Kirk Cousins, the Vikings, and the Dynasties of Mediocrity

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Two years ago, this website proudly ranked the top dynasties of all time, granting the modern-day New England Patriots the title of most successful era in NFL history. And there was much rejoicing.

One year ago, this website proudly ranked the top anti-dynasties of all time, granting the modern-day Cleveland Browns the title of least successful era in NFL history. And there was much rejoicing.

On this, the most foolish of Aprils, we must complete the trifecta. We are gathered here to discover the most average era of football in NFL history. The teams that could not escape the gravitational pull of .500 football. The adequate, the forgettable, the occasionally regrettable. No trophies to honor, no top draft picks to whiff on. These teams dedicated themselves to neutrality and sufficiency in ways that are awe-inspiring to witness.

And, in the modern era, that's arguably worse than just bottoming out. Theoretically, if you crash to 2-14, you should get a high draft pick to find your next franchise signal-caller or shutdown corner or what have you and be able to bounce back to contention. But if you're stuck in 8-9 or 9-8 purgatory? Sure, maybe you'll pick up a few seventh seeds here and there; everyone makes the playoffs in the modern NFL. But without a true bottoming out, teams don't get the opportunity to trigger the rebuild they desperately need to actually compete for championships. They're stuck in an endless loop of talking themselves into running things back one more time, because hey, get a ticket to the postseason and anything can happen, right? They waste far too many assets on uninspiring players, and while they remain relevant in December, they're rarely so in January.

Yes, Vikings and Colts fans, we're talking about your teams. Not just yours. But yours, for sure. Let's dig in.


This exercise is, of course, completely ridiculous. It's based off of a joke made during a podcast last offseason, a joke that festered—like many of our jokes tend to do. But just because it's a joke doesn't mean it can't be a rigorous joke. We won't be counting down every team in great detail like we did for the dynasty lists—we may save that for a different project later this year—but we can at least explain how we got here.

To qualify for the rankings at all, a franchise must have at least five years hovering around .500. In a 16-game season, that means our target is between 7-9 and 9-7. That gets prorated and rounded for different season lengths; it's between 7-10 and 10-7 in today's 17-game environment, 6-8 and 8-6 in a 14-game season, and so on. That does mean a team can qualify despite consistently having a winning record, but being one game over .500 for years and years still seems fairly average to me, all things considered. This is regular-season only, so if a team slips into the playoffs at 8-8 and ends up winning a Super Bowl, good for them.

It's OK if a franchise occasionally slips out of that middling range, so long as they don't spend too long outside it. In a 16-game season, you can have up to two consecutive seasons of 10-6 or 6-10—two games away from .500—and still remain eligible for the list. But three of those seasons ends a run, as do consecutive seasons that fall even further out of that range; 11-plus wins or losses in a 16-game season. If either occurs, the run ends immediately, and we roll back to the last season around .500.

Those requirements give us 60 teams for our rankings, including five which are still active today. That's about how many teams qualified for both the dynasty and anti-dynasty rankings, so the net seems appropriately cast. Now we need to rank them.

We take eight factors into account when ranking the teams:

  • Duration: How long does a team hover around .500? It's more impressive if you're mediocre for 10 seasons instead of just five.
  • Win Percentage: How close to .500 were you? Our qualifying teams range from .594 down to .380, with some centers of gravity being far closer to 9-7 or 7-9 than 8-8. Our ideal teams end up balancing wins and losses.
  • Average and Middle-Five DVOA: Not all 8-8 teams are made equal. We're also factoring in each team's DVOA, both over the full length of the run and over the five seasons closest to zero. DVOA isn't required to qualify for the list, but it will separate the lucky from the truly average. These have double weight, each counting for 20% of the final score. We're using actual DVOA from 1981 to 2021, Andreas Shepard's estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1980, and my Simple Rating System-to-DVOA conversions for 1920 to 1949.
  • DVOA and Record Variance: We're not looking for teams which end up looking average thanks to wildly swinging between being good and bad. We're looking for consistent mediocrity on a year-in, year-out basis. The 2013-2017 Lions had a DVOA between -11.2% and 9.0% every year, even when they went 11-5. They should score higher than the 2010-2015 Rams, who dipped as far as -33.1% in a 2-14 season.
  • Mediocre Record and DVOA Seasons: While many of these runs include 11-5 or 4-12 years, we want to reward teams that stuck around average the longest. We're counting any season with a single-digit DVOA, as well as any season with the equivalent of seven to nine wins in a 16-game season, which we're calling "mediocre seasons." This gives extra credit to those blander franchises rather than ones that just floated around average without ever hitting it.

Take all eight datapoints, calculate how many standard deviations they are from the mean team on the list, add them all together, and you get the final rankings.

The Null Set

In previous years, we would just list the qualifiers here and slowly reveal their rankings over the course of the next month. As this is just one article, however, here's the full list of the most average teams of all time, including their final score.

The Most Average Dynasties of All Time
Years Team Seasons W L T Win% Avg
Mid 5
1949-1961 Pittsburgh Steelers 13 71 82 5 0.465 -2.6% 0.3% 11 11 13.70
1971-1985 Detroit Lions 15 97 118 4 0.452 -1.7% 0.3% 9 13 12.17
1978-1991 Seattle Seahawks 14 112 104 0 0.519 -0.7% -0.9% 10 10 11.75
1986-1999 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders 14 110 113 0 0.493 1.6% 0.1% 8 10 11.12
1980-1993 Pittsburgh Steelers 14 113 103 0 0.523 1.3% 2.5% 9 9 10.81
1986-1999 Miami Dolphins 14 125 98 0 0.561 3.5% -0.1% 10 9 10.48
1976-1983 Chicago Bears 8 57 60 0 0.487 -1.2% 1.0% 7 4 6.76
1979-1984 Kansas City Chiefs 6 41 48 0 0.461 1.3% -0.3% 6 4 6.13
1996-2002 Washington Redskins 7 56 55 1 0.504 -0.9% 0.9% 4 5 5.95
1982-1990 New Orleans Saints 9 70 66 0 0.515 1.5% 0.8% 6 6 4.53
1956-1962 San Francisco 49ers 7 46 40 2 0.534 3.1% 1.5% 5 6 4.33
2007-2013 Chicago Bears 7 60 52 0 0.536 1.3% 1.7% 5 5 4.26
2001-2008 New Orleans Saints 8 60 68 0 0.469 -2.2% 1.4% 5 6 3.93
1978-1985 Green Bay Packers 8 55 63 3 0.467 -6.6% -0.8% 4 6 3.59
1977-1983 Atlanta Falcons 7 53 50 0 0.515 -2.5% -3.3% 5 5 2.90
1997-2009 Carolina Panthers 13 98 110 0 0.471 -4.3% 2.1% 5 8 2.75
1991-1997 Minnesota Vikings 7 64 48 0 0.571 5.3% 1.4% 4 5 2.58
1978-1987 Minnesota Vikings 10 71 80 1 0.470 -5.5% -3.0% 4 9 2.47
2013-2017 Detroit Lions 5 43 37 0 0.538 2.4% 2.4% 4 4 2.41
1962-1970 Washington Redskins 9 50 69 7 0.425 -7.6% 0.3% 5 5 2.29
2003-2007 Minnesota Vikings 5 40 40 0 0.500 -3.6% -3.6% 2 4 2.23
2015-2021 Indianapolis Colts 7 57 56 0 0.504 -1.9% -0.7% 3 4 2.10
1975-1981 Washington Redskins 7 59 47 0 0.557 5.1% 2.2% 5 4 2.00
2008-2014 San Diego Chargers 7 63 49 0 0.563 4.6% 0.9% 3 6 1.92
1994-2000 Detroit Lions 7 55 57 0 0.491 3.0% -0.9% 5 4 1.58
1968-1974 Green Bay Packers 7 45 48 5 0.485 1.3% 2.1% 3 4 1.52
1966-1971 San Diego Chargers 6 43 36 0 0.544 2.1% -1.1% 3 4 1.44
2012-2016 New Orleans Saints 5 39 41 0 0.488 2.4% 2.4% 3 4 1.34
2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys 9 81 63 0 0.563 7.5% 2.9% 5 6 0.71
1925-1931 Providence Steam Roller 7 41 32 11 0.554 -5.6% -0.5% 4 4 0.51
2006-2011 Denver Broncos 6 44 52 0 0.458 -6.1% -3.3% 4 5 0.49
2015-2021 Philadelphia Eagles 7 58 54 0 0.518 2.0% 1.8% 3 5 0.18
2014-2021 Minnesota Vikings 8 72 56 1 0.562 6.3% -1.4% 4 5 0.02
2015-2021 Washington Football Team 7 48 64 1 0.429 -7.7% -1.4% 4 6 -0.01
1993-1997 Philadelphia Eagles 5 41 38 1 0.519 4.5% 4.5% 4 2 -0.01
2015-2019 Atlanta Falcons 5 43 37 0 0.538 2.5% 2.5% 3 3 -0.06
2000-2008 Buffalo Bills 9 60 84 0 0.417 -5.0% -5.2% 6 6 -0.49
2006-2013 New York Giants 8 73 55 0 0.570 6.1% 5.0% 4 5 -0.74
1994-2006 Kansas City Chiefs 13 120 88 0 0.577 14.4% 1.8% 5 8 -0.95
1997-2004 Baltimore Ravens 8 68 59 1 0.535 9.4% 3.1% 5 3 -0.98
2003-2007 Cincinnati Bengals 5 42 38 0 0.525 6.4% 6.4% 3 4 -1.35
1979-1983 Buffalo Bills 5 40 33 0 0.548 4.4% 4.4% 2 3 -1.63
2008-2013 New York Jets 6 51 45 0 0.531 3.4% 7.8% 2 4 -2.75
1995-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9 80 64 0 0.556 7.7% 3.9% 3 4 -2.80
2010-2015 St. Louis Rams 6 36 59 1 0.380 -6.5% -1.2% 4 4 -3.42
1988-1993 New York Jets 6 38 57 1 0.401 -6.7% -2.5% 3 3 -4.09
2016-2021 Denver Broncos 6 39 58 0 0.402 -8.0% -5.0% 3 3 -4.27
1946-1953 Washington Redskins 8 38 54 3 0.416 -13.0% -8.4% 3 4 -5.73
1952-1957 New York Giants 6 38 32 2 0.542 4.3% 9.2% 1 4 -5.98
1997-2002 New York Jets 6 57 39 0 0.594 12.0% 8.8% 3 4 -6.31
1965-1972 New York Giants 8 49 62 1 0.442 -9.8% -5.2% 3 5 -7.07
1989-1993 Cleveland Browns 5 32 47 1 0.406 -3.3% -3.3% 3 3 -7.09
1922-1926 Buffalo All-Americans 5 21 23 8 0.481 -5.9% -5.9% 2 4 -7.38
2002-2006 St. Louis Rams 5 41 39 0 0.513 -11.1% -11.1% 2 3 -8.24
1966-1971 Chicago Bears 6 32 49 3 0.399 -8.8% -5.8% 1 4 -8.33
2007-2011 Arizona Cardinals 5 40 40 0 0.500 -10.4% -10.4% 1 3 -8.50
1970-1974 Cincinnati Bengals 5 37 33 0 0.529 13.0% 13.0% 2 3 -9.97
1988-1996 Indianapolis Colts 9 64 80 0 0.444 -19.6% -7.6% 4 7 -10.06
1993-2001 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals 9 55 89 0 0.382 -21.9% -13.6% 1 5 -14.78
2007-2011 Philadelphia Eagles 5 46 33 1 0.581 21.2% 21.2% 0 3 -17.94

A Brief History Lesson

Most of the teams on the list are of older vintage, but not that old. We give a special shout-out to the Buffalo All-Americans and Providence Steam Roller for qualifying from the 1920s; this is an era where teams were folding left and right and parity wasn't a thing. To stick around .500 for that long in a league where teams were lucky to last more than a season is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself. You don't see any other teams from the 1920s or 1930s, with Washington and Pittsburgh just barely squeaking in during the late 1940s, when the league was beginning to settle down long enough to the point where teams folding was no longer a concern. It's also just after the common draft began in 1936, which is important—one of the ways mediocre teams stay mediocre is by using middling draft picks. That's not a factor when any team can sign anyone they want straight out of college.

You'll also notice that the top eight teams, and 15 of the top 20, start their runs before 1993. That's the year true free agency began in the NFL, giving teams another pathway out of being average. Before that, player movement was highly restricted; only one player from 1920 to 1962 actually moved in something like free agency, and R.C. Owens jumping ship from San Francisco to Baltimore so angered owners that they made a new rule that gave the commissioner rights to unilaterally award compensation to the team losing a player. That led to years of lawsuits, and the Right of First Refusal, and Plan B Free Agency, and all sorts of things designed to stop player movement.

But in 1993, all that goes away, and we get the free agency we know and love today, where you can just go out and sign Terron Armstead or Von Miller or Chandler Jones rather than trying to find a player in the middle of the first round of the draft. That gives teams another ticket out of mediocrity, for better or for worse—whether that's bringing in new players, or seeing their starters leave town. I think this means we have seen the end of the age of extreme mediocrity, as it's just so hard to stay average with so much player movement today. It means we should give more props to Norv Turner's Washington, Lovie Smith's Bears or Jim Haslett's Saints; to maintain mediocrity for so long in the modern era is a rare skill indeed.

Mediocre Champions

While finalizing this article, it was suggested that any team that played in a Super Bowl should be automatically excluded. After all, the goal of every team is to win titles, and if you're getting to the championship game, that should override surrounding mediocrity. There are arguments for and against that, but it leads to some interesting observations if we keep champion teams in, so that's what we're ultimately doing.

Seven of the 60 teams to qualify for the Mediocre Dynasty list ended up at least playing for the title. One is the 1928 Providence Steam Roller, back in an era when you could schedule your own games and would often play on back-to-back days; I don't think we can learn much from an 8-1 team topping an 11-3 team.

The other six are interesting. In the 20th century, no Mediocre Dynasty team ever reached a championship game; no Super Bowls, no NFL or AFL Championships, nothing. But since the advent of free agency, the salary cap, and easier player movement, we have seen it happen seven times: the 2000 Ravens, the 2002 Buccaneers, the 2007 and 2011 Giants, the 2008 Cardinals, the 2016 Falcons, and the 2017 Eagles. Are those individual teams mediocre? Well, the Giants would seem to qualify with their 1.4% and 7.3% regular-season DVOAs, and the Cardinals had a -4.0% DVOA when they went to the Super Bowl, so no complaints about sticking them onto the list. But those Ravens are sometimes grouped in with the best teams of all time, and the Buccaneers have the second-highest DVOA for any team on this countdown. The Falcons and Eagles teams weren't exactly scrubs, either.

I think the fact that those four teams qualified for the rankings despite a Super Bowl appearance shows how much easier it is today to go from an average team to a contender—and just how much harder it is to keep that contender together. Dan Quinn's back-to-back playoff appearances were bookended by two seasons apiece of six- to eight-win football. The Eagles' Super Bowl victory is their only double-digit-win season since 2015. The Ravens' championship floats in a sea of six-, seven- and eight-win seasons as they washed off the residual Browniness of the franchise. Even the Buccaneers' championship came after years of getting stalled out in the postseason.

These four teams' championship years stand out like sore thumbs amidst their surrounding seasons. The 2017 Eagles had a DVOA of 23.7%, ten points higher than their next-best season. The same can be said for the 2002 Buccaneers at 31.3%, while the 2000 Ravens' mark of 23.9% wasn't challenged until their very last season in their mediocre run. The Falcons take the cake; they were at 23.9% in their Super Bowl season but didn't top 5.0% in their other four years in their run. These aren't cases of very good teams finally putting things together; they're average teams who had everything click for one season. That certainly qualifies them for entry into this club, even if they get to lord their shiny trophies over the rest of the class.

I think these teams' inclusion show the state of the NFL today. You don't have to be a perennial contender to win a title; you just need the breaks to fall your way. That might be a young quarterback blossoming for Cincinnati, or an old quarterback jumping ship for Los Angeles or Tampa Bay, but lots of teams can dream that this is the year that everything gels, even if you have been otherwise mired in mediocrity. The flip side of the coin is that sometimes your hot-shot offensive coordinator leaves town, or your MVP candidate quarterback forgets how to play football, or it turns out you don't get to play against your coaches' exact old playbook in the championship next season because most teams are smarter than the 2002 Oakland Raiders, my goodness. In an era of parity, anyone can win a title, or at least jump out to a 28-3 lead.

Of course, I'm making these arguments because none of these teams finished above 30th in the mediocre dynasty rankings; their championship season is enough in each case to knock them well down the list, even if they do technically still qualify. Had the numbers chunked out to show that the two-time champion Giants were one of the five most mediocre teams of all time, well, I'd have changed methodology long before this got published!

2021's Average Quintet

The last team to end an average dynasty was the aforementioned 2015-2019 Falcons, the bottom falling out and sending Dan Quinn packing. That leaves five franchises currently in the midst of one of these mediocre runs. In ascending order…

The Denver Broncos have the shortest run of the five active teams, just starting in 2016—or mere seconds after Peyton Manning retired and the confetti from Super Bowl 50 had finished fluttering to the floor. Since then, Denver has turned to Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, and Teddy Bridgewater, backed up by a rapidly aging defense. The results have been, shall we say, less than then superb; a 39-58 record isn't good, and they have been below .500 ever since 2017. Only a pair of seven-win teams even keep them on this list, as they keep threatening to slip from bland to just plain bad. You can see why they were so eager to trade for someone at the quarterback position; Russell Wilson could well shoot them out the other side into the collection of good teams.

The Washington Commanders have been here basically since Kirk Cousins took over from Robert Griffin at quarterback (technically the run starts in Cousins' second year as a starter in 2015, but who's counting?). They have made the playoffs twice during this run, losing to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in the wild-card round. If it wasn't for their dreadful 2018-2019 stretch, where they were below -20.0% DVOA twice in a row, they'd rank higher. At least they're used to being in this position; Washington's 38 seasons on the average list is more than any other franchise.

And speaking of franchises who spend a lot of time on this list and also can blame Kirk Cousins, it's the Minnesota Vikings! The Vikings' current run of blandness starts in 2014 and matches the Mike Zimmer era perfectly. They're hurt a little by some moderate success—they're 72-56-1 over the past eight years, making them more 9-7 than 8-7. They even won a couple of playoff games over the Saints! But while you haven't been able to overlook Minnesota in recent years, you also haven't really had to look to hard at them, as they keep bringing back an aging roster year after unsuccessful year. They're second only to Washington in years on this list despite only being founded in 1961; they have picked up 13 years in the 21st century alone. Enjoy that $35-million Kirk Cousins extension, boys.

The Philadelphia Eagles are an odd duck, as their run includes their Super Bowl victory in 2017, which is almost perfectly counterbalanced by the 4-11-1 Carson Wentz disaster year of 2020. Scratch those two years out and the Eagles have won either seven or nine games every year since 2015; an impressive level of consistent blandness. Those two outlier years really do hurt them; they have the fifth-highest win variance on the list. But they do seem in position to rattle off a bunch more average years, which will help lower the impact of those outliers over time.

And speaking of Carson Wentz, hello Indianapolis Colts. The Colts run begins with Andrew Luck's health ends, and guides them through Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, and, yes, Carson Wentz. Inconsistency at the quarterback position is a huge part of staying in mediocrity, and it feels like Frank Reich's team has been a quality signal-caller away from breaking out of this slide for five years now. Fifth time's a charm with Matt Ryan, surely.

The Top Six

Since we're not doing individual articles for this—I'm fairly sure my editors would kill me if I wrote a thousand words on the 1980s Vikings—we have to finish off by shining a spotlight on the six most mediocre teams of all time.

No. 6: 1986-1999 Miami Dolphins

Record: 125-98 (.561)
Average DVOA: 3.5%
Middle-Five DVOA: -0.1%
Ten single-digit DVOA seasons; Nine mediocre records
Head Coaches: Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson
Key Players: QB Dan Marino, WR Mark Clayton, WR Mark Duper, T Richmond Webb, G Keith Sims, DE Jeff Cross, LB John Offerdahl, LB Bryan Cox
Z-Score: 10.48

When the Dolphins lost in Super Bowl XIX, no one thought it would be Dan Marino's last shot at a ring; the sophomore sensation was re-writing the record books on his way to being named MVP. But the defense let Marino down, both thoroughly and repeatedly. They finished 22nd or worse in defensive DVOA in nine of these 14 seasons, including finishing dead last four times. It's a credit to just how good Marino and those offenses were that the Dolphins were able to even reach mediocre overall numbers. They were in the top 10 in offensive DVOA every year from 1983 through 1997 … which meant they faded just in time for the defense to rebound some in 1998. So despite one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time under center, and two great coaches, Miami never had back-to-back double-digit-win seasons from 1986 until after Marino retired. The Dolphins made the playoffs more than your average mediocre team—seven times between 1990 and 1999. They went 5-7, only getting as far as the AFC Championship Game one time.

No. 5: 1980-1993 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 113-103 (.523)
Average DVOA: 1.3%
Middle-Five DVOA: 2.5%
Nine single-digit DVOA seasons; Nine mediocre records
Head Coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher
Key Players: T Tunch Ilkin, C Mike Webster, LB David Little, LB Bryan Hinkle, LB Robin Cole, LB Jack Lambert, LB Mike Merriweather, CB Rod Woodson, SS Donnie Shell
Z-Score: 10.81

Draw the Steel Curtain; the party's over. The Steelers won Super Bowl XIV after the 1979 season and next made the title game after the 1995 season. The years between were a decade of consistent decline. Over the first four years of the decade, the Steelers saw Rocky Bleier, Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Terry Bradshaw, and Mel Blount all retire, and that's just too much to replace at one time. But it wasn't just the loss of talent, it was the shift in the game, too—the expanded passing game caused by the 1978 rules change and the birth of the West Coast offense finally killed the Steelers' defense, forcing them to shift to a 3-4, and still they couldn't stop the Marinos and John Elways of the world. But they never really bottomed out; Noll and Cowher were too good to have total collapses, barring the 5-11 disaster in 1988. These Steelers were remarkably consistent in terms of DVOA, finishing between -8.9% and 14.5% in every one of these 14 seasons—right in the middle, where they belong.

No. 4: 1986-1999 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders

Record: 110-113 (.493)
Average DVOA: 1.6%
Middle-Five DVOA: 0.1%
Eight single-digit DVOA seasons; Ten mediocre records
Head Coaches: Tom Flores, Mike Shanahan, Art Shell, Mike White, Joe Bugel, Jon Gruden
Key Players: WR Tim Brown, G Steve Wisniewski, C Don Mosebar, DE Howie Long, DE Greg Townsend, DT Chester McGlockton
Z-Score: 11.11

The mid-1980s were a tumultuous time for the Raiders, even by Raiders standards. Al Davis accused Marcus Allen of faking injuries (which led to bringing in Bo Jackson); he fought constantly with Mike Shanahan in a feud which never really was resolved; he testified against the NFL in the USFL trial; he complained about the stadium and very nearly moved the team to Sacramento; he sued the NFL on multiple occasions over stadium issues and rights to the Los Angeles market. Things weren't much more stable on the field, as the flipped from Jim Plunkett to Marc Wilson to Jay Schroeder to Steve Beuerlein to Todd Marinovich to Jeff Hostetler to Jeff George to Donald Hollas to Rich Gannon behind center. Honestly, that sounds like a recipe for disaster all the way around, but no—the Raiders sprinkled a few highlights in their sea of third-place finishes in the AFC West, including a trip to the AFC Championship Game in 1990. A pair of double-digit-win seasons (and two double-digit-loss seasons) mean the Raiders just weren't quite consistently bland enough to crack the top three.

No. 3: 1978-1991 Seattle Seahawks

Record: 112-104 (.519)
Average DVOA: -0.7%
Middle-Five DVOA: -0.9%
Ten single-digit DVOA seasons; Ten mediocre records
Head Coaches: Jack Patera, Mike McCormack, Chuck Knox
Key Players: QB Dave Krieg, RB Curt Warner, WR Steve Largent, DE Jacob Green, DE Jeff Bryant, NT Joe Nash, LB Fredd Young, CB Dave Brown, SS Kenny Easley
Z-Score: 11.75

The Seahawks got their act together pretty quickly for an expansion team. They went from 2-12 in 1976 to 5-9 the next year to 9-7 in 1978, fully into the middle of the NFL's pack in near-record time for a brand-new team. And apparently that took a lot out of them, because that's where they'd stay for the entire 1980s. Most of the positives from this run come from Chuck Knox's tenure, starting in 1983—four playoff appearances, including reaching the AFC Championship Game in 1983. Mostly, though, the team hovered around .500 as Ground Chuck's offensive philosophy became more and more outdated as the 1980s went along; Seattle never had double-digit losses under Knox, but only hit double-digit wins twice. The one real exception to Knox's run-first rushing attack came in 1984, when Curt Warner was lost for the season in Week 1. That left Knox little alternative but to let Dave Krieg air the ball out early and often, leading to them finishing eighth in passing DVOA … and then right back down to the bottom of the league when Warner returned in 1985. Splashy additions like Brian Bosworth kept the Seahawks in the conversation as a team that would break out any year, but they never actually broke out. And when Knox left in 1992, the bottom fell out of the offense entirely. The franchise would wander in the wilderness in the 1990s until Mike Holmgren came to town.

No. 2: 1971-1985 Detroit Lions

Record: 97-118-4 (.452)
Average DVOA: -1.7%
Middle-Five DVOA: 0.3%
Nine single-digit DVOA seasons; Thirteen mediocre records
Head Coaches: Joe Schmidt, Don McCafferty, Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers
Key Players: QB Greg Landry, RB Billy Sims, FB Dexter Bussey, TE Charlie Sanders, TE David Hill, T Rocky Freitas, C Ed Flanagan, DE Al Baker, DT Doug English, LB Charlie Weaver, CB Lem Barney
Z-Score: 12.17

The 1970 season is the one that got away for the Lions. They were 10-4, winning their last five games, with a high-scoring offense and a strong defense. And then they lost to the Cowboys 5-0 in the divisional round. They wouldn't see the postseason again until the expanded strike tournament in 1982. In between was a decade of blandness—three six-win seasons, four seven-win seasons, and one eight-win season, placing them consistently in second place behind the Vikings in the NFC Central. They came close to the playoffs multiple times, losing out on a tiebreaker in 1980, losing in a Week 17 win-and-in game in 1981. But they were, at least, competitive. Even their one bad year, the 2-14 collapse in 1979 after Gary Danielson was lost during the preseason, had the silver lining of adding Billy Sims with the top draft pick the year after.

The .452 winning percentage is just a little too low to give the Lions the top spot, despite a whopping 13 out of 15 seasons being in qualifying range; they just finished 6-8 rather than 8-6 a little too frequently to be crowned king of the average. They can, however, claim the best spot for a team which DVOA has reached—perhaps if we delve back far enough, we'll get enough hard data to reevaluate those 1970s Lions. But until then, your champions are…

No. 1: 1949-1961 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 71-82-5 (.465)
Average DVOA: -2.6%
Middle-Five DVOA: 0.3%
Eleven single-digit DVOA seasons; Eleven mediocre records
Head Coaches: John Michelosen, Joe Bach, Walt Kiesling, Buddy Parker
Key Players: HB Ray Mathews, E Elbie Nickel, T Frank Varrichione, DE Bill McPeak, DT Ernie Stautner, LB Dale Dodrill, LB John Reger, DB Jack Butler
Z-Score: 13.70

The 1930s and 1940s Steelers were disasters and laughingstocks. The 1970s Steelers were one of the most dominant teams of all time. In between, they were just bland as bland can be. It wasn't the Steel Curtain yet; it was the Same Old Steelers. And while that was just an off-the-cuff remark by Art Rooney after the Steelers had changed uniforms after swapping teams with the Eagles (don't ask), there's no better way to describe these teams. We only have estimated DVOA for the 1950s, but the estimations have the Steelers as duller than dishwater. Their estimated DVOAs, in ascending order: -15.2%, -14.1%, -8.9%, -4.0%, -2.4%, -2.3%, -1.0%, -0.4%, -0.3%, 1.2%, 1.8%, 5.7%, and 6.7%. That's about as bog standard as you can possibly get; they should have been in a vault in France next to the kilogram so future generations could compare their team for averageness.

And it didn't have to be that way. For most of the early 1950s, the Steelers were roughly equally skilled on both offense and defense—or, at the very least, they would fluctuate around zero fairly regularly. By the end of the decade, however, the Steelers' defense was leading the way, with estimated DVOAs of -19.6%, -11.4% and -9.6% from 1957-1959. The offense couldn't keep up, which was a shame … because the Steelers had drafted Johnny Unitas in 1955, cutting him in training camp. What might have been.


76 comments, Last at 08 Jul 2022, 2:49pm

#1 by HitchikersPie // Apr 01, 2022 - 6:58am

We are the mediocre dynasties

You won't find our faces on highlights or with rings!

There's Steelers, there's Lions, there's Seahawks, and there's Bears!

There's Dan's Washington Commanders 

"There's worst parts than our name!"


We are the adequate, forgettable

Occasionally regrettable

Caretaker franchises of the U S A!!!!


The Mediocre Presidents (The Simpsons) - YouTube

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#2 by DraftMan // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:02am

The most important question for the future of this list: Will any NFL team give Jeff Fisher another shot?

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#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:08am

Let down by Thielen, Jefferson and Cook

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#4 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:08am


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#5 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:10am

And, in the modern era, that's arguably worse than just bottoming out. Theoretically, if you crash to 2-14, you should get a high draft pick to find your next franchise signal-caller or shutdown corner or what have you and be able to bounce back to contention. But if you're stuck in 8-9 or 9-8 purgatory?

As a Lions fan, the years spent occupying the sub-basement are worse than the mediocre stretches. The endless failure and futility saps all the enjoyment of the game from you --you come to loathe football as much as you loathe the Fords.

I'll put it this way:

In the middle of their longest mediocre stretch, the Lions had enough support to move from a 54,000-seat stadium downtown to an 82,000 seat stadium in the boonies. They endured two extended mediocre stretches here, but still sold it out. By 2001, deep in a protracted failure period, fan support had eroded so badly that they had to skulk back into a downtown stadium 17,000 seats smaller, and only got support to build that because Ilitch basically built everything else around it and embarrassed the Fords into doing it. They have since struggled to sell even this mini-stadium out.

Fans now call that 2013-2017 mediocre period the good old days, and wax nostalgic for the Sanders mediocre period.

FO has a lot of Packers and Pats fans. None of you are old enough to remember your extended suckitude eras (although Tecmo Super Bowl captures the midpoint of that Pats era really well) and you've forgotten just how awful they are. Mediocrity may be boring, frustrating, and unsatisfying -- but it's still like complaining about your glass full of tepid tap water to a man who is dying of thirst.

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#8 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:40am

By Lions standards, Jim Caldwell and Wayne Fontes deserve a spot in the ring of honor.  Maybe Monte Clarke does, too.

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#12 by BigRichie // Apr 01, 2022 - 11:41am

I go back to Vince Lombardi. I'll second Aaron, mediocrity is way better than the sub-basement. Mediocrity means by definition there are some rays of light there.

Only time I gave up rooting for the Mighty Pack was when Forrest Gregg went full Captain Queeg. Otherwise, even during the clearly-overmatched Bart Starr years, there was always some basis for hope. Even the Dan Devine 'Lawrence Welk uh-one and uh-two and a three' Hadl 'Lord I hope this saves my job!' trade, it happily didn't and he was gone that off-season. I always rooted, well, not optimistically, but hopefully.

Fan bases survive extended mediocrity with almost no damage whatsoever.

(still neat article idea, tho!)  :-)

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#13 by BigRichie // Apr 01, 2022 - 11:47am

Captain Bligh than Queeg. Final-stages Forrest Gregg was more 'ineffective Tyrant' than 'poison everything around me Oddball').

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#17 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 12:23pm

I think there is multiple types of mediocrity. There is "we are putting it together and need just get over the top" and "this is what we are and we won't get better or worse easily".  It's hard to distinguish the two except in hindsight but QB play is probably the most obvious indicator.  It's easier to improve when you have strengths and weaknesses rather than just being average all over.  

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#32 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:33pm

Very good point.  The Stafford era Lions and Billy Sims era Lions (quarterbacked by Gary Danielson, Eric Hipple, and assorted others) were both mediocre, but there was much more hope with the former, because it seemed like, hey, at least we have quarterback figured out (or at least a quarterback capable of stretches of high-level play).  You can kind of imagine an alternate timeline of recent Lions teams coached by Not Matt Patricia with Not Bob Quinn at GM, that did decent job of coaching/team-building, and finally escaped the hamster wheel.

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#43 by Duff Soviet Union // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:30pm

Yeah, the whole “mediocrity is worse than being awful” only makes sense if the actual games are just an abstract thought experiment and you don’t have to actually watch them. I’m a Raiders fan and I have a lot of fun memories of our “mediocre dynasty”. I don’t have any of our anti dynasty in the 00’s. The whole thought process is just  Silicon Valley, galaxy brained stupidity 


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#55 by ahmadrashad // Apr 02, 2022 - 2:16am

As a long time Raider fan/victim, I have to agree. Hey, overtime against the Jacoby Brisset Dolphins is at least fun to watch, even if it ended up as a triumph of mediocrity.  Even after the coach was deposed, the defense was flying around and playing hard late into the season, which often hasn't happened, and was great to see. Obviously my expectations were low, but it's fun to watch a "mediocre" but motivated football team barely make the playoffs. 

Journalists and hardcore fans pay for DirectTV so they have this POV where they can pretend that they actually watch Jags games. On broadcast, while everyone else in America is enjoying a Cowboy or Patriot game, the west coast is watching "mediocre" Raider/Charger matchups and etc. A streaming PPV offering might change the attitude of the average disappointed fan. 

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#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:12am

Even their one bad year, the 2-14 collapse in 1979 after Gary Danielson was lost during the preseason, had the silver lining of adding Billy Sims with the top draft pick the year after.

Who promptly blew out his knee, putting the Lions back into the cellar for three years.

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#7 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:38am

“That left Knox little alternative but to let Dave Krieg air the ball out early and often, leading to them finishing eighth in passing DVOA

Let Krieg cook!!

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#9 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 10:03am

Much like Russ, he threw a lot of INTs when he was cooking.

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#10 by NYChem // Apr 01, 2022 - 10:35am

Man, the old NFC Central with four of the 20 most mediocre teams of all time, for six solid consecutive years from 1978-1983!


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#68 by CHIP72 // Apr 04, 2022 - 7:58pm

...called the NFC Central "the NFC Norris Division" for a reason (well, actually two: 1) similar geography, 2) similar mediocrity, though the NHL Norris Division was more bad than mediocre for a good chunk of the 1980s).

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#14 by theslothook // Apr 01, 2022 - 11:49am

I'll say this in defense of captain Kirk. Close your eyes and try to remember Matthew Stafford's reputation this time a year ago. He was viewed mostly as an empty calories player who's best seasons with the lions led to wild card losses. In other words, he was today's Kirk Cousins.

Kirks had weapons but so did Stafford with Johnson. Sometimes, and this is the really crazy part, you need a full team with a capable defense, not just wide receivers. 

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#15 by TheAnonymousCo… // Apr 01, 2022 - 11:56am

Maybe it's part of the April Fool's joke and I don't get it, but the Vikings were 13-3 in 2017, which as I read the rules should have ended the 2014-2016 run?

ETA: p-f-r reminds me they were also 11-5 in 2015?

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#16 by theslothook // Apr 01, 2022 - 12:05pm

Not that this is part of the critiera, but they also won a playoff game to advance to the divisional rounds. In terms of results; that's eons past where the Andy Dalton Bengals who were the poster child for mediocrity.

To that end, we need a better definition of mediocre because its way too encompassing and it puts the bar for success way too high. The Bengals run is regarded as comedic, but its impressive to produce so many consecutive playoff appearances in a notoriously tough division. Not everyone is going to win the Superbowl and only team's with hall of fame QBs are going to earn high seeds consistently. Since high qbs makes this whole conversation reductive; we should be asking what is considered successful when you don't have one of those qbs. I think the Vikings over the last two years have been recovering from a roster purge, but otherwise their run has been very successful.

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#18 by Meaningful gam… // Apr 01, 2022 - 12:31pm

"But those Ravens are sometimes grouped in with the best teams of all time"

I'm going to assume that you mean the best defenses of all time. If you include the offense, they are not even in the discussion of best teams who were mostly mediocre who somehow made the Super Bowl during the 00's.


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#19 by serutan // Apr 01, 2022 - 12:36pm


I was surprised to see the '76-'83 Bears here, mostly because my memories from that time were

1) they just plain sucked.

2) Walter Payton was so good that he was able to rack up massive yards despite everyone over the age of 2 knowing he was their entire offense.


Obviously the numbers tell a different story, but still.

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#20 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:14pm

I think this supports the view that mediocre is worse than being terrible.  You don't have as much hope or high draft picks(fixing bad is easy), and you can argue bad is entertaining in a way.


They don't even get separate write ups!


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#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:32pm

Bad isn't entertaining.

Most sports bad isn't comical bungling -- it's a turgid mess of mundane incompetency that is the equivalent of a boring film with low-production standards.

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#27 by BJR // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:06pm

Absolutely this. 

Articles like this are fun, but you don't (or shouldn't) follow a sports team constantly judging whether 5/10 year stretch were good/bad/mediocre. You follow for the exciting/memorable moments. Good teams obviously provide the most of these moments. But even the most mediocre/average teams should provide a few highlights per season. Bad teams don't provide any. Following a bad team is dispiriting, morale-sapping, but most of all, just boring.

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#31 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:26pm

Truth.  I can tell you that rooting for the 2011-2017 Lions was a hell of lot more fun than rooting for the Matt Millen Lions.  The former had some really exhilarating highs, even if it ultimately ended in disappointment.  The latter was the sports fan equivalent of being in a Stalin-era gulag, where even the tiniest moments of hope are fleeting, and quickly extinguished.

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#34 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:41pm

Of course, bad is alot less emotionally draining. Nothing is worse than having hope and seeing it constantly snatched away. 

Much of it is what you think of the teams state. Lions fans can draw hope from the fact that Campell seems like a pretty good coach, even if the talent isn't there yet. 

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#39 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 3:24pm

"Of course, bad is alot less emotionally draining. Nothing is worse than having hope and seeing it constantly snatched away."

Maybe, but I still think its fun to see the "Playoff Picture" graphic in December broadcasts and see your team's logo (even if it's only part of the "in the hunt" category), or waking up on a weekend in January looking forward to your team's playoff game that day.  Maybe it's just because I appreciate it more since those moments have been so fleeting during my football-watching life.  The other thing is that while there have been a couple of close playoff losses, there was never been the level of WTF post-season heartbreak like Vikings and Falcons fans have had to endure.

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#44 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:43pm

There's a certain joy in castigating any team sufficiently shitty to have lost to Detroit, or made a game improbably close because of their own screw-ups. I enjoyed Pittsburgh managing to tie Detroit in the tie-iest game since they tied a similarly inept Cleveland team. Or SF letting Detroit of all teams stage a huge comeback because they were playing with both hands wrapped firmly around their neck. Or Minnesota defending the Dan Orlovsky zone and forgetting to cover Detroit's one functional wide receiver at the goal line. I enjoyed hate-watching those moments.

I didn't even acknowledge the existence of like 10 of their games. They weren't even worth the energy of having occurred.

None of those moments were worth watching the fear in the eyes of any team defending a one-score lead in the last 0:30 when Stafford, Johnson, and Prater were coming for them.

\You can go ask Tom Brady and Joe Burrow what that feels like

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#64 by Theo // Apr 03, 2022 - 2:46pm

Hope is terribly overrated.

As a useless mechanism for those who can not face the realities of life, it often leads to massive disappointment. 

It is much more satisfying to focus on the process of improvement.

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#25 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:59pm

The Jags than the Vikings right now. And I don't think it particularly even close. I'd rather be the Jets than Washington too.

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#36 by NYChem // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:46pm

yeah, the jags and jets' fans have more cause for optimism than the Vikes or whatever the hell Washington is called these days. But most of the bottoming out teams getting high draft picks over multiple years don't end up working out. For every late 60's Steelers, early 80's Giants and late 80's cowboys who turn a few really bad seasons into a dominating team, there are teams that just don't get off the schneid, because the commonality is really high (and rare) turnout on draft investment, with a 2 std deviation increase in first team all-pros from the draft, and superior coaching. 

Saleh maybe the next Parcells, but if he is the next Wade Phillips, well, we'll see the Jets on this list of mediocre teams in about 6 years.


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#41 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 01, 2022 - 3:36pm

It's all about hope. What hope do the Vikings have extending Kirk (fully guaranteed at that) with one playoff win (WC at that) in 4 years with him (and he had none before joining them), peaking in mediocrity the year right before they got him? And no he's not Stafford who's more aggressive and a took a team switch anyway. And yeah, Kirk already got his team switch. The Vikings are closer to the Lions not the Rams. And they'll continue to be when they pay Kirk as such and he keeps checking down. 

Washington thinks they can replicate the sand Wentzs 2017 (not even full season btw) was built on when not even Reich could? And we don't even have to start with ownership. 

Jets and Jags have young QBs and higher picks. There's understandable optimism from their fanbases. A lot of the mediocre teams are just spinning their wheels. Something about the definition of insanity. 

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#45 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:45pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

You're a GB fan. WTF do you know about hopelessness? You've had one extended bad run in 65 years.

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#47 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:53pm

Because I can tell you what success is and isn't. I don't care about trying to find Rodgers successor. Let me make the most of the remaining years of Steve Youngs career instead of wasting a pick on Jim Druckenmiller. I found no joy in beating the Jets in 2018. I don't care about shedding and sucking later on. No Saints fan regrets the past decade nor the future.

Have fun in Detroit. Maybe less mobile Russ can be the one to lead you out of the desert. Or, you actually already have 3 on your team lol

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#26 by theslothook // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:05pm

As much as tanking makes sense it's not practical in this reality.

Consider Zach Taylor. Anything less than a playoff appearance and he was going to get fired. Is it really fair to count on Joe burrow recovering from injury and being really good in his second year? 

If The Vikings stripped everything down to their studs right now, I don't think Kevin O'Connell is going to be there when the Vikings become good again. Just like I don't think Arthur Smith is going to survive and be the coach when the next falcons team is in the playoffs.

If you're going to take on suicide missions, you really need to be pushing for six year contracts guaranteed so that it's extremely unpalatable to move on from the head coach.

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#33 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:36pm

“If you're going to take on suicide missions, you really need to be pushing for six year contracts guaranteed so that it's extremely unpalatable to move on from the head coach.”

A lot of people scratched their heads when Dan Campbell got a six year contract, but ownership seems pretty clear-eyed about that fact that things are going to look ugly for a while before they get better.  This also explains the Lions being relatively quiet in free agency the past two years.

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#35 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:45pm

We have to see what they do, Detroit does seem to have one of the better plans do dig out of the hole. 

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#38 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 3:19pm

Because they're the accursed Lions, it will likely end in disappointment, but at least I can't really fault their process thus far (aside from a couple of nitpicks here and there).

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#40 by theslothook // Apr 01, 2022 - 3:28pm

I agree, there's no guarantee of success doing this but at least there's a coherency to this thought process. Unless you're hoping for a miracle by either hitting on a bunch of Hall of famers all at once or finding your QB savior, the patient approach is the right way to tackle this problem.

I'm assuming the lions are going to stink again next year, but like the Browns they'll have a foundation for their QB of the future. And we can make fun of the Browns all we want, the team had talent so that part of the process worked.

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#42 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 3:51pm

Teams are cursed...till they arn't. The patriots were pretty much a joke before 2001 although they were more of a bad team with occasional bounces that wern't high enough rather than extended runs of mediocrity. 

These days there is also the idea of putting together a good team minus a QB and hoping to be ready when one is available. (TB did this, it like IS the plan in Denver, I think the Colts are trying but maybe wiffed the last step, the danger is pulling the trigger to early or on the wrong target)

Basically, you need luck somewhere in the process. Draft, getting elite players in FA/trad, something.  They key is to make sure you are in position to seize opportunities and don't squander them. (we may ending looking at the Texans in that way)

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#48 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:53pm

Pre-2001 NE was pretty good! Drew Bledsoe was a starting QB in two NE Super Bowl years! Their pre-2001 period was pretty solid! They were in a Super Bowl in 1995! Carroll never had a sub-.500 season.

They kind of sucked in the Tecmo Super Bowl window (1989-1993), but they got to Division rounds four times between 1976 and 1986, and were in two pre-Brady Super Bowls! They really only sucked as a franchise from 1967-1975.

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#58 by KnotMe // Apr 02, 2022 - 2:29pm

They  weren't totally bottom basement but were viewed as an incompetent franchise that couldn't put it together. 

They had an anti dynasty till 95.

They gave 90s Matt Stafford (Bledsoe) a 10 year contract at age 29

Changed to goofy logo

Parcells and Caroll couldn't fix them and Parcells fled to the Jets and the silly drama that had (they trades 3 picks between the teams for coaches)

Giving the keys to Belichick wasn't an obvious move at the time either given all he had done was fail with the browns. (There was some optimism on his coaching, but I think it was expected to go like Josh McDaniels in KC)



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#72 by BigRichie // Apr 05, 2022 - 12:45pm

If the Pats in the generation from 1976-2000 were an "incompetent" "anti-dynasty", then near half the NFL were such. I don't recall anyone making particular fun of the Pats as a franchise. Along with Carroll and Parcells, Ray Berry could also coach.

The Razor Guy (Victor Kiam??) wound up being seen as rather a joke. But plenty of NFL owners have bad stretches, and Kiam(?) sold very quickly. You weren't talking drunken Bob Irsay there, or a generation of ineptitude a la the Saints.

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#46 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:48pm

Are the Fords planning on selling to a bloodline that isn't terminally incompetent? Because that's the Lions only hope.

The Hans Gruber of the Fords only bought the team because his dad decided he was too stupid to run Ford Motor Company. Nothing in the last 60 years has shown that decision to have been in error.

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#50 by Duff Soviet Union // Apr 01, 2022 - 4:56pm

The whole reason these multi year, Silicon Valley “losing is the new winning” tank jobs have become so popular is not because they’re more likely to lead to future success but because it makes it easier for management to all keep their jobs. “You can’t fire me, we’re terrible on purpose”.

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#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 5:13pm

Also because team revenues are now relatively insulated from home attendance, and because the rise of the uber-rich owner means teams no longer need to win in order to survive. They are just vanity possessions, like impractical watches.

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#22 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:33pm

What teams were the most thoroughly average?

The list has a lot of franchises who usually got to overall mediocre by being great at one thing and dreadful at another (Chicago and Baltimore are traditionally great at defense and terrible at offense; NO is the opposite). Or the weird case of the Turner Chargers, who at one point paired top-10 offenses and defenses with a historically inept kicking unit and ended up in mediocrity. But who was thoroughly, completely mundane?

Teams who were around 8-8, with offenses, defenses, and STs that were around 0% DVOA? The platonic ideal of the median team?

2018 Philly? 7-9, with 7.8 expected wins, and a -1 (15th), -0.4 (16th), 0.9 (15th), 0.2 (15th) DVOA/rank for overall-offense-defense-STs.

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#23 by BJR // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:52pm

May I present the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. -0.1 overall (17th), 1.3 offense (18th), 3.0 defense (18th), 1.6 ST (8th), for 8.4 expected wins.

Sometimes mediocrity works out I guess.

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#30 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:23pm

1984 Bengals were 8-8 with 339 points for, 339 points against.  15th out 28 in DVOA at -0.1%.  As far as I can tell that’s the single closest season to perfect averageness.

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#37 by BJR // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:53pm

Hehe. Poor old Andy Dalton. He came to symbolize extended franchise mediocrity, but if only he'd had the blessings of those two Bengals teams he too could have come up agonizingly short in a Super Bowl.

Edit: whoops, forget that, just realized I'm confusing the '84 Bengals with one of their other 2 Super Bowl squads of that decade.

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#53 by AFCNFCBowl // Apr 01, 2022 - 8:08pm

Eagles were 9-7 in 2018, not 7-9. They were extremely average (in the regular season at least) as you point out.

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#24 by KnotMe // Apr 01, 2022 - 1:55pm

 "I think this means we have seen the end of the age of extreme mediocrity, as it's just so hard to stay average with so much player movement today."

You could also argue that it's easier to delude yourself and bring in overpriced vets at the tail end of their career, so it's much easier to prop yourself up in that average space. Even more so if your division is terrible so you can think "we can win this".  I can see it going both ways honestly.  

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#28 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:19pm

The Tom Cable/Hue Jackson Raiders kind of embodied this.  Al Davis bloated his payroll with competent but overpriced free agents, and got...competence (no more, no less): two straight 8-8 seasons.   I think salary cap constraints (or perhaps inept cap manipulation) as well as Davis’ death prevented those Raiders teams from “keeping the band together” and making a historic run of adequateness.

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#29 by Calipanther // Apr 01, 2022 - 2:21pm

Your list of mediocre teams making the Super Bowl is missing a team: the 2003 Carolina Panthers.

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#52 by DisplacedPackerFan // Apr 01, 2022 - 5:57pm

Did you do a percentage of seasons a franchise has spent being mediocre/dynastic/anti-dynastic?

The Vikings have been around for 61 seasons and have 30 of those on this list. They had 13 on the dynasty list and non on the anti-dynasty list. Though their dynasty was 1968-1980 so that does overlap with the 1978-1987 mediocrity reign just a bit. So it's not quite a clear split. But nearly 50% of your seasons on this list and 20 other seasons that weren't part of any kind of sustained run be that dynastic, mediocre, or futile. That kinda seems to speak to a different kind of mediocrity.

You get a timeline like this
Start   End     S   Type
1968    1980    13  Dynasty
1978    1987    10  Mediocrity
1991    1997    7   Mediocrity
2003    2007    5   Mediocrity
2014    2021    8   Mediocrity

I'd have to look at the "gaps" to see if they were midling success or midling failures. Like 98 - 02 went 15-1, 10-6, 11-5, 5-11, 6-10. They had 3 very good years then fell to bad but not awful for 2 before getting back on the mediocre train. So it was a failed start to a dynasty. Clearly you don't have to chunk things into the categories to create representations of a franchises history but it seemed kinda fun to look at the shape of franchise through a lens of various types of streaks. The Vikings "other" seasons after the initial 7 or so seasons of getting up and running after joining the league have tend to be more on the winning but not winning quite enough or consistently enough to kick off another dynasty type. That covers the 88-90 gap and the 98-02 gap. The 08-13 gap is a little more roller coastery though.

And of course since I'm a homer I grabbed the timeline of the Packers on these lists

Start    End     S   Type
1926    1931    6   Dynasty
1935    1944    10  Dynasty
1948    1958    11  Anti-Dynasty
1960    1967    8   Dynasty
1968    1974    7   Mediocrity

1973    1980    8   Anti-Dynasty
1978    1985    8   Mediocrity
1993    1998    6   Dynasty
2009    2016    8   Dynasty

I didn't do the math but 2019-2021 might have given them enough dynasty points (I think 3 seasons was the min) to be at the start of another stretch of that.  They've got 5 years of overlaps (73, 74 and 78, 79, and 80 in both anti-dynasty and mediocrity runs). So it looks like 38 Dynasty run seasons, 19 anti-dynasty run seasons, 15 mediocre run seasons, 5 overlap seasons and 33 other seasons. GB's "other seasons" can be good or bad. 99-08 was mostly good, 5 double digit win seasons and 5 playoffs, with two 8-8, one 9-7, one 6-10 and one 4-12 season.  The 86-92 stretch though was bad a lot of 4, 5, and 6 win seasons with one 10-6 run so a bit too good for an anti-dynasty and too bad for a mediocrity.

So that's a very different franchise shape. It could be cool to see something like that for all the current franchise. As I mentioned viewing the shape through runs long enough to quality for the three categories is interesting.


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#75 by spybloom // Apr 08, 2022 - 5:01pm

You'll probably never see this because of how FO comments work, but I made a Google doc and did this exact thing for all the teams (Before even reading your comment!). To the best of my abilities, I added any dynasty/anti-dynasty seasons from the past two years. This gave the Rams and Saints dynasties since 2017, extended the Patriots and Chiefs dynasties, gave Washington and the Giants anti-dynasties since 2017, and extended the Jaguars, Browns, and Jets anti-dynasties.

The most "active" team, by far, is the Saints: 52 of their 55 seasons (94.6%!) are either anti-dynasty, mediocre, or dynasty. (This is assuming I followed the dynasty instructions correctly, making the '17-'21 Saints an ongoing dynasty. They'd still be #1 if those 5 years are unclassified, though.) Only '91-'93 are left out - some of the most successful pre-Brees years that weren't good enough for a dynasty and quickly descended into an anti-dynasty. For reference, the average team has 57.6% of their seasons being part of something, and the Saints were 2.7 standard deviations above that.

The next-most active team is the Buccaneers - 35 of their 46 seasons (76.1%) and 1.4 standard deviations above average. They are also what I've called the saddest franchise - They have the lowest percentage of [dynasty - anti-dynasty seasons], relative to their total seasons. Obviously, they still won a Super Bowl during their mediocre dynasty and won another in a for-now unclassified era, but as far as this goes they still fit with the other sad franchises such as the Jaguars, Cardinals, Falcons, and Jets.

The "happiest" franchise is the Cowboys, with 26 dynasty seasons and 5 anti-dynasty seasons in 62 years. Other happy franchises are the Colts, Packers, Dolphins, and Bears.

The least active team is the Oilers/Titans. They've had 13 seasons of note from 1960-1986, and then...nothing. 35 years of nothing. The next longest span of nothingness is 22 years: the '84-'95 Giants and '00-Current Dolphins. All-in-all, the Oilers/Titans have had only 21% of noteworthy years - 2.7 standard deviations below average. The next closest team is the Texans at exactly 25% of their 20 seasons. They at least have the benefit of the doubt of not being around that long.

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#54 by Willsy // Apr 01, 2022 - 9:08pm

Two things were born in 1961, me and the Vikings.

We have been perfectly cromulent the whole time. What the writer missed is what the Greeks taught us, that tragedy can and is foretold.

That is the Vikings and we fans are the audience with the media as the chorus. Unlike really bad teams, who are in comedic plays, the Vikings are the transpositional elements versus the successful characters. To follow the Patriots is to love success and the evil god. To support the Vikings is to be a forever tragic figure, and that is something to cherish.

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#56 by thok // Apr 02, 2022 - 1:16pm

Is there any chance that you can do a flukiest season list at some point in the future? That seems like a natural pairing with the dynasty/anti-dynasty/mediocrity triple.

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#57 by Bryan Knowles // Apr 02, 2022 - 1:56pm

That is on the list of ideas for one offseason, though it's not the one I pitched to Aaron and company for this year.  We'll see what happens!

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#59 by KnotMe // Apr 02, 2022 - 3:38pm

Would be cool. Hard to define, but cool (you would probably be looking at something like "difference from the years on either side" and it's hard to distinguish a fluke year from a short term effect. 

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#60 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 02, 2022 - 4:15pm

2010 Bucs, 2010 Chiefs, 1986 Chiefs, 1989 Packers are some teams that come to mind.  2011 Broncos probably qualify, but in a different way.  And the acquisition of Manning the year after kind of wrecks the "different compared to years before/after" aspect.

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#61 by KnotMe // Apr 02, 2022 - 5:01pm

It's hard to define a fluke vs just a transition. The 2015 Cowboys had 4 wins sandwiched between a pair of 12 win seasons, but that was basicly  Romo getting hurt and retiring with Matt Cassel and other backups doing most of the work, Dak took over the next year.


Ideally you would like some continuity at coach and qb but I can't think of any

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#69 by CHIP72 // Apr 04, 2022 - 8:02pm

...the 1998 Atlanta Falcons would rank very, VERY high on that list (in a positive way).  Their counterpart on the negative side could be the 1981 New England Patriots (who had a down season but had stats more in line with a 6-10 team but managed to go 2-14...the Patriots only sub-.500 season from 1976 to 1988).

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#62 by thok // Apr 02, 2022 - 8:35pm

What's the reason the 2009-2013 Titans don't qualify? That's the one stretch in their history that could; the 5 year requirement saves the 1995-1998 teams and the 2016-2019 teams.

I also think the 2006-2011 Texans could qualify. (I noticed the three of four active franchises without an average streak were in the AFC South, and decided to do some double checking.)

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#63 by Will Allen // Apr 03, 2022 - 9:38am

It's ironic that on this site so many pieces discount the influence of random chance on the metrics being examined. The pronounced majority of teams which were mediocre for an extended period of time could have, with a little bit better luck, experienced success which would have easily excluded them from the group, and the opposite is also true. That's before we get to examining divisional and conference strength, although bringing in DVOA helps account for that.

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#65 by Jetspete // Apr 04, 2022 - 9:04am

Reviewing this list, I’m impressed with the Vikings. Only a well run organization can be consistently average, yet in history have had so many chances to win. It is also a warning sign as to what happens when you can’t get the quarterback right. 
I know dvoa talks about it, but you can’t overstate how good some of those Vikings teams were over the years. They pulled off a monumental upset against the niners in 87 in a game that would’ve blown up talking head shows and Twitter if it was played today. Montana was benched in the second half for Young, who almost led the comeback. The next week they lost a great title game in Washington. 
that season, as many were in the 80s, was split between Wilson and Kramer. Later once Green took over it was a revolving door with the same story, playoff loss after playoff loss with Gannon, Salisbury, moon, the fledgling corpse of Jim McMahon, and Brad Johnson. Some of those losses were really bad too, the worst probably the home loss to Steve Walsh. Finally they got the qb right in 97 with late career Cunningham to get off this list for a while, and in turn giving us 1998. But other than that year and a half, plus maybe some glimpses from culpepper in 04, the Vikings haven’t had legitimate quarterback play since tarkenton. It’s impressive they never bottomed out like their division rival, who hasn’t won a playoff game in 30 years. 

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#66 by Will Allen // Apr 04, 2022 - 12:49pm

The Vikings have an interesting management history. From their 1961 inception through 1997, they had poor ownership; a largish collection of major shareholders who, if not in open conflict, were prone to reinforce each others' tendency to be very reluctant to invest or take risks. After the first 3 years, however, they got lucky with the Jim Finks hire, and with two personnel guys, Jerry Reichow and Frank Gilliam. It took Finks a couple years to get a firm enough grip on power to fire a bad head coach in Van Brocklin, and hire Bud Grant. The stage was set for a long period of extended success, even if Finks had had enough of dysfunctional ownership by the early 70s and left. Reichow and Gilliam lasted deep into the 90s, and the talent cubbard from ever becoming a disaster. By '84 it wasn't good, but that debacle of a season was also due to Grant's 1 year replacement being as bad an NFL head coach imaginable. Grant came back for 1 season, then made sure Jerry Burns was installed, the talent made big improvements, and the 2nd half of the 80s had terrific teams weighed down by bad quarterbacking. 

The idiotic Herschel Walker trade, engineered by GM Mike Lynn, who had played the owners off against each other to gain power, ended the Burns era, and led to Lynn leaving, pockets full. The ownership group then managed to do something right, and hired Dennis Green, who really was a good coach, as long as he didn't exercise GM power. Reichow and Gilliam were still recognizing talent like John Randle, and the 90s were successful, even if the QB position was a constant scramble.

When ownership changed in '98, it became even worse, because Red McCombs was a tightwad jackass, even by the standards of NFL owner welfare queens. When the state and local govt wasn't willing to entirely pay for a new stadium, he refused to invest any capital, to the point that HC Tice (who only had the job because he was so cheap) wasn't  even allowed to hire a full staff. When McCombs started ordering draft picks, it really became bad.

The irony is that current ownership is the best the team has ever had, in terms of wanting to win, and being willing to spend$. They took about 5 years to get their footing, in terms of management structure, but for about a decade now they have stayed out of personnel decisions. Spielman was given GM authority, and yes he made some errors, but he also made some really good picks. Zimmer was good. They really had some bad luck, especially  at qb, which forced their hand sometimes.

I have no idea whether the new GM& coach will be any good. I'd almost prefer they get lucky.

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#67 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 04, 2022 - 2:37pm

The difference between the Lions and the Vikings is that when the Lions managed solid team success, they already had a great QB, whereas the Vikings were either/or.

Although if an ancient Stafford comes back in five years to lead a restored Lions roster, he basically would be repeating Tarkenton's career.

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#71 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 05, 2022 - 10:22am

The 90's Lions were a pretty solid team, but could never get quarterback right.

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#70 by CHIP72 // Apr 04, 2022 - 8:08pm

...regarding the 1981 Lions - their season finale was in Week 16.  During the 16 game era, there were no bye weeks from 1978 to 1989.  (I'm too young to remember, but I think there were also no bye weeks in the 14 game era from 1968 to 1977; prior to that there were a few seasons where the NFL or AFL had an odd number of teams - 1960 and 1966 in the NFL, 1966-1967 in the AFL.)

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#73 by Sifter // Apr 06, 2022 - 3:34pm

I would be interested a detailed study to see if a team is more likely to win a championship in year x + y, if they were poor in year x vs merely average in year x. 

The trend these days is to really talk up the tanking and getting high picks to get the best players for your rebuild (ever since Sam Hinkie I guess...)- but has it played out?  I mean Joe Burrow is one data point that says sucking to get a good young QB is a good idea, but Tom Brady and Matt Stafford are other data points that directly refute that.  Or other data points that say, find the right QB and you may not have to tank - they can be found later in round 1 eg. Mahomes, Rodgers.

I think i'd rather have a reasonable roster and keep challenging for the playoffs each year than sucking each year and constantly rolling the dice on your high draft picks.  Teams like the Lions and Texans have been poor consistently for the last 20 years and have had more high picks than you can shake a stick at - has not helped.

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#74 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 07, 2022 - 8:42am

Are you going to blame the Jags for selling Bouye, Campbell, etc. before getting Lawrence? There's a point where you have to admit to yourself you're not contending with Bortles/Gabbert/etc. especially on non rookie deals. 

We talk about this a lot. The whole "well they were 7-9 a year ago now in the SB" doesn't tell us how the core of that team was started and the process along the way. Miami isn't where they are today if they weren't honest with themselves and became sellers.

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#76 by LStrait66 // Jul 08, 2022 - 11:52am

I find it strange that the 90's and early 00's Seahawks aren't on this list ('93 - '04).  3 games under .500 over 12 seasons seems pretty mediocre.  Something must be keeping them off the list, but it's not obvious to me.

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