Detroit Lions RB Barry Sanders

Anti-Dynasty Rankings 51-58 Featuring The Barry Sanders Lions

Welcome to our rankings of every stretch of terrible football in the history of the NFL: our first ever Anti-Dynasty rankings. Over this series of articles, we're going to run down every team to ever have a sustained run of failure, compare them with their peers, and find out who comes out on top. I mean, someone had to do it.

If you haven't yet, you should check out our methodology for defining an anti-dynasty. There, we defined what a team needed to do in order to earn anti-dynasty points, and listed every team in NFL history to ever compile at least 30. You can rank those 58 teams by dynasty points to find out which team had the biggest anti-dynasties—the most sustained stretches of losing football.

But not all losing teams are created equal. If we were just interested in the quantity of a dynasty, we would just take their win-loss records, adjust them some for the era in which they played, and call it a day. But we can make better distinctions than that—there's a significant difference between plucky underdogs who come up short at the end of the day, and the utterly terrible teams who put the sport back 40 years. No, we want to evaluate the quality of each anti-dynasty—to delve in a little deeper than win-loss records and find the teams that have had the most pathetic runs in NFL history. To do that, we're re-ranking all 58 teams, incorporating DVOA into the system to crown an overall champion.

To do that, we're turning to Z-scores; comparing how many standard deviations above or below average each qualifying team is compared to their peers. We use eight inputs, and combine them all at the end to get to one final score:

  • Peak Dynasty Points: This is the bread-and-butter of the rankings. How far under .500 were you? How few winning seasons did you sprinkle in?
  • Length of Run: How long did it take for you to get out of the gutter? Was it a half-decade-long blip, or a multi-decade-long stagnation?
  • Last-Place Finishes: Losing is easier to take if you have someone else to point and laugh at. How often were you the worst team in the league? The worst team in your conference? The worst team in your division?
  • Terrible Seasons: Going 6-10 over and over again is no fun, for sure, but it doesn't pack the same psychic punch of two-, one-, or zero-win seasons. Any season were you lost twice as many games as you won counts.
  • Average DVOA: How much below average was a team throughout the length of their run? We use DVOA from 1983 to 2019; Andreas Shepard's estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1982; and Football Perspective's Simple Rating System (converted to an estimate of DVOA) from 1920 to 1949. This is double-counted in the system; team quality is very important!
  • Bottom-Five DVOA: We remember an anti-dynasty for their worst years, not their mediocre ones in the middle. This is the average of the five worst DVOAs a team put up in their run. If a run lasted less than five seasons, we add extra 0.0% years as a penalty. This is also double-counted.

Add up the standard deviations from the average of all teams on the table, and you get one final score we can use to rank each squad.

We start with the teams that, frankly, shouldn't be here. If we opened the doors a little wider and let teams with 25, 26, 27 anti-dynasty points in, they'd waltz right past these non-losers. But we must draw a line somewhere, and these teams, when all is said and done, find themselves on the wrong side of the velvet rope. So, here they are—the best worst teams of all time.

And remember, half the fun of ranking teams is arguing about the ranking.

THE FULL SERIES


No. 58: 1983-1991 San Diego Chargers

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 55-88 (.385)
Average DVOA: -5.1%.
Bottom-Five DVOA: -11.5%
Five last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Don Coryell, Al Saunders, Dan Henning
Key Players: QB Dan Fouts, RB Marion Butts, WR Wes Chandler, WR Anthony Miller, TE Kellen Winslow, G Dennis McKnight, C Don Macek, DE Lee Williams, LB Leslie O'Neal, LB Billy Ray Smith, DB Gill Byrd, S Vencie Glenn, S Martin Bayless
Z-Score: -10.82

Wait, Dan Fouts? Kellen Winslow? Don Coryell? These names are the backbone of the San Diego Super Chargers squads that made four playoff appearances in a row in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the teams that made back-to-back AFC Championship Games and are one of the greatest "What Ifs?" of that era of football. With names like that, it's not surprising that the Chargers are the lowest team on the list, but the 1980s in San Diego were a case study in what happens when Air Coryell is grounded. After coming so close to bringing a title to San Diego, the Chargers wouldn't win more than eight games in a season nor finish higher than third in the AFC West throughout this run.

Part of the reason was natural decline. The Air Coryell Chargers were always an offense-first team—they led the league in passing yards for six straight years from 1978 to 1983, still an NFL record—but were at least competent on defense throughout the 1970s. That defense started falling apart in the 1980s, however. The 1975 draft class brought in Fred Dean, Gary Johnson, and Louie Kelcher, who provided the backbone for Coryell's good defenses, but all were gone by 1984—Dean was traded to the 49ers in 1981, and Kelcher and Johnson joined him in 1984. Add in the retirement of Leroy Jones and the Bruise Brothers were no more. From 1983 to 1985, the Chargers finished 25th, 26th, and 25th in defensive DVOA; all three seasons are in the top 10 most points allowed in franchise history, even in a lesser offensive age. Fouts and the offense were still effective through the mid-1980s, but by the time defensive reinforcements arrived, the offensive stars were retired. It was a little like the Falcons of today; all the offensive fireworks in the world couldn't make up for the defensive void.

Why were all those defenders being shipped up the coast to San Francisco? Because the Chargers were being sold. Longtime owner Gene Klein had always been somewhat notorious for refusing to renegotiate contracts, and he was even less inclined to do so when actively trying to sell the franchise; adding payroll would make the team less enticing for Alex Spanos. That's not the end of the world when you're replacing players with equivalent, cheaper talent, but the 1980s Chargers simply weren't.

The Chargers managed to have three first-round picks in the loaded 1983 draft and came away with no superstars. While Billy Ray Smith, Gill Byrd, and Gary Anderson were alright, the Chargers passed up on Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews, Jimbo Covert, and Darrell Green to take them, as well as 1980s stars such as Joey Browner and Don Mosebar. They lost 1984's first-round pick, Mossy Cade, to the USFL. 1986's first-round pick, guard James FitzPatrick, was poor enough that management made a point of going to the L.A. Times to say that the team would be better once he was cut. Spanos, a self-made billionaire, thought he could run the team like one of his construction businesses, constantly second-guessing and overruling his staff. Most notably, he ordered disgruntled Jim Lachey to be traded to Washington, where he became one of the Hogs and helped Joe Gibbs win a title. Spanos promised a title within five years of taking over the team, but eventually he did figure out he was in over his head.

That realization is what ended up turning the Chargers around. In 1990, Spanos hired Bobby Beathard as general manager and gave him full reign. Beathard had already helped turn Miami and Washington into Super Bowl champs. He was responsible for drafting players such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, and for trading for Stan Humphries to replace the revolving door at quarterback post-Fouts. In 1992, Bobby Ross took over as head coach and the Chargers won their first division title since 1981. Two years later, they were in the Super Bowl. Sometimes, you just have to get out of your own way.


No. 57: 1920-1926 Hammond Pros

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 7-28-4 (.231)
Average DVOA: -9.2%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -16.3%
Two last-place finishes in the AFPA/NFL
Head Coaches: Hank Gillo, Max Hicks, Wally Hess, Fritz Pollard, Doc Young
Key Players: B Wally Hess, E Inky Williams, OL Russ Oltz, OL Frank Rydzewski, OL Dave Tallant
Z-Score: -10.09

The Hammond Pros were the least accurately named team in NFL history.

For the first part, they weren't really pros. This was the 1920s, the infancy of the professional game, and the Hammond Pros were a glorified sandlot team. Their players almost all had full-time jobs elsewhere, and they didn't have time to practice or train. Even in the 1920s, a team that barely worked together wasn't going to do anything against average NFL competition. For the second part, they didn't really play in Hammond. Only two of the Pros' 39 NFL games were at home, as Hammond, Indiana (a Chicago suburb) didn't have a field with enough stands to make games financially viable. Hammond became a travelling team, playing some games in Cubs Park, but mostly going from city to city to fill out the schedule for the new league and generally getting pasted; they bookended their time in the league with estimated DVOAs of -38.1% and -38.6%.

Ah, the 1920s; they make doing this sort of historical analysis a real mess. The league was filled with fly-by-night teams that would play for one year, get blown out by two or three established clubs, put up crazy estimated DVOA numbers, and fold. That's why this list devalues seasons where teams played only a handful of games. Otherwise, the top of the list would be filled with the Tonawanda Kardex and the Muncie Flyers and the Kenosha Maroons; teams that were happy to be there and soon enough happy to have left. By the standards of those kinds of teams, the Pros weren't that bad. They make the bottom of the list by sheer tenacity. Most owners would have gotten bored or run out of money, but Doc Young stuck it out.

See, the Pros had a history. In 1919, the year before the AFPA started, Hammond and the Canton Bulldogs played a game in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, drawing a crowd of 12,000—an unofficial world championship game, with Jim Thorpe's Bulldogs going up against George Halas' Pros. The reception to that game was one of the final straws that convinced team owners that a professional football league would be viable. Halas left to start something called the Decatur Staleys after the game, and most of the Pros' other key players left for other, better-paying clubs, but the Pros persisted.

The NFL version of the Pros wasn't without its notable moments. They employed future Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard and 1923 All-Pro (and later pioneering record producer) Inky Williams; both men were African-American. In fact, six of the nine Black players from the early wilderness years of the league played for the Pros. This was less about a progressive hiring mindset and more about "we need warm bodies and no one else will pay you," but it at least gives the Pros a level of notoriety above and beyond other traveling teams. For the most part, however, the Pros were notable for being terrible. They went the entire 1922 season without scoring and would regularly be blown out by amateur teams with names like the Chicago Morris Supremes. In 1927, the NFL dropped from 22 to 12 teams as they cut financially unviable clubs, and Indiana was left without a football team until the 1980s.


No. 56: 1959-1965 Los Angeles Rams

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 49
Record: 25-65-4 (.287)
Average DVOA: -8.4%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -11.5%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL; Three last-place finishes in the NFL West
Head Coaches: Sid Gillman, Bob Waterfield, Harland Svare
Key Players: HB John Arnett, FB Dick Bass, TE Red Phillips, DE Deacon Jones, DE Lamar Lundy, DT Merlin Olsen, LB Les Richter, LB Jack Pardee, DB Eddie Meador
Z-Score: -8.04

The story of the 1960s Rams starts with the Fearsome Foursome. Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen and stars Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier comprised arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history; a hard-hitting, aggressive-tackling squad that blew up offensive game plans before they began. They, and their eventual replacements, were the driving force behind the Rams' three straight double-digit-win seasons in the late 1960s. And yet, Lundy came to Los Angeles in 1957, and the entire foursome was in place by 1963. You'd think that assembling the line that early would lead to instant success, but the early 1960s Rams couldn't buy a win.

Blame it on the quarterback situation. Sid Gillman and his vertical passing game were out, and Norm Van Brocklin had been traded to Philadelphia in 1958, in part over issues of offensive control. That left the Rams in need of a new passer and passing philosophy. You can't say owner Dan Reeves (no, not that one) didn't do his damnedest to try to fix the problem. Strap yourselves in, because the Reeves and the Rams are going quarterback-huntin'.

Post-Van Brocklin, the Rams started with Billy Wade, a 1958 Pro Bowler and future NFL champion with the Bears. By 1960, he was platooning with Frank Ryan, a passer with lesser stats but a better win-loss record. In 1961, Reeves traded Wade to Chicago in exchange for their platoon quarterback, Zeke Bratkowski. Neither Ryan nor Bratkowski lit the field on fire, so the Rams traded Ryan away and used the second pick in the 1962 draft to take future MVP Roman Gabriel. Gabriel spent much of the season on the bench behind Bratkowski, with the rumors being that coach Bob Waterfield was not happy with the handsome young quarterback being overly friendly with his wife. Whether it was for refusing to play Gabriel or starting the year 1-7 (or both!), Waterfield was fired, and yet replacement coach Harland Savre turned to career nobody Ron Miller when he needed a new passer.

In 1963, the Rams used their first-round pick on quarterback Terry Baker. In 1964, the Rams used their first-round pick on quarterback Bill Munson. With three first-round passers on the roster … the Rams still turned to Bratkowski, with him and Gabriel even alternating plays from time to time. Platoon quarterbacks were more common in the 1960s, but by any modern standards, this is lunacy. Bratkowski had 4.49 adjusted yards per attempt in his time with the Rams; even the young, not-yet-great Gabriel was at 6.82. Imagine if a team kept starting Mike Glennon over Matt Ryan and you'll have a rough era-adjusted idea of what the Rams were doing. The Rams had estimated offensive DVOAs of -16.3% and -16.5% in 1963 and 1964, with the answer sitting right there. Between 1962 and 1965, the Rams were 11-11-1 with Gabriel under center and 4-27-2 with anyone else. This is not hindsight saying the Rams were crazy; there was plenty of evidence with the tools at the time that they were stubbornly making the wrong decision.

In 1966, George Allen came in and brought actual competent coaching, a welcome relief after Waterfield's disorganization and Svare's macho act. Allen convinced Gabriel to not jump to the Raiders and the AFL, promising him the starting job, and the Rams took off from there. This really is the tier of teams that just needed to get out of their own dang way.


No. 55: 1973-1980 San Francisco 49ers

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 41
Record: 39-79 (.331)
Average DVOA: -7.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -15.7%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL; Three last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Dick Nolan, Monte Clark, Ken Meyer, Fred O'Conner, Pete McCulley, Bill Walsh
Key Players: FB Wilbur Jackson, T Keith Fahnhorst, G Randy Cross, C Forrest Blue, DE Cedrick Hardman, DE Tommy Hart, DT Cleveland Elam, CB Bruce Taylor, CB Jimmy Johnson, S Mel Phillips
Z-Score: -7.92

The 1970s 49ers managed to pack four distinct eras into a decade; an impressive rate of turnover. They were NFC West champions from 1970 to 1972, twice reaching the NFC Championship Game in the first extended run of success the franchise experienced in the NFL. We're not here to talk about that.

From 1973 to 1976, the story of the 49ers is of a team slowly crumbling. This is a fairly typical end to a run of success—key players from those divisional championship teams were getting old, injured, or old and injured. Former MVP quarterback John Brodie was 38 and his arm was shot; he was gone by 1974, and a number of key contributors from those 1970s squads joined him—Charlie Kreuger, Dick Witcher, Ken Willard, Vic Washington, all important players, all gone by the mid-1970s. They didn't exactly have a run of replacements, either, thanks to years of poor drafting; Steve Spurrier was supposed to be the answer at the quarterback position, but he dislocated his shoulder in the 1974 preseason and never could put together a run of quality starts even when he was healthy. That's not enough to make the anti-dynasty list, mind you, and the 1976 49ers nearly climbed their way back into contention, clawing back to 8-6 behind new coach Monte Clark and new quarterback Jim Plunkett.

And then the team was sold, and new owner Eddie DeBartolo brought in Joe Thomas to run the team. The 1977-1978 49ers would go 7-23 as Thomas quickly became the worst executive in franchise history.

The arrival of Thomas caused the immediate resignation of Clark as Thomas wanted full control over personnel matters. Thomas replaced Clark with a series of lackies and yes-men who would do his own bidding in the locker room. By "do his own bidding," I mean that by the fifth week of his first season, the 49ers were swapping starters on a weekly basis as if they were shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic—not exactly a recipe for developing rhythm and cohesion. That caused a highly discontented locker room, but don't worry—Thomas had the solution! Before 1978, Thomas traded away or released nearly every veteran player the 49ers had, performing a hatchet job on the roster. He gave Buffalo five draft picks for a 31-year-old, washed up O.J. Simpson; the former rushing champ managed just over 1,000 yards in two seasons with the 49ers. Thomas released Plunkett just before the start of the season, leaving the team without an experienced starter; Scott Bull and Steve DeBerg had a combined 72 career pass attempts coming into the year.

You'll be stunned to learn that this didn't work, as the 49ers struggled their way to a 2-14 season. Things were so bad by midseason that Thomas was confiscating fans' signs demanding he be fired, getting into physical fights with beat reporters, and trying to cancel a Thanksgiving week game as he believed there was a conspiracy that would lead to his own assassination. So, you know, at least things weren't boring.

The DeBartolos had had enough. They had been hands-off owners, still living on the East Coast, but the only thing that can remove the luster from owning a professional football team is owning an embarrassing football team. Thomas was fired after the 1978 season, replaced by Stanford head coach Bill Walsh. It took a couple years for Walsh to dig the 49ers out of the hole Thomas had left behind, but I believe you could say that Walsh's reign eventually was moderately successful.


No. 54: 1920-1922 Columbus Panhandles

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 30
Record: 3-22-2 (.148)
Average DVOA: -22.2%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -13.3%
Head Coaches: Ted Nesser, Herb Dell
Key Players: B Hal Gaulke, FB Frank Nesser, E Homer Ruh, T Joe Mulbarger, G Oscar Wolford
Z-Score: -7.90

The Panhandles squeak into eligibility due to playing 10 games in 1920, and thus getting their stats fully counted and prorated out to 16 games. At 2-6-2, with all four non-losses coming to non-league sides, this was the best season the Panhandles managed in their short history. The Panhandles went 1-8 and 0-8 in their next two seasons, with the lowest estimated DVOAs of any team that played more than five games at -31.6% and -31.1%. Trying to judge what counts as an "average" football team in the 1920s is iffy, at best, but the Panhandles were truly terrible and deserve to be mentioned here, albeit very low on the list.

The Panhandles do have a Hall of Famer to boast, but not for anything on the field. Joe Carr ran the team from 1907 to 1922 when it was a successful travelling sandlot team. The "Panhandles" in the name refers to the Panhandle shops of the Pennsylvania Railroads, and Carr exploited the fact that the team was made up of "big hardy railroad men," using lunch breaks to practice and getting the team to ride the train free of charge to take on opponents as a travelling team.

The team was built around the Nesser Brothers, with six of them forming the backbone of the Panhandles from 1907 until the mid-1920s. The Nesser boys were huge, averaging more than 210 pounds apiece in an era where your linemen generally clocked in at about 180. The Panhandles quickly gained a reputation for being a big, nasty, dirty team, bullying their opponents. That, coupled with Ted Nesser's creativity as a playcaller for the era (he's credited with inventing the triple-pass and the criss-cross, staples of college teams in the 1920s) led to a team that dominated opponents in Columbus and drew large crowds wherever they went.

Well, if your team is based around a bunch of young players in 1907, you can imagine why they would have less success in the 1920s. By the time the AFPA formed, the Nessers were all in their mid- to late 30s, and that's not going to be ideal when you're trying to compete. Also, they weren't competitive in signing players, as the cost of running an actual team and not a railroad-adjacent sideshow became too much for Carr. He discontinued the team after 1922, focusing instead on his role as the NFL's first (active) president. The Panhandles became the Tigers and saw some early success. Carr was instrumental in transitioning the league from a ragtag group of local teams into a professional, national institution, and the Panhandles were more-or-less forgotten.

 


No. 53: 1974-1979 Kansas City Chiefs

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 28-60 (.318)
Average DVOA: -13.1%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -15.2%
One last-place finish in the NFL; Two last-place finishes in the AFC, Four last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Hank Stram, Paul Wiggin, Tom Bettis, Marv Levy
Key Players: QB Mike Livingston, T Charlie Getty, T Jim Nicholson, G Tom Condon, C Jack Rudnay, LB Willie Lanier, CB Emmitt Thomas
Z-Score: -7.06

By the 1970 merger, the Chiefs were arguably the best team from the AFL—two league championships and a win in Super Bowl IV give them the nod over the Oakland Raiders' superior record over the last half of the AFL's existence. However, to go from a great team to a perennial powerhouse requires finding and developing new talent, and the 1970s Chiefs fell far short in that category.

Those Super Bowl-era Chiefs had five Hall of Famers—Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan and Jan Stenerud, plus coach Hank Stram. The last time all five players were on the field together was the final game of 1974, and the Chiefs basically lost one every year throughout this down period. Even Municipal Stadium, where the Chiefs had played in the AFL, was dismantled in 1976, a relic from the 1920s no longer fit for purpose. The stadium, at least, was replaced. The Hall of Famers, not so much.

In 1973 and 1975, the Chiefs had no first-round draft pick thanks to trades for George Seals and John Matuszak (24 combined starts for Kansas City), and frankly, the picks they did make weren't much better. From 1970 to 1976, the Chiefs took Sid Smith, Elmo Wright, Jeff Kinney, Woody Green, and Rod Walters; all of them under 16 career Approximate Value. The Chiefs made 11 picks in the 1975 draft; only one ever saw an NFL field, where running back Morris LaGrand picked up a career 37 yards. A team can survive a bad draft or two, but general manager Jack Steadman's run would be crippling for any franchise. He took 91 players between 1970 and 1975; only 11 started a single game for Kansas City, and none ever made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. You could make an argument that the four worst drafts in franchise history all fell in that six-year span. That's bad.

The remaining Chiefs legends kept things from falling apart entirely for years; a series of 5-9 seasons in the mid-1970s were bad, but not in and of themselves enough to qualify for this list. By the late 1970s, however, there was just nothing left, to the point where new head coach Marv Levy installed the old Wing-T in 1978 to try to produce something on offense. In the dawn of the modern passing age, Levy's Chiefs set NFL rushing records, including running the ball 69 times on opening day while holding the ball for more than 40 minutes of clock time. They were still terrible, don't get me wrong, but at least they were an interesting, novel sort of terrible. Levy's work eventually brought the Chiefs to mediocrity, where they would stay until Marty Schottenheimer came to town .


No. 52: 1984-1990 Detroit Lions

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 37-73-1 (.338)
Average DVOA: -13.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -16.9%
Three last-place finishes in the NFC Central
Head Coaches: Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers, Wayne Fontes
Key Players: RB Barry Sanders, FB James Jones, T Lomas Brown, C Steve Mott, DT Jerry Ball, LB Chris Spielman, LB Jimmy Williams, LB Mike Cofer, CB Bruce McNorton
Z-Score: -6.22

The Detroit Lions started the 1980s with a game-altering running back wearing No. 20. The Detroit Lions ended the 1980s with a game-altering running back wearing No. 20. It's the period in between that didn't go so well.

The first runner was Billy Sims, the Heisman Trophy-winner from Oklahoma. The top pick in the 1980 draft, Sims hit the ground running—he's one of only 11 players to have at least 30 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He ran for over 1,000 yards in three of his first four seasons and would have done it in all four had 1982 not been curtailed by the strike. The Lions regularly put up top-10 rushing seasons in DVOA with Sims in the backfield, which was enough to propel Detroit to their first back-to-back postseasons since the 1950s.

And then, in 1984, Sims catastrophically blew his knee out midway through the season. And, as it turns out, an offense led by the likes of Gary Danielson and Eric Hipple is not going to strike fear in the hearts of, say, the Super Bowl Shufflin' Bears. While the extent of the dropoff is bigger in conventional stats than in DVOA, the Lions finished the year 1-6-1 and well out of contention.

With their biggest offensive star gone, the Lions decided to bring in a new coach, an offensive guru to scheme up something new offensively. That was Darryl Rogers, an accomplished college coach who had a reputation as an ahead-of-his-time passing expert from Michigan State. With passing taking the league by storm in the 1980s, Rogers was going to be a perfect fit. He was going to bring a modern, exciting offense to Detroit. All you had to do was listen to him praise the Lions' roster in his opening press conference where he said, uh, "I cannot tell you one thing about the Lions. We have not talked about anything except the contract."

Under Rogers, the Lions produced their worst seasons in the back half of the 20th century. It nadired in 1988, with the Lions ranking dead last with a -25.2% offensive DVOA. They gained just 3,405 offensive yards, the second-lowest total in the 16-game era (RIP), and only hit 20 points three times. "What does a coach have to do to get fired around here?" Rogers quipped to the media, and it turns out, uh, it was that. That was enough. He was gone midway through the 1988 season.

In 1989, Lions added Barry Sanders, the Heisman Trophy-winner from Oklahoma State. The third overall pick in the 1989 draft, Sanders hit the ground running—he's one of only 11 players to have at least 30 touchdowns in his first two seasons. History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

New head coach Wayne Fontes—who had been quietly keeping the defense working while Rogers' offense was floundering—was the one pounding the table to draft Sanders, and that wasn't his only savvy draft move. He gradually built up quite a collection of talent through the draft, with Bennie Blades, Chris Spielman, and Jerry Ball all drafted between 1987 and 1989. That culminated in the 1991 team that went 12-4 and ended a game short of the Super Bowl. The 1990s Lions never could put together much success in the postseason, but at least they were significantly less depressing to watch than their 1980s counterparts.


No. 51: 1973-1980 Green Bay Packers

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 42-72-4 (.373)
Average DVOA: -13.3%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -19.4%
Three last-place finishes in the NFC Central
Head Coaches: Dan Devine, Bart Starr
Key Players: WR James Lofton, T Dick Himes, G Gale Gillingham, C Larry McCarren, LB Fred Carr, LB Jim Carter, CB Willie Buchanon, CB Ken Ellis, S Johnnie Gray, S Steve Luke
Z-Score: -6.02

When we did the dynasty project last offseason, the Packers were all over it. They had five separate entries from five different decades. They had two separate teams in the top 10. No other franchise in NFL history had had as much success, and as much distributed success, as the Packers. Almost everyone, no matter their age, can remember a classic Packers team while they were growing up. Green Bay simply has had an unparalleled record of success.

And that makes the generation between Vince Lombardi's Packers and Mike Holmgren's Packers so interesting; it's this massive gap in the history of Titletown USA. The Packers had experienced periods of failure before—astute readers will note that they had two teams on our initial list—but this is their only slump in the modern era, with only four winning seasons in 24 years. The 1980s Packers just thrived in mediocrity, going 8-8 four times and generally being forgettable. The 1970s Packers were certainly not that.

Dan Devine was the first Green Bay coach to follow Vince Lombardi and his disciples, and he had some immediate success in the early 1970s. Green Bay reached the 1972 postseason, which may have ended up doing more harm than good. See, Devine's Packers lost to Washington in a very particular way. With no passing game to speak of, Washington just loaded the box and shut down 1,000-yard rusher John Brockington entirely—he had just 9 yards. That loss really ate away at Devine, and when the quarterback platoon of Scott Hunter and Jerry Tagge did nothing of note in 1973, Devine made his move, trading two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a third-round pick to the Rams for quarterback John Hadl.

OK, a couple things…

First, Hadl wasn't the Packers' first choice. They wanted Archie Manning, who had just been benched in New Orleans. An injury to Bobby Scott forced Manning back into the lineup for the Saints, and the Packers panicked a little before settling on Hadl. Manning made the Pro Bowl multiple times in the late 1970s; seeing him go to Green Bay would have been fascinating.

Secondly, Hadl was beyond washed up. While Hadl is historically underrated, he was 34 years old in 1974 and was dealing with a dead arm. Hadl was later quoted as saying he "didn't think anyone would be that desperate" to trade for him, especially not for such value. Hadl had even thrown two interceptions against the Packers eight days before the trade. I suppose his 59 passing yards looked fantastic compared to Tagge's 17 in that game, but still. This was the run-first 1970s; if there was ever a time to devalue the passing game, this was it.

Hadl played just a year and a half for the Packers and had basically nothing left; he threw 21 interceptions in 1975. Not that Devine cared—he left after the 1974 season to take the Notre Dame job, meaning he never had to deal with the results of the trade. His replacement was Bart Starr, a beloved legend and a throwback to the Lombardi days, but someone by his own admission entirely unprepared to be a professional coach. By the end of the 1970s, the Rams had turned the Hadl trade into a mini-dynasty of their own, while the Packers were the laughingstock of the league, somewhere teams could threaten to trade players in order to enforce good behavior. Moral of the story: don't sell the future over the promise of a quick fix. Or, if you do, at least have an escape plan back to the college ranks.

The Fabulous Five

Before we go, there are five active franchises which did not make the main table, because they have never had a run of even 30 anti-dynasty points. The rest of us are all here moaning about the worst years for our favorite teams, while these jokers get to dance on by as if they'd never had a painful season. Well, I'm not having it! We have to at least have a chance to acknowledge their worst stretches of football. Here are the five never-failures, ranked from most to least impressive:

  • The 1996-1998 Baltimore Ravens struggled some to get off the ground, inheriting, as they did, the baggage from the ex-Cleveland Browns. The Ravens don't get to 30 anti-dynasty points even if you include the final Browns years, but those first three Ted Marchibroda seasons were rough. Baltimore went just 16-31-1 while playing at the old Memorial Stadium, waiting for their new home to be completed. That's good for 15 anti-dynasty points, the lowest total for any franchise. Brian Billick arrived in 1999; the next year, the Ravens were Super Bowl champions.
     
  • The 1997-2002 Carolina Panthers just miss our countdown with 28 anti-dynasty points. While Carolina shockingly made the NFC Championship Game in their second year of existence, that was very much an outlier compared to the rest of the team's early years. Carolina went 34-62 in the six-year stretch between that championship game and their Super Bowl XXXVIII appearance, including a pitiful 1-15 season. These are the teams which knocked George Seifert down from his perch as winningest coach in modern NFL history; it turns out, it's a lot harder to win games without Joe Montana or Steve Young under center! Had the Panthers lost one more game in any of these six seasons, they would have hit 30 points and qualified for the main table.
     
  • The 1991-1996 Seattle Seahawks had no offense. In fact, there were times when it felt like no offense would have been better than what Seattle actually managed to trot out; the 1992 Seahawks, led by Stan Gelbaugh had a passing DVOA of -61.2%, worst in history (or at least, history since 1950). They were somewhat bailed out by a top-five defense led by Cortez Kennedy, which helped keep them … "respectable" may be the wrong word, but at least somewhat competitive. Outside of 1992, this was a six- or seven-win team. They went 36-60 over this six-year stretch, resulting in 24 anti-dynasty points.
     
  • The 1966-1969 Miami Dolphins struggled as an expansion team in the AFL, going 15-39-2 before the merger, with two seasons below an estimated -30.0% DVOA. Many of the ingredients for the great early 1970s teams were there, though—Bob Griese, Jim Kiick, Dick Anderson, Norm Evans, Howard Twilley, and so on and so forth. What they didn't have was Don Shula, who joined the team as they merged into the NFL in 1970. Shula's teams immediately became 10-win playoff contenders, capping this era off at 27 anti-dynasty points.
     
  • But it's the 1961-1963 Minnesota Vikings who take the crown as the most impressive of the five; the franchise that has existed the longest without ever being truly terrible. It took just four seasons for Minnesota to rack up its first winning season, and its record of 10-29-2 early on only nets them 22 anti-dynasty points. More so than any other franchise, the Vikings have just never been very bad for very long. They have only had five seasons with more than 10 losses in their history. They're not terrible—they're heartbreaking, or disappointing, or underachieving, however you want to think about it. If this were a list of the most agonizing teams in history (note to self, possible list for next year), the Vikings would be at or near the very top. But if you don't care much for postseason success, and just want your team to win more often than they lose, year-in and year-out, the Vikings are the team for you. My God have mercy on your soul.

Comments

63 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2021, 3:33pm

1 Obviously, unless you were a…

Obviously, unless you were a fan during those periods, most of us don't remember much about the perennial sad sacks besides they were sad sacks. Here I mean the particular warts they had.

I am going to predict that the ressurrected Browns are going to top this list.

6 I don't know, The 1983-1997…

I don't know, The 1983-1996 Buccaneers put together an impressive and sustained period of incompetence.  They're like the photo-negative of the 2001-2019 Patriots in that they spanned multiple player careers, and two decades.  I bet they'll beat out the 1976-1978 team simply based on longevity (John McKay and Doug Williams managed to pull the franchise up to suprising respectability from '79-'82).

2 I'm just surprised the early…

I'm just surprised the early Steelers had enough consecutive winning seasons to not run away with this list. From their birth in 1933 to 1971, they played in one playoff game, which they lost 21-0. 1958 (7-4-1) and 1959 (6-5-1), and 1962 (9-5, impressive) and 1963 (7-4-3) really ruined this series for me. They cut Johnny Unitas after all.

5 This is true if you do not…

This is true if you do not count the 1962 Playoff Bowl, and you absolutely should not count the 1962 Playoff Bowl, being a battle between the two conference runners-up.  The Steelers' official webpage does in fact talk about Bobby Layne leading the team to the 'postseason'!  

The Steelers will come up later (MUCH later), but some of those late '50s/early '60s teams were playoff-caliber...by today's standards, with expanded postseasons.  That's why it's not just one continuous run throughout the entire pre-Steel Curtain era.

7 Corrections: Under "key…

Corrections:

Under "key players" for the 80's Lions, you have K Mike Cofer. You probably mean OLB Mike Cofer, not the 49ers kicker of the same name.

8 Thanks for putting this…

Thanks for putting this together Bryan. These jaunts through NFL history are a welcome diversion from watching OTA hype videos of unpressured quarterbacks throwing to wide receivers being covered by air.

9 1970s 49ers

This is great stuff, Bryan, although I wouldn't expect anything else from you. The Jim Plunkett saga really sums up the 1970s 49ers and the voyage of a lot of other bad teams. In 1976, the Niners traded three first round picks (!), a second rounder, and their second-string quarterback to the Patriots for Plunkett. He led the 49ers to the 8-6 season you described above, then quickly fell out of favor and was released after the following season. Three years later, he won the Super Bowl.

Overpay? Check. Overreact to short-term results? Check. Watch the player succeed with a team that knows what it's doing? Check.

11 That's Joe Thomas for you. …

In reply to by Boots Day

That's Joe Thomas for you.  Clear the locker room of everyone who could possibly doubt him, and be shocked when all the veterans were gone.

And the thing is, Joe Thomas was a legit good personnel guy.  He helped build the teams that would become the Purple People Eater Vikings and the 17-0 Dolphins, though he was gone in both cases before the going got good.  But as a general manager, both in San Francisco and Baltimore, he just felt a need to get rid of every veteran he could find -- The Man Who Traded Johnny Unitas is a hell of an epithet to carry around, even if Unitas was toast at that point in time.  

Fortunately, these days are in the past, and the 49ers no longer have personnel guys who are so confident in their abilities to gauge players that they trade multiple first-round picks for quarterbacks.

20 I doubt it; that was only 5…

I doubt it; that was only 5 years.  2 of them were horrid, the 1992 2-14 year, and 1990 was an all-time embarrassment, 1-15 with scandals plaguing the team all year.  But Parcells came in 1993, and in 1994 they made the playoffs.  While those down years included Berry's last year, I wouldn't throw much blame at him.

27 1990 and 1992 were horrid…

1990 and 1992 were horrid enough, that the whole 5 years might be enough to buy them entry into this elite club (I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's quote here).

"While those down years included Berry's last year, I wouldn't throw much blame at him"

This isn't about casting blame, it's just about compiling bad seasons, which often include either the last or first seasons of an otherwise successful coach (and at least by objective measures, Berry's tenure was pretty successful).  In the former case, it's usually a coach that suffers when previously good players age/retire without being replaced, and in the latter case, it's when the new coach needs some time to clean up the mess left by his predecessor.  For example, the Chargers on this list include Don Coryell's last year, and the 49ers include Bill Walsh's first year.

The Patriots teams in question, have both.  Berry was 5-11 his last year (1989), and Parcells was 5-11 in his first year (1993).

33 Looking at the chart from…

Looking at the chart from the original article, that era (or error) of Patriots football made it onto the list.  It wasn't very high, so the next article will probably include those five years.  The Patriots did have another anti-dynasty with more points (They were not very good from the mid to late 60s until 1976 or so).  So my original belief was wrong.

35 Yea I only recently realized…

Yea I only recently realized that the previous article contains a complete list, although I got the impression from the arrival that it won’t strictly be based on anti-dynasty points, so the order will be a little different.

37 Exactly.  The list in the…

Exactly.  The list in the previous article sums up the quantity of badness -- a "you must be this bad to ride this ride" sort of thing.  The rankings in these articles are more concerned with quality of badness.  Two teams can have the same record but be totally different in terms of performance.  Two teams can have the same number of anti-dynasty points, but one gets there with a string of 6-10 seasons for a decade and another gets there with 2-14 seasons for half as long.  We're trying to sort the Gale Sayerses from the Vinny Testaverdes, or something like that.

Obviously, teams that generated a bunch of anti-dynasty points also tend to be of very low quality, so don't expect, like, the Browns or Saints to pop up before we get close to the end.  But there are some of those five- or six-year runs that were bad enough to shoot way up the final rankings compared to teams like the ones we're talking about today. 

41 obviously it was joking, but

obviously it was joking, but it was based on an article awhile back on here where they were listing the worst losses ever and somehow I think Aaron or someone argued that that distinction should go to the Patriots losing to the Giants in 2007 because of the perfect season at stake or whatever, and it was just seemed ridiculous to take the winningest franchise ever and then they have to argue that not only are they the winningest but they also win at having the wost loss too....     

So as long as the Patriots don't end up with the #1 anti-dynasty....

54 Plus, the Patriots did have…

Plus, the Patriots did have a perfect season -- they were 16-0. They lost in the postseason.

Similarly, before 2007, the record of the 1972 Dolphins was always given as 14-0. Their 'perfect season' consisted of never losing in the regular season. What happened after that was irrelevant to that particular achievement.

It was only after 2007 that folks who disliked the Patriots suddently decided that the postseason counted, too, and you got people claiming the Patriots didn't have a 'perfect season'.

55 This is false; "17-0"…

This is false; "17-0" absolutely predates the 2007 Patriots.

Here is some evidence:

  • The 30:27 mark of this NFL Films video of the 1985 Bears' season features a Dolphins fan holding a sign saying 'The Bears will never know "17-0"' (during the game in which Miami handed Chicago their only loss).
  • This AP article from 1990 is titled "Sunday Special: 17-0 Remembering a Perfect Season".
  • This Washington Post article from 1985 contains the sentence, "The '72 Dolphins (17-0) were the most recent team to post an unbeaten season."

57 It was a thing even in 1972

Because if Garo Yepremian made that field goal, the score would have been 17-0, which would have been the perfect cap to a perfect season.     So 17-0 definitely got mentioned.

Plus, there had already been an unbeaten regular season way back when that ended with IIRC the Bears losing to Washington in the NFL title game.

Arguments that count postseason for records always baffle me, e.g., when people mention most rushing yards by as quarterback in a game, they still mention Vick (in overtime, to boot), not Kaepernick.

59 There have been a number of…

There have been a number of unbeaten regular seasons in NFL history; the '72 Dolphins were the only ones to bring it across the postseason finish line.  That was certainly a goal, even at the time; 17-0 was a contemporary claim.

In addition to the 2007 Patriots (16-0, lost in the Super Bowl), you have two other teams who had undefeated regular seasons, but lost in the
postseason:
1934 Bears (13-0, lost in the NFL Championship)
1942 Bears (11-0, lost in the NFL Championship)

And then you have four other teams which claimed winning percentages of 1.000, because ties weren't counted in the standings until 1972:
1920 Akron Pros (8-0-3)
1922 Canton Bulldogs (10-0-2)
1923 Canton Bulldogs (11-0-1)
1929 Packers (12-0-1)

The '72 Dolphins remain special as the only ones to have finished the job.

18 I really enjoyed this

and look forward to the next installments.

BTW what better place to plug the new Loser League.

hmmmm Maybe a Loser League anti-dynasty mode?

and by all means do the heartbreak piece next year.

21 Wayne Fontes

The one thing I really remember about Wayne Fontes was his uncanny knack of always doing the "dumbest possible thing" during games. "The dumbest possible thing would be to go for it here"...bam, Lions go for it. "The dumbest possible thing would be to try a FG here"...bam, Lions line up to kick. "A play-action pass would be the dumbest possible call here"...play-action pass. Sometimes he proved me wrong, sometimes he proved me right but it was every single time, I swear.

22 Gameday management wasn't…

In reply to by lenny65

Gameday management wasn't Fonte's forte.  He's 99th out of 131 coaches in our Historical Aggressiveness Index, to have just one statistical example:

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2021/historical-aggressiveness-index-1983-2020

 

But his players mostly loved him, and he did a good job at talent recognition.  He was just worst at the part of the job that is most visible.

31 I remember one game against…

I remember one game against New England in 1994 when Fontes went for a 4th and 1 in the least advantageous situation possible (his own 23 yard line).  Of course they got stuffed, and Pats scored a touchdown.  I don't think he ever went for a 4th down again after that.  The process was bad, but he took away the entirely wrong lesson from the results.

Bobby Ross took over from him, and while Ross was a much better gameday coach, he was a terrible talent evaluator (he had full personnel control).  Sanders retiring was ostensibly not his fault, but Ross also got rid of or didn't try to re-sign a lot of the good players from the previous regime (which Sanders has said in interviews contributed to his reasons for retiring).  Ross got some decent results from some pretty talent-poor teams, but that lack of talent was actually his fault!

34 Ah, the old memory strikes…

In reply to by Travis

Ah, the old memory strikes again!  Yea, going for it on your opponent’s 38 is the perfect place to go for it.  Your own 38....not so much.

60 The thing I remember about…

The thing I remember about the Fontes Lions was they always seemed to start the season slowly and then finish hot just in time to save Fontes' job. Apparently, the players mostly loved Fontes and it was a running joke among them that they'd better start winning or they'd fire Fontes and replace him with some asshole. Which is pretty much what happened.

28 He's not even close to the…

In reply to by lenny65

He's not even close to the worst Lions coach in history. In my lifetime the Lions had Belichick Jr, the 0-16 coach, and stone faced Jim Schwartz. I can't remember who the coach was but I remember a Lions coach making the dumbest decision years ago.In OT his team won the coin toss and he told them to kick the ball to take the wind. Turns out his team never saw the ball again. The wind didn't help his defense stop the opponent from scoring a TD.

29 "I can't remember who the…

"I can't remember who the coach was but I remember a Lions coach making the dumbest decision years ago.In OT his team won the coin toss and he told them to kick the ball to take the wind. Turns out his team never saw the ball again. The wind didn't help his defense stop the opponent from scoring a TD"

That would be the esteemed Marty Mornhinweg and his 5-27 record, in this game: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200211240chi.htm

So many (bad) memories of that time.

I lived in Chicago at the time, and local radio station would have listeners call in and vote for the Bears MVP of the each game, and that week, Marty Mornhinweg won in a landslide (Bears kicker Paul Edinger was a distant 2nd).

Remember the 2003 Seahawks-Packers Wildcard game, where during the OT coin toss, Matt Hasselbeck said, "We'll take the ball, and we're going to score."?  After that, my friends and I used to joke that in 2002 the Lions captain should have said, "We'll take the wind, and we're going to lose."

44 I remember watching the wind…

I remember watching the wind game.  What everyone forgets is that the Bears drove down to the Lions 35, where the Lions stopped them on a 3rd and 8.  However, there was a holding penalty on the Bears and Marty took it.  The Bears were in the middle of sending the punt team on the field (as opposed to trying a 53 yard FG into that wind).  I had taken the decision to take the wind calmly but taking that penalty was where I lost it.  Of course the Bears hit a pass for 16 yards, converted the fourth down, and went on to win.

45 You're right!  I had…

You're right!  I had forgotten all about the taking the penalty decision.   Mornhinweg was from the Holmgren coaching tree, but apparently he was to Holmgren as Patricia is to Belichick.  

30 To be fair to Jim Schwartz,…

To be fair to Jim Schwartz, I personally think he should get a little more credit than to be included amongst the worst Lions coaches.  His record is dragged down a bit by being contaminated by the nuclear fallout of the 2008 winless season (going 2-14 with the rebuilding-from scratch 2009 team).

The Suh Stomp and the Harbaugh Handshake-Gate were embarrassing moments, but his teams were mostly competitive on the field.  Undisciplined and erratic, but still competitive.  From 2010 to 2013, his teams' DVOAs were +2.1% (15th), +13.1% (10th), +3.1% (16th), and +1.9% (15th). 

All of this is to say that the Lions history of incompetence is rich enough that many other coaches would rank above (?below) him.  Outside of 2009, Schwartz's teams were never truly "bad" (at least according to DVOA....the 2012 team was 4-12 but was also dreadfully unlucky).

38 Yeah, Schwartz and Caldwell…

Yeah, Schwartz and Caldwell are both prime examples of the Lions ownership being way too impatient. Only two coaches to take the team to the playoffs in the past 2 decades, both fired after 4 seasons for no good reason whatsoever. Literally every other head coach for the Lions in the 21st century has to rank worse than them, and there's 4 of them (excluding Campbell obviously)!

I seriously feel bad for any head coach hired by the Lions. It's been the death of the head coaching career for every one of 'em. Seriously, no head coach hired by the Lions has ever coached another NFL team for the past 50 years.

39 "Schwartz and Caldwell are…

"Schwartz and Caldwell are both prime examples of the Lions ownership being way too impatient."

Both of them were fired by the Lion's GM at the time (Martin Mayhew and Bob Quinn).  Schwartz, you can kind of defend his firing, after the team collapsing in the 2nd half of 2013 (starting 6-3 and finishing 7-9).  Caldwell's firing, not so much.  A coach who was 36-28 in 4 years, with two playoff appearances, was fired so Bob Quinn could bring in his buddy (and we all know how that turned out).

Where the Lions ownership went wrong was being too patient, when it came to their firing unsuccessful GM's.  Our friend Matt Millen was only put out of his misery in the middle of the winless season, despite being demonstrably bad at his job for 8 years.  His predecessor held on to his job for 12 years, and the one before that had the job for 22 years!

There's something to be said for stability, but not the type of stability that comes from being dead in the water.

46 I dunno, to me it's pretty…

I dunno, to me it's pretty clear that the Lions ownership became pretty impatient for... something? after firing Millen, burning through coaches and GMs and given that Mayhew was fired immediately after Caldwell had a down year it's pretty obvious he was given a "win or you're out" order and that's why Schwartz was tossed. Despite Mayhew being, y'know, actually good at his job (as evidenced by the fact that other NFL teams continued to employ him, and in fact he's a GM again).

As in, I was used to the Lions being laughing stocks in the sense that I could actually remember their coaches/GMs cuz they were always the same (like the Bengals), but after Millen things changed a lot more rapidly.

But, I mean, let's be serious, the real problem with the Lions is nepotism/cronyism/whatever you want to call constantly hiring your friends/people you like, but I was just assuming that part wasn't gonna change.

58 After William Clay Ford died…

After William Clay Ford died and his wife took over (just prior to 2015), and she's the one who canned Mayhew after the team started 1-6.  I doubt the old man would have done so, because under him, changes happened at a glacial pace.  Things have happened much more quickly after the Ford matriarchs took over.  

23 Last sentence: *May God have…

Last sentence: *May God have mercy on Vikings fans. And yes, please.

This is great, look forward to the rest of the series.

25 Vikings

So while we can agree the expansion vikings, despite winning their first ever game, were probably the longest bad stretch, most Vikings fans (at least those around long enough) will tell you the 1984 Les Steckel Vikings were their worst team.      They were so bad that a football comedy that came out soon after featuring Robin Williams, probably written/filmed around that year, had a plot element in which the football obsessed Williams tries to catch glimpses of the worst monday night football matchup possible, that being a Falcons-Vikings game, IIRC they even had some inept footage though don't know if it was actual or staged stuff.

But it  wasn't a prolonged stretch, the team was in the playoffs in 1982 (well, who wasn't?) and in 1983 were still .500 (missing playoff by a game after starting season 6-2).   Then Grant retired, they hired Steckel at his recommendation (apparently worried they couldn't keep him if he wasn't promoted to HC), who then tried to run the team based on his marine boot camp experience.  They started 3-7 and were at least somewhat competetive then down the stretch they lost by an average score of 40-13 over their last 6 games (including the last snaps taken by Archie Manning, mostly running for his life).   Then Grant came back for 1985 and with basically the same roster beat the defending champion 49ers the first game, and finished 7-9 (almost beating the 85 Bears until that famous Jim McMahon comeback).    

I wonder if you could do season similarity scores based on various factors including record, prevous and following seasons, and various offense/defense things from the season, wonder if there are other one year blunders like that.

26 I haven't done a deep dive,…

In reply to by andrew

I haven't done a deep dive, but the closest I can think of is the 2018 Cardinals. 

They were preceded by the end of the relatively successful Bruce Arians era.  In 2017 they finished a respectable 8-8 with half of the season being quarterbacked by Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert (Palmer was injured halfway through the season and subsequently retired), including a road upset of the playoff-hopeful Seahawks in week 17.  Arians then retired (before he changed his mind, obviously).

After that, everyone knows about the 3-13 Josh Rosen/Steve Wilks disaster. 

In 2019, even though 5-10-1 is nothing to be proud of, they were a far more interesting and competitive team.

24 iPad

I see you have not displays yet, at least for the iPad.

42 There should be anti-dynasty…

There should be anti-dynasty points for bad owners. If so, the 1991-1996 Seattle Seahawks would be well up on the rankings. The owner tried to make the team so bad that he could move them to LA in the dead of night hoping that no one in Seattle would care!

But then, a number of other owners would score big anti-dynasty points too.
Let the bitching begin.

43 Yeah, there's plenty of…

Yeah, there's plenty of owner-dunking to come.  The Behring-Hoffman era of the Seahawks is...a disgrace might be taking things to far, but certainly not a good look for anyone involved.  But other owners have had similarly terrible reigns, complete with worse performances on the field.

47 The problem with ranking…

The problem with ranking owners is that in the case of legacy family-owned teams, the ownership doesn't change even if the names do. And there are a bunch of those.

So, I mean, it makes sense to rank owners of franchises that are more commodities than heirlooms, but I mean, how do you rank or consider the Browns, Fords, Davises, Hunts, or Bensons? If you group the Ford family together it'd be pretty damn hard to beat them as "bad owners" just looking at the record, for instance.

48 That 1977 Packers offense…

That 1977 Packers offense was so so bad. Team had 134 points on the season. 8th lowest points total in the franchise history. A history that goes back to 1921. The team scored 9.57 points per game. But that is inflated by the pick six, a punt return TD and a kick off return TD. So the offense was 8.29 ppg (I'm giving them the extra points). I believe it's offensive TD/game is the worst in franchise history as well.

Just so bad. 11 offensive TD. In a 14 game season. 0.786 per game.
134 points scored by the team. There were only 7 teams that were worse in the franchises history, 6 of those were from the 1920's. And this is a franchise with 100 years of history. Seven. So I figured I could do the minimal leg work and find out (mostly from pro-football-reference) how that scoring occurred.

1922 - 70 points in 10 games (7.00 ppg), 8 offensive TD, 3 FG. 0.800 offensive TD/game
1921 - 70 points in 6 games (11.66 ppg ), 7 offensive TD, 3 FG. 1.167 offensive TD/game
1923 - 85 points in 10 games (8.50 ppg), 10 offensive TD, 6 FG. 1.000 offensive TD/game
1924 - 108 points in 11 games (9.81 ppg), 14 offensive TD, 5 FG. 1.272 offensive TD/game
1927 - 113 points in 10 games (11.30 ppg), 15 offensive TD, 1 FG. 1.500 offensive TD/game
1949 - 114 points in 12 games (9.50 ppg), 12 offensive TD, 6 FG. 1.000 offensive TD/game
1928 - 120 points in 13 games (9.23 ppg), 15 offensive TD, 3 FG. 1.250 offensive TD/game
1977 - 134 points in 14 games (9.57 ppg), 11 offensive TD, 13 FG. 0.786 offensive TD/game

1922, the 2nd year of the franchise, they only managed 0.8 offensive TD/game. Playing 1920's football. A side note that team also got a TD when Curly Lambeau, yes that Lambeau, blocked a punt in the endzone for a TD which PFR lists as "Other TD". 1977 managed to be worse than that.

But 1977 managed to be worse than that. FG were a thing in the 70's and that plus 3 non offensive TD, saved the team from the worst ppg ranks against 1920's and start of the worst anti-dynasty in franchise hist 1940's football.

What about in context of the league and defenses?
Well it was -9.1 by OSRS. 1948 and 1949 are worse for the Green and Gold at -10.8 and -13.3 (which are horrendous anything worse than -6.0 is an awful offense, -13.3 might be in competition for the worst OSRS ever for any team).
* 1949 is in the above list, 20 points behind 77 in 2 fewer games. But almost a quarter offensive TD a game better. 5 of 20 on FG was not good in the lates 40's though and neither were some of their opponents defenses so SRS really doesn't like 1949.
* 1948 they had 154 points, 20 ahead of 77 in 2 fewer games. Again 6 of 16 not good for FG. The 19 offensive TD were still way ahead of the 77 team. But when 31 of those points come against the Boston Yanks who gave up 49, 59, 45, and 51 in other games it's not as impressive. Ditto the 33 against the Detroit Lions who also had games where they gave up 44, 34, 56, 46, 42, and 45.

The 1948 - 1958 Packers are going to show up in a later article too. They got that anti-dynasty off with style-less offense. So for 1977 to be in a competition with those years, and be the worst TD/game offense in franchise history is pretty special.

1946 was the 4th worst OSRS at -6.8. Nothing else the franchise did was ever worse than -6.0 after those 3 teams from the 1940's and the 77 offering.

Some more context for the -9.1 OSRS. Detroit, they are on the poster for inept franchises, was only worse than that once. They pulled off a -12.3 in 1942. Next worst for them was -6.6 in 1979. But they have broken that -6.0 barrier 7 times total.

Jacksonville, who is also on that poster worst as well, was -8.1 in 2012 and 2018. Though they do have 6 seasons with -6.0 or worse. It's hard for a modern offense to hit -9 like the 77 Packers did, but it's not impossible.

Tampa Bay? They've been worse twice. A -10.8 in 1976 (first year of the franchise) and a -11.1 in yep 1977. 1977 was not a stellar year for offensives in the NFC Central (TB -11.1, GB -9.1, Detroit -4.4, Minnesota -1.0, Chicago 0.0). Since I've been doing the counting for the others 7 at -6.0 or worse.

Cleveland? They hit -9.1 in 2000, see modern offensives CAN do it. That's their worst but they have 8 at -6.0 or worse. Yes we know they are on the poster too.

So yes while there are worse offensives than the 1977 Packers (the 1977 Buccs for one, the 1992 Seahawks, the 1991 Colts come to mind as well) that offense stands out in Packers history. Listening to the "Season Highlights" video was hilarious too. The defense was 65th (at 0.4) by DSRS in franchise history so 1977 does come in as a perfectly cromulent midpoint for the teams second worst stretch of football.

49 Estimated DVOA gives the…

Estimated DVOA gives the Packers a -17.1% offensive DVOA in both 1976 and 1977, interestingly.  Both teams gained just 3.9 yards per play (24th and 25th in the league); but the 1976 Packers had a slightly more competent (if not good) defense, giving the '76 Packers better field position.

We'll get to those '40s offenses, too, but a lot of the problem there is Lambeau clinging on to the Notre Dame Box, a variant on the single wing.  That pushed the Packers to dominance in the '20s and '30s, but it was hopelessly outdated by the 1940s, and Lambeau couldn't find a way to modernize it (and refused to just abandon it).

Combining regular DVOA (accurate!), estimated DVOA (pretty accurate!), and SRS-to-DVOA (somewhat accurate!), here are the worst 10 offenses in Packers history:

1. 1949, -35.9% (Jud Girard/Tony Canadeo/Ted Cook)
2. 1948, -29.2% (Jack Jacobs/Canadeo/Clyde Goodnight)
3. 1950, -29.1% (Tobin Rote/Billy Grimes/Al Baldwin)
4. 1988, -27.1% (Don Majkowski/Brent Fullwood/Sterling Sharpe)
5. 1953, -20.6% (Rote/Breezy Reid/Billy Howton)
6. 1946, -18.4% (Irv Comp/Canadeo/Goodnight)
7. 1958, -17.5% (Babe Parilli/Paul Hornung/Max McGee)
8. 1976, -17.1% (Lynn Dickey/Willard Harrell/Ken Payne)
9. 1977, -17.1% (Dickey/Barty Smith/Steve Odom)
10. 1991, -16.3% (Mike Tomczak/Darrell Thompson/Sharpe)

50 Waitwaitwait. Those are the…

Waitwaitwait. Those are the worst Packers offenses of all time? The bottom half of that table would be better than any Jets offense in the past 3 years! Half of the entire Lovie Smith era Bears would end up on that list! The Packers seriously haven't had an offensive DVOA below -16.3% in 30 years??

Dear God, Packers fans are spoiled.

53 We are hugely spoiled! It's…

We are hugely spoiled!

It's a different kind of spoiled than how some other fans are spoiled, but yes, we are spoiled.

Our major complaint is only make 3 Super Bowls in the last 30 years. Our HoF QB's have been wasted. We had to endure 6 years of Mike Sherman coaching! The guy was only 57-39 regular season and 2-4 in the playoffs! It was torture! (OK he was a decent coach, but he was an awful GM).

So yeah that's different than how Pats fans have been spoiled by Brady/Belichick but we are spoiled rotten.

63 High variance

Majkowski was a high-variance QB like Foles or Fitzpatrick, but he also only started nine games. Randy Wright, a fine UW QB but should never be starting in the NFL, started the other seven games. Sharpe was a rookie. It was not pretty. 

52 Thanks! I could have dug…

Thanks!

I could have dug into the estimated DVOA, I don't know if the SRS to DVOA formula is available so I stuck with what I had easy access too for the quick dip into the past. I'm also aware that SRS is about scoring statistics at heart too. It's better than raw points or points per game, but yeah it doesn't fully capture offense. So it depends on the lens and even in the "best" framing 1977 was still awful. The defense and special teams didn't really help the offense a lot, but having the worst offensive TD/game in the history of an ancient franchise is still special even if estimated DVOA thinks it wasn't the worst of all time. Definitely looking forward to your deeper take on those 40's offenses.

Talking with my dad about those 76 and 77 offenses as well, they just felt hopeless to him. It wasn't until rookie James Lofton in 78 that there was some hope but 78 was still bad. David Whitehurst was not a good QB and the strange career of Lynn Dickey while a better option was still not great, even throwing to a HoF WR. But like you talked about the Devine/Starr/Gregg coaching/GMing was a major issue for those 70's and 80's squads.

I did technically see some of the games from 76 and 77 but I would have been 1.5 and 2.5 for the start of the season and while I have verifiable memories from when I was as young as 2 football games aren't among them.

I do have memories of 88 (13th worst OSRS, 4th DVOA, 35th in raw points at 240) and 91 (16th OSRS, 10th DVOA, 273 raw points). I guess because Sterling Sharpe always felt like he could do something and it always felt like if Majkowski could stay healthy that those offenses had a spark of great in them. That wasn't really the case, but it felt that way as a fan.

Majkowski was a mirage though, even when healthy he wasn't much above replacement QB in DVOA, though he did compile some major traditional stats when healthy and naive fans (like myself) enjoyed watching him. Majkowski was at a -9.9% DVOA in 88 but had 29 DYAR. The problem was Randy Wright with his -454 DYAR and -38.1% DVOA in his 7 starts. I actually don't remember the reasons for Wright getting 7 starts and Majkowski getting 9 in 88. We were still a divided household between the Bears and Packers (Bears had their training camp in my hometown and my brothers and I all worked at those in the summers) so there was a lot of watching both teams and my allegiance to the Packers wasn't fully firmed up yet until I got swept up by the "Majick man" in 89.

The 88 season did kinda prove an outlier as the 89 season jumped to 9.1% DVOA (6th) with a healthy Majkowski leading the league in comp/att/yards. He had his career best 4.5% TD rate too. Sure it was only 618 DYAR and 4.0% DVOA but 89 proved the naivety, Majkowski was the answer! The hope from 88 bore fruit! Everything was going to keep getting better!

90 they fell back to -13.7 DVOA but that was a weird year at QB too. Majkowski held out and while he was under contract by seasons start, they started Anthony Dilweg (from Duke he was really smart, seriously super smart, best smarts ever, at least according to like every newspaper article about him at the time) in week 1 and week 2. But when he didn't play well in week 2 Majkowski came back in. Majkowski, expectedly, was injured in week 11, so Dilweg came back and finished out the season, poorly. Majkowski was 78 DYAR and -7% DVOA on the season, Dilweg was -200 and -27%.

91 was full of injuries at QB, again. Majkowski started 8 games (Weeks 1-5 and 8-9) with Blair Kiel getting 1 start (started week 6 after playing most of 5 after Majkowski got hurt). When Majkowski went down again in week 9 Tomczak came in and then finished the season with 7 starts before getting hurt in week 16 and Majkowski finishing that game out. So that season kinda gets a pass in DVOA in my head a bit like 2013 and 2017 (in the more recent times). The truth is Majkowski was not good even when he played (some of that time playing injured sure but still) and they were better off without him. -422 DYAR, -39.4% DVOA for Majkowski. Tomczak was 69 DYAR, -6.7% DVOA. But he was still Majick man and Tomczak was a Bears cast off! Come on!

Maybe 91 gets a pass too because after it was over the team got rid of Braatz as GM and brought in Wolf. Wolf got rid of Infante at coach and brought in Holmgren. He traded for Favre so when Majkowski got injured again in week 3 of the 92 season and a back-up QB had to come off the bench everything was different, as we all now know. So yeah maybe I'm easier on 91 for being the wreck that ended the 73-80 anti-dynasty and the 81-85 lets just be 8-8 (seriously 8-8 every year but the 82 strike) and the 86-91 flashes of good around the piles of crap because our QB is always injured!

Nice to see the numbers though. As mentioned a lot of it is just looking at the history, but I do know when my Dad and I talk about the team he really rails on that 77 offense. So it does hold a place in my memory too.

56 No good Packer teams growing up

I don’t disagree with your assertion that the Packers have had sustained success across many decades. But I do disagree with your statement that anybody, regardless of when they were born, can remember a great Packer team while they were growing up.

I was born in 1962. I was 5 years old when the Packers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl II. I don’t remember anything about it.

The Packers weren’t good until I was in my THIRTIES. Growing up, they sucked. We thought they’d never be good again.

Thank God, we were wrong. Growing up it was all Cowboys, Steelers, Dolphins, Vikes, Raiders, and Rams. The Packers never even entered the conversation.

We were a lost generation.

61 92 Seahawks

I remember being in the Kingdome and hearing someone say in all seriousness "If the defense doesn't score on this drive, we don't have a shot!”