Ranking the 10 Biggest Fluke Teams in NFL History

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2020

Ranking the 10 Biggest Fluke Teams in NFL History

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    In the NFL, teams routinely come out of nowhere to make the playoffs or go on deep postseason runs.

    Last year, the Tennessee Titans went on a miracle sprint to the AFC title game, while the San Francisco 49ers went from 4-12 to 13-3 and booked a spot in the Super Bowl. Both teams appear to have a good chance at proving those 2019 campaigns weren't flukes, but it wouldn't be shocking if they were.

    Some of the most notable fluke seasons in league history featured teams shooting to solid records seemingly out of nowhere and with a big assist from luck, outside factors or even a gimmick. The majority of said teams fell right back off the map, too. 

    These 10 teams stand out as the NFL's biggest flukes ever.

10. 2001 New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    In 2001, a wild chain of events helped jump-start what we now know as the New England Patriots dynasty. 

    But that doesn't mean their 2001 season wasn't a fluke. 

    Bill Belichick was entering his second year as the Patriots' head coach after a five-win campaign in 2000. Tom Brady was a relatively unknown sixth-round pick who got forced into action (throwing 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions during the regular season) because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe. 

    Belichick and Brady guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record during the regular season and then had an infamous escape in the divisional round against the then-Oakland Raiders. They went on to upset the then-St. Louis Rams, one of the most explosive teams of all time, in the Super Bowl. 

    While Belichick and Brady went on to win five more Super Bowls, the 2001 team was the biggest surprise of all. The Patriots had never won a Super Bowl prior to that year, and they tumbled to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs in 2002.

9. 2012 Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    When it comes to Super Bowl winners, it doesn't get much flukier than the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. 

    They went from 12-4 in 2011 to 10-6 in 2012, but they won the AFC North over the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals and 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers. During the regular season, Joe Flacco bumbled his way to a 59.7 completion percentage with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while the defense mustered only 37 sacks. 

    Then the playoffs happened. 

    Flacco threw 11 touchdowns with no interceptions over four games, although he completed only 57.9 percent of his passes. In the divisional round, the Ravens snuck past a Denver Broncos team on the road that beat them 34-17 in Week 15.

    The Ravens rewarded Flacco with a massive contract the following offseason, but they've qualified for the playoffs only three times since. They also went better than 8-8 just once over the next four seasons. 

8. 2011 New York Giants

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    It's hard to get flukier than the 2011 New York Giants, who went on a miracle run to a Lombardi Trophy.

    They finished the regular season with a 9-7 record and needed a Week 17 win just to get into the playoffs. They also got swept by a five-win Washington team and had only one win against a team that finished above .500.

    While Eli Manning threw for 4,933 yards during the regular season, he also posted a paltry 29-to-16 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, and the running game behind him mustered only 3.5 yards per carry. Despite winning the NFC East, the Giants finished the season with a negative point differential.  

    The 2007 Giants, who likewise beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl that year, finished the regular season with a 10-6 record and a positive point differential.

    Since the triumph over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants have made only one playoff appearance and have posted losing records in six of the ensuing eight seasons.

7. 2010 Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Three years before the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, they stumbled into one of the strangest seasons of all time. 

    Led by first-year head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks stumbled to a 7-9 record in 2010, but they somehow still made the playoffs. Since the NFL switched to a 16-game season, their minus-97 point differential is the worst of any playoff team.

    Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 59.9 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions over 14 games, while the ground game managed only 3.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Seattle allowed 30 points in all but one of its regular-season losses.

    Fueled by Hasselbeck and running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks overcame an early 10-point deficit against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round and pulled off a 41-36 victory. However, their playoff run ended the next week against the Chicago Bears in the divisional round.

    The Seahawks went 4-12 in 2008 and 5-11 in 2009, so a playoff victory didn't appear to be in the cards the following season. However, they went 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2011.

6. 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    After going 11-5 in 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars failed to make the playoffs or post a winning record over each of the following nine seasons.

    But in 2017, they went 10-6 and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where they held a fourth-quarter lead against the New England Patriots before collapsing.

    Jacksonville's defense had legitimate stars in their primes and did the heavy lifting. But the 2017 campaign was seemingly built for a lucky Jaguars run, as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck missed the entire season and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson appeared in only seven games. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans went 9-7 and had a negative point differential

    The Jaguars got swept by the Titans during a regular season in which Blake Bortles completed 60.2 percent of his passes with only 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had no business making the playoffs and threw only three scores across three postseason games while completing 57.6 percent of his passes. 

    As the AFC South reverted to normal after 2017, Jacksonville imploded and began a major talent exodus. The Jaguars have gone a combined 11-21 over the past two seasons and are now in the midst of a ground-up rebuild. 

5. 2011 Denver Broncos

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    Nothing sums up the 2011 Denver Broncos like Tim Tebow's walk-off 80-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round.

    Tebow completed only 46.5 percent of his passes while throwing 12 touchdowns and six interceptions across 14 regular-season games that year. But that was enough to win a miserable AFC West, as the Broncos finished 8-8, the same mark as two other division mates.

    The Broncos won three overtime games and six by four points or fewer en route to that .500 mark. The week after Tebow's fluky game-winner against the Steelers, the New England Patriots blasted them 45-10 in the divisional round.

    While Peyton Manning's arrival in Denver spurred years of success after this run, the Broncos hadn't gone above .500 since 2006 and hadn't won a playoff game since 2005. Had Manning not signed with them, the Broncos likely would have regressed right back to consistently missing the playoffs.

4. 2007 Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Tribble/Associated Press

    After rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns had one winning season and one playoff berth over their first eight seasons of existence. Meanwhile, they lost at least 12 games four different times.

    But in 2007, quarterback Derek Anderson erupted for 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions to guide the Browns to a 10-6 record. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow posted their only career 1,000-yard seasons, too.

    Despite all of that, the Browns still missed the playoffs, as they lost the AFC North tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They needed two overtime wins and three more by seven points or fewer to squeak out the 10-win mark. 

    The year after, Cleveland immediately plunged to a 4-12 record. The Browns haven't won more than seven games in a season since.

3. 2008 Miami Dolphins

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Wildcat offense helped the 2008 Miami Dolphins produce one of the biggest fluke seasons in NFL history.

    Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams tallied 650-plus rushing yards apiece as the Dolphins surged to 11 wins and an AFC East crown. Meanwhile, quarterback Chad Pennington had a career year at the age of 32, as he threw for 3,653 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

    After getting off to a 2-4 start, the Dolphins reeled off nine wins in their final 10 regular-season games. However, the Baltimore Ravens smashed them 27-9 in the divisional round, as the rushing attack managed only 52 yards on 2.5 yards per carry and Pennington threw four picks. 

    Although the Dolphins went from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008, opposing NFL teams quickly figured out the Wildcat offense, and Miami has largely been looking for answers ever since. The Dolphins have only one winning record over the past 11 seasons and one playoff berth.

2. 1989 Green Bay Packers

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    Bill Waugh/Associated Press

    After dominating the NFL throughout the 1960s, the Green Bay Packers were largely an afterthought throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

    The 1989 campaign proved to be the exception to that rule, as they erupted for 10 wins for the first time since the 1972 season.

    Lindy Infante took home Coach of the Year honors, while Don Majkowski threw for a career-high 4,318 yards and 27 touchdowns. Breakout weapon Sterling Sharpe put up 1,423 receiving yards with 12 scores. 

    Although the Packers finished 10-6, they missed the playoffs after losing the NFC North tiebreaker to the Minnesota Vikings. They also earned the nickname "The Cardiac Pack," as seven of their 10 wins came by four points or fewer.

    The following year, Majkowski threw for only 1,925 yards across nine games, and the Packers slipped to 6-10. They didn't return to playoff contention until Brett Favre's arrival in 1992, which made their 1989 campaign one of the biggest flukes ever.

1. 2008 Arizona Cardinals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    After rebranding from the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals in 1994, the franchise posted one winning season between then and 2007. 

    But in 2008, they had the benefit of playing in an awful NFC West.

    The Cardinals finished with a 9-7 record and had a plus-one point differential, but that was enough to beat out the rest of the division. Although quarterback Kurt Warner threw for nearly 4,600 yards and 30 touchdowns, his running game averaged less than four yards per carry, and Arizona got blown out by at least 21 points in three of the final five weeks of the regular season.

    After knocking off the top-seeded Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, the Cardinals had home-field advantage for the NFC title game. That helped them escape with a 32-25 victory over a Philadelphia Eagles team that blasted them 48-20 in Week 13. 

    Since that Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals have made the playoffs only three times and had four winning records. Although they went 10-6 and lost in the divisional round in 2009, they skidded to a 5-11 record in 2010 and didn't finish above .500 again until 2013.