There have been tons and tons of 3-13 teams over the years, since the NFL started running a 16-game schedule back in 1978. But what were the worst ones? The rankings rely heavily on point differential, talent level, and coaching. So the worst of the worst will be #1? Yeah, I’m confused too.
But let’s get started.
Note: Teams that won only 3 games in the strike-shortened seasons of 1982 and 1987 do not count for the list. Sorry ’82 Bears and ’87 Falcons.
10. The 1988 Dallas Cowboys (Point differential: -116)
For the Cowboys in the late 1980s, “Big D” didn’t stand for Dallas, it stood for “disaster”. After a mediocre 7-8 finish in 1987, the Cowboys were awarded one of the most difficult schedules in the league. The roster was an aging bunch that the game had passed by. Danny White was gone, leaving the Cowboys with the dubious quarterback duo of Steve Pueller and Kevin Sweeney. Ever heard of either of them? Me neither. The Cowboys would often roar to big leads (20-0 in Philadelphia, lost 24-23) and coast, or fail when the clutch came. After this miserable season, Tom Landry was fired, and Jerry Jones was awarded ownership of the team. 1989 wasn’t much better, as Dallas crash-landed to a 1-15 record.
Tom Landry knew his time was done in 1988.
9. The 1995 New York Jets (Point differential: -151)
The story of the ’95 Jets actually begins the year earlier. Nowadays, we think of Pete Carroll as a Super Bowl-winning head coach, but he was an overly-enthusiastic college wannabe in 1994, who also happened to be the rookie head coach of the Jets. The Jets were 6-5, and had a chance to find a playoff spot if they could squeeze out a few more wins. They stormed to a 24-6 lead over the Dolphins, but horribly collapsed, losing 28-24 in the infamous “Fake Spike” game. New York never recovered from this, going 4-33 throughout the next 2 1/2 seasons. Because of this horrid collapse, the infamous Rich Kotite was brought in, who owner Leon Hess described as “a man who I think can make a winning team out of the Jets”. Well, he did the complete opposite. Kotite spent two abomidable seasons in New York (going 4-28) before being fired, and set the team back years by selecting no-name TE Kyle Brady over Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Curtis Martin.
The quarterbacks were one of the biggest issues in 1995, as the Jets had to rely on 98-year old Boomer Esiason, Bubby Brister, and Frank Reich.
Rich Kotite with his classic “I don’t know what’s going on” look.
8. The 1998 Philadelphia Eagles (Point differential: -183)
The 1998 Eagles’ season is low because it actually set them on an extremely successful run in the early 2000s, reaching 4 straight NFC title games. In 1998, however, fans had to suffer through an awful 3-13 year that was the Eagles’ worst record since 1972. The biggest issue on this team was the offense. They could only muster 161 points the entire season (10.06 per game, tied for third lowest in history), and their three starting quarterbacks (Bobby Hoying, Koy Detmer and Rodney Peete) each only won one game apiece. The defense wasn’t terrible, but when you have such a weak offense, you’re not going to win many games. After 1999, the Eagles earned the No.2 pick, which they used to draft Donovan McNabb. Ray Rhodes was also fired at the end of the season, and Andy Reid was brought in.
Koy Detmer on the ground in 1998, a position he got very used to.
7. The 1984 Houston Oilers (Point differential: -197)
The first two 3-13 teams emerged in 1984, one of which we’ll get to later on, but the “Boilers” are in my mind the first. The Oilers’ misfortunes began at the start of the decade, in which they assembled a talented but ancient roster that took them to the playoffs, where they promptly lost. After that season, many of their aging stars retired, leaving them completely talentless and without any hope. After a 7-9 finish in 1981, the Oilers suffered through 1-8 and 2-14 seasons in 1982 and 1983. In 1984, they acquired CFL star Warren Moon, but it didn’t immediately turn the team around. The defense was awful, and the offense constantly struggled with turnovers as Warren Moon and Andrew Luck’s father, Oliver combined for 49 sacks and 15 interceptions. Running back Larry Moriarty carried the offense, but when he had an off day, the team looked dysmal. In their average game, Houston was beaten 15-27.
Another offensive series; another turnover.
6. The 1986 Indianapolis Colts (Point differential: -171)
The Colts were the laughing stock of the league before they moved to Indianapolis, going 25-63-1 since the start of the decade. Incompetent coach Rod Dowhower could not win to save his life, and the oft-agitated Robert Irsay had been making very questionable personnel decisions. In short, the Colts were a mess. In 1986, they began the season 0-13 before Dowhower was finally fired (he went 5-24 with the Colts) and Ron Meyer was brought in. During this 0-13 stretch, the Colts were outscored 147-349. But Ron Meyer pulled the team together, and he went 3-0 in the final games of the season, ending what had been predicted to be the first 0-16 season ever on a high note.
When Gary Hogeboom is your starter, you’ve got serious problems.
5. The 1998 Cincinnati Bengals (Point differential: -184)
The Bengals had four 3-13 seasons in the 1990s, but the 1998 squad barely edges out the 1991 team for the worst of them. Led by the incomparable Bruce Coslet (who went 21-39 in Cincy), the Bungles went down in flames. The only bright spot of the season was running back Corey Dillon, who established himself as one of the NFL’s premier backs, rushing for 1,120 yards. Otherwise, it was pretty bare. The Bengals earned the No.3 draft pick in 1999 and promptly wasted it on the dim-witted Akili Smith.
The leaky Bengals defense probably wouldn’t have stopped Rob Ford going into rehab.
4. The 1996 Atlanta Falcons (Point differential: -152)
The Falcons were an absolute mess in 1996, and people often contribute this to Deion Sanders leaving them. Well, newsflash, Deion left them after 1993, and he wouldn’t have been able to glue this team back together by himself anyways. With no offense and no defense, the June Jones-led Falcons started out 0-8 before beating the equally inept New Orleans Saints (twice). The stubborn Jones refused to change the offense’s system from the dated run-and-shoot concept, and as a result, Bobby Hebert and the immortal Jeff George combined for 30 interceptions, 42 sacks and a 59.3% completion rate. Defense was the biggest problem on the team, however, as the Falcons couldn’t have stopped a junior high team. Their 461 points surrendered is still the worst in franchise history, and Football Outsiders calculated that the ’96 Falcons had the third-worst pass defense they had ever tracked.
June Jones and Jeff George were constantly fighting, and after George’s famous explosion in Week 3, he was benched for the season.
3. The 1990 Cleveland Browns (Point differential: -234)
The Browns’ famous playoff runs in the late 1980s were great, and everyone expected them to continue at the start of the new decade. Coming off a 9-6-1 year after they were the second best team in the league (according to advanced statistical analysis), people expected Cleveland to finally turn the corner. They didn’t. Instead, Browns fans had to suffer through a horrendous season in which players on both sides of the ball had gotten old. Bud Carson finally showed his true colors, as he steered the team to their worst season since 1975. The nearly-anonymous Mike Pagel was named the starter as popular Bernie Kosar was benched, and the team staggered through the wretched year. The defense surrendered 462 points, the most of any team in the 1990s. The -234 point differential is even worse than the 1999 expansion team’s. Cleveland was shut out 3 times, and in Week 14 gave up 58 points to Houston. Cleveland lost their average game by a scoring ratio of 2:1.
A ball carrier running freely through the Browns’ defense was a common sight in 1990.
2. The 2000 Cleveland Browns (Point differential: -258)
10 years later, the Browns were at the bottom of the pot once again. You might be asking, “What?! Why is the team with the worst point differential not #1 on the list?” Well, that’s simple. The team had no coaching, no talent, and no direction whatsoever. They were coming off their expansion in 1999, and there was no expectation for 2000. Head coach Chris Palmer (5-27 in his 2-year stretch with the Browns) made sure those expectations were lived up to. Kicker Phil Dawson led the team in scoring with 59 points, as the offense ranked last in the league (only managing 10.06 points per game), and the defense ranked 26th. In an average game, Cleveland was beaten by more than a two-touchdown margin.
Doug Pederson running for his life in 2000. A regular occurrence.
1. The 1984 Minnesota Vikings (Point differential: -208)
The worst of the worst, the movable object. The stoppable force. After an 8-8 season in 1983, head coach Les Steckel was hired, and he promptly ruined the franchise. He was too strict, and his ironman competitions in training camp injured key players. On opening day, they were carved up by the Chargers 42-13. This pattern continued, as the Vikings allowed 484 points in 1984, the most by any team between 1983 and 2000. They ranked 25th in offense, and predictably, 28th in defense. Minnesota’s average game in 1984 was a 31-17 loss.
What makes this season so poor is that Steckel had quality players to work with. After the season was over, Steckel was fired, and Bud Grant was re-hired, the man who preceeded Steckel. He took the 1985 Vikings to a 7-9 record, and won a memorable game in Philadelphia where the Vikings came back from a 23-0 deficit in the fourth quarter. The ’84 squad lands here because of the incompetent Steckel wasting talent.
Steckel often resembled a petulant 5-year old, and he coached about as well as one too.