What NFL History Tells Us About 0-4 Teams

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIOctober 2, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after they lost their game against the the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints have very little in common.

The Saints have experienced remarkable success in recent years, led by Drew Brees and his bevy of offensive weapons. The Browns have struggled mightily since their return to Cleveland in 1999, spinning the wheel of quarterback misfortune every season.

This year, the details don’t matter. Both the Saints and the Browns are 0-4, and as NFL history tells us, it’s going to get worse before it gets watchable.

Since the AFL-NFL merger, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4. The San Diego Chargers finished 11-1 in 1992 to accomplish that feat. Neither the Browns nor the Saints are going to replicate that this season.

According to Elias, of 183 teams to start 0-4 prior to 2012, only '92 Chargers made postseason #Saints #Browns

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 1, 2012

Last season, three of the four AFC North teams made the playoffs—none of which were the Browns. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh look like contenders this year as well, and Cleveland is the odd team out.

If not for Atlanta’s hot 4-0 start, the Saints would be in a lot better shape in the standings. Tampa Bay and Carolina have floundered, falling to 1-3 through four weeks. They too have little chance of making the playoffs.

There is a silver lining for many bad teams in the league, but it’s dull and tarnished. We’ve seen massive collapses and big turnarounds before; the parity in the NFL is unmatched by any other professional sports league. The Raiders upset the Steelers in Week 3 and proceeded to get crushed by the Broncos in Week 4.

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Good teams find ways to win, and they fight to bounce back from bad losses. One thing they don’t do is start a season 0-4. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Cleveland and New Orleans finish .500 or better this season.

Even without factoring in divisional opponents and strength of schedule, the Saints and Browns are in trouble.

The Browns field the youngest offense in the league, led by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and rookie running back Trent Richardson. They also play two rookie receivers in Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon and start rookie Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.

Despite being competitive in almost every contest, drops and a lack of explosive plays have put a lot of pressure on the team’s defense, which has shouldered a heavy burden admirably.

Even if Cleveland’s offense can gain traction going forward, it still must face the Ravens and Bengals once more, and the Steelers twice. In a division with defenses as tough as any in the league, the Browns will need a lot of help just to finish with a respectable record.

No one questions the Saints' ability to score points. New Orleans still has an explosive offense, despite looking lost at times without Sean Payton’s leadership. Drew Brees and Co. are averaging 401.5 yards per game (eighth in the NFL) and 27.5 points per game (10th in the NFL).

On the other hand, New Orleans’ defense couldn’t stop a leaky tap with a bath towel.

The Saints have allowed 463.3 yards and 32.5 points per contest. No team has yielded more yards this season, and there’s no indication New Orleans will right the ship anytime soon.

With their defense in disarray, the Saints will be forced to play from behind a lot this season. For New Orleans to start winning games, Brees is going to have to play as well as he’s ever played. Their defense is that bad.

Neither the Browns nor the Saints are as bad as their record indicates, but each team has glaring weaknesses they won’t be able to overcome.

It’s going to be a short season for the NFL’s two winless teams, though it won’t feel that way to their fans.

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