Over the course of a football franchise’s history, there will be ups and down. The NFL is celebrating 100 years, and while few of the teams today were around at the league's outset, and none was playing under the same name, we want to take this occurrence to look at the history of all of the current 32 teams. We’ve decided to highlight not just the best but also the worst season in every franchise’s history. Some of the choices were easier than others, on both ends of the spectrum, but here are the final decisions.
The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl a few years ago, losing to the Steelers in an exciting game. That’s their best season while in Arizona, even if they went 9-7 that year. Back when they were in Chicago, though, the Cardinals had a year we think went better. In 1948, they were 11-1 behind MVP Pat Harder. Unfortunately, they fell one step short, as they lost the title game by a score of 7-0 in a blizzard. Maybe the weather stole a title from them.
How do you know a season has gone terrible? When a team gives up on a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback drafted in the top 10 after all is said and done. That was the fate of Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen after a woeful 3-13 campaign in 2018. Few people blamed Rosen for his play, though, given that the Cardinals had one of the worst offensive lines ever. Two of their wins were by a mere three points, but plenty of the losses were blowouts.
Sure, the Broncos beat the Falcons pretty soundly in the Super Bowl, but what a ride it was to get there! Led by Chris Chandler and Jamal Anderson, the Falcons posted a 14-2 record during the regular season. Then in the playoffs, they stunned the juggernaut 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in overtime. The Dirty Birds flew high that year.
The Falcons have had worse records than the 4-12 number they posted in 2007. However, it’s how they got there that was so miserable. For starters, Michael Vick was indicted on dog fighting charges in the offseason, ending his tenure in Atlanta. Then new head coach Bobby Petrino abruptly quit 13 games into the season. Fortunately, this bad season led to them drafting Matt Ryan. Maybe that’s a silver lining.
The Ravens began life as the Cleveland Browns, but when the Browns came back as an expansion team, they recouped their history. As such, Baltimore’s history only goes back to 1996. While the Ravens have two Super Bowls to their name, the first one was clearly the better of the two. They went 12-4, with Ray Lewis winning Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis was also the Super Bowl MVP in a trouncing of the Giants.
The Ravens’ first season in Baltimore was also their worst. The team went 4-12, the only time they have won fewer than five games. They would turn it around quickly, which isn’t surprising when you consider their draft class. In the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, the Ravens took Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
The Bills did win a couple of AFL titles in the ‘60s, but that bygone era of football feels slightly different from what we’re used to. It was pre-Super Bowl, after all. The 1990 season was the first of four straight years Buffalo went to the Super Bowl. They outscored opponents by over 10 points per game on average, and they crushed the Raiders, 51-3, in the AFC championship game. While they did lose the Super Bowl to the Giants, it was by only one single point. If Scott Norwood’s kick had traveled a slightly different trajectory, it’d be a whole different story.
The Bills went 2-14 in back-to-back years, in 1984 and 1985, but we’re going with 1985 for a couple of reasons. One, it’s rougher to go 2-14 a second time in a row. Also, Buffalo scored a mere 200 points on the season. That was the lowest total for any team in the ‘80s, outside of the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
Here we have the mirror image of the 2015 season. The Panthers went 1-15 in 2001. George Seifert’s legendary head coaching career came to an end. Plus, to make matters worse, Carolina didn’t even get the top pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. That honor went to the expansion Houston Texans. Of course, the Texans took David Carr, so maybe that was a bullet dodged.
This was an easy pick. We didn’t have to look up the year or even the numbers. The ’85 Bears are legends. They went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl with ease. Their defense was terrifying. Walter Payton led the offense. They had the Fridge. They had the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” They allowed 10 points total in the postseason. "Da Bears" were a force to be reckoned with.
Sure, the Bears were beset by injuries, but it was still an ugly year. Jay Cutler was their quarterback, after all, and it would be his last season in Chicago. For the first time in franchise history, the Monsters of the Midway went 3-13, and one of those wins was over the 2-14 49ers. The Bears also went winless on the road.
This was really tough. In both 1981 and 1988, the Bengals went 12-4. They went to the Super Bowl in both seasons and lost to the 49ers in both seasons as well, and their quarterback was the league MVP in both campaigns. Looking at the numbers, though, the 1981 season felt a smidge better, but we admit we are splitting hairs.
The Bengals went a woeful 2-14 in 2002, but even that comes with an asterisk. One of their wins was against the expansion Houston Texans. It’s not like they had a lot of bad luck either. Over an 0-7 stretch to start the season, Cincinnati lost all seven games by an average score of 19 points.
In 1948 the Browns went 14-0 and won the title, but that was in the AAFC, a rival league to the NFL at the time. So we won’t count that. Instead we’re going with the 1955 season. The Browns went 9-2-1 and beat the Rams for the title by a tidy 38-14 margin. Otto Graham was named the MVP, giving Paul Brown his final title as the coach of the team named after him.
C’mon. This one was simple. The Browns went 0-16 in 2017, becoming the second team to ever go winless in a 16-game season. Cleveland was abysmal, especially since it went 1-15 the year prior. You can’t get any lower than this. Yet somehow Hue Jackson wasn’t fired until the middle of the 2018 campaign.
How about them Cowboys? The team of the ‘90s took home its first Super Bowl in the 1992 season. That came after a regular season in which the Cowboys went 13-3. They had to take down a couple of really tough opponents, the Eagles and the Niners, to even make it to the Super Bowl. There, the NFC supremacy sort of declared itself, as the Cowboys obliterated the Bills, 52-17.
In Jimmy Johnson’s last two years as the coach of the Cowboys, they won the Super Bowl. You can’t say the same thing about his first campaign after replacing legendary coach Tom Landry. Dallas went only 1-15 that year, with its one win being a 13-3 victory over Washington. Fortunately Johnson was able to right the ship, and only a few years later they were earning Super Bowl rings.
If only for sentimental seasons, this would be the obvious choice. John Elway, in his last game with the Broncos as a player, was named Super Bowl MVP. However, it was a great season from the get-go. Denver went 14-2, and Terrell Davis was named the MVP of the regular season after rushing for over 2,000 yards.
The Broncos went 2-7 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, but we didn’t want to include that weird year. Back in 1967, Denver went 3-11 as a member of the AFL. The Broncos won the first game of the season, and then the year went downhill awfully fast. Interestingly, before the season, the Broncos played the Detroit Lions in an exhibition game and won, making them the first AFL team to beat an NFL team. Too bad that win couldn’t count.
The Lions have famously never been to the Super Bowl and have only won a single playoff game in the Super Bowl era. In the time before the Super Bowl, though, the Lions found glory a few times over. Led by seven future Hall of Famers, the Motor City Kitties went 10-2 and beat the Browns for the championship.
This was another obvious one. The Lions made history when they became the first team to ever go 0-16. Famously, or rather infamously, Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of the end zone accidentally for a safety in one of Detroit’s 16 losses. This was enough to finally bring the Matt Millen era to its merciful end. The glory days of Barry Sanders never seemed further away.
Not only did the Packers win the first Super Bowl in this season, taking down the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 35-10, but they also posted a 12-2 record. Bart Starr was named the MVP, and you know all about the legendary coach Vince Lombardi. The trophy you get for winning the Super Bowl is named after him.
Ray McLean was coach of the Packers for exactly one season, and it’s easy to see why. In his one year at the helm, the Packers went 1-10-1, with the win coming by only three points over the Eagles. You might think they had a terrible roster, but in actuality there were SEVEN future Hall of Famers on this team. How does a team with Bart Starr win only one game?
The Texans have only been a franchise since 2002, making them the youngest in the NFL. It also means we’ve got fewer choices than typical. Houston has won a playoff game three times in its history but never more than one. In 2002, the Texans had a 12-4 record in the regular season, the most wins they’ve ever had in a year.
Here’s how bad things got for the Texans in 2005: People swore they were tanking to try and draft Reggie Bush. Of course, they did indeed end up with the worst record in the NFL, at 2-14, but then they drafted Mario Williams first overall. David Carr was sacked 68 times behind a porous offensive line, and Dom Capers would be fired as head coach.
In 2005 the Colts had 14 wins, in 2007 they had 13 wins, while in 2006 they had “only” 12 wins. However, in those two bookend seasons the Colts lost their first playoff game, whereas in 2006 they won the Super Bowl. They took down the Patriots in a great AFC title game and then bested the Bears to give Peyton Manning his first ring and his only in Indy.
The Colts were so close to going winless in 1991. Their one victory came by a mere one point. They scored 28 points in their win, which was the most points they scored in a game all season. On the year, Indianapolis managed only 143 points and was held to single-digit points in 11 games.
The Jags were in only their fifth season of existence in 1999, but they were already a force to be reckoned with. Jacksonville posted a 14-2 record and then ended Dan Marino’s career on a low note with a 62-7 trouncing in the playoffs. The Jaguars couldn’t get past the Titans to make it to the Super Bowl, but it was a great ride until then.
Shahid Khan had just taken over as the owner of the Jaguars, but he did not get a great return on his investment in his first season. Hey, that’s what happens when Chad Henne is your team’s starting quarterback. Jacksonville only went 2-14, but at least it could say that it beat two of its divisional rivals.
The Chiefs notably lost the first Super Bowl, but it took them only a few years to make up for that. Kansas City won Super Bowl IV by besting the Minnesota Vikings. The Chiefs 11-3 record, while impressive, was actually only the second-best record in the AFL that year, but flags fly forever.
The Chiefs have had two 2-14 seasons in franchise history. However, in 2008 they were the youngest team in the league and had to revamp their offense midseason. The 2012 Chiefs had four Pro Bowlers on defense and had hired Scott Pioli from the Patriots to try and run the team. It was a pure disaster with no caveats, other than thinking that "having Romeo Crennel be your head coach was a good idea.”
It seemed like the best season for the Chargers was going to be 2006 when LaDainian Tomlinson won MVP and the team went 14-2. Then they lost their first playoff game, and Marty Schottenheimer got fired. Way back in 1963, though, the Chargers won their only title in franchise history. They stomped the Patriots in the AFL championship, 51-10, after going 11-3 during the regular season, and Lance Alworth was the MVP even though he was a wide receiver.
One name says it all: Ryan Leaf. He was one of the quarterbacks to take the field during this disastrous season. The Chargers went 1-15, winning their sole game by a score of 17-16. They rushed for only 1,062 yards as a team, a record low in a 16-game season. At least a brighter future was ahead. In the 2001 NFL Draft, the Chargers took LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees with their first two picks.
What a fun ride it was for the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Kurt Warner came out of nowhere to become the MVP, while Marshall Faulk was Offensive Player of the Year. They were a magical Cinderella story, and it all culminated with a win in the Super Bowl. This is, in terms of joy and enjoyment, perhaps the greatest season a franchise has ever had.
A decade later the Rams hit their nadir. This team had a truly brutal offense, led by Marc Bulger, who had five touchdown passes. That’s not a typo. They scored 10.9 points per game. In fact, by some advanced stats measurements, this team was even worse than the 2008 Detroit Lions that went 0-16. Funnily enough, the Rams only win in 2009 was over the Lions.
Hey have you heard that the ’72 Dolphins went undefeated? You definitely have, because the players from the team won’t shut up about it. To be fair, they earned their bragging rights. They are the only team of the Super Bowl era to go undefeated. For now, they are legends, and if they want to celebrate every year when the final undefeated team loses, so be it.
Hey, things can’t stay perfect forever. The Dolphins were almost the opposite of perfect, in fact, as they went 1-15 in 2007. There were some positive signs for the future, though, as six of their losses were by three points or fewer. Indeed, the very next year the Dolphins had the greatest turnaround in NFL history, going 11-15 and winning the AFC East.
Yes, the Vikings saw their season end in a heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. Gary Anderson, who had been the most reliable kicker in football, missed a key kick, leading to a 30-27 loss in overtime for Minnesota. That being said, the Vikings went 15-1, and Randy Moss lit the league on fire. The combo of Moss and Cris Carter was maybe the best receiving duo we’ve ever seen.
En route to a 3-13 record, the Vikings ranked 28th in total defense. That’s bad even in 2019, but bear in mind there were only 28 teams in the NFL in 1984. Minnesota also allowed a whopping 30.3 points per game, which was a league high between 1983 and 2000. The Purple People Eaters they were not.
Decisions, decisions. While Super Bowl season should be go with? The Patriots have three different seasons when they went 14-2 and won it all. We’re going with 2003 because it was the Super Bowl that really established the Patriots as the start of a new dynasty. Tom Brady started coming into his own, and Bill Belichick won Coach of the Year. Memorably, the Pats lost their season opener to the Bills, 31-0. After that they won 14 of their 15 games, and their only loss was by three points.
Part of us wanted to go with 2007 when their undefeated season was thwarted by the Giants in the Super Bowl. We have to go with the 1-15 campaign from 1990, though. New England had a woeful minus-265 point differential, which was the worst differential any team posted in the ‘90s. To think it started the season 1-1. Things fell off after that.
For years the Saints struggled through mediocre and disappointing seasons. Then the combo of Sean Payton as coach and Drew Brees under center was able to turn the franchise around and create a period of unprecedented success. The franchise took home a Lombardi Trophy in its first, and so far only, appearance in the Super Bowl. The city of New Orleans had hosted several Super Bowls. Now its team had won one.
The Saints earned their “Aints” nickname with gusto, as they didn’t manage to have a single winning season for almost 20 years to start their franchise history. In the middle of that run came this, their worst season. New Orleans lost its first 14 games before earning its only victory in the second-to-last game by a mere one point. This was the year that fans wearing paper bags on their heads became trendy.
Yes, those two Super Bowl upsets against the Patriots were fun, but the 1986 Giants team was a terrifying beast. They had perhaps the best defense in the history of the NFL, led by NFL MVP Lawrence Taylor. After going 14-2, the Giants won their first playoff game, 49-3, and their second game, 17-0, before allowing 20 points in their Super Bowl win, a big number for that defense.
While this season didn’t see a beloved Super Bowl-winning quarterback get unceremoniously benched, a la Eli Manning a couple of years ago, we couldn’t say no to this awful campaign as the “winner.” The Giants went 1-12 1, and their defense was a sieve. They gave up over 50 points in three separate games, and they were also in the highest-scoring game in NFL history. Sure, they scored 41 points, but they allowed a staggering 72.
You know the story. The NFL had beaten the AFL in the first two Super Bowls. The Baltimore Colts, let by Johnny Unitas, were the heavy favorites. However, Broadway Joe and the underdog Jets pulled off the upset. New York won Super Bowl III, and Namath became a legend.
After going 3-13 in 1995, the Jets switched things up. They brought in Neil O'Donnell to be their new starting quarterback, and they drafted Keyshawn Johnson first overall in the 1996 NFL Draft. It…didn’t work out. The Jets actually dropped from three wins to a mere one, though there were a couple of close losses along the way.
In 2012 when NFL.com had a March Madness-style tournament for fans to vote on the greatest team of all time, the ’76 Raiders emerged victorious. While popular opinion doesn’t make anything official, the fans may have been onto something. Though the Raiders did lose pretty soundly to the Patriots during the season, that was their only loss. Plus, John Madden’s team got revenge in the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl.
The silver (and black) lining is that this team actually had a good defense, ranking eighth, according to Football Outsiders. However, it also ranked last in offense, which is probably why the Raiders managed to win only two games. They were unable to score a touchdown in seven of their games. Oh, and then they drafted JaMarcus Russell with the first-overall pick after this season. Oops.
Eagles fans are still basking in the glory of the best season in franchise history. Not only did they go 13-3 and win their first Super Bowl, but they also told a great story along the way. Nick Foles took over for the injured Carson Wentz (that part wasn’t so great) and put up some improbable numbers under center. The fact Philly took down the Patriots in the Super Bowl made it just that much sweeter.
The Eagles were not flying in 1972, and they didn’t even have to play the undefeated Dolphins! Philadelphia went 2-11-1, and they were so close to being winless. Both of the team’s wins came by only one point. That tie was surely an ugly game as well, as it finished with a score of 6-6.
The only question we had was which Super Bowl-winning team from the ‘70s we would pick? In the end, the ’78 squad seemed like the best choice, with the best record of the bunch, as the Steelers went 14-2 that year. Their playoff run was also quite impressive. Terry Bradshaw took home the MVP for good measure.
There aren’t a lot of bad seasons to choose from in Steelers history. In fact, since this 1969 campaign, Pittsburgh hasn’t had a worse record than 5-11. Some teams would love that to be the case. The 1969 season was a brutal one in the Steel City, though. Pittsburgh went 1-13, but the promise of the future was clear in Joe Greene winning Defensive Rookie of the Year.
We were tempted to go with 1989, when the 49ers cruised through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl, 55-10. However, we had to choose the 1984 campaign. Not only did they win the Super Bowl, but they also went 15-1 and had a fine postseason run in their own right. Plus, the Niners’ one loss was by a mere three points.
The 49ers must have been awfully thankful for the Arizona Cardinals. Both of their wins came against the Cardinals and, weirdly, both games were won by a score of 31-28 in overtime. Yes, the Niners didn’t manage to win a single game in regulation. They also lost all their preseason games, which don’t count but that’s kind of funny.
The Seahawks have had two 13-3 seasons in franchise history. In one of them, they controversially lost the Super Bowl. In the other, they trounced the Broncos, 43-8, en route to their first Super Bowl win. That team was led by the Legion of Boom defense and future Hall of Fame coach Pete Carroll. Also, somehow Malcolm Smith got to be Super Bowl MVP, which was fun.
This was the most imbalanced team of all time, at least according to Football Outsiders. There’s a lot to back that up. The Seahawks had a really good defense, and Cortez Kennedy was the Defensive Player of the Year. Oh, but that offense. Seattle had arguably the worst offense the NFL has even seen, scoring 140 points total, which averages out to only 8.8 points per game. On top of that, the team had 1,778 yards passing. Several running backs have rushed for more yards in a season!
Remember when we said the Steelers had only a few disappointing seasons to choose from? The Buccaneers have the opposite problem. Their history is littered with awful seasons, with one sticking out as the clear best. The 2002 Bucs, led by their staunch defense, posted the only 12-4 campaign in franchise history, and they won the Super Bowl to boot.
There were so many double-digit loss seasons to choose from. We don’t want to rag on an expansion team, but we had to go with the 1976 campaign for the brand-new Buccaneers. After all, they did go 0-14. Expansion team or not, being unable to win even one of 14 games is enough to count as a brutal season, and the worst the franchise has ever seen. At least the Bucs knew they had nowhere to go but up.
This was the first year the Titans had that moniker, as they had spent two years known as the Tennessee Oilers after moving from Houston. The Titans, led by Eddie George, Steve McNair, and a promising rookie on defense named Jevon Kearse, went 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl. They fell just short of beating the Rams, but it’s their sole appearance in a Super Bowl thus far.
The Houston Oilers went 1-13 in 1972, which was terrible. Then they repeated the feat by going 1-13 in 1973 as well. Doing it a second time was doubly brutal. The Oilers were terrible on offense, as they only managed 199 points, but they were even worse on defense. Houston gave up a robust 447 points. Only three teams ever gave up more in the 14-game season era.
In 1983 Washington went 14-2 but then got walloped by the Raiders in the Super Bowl. The team was able to get over that final hump in 1991, once again going 14-2 but this time with a Super Bowl win added on for good measure. According to Football Outsiders, this was the best team in the league since 1986.
Frankly, any season in Washington’s franchise history could qualify as a “worst” given that it still uses a controversial nickname for the team. On the field, though, it was a battle between a couple of 3-13 seasons for the one that was the worst. We’re going with 2013. Washington ended the season with eight straight losses, and one of its wins came in overtime. Another win was a 45-41 affair, which was not a strong showing for its defense. The 2013 Washington squad is also known for having one of the worst special teams units ever.
You'll receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams.
Emailed daily. Always FREE!