Dynasties of Heartbreak 31-40: Cry, Eagles, Cry

Philadelphia Eagles QB Randall Cunningham
Philadelphia Eagles QB Randall Cunningham
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the Philadelphia Eagles seemed determined to find every way possible to squander talent. They show up multiple times today as our heartbreak dynasty countdown kicks into high gear with the top 40.

There are two kinds of teams that appear on this countdown: those that lost a Super Bowl, and those that never reached one to begin with. The Super Bowl losers who appear this low on the list—think the 1980 Eagles or 2003 Panthers—are more one-shot wonders than anything else. They were good teams that put together one unexpected run to the title game but simply couldn't win the final contest. To rank this low with a Super Bowl loss means you don't have a lot of other highlights to point out; you're resting on the laurels of one really good season and just padding it with a divisional loss or two.

At this point in the list, the teams that never made the Super Bowl are often more interesting, teams like Buddy Ryan's Eagles or Warren Moon's Oilers, who kept themselves in the mix year after year only to repeatedly faceplant before they could get too deep into the postseason. The best heartbreak teams combine the peak Super Bowl losses with a long run of extended success, but then, they don't get shoved this far down the rankings. It's much more pick-and-choose down here.

That being said, every heartbreak team deserves its moment in the sun, because every team finds its own ways to let the fans down. Let's get to today's 10 teams.

Links to the full series:

No. 40: 2008-2012 Atlanta Falcons

Total Heartbreak Points: 425.9
Playoff Points: 123.6
Win-Loss Points: 186.9
DVOA Points: 115.5
Record: 56-24 (.700)
Playoff Record: 1-4 (one NFCCG loss; one divisional loss; two wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 12.6%
Head Coach: Mike Smith
Key Players: QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White, TE Tony Gonzalez, OT Tyson Clabo, DE John Abraham

Neither of the two Atlanta Super Bowl losers end up making the main list, as the Falcons were simply not good enough for long enough around those defeats to develop a true heartbreak dynasty. The 28-3 game against the Patriots in 2016 only connects with 2017 before Dan Quinn's teams started falling apart. The 1998 Dirty Birds were a one-year fluke. Those two seasons are the two most painful in Falcons history, but they're islands of pain surrounded mostly by irrelevance.

Instead, the most painful Falcons run slides right between them as Atlanta picked itself back up from the twin Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino disasters. Vick's illegal dogfighting scandal in 2007 had blown up anything the Falcons had been building beforehand. Petrino's abandonment of the team in mid-December to take the Arkansas job capped off what was, until recently, the most embarrassing college-to-pro jump in coaching history.

The Falcons needed a complete reset both on and off the field, and they got it with head coach Mike Smith and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. Smith was named the Sporting News' Coach of the Year three times in these five seasons. His 56 wins in his first five years as a coach is second only to George Seifert all-time. Ryan was a star right off the bat. His 1,012 DYAR as a rookie was the record at the time and has only been passed once since (by Dak Prescott). Together, they took a team that was supposed to be rebuilding from these franchise-altering disasters straight to the playoffs in their first year together. Then they fought through injuries to put together another winning record in 2009, the first time the Falcons had ever had back-to-back winning seasons.

For the first time in, well, ever, the Falcons were relevant on a year-to-year basis. They were only team in the NFC to have five winning seasons every year from 2008 to 2012. Only the Patriots had a better winning percentage. DVOA never had them as the best team in the league, but they were in the top 10 from 2010 to 2012. That's when Smith's defense finally started pulling its own weight, with John Abraham regularly recording double-digit sacks. They were contenders, if not favorites.

This entry really strings on two seasons. Wild-card losses don't rack up that many points, even when they're 24-2 embarrassments like 2011. But 2010 and 2012 are two of the five most heartbreaking seasons in Falcons history. Atlanta earned the bye week in 2010 and came out rested to face a Packers team they had beaten earlier in the year. It was utter domination, a blowout in the Georgia Dome, with Aaron Rodgers torching the Falcons for 366 yards and three touchdowns on their way to a 48-21 thrashing. The 27-point loss is still the worst loss by a top seed in the divisional round.

By DVOA, the 2012 Falcons weren't as good as the 2010 model, but they were the ones who found postseason success. Once again, they went 13-3 in the regular season. Once again, they clinched the top seed in the NFC. They nearly blew the divisional game against the Seahawks, losing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead, but won with a late field goal. That meant they could then blow a 17-point lead to the 49ers in the ensuing NFC Championship Game! Despite nearly 400 passing yards from Matt Ryan and a heroic performance by a second-year player named Julio Jones, the Falcons were shut out in the second half and had to watch as Vernon Davis and Frank Gore shredded their defense. To this day, many Falcons fans will argue that NaVorro Bowman should have been called for pass interference on a fourth down late in the fourth quarter, which would have put the ball inside the 10-yard line with the Falcons needing a touchdown to win. But they didn't get the call, they didn't get the ball, and they didn't get the win.

They didn't get any more sustained success either. An injury-plagued season in 2013 sent them tumbling to 4-12, and Smith was fired after things didn't get any better the next season. The core of the offense would stick together under Dan Quinn, but that's a different story of misery and woe, with too much mediocrity in between to connect it to the Smith years.

No. 39: 1970-1977 Cincinnati Bengals

Total Heartbreak Points: 429.2
Playoff Points: 89.6
Win-Loss Points: 170.0
DVOA Points: 169.6
Record: 66-46 (.589)
Playoff Record: 0-3 (three divisional losses)
Average DVOA: 25.8%
Head Coaches: Paul Brown, Bill Johnson
Key Players: QB Ken Anderson, WR Isaac Curtis, TE Bob Trumpy, T Vern Holland, G Rufus Mayes, C Bob Johnson, DE Coy Bacon, DT Mike Reid, CB Lemar Parrish, CB Ken Riley, S Tommy Casanova

The Bengals' worst individual seasons come from their three Super Bowl losses. We have already talked about the late 1980s teams. The current edition hasn't existed long enough to rack up heartbreak points. The early 1980s team was a two-year flash in the pan. None of those eras can take the crown for most painful era of Bengals football, a crown that's held by Paul Brown's post-merger squads. Just two years after being formed as an expansion franchise, the Bengals had already become a highly competitive team.

This Bengals run is interesting, statistically. They're one of two qualified teams to have fewer than 100 heartbreak points from their playoff runs. In the early 1970s, only four teams from each conference made the playoffs, and this was the 1970s AFC, where the Steelers, Dolphins, and Raiders roamed the Earth, tromping on lesser franchises like they were nothing. Playing in the AFC Central with the Steelers meant that the Bengals were usually fighting for the one and only wild-card spot. They would have been the fifth seed in 1972 and 1976 and the seventh seed in 1974 and 1977, but those simply didn't exist during Paul Brown's era.

They did punch their playoff ticket three times, mind you. In 1970, they started 1-6 but won their last seven games to slip into the postseason so they could get rocked by Johnny Unitas' Colts. In 1973, they started the season 4-4 but won their last six games to slip into the postseason so they could get rocked by Mercury Morris' Dolphins. And, to shake things up, they won their first six games in 1975, managed to cling to a 11-3 record, and got to face the Raiders in the divisional round. They were trailing 31-28 with 50 seconds left with the Raiders punting, but a roughing call gave the Raiders a first down and allowed them to run out the clock. That's their prime heartbreak year in this run, the only one to cross the 100-point threshold thanks to 46 points of playoff pain. That's not a lot, compared to some of these other teams.

Instead, the Bengals are being bolstered by their respectable win-loss record and their very high DVOA. Or, rather, estimated DVOA—our numbers only go back to 1981, so we're relying on Andreas Shepard's DVOA estimates for the 1970s. And those estimates love the 1970s Bengals, placing them in the top 10 every year from 1971 to 1976 and usually in the top five—and again, this is an era with dominant dynasties left and right.

On offense, you had Bill Walsh tinkering with the beginnings of the West Coast Offense, leading to Ken Anderson winning multiple passing titles, becoming one of the most efficient passers of the decade, and spawning a zillion Hall of Fame articles from people dipping their toes into the analytical waters for the first time. With Anderson throwing to the speedy Isaac Curtis, the Bengals had the fifth-most passing yards in the league during this run, a figure which rises to first if you limit things to the years Walsh and Anderson were together. That ended after 1975, when Brown retired and passed Walsh over for Tiger Johnson. Thematically fitting for the Bengals, perhaps, but Cincinnati couldn't duplicate their success after 1975. Walsh succeeding Brown as head coach is one of the great "What Ifs?" in football history, considering all the success he would have at Cincinnati's expense in the 1980s.

Defensively, Mike Tanier covered the Lemar Parrish versus Ken Riley debate last year when talking about potential Bengals Hall of Famers. Suffice it to say that between the two of them and Tommy Casanova, this Cincinnati secondary was something to be feared. Coy Bacon's 21.5 (unofficial) sacks in 1976 remains in the top 10 all-time, and Mike Reid was a multiple-time Pro Bowler before he retired to become a Grammy-award winning country songwriter.

Perhaps one day we'll be able to push DVOA all the way back to the early 1970s and grade how good these Bengals truly were. It's possible that the estimates take a too-rosy look at Cincinnati's seventies success. But it's just as possible that if you took this team and placed them in a less competitive time or a less competitive division, they would end up a postseason fixture. There are worse tombstone inscriptions than "couldn't get past the Steel Curtain."

No. 38: 1978-1981 Philadelphia Eagles

Total Heartbreak Points: 436.7
Playoff Points: 187.6
Win-Loss Points: 118.8
DVOA Points: 130.4
Record: 42-22 (.656)
Playoff Record: 3-4 (one Super Bowl loss, one divisional loss, two wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 17.3%
Head Coach: Dick Vermeil
Key Players: QB Ron Jaworski, RB Wilbert Montgomery, WR Harold Carmichael, T Stan Walters, T Jerry Sisemore, NT Charlie Johnson

The Eagles were approaching two decades without a playoff berth before Dick Vermeil came along. They hadn't had a winning season since 1966. Veterans Stadium was a laughingstock. Bad personnel decisions left the Eagles without a first-round pick between 1974 and 1978. The Leonard Tose era had produced one of the worst teams in football. The Eagles website itself describes those teams as "bumbling." Turning to Vermeil, with just two years of head coaching experience at UCLA, was something of a desperation move. The fact that the Wikipedia page on Eagles history calls this era a "mild success" really doesn't do justice to what Vermeil was able to do in a very short period of time.

Vermeil traded for Ron Jaworski, which finally gave Harold Carmichael a quarterback who could hit the broad side of a barn. He drafted Wilbert Montgomery, who became the first Eagles rusher to crack 1,000 yards in a season since Steve Van Buren in the 1940s. He developed a defense, led by Bill Bergey, that was hard-hitting and bone-rattling; they ranked first in defensive DVOA in 1981 and had multiple top-five finishes in estimated DVOA in the years leading up to it. Vermeil's teams are sometimes credited with saving Philadelphia football. That's a bit of an overstatement as the Eagles weren't in danger of going anywhere , but Vermeil brought them out of decades of ignominy, and he was justly put into the Hall of Fame last year because of it.

He may not have had to wait until 2022 to get to Canton, however, if his teams had been able to succeed a little more in the postseason.

The 1978 Eagles had severe kicking problems, to the point that they didn't even attempt a field goal over the last four weeks of the season. Starting kicker Nick Mike-Meyer had gotten hurt, and Vermeil decided to have punter Mike Michel pull double duty, by which we mean come on only for extra points and kickoffs and absolutely nothing else. Michel missed two field goals and an extra point in the 14-13 wild-card loss to Atlanta. He never played in the NFL again.

The 1979 Eagles became the first team to lose to the Buccaneers in the postseason. Ricky Bell run over them all day long, picking up 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Montgomery and the rest of the Eagles' rushing attack couldn't even hit 50 yards. Still, Philadelphia had the ball down a touchdown in Tampa Bay territory with less than two minutes to go, but Jaworski threw four straight incomplete passes to end the game and send the Eagles home yet again.

The 1981 Eagles managed to lose to a Giants team missing both Phil Simms and Brad Van Pelt, again due to special teams woes—returner Wally Henry fumbled a punt and muffed a kickoff in the first quarter as the Giants jumped out to a 20-0 lead. The Eagles would fight back, but you can't spot a team 20 points and expect to win many football games!

But the big piece that puts these Eagles teams onto the list is, of course, the Super Bowl XV loss to the Raiders. 1980 ends up being the second-most painful season in Eagles history, although there's nothing altogether special about the 27-10 loss—it's just that any Super Bowl defeat is a painful one no matter the circumstances. The Raiders jumped out to an early lead, Jaworski threw three interceptions, end of story. It's painful in part because the Eagles were rightfully favored—they led the league in estimated DVOA while the Raiders were just a wild-card team. The first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl, as it turned out.

Maybe you blame Jaworski's three turnovers, or maybe you tip your hat to Jim Plunkett carving up the Eagles' ferocious defense; there are a lot of potential scapegoats to go around. The funniest, however, is the theory that the Eagles were done in by Don Rickles, the insult comic. Rickles was brought in by Leonard Tose to entertain the Eagles before kickoff and, according to Rickles himself, bombed hard enough that it may have affected the Eagles' chances. I wish, wish, wish I could find any sort of independent corroboration for this. He was certainly there and was a big Eagles fan, but no player has ever mentioned Rickles coming in and just putting everyone off their game. I'm still going to opt to blame Rickles for the loss, as I believe that's what he would have wanted.

Vermiel left after the 1982 season, citing burnout. The Eagles themselves would burn out, not returning to the playoffs until 1988. But that's a story for another entry.

No. 37: 1983-1989 Los Angeles Rams

Total Heartbreak Points: 442.6
Playoff Points: 143.2
Win-Loss Points: 146.3
DVOA Points: 153.1
Record: 67-44 (.604)
Playoff Record: 4-6 (two NFCCG losses, one division loss, three wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 10.7%
Head Coach: John Robinson
Key Players: RB Eric Dickerson, WR Henry Ellard, T Jackie Slater, G Dennis Harrah, G Kent Hill, G Tom Newberry, C Doug Smith, LB Carl Ekern, CB LeRoy Irvin, CB Jerry Gray

We'll talk about the 1970s Rams a little later, but that era of success had come to a halt in the early 1980s as the stars of those teams aged out of usefulness. John Robinson came over from USC, cut the dead weight, and started rebuilding around a young rookie running back named Eric Dickerson.

In four years with the Rams, Dickerson won rookie of the year in 1983, set the single-season rushing record in 1984, was named offensive player of the year in 1986, led the league in rushing three times, and was a three-time first-team All-Pro. He's still the fastest player ever to hit the 10,000-yard mark. He had three seasons with the Rams with at least 200-plus rushing DYAR. He was pretty good, is what we're saying, and the Rams nearly didn't have him. Dickerson seriously considered joining the Los Angeles Express, with the USFL's team matching his Rams salary. Dickerson was unsure about the USFL as a concept and their offensive line as a unit and opted to go with the Rams instead. Considering the Rams paved the way for him with five different Pro Bowlers on the offensive line while the Express had the worst line in the USFL, it's safe to say Dickerson made the right choice.

Then again, if Dickerson had joined the USFL, he wouldn't have had to play second fiddle to the 49ers throughout the 1980s. The Rams were NFC West runners-up in five of these seven seasons, only capturing the division crown in 1985. The Rams had the sixth-best winning percentage in the league over this seven-year stretch, yet Robinson's teams generally found themselves on the road early and often in the postseason because of their divisional rivals. The 1980s were a tough time to play in the NFC, and the Rams were fourth-fiddle behind San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington. Stick them in the AFC, and the Rams likely make multiple Super Bowls in this time period.

While this seven-year stretch is all John Robinson, we are kind of suturing together two distinct offensive identities here. Dickerson was traded halfway through the 1987 season after a contract dispute, so the last couple of seasons in this stretch are Jim Everett- and Henry Ellard-led Air Coryell-type offenses under the tutelage of Ernie Zampese. Those teams actually had significantly higher offensive DVOAs than Dickerson's; the gap between Dickerson and Greg Bell was large, but not as large as the gap between Everett and the Vince Ferragamo/Jeff Kemp/Dieter Brock shuffle. I think you would be hard-pressed to find 1980s Rams fans who agree, but that's a running back value discussion of a different color.

The Rams twice found their way to the NFC Championship Game in this era, only to crash into two of the best teams of all time. In 1985, the Chicago Bears shut them out 24-0. Dickerson was held to just 46 yards; Brock was limited to just 66 yards passing. The Rams punted 11 times and committed three turnovers as Chicago shuffled themselves into the Super Bowl. The Rams claimed that they should have gotten a timeout at the end of the first half, which would have allowed them to attempt a field goal. I'm not sure a 24-3 blowout would affect fans memories of this one all that much.

In 1989, it was a 30-3 blowout at the hand of the San Francisco 49ers—especially frustrating as the Rams had nearly swept the regular season series with their rivals. But Joe Montana and company rolled to 442 yards and Jim Everett was hit so often it led to his "phantom sack," when he crumbled in the pocket before any defender could even come close to him—a play that would come to unfairly define his career, and led to the infamous incident where he attacked Jim Rome on the set of his ESPN2 talk show.

1989 was the Rams' last winning season before they moved to St. Louis, as boring, terrible running games became an Anaheim staple in the early 1990s.

No. 36: 2019-2021 Green Bay Packers

Total Heartbreak Points: 445.4
Playoff Points: 188.4
Win-Loss Points: 169.5
DVOA Points: 87.5
Record: 39-10 (.796)
Playoff Record: 2-3 (two NFCCG losses, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 15.1%
Head Coach: Matt LaFleur
Key Players: QB Aaron Rodgers, RB Aaron Jones, WR Davante Adams, T David Bakhtiari, DT Kenny Clark, LB Za'Darius Smith

This is the second of our two provisional heartbreak teams. There's still plenty of time for Matt LaFleur's Packers to cash in on their recent run of success, but the seeds have been planted for some fairly terrible memories if they can never get over the final humps.

The Packers don't have a huge history of failure when it comes to converting success into titles. Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi filled the Green Bay trophy cabinet on a regular basis. The post-Lombardi Packers crept close to heartbreak a couple times, but they have always at least had something they can look back at and admire in any era. Both the 1997-2004 Brett Favre Packers and the 2011-2016 Aaron Rodgers Packers end up with over 300 heartbreak points, but they avoid qualifying for this list because they both came off of Super Bowl titles themselves. Should a quarterback of Favre or Rodgers' caliber win more than one title? Perhaps so, but it's not like either one of them has Dan Marinoed themselves, so the Packers have been more frustrated than heartbroken over the past 30 years.

So these past three years have been something of a new experience for Green Bay fans. It's not a quest to win another title, even if it would technically be Rodgers' second. This is an entirely different team from that 2010 championship squad, a team trying to convert back-to-back-to-back 13-win seasons into something a bit more permanent and tangible. And they keep crashing into freaking Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo. Losing to Tom Brady in the NFC Championship Game? It stings, but Brady's had the best career of all time and a lot of great teams have fallen before Brady's might. But losing to a guy who only throws eight passes as his team scores 37 points? In this century? Yikes.

Of course, they didn't really lose to Garoppolo in 2019. They lost to Raheem Mostert rushing for 220 yards as he just parted the center of the Packers defense over and over and over again. And they didn't really lose to Garoppolo in 2021, either. They lost to Rodgers being sacked five times and their special teams allowing two blocked kicks. And really, they didn't lose to Brady, either. The 2020 NFC Championship Game will long be remembered for LaFleur opting to kick a field goal down eight points with 2:09 left in the game, trusting his defense to stop Brady more than he trusted his MVP quarterback to score. Every team has those kinds of learning moments and painful bumps on their road to success, but if the Packers never find that success, it stops being a story about overcoming the odds and starts being a tale of missed opportunities and wasted potential.

If the Packers were to win the Super Bowl this season, it would wipe 2021 off of their books entirely. Their 2019-2020 Heartbreak Score would be just 41.8; losing back-to-back conference games still isn't great, but nothing worth spending too much time worrying about. To put that into context, that's roughly the same score the Brian Flores Dolphins had thanks to back-to-back winning seasons that failed to make the postseason—it's essentially nothing. If the Packers win a trophy, we'll look back on all this and laugh. If.

No. 35: 2003-2009 Carolina Panthers

Total Heartbreak Points: 461.9
Playoff Points: 259.2
Win-Loss Points: 118.1
DVOA Points: 84.6
Record: 64-48 (.571)
Playoff Record: 5-3 (one Super Bowl loss, one NFCCG loss, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 3.6%
Head Coach: John Fox
Key Players: QB Jake Delhomme, WR Steve Smith, T Jordan Gross, DE Julius Peppers, DE Mike Rucker, DT Kris Jenkins, LB Jon Beason, CB Chris Gamble

This is an exciting moment, because it's the first time in these historical journeys we have done over the past three years that I have gotten to talk about the Carolina Panthers. They have never been good enough for long enough to qualify for the Top Dynasties list. They have never been bad enough for long enough to qualify for the Anti-Dynasty list. In a way, they're the least remarkable franchise in modern NFL history—the third bowl of porridge for Goldilocks, never too hot nor too cold for too long. They have never had three years in a row with positive DVOA, but they have also had never had three years in a row below -1.0% DVOA until these last three years. Without extended runs of success or failure, we have just sort of let them slide out of the history books. But I'm excited to welcome all you Panthers fans to the countdown, and I'm eager to make a good impression.

These Panthers are not particularly impressive, compared to the other teams that made it this high (shoot, blew it). Their 3.6% average DVOA is the second-lowest for any qualified team, and their 84.6 points earned from DVOA also is nothing special, despite having seven years to accumulate points. This era has two 7-9 teams in it as well as two 8-8 teams which only qualify for extending this run because Carolina had positive DVOA during them—but never more than 3.3%. These aren't secretly great teams with bad luck. They're slightly above-average teams who finished averagely. No matter what system you use, someone is going to find a way to game it, and the Panthers have gamed their way into the top 35.

That's not to say the Panthers did not have good teams in this era, far from it. We may be a bit artificially pasting squads together, but any team that reaches the final four of the league twice in three years and comes away with nothing is worthy of at least a little notice.

The 2003 Cardiac Cats would have been the worst Super Bowl winner of the DVOA era, but even the worst trophy is worth something. The Panthers punched well above their level that year, winning four overtime games on the road, including a double-overtime thriller against the Rams in the divisional round, still one of the five longest games in NFL history. They won seven games by three points or fewer and led the NFL in comeback wins. Maybe this was less of a heartbreak team and more of a heart-attack team, but the addition of Jake Delhomme, Stephen Davis, and Ricky Proehl was a sight for sore eyes for fans who had to sit through the Chris Weinke era two years before. They finally ran out of juice in Super Bowl XXXVIII, a game which saw 37 points scored in the fourth quarter alone, still a Super Bowl record. The Panthers clawed back from a 21-10 fourth quarter deficit with Reggie Howard picking off Tom Brady and setting up an 85-yard bomb from Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad. They tied the game up on their next drive when Proehl found the end zone … and then they kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Brady a short field to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. If your season is based on luck and hope and good bounces, try not to crash into Tom Brady's early career.

Things didn't go so well in 2004, when injuries put them into a 1-7 hole they couldn't climb out of, but they bounced back in 2005 to reach the NFC Championship Game. That one didn't end up quite so close as prime Shaun Alexander ran all over them while the Seahawks defense picked Delhomme off three times. This was the first real appearance of Jake Delhomme the meme, the guy whose reputation eventually devolved into being someone who would do nothing but throw interceptions at crucial times. It happened again when the Panthers made the playoffs in 2008 and Delhomme threw five interceptions in the divisional loss to Arizona.

It's easy to forget Delhomme held all of Carolina's passing records before Cam Newton showed up, or that he was a solid if unspectacular passer for most of his time with the Panthers. But when he fell off a cliff, he fell off a cliff hard, taking the rest of the Panthers with him. His 5.6% interception rate in 2009 was the worst for any quarterback with at least 300 pass attempts in the 21st century. By the end of 2009, he was gone, as were Julius Peppers, Muhsin Muhammad, and Dante Wesley. And by the end of that season, John Fox was gone as well.

No. 34: 1978-1985 Dallas Cowboys

Total Heartbreak Points: 463.0
Playoff Points: 187.6
Win-Loss Points: 157.1
DVOA Points: 118.4
Championship Penalty: 547.9
Record: 84-37 (.694)
Playoff Record: 7-7 (one Super Bowl loss, three NFCCG losses, two divisional losses, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 15.1%
Head Coach: Tom Landry
Key Players: QB Danny White, QB Roger Staubach, RB Tony Dorsett, WR Tony Hill, TE Doug Cosbie, T Pat Donovan, G Herbert Scott, C Tom Rafferty, DE Too Tall Jones, DE Harvey Martin, DT Randy White, LB Bob Breunig, CB Everson Walls, S Cliff Harris

We introduce a new entry into our writeups here: the championship penalty. That's the number of extra heartbreak points a run would have earned if the team had not won a championship on one side or the other. If we didn't dock points for the Cowboys' win in Super Bowl XII, the fading remains of Dallas' 1970s dynasty would be in the top 10, pushing near 1,000 points. As it stands, the Cowboys do not gain any heartbreak points for their close-fought loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII the next year, nor do they suffer any from being upset by Vince Ferragamo and the Rams in the divisional round the season after that. Not fun times to be a Cowboys fan, for sure, but you're not going to garner much sympathy when you were hoisting a trophy two years earlier.

And had the Cowboys just imploded after their two 1970s Super Bowl wins, that's where we'd leave it. But Tom Landry's teams remained good when they were no longer great as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, and that's when they started to really rack up pain. Before they became America's Team, the Cowboys had the nickname of Next Year's Champions as they lost multiple NFL Championship Games and missed out on the first couple of Super Bowls. That became the Cowboys' identity once again in the 1980s, when they were turned back in three straight NFC Championship Games, becoming the bridesmaids of a conference they used to dominate.

Going from a Hall of Famer like Roger Staubach to Danny White certainly didn't help. White had been originally drafted by the Cowboys as a punter, which is why he spent time tooling around in the World Football League before Dallas signed him. He got the starting job after Staubach retired in 1979 due to concussions, and he played well, finishing in the top 11 in DYAR and DVOA in four out of five seasons between 1981 and 1985. But White was no Staubach either on the field or off it. White had sided with the owners during the 1982 players' strike, which went over super well in the locker room, and despite his quality play, there were growing movements both among the fans and the team itself to replace him with backup Gary Hogeboom—backup quarterbacks are often the most popular guys in town, especially when they play decently in relief.

White's offensive performance early in the decade helped make up for an aging defense. In 1980, the Cowboys were the highest-scoring offense in football … until they crashed into the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. In frigid wind chills of minus-3 degrees, the Cowboy's pass-first offense was shut down and Tony Dorsett couldn't gain any traction. Philadelphia running back Wilbert Montgomery had more all-purpose yards than the entire Cowboys offense as the Eagles cruised to a 20-7 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. And that was the least painful of the three championship game losses.

Losing to the upstart 49ers in 1981 despite forcing six turnovers by the much-hyped West Coast Offense stung. The 1970s Cowboys had made a habit of squashing the 49ers during their dynastic run in the 1970s, but some young upstart named Joe Montana drove 89 yards in the closing minutes years before that would become expected of him. Anytime you lose a game that goes down into lore as just "The Noun," it's going to leave a mark. And the fact that the Cowboys still could have won that game had White not fumbled on the ensuing drive after The Catch had to hurt too. That started the whispers that White just couldn't handle the big moments—whispers which became shouts when he was knocked out of the championship game against Washington the next season and outplayed by Hogeboom. Losing three straight conference titles in games where you were favored cemented White's reputation, and even the statistically best year of his career in 1983 wouldn't put them to rest.

Landry shuffled Hogeboom and White throughout the 1984 season, benching each passer multiple times for the other, and Dallas missed the playoffs. They slipped back into the postseason in 1985, but it was the last gasp of an aging team that simply had not adequately replaced most of its stars from the 1970s. After the 20-0 loss to the Rams in the postseason, Dorsett said that it felt like the team just gave up, while White said that Dallas had never been dominated to that extent ever before. And that was that—White's broken wrist in 1986 ended a 20-year streak of winning seasons for Big D, White was benched again in 1987 and then suffered a career-ending knee injury, and the Cowboys wouldn't win again until Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones hit the reset button on the entire franchise.

But at least Cowboys fans learned to never put too much blame on one above-average quarterback ever again.

No. 33: 1988-1996 Philadelphia Eagles

Total Heartbreak Points: 466.0
Playoff Points: 88.4
Win-Loss Points: 171.9
DVOA Points: 205.7
Record: 87-57 (.604)
Playoff Record: 2-5 (three divisional losses, two wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 13.5%
Head Coaches: Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes
Key Players: QB Randall Cunningham, RB Ricky Watters, TE Keith Jackson, G David Alexander, DE Reggie White, DE Clyde Simmons, DE William Fuller, DT Jerome Brown, LB Seth Joyner, LB William Thomas, LB Byron Evans, CB Eric Allen

"A quarterback has never completed a pass when he was flat on his back. We must hit the QB hard and often. QBs are overpaid, overrated, pompous bastards and must be punished."
—Buddy Ryan

Just stop for a moment and look at that list of defensive players. That's a group that would challenge any other squad you could ever put together. The 1991 Eagles still hold the record for greatest defensive DVOA ever at -42.0%. We likely won't see that topped even if we make our way back through the entire 1970s. They weren't a one-hit wonder, either. They're the only team on record to have at least a -10.0% defensive DVOA in six straight seasons. That will probably hold up until we get back to the early days of the Steel Curtain. A defense of that caliber is more than capable of dragging a disappointing offense to at least one championship—see the 2000 Ravens and, if you were to ask Buddy Ryan, the 1985 Bears if you need more evidence of that. And the Eagles boasted Randall Cunningham, one of the most exciting, athletic, and dynamic athletes ever to play quarterback, so they should have been well situated to bring home titles, even considering the state of the NFC in the 1980s.

Well—spoiler!—they didn't. The one area where these Eagles teams was really deficient was the coaching. Ryan could build a defense like nobody's business and deserves all the credit in the world for moving on from aging players such as Ron Jaworski, but let's just say he was not a calm, cool, and collected strategist on the sidelines. But he was Vince Lombardi compared to his replacement, Rich Kotite. Kotite regularly shows up among any list of the worst coaches in NFL history. And Ryan never lost the locker room like Ray Rhodes did; you can call a Buddy Ryan team many things, but "listless" wasn't one of them. Aggressive, sure. Cocky, fine. Dirty, even, when you take into account things like the Bounty Bowl or the Body Bag Game, things that served as color in the late 1980s and would absolutely get you suspended today. But not listless.

But Ryan couldn't get his teams over the hump in the playoffs, and neither could Kotite or Rhodes. And that's when the Eagles actually made the playoffs at all. One of the downsides of having a running quarterback like Cunningham is taking more hits, especially in the more violent 1990s. Of course, Cunningham didn't need to escape the pocket to get clobbered as QB Eagles led the league in sacks taken in five out of seven years between 1986 and 1992. From 1990 to 2000, the Eagles never had the same passer lead the team in passing yards two years in a row. Cunningham tore his ACL in 1991, explaining why the best defense of all time was sitting at home in January. He suffered through a bunch of nagging injuries in 1993 and 1994, with the Eagles missing the playoffs both times as well. If the modern-day rules on quarterback hits had been in place today, maybe Cunningham doesn't miss as much time and the Eagles get more bites at the apple.

Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Ryan's teams went 0-3 in the postseason. They got lost in the fog in 1988, when visibility at Soldier Field dropped to 15 yards and contributed to Cunningham's three interceptions. In 1989, they got bushwhacked by the Rams in the wild-card round, with Los Angeles jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looking back. And in 1990, Washington got revenge for the Body Bag game, winning 20-6 and putting Ryan's career as Eagles head coach in a body bag of its own. Ryan was fired in large part due to the lack of postseason success.

His replacement, Kotite, did manage to win one playoff game, but his Eagles got thwomped by the Cowboys in the 1992 divisional round. After two years of "8-8 is great" Kotite failing to make the postseason, Rhodes took over and imported the West Coast offense from San Francisco. He had a little more luck—Philadelphia might have stood a chance in the 1995 playoffs against Dallas had quarterback Rodney Peete not gotten hurt early on, and their 1996 wild-card loss to San Francisco can be blamed both on another Peete injury and on a freaking monsoon that turned Candlestick Park into a mud pit. But years of losing were taking their toll both on Rhodes and the team around him—so many years of successful regular seasons and nothing to show for it in January. The bottom fell out in 1998 and the Eagles fell all the way to the basement of the league.

That cleared room for Andy Reid, but we'll get to that in due time.

No. 32: 1922-1931 Chicago Bears

Total Heartbreak Points: 472.2
Playoff Points: 251.2
Win-Loss Points: 139.6
DVOA Points: 81.3
Championship Penalty: 753.3
Record: 82-38-17 (.661)
Average DVOA: 11.6%
Head Coaches: George Halas, Ralph Jones
Key Players: QB Joey Sternaman, HB Laurie Walquist, HB Dutch Sternaman, HB Paddy Driscol, HB Red Grange, E Duke Hanny, E George Halas, E Luke Johnsos, T Don Murry, T Ed Healy, T Link Lyman, G Jim McMillen, C George Trafton

The NFL does not exist today without the Chicago Bears. The NFL of the 1920s was very much a fly-by-night organization, with franchises coming and going on a yearly basis. The league had 43 different franchises at various points in its first decade, most of them running out of money and folding after a season or two. The best way to ensure your franchise was profitable and could survive until the next season was to schedule as many games as possible against the Bears, the one true draw in the decade. The New York Giants, founded in 1925, probably don't make it to 1926 if the Bears don't draw a record 73,000 fans to the Polo Grounds. That broke the previous attendance record, set two weeks earlier when the Bears had drawn 36,000 fans to Wrigley Field (or Cubs Park, as it was known then).

All across the northeast, the Bears were drawing crowds and saving owners' pocketbooks. Teams scheduled extra games and tried to manipulate the standings in order to get the Bears to come and play them again. The whole mess involving the controversy of the 1925 championship ultimately came down to the Cardinals desperately wanting to play the Bears for a third time to reap the financial benefits. That year alone, the Bears ended up playing 29 games in just 133 days, including playing on back-to-back days eight times and one stretch of three games in three days from December 8 through December 10. They were the first team to be invited to meet the president, even if Calvin Coolidge allegedly believed "Red Grange and the Chicago Bears" was some sort of animal act. They were a huge deal, consistently the most marketable team in a league that was fighting to stay afloat.

The appeal of the 1925 Bears specifically was due to Grange, the Illinois college legend who decided to join the NFL in one of the big moves that legitimized it as an actual thing. Grange earned an unheard of $125,000 in 1925 as the Galloping Ghost was the reason the Bears went barnstorming across the country. But even without Grange, who left and rejoined the team several times, the 1920s Bears were legitimate draws. George Halas was a star player before he became entrenched as the Bears' long-time coach, general manager, owner, and icon. The 1920s All-Decade team is filled with Staleys and Bears—Ed Healey and George Trafton are in the Hall of Fame on the line, while the Sternaman brothers scored points left and right out of the backfield. No team won more games in the 1920s than the Bears, the best team of the decade by a fairly clear margin.

And yet they only won one title in the 1920s, mostly because the NFL rules at the time allowed for all sorts of scheduling shenanigans and skullduggery. They were runners-up five times in the decade, including four out of five seasons between 1922 and 1926. For our purposes, we treat 1920s runners-up as championship game losers, so if you think we're overrating the value of being the second-best team out of 20, maybe half of which played a full schedule, you can mentally adjust the Bears up and down as needs be.

In 1921, the Bears (or Chicago Staleys, as they were known at the time) claimed the title based on a serious of questionable shenanigans. The Buffalo All-Americans were 9-0-2, the Staleys 8-1-1. Halas and company convinced Buffalo to play one more game, with Buffalo understanding that this was an exhibition game that would not count, and Chicago understanding that this was a game that would absolutely count. The Staleys won, and then quickly scheduled two more impromptu games and won one of them go get to 9-1-1, tying Buffalo's record. The Staleys then argued that since they and the All-Americans had the same 9-1 record (ignoring ties, which was the style at the time), and since they had split the season series 1-1, then they championship should go to the winner of the second game between the two. And the league agreed! Perhaps as some sort of karmic punishment, the Bears would have the same sort of problems forced upon them in the following seasons, leaving them eternal bridesmaids.

1924 is the most notable. The Cleveland Bulldogs were sitting at 7-1, the Bears at 6-1, and they tried do the exact same thing as they had three years prior—scheduling an "exhibition" game with the idea of claiming it counted after the year ended. This time, the league called them out on it, declaring any game played after November 30 to be an exhibition contest, and thus the Bears' were thwarted. That wasn't consistent with their ruling in 1921 … nor was it consistent with their rulings the next season, where a bunch of impromptu December games decided the 1925 championship, but never you mind.

The Bears also lost some titles in less controversial fashion. Some came because of the financial realities of early football. In 1922, they agreed to play both of their games against the cross-town Cardinals at their stadium, Comiskey Park, as it was bigger and could hold more fans. The Bears lost both of those games and finished second in the league behind Canton.

And yet other titles were lost because—and this is a shocker—the Bears lost football games. Chicago would have been 1926 champions had they beaten the Frankford Yellow Jackets in their head-to-head matchup. They scored a late touchdown to take the lead, too, only for Paddy Driscol to miss a PAT that allowed Two-Bit Homan and the Yellow Jackets to score a go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes of the game. The Bears lost, finishing the year 12-1-3 to Frankford's 14-1-2. Flip the game to a win and the Bears are the champions on tiebreakers.

Chicago loses a ton of heartbreak points from winning titles in 1921, 1932, and 1933, but Halas, Grange, and company were the NFL team of the decade, and deserved more honors than they ended up getting. In a modern league where schedules were fixed and championships determined on the field, they likely pick up two or three more titles in this era. But in the Wild West of the 1920s NFL, fairness was a secondary concern.

No. 31: 1987-1993 Houston Oilers

Total Heartbreak Points: 477.8
Playoff Points: 167.6
Win-Loss Points: 163.1
DVOA Points: 147.0
Record: 70-41 (.631)
Playoff Record: 3-7 (four divisional losses; three wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 10.3%
Head Coaches: Jerry Glanville, Jack Pardee
Key Players: QB Warren Moon, RB Mike Rozier, WR Ernest Givens, WR Drew Hill, WR Haywood Jeffries, G Bruce Matthews, G Mike Munchak, DE Ray Childress, LB Al Smith

Houston football was not in a good place in the late 1980s. The Oilers had gone 23-66 from 1981 to 1986, and Bud Adams wanted his team out of Texas. He demanded greater and greater improvements to the aging Astrodome, threatening to move to Jacksonville unless Harris County funded severe improvements to the league's smallest stadium. Though Adams got what he wanted, the fight and the escalating demands from Adams soured his relationship with the city and fans, and started the rumblings that would eventually lead to the Oilers leaving town.

One way to calm down a restless fan base? Winning. The Oilers had won a bidding war for CFL quarterback Warren Moon in 1984, but it took a few years (and a coaching change) before that paid dividends. They finally broke into the top 20 in offense in 1987, breaking their six-year playoff drought in the process. But we're not really here to talk about Jerry Glanville's Oilers—yes, Houston made the playoffs three years in a row in Glanville's tenure and even won a couple of wild-card games, but they had negative DVOAs in two of those three seasons, and were pretty readily handled by the second tier of the AFC of that era, your young John Elways and the like. Glanville and Moon never got along, and Glanville was fired after falling 26-23 to the Steelers in the 1989 wild-card game.

No, we're here because of Jack Pardee. Glanville's Oilers had run the run 'n' shoot, but Pardee's Oilers lived it. Under Pardee, Moon became the third player ever to throw for more than 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He set new NFL records for attempts and completions as the Oilers shot up to the top 10 in offense—more volume than efficiency, but what volume! The four-wide sets gave stodgy 1980s defenses fits as the Oilers simply had more starting-caliber receivers than many teams had competent cornerbacks. Add in a defensive resurgence and you had the most consistently successful team in the NFL in this era—a league-high seven straight playoff appearances, the longest winning streak since the 1972 Dolphins, and so on and so forth.

And with success comes the potential for heartbreak. To wit:

Moon won Offensive Player of the Year in 1990, but missed the wild-card game with a dislocated thumb. Cody Carlson's Oilers were crushed by the Bengals 41-14.

In 1991, the Oilers were up 24-23 with 2:07 left in the divisional playoff round against the Broncos, with Denver stuck with the ball on their own 2-yard line. No problem for John Elway, who converted two fourth downs on his way to leading Denver to a game-winning field goal, in what Denver fans call The Drive II and Houston fans usually call a large variety of curse words.

That paled in comparison to 1992, of course. The Oilers had the best DVOA in the conference, but once again fell short—that playoff run ended in The Comeback (or The Choke, depending on your side). The Oilers went up 35-3 against the Buffalo Bills, who were missing Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Cornelius Bennett, and in any rational and sane world, that would have been enough for Houston to win a date with the Steelers in the divisional round, with a fairly clear path to Super Bowl XXVII beyond it. Instead, Frank Reich and company led the biggest comeback in NFL history, winning 41-38 in overtime.

But by these numbers it was actually 1993 that was the biggest heartbreak year. The Oilers ended the year on an 11-game winning streak, the longest the league had seen since the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. Their defense was really stepping up to match the offensive fireworks, allowing fewer than 20 points in each of those 11 games. It wasn't all peaches and cream, mind you—coordinators Kevin Gilbride and Buddy Ryan famously got into a fistfight on the sidelines during a game. That left the Oilers answering questions about team unity and focus during their bye week, and maybe that's what did them in during the divisional round. For the third straight year, the Oilers would blow a lead, this time letting Joe Montana and the Chiefs come back from a 10-0 halftime deficit with three second-half touchdown passes in the Astrodome. The Oilers hadn't allowed anyone to throw three touchdowns in a game during their winning streak, but Montana made mincemeat out of them in 30 minutes.

1994 saw the arrival of the salary cap, and Adams had threatened to tear the team down if they didn't make the Super Bowl. He was true to his word, trading Moon to the Minnesota Vikings. The Oilers fells to 2-14 the next year, never again made the playoffs in Houston, and were gone three years later. Who knows—if the Oilers knock off the Cowboys in an all-Texas Super Bowl, maybe there's more public appeal to build Adams a new stadium, keeping the Oilers in town. You don't get extra heartbreak points for breaking up a franchise, but maybe you should.

The Rankings So Far

The Oilers take the lead in overall heartbreak points so far, but they don't have a clean sweep of all the categories. Jake Delhomme's Panthers currently lead all comers when it comes to playoff heartbreak specifically, as losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots on a last-second field goal hurts more than, say, the Eagles getting knocked around by the Raiders in 1980. Matt Ryan's Falcons sit atop the regular-season record standings with their .700 win percentage over five seasons keeping them ahead of the other riff-raff. But it's those Buddy Ryan defenses leading the way in DVOA points as the most dominant game-to-game team we have visited so far.

Dynasties of Heartbreak...So Far
Rk Years Team W-L Avg
31 1987-1993 HOIL 70-41 10.3% 167.6 163.1 147.0 0.0 477.8
32 1922-1931 CHI 82-38-17 11.6% 251.2 139.6 81.3 753.3 472.2
33 1988-1996 PHI 87-57 13.5% 88.4 171.9 205.7 0.0 466.0
34 1978-1985 DAL 84-37 15.1% 187.6 157.1 118.4 547.9 463.0
35 2003-2009 CAR 64-48 3.6% 259.2 118.1 84.6 0.0 461.9
36 2019-2021 GB 39-10 15.1% 188.4 169.5 87.5 0.0 445.4
37 1983-1989 LARM 67-44 10.7% 143.2 146.3 153.1 0.0 442.6
38 1978-1981 PHI 42-22 17.3% 187.6 118.8 130.4 0.0 436.7
39 1970-1977 CIN 66-46 25.8% 89.6 170.0 169.6 0.0 429.2
40 2008-2012 ATL 56-24 12.6% 123.6 189.6 115.5 0.0 425.9
41 2019-2021 SF 29-20 18.1% 239.4 79.2 95.8 0.0 414.4
42 1968-1972 SF 38-22-4 11.3% 197.6 102.5 107.8 0.0 407.8
43 1996-1999 JAX 45-19 13.6% 153.8 149.4 104.0 0.0 407.2
44 1986-1990 CIN 43-36 7.9% 216.4 85.0 102.8 0.0 404.2


48 comments, Last at 11 Jun 2022, 4:27pm

1 Petrino's abandonment of the…

Petrino's abandonment of the team in mid-December to take the Arkansas job capped off what was, until recently, the most embarrassing college-to-pro jump in coaching history.

Pro-to-college, unless we're being snarky about pay to play in the SEC.

That's a bit of an overstatement as the Eagles weren't in danger of going anywhere , but Vermeil brought them out of decades of ignominy, and he was justly put into the Hall of Fame last year because of it.

That's overly-weighting it. Vermeil specialized in turning around moribund franchises. He won a ring with St. Louis and turned KC around -- the Vermeil Chiefs had a terrifying offense and a bad habit of playing zero-punt games against Peyton Manning.

Should a quarterback of Favre or Rodgers' caliber win more than one title?



Brees has one. Marino and Tarkenton have none. Young has one. Ryan, Rivers, and Fouts have none. Warner has one. Namath has one. Wilson has one. Moon has none. Kelly has none. Elways has two, but he got them by handing off to Terrell Davis. Griese has two, sort of, and was asked to do less than Garo Yepremian.

It's not really unusual for great QBs to top out at one ring.

I've never understood Griese's claim to greatness. He's a poor man's Phil Simms. Hell, even his kid is more annoying than Simms' kid.

Going from a Hall of Famer like Roger Staubach to Danny White certainly didn't help. White had been originally drafted by the Cowboys as a punter, which is why he spent time tooling around in the World Football League before Dallas signed him.

Sort of. Full specialization hadn't entirely arrived yet and a lot of backup QBs were also punters, and vice-versa. It's easy to forget Randall Cunningham was also this, and Tom Tupa basically closed the era. Tupa and Cunningham were all-america punters in the same college season.

5 I got that. But his jump…

In reply to by Aaron Schatz

I got that.

But his jump from Louisville to Atlanta wasn't embarrassing. It was his jump to Arkansas that was embarrassing. The hire kind of made sense, even if nothing after that did.

42 Hmm...

A few thoughts to share:

1) Chuck Fairbanks with the 1978 Patriots, a team that actually won their division and was a #2 seed, probably tops Bobby Petrino for pro to college coaching shenanigans, or at least set a bar that Petrino merely matched.

2) RE: Dick Vermeil - you need to evaluate what he did with the Eagles in the context of the time; no one knew he would turn around the Rams and Chiefs 20-25 years later.  At the time Vermeil was hired by the Eagles, he was a 39 year old guy who had been a college head coach for two years and had taken over a UCLA program that had mostly been very successful for nearly a decade before he took over.  Vermeil was a real unknown quantity as an NFL head coach in 1976.

3) RE: Bob Griese - if you look at his career and season by season stats in his pro football career, he was actually very good for most of his career.  He was quite a bit better than Phil Simms in all honesty.  Yes, he didn't have to do that much heavy lifting for the 1972 and 1973 Dolphins Super Bowl champions (and he missed a significant chunk of the 1972 regular season).  On the other hand, he had standout seasons in 1970 and 1971, being named 1st Team All-Pro in 1971, and leading Miami to their first two winning seasons in their history (and a Super Bowl 6 appearance after the 1971 season), and also played an important role in the Dolphins' 10-4 records in 1975 and 1977, which occurred after Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick left for the WFL.  Griese was again named 1st Team All-Pro at quarterback in 1977.

4) Don't disagree with your comment about Danny White, but I wanted to note he was a very good quarterback for the Cowboys for quite a few years after he took over the starting job, really from 1980 until his midseason injury in 1986.  He was analogous to Tony Romo in some ways - both are somewhat maligned by Cowboys fans because the team didn't appear in any Super Bowls when they started, but both were among the top 5-10 quarterbacks in the league for a handful of years when starting for Dallas.  I'll note that it is fairly obvious in retrospect that Tom Landry made a mistake going with Gary Hogeboom as the starting QB at the start of the 1984 season.  This is an oversimplification, but the Cowboys scored 479 points in 1983 with White starting the entire season but only scored 308 points in 1984 with Hogeboom starting the first 10 games of the season before being replaced by White.

2 where he attacked Jim Rome…

where he attacked Jim Rome on the set of his ESPN2 talk show.

I know you feel a professional obligation, but your morality rating takes a hit every time you defend Jim Rome.


As a Lions fan, I feel for being a long-suffering team whose best teams ended up in buzzsaw games against historic juggernauts.

14 Oh, believe me, zero defense…

Oh, believe me, zero defense of Jim Rome here. At least in this incident.

Was Everett wrong to attack him? Yeah. Was it really satisfying to see a troll suddenly be faced with the consequences of his actions? Yes.

15 Lol, I am a nonviolent…

Lol, I am a nonviolent person, so on principle I want to agree. I ...Just...Can't....Do...It

Similarly, I wish Richard Sherman had been more dignified in his clash with Skip Bayless. Unbelievably, it made him look worse than Skip - something that would appear impossible. 

4 Pretty sure...

...the college-to-pro reference is to Petrino's actual performance in the NFL.  Since the departure to Arkansas "capped off" the most embarrassing college-to-pro jump in coaching history.

His only real rivals (recently anyway) are Saban and Meyer.  Even Steve Spurrier and Chip Kelly looked like they had some idea what coaches do.

Petrino's abandonment of the team in mid-December to take the Arkansas job capped off what was, until recently, the most embarrassing college-to-pro jump in coaching history.

Pro-to-college, unless we're being snarky about pay to play in the SEC.

6 Bert Bell made a pretty…

In reply to by speaker42

Bert Bell made a pretty horrific jump. He coached six seasons and won more than one game twice! But Bill Peterson might have topped it!

\Lou Holtz basically pulled a Petrino as well, but without the surrounding circus.

7 The 1978 Eagles had severe…

The 1978 Eagles had severe kicking problems,


 Fortunately for them, the 1978 Giants had an offensive coordinator whose vocabulary didn't include the word "kneeldown".

8 Of all of these playoff…

Of all of these playoff failings, losing to the 2021 49ers the way they did has to be the most gutting what if playoff loss.

In 2019 they were underdogs on the road. In 2020, that was a close contest against a strong, well rounded team that was the SB winner. 

But the version they got against the 49ers was a team with an injured QB that they were actively trying to hide. Yes ST's gaffes contributed, but how the Packers offense managed to go ice cold the entire game is a true head scratcher.

If The Chiefs didn't have already have that SB win, then that Bengals loss would and should be of similar magnitude in terms of epic disappointment.

17 It happened twice to Peyton…

It happened twice to Peyton Manning. It happened to Favre. It happened to Cam Newton.

You could lump Brady in, too, as the 2021 49ers defense was a fair bit better than the 2007 Giants.

MVP is basically a QB-only position. There's a decent chance any given MVP season will end poorly.

29 Not a a head scratcher at all

Did you completely forget how terrible the weather was? Or that AJ Dillon (aka the best weapon the Packers had for a game in terrible weather) got hurt very early in the game?

If they'd lost that way in decent weather (even decent by GB in January standards) with no major injuries, it'd be a head scratcher. But that's not what actually occurred.

43 The Packers...

...loss to the 49ers wasn't even the most gutting playoff loss of that round of the 2021 NFL playoffs.  Heck, some Titans fans might argue it wasn't the most gutting playoff loss that DAY in the playoffs.

9 Oilers Tidbit

Those late 80s/early 90s Oilers are the only team in NFL history to make the playoffs 6 times in a row and never make a championship game 

13 I've noticed the runs are…

I've noticed the runs are getting longer. It would be interesting to see something like heartbreak points per year to distinguish long dull pain from short sharp ones. (hard to say which is worse)

16 That is one of the hardest…

That is one of the hardest parts about doing this; balancing length and severity.  All the top teams are generationally bad, because I do think there is a compounding effect from having this sort of thing happen year after after year, but it's tricky to get the weighting just right.  You don't want to reward a Heartbreak Compiler, after all!

What I did to help balance things is weight years less and less as runs got longer and longer.  I use the same system Weighted Approximate Value does -- the most painful season earns 100% of it's points; the second-most-painful season earns 95%, the third-most earns 90%, and so on and so forth.  That does help tamp down a little bit of "oh, we've just been playing forever"

The 2019-21 Packers we're talking about here have the second-most points-per-year of any of the teams that qualified for the main list; if they keep having 13-win seasons and losing to the 49ers in the playoffs for the next decade, they're going to shatter every record.  There is one team -- a modern team, too, from the last 10 years -- that does top Green Bay, but they're revealed next week.

I don't have handy every team in every season ever right at my fingertips, but there ARE two teams that ended with 300-400 points, and missed the cutoff, who had a worse pain-per-year score than anyone who qualified for the list, and they were both shocking Super Bowl teams.

In second place, there's the 1981-1982 Bengals, who earn 345.4 points for two seasons.  Losing a tight Super Bowl really hurts!

And speaking of losing tight Super Bowls, the team with the most heartbreak-points-per-season would be the 2016-2017 Atlanta Falcons.  There are two Super Bowl losses in history which earn the full 200 possible points.  One is Scott Norwood going wide right against the Giants in 1990.  The other is 28-3.  They're pegged as the most painful ways to lose a title; the platonic ideals of single-game pain.  Accept not substitutes.  Atlanta earns 360.4 points for those two years, and that's it.

18 There are two Super Bowl…

There are two Super Bowl losses in history which earn the full 200 possible points.  One is Scott Norwood going wide right against the Giants in 1990.  The other is 28-3.

Where does the Cardinals loss to the Steelers come in?

19 It's near the top; it ends…

It's near the top; it ends up with 184 points.  The fact that all the Steelers needed at the end was a field goal to tie, and that the Cardinals couldn't have kicked a late field goal to tie or win themselves docks them a little tiny bit, but not much.

20  28-3 might be worth 210. I…

 28-3 might be worth 210. I would give 2007 200 also just for the perfect loss(+helmet catch) although I don't think it changes much and they may not even get a dynasty in there at all due to the endpoints wiping out to much.  While Wide Right was terrible, it was kinda at the edge of Norwoods range anyway. It was painful, but normal way to lose. 

Call it the "history" extra credit for some sort of extra factor kick in the whatevers that's pretty unlikely to be replicated. 

44 I'd say it is likely...

...that the Patriots' high level of success from 2005 to 2013 will enable them to make what I'll call "the Shawn Michaels list", even if they lose some points from 2005 to 2008 and 2010 to 2013.

Also, I remember Super Bowl 25, and I thought at the time Norwood was probably 50/50 to make that kick on grass, maybe a bit less than 50/50.  As you noted, he didn't have a strong leg, and it was tougher to kick on grass than on artificial turf, even if the weather conditions were good.  The average field goal make percentage, especially for kicks above 40 yards, was much, much lower in 1990-1991 than it is now.  Jim Kelly and company needed to get inside the 25 yard line on their final drive.

22 That's what I would call the…

That's what I would call the "what if" factor. The more of those there are the more painful the loss. If it were easy to quantify all of those for every loss that would be cool because some close games do not have as many and there are some blow outs that still have a ton because they turned on just 2 or 3 plays.

Close score feels like a reasonable proxy for that, though it clearly does not capture them all. There is no easy stat that does. Even win probability swings wouldn't do it. That might catch something like 4th and 26 (Packers Eagles version) since that likely had a huge swing. But they aren't going to capture that wide open receiver who had 1 dropped pass all year not catching the ball. Or the blown call where the guy was down at the 1, or whatever. So using that would have a weird bias on things I think.

But I agree that losses hurt more when there are even more of those moments in a loss. Just don't have any good ideas on how to fairly quantify it without a lot of work.

23 And you have take into…

And you have take into account we couldn't even do win probability for anything before the 1980s because we simply don't have the play-by-play, much less models based on the offensive environments of the time.  If this was focused on just the last ten years or so, there are other tools we could use to further refine things, but comparing things 100 years apart sometimes requires a little broader strokes.

You could poll fanbases and get an idea of their subjective super-painful moments and add that in; anything fans remember years and years after they happen probably should be worth some kind of bonus.  That opens whole other kettles of fish, however.  I think, in the end, doing "close losses generally have X number of painful moments that could have changed the game" covers 95% of things, and trying to quantify it further is, like you say, a lot of work for relatively little utility.

26 Yeah, if you could do win…

Yeah, if you could do win probability you could do DVOA.

Really just a "brick wall team" and a "game expectation" factor like discussed in the previous article might be the only tweaks I can think of that should be possible without too much extra for the existing methodology.

I think a season expectation, while it does play a part in fan reactions, would just be too hard to quantify for the whole history. But as mentioned being a 20% DVOA favorite against the Giants and losing to them sucked more than being a 5% underdog and losing to Tampa as mentioned in the other thread W-L records should probably be a part of that expectation because for a lot of fans any 13-3 team should be a favorite over an 11-5 team if DVOA/SRS/Pythagoris/Whatever rating strongly disagrees.

And I went into way too much detail on the brick wall team with GB and Dallas but I did that because as a fan that just hurt more and in that case even tainted the SB win because the real foe had yet to be vanquished!

As my numerous posts on most of these various series attest I enjoy these types of articles immensely. I enjoy thinking about tweaks to the system, I enjoy reliving even the painful memories. I enjoy the various new broad strokes lenses they can help apply to a franchise. I had fun building a franchise timeline of just the dynasties, futilities, and mediocrities for a few teams I'm more familiar with. Adding in the heartbreaks to those will be another interesting point to view at the franchise history scale.


41 Well my initial musing on…

Well my initial musing on the subject were in this thread: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2022/kirk-cousins-vikings-and-dynasties-mediocrity at post 52. I had started a Google Sheet that I was going to share for this post but I decided to check that thread again because I hadn't worked on my sheet in a while.

A week after my post Spybloom replied to that and he had done the work, and he was almost right. I almost didn't see his post. But it's there and his excellent timelines (with updates to the dynasties and anti-dynasties) is in this google sheet, but I would suggest reading his post as well for the details.  It is pretty fun to see done this way. I may borrow it and add the heartbreaks to it.

It also isn't quite set-up to quickly answer my initials musing if the Vikings are the kings of mediocrity but their cycles of nothing notable, mediocre, nothing notable, mediocre since the end of the 1980 dynasty is still pretty remarkable.

As he points out the Saints are pretty fascinating too.

24 There is one team -- a…

There is one team -- a modern team, too, from the last 10 years -- that does top Green Bay, but they're revealed next week.

Gotta be the Harbaugh Niners, right? I'm assuming the Steelers 2 Super Bowls early on with Big Ben knock them out

45 It...

...wouldn't be the two Super Bowls that would knock the Steelers out; the latter win occurred in 2008, so there have been 13 seasons since they won a Super Bowl and they've been at least .500 in every one of them.

The thing that would knock the Steelers out, or at least knock them back, are back-to-back .500 seasons with slightly below average team DVOA numbers in 2012 and 2013.

On a points per season basis, my guess for a team that has outpaced the 2019 to 2021 Packers would be the 2005 to 2013 Patriots, who had such a high level of success (won at least 10 games every season, appeared in but lost two Super Bowls, played in and lost three additional AFC championship games) that even with the point penalties they receive for 2004 and 2014 (and 2001, 2002, and 2016?) Super Bowl wins that they may make the list anyway.

36 There are two Super Bowl…

There are two Super Bowl losses in history which earn the full 200 possible points.  One is Scott Norwood going wide right against the Giants in 1990.  The other is 28-3.  They're pegged as the most painful ways to lose a title; the platonic ideals of single-game pain.  Accept not substitutes.  Atlanta earns 360.4 points for those two years, and that's it.

The Malcolm Butler INT has to be up there too. I think it was this very site that called it (after Norwood) the single biggest swing in win % and title % in history.

39 It scores very high, for…

It scores very high, for sure.

It doesn't quite get the full monty because the Seahawks needed a touchdown there; they couldn't have played conservative and kicked a field goal down four.  That's enough, in a point-differential based system, to knock it below some of the other all-time painful losses.

If we had play-by-play and win probability going back to the 1920s, I would have used that instead, and the Patriots-Seahawks probably would be the gold standard, yes.

25 Where some people see…

Where some people see heartbreak, I see schadenfreude.

I'm hoping for another Green Bay loss to the Niners as they win the Super Bowl, even if I know it won't happen.

30 Packers pain ranked

  1. NFCCG vs TB: FG still ineffable. Seeing them handle the Chefs the next game made me realize the REAL opportunity that we could've done something similar if we just didn't blow it at home...to a rookie WR that caused Kevin King to hold! Ooooooh the irony of our 1st (and 4th!) round pick getting 0 postseason snaps...to this day! Ugggggh.
  2. DIV vs SF: Another home game. To a team we beat earlier in the season! Then watching the SB also be teams compromised of teams we beat! Oooof. Thankfully MVS and Bak weren't rusty an...oh they didn't play because of injuries. At least the offense lit it up because of the practice in Det....oh they didn't. Welp. Lafleurs two biggest brain farts at the legit worst time. 
  3. NFCCG @ SF: Whatever. We were fraudish and had already lost there to that team. 

13 championships comfort me at least. 

32 Deleted

Deleted - Decided to read the article rather than post inane questions that get answered in said article

Great series so far!

38 "Of course, Cunningham didn…

"Of course, Cunningham didn't need to escape the pocket to get clobbered as QB Eagles led the league in sacks taken in five out of seven years between 1986 and 1992."

+1 for the Tecmo Bowl reference.

40 One thing that might be…

One thing that might be interesting for the last article would franchise heartbreak per season. (I.e. you sum all the HB points after penalties and divide by the number of seasons). Totals arn't interesting due to expansion franchises. But if you convert that to a per season total you can get a reasonable basis for comparison.  

48 The horses' mouth itself -…

The horses' mouth itself - Grange loved telling the story.


I can confirm that the meeting itself definitely happened, and that Coolidge seemed to have no idea who Grange was -- newspapers at the time reported on Grange meeting the president, and that Coolidge asked Grange where he lived and wished him good luck.  And they reported it with the sort incredulity you'd expect -- like, how does Coolidge not know who this big star is, who's crossing the country on tour?  It would be kind of like how they'd report on Biden not knowing who BTS were or something, kind of a "is this guy out of touch?" moment.


They don't include the "loved animal acts" joke, which frustrates me, because I'd love to 100% confirm that the story happened exactly like Grange recalls it.  I suspect it has been slightly embellished over the years, but I also would be a little surprised if Grange came up with it himself.