It’s always been dangerous territory for an NFL player or team to claim or assume greatness before the season has even started. Whether their prediction is based on their own personal level of confidence, or their record from the previous season, there have been many teams who have fallen victim to the pressure of inflated expectations. In the NFL, no level of success can ever be assumed, no matter how elite the personnel is, or what recent successes the team may have had. The talent pool is too evenly dispersed across the league, and every team (especially the good ones), has a distinct target on their back.
Even considering this, it’s a shame how many good teams we’ve seen over the years, that just couldn’t sustain their winning ways for more than just a short period of time. While the term “dream team” always seems to be a bit hyperbolic, the teams on this list are about as close on paper as you’re going to get in the NFL. In the end however, sustained success just wasn’t the order of the day, and they faltered mightily before they could really make an impact on the long term.
Ranked below are 15 NFL “dream teams” that ended up being nightmares.
15. 2009 Tennessee Titans
In 2008, the Titans looked to be an elite team on the rise. Chris Johnson was a breakout star at RB, totaling well over 1,000 yards, and Texas-standout Vince Young predicted to be turning into one of the league’s most dynamic young QB. They won 13 games during the 2008 campaign, and looked to go on a deep playoff run in 2009. That wasn’t the case, as they sputtered to an 8-8 record, and despite Johnson’s continued dominance in the running game (2,000 rushing yards in 2009), Young was flat-out mediocre at QB. The Titans never recovered from this season, and after a six-win season in 2010, coach Jeff Fisher was fired, and the team was left to rebuild, only now regaining some confidence with Marcus Mariota under center.
14. 2013 New York Giants
After a Super Bowl-win in 2011, and a solid winning season in the proceeding year, the Giants seemed to be the cream of the crop in the NFC East. However, the deep playoff run they expected wasn’t in the cards, and they finished with seven wins for the season. The once-dominant defense from just a couple of years ago had fizzled out to the middle of the pack, and the offense was stagnant, despite the best efforts from Victor Cruz. Of course, that side of the ball (but not the team’s record) would improve with the addition of one Odell Beckham Jr. in the 2014 draft, but the Giants still haven’t topped the seven-win mark since the 2013 season. They looked to be on the rise, but just didn’t have the consistency to stay relevant in the playoff picture.
13. 2015 Philadelphia Eagles
All of the predictions about the Eagles perfecting Chip Kelly’s tempo offense and becoming a Super Bowl contender were put to a screeching halt, to the tune of a 7-9 season last year. With full personnel control under Kelly’s name, confirmed effective skill players such as Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were gone in favor of underwhelming failures such as Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. As the season progressed, the situation became increasingly ugly, and Kelly was fired just before the last week of the season, following an embarrassing loss at home against the Cardinals. The decision to axe Kelly early may have saved their future, as another year or two of relinquishing quality personnel would have decimated the roster. For now, we just know that 2015 season didn’t at all live up to the expectations for Philadelphia.
12. 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a Super Bowl victory the year prior, the Buccaneers looked to establish themselves as one of the league’s outright dynasties. With an elite defense to their credit, it seemed that if the offense could just eliminate mistakes, they could repeat with another deep playoff run. That wasn’t the case, as the lack of weapons on the offensive side of the ball really showed its true colors in the 2003 campaign. Brad Johnson was predictably mediocre at QB, throwing 21 INTs, and the offense didn’t have the skill players to compensate for that. They finished with a 7-9 record, and even though Jon Gruden’s Bucs would have a couple more winning seasons in the next six years, they never again won a playoff game. The 2002 Super Bowl turned out to largely be an anomaly.
11. 2003 Oakland Raiders
The opponents of the Bucs in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders were another team who looked to break out, and establish themselves as a winner. After winning 11 games the year prior, Oakland won just four in 2003, and finished in the bottom third of the league in both overall offense and defense. Coach Bill Callahan was fired before the 2004 season, and the team settled into mediocrity for a decade, only showing signs of recovery now, with players like David Carr and Amari Cooper. The front office at the time heavily overrated their chances, and minimal improvements were made for the 2003 season, and it showed. Perhaps the biggest one-off team of the 00s, the Raiders’ fall from grace was steep and ugly.
10. 1990 Buffalo Bills
The nightmare for Buffalo wasn’t because of a lack of talent, or even winning teams. Instead, it was one isolated play that would haunt the franchise for years to come. The 1990 version of the Bills made the Super Bowl in the first of four consecutive appearances, and yielded the infamous “wide right” field goal kick that promptly lost them a title-victory. After three additional losses in the Super Bowl, the team and city would never recover, and haven’t seen a single playoff appearance since 1999. It’s the bane of existence for everybody in Buffalo, and the subject of their own personal football hell for the past 25 years. The Bills were one kick away from a championship, and the botched attempt has seemed to curse the team for years.
9. 2000 Dallas Cowboys
After firing coach Chan Gailey following an 8-8 record in 1999, the Cowboys were optimistic for a major return to form under new coach Dave Campo. After all, the team still had the likes of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman, both of whom had helped lead them to three championships in the 90s. It didn’t work out that way, as Dallas finished with a 5-11 record, and Aikman retired due to injury following the season. Ultimately, this was the season that marked the end of Dallas’ dominance, and until Tony Romo was placed in the starting role, the team was largely a dumpster fire. They shuffled through numerous coaches and QBs, never coming close to replicating what they had in the 90s. Though it was imminent, they suffered some rough years ahead to the loss in talent.
8. 2015 Cincinnati Bengals
The talk during most of the regular season last year was how much the Bengals roster had improved, and was finally primed to take the next step and start winning some playoff games. The truth was anything but, and they suffered one of the most self-inflicting playoff losses in league history. An untimely fumble, and stupid penalties signaled the Bengals’ doom, continuing to be the regular season darlings that just can’t cut it under the big lights. In the offseason, the team lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, and are now left with only A.J. Green as a definite, elite offensive threat. We’ll see if they can bounce back, but the ship seems to have sailed in terms of this team making any kind of legitimate run at a title. Most likely, they’ll be moving on from coach Marvin Lewis in the offseason, looking for a presence that can spell postseason for the franchise.
7. 2008 Miami Dolphins
With the advent of the new Wildcat formation, the Dolphins mustered their way to an 11-win season, but ultimately lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Using RB Ronnie Brown as the “QB” in the Wildcat, there were some pundits who thought that the formation would largely take over in the NFL, and be a perennially effective package for most teams. That didn’t happen, opposing defenses adjusted and the Dolphins won just seven games the next season, and have been mediocre since. The personnel on the 2008 team may not have been elite, but many thought that the Wildcat would break new ground in the NFL. Instead, it is now a gimmick formation, and never had the staying power to be truly effective. Since returning to conventional football, Miami hasn’t had any real success.
6. 2011 New York Jets
Coach Rex Ryan’s boisterous personality seemed to fit New York extremely well for a few years, as the Jets made their way to back-to-back AFC Championship games. The defense was stout, and then-up-and-coming QB Mark Sanchez seemed to be able to manage the offense effectively. It was all short-lived, and the once dominant defense faltered in 2011, leaving Ryan and the Jets with eight wins for the season. Fortunes were even worse the next season in 2012, where they finished with just six wins. Given the amount of talking that Ryan tends to do, it was certainly a PR nightmare for the next few seasons, before the franchise finally axed him after the 2013 season, replacing him with the much more stable Todd Bowles. After a few dominating seasons, Ryan’s Jets definitely talked the talk, but couldn’t walk the walk.
5. 2002 St. Louis Rams
Making their name as “The Greatest Show On Turf” the previous few years, most people just assumed that the Rams would continue to dominate under head coach Mike Martz. However, after a Super Bowl-appearance the year prior, their dominance came to a halt with a seven-win season in 2002. In what was a down-year for both Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, the Rams never got going, and despite a winning season in 2003, the ’02 seasons spelled a downturn in the franchise. Since 2003, they haven’t had a winning season, and even after the high-profile move to L.A., there are many questions about the team. “The Greatest Show On Turf” was one of the best offensive teams ever, but the Rams of today don’t seem anywhere close to being able to replicate it.
4. 2006 San Diego Chargers
Despite a 14-win season in 2006, as well as possessing the elite QB/RB duo of Phillip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, confirming the nightmare of Chargers fans everywhere. If a team who was this dominant in the regular season couldn’t win in the playoffs, who could? Many people asked, and it turned out to be a legitimate question. The Chargers would have some very good regular season teams over the next several seasons, but could never get to the Super Bowl, and ultimately, the elite roster fizzled out over the years, leaving just Rivers in the present day, from the Chargers teams of that era. Now with the move away from San Diego a real possibility in the next few years, this may have been the only chance for fans from the area to see the Chargers win a Super Bowl. It looks like that dream will remain unfulfilled.
3. 2007 Chicago Bears
In 2007, Chicago was coming off of a 13-win season, a Super Bowl appearance, and high hopes for the 2007 campaign. Coach Lovie Smith had assembled a vaunted defense, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and were expected to dominate the NFC playoff picture. Instead, the lack of an elite QB was revealed, and the team sputtered to a 7-9 record. For the proceeding years, the Bears would shift between playoff contention and failure, but never re-captured the dominance of the 2006 team that went to the Super Bowl. A distinct one-off in the history of the league, this version of the Bears would fire Smith after the 2012 season, and have yet to recover. In the current landscape of the NFL, they’re much farther down the pecking order than they were a decade ago.
2. 2011 Philadelphia Eagles
Probably the only team on this ranking to actually have the “dream team” tag verbally placed on them, courtesy of one Vince Young, who was a backup QB on the roster. Instead, this Eagles team signaled the beginning of the end for the Andy Reid era as head coach, and opened up an era of uncertainty for the team. Underachieving with an 8-8 record in 2011, they would fall to a destitute 4-12 in the 2012 season, making Young’s comments even more ridiculous than they already were, and certifying the Eagles as one of the laughing stocks of the NFL. It’s been an up-and-down affair since then for the team, but the failures of the 2011 team still rings true, showing that overconfidence in the NFL never turns out as a good thing.
1. 2012 San Francisco 49ers
One of the most significant and astonishing falls from grace in the history of the league, the 49ers have crashed hard since the 2012 season. Under elite coach Jim Harbaugh, they were able to land a Super Bowl appearance with Colin Kaepernick under center, and a dominant, physical defense. Since this time, Harbaugh has been canned, Kaepernick is on the bench, and most of that defense has retired, or left the team. A shaky front office situation, involving egomaniacal general manager Trent Baalke, has crippled this team from the inside out. The 49ers seemed to have one of the best rosters in the league during 2012, and in a matter of four years are one of the worst teams in the league. That’s the result of managerial incompetence, and San Francisco possesses it in spades. Don’t bet on the 49ers for a long while; they won’t be winning anything, anytime soon.
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