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3 NFL Teams Who Made It to the Super Bowl 3 Straight Years

Written by: Mike Lukas
Updated January 31, 2024
8 min read
New England Patriots 3 Straight Years

Getting to the Super Bowl is the most difficult feat to accomplish in the NFL, with some teams – like the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Houston Texans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars – having never even made an appearance.

In all the NFL seasons that the Super Bowl has been played, only three times has the same football franchise made it to the Big Game three years in a row.

The Miami Dolphins did it from 1971 to 1973, the Buffalo Bills from 1990 to 1993, and the New England Patriots have done it from 2016 to 2018.

Why Is That Such a Rare Feat to Accomplish?

For many reasons, one of the main ones being the way the NFL has set up their salary cap system, which makes it extremely difficult to build up a so-called ‘super-team’ made up of high-priced superstars.

But even if you could do that, an NFL super-team wouldn’t have the same effect on the league as, say, an NBA super-team, since, with the exception of the quarterback, the nature of the game of football minimizes the impact each of the team’s eleven on-field players has overall.

Yet somehow, the Dolphins, the Bills and the Patriots all figured out how to beat the system three seasons in a row with Super Bowl appearances.

What Makes Those Three NFL Teams So Special?

Tough to say specifically, but it’s safe to say it has a lot to do with a special combination of players, coaching staff and front office.

Below, we briefly examine those three factors for each of the three-season Super Bowl runs of the Dolphins, Bills and Patriots.

One thing is clear: each of these franchises has and will produce multiple Hall-of-Famers, some whose names we’ve heard repeatedly and others who have remained virtually anonymous to this day.

Three Teams Who’ve Made It to the Super Bowl Three Straight Years

Miami Dolphins, 1971 to 1973

Super Bowl Appearances:

  • 1971 – Super Bowl VI, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 3-24

  • 1972 – Super Bowl VII, defeated the Washington Redskins, 14-7

  • 1973 – Super Bowl VIII, defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7

Regular Season, Postseason records:

  • 1971 – 10-3-1, 2-1

  • 1972 – 14-0, 3-0

  • 1973 – 12-2, 3-0

Head coach: Don Shula

Quarterback(s): Bob Griese / Earl Morrall

Owner: Joe Robbie

General Manager: Unlisted

Hall of Famers from those three Dolphins teams: head coach Don Shula, offensive lineman Jim Langer, fullback Larry Csonka, wide receiver Paul Warfield, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, player personnel director Bobby Beathard.

Notes:

After losing in the Super Bowl in 1971, head coach Don Shula “stressed in the locker room…that we wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. Our goal was not to go to the Super Bowl but to win it.”

In Week 5 of the 1972 season, star quarterback Bob Griese broke his leg, so veteran backup Earl Morrall stepped up and continued the Dolphins’ win streak until Griese could play again.

The 1972 Dolphins team was the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl with a perfect season, going 14-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in the postseason.

’72 Dolphins Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that every season since 1972, as soon as the very last undefeated NFL team is beaten, all the surviving members of that undefeated Dolphins team crack open a bottle of champagne and share a toast.

What Made The Dolphins Great?

While the roster was loaded with talent, coach Don Shula is a big reason for the team’s impressive success in the 1970’s. Shula took over as the team’s head coach in 1970 after a strong run with the Baltimore Colts.

The Dolphins were able to steal the coach away from the Colts in 1970 after the relationship between the two sides soured. The NFL would ultimately charge Miami with tampering over the signing of Shula, costing them a first-round draft pick in 1971.  While that is a high price for the team to pay, it was more than worth it for Miami.

The Dolphins had been a bad team in the AFL before the merger with the NFL in 1970. However, after hiring Shula, the team found immediate success, making the Super Bowl in 1971. While they lost that one, Shula and the Dolphins would return to win the following two.

Shula would lead the Dolphins to one more Super Bowl (1982) before retiring in 1996. The legendary coach ended his career with a regular-season record of 328-156-6.

Buffalo Bills, 1990 to 1993

Super Bowl Appearances:

  • 1990 – Super Bowl XXV, lost to the New York Giants, 19-20

  • 1991 – Super Bowl XXVI, lost to the Washington Redskins, 24-37

  • 1992 – Super Bowl XXVII, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 17-52

  • 1993 – Super Bowl XXVIII, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 13-30

Regular Season, Postseason records:

  • 1990 – 13-3, 2-1

  • 1991 – 13-3, 2-1

  • 1992 – 11-5, 3-1

  • 1993 – 12-4, 2-1

Head coach: Marv Levy

Quarterback: Jim Kelly

Owner: Ralph Wilson

General Manager(s): Bill Polian, John Butler

Hall of Famers from those four Bills teams: head coach Marv Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, wide receivers James Lofton and Andre Reed, defensive end Bruce Smith and general manager Bill Polian.

Notes:

Is it better to have never gone to the Super Bowl than to have lost in it four times in a row like the Buffalo Bills have?

That’s the question that haunts the Bills ever since their string of four Big Game losses in the early 90’s.

Levy is the winningest coach in Bills’ history, however, recording a regular season record of 112-70 and a playoff record of 11-8 in eleven total seasons.

One More Go of It for Levy

In 2006, owner Ralph Wilson hired Levy, at the age of 80, to be the General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations for the Buffalo Bills, and to eliminate any speculation, Wilson was very clear that Levy, “will never be the coach.”

What Made The Bills Great

These Bills teams were loaded with talent, but quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas stood out from the rest. 

Thomas established himself as one of the best backs in the league during the Bills' infamous run of Super Bowl appearances. He had the third most rushing yards in the NFL from 1990 through 1999, earning him a place in the NFL Hall of Fame. Teams struggled to stop Thomas, which helped the Bills win many games.

Kelly was the other reason for the Bills' success in the 90’s. The quarterback once spurned the Bills but eventually ended up with the team and became one of their all-time great players. Kelly made the Pro Bowl in 1990, 1991, and 1993, thanks to stats that are impressive even when compared to today’s standards.

Unfortunately, this star quarterback-running back duo was not enough to get the Bills a Super Bowl title, despite four straight appearances.

New England Patriots, 2016 to 2018

Super Bowl Appearances:

  • 2016 – Super Bowl LI, defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28

  • 2017 – Super Bowl LII, lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 33-41

  • 2018 – Super Bowl LIII, vs. the Los Angeles Rams, defeated, 13-3

Regular Season, Postseason records:

  • 2016 – 14-2, 3-0

  • 2017 – 13-3, 2-1

  • 2018 – 11-5, 3-0

Head coach: Bill Belichick

Quarterback: Tom Brady

Owner: Robert Kraft

General Manager: Bill Belichick

Certain Hall of Famers from those Patriots teams: head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady

Longer shot Hall of Fame Players from those Patriots teams: tight end Rob Gronkowski, slot receiver Julian Edelman, running back Sony Michel, owner Robert Kraft

Notes:

The New England Patriots have been to the Super Bowl eleven times (the most of all NFL teams).

There have been two additional times where the Patriots could have played in the Big Game three seasons in a row – had they gone to the Super Bowl in 2002 and 2015.

As it stands, they’ve been in four of the last five Super Bowls, and nine of the last eighteen.

What Made The Patriots Great

The combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady made the Patriots one of the league’s premiere franchises. Belichick had established himself as a great coach before being hired by the Patriots, but he got even better after joining the team.

His schemes were unique and often stood out compared to their opponents. He saw the game differently than other coaches, allowing him to think outside the box to beat more talented teams.

Belichick benefited from the Pats drafting a young Tom Brady out of Michigan. There were low expectations for the quarterback, but he fit perfectly into Belichick’s new offense. Over the years, Brady would go from being a system quarterback to one of the best ever to play the game. While he doesn’t have the impressive stats of Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, Brady’s ability to win big games made him the greatest ever to play the position.

Final Analysis

It obviously takes quite a bit of Hall-of-Fame caliber talent to get to the Super Bowl three seasons in a row, but it also requires the ability to make the most out of all those mid-level players on the roster, to get each of them to play at a Hall-of-Fame level.

That’s part of the genius of Shula, Levy and Belichick – to be able to consistently pull the most out of their players, especially the ones that other teams have for various reasons passed on.

Who knows when it will happen again?

Who’s Next?

Now that the Belichick/Brady run is complete, which team will be the next to make three-in-a-row Super Bowl appearances?

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs came very close to joining this list, but a 24-27 loss to the Bengals in the 2022 AFC Championship Game prevented them from making their third-straight Super Bowl appearance. The team is back in the Super Bowl this season, setting them up for another chance to join the small list of teams to make three straight trips to the big game. 

The Chiefs seem to have the best chance to achieve this feat in the league. The combination of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and an elite defense has them built to win for years to come. While injuries and slumps can happen, there is no question that these Chiefs can make and win multiple Super Bowls over the next few seasons.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners will take on the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII, meaning they are the NFC team with the best chance to join this exclusive club. The team was expected to make the Super Bowl last season, but an injury to Brock Purdy in the playoffs left the team without a healthy quarterback for the NFC Championship

The Niners have an impressive roster that is set to win over the next few seasons. Brock Purdy may not be an elite playmaker, but he has shown he can run a Niners offense filled with playmakers. The San Francisco defense has been consistently great, which is a reason for their recent success. The biggest postseason knock on the Niners was their inability to come from behind late in games, but that has not been an issue during this postseason run.

Considering the coaching staff and roster, the Niners should be competing for Super Bowls for years to come.

While we’re on the subject, we’d also like to invite you to read our article about all the known future Super Bowl locations.

While You’re Hating the 2018-19 New England Patriots…

Regardless of which team we’re talking about, even one Super Bowl appearance is a major lifetime achievement, but to do it three times in a row is purely magical.

And whether you loved or hated the Belichick/Brady Patriots, maybe you can at least respect the fact that they did something magical that only two other teams in the history of the league have been able to do before.

It’ll be years before we see their kind of NFL magic again.

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AUTHOR

Mike Lukas

1204 Articles

Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]

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