Twelve NFL Teams That Started Fast, Fizzled, and Ultimately Failed To Make the Postseason
The Denver Broncos are 4-0 after another miracle win; the 49ers are 3-1 (and could be 4-0 without a little magic from Favre); the Bengals are 3-1, scoring an overtime win over Cleveland.
Seems like this is the year when traditionally underachieving powers capitalize on their fast starts to stake a playoff claim.
But not so fast, my friend. The NFL season is long, and teams have gotten off to fast starts before; raised expectations, hiked up ticket prices, tossed out superlatives, all in time for an epic collapse once mid-October rolls around.
The Broncos, 49ers, and Bengals would be wise to partake in this perspective-laden look at twelve recent teams that got off to hot starts before going dead-cold and missing their shot at the Super Bowl.
The 4-1 Washington Redskins, 2008
Last year, the Washington Redskins seemed poised to ride a winning formula to the playoffs.
A strong defense and a solid running game had the Redskins on a 4-1 start and a four-game winning streak after the loss to the Giants on Thursday night to open the season.
But the reemergence of Clinton Portis, Jason Campbell's gaudy low interception number, and the close-as-a-razor margins of victory over middling teams (as well as the loss to the St. Louis Rams, never a good sign) belied a larger problem: the absence of risk on offense. It was clear Jim Zorn didn't trust Campbell or the rest of his offense to go for the jugular in big games.
Of course, it didn't help that the Redskins were no doubt playing in the strongest division in either conference.
But a loss to the Steelers, Cowboys, and a road loss to the awful Bengals late in the season sealed the Redskins wildcard fate, and they slumped to last in the NFC East.
The 5-2 Atlanta Falcons, 2006
The 2003 Atlanta Falcons under Michael Vick were 5-2, and had beaten the Steelers and Bengals in back-to-back weeks. Signs were pointing to the playoffs after a disappointing end to the 2005 season.
Instead, Falcon fans would get more of the same as Atlanta lose to Detroit en route to dropping four straight. Elimination from the playoff race came in a week 16 loss to the Panthers, when the Falcons managed to score only a field goal despite boasting the NFL's most dynamic player.
Vick's arrest and Jim Mora's termination would occur at season's end, marking the low point for the franchise.
The 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals, 2006
Coming off of an 11-5 regular season record in 2005, and hoping to improve, the 2006 Cincinnati Bengals started off hot with wins over the Chiefs and division rival Browns, as well a 28-20 win over the defending world champion Steelers.
An up-and-down season ensued, with the playoffs always within reach but never grasped. The Bengals blanked the Browns and beat the Ravens and Raiders late.
But the titillation ended when the Bengals lost three straight to close the season, limping into a must-win rematch against Pittsburgh that came up short. The loss cost them the playoff berth for the AFC North.
Tensions between multiple players and coach Marvin Lewis would reach an annoying pitch.
The Bengals currently sit at 3-1 and are a fluky play away from undefeated status in the AFC North. Hey, I'm not implying anything! Just keep winning.
The 4-1 Denver Broncos, 2008
To be fair, if the Denver Broncos had the same team at the end of the year that they had at the beginning, they could have gone deep into the playoffs.
Riding a wave of offensive exposiveness behind Jay Cutler's arm and Brandon Marshall's big-play ability, the Denver Broncos looked to capitalize on a gimpy AFC West and Cutler's Pro Bowl season.
Instead, seven running backs and countless defensive backs lay strewn across the ranks of the injured reserve as the formerly 4-1 Broncos dropped their season finale against the San Diego Chargers, whom they'd beaten illegitimately in game two, in spectacular fashion.
The meltdown would eventually cost Mike Shanahan, and Jay Cutler, their digs in Denver.
The 3-1 Washington Redskins, 2003
The Steve Spurrier Experiment looked to be clicking as the Washington Redskins came out 3-1, their one loss coming in a close overtime loss after an eleven-point comeback in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Washington would lose in three- and four-game fits, Spurrier's pass-happy offense never found its rhythm, and the Old Ball Coach would hang up his visor at the end of the season after two tough years playing professional ball.
They're just too damn fast off the edge in the big leagues. Sorry, OBC.
The 5-1 Miami Dolphins, 2002
Behind an improved line and with the acquisition of star running back Ricky Williams, the Dolphins, quarterbacked by Jay Fiedler and coached by Dave Wannstedt, began the 2002 season 5–1, including a last minute comeback against Denver.
An injury to Fiedler forced backup Ray Lucas into the limelight. Lucas played terribly, and the team dropped three straight.
The Dolhpins bounced back, beating Baltimore and San Diego, and sat at 9–5 with two weeks left in the season, in position to steal the AFC East.
However, AFC East rivals the New England Patriots stood in Miami's way, and were more than willing to play spoiler. The Dolphins blew an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter of a devastating loss.
Due to a tiebreaker, both the Dolphins and Patriots lost out on the playoffs as the Jets took the AFC East title, and Miami's hot start fizzled into what-could-have-been.
The 5-1 Buffalo Bills, 2008
2008 was the year for fast starts, wasn't it?
The Buffalo Bills were 4-0, then 5-1, and Marshawn Lynch was running some poor dudes over as the Buffalo Bills looked to make a statement in the playoffs for the first time in years.
What followed was one four-game losing streak bookending a meaningless win over the hapless Chiefs on one side and another three-game losing streak on the other, as the deflated and defeated Buffalo's fell to 7-9 for their third year in a row. Insult met injury when the Bills lost to the New England Patriots, also denied a playoff berth, in the finale.
The 4-1 Giants, 2004
Remember when the Giants were bad? Ah, memories.
In 2004, sitting at 4-1, it looked like new coach Tom Coughlin had the New York Football Etcs in winning form again, with victories over the Redskins and Cowboys and a confident Kurt Warner heading into a bye week.
Instead, the Giants split games with the Vikings and Lions before rattling off eight straight losses to suffocate any hope of playoff contention.
In the long run, this probably benefited the Giants, who put in Eli Manning for his first NFL start once all was lost with Warner at the helm. But while it lasted, the Giants' demise in 2004 was fun for what it was worth.
The 8-3 New York Jets, 2008
Gosh, that sounds like a safe bet, doesn't it? 8-3, with Brett Favre as your quarterback, rolling on a resurgent Jet defense?
Sadly, the world gets cold in the winter, and so does Favre's apparently injured, interception-prone shoulder.
The Jets lost four of their last five, including the rubber match with the Cinderella Miami Dolphins, to conclude the Favre experiment at the Meadowlands.
Say, maybe he'd play better indoors.
The 5-0 Saints, 1993
Jim Mora's New Orleans Saints started strong with five tough, defense-driven wins. Sitting at 5-0 headed into a bye week, they looked to be a lock for the postseason.
But following their bye, the team was soundly defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 37-14, dropped their rematch to NFC West rivals 49ers, and went 2-6 in their final eight games, including losses in four of their last five, en route to missing the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Wait, playoffs? You want to talk about playoffs?
The 6-0 Minnesota Vikings, 2003
The Vikings are 3-0 heading into tonight's game against the Green Bay Packers. If they win, they'll be 4-0 for the first time since 2003.
In that year, Minnesota got off to a 6-0 start on the strength of the Culpepper-to-Moss connection, good for 17 touchdowns on the season.
The Purple Gang never completely collapsed, but they went 3-6 after that start and hinged their playoff hopes on the last game of the season against Arizona.
The Vikings lead, 17-12, and had the Cardinals in a fourth and long, but lost on a touchdown pass from Josh McCown to receiver Nate Poole as time expired, ending their chances at a playoff.
The Detroit Lions, 6-2, 2007
This is the gold standard, the epic example, of a fast start and a profound collapse.
The 2006 Lions finally appeared to be making good on a long-promised turnaround. They were 6-2 in a down year for the NFC North, and needed two wins in the next eight games to enter the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The five consecutive losses that followed were excruciating to watch, games lost on flat play, late turnovers and poor execution.
The 0-16 season was what killed the Millen era for good, but any Lions fan will tell you the collapse in 2007 was the silver bullet.
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