Every NFL season features a few teams fans think are among the worst of all-time. We're here to dispel that notion right quick. There have been a ton of really horrific football teams in the league's history and we shouldn't let recency bias lead us to forget the truly awful teams. Here's our look at the 10 worst teams in NFL history.
1. 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 1976 Buccaneers became the first NFL team to go an entire 14-game season without winning or tying a single game. It was their first season as a franchise and they had managed to pry legendary coach John McKay away from USC to guide the squad. He may have regretted that decision. The Bucs didn't score a touchdown until their third game and were shut out five times. They only came within one score of a win twice, including against the expansion Seattle Seahawks. Their minus-287 points differential is the worst ever.
The ever-quotable McKay didn't sugarcoat just how bad things were and he had some all-timers during that season. Several favorites:
"Well, we didn't block, but we made up for it by not tackling."
"We can't stop a pass or a run. Other than that we're in great shape."
"We'll be back. Maybe not this century, but we'll be back."
2. 1990 New England Patriots
When Patriots fans try to convince you things are bad now, remind them of the late 80's and early 90's. Long-time defensive coordinator Rod Rust's one season in charge of the Pats were one of the worst in NFL history. The poor guy had a garbage roster that produced awful results. The Pats started 1-1 and finished 1-15 with a points differential of minus-265. Long-time quarterback Steve Grogan finished his career on this absolutely dog of a team, dimming the shine on what was a solid career. Nearly the entire roster had turned over by the time Bill Parcells took over in 1993.
3. 2008 Detroit Lions
A perfect season. In Matt Millen's final season as general manager, Rod Marinelli and his team went 0-16 and finished with a points differential of minus-249. Truly one of the worst rosters in NFL history, it was led by Dan Orlovsky who started seven games at quarterback, while Jon Kitna and Daunte Culpepper also got starts and Drew Stanton and Drew Henson made appearances. That's a murderer's row of mediocre-at-best 2000s quarterback. I'd try to give your bright spots but other than Calvin Johnson being Calvin Johnson, there weren't any. Kevin Smith (no, not that one) ran for 976 yards and eight touchdowns. It was a rough time.
4. 1944 Chicago Cardinals/Pittsburgh Steelers
Also referred to as Card-Pitt (or the Card-Pitts), this team was created during the 1944 season because of the loss of players due to World War II military service. The team was dissolved after the 1944 season and thanks goodness, because the squad was awful. Card-Pitt finished 0-10 and began being referred to as the "carpets" because they got walked all over. The team scored seven points or less in seven games, and only came within one score of a win in their opening game, a 30-28 loss to the Cleveland Rams. If that wasn't enough, Card-Pitt also lost all three of its preseason games by a combined score of 47-0. The Brooklyn Tigers also went winless that season, but only suffered an average margin of defeat of 9.7. The Card-Pitts lost by an average of 22 points per game.
So how was this team so much worse than everyone else? Well, the Card-Pitts threw 41 interceptions, a 4.1 per game rate that is still the worst in NFL history. Their adjusted yards per pass attempt (which measures yards, attempts, touchdowns and interceptions) was minus-1.7. So they averaged losing 1.7 yards every time they attempted a pass. Show me a worse stat in NFL history, I'd love to hear it.
5. 2009 St. Louis Rams
The 2009 Rams went 1-15 and had a a minus-261 points differential, the worst of the 21st century. A 17-10 Week 8 win over the 2-14 Detroit Lions saved this from being a winless campaign. The only bright spot in the Rams' utterly brutal season was Steven Jackson rushing for 1,416 yards and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Just a completely forgettable season in a stretch of five years where in which they lost 13 games four times.
6. 1991 Indianapolis Colts
The Colts went 1-15 in 1991 and had one of the worst offenses in NFL history. They only scored 143 points with second-year quarterback Jeff George running the offense. The combination of George and an aging Eric Dickerson didn't work, which was made all the worst due to the trades Indianapolis engineered to land both. The Colts traded up in the 1990 draft to take George with the No. 1 pick, surrendering a fifth-rounder in 1990, first-rounder in 1991, All-Pro guard Chris Hinton and a young Andre Rison. Whoops.
The Colts beat the Jets 28-27 in Week 11 to avoid a winless season. This, of course, is all the worse because Indianapolis had the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft and selected all-time bust Steve Emtman, they also that the No. 2 spot and took linebacker Quentin Coryatt. Yikes.
7. 2017. Cleveland Browns
Another winless team, the Browns went 0-16 but only lost one game by more than 17 points. Six different times the margin of defeat was within six points. They were so close yet so far away. After a 1-15 record in 2016, the Browns went winless in 2017 yet somehow head coach Hue Jackson kept his job for another half-season. Cleveland's big problem was turnover margin. The Browns coughed the ball up 41 times and only had 13 takeaways, tying the 2000 San Diego Chargers for the worst turnover margin (minus-28) since the AFL-NFL merger.
8. 1966 New York Giants
The Giants had long been one of the best teams in the old NFL, reaching the championship six times from 1956 to 1963. But in the first year after the AFL-NFL merger they were horrendous. New York went 1-12-1 in 1966 and had arguably the worst defense of all-time. The Giants allowed 501 points (35.8 per game) while scoring 263. They are the only team to surrender more than 500 points in a 14-game season and on the year they gave up a whopping 66 touchdowns. In consecutive games against Washington, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, New York gave up 72, 49 and 47 points. That's an average of 56 points per game in that stretch. If that wasn't enough their trio of quarterbacks threw 31 interceptions combined. Just a truly awful season.
9. 1986 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers owned the rights to two great players in 1986 and couldn't take advantage of either. They selected Bo Jackson with the first pick in the NFL draft and had Steve Young thanks to selecting him in the 1984 supplemental draft. Jackson refused to play for Tampa and signed a contract with the Kansas City Royals instead, and the Bucs opted to open the season with Steve DeBerg at quarterback. After DeBerg threw seven (yes, seven) interceptions in the opener and 12 in only 96 pass attempts, Tampa turned things over to Young in Week 3. The Bucs started the season 1-2 before falling off a cliff. They ended up 2-7 with two overtime losses and three other defeats by two scores or less. Then the wheels fell off. From Week 10 through Week 14, they lost five games by an average of 26.2 points per game.
After earning the No. 1 pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, then traded Young to the San Francisco 49ers and forfeited Jackson's rights. The Raiders selected the running back in the seventh round and the rest is history.
10. 1973 Houston Oilers
The Houston Oilers had their worst season in 1973, going 1-13 for the second consecutive season. Despite having future Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea along the defensive line, they gave up 447 points or right around 32 per game. Six of their first seven opponents scored more than 30 points, and the offense only broke 30 one time, during a 31-27 victory against the Baltimore Colts in Week 8. They went 0-7 at home and in their final game of the season, only 21,955 fans showed up to the Astrodome. Remember, this was football in Texas, so you know it was really bad.