2004, the year they acquired Terrell Owens, and they had some of the best offensive players of the decade on their team. Besides McNabb and those two volatile years with Owens, they also had good running backs in Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook, and it complemented a defense that had Javon Kearse, Brian Dawkins, and others.

This era saw the Eagles win 11 or more games five straight years, won the NFC East four years in a row and five of six, and they went an impressive 113-62-1. Yet, the Eagles and Andy Reid could never quite get over the hump. They lost consecutive NFC Championship games to The Greatest Show on Turf, eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, and the Carolina Panthers. In the Super Bowl, they lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots. Their last gasp effort was in 2008, where they bounced the Vikes in the wild card round, the Giants in the divisional playoff, but fell to a buzzsaw that was Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship. They bounced back and won 10 and 11 games in 2009 and 2010, but were eliminated in the Wild Card round in both seasons.

So, who underachieved the most? Is it the team that won a Super Bowl but should have won more, a team that made multiple a Super Bowl or multiple Super Bowls but couldn't close the deal, or a team that couldn't make it out of the playoffs?

Or is it another team not even on this list?