5 NFL teams that have gone the longest without a losing season

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns

In sports, it's expected that teams should have winning and losing seasons. That is the nature of competitive sport at the highest level and what makes it so exciting. But some organizations have shown over and over again that they possess a culture that sets them apart from the rest. For such teams, losing is an aberration and winning is the only acceptable standard that exists.

In rugby union, for example, the All Blacks (New Zealand Men's National Rugby Union Team) have a winning record against every other international side. The Australian Kangaroos have the best record in international men's rugby league, winning 11 World Cups out of the 15 played. Similarly, in the NFL, certain franchises have gone years without incurring a losing season. SK takes a look at the top five.

Note that for the purposes of this list, losing seasons are considered to have begun in 1966, the year of the AFL-NFL merger. Prior to that, AFL records have not been considered as they run the risk of skewing the record in favor of NFL teams. Hence, the Cleveland Browns, who had no losing seasons for 17 consecutive years from 1957 to 1973, do not feature on this list.

NFL records for franchises without losing seasons

#5 - Oakland Raiders, 15 seasons, 1965 to 1980

Former Oakland Raiders principal owner and GM Al Davis
Former Oakland Raiders principal owner and GM Al Davis

Fifth on our list of teams without a losing season are the Oakland Raiders, who had 16 such seasons from 1966 to 1980. The era actually began in 1965 in what was Al Davis' last season as head coach. But the AFL-NFL merger would not take place until the following year. John Rauch became the coach in 1966 and would guide them to Super Bowl II in 1967, only to succumb to the Green Bay Packers.

John Madden succeeded Rauch in 1969 and carried on the record, the high point of which was to come at the end of the 1976 season when they won their first Super Bowl. By 1979, Tom Flores had replaced John Madden and won the Raiders' second Super Bowl at the end of the 1980 season.

The 1981 season was tumultuous as the reigning champions failed to even make the playoffs before departing at the end of the losing season for California.

#4 - San Francisco 49ers, 16 seasons, 1983 to 1998

Bill Walsh Public Memorial Service
Bill Walsh Public Memorial Service

As one franchise was waning on the West Coast, another was rising. In 1983, the San Francisco 49ers would begin a stretch of 16 non-losing seasons. With Bill Walsh as head coach and Joe Montana as their quarterback, by 1984, this iteration of the 49ers would bring their franchise its second Super Bowl. They combined again to emerge victorious as Super Bowl winners in 1988.

In 1989, George Seifert replaced Bill Walsh but the winning streak continued as they won the Super Bowl again in 1989. In early 1990s, they regularly reached the NFC Championship game, losing twice to the Dallas Cowboys but beating them in the 1994 season enroute to winning the Super Bowl. In 1997, Steve Mariucci replaced George Seifert and he too would carry on the team's winning ways by not suffering a losing season until 1998.

Top 3 NFL team records without losing seasons

#3 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 18 seasons, 2004 to 2021

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the middle of their streak without a losing season, a record that stretches back to 2004. Their 18 seasons and counting, currently ranks third-best in NFL history. Coincidentally, this entire period has coincided with the tenure of Ben Roethlisberger as their quarterback. With this most likely to be his last year, it will be a challenge to see if the Steelers can carry on their impressive run going into next season.

Bill Cowher was the coach when this streak began. At the end of the 2005 season, they would win a Super Bowl. The next season they recorded an 8-8 record and Bill Cowher retired. Mike Tomlin took over in 2007 and has had 15 consecutive non-losing seasons. Amidst this run, they also won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2008 season, which remains their last Super Bowl win to date.

#2 - New England Patriots, 19 seasons, 2001 to 2019

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams
Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams

The New England Patriots never had a losing season when Tom Brady was the starting quarterback. He took over in 2001 and led the team all the way to the Super Bowl title. While they could not repeat that success the following year, 2003 and 2004 saw the New England Patriots win two consecutive Super Bowls.

While they did not have any losing seasons in the years that followed their back-to-back titles, the Patriots kept falling short by their standards. New England did not win another Super Bowl until 2014.

They did have a perfect regular season in 2007, though, losing their only game in the Super Bowl against the Giants. The 2014 Super Bowl proved to be a watershed moment, as Tom Brady and the Patriots would go on to win three more Super Bowls with the franchise before Brady left in 2019.

After Brady's departure, Bill Belichick could not produce a winning season in 2020, missing the playoffs altogether. However, with Mac Jones as their quarterback of the future, New England find themselves back in the playoffs this year. One would imagine that Bill Belichick is hoping this is the beginning of a new era.

#1 - Dallas Cowboys, 20 seasons, 1966 to 1985

Tom Landry paces on the sideline
Tom Landry paces on the sideline

Much like with the Oakland Raiders, if we consider the 1965 season, the Dallas Cowboys had 21 years without a losing season as they went 7-7 that year. But even though the Cowboys were part of the NFL and not the AFL, for the purposes of this article, we are considering losing seasons beginning in 1966 when the AFL and NFL merged.

Coached by Tom Landry, the Cowboys were perennial contenders in the postseason, although they had to wait until 1971 to win their first Super Bowl. In 1977, Dallas would add a second to their tally after falling short a couple of times prior.

They would eventually go on to suffer their first losing season in two decades, when they finished 7-9 in 1986. It was during this period of sustained success under Landry and General Manager Tex Schramm, with the Super Bowl winning teams quarterbacked by Roger Staubach, that they became known as "America's Team."

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