Anti-Dynasty Rankings 41-50: Brady Saves the Bucs
Our anti-dynasty countdown continues as we push into the top 50.
If there's a theme in today's entries, it's of unrealized, or at least yet-to-be-realized, potential. Sometimes a team will launch themselves firmly into a terrible run thanks to an utter and complete lack of talent, but that's really not what we see here. You don't have to squint too hard to see the good teams hidden among the rubble here—the puzzles not quite put together, the gems buried in the rock. The last two NFC champions are represented here. The slow construction of America's Team is here. The best team to ever miss the postseason, at least according to DVOA, is here. You have a pair of teams who went all-in on trades to find that one last missing piece, only for it to blow up in their faces. These weren't teams without hope; they were teams whose hopes took years to come to fruition.
We also have a decade and a half of San Diego Chargers football to get through, because if anyone knows about unrealized potential, it's the good people of San Diego.
THE FULL SERIES
- Defining an Anti-Dynasty (June 2)
- Part I: No. 51-58 (June 2)
- Part II: No. 41-50 (June 8)
- Part III: No. 31-40 (June 10)
- Part IV: No. 21-30 (June 15)
- Part V: No. 11-20 (June 17)
- Part VI: No. 1-10 (June 22)
No. 50: 1994-2001 New Orleans Saints
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 32
Record: 49-79 (.383)
Average DVOA: -12.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -20.6%
Two last-place finishes in the NFC; Three last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Jim Mora, Rick Venturi, Mike Ditka, Jim Haslett
Key Players: WR Joe Horn, T Willie Roaf, T Kyle Turley, DE Joe Johnson, DL Wayne Martin, DT La'Roi Glover, LB Mark Fields, LB Keith Mitchell, S Sammy Knight
Endpoints can be hard, especially when you're trying to cover over a century with one blanket rule. The cutoff point for an anti-dynasty is two consecutive non-losing seasons, and that works for most teams we're covering. A trio of teams get a bit left out in the cold by this, however. The Jim Haslett Saints don't really belong with this group; they went 10-6 in 2000 and 7-9 in 2001 before finally ending the run with a series of 9-7 and 8-8 years. Subjectively, I'd place the cut-off at the end of the Mike Ditka era, which would bump them up five places. Not a huge change, but we don't need unnecessary Jim Haslett slander; his Saints were mostly boringly competent.
Jim Mora's Saints were considerably more than that. He led the Saints to their first playoff berth and winning record ever (in 1987, 21 years after they formed, and yes, we'll see the Saints again later), and he has the highest winning percentage for any coach without a playoff win. That last caveat kind of sums up the Jim Mora Story, however, and his success waned as the Dome Patrol left. Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills, and Pat Swilling were all Pro Bowlers in 1992 and combined for 18 Pro Bowl appearances between 1983 and 1992; they were the heart of the Saints' teams in their battles with the 49ers in the old NFC West. They were all gone by 1994, and the Saints' defensive DVOA plummeted, dropping from first to 20th in a span of just two seasons. Jim Everett kept the offense afloat for a few years, but eventually, everything cratered. 1996 saw the Saints' first double-digit-negative DVOA in a decade, and … well, how can I describe how they looked on the field. Coach?
We just got our ass. Totally kicked. We couldn't do diddly poo offensively. We couldn't make a first down. We couldn't run the ball; we didn't try to run the ball. We couldn't complete a pass. We sucked. The second half, we sucked. We couldn't stop the run. Every time they got the ball, they went down and got points. We got our ass totally kicked in the second half, that's what it boiled down to. It was a horseshit performance in the second half. Horseshit. I'm totally embarrassed and totally ashamed. Coaching ... coaching did a horrible job. The players did a horrible job. We got our ass kicked in that second half. It sucked. It stunk.
Thanks coach. I mean, it's no "Playoffs?!" but it'll do.
That was literally Mora's last word on the Saints; he resigned the next day. His replacement was the legendary Mike Ditka, a Super Bowl-winner with a spotless reputation who was going to turn things around. I suppose, considering Mora's overall success, Ditka did succeed in doing that—his three Saints teams put up back-to-back-to-back double-digit-negative DVOAs for the first time since the 1970s. As a desperation act, Ditka traded the Saints' entire 1999 draft class, as well as two picks in 2000, to move up to the fifth overall pick and take Ricky Williams, thinking that this would be the Walter Payton-type superstar to get the offense back into gear. Williams was a good, if unusual, player, but a fix-all he was not.
With a DVOA of -36.9%, the 1999 Saints are the worst team in franchise history, which is saying quite a bit considering the history of the franchise. Williams was hurt and ineffective when he was healthy, and even the best running back in the world could only do so much to offset the Billy Joes (Tolliver and Hobert) under center. The defense, which had been holding the Saints in six-win territory in Ditka's first two seasons, collapsed as well, hampered by injuries with no reinforcements in the draft to back them up. Broken by midseason, Ditka said that God had placed him in New Orleans to be humbled, and he was fired after the season ended.
On this day in the 1999 NFL Draft, Mike Ditka made one of the most appalling trades in NFL history. He gave up ALL THE @saints DRAFT PICKS for Ricky Williams. It was unprecedented to say the least. Got him fired...Who's excited for the virtual @NFLDraft next week?#NFLDraft #NFL pic.twitter.com/q101IFJmTl
— KBR Sports (@kbr_sports) April 18, 2020
No. 49: 1921-1930 Minneapolis Marines/Red Jackets
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 44
Record: 6-33-3 (.179)
Average DVOA: -14.6%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -18.3%
One last-place finish in the NFL
Head Coaches: Rube Ursella, Russell Tollefson, Harry Mehre, Joe Brandy, Herb Joesting, George Gibson
Key Players: FB Herb Joesting, WB Ainer Cleve, BB Mally Nydall, E Oscar Christianson, G George Kramer
The Marines played in the NFL from 1921 to 1924, the Red Jackets in 1929 and 1930. They're connected by both being owned by John Dunn and Val Ness, so they're considered one franchise by the NFL, but there's almost no on-field continuity between the Marines and Red Jackets; only Rube Ursella played a game for both squads. In a sense, then, this is a Frankenentry, pieced together from two teams that, while bad, would not have qualified for the main table. The Marines didn't play enough games to qualify; the Red Jackets didn't exist for long enough. There's still interesting history here, but this feels very much like the least deserving team on the list.
As with most of the other old-timey teams we have looked at, the path to becoming a terrible 1920s football team was to be a great 1910s football team. The Marines were particularly interesting, as they had basically the same lineup for a decade straight. They started as a collection of working-class teenagers from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, playing sandlot games in the 115-pound weight class—no high school or college experience, certainly no pay. By 1907, their corps was in place, led by Ursella, a do-it-all star on offense, defense, and especially in the kicking game as a feared drop-kicker. By 1910, they were competing in the unlimited weight class, where they had a ferocious, five-year-long battle with the cross-town Minneapolis Beavers over the city championship.
The Beavers, in contrast, mostly had ex-college players from the University of St. Thomas, and how there is not a movie about a rag-tag group of working-class kids battling with the university kids from across the tracks for the city title is beyond me. It even has the much-needed second-act twist: after losing to the Beavers in back-to-back years, the Marines brought in an outside coach to teach them the single-wing formation and cemented them as the best amateur team in the state. Hollywood, get on this.
After beating the Beavers badly enough they had to fold, the Marines basically stomped all over all comers, going 21-1-1 over the back half of the 1910s. The only thing that could stop them? A global pandemic, as the combination of the Spanish Flu and World War I wiped out the 1918 season. By the time football could resume, the Rock Island Independents had swooped in and stolen Ursella and the core of the team; they went on to claim the 1919 national championship while the Marines plummeted. Joining the NFL in 1921 was an act of desperation, hoping that moving to the pros would generate more fan interest and more money. Instead, the Marines just got beat by larger amounts, and attendance plummeted. An 0-6 season in 1924 caused Dunn to fold the team, and the 1929 revival wasn't much better, despite the return of the then-39-year-old Ursella as an attraction. The team's players were sold to the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and Minnesota would have to wait until the 1960s to have another football team.
No. 48: 2001-2013 Buffalo Bills
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 46
Record: 80-128 (.385)
Average DVOA: -8.0%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -17.5%
Two last-place finishes in the AFC; Nine last-place finishes in the AFC East
Head Coaches: Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone
Key Players: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, WR Lee Evans, WR Eric Moulds, T Jason Peters, DE Aaron Schobel, DE Chris Kelsay, DT Kyle Williams, LB London Fletcher, LB Takeo Spikes, CB Terrence McGee, CB Nate Clements, S Jairus Byrd
Our first Decade of Despair team ranks a little lower than you might have expected. Much like their 1990s Super Bowl teams had an inflated reputation compared to their advanced stats, the 2000s Bills aren't as bad as their record would indicate. It didn't make it feel that much better on the field, but at least Buffalo fans can hold onto the fact that they had the best lost decade in NFL history. Small comforts.
Every playoff drought of more than a dozen years is represented on the dynasty list, and the Bills' 17-year gap between postseason berths is no exception; it's tied for the longest in the wild-card era. But missing the playoffs alone isn't enough to make a season bad, especially once you start getting back to the years where only two to four teams made the postseason; the final rankings of the Anti-Dynasty list really don't align with the longest NFL playoff droughts. Even the Bills don't get their full 17-year drought included; the final Doug Marrone team was just one game out of the postseason and the Rex Ryan teams weren't all that far out of contention. In a world where they didn't have to play the Patriots twice a season, you could imagine one of those teams slipping into the playoffs—those are more "heartbreak" years than they are "terrible football team" years, and the Anti-Dynasty rankings won't have those kinds of years mucking up the rankings, thank you very much. We have standards here.
These Bills also have the best team in the DVOA era to miss the playoffs. The 2004 Bills only finished 9-7, but ended up with a 31.4% DVOA. They were the third-best team in football that year, led by Takeo Spikes, Sam Adams, and a truly great defense, plus the best special teams in the league and an offense that also existed in physical space. Had they been able to beat the Steelers' backups in Week 17, they would have made the playoffs and cut this drought down before it started. They are, by a wide margin, the best team in the Anti-Dynasty standings, beating out the 1995 Falcons and their 17.4% DVOA. When you have a team that good, it really puts a damper on your statistics. Remove it, and the Bills' average DVOA would fall to -11.3% and lift them at least a couple more spots in the rankings.
No, the fact of the matter is that while these Bills teams were bad, they usually were not terrible. They never finished as the worst team in the league and were frequently closer to playoff contention than first-pick consideration; only three of the 13 seasons included saw them win fewer than six games. These Bills always felt like they were a piece or two away from contention; pieces they simply could not find. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again, but the Bills stumbled around for nearly two decades without being able to put the finishing touches on some potentially promising teams. Generally, that "one missing piece" was a quarterback; these teams averaged 23rd in the league in passing DVOA, trotting out Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, and Trent Edwards in the 2000s. And then, of course, when some stability arrived with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the defense crumbled. No Bills quarterback topped a 10.0% passing DVOA between Van Pelt in 2001 and Josh Allen in 2020. We'd like to welcome the new Bills into the modern passing era.
No. 47: 1960-1964 Dallas Cowboys
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 34
Record: 18-46-4 (.294)
Average DVOA: -17.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -17.8%
One last-place finish in the NFL
Head Coach: Tom Landry
Key Players: RB Don Perkins, E Frank Clarke, T Bob Fry, DT Bob Lilly, LB Jerry Tubbs, CB Don Bishop
Expansion teams aren't expected to be good right away, seeing as they start as the cast-offs of other teams before they can build a talent pool of their own. With that in mind, there was some thought given to giving expansion teams a bit of a pass in this study, discounting their records for a few seasons, in order to let the playing field somewhat equalize. However, even without a discount, half of the modern-era expansion teams missed the list anyway. The quick success of teams like the Panthers and Jaguars goes to show that while expansion can be a reason for poor performance, it is not an excuse. We're comfortable calling the expansion Cowboys the sixth-worst expansion franchise in the modern NFL.
By 1962, the Cowboys were a run-of-the-mill below-average team, running up a string of four- and five-win seasons as they gradually developed the roster that would make them the NFL's bridesmaids during the late 1960s. But those first two squads were legendarily terrible. While not technically the first winless team we've encountered on this list, the 0-11-1 1960 Cowboys are the first winless team of the modern era we've stumbled across.
The Cowboys weren't officially formed until after the 1960 draft. The NFL showed no interest in expanding at all until the AFL announced they were putting a team in Dallas in August 1959, and even then they had to convince Washington owner George Preston Marshall that it would be OK to have a team further south than his, splitting that financially juicy market. And by "convince," I mean Cowboys owner Clint Murchison bought the rights to Washington's fight song and threatened to prevent them from playing it at games. The Washington-Dallas rivalry predates the Cowboys.
Anyway, that all took so long to work out that the draft was already done by the time the Cowboys were enfranchised. Not-yet-legendary head coach Tom Landry had to make do with a motley collection of has-beens and never-wases. Oh, they had a couple tricks up their sleeve—they had signed Don Meredith and Don Perkins to personal services contracts to circumvent the draft, and ex-Washington quarterback Eddie LeBaron had a couple Pro Bowls under his belt—but mostly, this was a disaster of a team. The Cowboys have had three seasons below -30.0% DVOA, either real or estimated; two of them were in 1960 and 1961. It turns out that essentially skipping a year of college talent isn't great for a new team, especially when you consider who the Cowboys had doing the scouting.
The powerhouse front office of Landry, Tex Schramm, and Gil Brandt did a great job turning the team around quickly, but the Cowboys were bad enough in those early years that it took Landry nearly forever to dig his career record out of the hole. Landry finally got above .500 in 1968 after coaching for 137 games, an NFL record by a nearly ridiculous margin. More importantly from an NFL perspective, the Cowboys chased the AFL out of Dallas by 1963, an early win in the battle between the two leagues. The NFL brand was strong enough to survive some truly terrible football.
No. 46: 2015-2018 San Francisco 49ers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 30
Record: 17-47 (.266)
Average DVOA: -20.3%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -16.2%
One last-place finish in the NFC; Three last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly, Kyle Shanahan
Key Players: RB Carlos Hyde, TE George Kittle, T Joe Staley, G Daniel Kilgore, DT DeForest Buckner, LB NaVorro Bowman
Two years ago, Scramble for the Ball put together an All-Decade Keep Choppin' Wood Team. The general manager on the squad, placed there by a disgruntled San Francisco 49ers fan, was Trent Baalke. This entry right here is Baalke's legacy.
Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly had a great relationship when they took power in 2011, and the immediate on-field results were fantastic—three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, including a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. But, while many adjectives have been used to describe both men, "congenial" isn't high on that list, and the two were quietly getting on each other's nerves behind the scenes.
Harbaugh groused about Baalke's personnel decisions, especially in the draft—busts such as A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, over a half-dozen draftees coming off of ACL tears, the legendarily terrible 2012 draft class, and so forth. The 49ers were the second-worst drafting team between 2012 and 2016, whether you going by total AV drafted or return on investment. Baalke fumed at Harbaugh's personnel management, most prominently playing Aldon Smith in 2013 the week after his DUI. The two were headed for a collision, and the fiery, chaotic Harbaugh lost out to the more calculating Baalke. Harbaugh was forced out of the picture, the idea being that Harbaugh would just fight with whoever was tabbed to replace Baalke, whereas Baalke could handpick a head coach he could work well with and keep things rolling. Baalke chose defensive line coach Jim Tomsula over Adam Gase as his replacement; the beloved positional coach would keep the players rolling and nothing but good times would come ahead.
Well, no, obviously not, or they wouldn't be on this list. Tomsula is a great line coach, but he was in no way qualified or prepared to be an NFL head coach. Some key veterans, most notably Justin Smith, retired rather than run things back under Tomsula. The coaching staff couldn't squeeze anything more out of Colin Kaepernick, and it turned out that going with Blaine Gabbert didn't immediately fix anything either. The retirement of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, coupled with the legal troubles of Aldon Smith, destroyed the defense. After being in the Super Bowl three years prior, the 2015 49ers finished dead last in the league with a -28.3% DVOA. 2016 wasn't much better, as emergency replacement coach Chip Kelly's NFL magic had vanished by this point as well.
Baalke was fired, and the new duo of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch were given six-year contracts in part as an acknowledgement for just how talent-starved the roster had become. This negative era ended the first season Shanahan got a full season from a starting quarterback, while Baalke is deservedly out of the league, where he can't possibly hurt any more fran—wait, Jacksonville hired him to be general manager? And his first draft in town brought in two guys with pre-existing ACL injuries? Oh dear.
No. 45: 1944-1948 Boston Yanks
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 14-38-3 (.282)
Average DVOA: -27.0%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -10.0%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL East
Head Coaches: Herb Kopf, Clipper Smith
Key Players: B Bob Davis, E Nick Scollard, T Carroll Vogelaar, G Augie Lio, C Joe Domnanovich
Alright, this is a bit of a weird one. This entry represents the entire history of the Boston Yanks, and it's one of the more complex and strange histories of any NFL franchise, especially one as late as the 1940s. 1920s teams formed and folded all the time, but by the 1940s, the league had settled down somewhat. The Yanks are one of only two NFL teams that formed in the 1940s; if you wanted to start a new team after World War II, you did so in the All-American Football Conference. And yet the history of three new franchises all meld into one in a gnarled knot of a continuity snarl that would make DC Comics blush.
First of all, the team name. "Boston Yanks" is not a thing. Ted Collins, the owner, wanted to own the New York Yanks, playing games in Yankee Stadium and drawing in crowds based on name recognition. This was a fairly standard practice at the time; in fact, there had already been a brief, unrelated New York Yankees NFL team in the 1920s. But the Giants didn't want anyone else sharing their market, and so Collins had to settle for playing games in Fenway Park instead. Naming your football team after the biggest rivals of the local baseball team is not exactly a recipe for long-term success.
In 1945, they were just the "Yanks." During World War II, teams frequently temporarily merged in order to save on money and manpower. In 1943 it was the Steelers and the Eagles. In 1944, it was the Steelers and the Cardinals. In 1945, it was the Yanks and the Brooklyn Tigers. Despite getting to merge with a team from the New York area, the Yanks still played most of their games in Boston. And despite having two teams' worth of players, the Yanks were still terrible, partially because Brooklyn had been 0-10 the year before and were not bringing much to the table.
Collins had agreed to merge in 1945 with the idea of weaseling his way into New York. Tigers owner Dan Topping had just bought partial interest in the baseball Yankees, and getting in on that deal seemed to be the path to the New York football team of his dreams. Instead, in 1946, Topping left the league and started a new team: the New York Yankees of the AAFC. He left all his players behind for Collins and the Yanks, which is the exact opposite of what Collins wanted—he now had New York's team in Boston, rather than his team in New York. This rubbed Collins the wrong way, and he complained to the league for years until the finally gave in, allowing him to move the team to New York in 1949. But instead of just moving the team, Collins asked the league to fold the Boston Yanks for tax purposes, and start a new franchise in New York that just happened to have all the same players and equipment and owner and everything else. And so that is what they did, and that ends the story of the Boston Yanks.
So, in 1949, you had the old Boston Yanks now calling themselves the New York Bulldogs—an unofficial continuation of the Brooklyn Tigers, which were themselves an unofficial continuation of the Dayton Triangles—playing across town from the New York Yankees of the AAFC, owned by the previous owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who had become the Brooklyn Tigers but were in no affiliated with either of those previous teams. And then the AAFC folded, and the Bulldogs changed their name to the New York Yanks. And then in 1952, they were sold to a consortium from Texas who named them the Dallas Texans, but not those Dallas Texans, and then the team folded and sold all of its players and assets to a new Baltimore Colts (not to be confused with the Baltimore Colts that came from the AAFC to the NFL in 1950), and I need an aspirin.
Oh, all these teams were terrible, in case you were wondering, with estimated DVOAs falling between -19.2% and -42.1%, making this all a huge waste of time for everyone involved.
Tommy Thompson throws 4 touchdowns in a 45-0 rout of the Boston Yanks pic.twitter.com/UCUezyxWId
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) April 4, 2021
No. 44: 1970-1976 San Diego Chargers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 37
Record: 30-63-5 (.332)
Average DVOA: -15.7%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -20.4%
One last-place finish in the NFL; Four last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Charlie Waller, Sid Gillman, Harland Svare, Tommy Prothro
Key Players: QB John Hadl, WR Gary Garrison, T Russ Washington, T Terry Owens, G Walt Sweeney, G Doug Wilkerson, CB Joe Beauchamp
The history of the San Diego Chargers is a rollercoaster. They were the best team in the first half of the AFL's life, making five of the first six AFL Championship Games. The Don Coryell era saw them reach four postseasons in a row in the late 1970s. They made the Super Bowl in the 1990s. And yet this is already their second appearance on the countdown, and they've got another coming very shortly. The Chargers: really good or really bad, but for relatively brief periods of time. It's an ethos, I suppose.
The Chargers had been great in the early 1960s, but by 1970, the stars of that era were either retired, traded, or on their last legs. The man responsible for fixing these problems was general manger Harland Svare. Svare was the first person not named Sid Gillman to have any significant control over the Chargers roster, and he was hired by owner Gene Klein, reportedly because he was easy to control. Svare quickly went to work dismantling the Chargers, starting by trading Lance Alworth in 1971. In the 1972 offseason, Svare made 21 separate trades (still an NFL record), bringing in over-the-hill veterans such as Deacon Jones and John Mackey and malcontents such as Duane Thomas. And then, in 1973, he traded away aging 33-year-old passer John Hadl (who had just made the Pro Bowl, by the by), and brought in … aging 40-year-old passer Johnny Unitas. The sight of Unitas, limping his way through one final season in the wrong uniform, is one of the sadder images in NFL history. Svare's reward was a five-year contract, announced at halftime of yet another Chargers' loss. This was met with a chorus of boos, angry chants from the fans for the next year and a half until he resigned, and a near-lynching by drunk, angry fans after a 41-0 drubbing. That'd probably get me to quit, too.
We could go on about the Chargers' on-field performance in this era—usually adequate on offense, as the aging Hadl eventually turned into a green Dan Fouts, and usually terrible on defense—but the 1973 season was nicknamed The Nightmare Season not for what was happening on the field, but what was happening on the sidelines. Klein and Svare were worried—obsessed, even—about the possibility that the Chargers were using marijuana in the locker room. It would destroy their ability to play football, they feared, so they brought in psychiatrist Arnold Mandell to "hang out" with the team and keep an eye on them for news of the dreaded reefer.
What Mandell did instead was pass out scripts for Dexedrine and Phenobarbital like they were candy, prescribing over 1,700 doses of the stuff in the first few weeks of the 1973 season. For context, 1973 was also the year that the NFL banned amphetamines from being handed out by teams, in part due to the settlement of a lawsuit against the Chargers earlier that year. Mandell's presence was a handy workaround, and it might have gone without notice … except Svare was so concerned about the potential pot use in his locker room that he went to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to ask for help. Rozelle, more concerned about the reputation of the league just after settling a major lawsuit, advised Klein and Svare to hire private investigators (including, allegedly, prostitutes wearing wiretaps), and the NFL would take appropriate action based on the findings. No (significant) evidence of marijuana was found, but those investigators sure found out about all the illegal amphetamines! Eight Chargers were eventually fined and suspended (and later traded). Svare and Klein faced massive fines, with Svare stepping down as coach. Mandell was sanctioned by the California Medical Board and barely kept his medical license. Plenty of other teams were using drugs in the 1970s, but only the Chargers narced on themselves. Obsession, paranoia, panic attacks—quick, where's the number for the 1970s commissioner's office?
No. 43: 2011-2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 44
Record: 49-95 (.340)
Average DVOA: -11.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -18.4%
One last-place finish in the NFL; Seven last-place finishes in the NFC South
Head Coaches: Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, Bruce Arians
Key Players: QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin, WR Mike Evans, WR Vincent Jackson, T Demar Dotson, T Donovan Smith, G Ali Marpet, DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David
A quick methodological note: this run is technically not over yet. You need back-to-back non-losing seasons in order to permanently close an Anti-Dynasty. While the Buccaneers are your proud Super Bowl LV champions, if Tom Brady and company turn into pumpkins this season, the run will continue. It's highly unlikely that it will; Tampa Bay currently has an over/under of 11.5 wins and they just need to go 9-8 (uggggh) next season to have that winning record. No Super Bowl team is part of an Anti-Dynasty; it turns out, if you're good enough to win the Super Bowl, you're probably pretty decent at football. In fact, the last Super Bowl winners to post a losing record the next season were the, uh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and 2003.
We'll assume that won't happen for the moment.
As one of only two franchises (along with the Browns) to miss the playoffs every year of the 2010s, it's understandable that Bucs fans might want to rank this run a bit higher, seeing as how fresh the wounds are. It's certainly true that no team outside of Cleveland had fewer high points in the 2010s than Tampa Bay—a mirage of a Raheem Morris season in 2010, the brief hope that Jameis Winston was developing in 2016, and that's about it. But for most of the decade, the Bucs were a below-average team with below-average results, rather than an absolutely terrible team. The defensive collapse in 2011 and the Mike Glennon/Josh McCown shuffle in 2015 are notable exceptions, but for most of the decade, the on-field Buccaneers were on the low end of mediocrity. In some ways, that's worse; five- and six-win seasons mean you never truly bottom out and don't trigger a franchise-wide reset. It hurts more when the one time you do bottom out you end up with Winston, who one day may be able to identify which team a player is on before throwing him the ball.
Instead, it's the ancillary moments that I'll remember most about the 2010s Buccaneers. The tenure of Greg Schiano is a great example. Schiano's teams weren't that bad; single-digit-negative DVOA isn't going to get you very far in the long run, but it's not terrible. And yet, I'll remember Schiano as a figure of mockery for his proclamation of "Buccaneer Men and the Buccaneer Way," his autocratic style, his way of treating his players like spoiled children rather than adults, the MRSA outbreak he downplayed, his order for his players to blitz a kneel-down in 2013 … OK, I could go on for a while about Schiano. Similarly, Jason Licht will always be the man who drafted Roberto Aguayo and Vernon Hargreaves, even if his rollercoaster of a tenure has culminated in a Super Bowl title.
Admittedly, "signing Tom Brady and having him continue to defy age" may not be the long-term solution that Tampa Bay has been looking for, and the franchise's up-and-down ways may return once this likely brief era ends, assuming the concept of aging ever applies to Brady. But the tenures of Schiano, Morris, Smith, and Koetter are a lot easier to laugh at when viewed in the reflection of a Lombardi Trophy.
No. 42: 1923-1929 Dayton Triangles
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 59
Record: 5-42-4 (.137)
Average DVOA: -16.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -23.5%
Three last-place finishes in the NFL
Head Coaches: Carl Storck, Lou Mahrt, Fay Abbott
Key Players: B Fay Abbott, E Harold Fenner, T Ed Sauer, G Al Graham, C Hobby Kinderdine
Five wins in 51 games. I don't care who you are or when you played, that is an embarrassing set of results. It's not the lowest winning percentage of any team on our list, but the Columbus Panhandles and Rochester Jeffersons played barely half this many contests. This was an established team (by 1920s standards, at least) showing up week after week and getting crushed.
The Triangles were highly competitive throughout the 1910s, winning the Ohio League in the pandemic year of 1918 and finishing in the upper half of the standings in their first three seasons in the NFL, led by an extraordinarily stingy defense. At their peak, they only allowed 13 points in eight games in 1917, and they allowed single-digit points per game from 1920 to 1922 as well—not as impressive back then as it would be today, but still significantly better than average, even in the offensively depressed environment of the time. Very roughly translated (and I stress very roughly), that would be defensive DVOs somewhere around -10.0% in today's money, a perfectly respectable result. That continued even into the terrible era we're looking at here. In 1925, they allowed 84 points in eight games, and they were doing this all on the road while intentionally scheduling the toughest teams they could find; they had the third-hardest strength of schedule that year. The problem was they only scored three points all season.
The culprit was the modernization of the game. The Triangles continued to use and recruit local players first and foremost—they started as a rec football club from employees at Delco and neighboring factories, and didn't expand much beyond that. They stuck to that ideal even as the Lambeaus and Halases of the world were beginning to sign top college players from around the country. This, as it turns out, is not a record for success. In addition, their home stadium, Triangle Park, could barely seat 5,000, and didn't draw even those sorts of crowds. The only way to remain financially viable was to become a travelling team, taking the $2,500 guarantees to go get beaten by the best and brightest.
The Triangles were an ideal traveling team. They were not nearly as bad as their record would indicate for most of this period; they managed an estimated DVOA of -3.6% going 0-7-1 in 1925 and even hit positive numbers during their 1-6-1 1927 season. They were a team you could schedule, knowing they'd come in and give you a solid game, but not so solid that you couldn't come out with a win by 10 points or so—mooks you could defeat to send the crowd home happy. They had the name recognition from being a successful franchise from the 1910s, they had a handful of All-Pros to hype, they were centrally located and thus could get to the Polo Grounds as easily as they could get to Wrigley Field—they were, by quite some margin, the most successful traveling team in NFL history. That's why they were one of only three teams, joining the Bears and Cardinals, to play in every season in the 1920s. They survived the culling of 1926, where 10 teams were cut for being financially weak. The Triangles were basically Barry Horowitz; a beloved jobber to the stars.
Finding the cutoff point for these early teams is difficult. 1929 was the last season for the Dayton Triangles, because the franchise was bought and moved to Brooklyn, becoming the Brooklyn Dodgers (we'll meet them shortly). The Dodgers became the Tigers and then merged with the New York Yanks, who we ave already talked about. The Yanks players formed the New York Bulldogs, who became the New York Yanks, who were sold to become the Dallas Texans, who went out of business and sent their players to the Baltimore Colts. You could argue that Indianapolis is, in a roundabout way, the direct descendant of the Triangles, and that all these teams are just one big franchise with a convoluted history. The NFL doesn't see it that way, with the Colts not claiming any of this history, and figuring out just where one team ends and another begins is a Gordian Knot. We're ending the legacy of the Triangles here, as the team changed cities, owners, name, colors, and about 70% of the roster when they moved. But, if you consider, say, the old Browns and new Ravens one team, there's an argument for keeping this going.
If you consider the Triangles and the Dodgers to be one coherent team, the resulting 38-105-12 monstrosity would end up as the 14th worst Anti-Dynasty on this list. But that is a story for a later entry.
The pictures of the old Dayton Triangles are great, but I especially love the headline. Oh, *all* styles of football, you say? Can't wait to see Dayton run the spread. pic.twitter.com/1QtSty5v5R
— Bryan Knowles (@BryKno) May 12, 2021
No. 41: 1997-2003 San Diego Chargers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 42
Record: 35-77 (.313)
Average DVOA: -13.0%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -18.8%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL; Six last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Kevin Gilbride, June Jones, Mike Riley, Marty Schottenheimer
Key Players: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, T Vaughn Parker, DE Raylee Johnson, DE Marcellus Wiley, DT John Parrella, LB Junior Seau, S Rodney Harrison
Seven different franchises appear on this list three times, but the Chargers are the first to get all three out of the way. Being a Chargers fan has not always been easy (he said, understating massively) but at least each run of terrible play could have been worse.
The Chargers had reached Super Bowl XXIX behind Bobby Ross' ball-control ground game; San Diego had a top-ten rushing DVOA in every season between 1988 and 1995 and was generally near the top of the league in rushing attempts as well. When you consider 1988 was the first post-Dan Fouts year, and that Stan Humphries was Ross' quarterback, this was a fairly logical reaction to the personnel on hand. Had Ross remained in control of the team, that's probably how things would have continued into the late 1990s.
But Ross stepped down after an injury-plagued 1996 season. General manager Bobby Beathard, the story goes, asked Ross to dismiss his assistants, but he refused out of loyalty and resigned instead. Citing a "difference in philosophy," Beathard hired Jaguars offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who would bring his open passing attack across the country and bring San Diego into the modern era of football. The immediate result? A 4-12 season with a -31.2% DVOA, the worst in Chargers history. San Diego's offensive line was simply not up to the task, and Humphries was never the most mobile player in the pocket anyway. That combination led to 51 sacks, multiple concussions, and an early retirement for Humphries. It turns out that you can't turn into a passing team by sheer force of will; it helps to have personnel of some sort to make the transition.
To make matters worse, the Chargers finished third worst when the draft had two sure-fire, can't-miss prospects at quarterback. So Beathard gave up two first-round picks, a second-round pick, All-Pro returner Eric Metcalf, and starting linebacker Patrick Sapp to move up one spot in the draft, all so San Diego could pick the man who would help make the pass-first offense a success: Ryan Leaf.
Is Leaf still the greatest bust in NFL history? At this point, you could probably side with JaMarcus Russell instead, as he went one pick higher, but Leaf's -1,440 career DYAR remains the fourth worst on record. And his immaturity, with a penchant for blaming the media and his teammates for any and all struggles, didn't help; by the end of his rookie senior, veteran leaders such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison were calling for the team to bring in a veteran to replace Leaf, which is rarely a good sign.
Leaf's poor play got Gilbride canned, and Leaf joined him after helping lead the Chargers to a 1-15 campaign in 2000. That did lead to the one silver lining of the Leaf era: the team was bad enough that they could take LaDainian Tomlinson. Leaf's poor relationship with the Chargers also allegedly was responsible for Eli Manning refusing to play for them, resulting in San Diego ending up with Philip Rivers instead in the Great Quarterback Brouhaha of 2004. Tomlinson and Rivers, of course, were the backbone of the Chargers' most recent run of success, which we called the best team to have never won their conference. So, remember to thank Ryan Leaf for those wonderful late 2000s seasons and all that came with them!