5 Times NFL Preseason Favorites Failed to Deliver

By Nicholas Sterling in NFL
| July 31, 2022 12:51 pm PDT
NFL logo centered, Lawrence Taylor to left, Kurt Warner to right

Every NFL team comes into the season with one goal; to win the Super Bowl. This is especially important for the preseason favorite because it’s an attainable goal. In fact, people expect them to do it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Due to a variety of factors, some NFL teams go from preseason favorite to missing the playoffs entirely. These five teams suffered that unfortunate fate.

Learning about the top NFL preseason favorites that failed to live up to the hype can be crucial to successful wagering at the top Super Bowl betting sites. Figuring out the signs to look for can help you avoid bad bats. Of course, that requires taking a trip down memory lane and taking notes.

Who are these teams, and why did they fail to deliver? Let’s find out.

5. 1980 Pittsburgh Steelers (+240)

pittsburgh steelers logo

The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 1980 season fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Going back a little further, they won four of the last six Super Bowls.

Needless to say, Pittsburgh dominated the 1970s. The biggest reason for that was their legendary defense.

Unfortunately, their defense would contribute to their downfall in 1980.

Pittsburgh had a great start to the season. They won four of their first five games, holding their opponent under 20 points in each victory. Unfortunately, they followed that up with a three-game losing streak. That’s where we saw the defense struggle.

Week Points Allowed Yards Allowed
Week 6 17 304
Week 7 45 390
Week 8 27 439

That Week 8 game against the Cleveland Browns was especially tough. Pittsburgh held a 26-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Browns outscored them 13-0 in the fourth quarter to win 27-26.

Following that stretch, the Steelers managed to stay in the playoff race with three straight wins. The final of those being a fourth-quarter comeback against the Browns.

The Steelers lost three of their final five games and finished with a 9-7 record. They finished two games behind the Browns for the AFC Central title.

This was unforeseen territory for the Steelers franchise. They hadn’t missed the playoffs since 1971 and were consistently a Super Bowl contender.

So, what went wrong for them in 1980? A little bit of everything.

Their defense took a step back, finishing 15th in points per game. They also only had 18 sacks.

On offense, Terry Bradshaw threw 22 interceptions. The offense as a whole turned the ball over 42 times. It’s hard to make a playoff run when you have that many turnovers.

This effectively marked the end of the Steelers dynasty.

4. 1989 Cincinnati Bengals (+600)

cincinnati bengals logo

We might be cheating a little with this one because the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t the sole favorite going into the 1989 season. They were one of three teams at (+600) odds, but I’m going with it anyway.

In 1988, the Bengals had the best record in football. Behind MVP Boomer Esiason, they led the league with 28.0 points per game. They ultimately came up short in one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time but looked poised to make another run.

Cincinnati looked great at the beginning of the 1989 season. They followed up a Week 1 loss with four straight wins. Including the Week 1 loss, the Bengals defense allowed fewer than 20 points in all five games.

From there, we saw some inconsistent play.

The Bengals lost four of their next five games. Surprisingly, it was their offense that let them down, as they scored 13 points or less in three of those losses. To be fair, they scored 56 in their lone victory in that stretch.

Following a 3-2 stretch, the Bengals went into the final week with an 8-7 record. They played on Monday night football against the Minnesota Vikings. Coincidentally, the Vikings were among the other teams who entered the season with (+600) odds.

With both teams needing a win to make the playoffs, the intensity was at an all-time high.

Minnesota jumped out to a 19-0 lead before the Bengals rallied to make it a one-point game. The Vikings added a late touchdown to seal the 29-21 victory. What’s interesting about this team is their offense and defense were among the best in the league.

  • Offensive Points Per Game: 25.3 (4th)
  • Defensive Points Per Game: 17.8 (7th)

They had six Pro Bowlers, including Esiason.

In the end, it seemed like the Bengals couldn’t string together a consistent stretch of games. That ultimately killed their playoff hopes.

3. 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+800)

tampa bay buccaneers logo

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the season fresh off, winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. They came into the season as (+800) favorites to go back-to-back. However, that was going to be easier said than done.

Tampa Bay began the season 2-2, but it should’ve been 4-0. They missed the game-winning extra point before losing in overtime in Week 2. In Week 4, they blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in one of the best games in Monday night football history.

From there, they won two of their next three games to move to 4-3. Unfortunately, they followed that with a three-game losing streak. That put their playoff hopes in doubt.

By this point, there were issues between head coach Jon Gruden and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. The two had numerous issues on the sidelines, leading to Johnson’s deactivation for the final seven games.

The Buccaneers rallied to win three of their next four to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They dropped their final two games to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs.

In addition to the off-the-field issues, the Buccaneers had many players end the season on injured reserve.

  • Mike Alsott
  • Joe Jurevicius
  • Brian Kelly
  • John Howell

There were a few other players, but these were the ones who missed at least half the season.

Then, there was also tension between Gruden and general manager Rich McKay. The two started on great terms, but things soured when the losses began to pile up. McKay left before the end of the season to join the Atlanta Falcons.

In the end, multiple factors contributed to the downfall of the 2003 Buccaneers. They failed to win another playoff game until 2020.

2. 2002 St. Louis Rams (+350)

rams logo

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the St. Louis Rams were looking like the league’s next great dynasty.

They won the Super Bowl XXXIV as one of the biggest longshots in NFL history. They fell just short of winning the Super Bowl in 2001.

Coming into the 2002 season, they were looking to finish the job.

St. Louis had a disastrous start to the season, losing their first five games. After engineering one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, Kurt Warner took a massive step back. Check out his numbers in his first four games.

  • 899 passing yards
  • 1 touchdown
  • 8 interception
  • 2 fumbles

Early in Week 4, he broke his finger. He returned later in the season but was ineffective. That opened the door for Marc Bulger.

With Bulger at the helm, the Rams rattled off five straight wins. Unfortunately, they lost star-running back Marshall Faulk in that stretch with an ankle injury.

Even with his success, the Rams opted to bench Bulger in favor of a healthy Warner. However, that only lasted two weeks, as the Rams lost both games.

St. Louis couldn’t string together wins as their season ended with a Week 16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. A win in Week 17 allowed them to finish the season 7-9.

As for The Greatest Show on Turf that dominated the NFL for years? Well, that was nonexistent in 2002.

  • Points Per Game: 19.8 (23rd)
  • Yards Per Game: 347.3 (13th)

Because Bulger did such a great job replacing Warner, the Rams passing offense wasn’t the issue. The loss of Faulk had a bigger effect, as they had the third-fewest rushing yards per game.

Warner’s slow start didn’t do the Rams any favors, but maybe they will make a playoff run if Faulk stays healthy.

1. 1987 New York Giants (+400)

new york giants logo

As we see with most preseason favorites, the New York Giants came into the 1987 season as the defending Super Bowl champions. Their defense wreaked havoc behind MVP Lawrence Taylor.

New York had a pair of close losses to start the season. Then, the NFL went on strike, canceling Week 3. For the next few weeks, the NFL played with replacement players. That prompted an 0-5 start for the Giants.

Following the losing streak, the players returned to action.

The Giants recovered to win three of their next four games. That should’ve been four straight wins, but they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Dallas Cowboys.

Unfortunately, their playoff hopes came to an end after losing three of the next four games.

New York blew a fourth-quarter lead twice in that span, including a 10-point lead over the Washington Redskins.

New York went on to win their final two games to finish the season 6-9. As of 2021, that’s the worst record for a preseason Super Bowl favorite.

In 1986, the Giants had a great defense, but their offense was also a top 10 unit. They both took a big step back in 1987.

  • Points Per Game: 18.7 (22nd)
  • Offensive Yards Per Game: 310.6 (18th)
  • Points Allowed Per Game: 20.8 (13th)
  • Defensive Yards Per Game: 310.5 (7th)

Taylor and Carl Banks both made the Pro Bowl, with Banks making the All-Pro team. Unfortunately, the team as a whole struggled to maintain consistency.

It was always going to be tough to dig out of that 0-5 hole, but it would’ve been easier without blowing three fourth-quarter leads.

For the Giants, the season was a minor setback. They won at least ten games in the ensuing three seasons, including winning Super Bowl XXV.

Betting on the Super Bowl

NFL logo

The NFL is much different than a sport like the NBA because so many factors go into winning a championship. If one of those struggles, it can make the difference between a Super Bowl favorite and missing the playoffs.

For the most part, the preseason favorite will at least make a Super Bowl run. These five teams had the unfortunate fate of missing the playoffs.

When it comes to the favorite, you typically won’t see their value any better than the preseason. No matter when you want to bet on them, make sure you cover all of the bases and gauge as best you can whether they’re worth your money. It might pay to look at some surprising Super Bowl winners, too.

Biggest Surprise Super Bowl Winners of All-Time

Before every NFL season, fans sit down and try to predict the winner. Most of the time, you’ll see them place a bet on their top choice or a sleeper that presents great value. We usually see one of the favorites come through, but there are instances of...

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