The 25 Worst Playoff Teams in NFL History
We're only five weeks away from the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, and as usual, there are still playoff spots up for grabs.
The AFC East, NFC West and NFC North all seem to be decided; the NFC East, NFC South and AFC North should be dogfights, and the AFC South is up in the air due to the injury problems Houston seems to have had at quarterback.
As for the Wild Card spots, in the NFC that picture—clear as day at the end of last week—is up in the air due to Jay Cutler being injured for Chicago and Ndamukong Suh likely being suspended for two games in Detroit, which puts Atlanta and the second-place team in the NFC East back in the race.
In the AFC it's looking more and more like the second- and third-place teams in the AFC North will be the Wild Cards; however the Jets and Titans are still lurking.
Then there's the AFC West. Right now Oakland is in the driver]s seat, but you can't deny that something special is happening in Denver.
That something special is a Broncos team that right now sits one game behind Oakland. A Broncos team led by Tim Tebow.
And a Broncos team that, if somehow is able to sneak into the playoffs as either AFC West Champions or a Wild Card, will be one of the worst playoff teams in NFL history. (The Broncos, like the Jets and Titans, are one game behind the Bengals, who they also hold the tiebreaker over thanks to Denver's Week 2 win.)
Why do I think this?
How about a -39 point differential? Sure, if they continue on the roll they're on, they could make up for it, but they play the New England Patriots in Week 15, a Patriots team that can stop the run and has the second-best passing offense in the NFL, while Denver is 22nd against the pass.
Also keep in mind New England's weakness is against the pass, which is the one thing Tim Tebow can't seem to do. That doesn't look good.
But that does bring me to my other point: the Broncos' rankings in offense and defense. The only category where they're a top-10 team is in running the ball. Look everywhere else: 22nd against the pass, 31st passing the ball and 16th against the run.
Now this article isn't meant to slam the Denver Broncos but to allow me to jump into the 25 worst playoff teams in NFL history.
These are teams that seemed to have no business being in the playoffs, yet somehow made it in. In many cases these teams proved why they had no business in the playoffs once they got there and had to take on real contenders.
Here are the 25 worst playoff teams in NFL history.
Note that this is not only based on record (although a general rule of thumb is that most of these teams did finish 9-7 or 8-8), but also on how they performed in the playoffs.
I also took into account who they beat and where they played (obviously the teams got more credit for beating a team on the road than at home, and if a team beat a great team that was relatively healthy then they got credit for that too).
1978 Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1)
We start off in 1978 (forgot to tell you guys, this is chronological, and I'm starting in '78 because there were fewer playoff teams before this year, the year where they expanded the season to 16 games, expanded from eight playoff teams to 10; fewer playoff teams mean the teams that made it were of better quality) with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings finished the season at 8-7-1, which was good enough to win the NFC Central. Green Bay finished with the same record that year, but they went 0-1-1 against the Vikings, which swung the tiebreaker in Minnesota's favor.
Minnesota would go on to lose 34-10 to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional playoffs that season (back then, the three division winners got first-round byes and the playoffs were similar to how Major League Baseball's new postseason format will be in that the two wild card teams in each conference would play each other in a play-in game).
But that's not what makes this Vikings team a bad playoff team.
Let's start with their division. We mentioned at the beginning that they won thanks to a tiebreaker over the Packers. The other teams in that division were the 7-9 Lions and Bears as well as the 5-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just two seasons removed from their 0-14 season.
The Vikings ranked 12th (out of 28) in points scored, 20th in points allowed and had a point differential of minus-12. They also lost the turnover battle throughout the season with a minus-8 turnover differential, and ranked 17th in total offense and 12th in total defense.
1978 Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
The 1978 Falcons are much like today's Broncos: looking at statistics, you wonder how the heck did they manage to win.
With Atlanta you can at least point to a fifth-ranked defense in the NFL that finished 14th in points allowed.
But their offense, that's a different story.
It's bad enough when today, in a 32-team NFL, you finish 26th in total offense and in points scored.
When there are only 28 teams to compete against, it's even worse. A minus-50 point differential as well? Yikes!
Yet I'll give credit to Atlanta for beating a good-but-underachieving Philadelphia Eagles team in the Wild Card game, then making a game of it against a Dallas Cowboys team that won the NFC in the divisional playoffs in Dallas.
Somehow, those Falcons found a way to win, or at least keep it close.
1980 Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
Fran Tarkenton wasn't walking through that door in 1980, but that didn't stop the Vikings from making it into the playoffs.
Their defense was ranked 26th in total defense, yet allowed only 308 points all season. This gave them a point differential of nine. Bend but not break defense indeed.
Their offense was alright, ranking 11th in the league, and they did cause turnovers, finishing at plus-12 for the season.
Their season would end at the hands of eventual NFC Champions Philadelphia Eagles by the score of 31-16.
1981 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
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The stats point to the 1981 Buccaneers being a decent playoff team despite their record.
They finished fourth in the league in points allowed, 13th in total defense, 18th in both points scored and total offense, but with a plus-47 point differential.
Why are they on the list then?
Oh yeah, that's right, they lost 38-0 to the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round and would be the last time until 1997 that the Buccaneers would be a playoff team.
On top of that I'm sure you've noticed a theme here: the NFC Central was terrible in the late '70s and early '80s.
Between 1976-77 and 1985-86, no NFC Central team made it to the Super Bowl. From the merger until 2002 (when the NFC Central existed), only six NFC Central teams made it to the Super Bowl (The Vikings three times from 73-76, the '85 Bears, and the '96 and '97 Packers) and only two of them ('85 Bears and '96 Packers) actually won the big game.
1982 Cleveland Browns (4-5)
Can we really take the 1982 NFL Season seriously?
First off, only nine games were played due to the strike. Secondly, the playoffs were formatted differently, as division standings were tossed out the window and instead the NFL decided that the top eight teams from each conference would compete in a tournament.
This meant three more teams in each conference made it to the postseason than would normally make it in, and it also meant two teams who were sub-.500 would wind up going in.
I'm going to talk about one of them, the Cleveland Browns.
The 1982 Browns went 4-5, finished 23rd in points scored, 17th in points allowed, 17th in total offense and 23rd in total defense. Their point differential was minus-42.
The Browns would end the season losing to the Raiders 27-10 in Los Angeles. Thanks for coming.
It's also worth pointing out that had the league done their playoffs in the usual manner, the Browns wouldn't have qualified for the postseason and in fact would've finished two games behind San Diego and Pittsburgh.
The reason for this format, though, was because not every team had a balanced schedule.
I have one more from that dreadful season, which I shall remind you saw a kicker (Mark Moseley, eh at least it was someone who played on the Super Bowl Champions of that year) win the MVP.
1982 Detroit Lions (4-5)
Much like the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions finished under .500 for the season and benefited from the strike-shortened year and different format by getting a berth in the playoffs.
This Lions team finished 15th in points scored, 14th in points allowed, 24th in total offense and ninth in total defense.
The Lions were at least competitive in their division, as they were only a game-and-a-half out of first, well would've been a game-and-a-half out of first place in their division had the league used their regular playoff structure instead of the tournament they instituted.
They did sweep the Green Bay Packers, who would've finished in first under that format. But remember what I said about the late '70s-early '80s NFC Central?
Detroit's season ended in Washington at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Redskins 31-7. Maybe this only makes Detroit as bad as the Vikings, Cowboys and Dolphins, who also fell at the hands of the Redskins that season...
1985 Cleveland Browns (8-8)
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There are reasons to hate the division format, and 1985 provided one.
The Cleveland Browns were AFC Central champions at 8-8. Two AFC East teams finished the season at 11-5 and had to play each other in the Wild Card round while the Browns had the week off to prepare for the AFC East Champion Miami Dolphins.
Let's just say it's a good thing that the sports media in 1985 wasn't the same as it is today. The two AFC East teams that finished 11-5 that were forced to play each other while the 8-8 Browns had the week off to heal any injuries: the Jets and Patriots.
You know if the sports media was anything back then as it is now, the NFL playoff system would've changed drastically in 1986.
To make matters worse, the same week that the Browns played Miami, who finished with the second-best record in the AFC at 12-4 (and to Cleveland's credit, they kept it close and played well), the Patriots, winners of the Wild Card play-in game, had to travel cross-country to play the Raiders.
Oh by the way, the Denver Broncos also finished 11-5, but couldn't make it to the postseason party.
Yes, the Cleveland Browns in 1985, with their 8-8 record, their 21st ranked total offense, minus-7 point differential and minus-9 turnover differential, got into the playoffs at the expense of John Elway and his 11-5 Denver Broncos.
I think this means that the Browns and Elway are even for the '80s with that whole "The Drive" and "The Fumble" thing.
1989 Houston Oilers (9-7)
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1989 would be the final year of the NFL's old playoff system where the two Wild Card teams played in a play-in game while the three division winners waited at home for the next week.
What a bad year to convince the fans "um, yeah, we're going to add another playoff team in each conference next year."
At least on the AFC side that is, the NFC side that season was strong with two 10-6 teams finishing on the outside looking in and no playoff team in that conference having a record worse than 11-5.
But in the AFC you had the AFC Central. Cleveland finished 9-6-1 which won them the division, while Pittsburgh and Houston both finished 9-7.
There are enough teams for this list that I actually decided to let the game between Houston and Pittsburgh decide which team would go on the list.
Pittsburgh won, and Houston, which finished with a minus-47 point differential despite finishing seventh in points scored and ninth in total offense (I mean, how do you do that), made this list. So congratulations Oilers!
Oh yeah, and anti-points taken off for having Nick Saban as an assistant coach.
1990 Houston Oilers (9-7)
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Let me tell you a story about my high school Spanish teacher, Mr. Staiano.
Mr. Staiano was a Spanish teacher whose Spanish was a bit off. He could teach, but you really couldn't take him seriously while he spoke Spanish.
We talked about sports in his class which is partially why I'm writing about sports today, and his favorite team was the Houston Oilers and is now the Tennessee Titans.
Mr. Staiano grew up in Miami. The Oilers/Titans are only six years older than the Dolphins. According to another teacher of mine, it was based off of colors.
Either way, if you're asking, that's why I included the 1990 Oilers, just because I know it will bother him that two Oilers teams are on the list.
I know it won't bother Houston much because the Oilers are now the Titans and I'm sure they're aligned with the Texans, the Titans' rivals. so I'm pretty sure he's the only one who stayed loyal to the team through the switch.
Sure they were an improvement over the 1989 Oilers, but at the same time, I have to include this team in order to include my next team too.
1990 Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
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Prior to 1990 under the former playoff format, the 1990 Bengals would've had to wait a week while the Dolphins and Chiefs played in the play-in game to decide who would play Buffalo in the next round, then get on a plane to Los Angeles, at the time the home of the No. 2 seed Raiders.
But due to the new playoff format, they got to host a home playoff game where they blew out the Oilers, seen in the last slide, 41-14.
This Bengals team only outscored their opponents by eight for the season and finished 19th in points allowed. They did finish seventh in points scored though.
As for their game against the Raiders, they lost 20-10 in a game more famous for being Bo Jackson's final football game.
1990 New Orleans Saints (8-8)
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Another 1990 team on the list, a team that made it to the playoffs that year that wouldn't have made it the year before.
The Saints defense in 1990 was one of the best in the NFL. Lead by Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson and Sam Mills (probably one of the most overlooked linebacking units in NFL history), the Saints offense finished 15th in total defense and eighth in points allowed.
But their offense left much to be desired.
The Saints ranked 22nd in scoring and 23rd in total offense. They also turned over the ball a lot, finishing minus-12 in turnover differential. As a team, their quarterbacks Steve Walsh, John Fourcade and Tommy Kramer threw 22 interceptions and only 15 touchdowns.
The Saints would lose in the first round to Chicago, but the defense would keep it close at 16-6.
1991 New York Jets (8-8)
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I know you're going to start accusing me of being a homer here even though, had the Dolphins beaten out the Jets for the final playoff spot in 1991, they'd be on the list too.
So before I go off on my homeriffic rant, I'll give you the Jets stats for 1991.
The Jets finished 11th in points scored, 10th in points allowed, sixth in offense, 12th in defense and outscored their opponents by 21 during the season. They swept the Miami Dolphins and were better than them in every statistical category except for scoring, so they were obviously the better team.
But I must again mention that they weren't that good. They did finish 8-8 and were a one-and-done team, losing to the Houston Oilers 17-10.
Now let me put on my homer hat and just tell you that the Dolphins offense would've been able to outscore the Oilers offense in that wild-card game and would've been able to get the victory.
Let me also mention that this is the only New York Jets franchise I can get on the list while the list features two Miami Dolphins teams, so it's really my only way at getting in some potshots at the Jets.
They still deserve to be on this list though; I mean, 8-8 does not a playoff team make, but they're the only Jets team deserving of this list.
1995 San Diego Chargers (9-7)
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There were many who thought that the 1994 San Diego Chargers' Super Bowl run was a fluke.
An 11-year-old Thomas Galicia was one of those people (but that's because he was a superhomer, as most 11-year-old sports fans are, and felt that the 1994 Dolphins were the superior team who lost due to a bad snap and missed field goal; he knows better now though, that '94 Dolphins defense sucked).
How do you prove one year wasn't a fluke? Make it back to the playoffs the next year.
The Chargers did just that, finishing 9-7 and being able to host a home playoff game.
A playoff game that they lost to the Jim Harbaugh-led Indianapolis Colts 35-20.
Prior to that though, the Chargers were a team that prevented teams from scoring, but had problems scoring themselves. San Diego finished sixth in points allowed and 10th in total defense, but also ranked 19th in points scored and 16th in total offense.
They also were outscored by two points during the season and had a turnover differential of minus-3.
1995 Detroit Lions (10-6)
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The stats say otherwise, that the '95 Lions were an alright playoff team.
You do not deserve to be considered alright if you lose your first round game 58-37 to a team lead by Rodney Peete.
1995 Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
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Hey, 1995 Atlanta Falcons coach June Jones: That run-and-shoot offense, yeah, it may have worked in Hawaii and it may help turn the SMU program around, but um, it doesn't belong in the NFL.
I know the '95 Falcons at least made the playoffs, but their defense was ranked 29th, their offense was ranked 10th and when it came to scoring,their defense ranked 19th and their offense ranked 11th.
The offensive stats weren't bad, but wouldn't you expect better from a run-and-shoot offense? Not to mention that the Falcons lost their playoff game 37-20.
1995 Miami Dolphins (9-7)
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1995 was a year of high expectations for the Miami Dolphins. They were predicted by many to go to the Super Bowl, and most of Fran Tarkenton's records were supposed to be broken by Dan Marino in 1995.
It was expected that Don Shula would then retire after the season and ride into the sunset.
Marino did break Tarkenton's records, but missed two starts with Miami going 0-2 in those starts. The Dolphins also underachieved based off of their stats.
They finished seventh in points scored, 10th in points allowed, eighth in total offense and 16th in total defense and outscored their opponents by 66.
That doesn't sound like a 9-7 team, one of the worst playoff teams of all time, that sounds like an 11-5, first-round bye, second-seed pull off the upset on the road in the AFC Championship game type of team.
What the hell happened?
Oh right, this team managed to choke away close games like there was no tomorrow, including one against the Indianapolis Colts at home where the Dolphins went up 24-3 at halftime before getting outscored 27-0.
It was almost as if this team was still haunted by their 1994 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Chargers the previous January.
(Oh crap, I just realized that things might not bode well for the Heat in 2012, I see a lot of similarities between the '94 Dolphins and 2010-2011 Heat.)
So why put them on the list?
Because this was Shula's final year. He deserved better.
Oh and losing their one playoff game to Buffalo 37-22 doesn't help out much either.
And I've come to realize that looking back at the 1995 season, there is nothing I like about this year.
My two favorite players were humiliated in their playoff games (Barry Sanders and Dan Marino) my favorite coach was forced out, I have four teams from that year on this list and the Steelers and Cowboys played in the Super Bowl with the Cowboys winning.
Screw 1995, the NFL's WORST YEAR EVER!
1996 Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
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I'll make this short and sweet.
Indy finished 16th in points scored in 1996, 18th in points allowed, finished with a point differential of minus-17, finished 25th in total offense, 22nd in total defense and lost their one playoff game to the Pittsburgh Steelers 42-14.
1998 Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
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First I'll say that the Arizona Cardinals of 1998 plunged the final stake into the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty by beating them in the Wild Card round 20-7 in Dallas.
The Cowboys would go five years without a playoff appearance and another 11 without a playoff win. Give respect where respect is due.
Now I'm about to trash them, and for good reason: They lost 41-21 the following week against Minnesota.
OK, that's stating a fact, now I'll trash them: Arizona finished 15th in points scored, 24th in points allowed, 13rd in total offense, 21st in total defense and had a point differential of minus-53 points.
OK those are facts too.
1999 Miami Dolphins (9-7)
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A little advice: if the Miami Dolphins are entering a season amid great expectations and that season is expected to be the final season for either their head coach, quarterback, or both, feel free to bet against them every week that season.
Off the field this team was a mess.
Rumors swirled about Marino and Jimmy Johnson not getting along (which turned out to be true), rookie running back Cecil Collins was either a criminal, insane or both; in fact, I'll even let you decide by telling you the story about him.
Collins was troubled coming out of college. He was kicked off of the LSU football team for breaking into dwellings, which he claimed was due to him "sleepwalking" and that he didn't remember entering the rooms (watch for this, it's a recurring theme here).
He would then get kicked off the team at McNeese State, but Jimmy Johnson still thought he had a steal when he drafted Cecil Collins in Round 5.
Collins looked decent during his first and only season in Miami, running the ball 131 times for 414 yards and two touchdowns, but he only played in one game.
Why you ask? Because he broke into the home of a married woman in Davie, Florida, one whom he knew from the gym. But don't worry, he wasn't going to harm her or anything like that, he just wanted to "watch her sleep" (those were Cecil Collins' own words!)
So is Collins a criminal, insane or both? You decide. To me he fully represents everything about the 1999 Miami Dolphins, a bad playoff team.
Oh you wanted the hardcore stats, well, the Dolphins finished 13th in points scored but 20th in total offense, 19th in points allowed but fifth in total defense, and were outscored by 10 for the season.
They also ended the season losing five out of their last six and although they did beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card game (don't worry that Seahawks team is next), they lost to the Jaguars in the division round 62-7.
It would be Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson's final season in the NFL. Now you can catch both of them on Sundays, but on different networks.
1999 Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
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The 1999 Seattle Seahawks finished 12th in points scored, eighth in points allowed, but 23rd in both total offense and total defense. They did outscore their opponents by 40 though so they do have that going for them.
Seattle won a weak AFC West that became a vacuum that season with Elway retiring from the Broncos and Marty Schottenheimer leaving the Chiefs the previous season.
Their reward: losing to the team shown in the previous slide, the Miami Dolphins.
This would be Seattle's last playoff appearance as a member of the AFC.
2004 Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
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2004 was an interesting season, one that saw two 8-8 teams go to the playoffs and win.
This doesn't mean they're good playoff teams; maybe we ought to consider that the teams they beat, both on the road, were just as bad.
For that we start with the Seattle Seahawks.
The first warning that the Rams might wind up beating the Seahawks despite the Rams being 8-8 and the Seahawks being 9-7 is the fact that the Rams went 2-0 against the Seahawks during the regular season.
Secondly, Seattle had a minus-2 point differential.
Losing to the Rams was bad, but I have worse.
2004 Green Bay Packers (10-6)
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Hey 2004 Packers, you, much like the 2004 Seahawks, lost to a team on this list!
Of course Brett Favre was Brett Favre on that day, four interceptions!
I don't care that they're 10-6, but I had to put the Packers on this list if I put the Vikings on this list (which I did, just click up), especially when they lost to the Vikings 31-17.
2004 Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
Straight cash homey!
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It's not just that the Vikings were 8-8, but also that they went 8-8 because their defense was ranked 28th, and also ranked 26th in points allowed.
Then there's how the Vikings came back down to earth. After beating the Packers in Green Bay in Round 1, they would lose the next week 27-14 to Philadelphia. Not a bad loss, but still a loss.
2004 St. Louis Rams
A Mike Martz offense finished 19th in points scored (in fairness, they did finish sixth in total offense).
But the Rams defense? Not so good. They finished 17th in total defense and 25th in points allowed. The Rams also finished with a point differential of minus-73.
This was not a good football team, at all. But they did beat the Seattle Seahawks three times, twice in Seattle, a tough place to play, with one of those games being a playoff game.
By the way they wound up losing in the playoffs to Atlanta by the score of 47-17.
2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
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The 2010 Seattle Seahawks, with their 7-9 record, will forever be the standard bearer for bad playoff teams.
But in fairness, they managed to beat the defending Super Bowl Champions, which counts for a lot.
As a team they finished 23rd in points scored and 25th in points allowed with a minus-97 point differential.
Their team this year is better than last year's team (at least in my opinion) and could even finish with a better record than last year's team yet miss the playoffs (granted it's 8-8 but still).
Fact is, you really can't say a playoff team is bad. Only good teams wind up making the playoffs, and once the postseason starts, it's anyone's ball game. That's the NFL.
Some playoff teams will always be better than others, but any team that gets to the playoffs will have earned it.
While I do believe that the divisions should be used for scheduling purposes only and the playoffs should just have the best 14 teams in the league competing, what we have now is fun.
I know Seahawks fans had fun last year, much like Broncos fans are having fun this year. No playoff team is bad, for if they were bad, they would miss the playoffs.
Yes, even the 7-9 2010 Seahawks were good. After all, they did win their division, which included a 49ers team that this year might wind up going 13-3 or 12-4.