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Knowing That the Fat Lady Sang: A Look At Insurmountable Deficits In Sports

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Last night Peyton Manning and the Broncos were at one point trailing the Colts by 19 points, a difficult deficit for even the video game offense Denver has been galloping out all season. But while a come-from-behind win seemed unlikely, it was nevertheless possible, especially with the best quarterback in football at the wheel. Some comebacks, however, just ain't happening—at least, if history is any indication. Here are some signs that all hope is lost.

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NFL

THE SUPER BOWL IS OUT OF THE QUESTION IF YOUR TEAM LOSES 3 STRAIGHT GAMES TO START THE SEASON.  

Lose three in a row to open the year, and your season is basically over before it stared. The longest losing streak to start the season and still win the Super Bowl is just two games, a feat shared by three teams: the ’07 Giants, ’01 Patriots, ’93 Cowboys. Keep in mind, these teams either: A) Turned the reigns over to Tom Brady, B) Had a backup wide receiver catch the ball with his helmet on the biggest play of the season, or C) Had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin coming off a Super Bowl blowout victory the year before.

YOUR TEAM WON'T EVEN MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF IT LOSES 5 STRAIGHT GAMES TO START THE SEASON.

Your team might as well pack it in if they drop five straight to start the year. The 1992 Chargers are the only team to start 0-4 and make the playoffs, and it was an especially bad 0-4; they were outscored 95-29. But then San Diego picked up a win over a Seattle team that would finish 2-14, had a bye week, and won 10 of 11 games to make the playoffs with an 11-5 record.

8 LOSSES DURING THE REGULAR SEASON? NO SUPER BOWL FOR YOU

Going .500 in the regular season indicates your team isn't especially good, even if it managed to sneak into the playoffs. So don't expect a miracle Super Bowl run. The 2011 Giants, 9-7 in the regular season, had the worst record of any Super Bowl-winning team.

GO DOWN 33 OR MORE POINTS AND THE GAME IS OVER.

If your opponent scores four TDs, a field goal and a safety before you get on the board, then you're in trouble. The largest single-game comeback is 32 points (’92 Bills). That game, a 41-38 playoff win over Houston in which the Bills trailed 35-3, resulted in the Oilers firing defensive coordinator Jim Eddy and defensive backs coach Pat Thomas the very next day. The largest regular season in-game comeback: 28 (’80 49ers).

DON'T EXPECT TO COME BACK DOWN 11 POINTS OR MORE IN THE SUPER BOWL

The margin for error on the game's biggest stage is razor thin. The largest Super Bowl comeback is just 10 points (Redskins XXII, Saints XLIV). The 49ers got close to shattering this record when they nearly came back from a 22-point deficit -- aided by a potentially nefarious power outage -- in Super Bowl XLVII, but they came up just short.

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Baseball

YOUR TEAM WILL NOT WIN THE WORLD SERIES IF IT LOSES 10 OR MORE GAMES IN A ROW DURING THE REGULAR SEASON.

Don't even think about the World Series if your team stumbles its way to a double-digit losing streak. The longest loss-a-palooza from a World Series-winning season was 9 games by the ’53 Yankees, a team that boasted four future Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Phil Rizzuto.

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TRAILING BY 13 OR MORE RUNS IS THE POINT OF NO RETURN.

Whether due to the inherent unluckiness of the number or the fact that your team is getting beat the heck down, don't expect to come back from down 13 runs. Baseball's biggest in-game comeback is a much more manageable 12 runs (’01 Indians, ’25 Athletics). The A's comeback on June 15, 1925 saw the then-Philadelphia squad score 13 runs in the eighth inning to take the lead. Cleveland, meanwhile, trailed 12-0 in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners before scoring nine runs over the eighth and ninth innings to force extra innings; they eventually won on a walk-off single by Jolbert Cabrera. The threshold is even lower in postseason: While the 1929 A's clawed back from 8 down -- and in the World Series at that -- no World Series team has ever dug out of a hole of 9 or more runs down.

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Basketball

LOSING BY 37 OR MORE POINTS IS A DEATH SENTENCE.

37 points is the cut-off for NBA comebacks. The NBA's only 36-point comeback belongs to the ’96 Jazz, who trailed the Nuggets 70-36 at halftime. Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek led the comeback victory, and Utah held Denver to just 33 second-half points.

wallace200YOUR TEAM WILL NOT WIN THE NBA FINALS IF IT LOST 7 OR MORE REGULAR SEASON GAMES IN A ROW.

Seven games is nearly nine percent of the NBA season. If you lose 9% of your games consecutively, that's probably a sign you're not a championship contender. The longest losing streak in a Finals-winning season is 6 games, a feat accomplished by four teams: The  ’51 Royals, ’79 Supersonics, ’04 Pistons, and ’11 Mavericks. These four championship teams all lost six games in a row, but the streaks were each early in the season, giving the teams time to regroup. None of the bad runs stretched past February 17.

YOUR TEAM WILL NOT WIN THE NBA FINALS IF IT LOST THE FIRST 4 GAMES OF THE SEASON.

Finals hopefuls have a small margin for error to open the season. The longest losing streak to start the season and win the Finals is just 3 (’91 Bulls). Only noted competitive maniac Michael Jordan in his quest for his first ring was able to overcome an 0-3 start .em-linebreak_cut_v1

Assorted hopelessness

YOUR HOCKEY TEAM WILL NOT WIN IF IT TRAILS BY SIX OR MORE GOALS.

The ceiling for hockey comebacks is set at two hat tricks. The 1982 L.A. Kings trailed 5-0 in the third period to Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers before tying the game and eventually winning in overtime.

YOUR FAVORITE GOLFER ISN'T COMING BACK FROM 11 STROKES BACK IN THE FINAL ROUND OF A MAJOR.

If you see an 11-stroke comeback, head for your emergency bunker, because the sky is falling. Paul Lawrie (below) did manage to win the 1999 British Open despite trailing by 10 at the start of the final round. Lawrie was aided by Jean van de Velde's infamous meltdown, which saw him card a triple bogey on the 72nd hole to blow a three-stroke lead and force a playoff, which he promptly lost.

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This post has been updated to include two corrections. The 2011 New York Giants won the Super Bowl with a 9-7 regular season record. Seven games is 8.5% of the NBA regular season. 
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