The Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns are the only four current NFL clubs that have never played in a Super Bowl. Before the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the Browns and Lions each won multiple titles in the NFL.
The aforementioned quartet form part of the dozen franchises that have never won a Super Bowl. Detroit has the second-longest active drought, too, only trailing the Cardinals’ franchise.
Let’s take a closer look at how close each of these teams has been to earning a berth…
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One of the NFL’s oldest entities, the Detroit Lions have never participated in a Super Bowl. The Portsmouth Spartans were established in 1930, but in 1934, relocated to Detroit and were rechristened the Lions. They defeated the New York Giants in the 1935 NFL championship game, winning again in 1952, 1953 and 1957, all against the Cleveland Browns.
Recently, the 1992 NFC conference title game was the closest the Lions have come to the Super Bowl. Barry Sanders had a quiet game, 44 yards on 11 carries. The then-Redskins walloped Detroit, 41-10, at RFK Stadium. The next season, Washington went on to win the Super Bowl. Detroit’s failed to win a single game in the postseason.
In 2002, the Texans were granted NFL membership, so don’t be too hard on the newest team as it pertains to never making it to a Super Bowl. Houston is the only team that’s never advanced to a conference final, however, They’ve dropped four games in the divisional round, including their contest with the Chiefs in 2021. In that regard, they might deserve a severe scolding.
Implying that Houston has never had any relevance in the Super Bowl wouldn’t suffice. Three of the 56 Super Bowls were played in Houston. The Space City Super Bowls (VIII, XXXVIII, LI) were spread out over two stadiums (Rice and Reliant/NRG).
Given the current state of the Texans, the team’s fan base will have to be content embracing the honor of having hosted those games.
In 1995, the Jaguar franchise was established, and things began quite well. With Tom Coughlin as their coach, the Jags made the playoffs in four of their first five seasons, participating in the AFC title game in 1996, their second season.
Jacksonville finished 1999 with a franchise-best 14-2 record, but denied a trip to the Super Bowl by Steve McNair’s Tennessee Titans in the AFC title game. Eighteen years later, Blake Bortles and the Duval defense rallied the team to its third AFC title game, which ended by losing to Tom Brady and the Patriots. Then again, who hasn’t done that?
The Browns have won numerous championships in the NFL, but none in the Super Bowl era. Starting with its inception in the long-defunct All-America Football Conference (winning each of the four league titles) and a subsequent move to the NFL, Cleveland was a dynasty. The Browns made it to 10 consecutive league championship games, winning seven (four in AAFC, three in NFL). Riding Jim Brown, Frank Ryan, Gary Collins and a killer defense, Cleveland whitewashed Johnny Unitas’ Colts, 27-0, in 1964 (in Baltimore), earning an eighth championship. Conference final is the closest Cleveland has come to making the Super Bowl (this doesn’t count the current-day Baltimore Ravens).
In the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Cleveland lost two straight conference championships.
In 1987, “The Drive” ended with Marty Schottenheimer’s 12-4 Browns suffering a heartbreaking AFC title loss to John Elway and the Broncos. The next season, again against Denver in the conference title game, “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner was another “tragic” scenario. Denizens of the Dawg Pound were subjected to a third defeat against the Broncos in the 1990 AFC Championship, because nauseating things apparently come in threes. There wasn’t a cutesy name that time.
Cleveland (old and new version) hasn’t sniffed a conference title game in the last three decades.