The past 15 years have seen some of the greatest teams to ever grace an NFL field. Tom Brady’s Patriots have won multiple titles and put together the first real dynasty of the Salary Cap era. The Legion of Boom in Seattle have produced some of the greatest defensive seasons the league has ever seen. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees have put up phenomenal seasons through the air.
This article isn’t about them.
Every coin has its opposite side. Every silver lining is hiding a cloud. For each Super Bowl-winning, history-making team that will live on in the minds and hearts of NFL fans forever, there’s a team that’s finding new depths to sink to. While parity and the salary cap have prevented teams from spending too long among the worst teams in the league, that hasn’t prevented some franchises from trotting out some of the worst teams to ever take the field.
These are teams whose playoff hopes were more or less over after the first quarter of their first game. These are teams that seem to struggle understanding the very basic concepts of football. They fail to gain yards on offense, and they fail to provide any resistance on defense. Any win by these teams feels more like luck than something earned. These are the worst of the worst.
We are looking at individual seasons here, so even though a team like the Cleveland Browns, who have been poor for essentially all of the last 15 years, won’t show up on this list unless one season in particular was especially bad. Franchises can show up multiple times, as well, though consecutive years have been grouped as one entry to allow for a little more variety.
Join me in a stroll down memory lane, and hope that your favorite team isn’t mentioned.
15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2011)
14 Tennessee Titans (2014 and 2015)
13 Washington Redskins (2014)
12 St. Louis Rams (2011)
11 Carolina Panthers (2010)
10 Detroit Lions (2002)
9 Oakland Raiders (2013)
8 Seattle Seahawks (2009)
7 Arizona Cardinals (2010)
6 Kansas City Chiefs (2012)
5 Houston Texans (2002)
4 Arizona Cardinals (2002 and 2003)
3 St. Louis Rams (2007, 2008, and 2009)
2 Detroit Lions (2007, 2008, and 2009)
1 San Francisco 49ers (2004 and 2005)
I had the misfortune of watching every single game of the 2004 and 2005 seasons in San Francisco, and even if they occasionally managed to scrape a win together, I can assure you it was purely by chance. The 49ers had lost Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, and Garrison Hearst after the 2003 season, replacing them with Tim Rattay, Kevan Barlow, and Cedrick Wilson. It did not go well. At all. Offensive football was set back generations by the 49ers’ attempts to move the ball in this period. The 2005 season saw them shuffling between rookie Alex Smith, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, and Cody Pickett at the quarterback position, and that’s one of the most motley depth charts of all time. Their -55.5% DVOA that season remains untouched as the worst ever recorded in Football Outsiders history, and it doesn’t seem to be challenged any time soon. Winless season or not, this was the worst team of the past 15 years.
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