The 2014 NFL season is over, and we learned lots of things: the Redskins, Titans and Raiders haven’t been threatening for an increasing stretch of time that has surpassed 10 years, professional running backs have a tendency to beat women and the NFC South was really, really bad. So, in honor of the Division of Gunk, here are the top 10 worst divisions of all time.
10. The 1996 AFC East (Average Wins per Team: 7.8)
The 1996 AFC East barely sneaks in despite producing three teams with winning records. The 11-5 Patriots, 10-6 Bills and 9-7 Colts were all in this division, and all three made the playoffs. However, all of the teams played easy schedules and always played badly against playoff teams. Although the 8-8 Dolphins weren’t a bad team, they got lazy despite playing seven teams with .500 or below records and only going 4-3 against them, 2-3 without the awful Jets. The 1996 New York Jets remain the worst season in franchise history with a 1-15 record, leading the league in turnovers, finishing second to last in points allowed with 454 (a franchise worst), and scoring over 30 points only once: in their only win over the Cardinals.
9. The 1987 AFC East (Average Wins per Team: 7.6)
The AFC East makes the most appearances on the list with three entries, and one of the (potentially) better ones is the 1987 group. Since the teams in 1987 only played 15 games, we don’t know that two teams in the division (New England and Miami) wouldn’t have finished with a winning record. After 15 games, their records both stood at 8-7 , so mathematically, it is a winning season, but it’s still only eight wins. The division’s winner, the Colts, finished 9-6 but lost their first playoff game. The Buffalo Bills finished with a 7-8 record, while the Jets sat at the bottom with a 6-9 record.
8. The 1995 AFC East (Average Wins per Team: 7.4)
Here we go, the third consecutive (and final) AFC East entry on the list. In 1995, the AFC East got fat with wins over the expansion teams in the league (Jacksonville and Carolina) and didn’t do very much against teams that were destined for the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills won the division with a 10-6 record and later won a playoff game, but their best years were behind them. The Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins both finished with 9-7 records, but the Colts received the second place finish based on a head-to-head sweep. The Dolphins surrendered a 24-3 lead to the Colts at home, a game that they lost and ultimately cost them a possible higher place in the playoffs. The Colts’ point differential (15) speaks wonders about their season: out of all the games they played (and they played quite a few, they reached the AFC Championship game), 15 of them were decided by a touchdown or less. The Dolphins, meanwhile, had a point differential of 66, but were relegated to Wild Card duty against the Bills. The Patriots finished in fourth place with a 6-10 record, while the sad sack New York Jets ranked last in the league in turnovers, point differential and first downs. They also ranked 28th/29th in passing yards and interceptions thrown on offense. Predictably, this formula did not translate into wins, as the Jets went 3-13, bringing their record from 1995-1996 (along with their final five games from 1994) to 4-33.
7. The 1998 NFC East (Average Wins per Team: 7.2)
After dominating the NFL for the entirety of the 1980’s and every year in the 1990’s before this, the NFC East lit their mattress on fire with a match. Although the division produced two playoff teams, there were catches for both. The Cowboys went 8-0 within the NFC East, but 2-6 against everyone else in the league. The Arizona Cardinals finished 9-7, but started 4-7 before getting hot and getting lucky with fumbles. In addition, their point differential stood at -53 despite their winning record. Later, the Cardinals beat the Cowboys in the playoffs, but got hammered by the Vikings in the divisional round. The New York Giants finished the year with an 8-8 record, a perfect representation of the Dave Brown-led team that holds a place in Giants history as some of the ugliest football ever to hit the Meadowlands. The Washington Redskins finished fourth in the division, beginning 0-7 and ranking dead last in the league in rushing defense. Finally, we have the Eagles, who tied for the third-fewest points ever scored in a 16-game season with a measly 161, finishing 3-13.
6. The 2011 AFC West (Average Wins per Team: 7.75)
Although the 2011 AFC West has more wins combined than the 1998 NFC East, I just think they were worse. Every single team in this division seemed to bumble around every week but maintain a .500 record. The Broncos, Chargers and Raiders all finished with 8-8 records, and finished within the division in that order. The Broncos were awarded the No.4 playoff seed by default, and actually won a playoff game against the Steelers. The Broncos’ point differential was -89 and the Raiders’ was -62. The Chiefs, with a 7-9 mark, sat in the cellar of the AFC West, but a coaching change early in the season doomed them to one of the most awful seasons ever in 2012.
5. The 1990 AFC Central (Average Wins per Team: 7.5)
For the old AFC Central, there were a lot of years where it just seemed like they thought it was a 4-team league: they would run up the score on each other, constantly become the most penalized teams in the league because they couldn’t resist taking cheap shots at one another, and then everyone would finish 9-7. In 1990, it was different for one reason: they didn’t all finish 9-7, three out of four teams did, the other one (the Browns) couldn’t even hold up to the formula, crashing to a 3-13 season. The Bengals finished in first place with the Oilers coming up right behind them. The Steelers missed the playoffs despite finishing with a winning record, and although we can poke fun at this division, it did provide us with an epic season finale for the Oilers and Steelers: win, and you’re in the playoffs, but lose, and you’re going home. The Oilers were only one of two teams to score over 400 points on offense during this season.
The 1990 Browns are just a whole separate story. They finished with a worse point differential (-234) than their 1999 expansion team. Their average game was a 29-14 loss, their turnover differential was -24, they gave up the most points in the league, and somehow ranked last in both passing touchdowns on offense and passing touchdowns given up on defense. In half their games, they gave up 30 or more points, and during an away game at Houston, they gave up 58. In summary, both sides of the ball for the Browns were getting old at the same time, and the mix was a horrifying result that ended games with scores like 42-0 (Week 9 against Buffalo), 35-0 (Week 16 against Pittsburgh), 34-0 (Week 4 against Kansas City), 30-13 (Week 12 against Miami), and the previously mentioned 58-14 pounding in Week 14 against Houston.
4. The 2011 NFC West (Average Wins per Team: 7.25)
There was certainly trouble brewing in the West in 2011, as both divisions make an appearance on the list. Without the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams average 5.6 wins per team. The Cardinals finished 8-8 with a point differential of -36, the Seahawks won one game less than Arizona despite having a positive point differential, and then there are the Rams. The 2-14 St. Louis Rams got double-shafted: they had to suffer through a terrible 2-14 season in which they were outscored 193-407, and they didn’t even get the first draft pick. The No.1 overall pick was awarded to Indianapolis, who promptly took Andrew Luck, and the rest is history. Jeff Fisher doesn’t have St. Louis winning, and just a week ago, the Colts won a playoff game.
3. The 1985 AFC Central (Average Wins per Team: 6.75)
If the top team in your division sits at .500 and the rest suck, there’s a problem. This was the case for the 1985 AFC Central. The Cleveland Browns won the division (somehow) with an 8-8 record, although they gave up a single touchdown more than they scored. The Bengals and Steelers come in at second and third place with respective 7-9 records, and the Houston Oilers had a pretty good season considering their stats: 284 points scored, 412 points given up, and the league’s worst rushing defense (along with the firing of head coach Hugh Campbell early in the year) helped cook up a 5-11 season, Houston’s best since 1981. The Browns were the only team to make the playoffs out of this bunch, and promptly lost to the Miami Dolphins despite owning a 21-3 halftime lead.
2. The 2008 AFC West (Average Wins per Team: 5.75)
8-8-5-2 sounds like the beginning of a bizarre telephone number, not the pattern of wins that teams amounted to in a professional football division. The 2008 AFC West managed this, however, with 0 teams advancing past the .500 mark and two really dreadful teams in the bottom two slots. The San Diego Chargers won the division with an 8-8 record despite starting 4-8. They scored the most points in the AFC West. The Broncos began 8-5 but choked their final three games to miss the playoffs completely, giving up 30, 30 and 52 points in those losses. In third place, the Oakland Raiders continued their post-2002 run of futility with a 5-11 record, scoring the fewest points in the division. The Chiefs finished in last place, as they usually did around this time, suffering one of two 2-14 seasons within just a four year span. They earned their only wins in divisional games, and were outscored 440-291.
1. The 2014 NFC South (Average Wins per Team: 5.5)
This is it. They are the worst division in the history of the National Football League. It’s safe to say now, after scientific (not really) research. Although the Redskins’ team buses crashed into eachother and an anonymous Seattle linebacker referred to Carolina as a “hot cousin” (don’t even ask), this division featured a 7-8-1 team making the playoffs, the NFL’s worst pass defense, a team who fell below everyone’s expectations despite scoring over 400 points, and the 2015 NFL Draft’s first selectors. The Carolina Panthers finished 7-8-1 and miraculously won the division despite being in a car crash and breaking two bones in his back. After that, the New Orleans Saints finished 7-9 after coming into the season with great expectations, particularly on offense. They did score 401 points, but they gave up 424 and kept losing games in a home field they used to absolutely monopolize. The Atlanta Falcons, despite showing flashes at times, finished 6-10 thanks to the NFL’s worst pass defense, a bad offensive line, and some of the most asinine clock management skills we’ve ever seen: go watch the Falcons blow a 21-0 halftime lead to Detroit in their London game.
Then we have the good ol’ bad ol’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Picked by many to reach the playoffs thanks to very good free agent signings and draft choices, the Bucs started 1-8 behind a gag-worthy offense, an unholy defense, a tendency to turn the ball over and just head-shake worthy coaching (the Bengals exploiting the Bucs having 12 men on the field to go and win the game is a prime example) combined to form the Bucs’ worst season since 1991. The team also got caught selling colored water as “alcohol” in their home stadium. Nice.
So there we go. The 2014 NFC South, a division we just finished watching, is the worst in history.