The 10 Worst NFL Playoff Teams of All Time

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2020

The 10 Worst NFL Playoff Teams of All Time

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    This much is inarguable: It's better to have an exceptionally small chance at winning the Super Bowl than no chance at all.

    But throughout NFL history, mediocre teams have regularly capitalized on a weak schedule, bad division or fortunate bounces to reach the postseason. They've reached the playoffs with the only expectation being an early exit.

    Perhaps they stole a win. But for these teams, the Super Bowl never seemed like a realistic best-case scenario.

    The list is limited to playoff teams in the Super Bowl era, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season. Point differential, regular-season record and team ratings factored into the selections, and the teams are placed in chronological order.

1983 Denver Broncos

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Season record: 9-7

    John Elway's debut season with the Denver Broncos in 1983 wasn't one to remember.

    Denver's 18.9 points per game ranked 21st out of 28 NFL teams, and the team posted a minus-25 point differential during the regular season. Elway and Steve DeBerg combined to throw 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions and took 53 sacks.

    Unsurprisingly, the Broncos didn't fare well in the playoffs, committing three turnovers in a 31-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

1989 Houston Oilers

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Season record: 9-7

    To kick off the 1989 season, the Houston Oilers lost to the Minnesota Vikings 38-7. In November, the Kansas City Chiefs drilled the Oilers 34-0. Two weeks before the playoffs started, the Cincinnati Bengals won a 61-7 laugher over Houston.

    So, yeah, the Oilers didn't have a whole lot of postseason hope.

    Houston gave up 412 points during the regular season, which is the fifth-highest total by a playoff team in the Super Bowl era. The Oilers fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-23 in the AFC Wild Card Game and fired head coach Jerry Glanville immediately thereafter.

1990 New Orleans Saints

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Season record: 8-8

    On the bright side, the 1990 New Orleans Saints opened the year 2-5 yet surged to a wild-card berth thanks to a stout defense.

    However, their offense stunk something fierce.

    Steve Walsh and John Fourcade combined for 15 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. New Orleans ranked 22nd out of 28 teams in scoring offense (17.1 points per game) and 23rd in yards per game. That weakness showed up during the Wild Card Round as the Saints lumbered to 193 total yards in a 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.

1998 Arizona Cardinals

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    Mark Brettingen/Getty Images

    Season record: 9-7

    Seven of the 1998 Arizona Cardinals' nine regular-season wins were by three points or fewer. It's no surprise, then, the Cardinals surrendered 53 more points than they scored, especially since quarterback Jake Plummer tossed 17 touchdowns to 20 interceptions.

    Two things saved Arizona—at least during the regular season.

    The defense forced the third-most takeaways in the league (39). And the Cardinals played exactly one teamthe Dallas Cowboysthat finished the season with a winning record.

    Incidentally, Arizona knocked off Dallas 20-7 in the Wild Card Round. However, the Minnesota Vikings cruised to a 41-21 victory in the divisional round to eliminate the Cardinals.

2004 St. Louis Rams

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    MIKE ROEMER/Associated Press

    Season record: 8-8

    Three years removed from the "Greatest Show on Turf," the St. Louis Rams began their descent into mediocrity in 2004.

    St. Louis mustered only 19.9 points per game, which ranked 19th in the 32-team NFL. The Rams also committed 39 turnovers while forcing a league-low 15. That combination played a sizable role in the defense finishing 25th in points allowed (24.5 per game).

    At the time, the Rams' minus-73 point differential was the worst mark for a playoff team in the Super Bowl era.

    St. Louis clipped Seattle in the Wild Card Round but couldn't stop Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in a 47-17 blowout in the divisional round. The next season, the Rams fired head coach Mike Martz after a 2-3 start.

2010 Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Season record: 7-9

    NFL fans should be thankful for the awful 2010 NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks won the division with a losing record and upset the New Orleans Saints thanks to Marshawn Lynch's legendary touchdown run to seal the victory.

    At the same time, gross.

    Following a 4-2 start, Seattle dropped seven of its next 10 games by at least 15 points each. The Seahawks' minus-97 point differential on the season is the worst for a playoff team in NFL history.

    The Seahawks toppled the Rams in Week 17 to steal the NFC West tiebreaker and stunned the Saints in the Wild Card Round behind Lynch's run. But Seattle couldn't keep up with the Chicago Bears, falling 35-24 in the divisional round.

2011 Denver Broncos

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Season record: 8-8

    Ah, yes, the wonderful disaster of Tebow Time.

    Tim Tebow had a dismal 46.5 completion percentage yet orchestrated five fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. Denverwhich finished 23rd in yards gained and 25th in scoringlost three straight to end the regular season but sneaked into the postseason by virtue of the AFC West tiebreaker.

    Naturally, the Broncos added another dramatic win. Tebow's memorable pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime vaulted Denver past the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23.

    The New England Patriots then crushed the Broncos 45-10 in the divisional rounda fitting end for a season with a minus-81 point differential, the second-worst ever for a playoff team.

2013 Green Bay Packers

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Season record: 8-7-1

    Aaron Rodgers guided the Green Bay Packers to a 5-2 start in 2013, but he suffered a broken collarbone against the Chicago Bears in Week 9 that sidelined him for games. Along the way, the Packers turned to Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn for a 2-4-1 stretch.

    The fill-in quarterbacks' poor play was only part of the Packers' problem. The defense surrendered 428 points—the second-most for a playoff team in the Super Bowl era.

    Fortunately for Green Bay, its NFC North competition failed to capitalize on Rodgers' absence. He returned in Week 17 at Chicago and tossed a last-minute dagger into the hearts of Bears fans, hitting Randall Cobb for a division-winning score.

    The San Francisco 49ers bounced the Packers in the Wild Card Round, earning a 23-20 victory at Lambeau Field.

2014 Carolina Panthers

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Season record: 7-8-1

    No team in the NFC South had a winning record in 2014, so the Carolina Panthers were the best of the worst.

    Carolina began the season 3-2-1 but proceeded to drop six straight games. Four straight games against non-winning teams helped the Panthers, who had a minus-35 point differential overall, make the improbable climb to the NFC South crown.

    In the playoffs, they met a banged-up Arizona team forced to start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley. Carson Palmer had torn the ACL in his right knee, and backup Drew Stanton couldn't play in the ugly 27-16 Carolina win because of a knee injury.

    The Panthers returned to reality with a 31-17 loss to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in the divisional round.

2017 Buffalo Bills

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    Rich Barnes/Associated Press

    Season record: 9-7

    Remember when Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in one half? The Buffalo Bills somehow still reached the playoffs that season.

    The 2017 Bills trudged to a minus-57 point differential but survived because the defense held nine opponents to fewer than 20 points. Buffalo went 8-1 in those games and even held the Jacksonville Jaguars to 10 points during the Wild Card Round.

    It's a problem when you only score three, though.

    Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor finished 17-of-37 for 134 yards, and a concussion sidelined him on the final drive. Peterman entered and promptly threw an interception, ending Buffalo's bizarre year in a horrid 10-3 loss.


    All statistics and records via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.


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