Are the 2019 Miami Dolphins the NFL's Worst Team Ever?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 1, 2019

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores looks on as his team played the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

In what might have been the worst season in NFL history, the expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were outscored by a modern-day record 20.5 points per game in a winless campaign.

A quarter of the way through the 2019 season, the winless Miami Dolphins have been outscored by 34.3 points per game. No other team in modern history has been outscored by an average of more than 27.5 points this late into a season.

The Dolphins are the first team to lose each of their first four games by 20 or more points (only 15 other teams have done that on three occasions in their first four outings), and they're the only team to allow more than 40 points per game a full month into a season.

Sure, they've played four teams that were in the playoffs last season, but they've been at home for three of those contests.

A lot can change in October, November or December, but right now, the Dolphins are on track to put together the worst season since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.

More bleak numbers:

Video Play Button
Videos you might like
  • The record low for points per game in a season is 7.4 (posted by the 1977 Bucs). The Dolphins, in a substantially higher-scoring era, are averaging just 6.5 points per game.
  • The 1981 Baltimore Colts surrendered a record 33.3 points per game. The Dolphins are giving up 40.8 points per outing.
  • The 2012 New Orleans Saints gave up a record 440.1 yards per game. The Dolphins are allowing 472.0 yards per affair.
  • The Dolphins have scored just two touchdowns in four games. Every other team that has played four games this season has scored at least six. Only 11 other teams in modern league history have scored fewer than three touchdowns in their first four games. Miami is on pace to become the first team to score 10 or fewer touchdowns in a season.

Some good news? The Dolphins don't even lead the league in turnovers. They have nine (as do the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins), while the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants have 10 each. Their minus-seven turnover margin is the worst in the league, but 72 teams since 1970 have posted worse margins one month into a season.

Miami also ranks better than last among its peers on third downs (on offense and defense) and yards per drive (on offense but not defense).

Momentum is also on its side—to an extent. The offense has moved the ball a little better since Josh Rosen took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Through two weeks, the Dolphins had just 23 first downs, putting them on pace for 184. That would be the second-worst 16-game first-down total (behind only the 2000 Cleveland Browns' 176). But with 30 first downs (and only two turnovers) in the last two weeks, they're on pace to pick up 212 first downs—which would rank only fifth-worst.

And Rosen has plenty of room for improvement. The 2018 No. 10 pick is still just 22 years old, and it's not entirely fair to hold a slow start against him. He's had seven offensive coordinators in five years, and he's had practically no support in Miami.

Still, that lack of support is a major problem. The Dolphins appear to be tanking, as an already mediocre team has spent much of 2019 gutting the roster. They've dumped key players Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kiko Alonso, Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills in the last five weeks, and that came after an offseason in which they parted with veterans Robert Quinn, Danny Amendola, Ted Larsen, T.J. McDonald, Dwayne Allen, Andre Branch, Josh Sitton and Brice Butler.

Now, this is essentially a CFL roster. Defensive backs Xavien Howard and Reshad Jones are the only players making more than $8.5 million per year. They're also the only ones who have been to the Pro Bowl.

There's almost nothing the Dolphins do right.

They rank tied for second in the league with six dropped passes. Entering Week 4, they ranked dead-last or second-to-last at Football Outsiders in passing offense, rushing offense, pass defense and rush defense. The depleted offensive line has given up a tied-for-AFC-high 18 sacks, and only the Philadelphia Eagles have fewer sacks on defense. And it probably doesn't help that they're under the tutelage of a novice coaching staff, including rookie head coach Brian Flores and first-time offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea.

It's been so bad that as of Monday, Football Outsiders gave Miami a 63 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 29: Desmond King #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers tackles Josh Rosen #3 of the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Eric Espada/Getty Images

And what really hurts the Dolphins is how they stack up to their peers versus how other famously bad teams—such as the 2017 Browns, 2009 St. Louis Rams, 2008 Detroit Lions, 1990 New England Patriots, '81 Colts, '76 Bucs and 1973 Houston Oilers—compared to their contemporaries.

Those seven aforementioned squads are the only teams in modern history to go winless or to win fewer than three games and be outscored by at least 16 points per game. Let's compare how they all compared to the teams around them, through four games and overall:

Four Games In

2019 Dolphins
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 6.5 (4.5 points worse than next-worst team; 15.0 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 40.8 (11.3 points worse than next-worst team; 17.5 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-137 (85 points worse than next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-7 (2 turnovers worse than next-worst team)

2017 Browns
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 15.8 (5.5 points better than lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 26.8 (7.2 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-44 (21 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Minus-5 (2 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

2009 Rams
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 6.0 (5.5 points worse than next-worst team; 15.3 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 27.0 (6.5 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-84 (15 points worse than next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-4 (5 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

2008 Lions
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 16.5 (5.7 points better than lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 36.8 (tied for last)
Point differential: Minus-81 (23 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Minus-6 (1 turnover worse than next-worst team)

1990 Patriots
Record: 1-3
Points per game: 15.0 (7.0 points better than lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 29.8 (0.3 points worse than next-worst team; 8.8 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-59 (19 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Plus-3 (10 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

1981 Colts
Record: 1-3
Points per game: 17.5 (6.5 better than lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 30.5 (0.7 points worse than next-worst team; 9.2 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-52 (7 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Plus-2 (14 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

1976 Bucs
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 6.5 (tied for last)
PPG allowed: 24.8 (9.5 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-73 (18 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Plus-1 (12 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

1973 Oilers
Record: 0-4
Points per game: 14.3 (4.0 points better than lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 31.3 (1.7 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-68 (23 points better than lowest-ranked team)
Turnover margin: Minus-8 (3 turnovers better than lowest-ranked team)

At the four-game mark, none of those other historically bad teams were ranked dead-last in all four of those key categories, let alone dead-last by Miami's humongous margins.

   

Full Season

2019 Dolphins (pace)
Record: 0-16
Points per game: 6.5 (4.5 points worse than the next-worst team; 15.0 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 40.8 (11.3 points worse than the next-worst team; 17.5 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-548 (340 points worse than next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-28 (8 turnovers worse than the next-worst team)

2017 Browns
Record: 0-16
Points per game: 14.6 (0.8 points worse than the next-worst team; 6.7 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 25.6 (1.7 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-176 (24 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-28 (11 turnovers worse than the next-worst team)

2009 Rams
Record: 1-15
Points per game: 10.9 (1.4 points worse than the next-worst team; 11.0 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 27.3 (3.6 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-261 (31 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-13 (5 turnovers better than the lowest-ranked team)

2008 Lions
Record: 0-16
Points per game: 16.8 (4.0 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 32.3 (3.2 points worse than the next-worst team; 10.4 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-249 (16 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-9 (8 turnovers better than the lowest-ranked team)

1990 Patriots
Record: 1-15
Points per game: 11.3 (3.0 points worse than the next-worst team; 9.7 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 27.9 (1.0 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-265 (31 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-4 (20 turnovers better than the lowest-ranked team)

1981 Colts
Record: 2-14
Points per game: 16.2 (3.3 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 33.3 (7.8 points worse than the next-worst team; 12.5 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-274 (103 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-7 (11 turnovers better than the lowest-ranked team)

1976 Bucs
Record: 0-14
Points per game: 8.9 (2.9 points worse than the next-worst team; 10.0 points worse than NFL median)
PPG allowed: 29.4 (1.2 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
Point differential: Minus-287 (73 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-9 (13 turnovers better than the lowest-ranked team)

1973 Oilers
Record: 1-13
Points per game: 14.2 (0.8 points better than the lowest-ranked team)
PPG allowed: 31.9 (3.8 points worse than the next-worst team; 13.5 points worse than NFL median)
Point differential: Minus-248 (50 points worse than the next-worst team)
Turnover margin: Minus-25 (8 turnovers worse than the next-worst team)

The Browns and Oilers are right there with these Dolphins in turnover margin, while the Bucs and Colts had seasons that were wildly bad in point differential. But nobody has been as inept on offense and defense as the Dolphins.

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Incredibly, the gap between the Dolphins and the next-worst team, the Redskins, in point differential (85 points) is already larger than the gaps that separated all of those other teams and their next-worst competitors over the course of entire seasons except the 1981 Colts (103 points).

All that being said, there's plenty of time for Miami to rebound, and its brutal numbers are inflated by two particularly humiliating losses to start the season. There's more hope under Rosen, and the schedule gets easier. The Dolphins will probably be just a small underdog when they host the 0-4 Redskins after their Week 5 bye, and Miami plays the also-winless New York Jets in November and December and hosts the struggling Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.

There's a good chance the Dolphins will avoid being viewed the same way as the '76 Bucs or the '08 Lions (or any of the other bad teams that managed to win some games). But that doesn't change the fact they've gotten off to the worst start in modern league history.

   

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.