Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Top 10 NFL Collapses Since 1990
Since the dawn of free agency in the NFL, patterns and trends in the win-loss column have been less frequent; dynasties tend to be more of a rarity.
In a sense, the vices are wrapped in its virtue.
What's pleasing to a fan is equally as frustrating—the fortunes of a franchise in any given year are not necessarily indicative of how things will play out the next.
This list chronicles the more significant falls; the ones that ultimately weighed heavier in the grand scheme and big picture than a mere "off year" would have.
For instance, the disappointing 1992 Atlanta Falcons didn't make the cut. They were surprising Cinderella's in 1991, but their lackluster campaign the following year didn't generate much press, considering that they had been mediocre at best in previous years.
Conversely, these rankings are not based on shock value. Some of the clubs on this list were indeed expected to have slight drop offs—only to accelerate their slides into oblivion faster than anyone could have predicted.
So, in light of the inexplicably bad 2009 Tennessee Titans*, here's a rundown of the other teams that have gone down that path.
*-Then again, at the time of this writing, the Titans just reeled off their third consecutive victory in rather convincing fashion. In a few weeks, the context of this article might just be irrelevant. No doubt, a good problem for Tennessee and their fans to have.
No. 10: 1993 Washington Redskins
To be fair, the writing was on the wall this year. This squad wasn't quite as loaded as the team that had won the Super Bowl just two years prior.
Gone was Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs. In his stead was Richie Petitbon, but there was still talent in the roster.
Essentially, what was thought to be a reloading year—one in which they could at least challenge the upstart Dallas Cowboys—saw them slip to a disastrous 4-12.
And the fact of the matter is, they have struggled ever since. Yes, there have been playoff cameos here and there, but their status as a perennial power was gone after this particular season.
No. 9: 2007 Baltimore Ravens
More often than not, the Baltimore Ravens have been in contention since their magical 2000 season. Some years have been better than others, but for the most part, there has been consistent respectability.
However, after a 13-3 2006 season, they became inexplicably irrelevant the next year. Former Titans players Steve McNair, Derrick Mason, and Samari Rolle all still had gas in the tank.
Oftentimes, we hear of injuries being the main citation for mounting losses. But the fact of the matter is, every team has injuries; champions find a way to overcome them.
The Ravens have since fought their way back to into the thick of the AFC North competition, but this year remains an anomaly.
No. 8: 1992 Chicago Bears
Regardless of the personnel, coach Mike Ditka always seemed to find a way to keep his Chicago Bears competitive.
Then, 1992 happened. His nucleus that had yielded double-digit wins every year suddenly wasn't producing.
True, a lot of the defense was aging. But a 5-11 season after years of perennial playoff appearances ultimately proved to be his undoing.
And, much like the Redskins of the same era, the Bears floundered for nearly a decade afterward.
No. 7: 2008 Green Bay Packers
No one really knew what to expect after the unceremonious departure of Brett Favre after the 2007 season.
The highly talented Aaron Rodgers had folks in Wisconsin optimistic. In fact, his numbers were just as good as an average year for Favre. Yet his team didn't exactly follow suit.
A 13-3 record and a deep playoff run? That would have been a pleasant surprise. But racking up double digit losses stretched the patience of the Packer faithful.
One has to wonder if Rodgers' popularity is more based on the hatred for Favre than on the merits of his own performance.
Then again, the talent is there. Favre's career arc was similar in the beginning: super talent, mediocre results.
Time will tell.
No. 6: 1991 Cincinnati Bengals
After their heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XXIII to the San Francisco 49ers, the Cincinnati Bengals churned out two respectable seasons with their late-1980's core.
Worst case scenario, they would've been mediocre in 1991. But no one saw a cataclysmic 3-13 season in the cards.
As it turned out, it was the swan song for head coach Sam Wyche...and the Bengals' respectability.
Since then, only one winning season has happened.
However, the current year's resurgent team looks to buck that trend.
No. 5: 1994 Houston Oilers
Again, a team with a departing Hall of Famer.
Again, a team that should have slipped mildly but, in turn, became laughable.
While it's true that QB Billy Joe Tolliver was no Warren Moon, the fact remains that most of the stars were still in place for these underachieving Oilers.
The significance of this season is not lost, however, given that it lead to then-coach Jack Pardee's firing. The man to take things over, Jeff Fisher, is still the coach to this day.
And his team has been one of the more successful ones this decade.
No. 4: 1997 Dallas Cowboys
What could have initially been called an off year actually turned out to be the beginning of a dubious era.
1997 was the official end of the Dallas Cowboys' return to power. A few good years have emerged since then, but nearly 15 years have passed since they were legitimate contenders.
Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman all went on to churn out decent numbers, but nobody feared America's Team after this year.
No. 3: 1999 Denver Broncos
So much for the afterglow.
Much has been made in the past 20 years of the unfortunate path of the Super Bowl losers.
However, the '99 Broncos bucked the trend (pun intended) by becoming one of the first M.I.A. champions.
With the exception of John Elway, all of the aces were in their places for this particular year.
Granted, Bubby Brister, his preseason replacement, didn't possess jaw-dropping talent. But Elway was hardly a prolific gunslinger in his last two years; he simply made plays when he needed to.
Coach Mike Shannahan ended up going with Brian Griese instead, once the season started.
But it was the same scenario: talented QB who didn't need to be incredible thanks to a zone blocking scheme that produced an amazing running attack.
In week 4 against the Jets, 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis went down with a knee injury and Olandis Gary quickly picked up the slack, rushing for over 1,100 yards.
Yet nothing else really fell into place for these Broncos, given that in the future, decent seasons would be with a different group of core players.
They lost more this season than their previous three combined.
No. 2: 1999 San Francisco 49ers
Talk about your proverbial end of an era.
For the previous 20 years, the 49ers had been consistently good, no matter who the draft picks were.
No Montana? No Rice? No problem.
But in 1999, in spite of the talent on paper, San Francisco fell to 4-12. Since then, there have been a few seasons of decency (including the current one), but suffice it to say that no one has genuinely feared this team since Bill Clinton was president.
No. 1: 2003 Oakland Raiders
The 2002 headline was simple enough:
"Can Anybody Beat the Raiders?"
But little did Sports Illustrated know that they were pretty much posting an invite for virtually every team that would play Oakland in the next decade.
We all hear the water cooler talk about the Bengals, Cardinals, and the Browns (poor Ohio).
But no franchise is as dysfunctional as the Raiders these days.
Unlike the Titans, Bills, or the Buccaneers—where losses are a simple matter of misjudgment or rebuilding—Oakland is simply in chaos.
And their loss to Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl is what began it all.
Until Al Davis learns to delegate and/or step down, there is not much hope for this once proud franchise.