The trend has been unmistakable. Since the turn of the century, the teams that lose in the Super Bowl slump the next season. Few indicators have been better predictors in the new millenium.
It would seem to go against common sense that the league's runner-up would go from being one of the best teams one year to a complete also-ran the next, but it has happened each of the last seven years.
Why you ask? Well that is what this article will attempt to answer.
Each team's fortunes dwindled for different reasons, but there are some distinct similarities faced by all Super Bowl losers. Here is a breakdown of each runner-up's season the year after.
2006 Seattle Seahawks
Symtpom: Similar to the Panthers, the Seahawks fell victim to an over-emphasis on a few key star offensive players. QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, OG Steve Hutchinson and TE Jerramy Stevens were all pivotal performers in the club's 2005 Super Bowl run and were unable to duplicate their efforts in 2006 for different reasons. Unlike the Panthers, not all of those players were lost to injury and the ones that were, were not lost for nearly as long a period of time. This is the reason why Seattle, despite the host of issues it encountered in 2006, was able to still win its division and win a playoff game. Hasslebeck, Alexander and Stevens all missed one-to-two months with a variety of ailments but were all back in time for the playoffs, while Hutchinson was lost in free agency -- a key departure that would haunt Seattle and its suddenly average offensive line all season. Despite those problems, if it was not for a gutsy field goal by Chicago's Robbie Gould in the NFC divisional playoffs, Seattle may have returned to the championship game for a second straight season.
Cause: The alarming offensive decline by the Seahawks in 2006 had an adverse effect not only on the offense, but on the defense as well. The statistical differences between the 2005 Seahawks and the 2006 version are so stark that it is almost surprising that the 2006 team was even able to make the playoffs. With the inexperienced Seneca Wallace filling in at QB for Hasselbeck for four-plus games, veteran backup Maurice Morris taking Alexander's place for six games and long-time backup Itula Mili in for Stevens, the Seahawks were just totally disoriented. They scored a full touchdown less per game, committed twice as many turnovers and fell from 2nd to 19th in total offense. The defense, mwanwhile, stayed relatively consistent, going from 16th to 19th in total defense, but it allowed 70 more points because of the adverse situations the offense kept putting it in by turning the ball over. While the offense never got untracked, it was particularly noticeable when Hasselbeck and Alexander were out. In the five games that Wallace played extensively, the Seahawks were just 2-3, while they were 3-3 in the games without Alexander. It could be argued, however, that even had those three players remained healthy, the loss of Hutchinson still would have caused a spiral in Seattle's offensive production.
Diagnosis: There was misfortune involved in Seattle's sagging performance in 2006, but this was also a case of questionable front-office decision making. Instead of paying Hutchinson the money he was seeking, the team instead chose to give free-agent wide receiver Nate Burleson a lucrative deal. While Burleson is an accomplished player and performed adequately, Hutchinson's loss was a crushing blow to the offensive line and contributed to Hasselbeck and Alexander's struggles. Additionally, the team's decision not to bring in quality depth at the QB and RB positions backfired. Seneca Wallace was a good prospect, but he was not ready to handle the duties of a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Maurice Morris was an excellent situational rusher and great at spelling Alexander, but he was not equipped for feature back duties. Given the tenuous nature of QB health in the NFL and Alexander's advancing age, the club would have been well served to acquire more quality depth at those two key skill positions. Despite these somewhat questionable decisions, Seattle was still able to win the division and a playoff game and the front office deserves credit for having built the most consistent NFC franchise of the past decade.