Six weeks into the 2010 NFL season, relatively little is for certain. Several teams (the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans among them) have surprised; others (the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys) have disappointed. The divisional races in places like the AFC South (three-way tie for first) are just beginning to heat up.
For some teams, though, it has been a long six weeks, and the next eleven will feel even worse. The bottom of the NFL barrel has never been grimier or more inept. In a year when the level of play across the league has gotten sloppy and frenetic, the teams who have battled even to stay relevant have looked especially awful.
Who are the worst of the worst? Which winning teams made this list? Which entire division made it? What has happened to good football across the NFL? Read on.
The Rams have actually caught a lot of people's eyes by starting the season 3-3, but their true talent level tells another story. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has a bright future, but his present (seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in six games) is the gloomy reality of a young player thrown too soon into full-time duty.
Running back Steven Jackson has played most of the season while injured, which has restricted his tremendous natural gifts. Jackson is a back with a lot of mileage on him, and he may be getting nearer the end than anyone hoped.
The Rams defense has the potential to grow into itself over time, but they have a long way to go—as evidenced by the 44 points they allowed to the Detroit Lions in Week 5.
The Jags are another loser masquerading as a respectable 3-3 club. Their quarterback situation, already somewhat bland with David Garrard at the offense's helm, got downright dire when Garrard went down with a concussion Monday night.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been disappointing in his second season as a full-time starter, and the defense has been terrible: They rank third from the bottom of the league in yardage allowed. The point differential for the season favors Jacksonville's opponents—by 57 points. They may be 3-3 right now, but this team could well finish 5-11.
The Cardinals become the second (but by no means the last) representative of the NFC West on this list.
Arizona's season log has read like the recipe for a miserable team: Start with a default quarterback controversy, add injuries to the team's best running back and wide receiver, then sprinkle with a defense that looks confused by fairly simple packages.
The Cardinals may sit atop the West with a 3-2 record, and have a shot at the playoffs, but given the fact that opponents have outscored them by 50 points, they could do all of that and still be one of the league's worst teams.
If it weren't for a stupid rule and some bad late-game offense, the Lions would be 3-3.
As it is, they stand at 1-5, and another long season lies ahead. After losing in heartbreaking fashion in Week 1 to Chicago, it took a visit from the Rams to finally open up the Detroit passing offense and get the team a win.
The defense has generated 15 turnovers, tied with the Steelers for most in football. The line creates a good pass rush and the linebackers help out well in a weak secondary.
All in all, the Lions remain the doormat of the NFC North, but they are clearly improving, and by season's end they could build some momentum going into 2011.
Like Arizona, the Seahawks stand at 3-2, and it might seem strange to consider such a club one of the league's six worst. They really are, though.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is past his once-considerable utility. The running game hardly exists, even after the team traded for Marshawn Lynch last week. The defense seems to lack cohesion, with talented players at some positions but no ability to cover the deficiencies of the others.
Yes, Darren McFadden (though banged up) has looked better than at any other point in his pro career. Otherwise, though, there's little to like about the Boys in Black.
Only Arizona had a more preposterous quarterback controversy during the first week of the season, when Bruce Gradkowski emerged to steal a starting spot from Jason Campbell. The results of Gradkowski's promotion have not been that encouraging, though: The team stands at 2-4.
Just a step across the bay from Oakland—the 49ers share their pain.
The team may have finally won a game this week, but head coach Mike Singletary's seat remains hot. Alex Smith has regressed to his usual ineffective self, and the offense has stalled badly, ranking third from the bottom in points scored for the year.
As icing on the cake, Singletary's squad has the worst turnover differential in football. It's a tough time to be a football fan in San Fran...
Regardless of the reason for the moves, it is never a good sign when a team starts three different quarterbacks in six games. That has been the case in Cleveland, though, where injuries and ineptitude have gotten Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme and Colt McCoy each into the lineup at least once.
If the Browns could rely on their running game to hide their quarterbacking issues, things might be less dire, but that unit has been only serviceable: Peyton Hillis has been a pleasant surprise, but Jerome Harrison has offset the gain by disappointing from day one.
The Bills are 0-5. They have the worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the league. They recently traded running back Marshawn Lynch, the budding star of the franchise just two years ago, just to get him out of town. No team has been outscored worse by opponents this season, not even the number one team on this list.
The Bills avoid the cellar only on these two premises:
1. They play in the tough AFC East, with three of their losses so far coming to those formidable foes.
2. There's a modest amount of potential for rapid improvement here, with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and promising runner C.J. Spiller keeping defenses honest. They have a long way to go, but the Bills knew 2010 would be about rebuilding.
Carolina will re-install Matt Moore at quarterback for their sixth game of the season, after briefly giving a look to far-from-ready Jimmy Clausen. The difference will be negligible.
The Panthers' offense is abjectly terrible, one of the worst in recent memory and by far the worst in the league. Clausen and Moore haven't even been the problem. Rather, the team has stalled because of the disappearance of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Of course, if a defense has no reason to worry about a pass, it gets a lot harder to run the ball.