Nearly 40 percent of the NFL's franchises have not won a Super Bowl.
It's a pretty remarkable statistic if you think about it: There have been 57 Super Bowls played, and of the 32 teams, 12 have not won a single one. The number has remained the same since the day the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII more than five years ago, ending their own drought.
Some of those 12 teams have had their chances. The Vikings and Bills each have been in four Super Bowls, and the Bengals now have played in three. Four teams have never been to the big game: the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Panthers and Jaguars, who entered the league in 1995, and the Texans, who were founded in 2002, have slightly more reasonable excuses for not yet winning one. The other Super Bowl-less clubs -- including the Cardinals, one of the league's original franchises -- have far fewer reasons for not being able to end their dubious streaks.
Which of these franchises is closest to winning its first ever Super Bowl? We break them down in three clusters of readiness, from closest to the farthest away:
On the cusp
Bengals, Bills, Chargers
The common thread between these teams is the presence of an established star quarterback in the prime of his career. Joe Burrow has already been to a Super Bowl with the Bengals -- and was close to winning it. Josh Allen has led the Bills to the playoffs the past four seasons, playing eight postseason games along the way. The Chargers' Justin Herbert has only one playoff appearance to his name, but he's recorded more pass yards than Burrow and Allen since 2020.
Burrow might be on the verge of a contract extension this offseason, which actually could shorten his and the Bengals' Super Bowl window, depending on the terms of the deal. Can Cincinnati keep his two hombres, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, around long enough once Burrow begins to chew up a bigger slice of the salary-cap pie than he did on his rookie deal? That's the biggest worry with such an extension.
But this is a young, talented Bengals roster with few glaring, obvious holes as of now. Burrow is an MVP candidate who has gone toe-to-toe against some of the league's best, winning three road playoff games over his past two seasons. The pieces are there for the Bengals to end their title drought in the next few years.
On the flip side, the Bills are one of the oldest NFL rosters currently, surrounding their young standouts with experience on both sides of the ball. With the signing of Leonard Floyd, the Bills now have a whopping 17 players age 30 or older, and Stefon Diggs will turn 30 during the season.
They've played in eight playoff games the past four years, with each of those runs ending in painful or shocking fashion. A lot now falls on Allen and Diggs, as well as Von Miller and a defense with no coordinator, to end a title dry spell that has been ongoing since the 1965 AFL Championship. But even with Miller's ACL injury clouding his early availability, and even with a thorny schedule ahead, the roster around those stars in Buffalo could be good enough for a Super Bowl run.
The Chargers are in the same area code, talent-wise, as the Bengals and Bills -- they just don't have the recent success to buttress their argument as Super Bowl contenders. Herbert has done virtually everything asked of him to date, and some of the Chargers' failures can be blamed on injuries.
But there will be pressure to get it done sooner rather than later. They have the talent; they just need to stay relatively healthy and put it all together. In the AFC West, that's tough. And as with Burrow and the Bengals, the Chargers could sign Herbert to an extension this summer, locking up their star QB for the long term, though theoretically limiting their ability to further bolster the roster. Head coach Brandon Staley was brought back for another season, but anything short of a healthy playoff run this year could potentially cause the team to go looking for a new head coach.
One other common thread tying these three teams is actually a negative. They all play in the AFC, which -- until further notice -- remains the tougher gauntlet of the two conferences.
Close to contending
Browns, Lions, Jaguars, Vikings
Even if these four of these teams carry significant question marks, you could make a case that all four are dark-horse Super Bowl contenders.
The Browns look better and could take a huge leap if Deshaun Watson regains his greatness on the field. The Lions won eight of their final 10 games and had five one-score losses against playoff teams a year ago. The Jaguars also were hot down the stretch, rallied for an epic wild-card comeback win and took the Chiefs to the brink in the Divisional Round at Arrowhead. The Vikings won 13 games last season.
Are all of them going to be in contention this coming season? Maybe not. But there's at least tangible short- or long-term hope -- or both -- with all of these teams on some level.
The Browns nearly cracked my list of the NFL's 10 most complete rosters, which might be surprising to some. The more you look at their roster, the more solid it appears on paper. But is this a Super Bowl-caliber team now? If Watson regains his form, it feels like the answer is a faint "yes." This could be an explosive offense paired with a pressure-generating defense that figures to improve. If the defense steps up simultaneously, the Browns could be contenders immediately, even if the division competition looks like it will be pretty fierce for the next few years.
There might be no more darling contender than the Lions. Their history has been cloaked by unrelenting disappointment, but there's real buy-in on Dan Campbell's crew, based on its late-season success in 2022. The departure of Aaron Rodgers from the division opens the door (wider?) for the Lions to make the playoffs, and the NFC side of the ledger provides an easier road to make a Super Bowl run than the AFC does. Even if the Lions are a year away from being title contenders, the present and future are exciting in Detroit.
The Jaguars also qualify as fashionable contenders following their massive turnaround under Doug Pederson last season. The young offensive nucleus around Trevor Lawrence is strong, and the similarly young defense features several interesting pieces that could help develop it into a quality unit at some point. But what will it take to survive the murderer's row in the AFC? Perhaps a bit of luck, although the Jaguars did stand toe-to-toe with several legit contenders a year ago.
Do the Vikings truly belong in this strata? It's debatable. Had they not enjoyed overwhelming regular-season success a year ago, we might have bumped them down a level. Even now, there's doubt, as the Vikings have shed a lot of skin this offseason, the latest example being Dalvin Cook's release. With Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson on the roster, they have a chance, and Kirk Cousins is better than his naysayers give him credit for, but this season could mark a step back from 2022.
All four teams are in different stages in their bids to be true contenders. The Browns, Lions and Jaguars are on the younger side, with bigger windows to thrive -- and more immediate upside. The Vikings are a slightly older team that's undergoing a transitional period and might have to endure a down season or two before regaining that status.
How long will the wait be?
Panthers, Texans, Titans, Falcons, Cardinals
Notice anything about these five teams? They're all currently quarterbacked by younger passers -- or, at least, they potentially could be, in due time.
The Titans are currently an exception, with Ryan Tannehill in line to start yet again. But Tennessee has used Day 2 picks on quarterbacks the past two drafts, and even if 2022 third-rounder Malik Willis doesn't get the chance to unseat Tannehill, 2023 second-rounder Will Levis is expected to at some point. As good a coach as Mike Vrabel is, Tennessee's aged roster, led by the 34-year-old Tannehill and 29-year-old running back Derrick Henry, significantly reduces its Super Bowl window, possibly leading to a reset by next season at the latest.
Another possible outlier here are the Cardinals with Kyler Murray, who is heading into Year 5 of his career and under contract through 2028 season following his extension last summer. For the "salary cap is a myth" folks, Murray's contract status means nothing, and the Cardinals almost certainly will be candidates to draft a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft, thanks to their wealth of assets (six picks in Rounds 1-3, including two first-rounders).
Whether or not Arizona goes that route obviously remains to be seen, but regardless of the franchise's future plans with Murray (whose timeline to return is uncertain as he recovers from an ACL tear), the Cardinals can't reasonably be viewed as potential contenders for years -- plural. They hired a new head coach and GM this offseason, still have holes all over the place and clearly are amid a roster refresh after some major veteran departures.
The Panthers and Texans hope they've landed their quarterbacks for the foreseeable future in Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, respectively. We've seen firsthand what a strong, young star QB can do to change the face of franchises, with Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts all able to lead their teams to Super Bowls by the end of Year 3.
Carolina and Houston both currently play in winnable divisions, though even one season cycle could change that dramatically. Right now, the Panthers appear to have the stronger roster and the slightly easier route to contention in the NFC. In either case, we're taking a pretty big leap in forecasting future Super Bowl appearances.
We don't yet definitively know the Falcons' future plans at quarterback. They resisted giving 2022 third-rounder Desmond Ridder a chance last season until mid-December, but he played pretty well down the stretch (fumbles aside) and will get a great opportunity to clamp down the job this season. The offensive support staff is pretty solid, with a good O-line and Bijan Robinson-led run game, along with Kyle Pitts and Drake London to throw to.
But is this the makings of a Super Bowl formula in Atlanta? We're not ready to go there until we see more of Ridder and this ground-based offense. Plus, the Falcons don't appear set to take the next step defensively until proven otherwise, so there's work to be done before they can graduate to a higher tier of contender.