Sports fans love to pay attention to records and they really take notice when a team or individual challenges a record. In 2015-16, basketball fans watched in amazement as the Golden State Warriors set the record for most wins in a season. The 2007 Patriots brought back memories of the 1972 Dolphins’ perfect season as New England rolled to near perfection. The same thing happened in 2015 when the Carolina Panthers made their own run at perfection. Any football team that starts the season on an extended win streak will draw comparisons to the mighty ’72 Dolphins just as winning basketball teams will now be compared to the Warriors.
The thing with records is that they are not always marks to be proud of. Who wants to be remembered for having the most consecutive plate appearances without a hit? Who wants to be known for throwing the most interceptions in a game? No team wants to be remembered for having the longest losing streak. Somewhere, there are embarrassed record holders in all of these categories and many more.
The NFL has a long and colorful history filled with superstars, bums, great teams, and eccentric owners. The game has changed over the years but one thing that has remained a constant is the presence of terrible teams. Every franchise in every sport goes through their peaks and valleys. Some peaks are higher than others, while some valleys are lower. The following list takes a look at the latter. There have been many terrible teams in the history of football but these teams managed to bring a new meaning to the word “failure.” The next time a team starts their season on a long losing streak, they will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the worst of the worst. Here are the 15 worst teams in NFL history.
15 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were quick out of the gate when they entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1995 but they have been a league doormat for the past several seasons. The 2012 version of the Jaguars goes down in history as one of the worst teams the NFL has ever seen. Other teams such as the 2012 Chiefs, 2011 Colts, and 1981 Colts finished 2-14 but Jacksonville had its worst season in franchise history sandwiched between two other horrid seasons, giving the 2012 squad a bit of staying power. They continue to be a losing squad to this day. In the three years since, the Jags are 12-36 and have won no more than five games in a season.
14 1971 Buffalo Bills
It’s hard to imagine that a team featuring O.J. Simpson would be listed as one of the worst NFL teams ever, but it’s true. The Bills struggled for several years after the NFL merger and they hit their lowest point in 1971 when they went 1-13. They started out the season going 0-10 before notching their only victory of the year in their 11th game against the Patriots. They weren’t just losing games, they were losing badly. They were shutout four times and their quarterbacks combined for just 12 touchdown passes with a laughable 32 interceptions. In his first full season, O.J. Simpson gained a paltry 742 rushing yards and the Bills ranked near the bottom in nearly every defensive category.
13 1990 New England Patriots
When the New England Patriots are mentioned, it conjures up thoughts of a championship powerhouse. Their success over the past 15 years makes a lot of fans forget that the franchise has seen its share of terrible seasons. In fact, the 1990 Patriots team was one of the all-time worst. Their quarterback committee combined for 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. They only scored 20 or more points three times while opposing teams routinely had their way with the anemic Patriots defense. This culminated in a pitiful 1-15 record. They would turn their franchise around by the late '90s and become the perennial contender they are today.
12 1991 Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are one team that doesn’t like being outdone by the New England Patriots. The year following New England’s 1-15 season, Indianapolis matched that record of futility by putting up a 1-15 record of their own. Coming off a 7-9 campaign, the Colts completely imploded. Similar to the Patriots before them, the Colts lost their first nine games of the season before squeaking out a victory over the Jets. It would be the lone highlight for one of the worst teams in NFL history.
Also, like the Patriots, the Colts would eventually turn things around and become regular contenders.
11 1980 New Orleans Saints
Things were looking up for the New Orleans Saints entering the 1980 season. They were trending in the right direction coming off their first ever .500 season and hopes were high but 1980 turned into an ugly campaign for Archie Manning and company. The team put up a miserable record of 1-15. Fans wore paper bags over their heads as the “Aints” stumbled to an 0-14 start. The Swiss cheese defense allowed 20 or more points in every game and the Saints offense couldn’t keep up. Saints fans had to wait another seven years to finally see a winning record and a trip to the playoffs.
10 2001 Carolina Panthers
Panthers fans were praising rookie quarterback Chris Weinke after he threw for 223 yards and a touchdown in an opening day victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The Carolina faithful had hopes of their beloved Panthers returning to the playoffs for just the second time in the team’s seven year existence. Those hopes were brutally dashed as the Panthers went on to lose the remaining 15 straight games and finish 1-15. The incompetent play of the 2001 Panthers has definitely earned a spot on this list. The Panthers hit the reset button and ended up going to the Super Bowl two years later, proving that things can turn around quickly.
9 1989 Dallas Cowboys
The mid to late '80s were tough times for the Dallas Cowboys. They had several consecutive losing seasons, but none was as bad as their 1989 season. The proud franchise joined the ranks of the worst teams in the history of the NFL with their 1-15 record. It was a year of transition for the club. It was Troy Aikman’s rookie campaign and it was also the season in which the big Herschel Walker trade was negotiated. These factors would greatly benefit the club over the next decade.
The Cowboys would make a quick recovery by winning the first of back-to-back Super Bowls just three years later.
8 2000 San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have had many successful seasons but they still lack a Super Bowl victory. They have also had some pretty bad seasons, such as the 1-15 record they posted in 2000. The not-so-mighty Ryan Leaf, a 37-year-old Jim Harbaugh, and the forgotten Moses Moreno combined for 19 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. The running game was virtually non-existent and the defense failed to find any rhythm.
They lost their first 11 games in a row before edging the Chiefs 17-16. While this stinker of a squad was blown out on many occasions, they managed to keep several games close. They lost five of their games by three points or less proving that they could at least be competitive. Despite this, the 2000 Chargers will go down in NFL history as one of the worst teams ever.
7 1996 New York Jets
The 1995 Jets finished with a disgraceful 3-13 record. The dumpster fire known as the 1996 Jets was unable to improve on that record. In fact, they finished with an even more disgraceful 1-15 record, making them one of the worst teams in NFL history. Opponents regularly scored 30+ points on the sad-sack Jets defense while their quarterbacks combined for 22 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. One bright spot was running back Adrian Murrell’s career year in which he posted 1,249 rushing yards.
In the end, the 1996 Jets are remembered for their infamous futility. Like a few other teams on this list, the Jets were able to bounce back and were back in the playoffs two years later.
6 2007 Miami Dolphins
While they have only made the playoff once in the past 14 years, the Miami Dolphins have managed to stay reasonably competitive over that stretch. That is, except for the 2007 season where they finished with an embarrassing 1-15 record. The Nick Saban saga probably didn’t help things. Nor did it help that three Dolphins players made headlines due to legal troubles while enigmatic running back Ricky Williams was playing in the CFL during his one-year banishment from the NFL.
All the excuses in the world won’t change the 1-15 outcome and they won’t change that the 2007 Dolphins were one of the worst teams of all time.
5 1972 and 1973 Houston Oilers
Some teams on this list improved greatly and a couple even found playoff success following their worst seasons. The 1972 Oilers finished with a horrendous 1-13 record. They would follow that season up with an equally horrendous 1-13 record in 1973. They would endure a winless streak of 18 games spanning over the two seasons. They are high up on the list of worst ever NFL teams.
When young Oiler quarterback Dan Pastorini wasn’t being sacked, he was tossing up interceptions. Oppositions racked up a lot of points. In 1973, they allowed an average of nearly 32 points per game while they scored an average of just over 14 points.
4 2009 St. Louis Rams
The latest team to suffer 15 losses in a season is the 2009 St. Louis Rams. They allowed an average of 27.2 points against per game while they scored an average of 10.9 points per game which is sixth fewest in the 16-game era. The power trio of Marc Bulger, Kyle Boller, and Keith Null combined for a measly 12 touchdown. Steven Jackson tried to carry the team on his shoulders with his 1,416 rushing-yards, but there was just too much dead weight.
Their lone win came against Detroit in a boring 17-10 punt-fest. The Rams have failed to post a winning season in the past decade but that 2009 was a franchise low-point that secures them a place among the NFL’s worst teams ever.
3 1934 Cincinnati Reds
It was a much different era of football when the Cincinnati Reds (dis)graced the NFL with their presence in the 1933 and 1934 seasons. Their inaugural season wasn’t a total disaster but their 1934 season was a complete debacle. Their 0-8 record speaks for itself.
It’s true that many teams have gone on 0-8 skids, but what makes the Reds stand out is that they completely stunk from top to bottom. They had a terrible offense that managed to score just a single field goal and one lousy touchdown over eight forgettable games. They surrendered 30 touchdowns and their porous defense got progressively worse as the season dragged on. The nail in the franchise’s coffin was ownership’s failure to pay league dues which led to the team being kicked out of the league.
2 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not many football fans expect much out of any new expansion team, but it is fair to expect a lot more than what the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers delivered in their disastrous inaugural season. Both the offense and the defense were putrid. They were held scoreless for their first two games and it took them until their fourth game to finally score a touchdown. Opposing teams had little trouble moving the ball on the ineffective Tampa defense.
All that Coach John McKay could do when answering to a critical press was to make them laugh with Yogi Berra type quotes.
“We didn’t block real good, but we made up for it by not tackling." He told reporters following yet another loss.
The Bucs finished 0-14 and just to prove they weren’t a one-hit-wonder, they went on to lose their first 12 straight games the following season.
1 2008 Detroit Lions
There’s perfection, then there’s the 2008 Lions. This sad-sack squad was the antithesis of perfection. Between the last game of 2007 and the first two games of 2009, the Lions dropped 19 straight games. The big story was their improbable 0-16 2008 season. They lost all, but three of those games by more than a touchdown.
Their ever-changing quarterback rotation was ineffective and opponents scored 30+ points in 11 of the 16 games. They allowed 200+ rushing yards in four games and in five others they allowed over 300 passing yards.
One positive that came out of this historic season was getting Matt Stafford as the first overall pick in 2009. At least they have something to show for being the worst team in NFL history.