Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Sep 2005

NFL's Most Disappointing Teams

This list seems pretty exhaustive, but Eric of Off Wing Opinion also includes some thoughts about his favorite team, the New York Jets, even though they didn't make SI's final cut.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 07 Sep 2005

41 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2005, 5:34pm by kk


by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 09/07/2005 - 11:35pm

SI's most dissapointing articles. The 1986 Bears? Say what?

by charles (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 12:22am

How do the 2003 Bucs not make this list?

by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 1:17am

Seems like a cheap shot at the 94 Bills.

by Ignatz Ratzkywatzky (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 2:50am

Tying the O.J. Simpson murder charge to the 94 Bills? Harsh.

by David (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 4:27am

The list features too many teams that were hit by injuries instead of just poor performance. When a team gets hype based on a few standout players (like, you know, the league MVP), and then those standout players go down, it's hard to call the team a "disappointment" in the same way that you'd call, say, the 2003 Bucs or the 2000 Redskins were disappointments. Those teams had all the pieces in place and just underperformed like hell, which is what I think of when I hear "disappointing. "

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 8:58am

David, I think the Skins where a big dissapointment becasue of the reasons in the article.
- #2 and #3 in the draft.
- big signings
- lots of expectation.

by Ray (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 9:42am

This is in reference to a different article, but it's still an SI article (linked on name) so it's almost related to this topic. Towards the end, in the midst of a bunch of other random statistics, is this gem:

"The Patriots (10-2) are the only NFL team with a winning record in its division in each of the last three seasons"

Could someone please explain what he's trying to get at here? If he's considering the last three seasons, shouldn't the divisional record add up to 18 games, not 12 (unless he's inexplicably considering this season even though it hasn't started yet)?

Am I just misunderstanding what this is supposed to represent? The way I'm interpreting it, both the Eagles (11-1 and 16-2) and Colts (10-2 and 14-4) (the only two other teams I even bothered to check) have had a winning divisional record over the last two and three seasons.

Anyone care to postulate on what that stat means? I just don't get it.

by El Angelo (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:08am

The Jet article is on the mark, but misses a few other notes that should be included. Such as....

--In 1991, 7-5, cruising along well, then dropping 3 straight, setting up a climactic final game against the Dolphins...which they win on a Raul Allegre field goal! They then blow another lead in the playoffs against the Warren Moon Oilers in a game where they outplayed their opponent.

--The famous Fake Spike game was even worse than his description, as I believe the Jets were up by 17 points at halftime and 14 in the 4th quarter.

--During Parcells' first year, the Jets are in Detroit with a shot to make the playoffs with a victory over a usually mediocre Lions squad. Parcells calls a series of inexplicable plays (such as having Ray Lucas throw to WR Neil O'Donnell, and no, that's not a typo, in the red zone), and Ole Neil throws for a host of INTs en route to the loss. What would've been a great turnaround turns into a titanic disappointment.


by B (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:23am

I think the most disapointing team is "try 4 issues of Sports Illustrated free!"

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:27am

the problem with the Jets article is that the same article could be written by a fan of ANY team in the NFL

(well, except maybe the Cardinals)

all teams have suffered excruciating, inexplicable losses, but they are "disappointments" only to their fans who expected anything in the first place

SI’s most dissapointing articles. The 1986 Bears? Say what?

as was pointed out in the 1st edition of The Hidden Game of Football--the 86 Bears were only 6-10 against the spread, even though they finished 14-2; so they were a severe disappointment to the fans who had a financial interest

by harry (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:34am

How can you overlook the '77 & '78 Patriots? The '76 squad was probably the best team in the NFL, arguably one the most talented in history on a player by player basis. But the '77 team was undermined by idiotic owners who let Gray and Hannah sit in a divisive holdout. The headcoach, Chuck Fairbanks, was also constantly sabotaged by the Sullivans and those late '70s Patriots never were able to live up to their potential.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:34am

Too Me a team that finishes 14-2 and loses thier first playoff game is a bigger dissapointment than a team who finishes 6-10 because thier star players get injured (Or the coach dies).

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 10:50am

The only thing that really stands out to me from that article is how diminuative the fridge looks compared to todays linemen. Yipes.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 11:18am

Anyone care to postulate on what that stat means? I just don’t get it.

It's not:

* conference instead of division (Pats went 6-6 in 2002, and Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and others as well)

* division (Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Green Bay...)

The only thing I can think of is "the Patriots are the only team in the AFC East to post a winning record in 3 consecutive years" which... is retarded, of course, as it's only 4 teams, and you can say the same thing about the NFC East and Philadelphia.

Just ignore Reuben Frank. I can't tell you the number of times he's screwed up stats, or given completely retarded ones. Usually involving Tom Brady.

by Arthur (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 11:50am

To me, the 1985 Miami Dolphins have got to be in the top 10 most disappointing teams. How in the world could they lose to the Patriots in the AFC Championship? A Dolphins vs. Bears Super Bowl, after the Dolphins were the only team to beat the Super Bowl Shufflin' Bears all year, would have been a epic matchup. Instead, they dropped what should have been an easy win to a much less talented Patriots team.

Huge disappointment made even worse by the horrible Super Bowl, as the Bears clubbed the pathetic Patriots.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 11:57am

To me, the 1985 Miami Dolphins have got to be in the top 10 most disappointing teams. How in the world could they lose to the Patriots in the AFC Championship?

spot on--this is one of the least-remembered and COMPLETELY inexcusable playoff losses in NFL history

the 1985 Pats were, without question, the worst team ever to make the SB*--there's no way the Fins should have lost to that team

Don Shula:

1.) Heavily favored Colts lose 27-0 to the Browns in 1964 championship game

2.) SB III (nuff said)

3.) 1985 loss to the Pats

I can't think of another coach with that many inexplicable performances from his team

*well, maybe the 1994 San Diegos, but it's close

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 12:03pm

re #8: my recollection of the 1997 Jets-Lions game differs a little from yours. As I recall, Ray Lucas's INT came on a throw over the middle, and the other INT thrown by the Jets came on a halfback option pass (by Leon Johnson??) I guess that game was most notable for the devastating injury suffered by the Detroit LB (name escapes me at the moment)

How about the 1992 Redskins for most disappointing team? In 1991 they went 14-2 and won the Superbowl, and had great running game, great passing game, great everything! (It wasn't until their fourth (fourth!) home game that they allowed a point at home!) Then in 1992 they were a medicore 9-7 (admittedly still winning a playoff game) on their way to hard times. Mark Rypien went from the league's highest ranked QB to the lowest ranked regular starter in the NFC, and young stud RB Ricky Ervins completely vanished after showing a lot of promise backing up Earnest Byner in '91.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 12:20pm

Good memory, Ryan. I couldn't think of his name - had to look it up. It was Reggie Brown. I was thinking of Mike Utley, but that was back in '91 ... Brown did recover, not to play football again, but at least to walk.

However, I would humbly suggest another thing that was memorable about the game: Barry breaking the 2000-yard mark.

Naturally, they lost in the playoffs that year. It was disappointing, but hardly a surprise.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 12:37pm

"To me, the 1985 Miami Dolphins have got to be in the top 10 most disappointing teams. How in the world could they lose to the Patriots in the AFC Championship?"

The thing to remember is the Dolphins Defense was not very good in 1985. The killer B's era of the early 80s was over. The first cracks appeared in 1984. But in 1985 the Dolphins were generally terrible in every category except points allowed. The Pats on the other hand were a top ten Defense and offensive team. I think it's clear they were a better team. As 1986 showed.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 12:51pm

Another memory from the Jets-Broncos playoff game:

During a crucial 3rd quarter drive at midfield, Keyshawn Johnson catches the ball just short of the marker on 2nd and long. The nearest defender is about 3 yards away from him. Instead of just running forward for an easy first down, he dances around trying to make a big play, and gets tackled for about -3 YAC. Instead of 1st and 10 in Broncos territory, they get stuffed on 3rd an 3, punt, never come close to scoring again.

At least that's how I remember it.

by charles (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 1:39pm

RE: 17
Yeah, that was the year the redskins traded up to get desmond howard who they though would replace art monk who was declining. Gibbs was the defacto GM that year and was obsessed with desmond howard for some reason. But howard sucked and rypien turned back to old rypien and suddenly the skins had no passing game. The defense actually played well that year and they wound up losing to the 49ers in san fran in the playoffs by only 7 points. But then the team got old they had no young players or draft picks to use and gibbs left and they have stunk for every year since except for 1999.

Coincidentally, the 2003 Bucs also had no draft picks because of the Gruden trade, and Brad Johnson went back to regular Brad Johnson and their team has stunk since then also. Yes, I keep bringing back up the 2003 Bucs because i had a lot invested financially in their games every week so i'm a little bitter.

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 2:30pm

#16, the 2000 New York Giants have to be up there with the worst teams to make a Super Bowl.

by Mike B. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:12pm

Re: #21

Rypien's deal with the Devil expired. That's the only way I've ever been able to make any sense out of 1991...

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:15pm

On that SI page there is an ad for "Warner's Bras".

I love how SI.com pages take about 7 minutes to load even on a broadband internet connection.

Can you say "bloated?" I knew you could.

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:17pm

I feel like nit-picking today:

"Then the wheels fell off in '90 and started a downslide that didn't essentially end before the team moved to Baltimore."

"That didn't essentially end"? Shouldn't it be "essentially didn't end"? Don't they have professional editors?

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:22pm

YA Tittle looks like he's about 70 years old in that picture.

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:28pm

I can’t think of another coach with that many inexplicable performances from his team

*well, maybe the 1994 San Diegos, but it’s close

And San Diego made the Super Bowl in 1994 because Shula's blew a lead at San Diego in the divisional playoffs. (I'm a Dolphins fan.)

He also laid an egg in the AFC Championship game at home against Buffalo in 1992.

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:36pm

The thing to remember is the Dolphins Defense was not very good in 1985. The killer B’s era of the early 80s was over. The first cracks appeared in 1984. But in 1985 the Dolphins were generally terrible in every category except points allowed.

Actually, the defense ranked 12th in points allowed in 1985.

If you really take a look at their team rankings that year ( http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/mia1985.htm ) you will see some interesting things. The team won 8 games by 7 or more points, so it looks like they spent a lot of time ahead. And in their closer games, the defense was still giving up a lot of points. They had two shutouts, but also gave up 26 or more points 5 times.

The defense was horrible in passing yards per attempt (26th), but ranked 6th and 8th in completions and attempts. You would think that in high scoring games or games they lead that the opposition would be throwing the ball a lot, but they weren't. It looks like instead they were just throwing deep, and doing it successfully. The rushing defense was also pretty bad, ranking 24th in yards per carry.

With the poor rate stats on defense, it's amazing they still managed to rank 12th in points against.

I'd love to see some DVOA numbers from 1985.

by Harry (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 3:47pm

The '85 Dolphins are a good choice, not only did they lose to a pretty mediocre Pats team, but they lost at home in the Orange Bowl where, if memory serves, the Pats to that point had never beat the Dolphins, or at least not since the mid-60s.

In the end though the Bears would still have won.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 5:08pm

"He also laid an egg in the AFC Championship game at home against Buffalo in 1992. "

Yeah to me that was much worse than 1985. However it's interesting to note that had the refs not given the game away to the Bills again Houston the Dolphins would have gottin' away without having to face the Bills. But fate was not on their side.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 5:12pm

Let's not forget that the week before they somehow lost to New England, the Dolphins also nearly somehow lost to the incredibly dominating 8-8 Browns (AFC Central champs, baby!). The Dolphins somehow managed to fall behind 21-3 in the 3rd quarter, before the Browns realized who they were and did everything possible to lose.

Oh Browns, why do you hate me so much? Or were you just preparing me for the years to come?

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 6:29pm

If we're thinking of disappointing teams as ones that showed a lot of promise and then let the fans down (like the '85 Dolphins) then surely KC should be on this list.

Three times ('95, '97 and '03) they've gone 13-3 and then lost their first playoff game at home (and we can't blame the last one on Marty) That's got to be disappointing for the fans.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 09/08/2005 - 7:56pm

What about the Philadelphia Eagles? I wouldn't call them disappointing, but heartbreaking (for an Eagle fan).

From 1988-1990 they won the division under Buddy Ryan with a killer defense and Cunningham but lost in the first round every year. Around that span of time Super Bowls were won by the Bears, 49ers, Redskins and Giants (chief rivals) and then the Cowboys rose to prominence.

The 2001-2004 teams also must be heartbreaking for fans in a Buffalo Bills type of way...

by Dervin (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 3:49am

Matthew: Darn Skippy, that was the most painful of it all. Everybody* in the NFC East won a superbowl during that time - and the Eagles couldn't even win a playoff game.

*The Cards don't count.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 12:50pm

re #33: hmmm. You must have been watching a different Eagles team to the one I watched from 1988-1990. The one I watched won the division in 1988, but lost to the Bears in Chicago, who had a better record than them, and then was a wildcard, not division champ, in both 1989 and 1990 behind the NY Giants (who were 13-3 and way better than the Eagles in 1990)
Tough to really see that the Eagles lost any playoff games they "should" have won during that period.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 1:35pm

I was just remembering how good the Eagles defense was, and for them to not even win a playoff game...

Reviewing the records I would agree the Eagles wouldn't be expected to win, but then again they never lost to the eventual NFC champion.

I think I prefer the old 10 team playoff format than the new 12 team. Top 3 division champions get a bye, worst division champ plays the wildcard team.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 1:54pm

Matthew (#35 )--

Under the old 10-team playoff format, there were 3 divisions in each conference. So all three division winners in got a bye, and the wild-card round consisted of one game per conference, with the winner getting the booby prize of playing the #1 seed afterward.

Since there are now 32 teams, 12 making the playoffs seems reasonable. In fact, the current divison/conference/playoff organization*, combined with a 16-game schedule, would be difficult to improve by expanding or contracting the number of playoff games, teams, or regular-season games. The mathematics work well as they are.

So fans need to load up on rotten fruit, to throw at Tagliabue whenever the word "expansion" escapes his lips.

* The organization works numerically -- any system that puts Indianapolis in a "South" divison and Saint Louis in the "West" needs at least a semester of remedial geography.

by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 4:45pm

re #29: In the end though the Bears would still have won.

I agree (mainly because in my highly objective 14-year-old Chicagoan mind, those Bears would have beaten a squad with Yahweh at QB and the archangel Gabriel at MLB (actually, I guess it would be more appropriate to have archangel Michael at Mike, and maybe move Gabriel outside where he could freelance a bit (apparently I've completely lost any thread of my original thought))), but we are all poorer for not having seen that Bears-Phins Super Bowl.

by Bruce (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 5:50pm

Re: #23

Did you know Mark Rypien played all season with a torn rotator cuff following his MVP year? (Heard Charles Mann confirm this last week) At least they won a playoff game as an underdog in '92, denying Denny Green once again. With a 16-5 playoff record, no Gibbs coached team ever dissapointed me (save that debacle at SuperBowl XVIII)

As far as dissapointments, which of the Cowher Steeler's teams should make the list? No Pittsburgh fan will ever be confident again till Talibue hands over the Lombardi for keeps.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/09/2005 - 6:40pm

That's a tough one. I'd say the 2001 Steelers team, but how can any team that trusts Kordell Stewart as the QB be considered a disapointment? I guess 15-1 and losing the AFC championship at home would be a good choice, but when you lose to back to back superbowl champions, does it count as a failure?

by kk (not verified) :: Sat, 09/10/2005 - 5:34pm

what about the 2003 playoff chiefs?