Every bettor knows how risky it can be to rely on a Super Bowl champion to repeat the following year. The Patriots (2003-04) are the only franchise to do it this century, and it's only been accomplished eight times in NFL history and twice in the salary-cap era (since 1994).
But for the runner-up? It's nearly impossible.
Only three teams have ever lost in the Super Bowl and won it the following year: the 1971 Cowboys, 1972 Dolphins, and 2018 Patriots. Only eight runners-up have even made it back to the title game, including just one since the mid-1990s.
What does that mean for the San Francisco 49ers this year? If past seasons are any indication, they could have a tough road ahead. Here's a look at every Super Bowl runner-up over the last 20 years and how they fared relative to preseason expectations (using data from Pro Football Reference):
|Team||Title odds||Win total||Record||Playoffs?|
|San Francisco 49ers (2020)||+800||10.5||???||???|
|Los Angeles Rams (2019)||+1400||10.5||9-7||NO|
|New England Patriots (2018)||+600||11||11-5||YES|
|Atlanta Falcons (2017)||+1600||9.5||10-6||YES|
|Carolina Panthers (2016)||+1200||10.5||6-10||NO|
|Seattle Seahawks (2015)||+450||11||10-6||YES|
|Denver Broncos (2014)||+550||11.5||12-4||YES|
|San Francisco 49ers (2013)||+700||11.5||12-4||YES|
|New England Patriots (2012)||+700||12||12-4||YES|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (2011)||+1400||10.5||12-4||YES|
|Indianapolis Colts (2010)||+800||10.5||10-6||YES|
|Arizona Cardinals (2009)||+2800||8.5||9-7||YES|
|New England Patriots (2008)||+350||12||11-5||NO|
|Chicago Bears (2007)||+1400||10||7-9||NO|
|Seattle Seahawks (2006)||+1000||10.5||9-7||YES|
|Philadelphia Eagles (2005)||+500||11.5||6-10||NO|
|Carolina Panthers (2004)||+1800||8.5||7-9||NO|
|Oakland Raiders (2003)||+1200||9.5||4-12||NO|
|St. Louis Rams (2002)||+350||11||7-9||NO|
|New York Giants (2001)||+1500||9||7-9||NO|
There's no way around it: Losing the Super Bowl has been a curse for teams in the last 20 years.
Since 2000, only five of 19 runners-up have cashed the over on their preseason win total, and nine of them missed the playoffs. Only one of those teams reached the Super Bowl (the 2018 Patriots), and only one improved its record from the year before (the 2013 49ers).
For a while, fading the previous year's Super Bowl loser was the easiest bet in football. From 2001-08, the runner-up went under its win total in all eight seasons, averaging just over seven wins per year with only one playoff berth.
The outlook for runners-up has improved in recent years - the over is 5-4-2 since 2009, and all but two have made the playoffs. Yet one of those came last year when the Rams (9-7) opened as preseason Super Bowl favorites at some shops but looked lost for much of the campaign.
The results have been especially disappointing for teams that enter with high expectations. Of the 13 teams with a win total of 10.5 or higher - like the 49ers (10.5) this year - only three went over. Of the nine teams priced 10-1 or better to win the Super Bowl, two hit their win total, while three missed the playoffs entirely.
The road back to the playoffs has been more favorable as of late, with nine of the last 11 runners-up reaching the postseason. That's good news for those betting on the 49ers, who have the NFL's third-shortest odds to reach the playoffs (-380).
As for a deep run, though? Don't count on it. Many of the same issues plaguing past runners-up could affect San Francisco.
Since the introduction of the salary cap in 1994, the best way to win has been to strike while your best players are on below-market deals. It's also what makes back-to-back Super Bowl runs so difficult, as many of those players are often too expensive to retain in consecutive years.
The 49ers traded All-Pro defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts this summer instead of signing him to an extension; veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders cashed in with the Saints. Even with those cost-cutting measures, Jimmy Garoppolo's percentage of the salary cap (12.9%) would be the highest of any title-winning QB since '94, which doesn't reflect well on the team's depth and flexibility in 2020.
Injuries also tend to strike runners-up, many of whom enjoyed injury luck the year before. Though the 49ers weren't immune in 2019, they avoided injuries to their core contributors during their NFC title run. Regression looms, especially for a team that was ravaged by poor health in 2018 and carries injury risk with many of its key players.
And then there's the schedule, which often knocks Super Bowl contenders down a peg the following year. The 49ers face the toughest slate in the NFC by traditional metrics and meet seven projected playoff teams in their final 11 games by betting odds.
We've seen this play out in dramatic fashion in the last two years; the 2018 Patriots avenged their title loss with a Super Bowl win, while the 2019 Rams fizzled out. If you're betting on the Niners this year, history says you're better off expecting the latter.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.