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By: Justin Rivers – Content Specialist
While the NFL stands for the National Football League, for a few special franchises, its meaning is more akin to the No Fun League. From the ’08 Detroit Lions infamously becoming the first winless team in NFL history; to Mark Sanchez notoriously getting KO’d by the buttocks of his o-lineman (aka. The Butt Fumble!); to the legendary choking of a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI – I won’t name names. Long story short, some franchises have had a much easier time sustaining mediocrity than greatness, and mediocrity is hilarious. As such, I present to you the latest edition of “The WOATs,” in which I tackle the NFL’s worst of the worst, the 5 all-time worst franchises in football.
Apropos my methodology, I analyzed all-time data on all 32 NFL teams and concluded that the following eight categories are the most indicative of an overall successful franchise:
- All-Time Winning Percentage
- Seasons Per Head Coach
- All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage
- Super Bowl Winning Percentage
- Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro
- Pro Bowlers Per Season
- Seasons Per Championship (includes pre Super Bowl era titles as well as Super Bowl era titles)
- MVPs Per Season
Additionally, I included three binary categories:
- Super Bowl Appearance
- Super Bowl Win
- Multiple Super Bowl Wins
Within these categories, a team either received a one, if they satisfied the criteria for the category, or a zero, if they did not. This permitted the teams who’ve made it to the Super Bowl – but have never won it – to stand out from those who’ve never made it to the Super Bowl, because both would have a winning percentage of 0.0. It also permitted teams who’ve won multiple Super Bowls – but didn’t win in every appearance – to stand out from those who’ve only won one in one appearance, because those teams have a winning percentage of 1.0. All of these categories are defined in the methodology section at the bottom of this article. Due to the manner in which certain categories are more indicative of overall success than others, I applied weights to the following categories: All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage (1.5), MVPs Per Season (1.5), Super Bowl Appearance (1.5), Super Bowl Winning Percentage (1.75), Super Bowl Win (2), and Multiple Super Bowl Wins (2.5). Their weighting is indicative of how each category can indicate higher levels of success. For example, a really successful team will have multiple Super Bowl wins and a good Super Bowl winning percentage.
Once these were compiled, each franchise was given a z-score in each category, because simply ranking them would not account for how dominant or how abysmal one franchise is in a given category. Therefore, by using z-scores, the data captures how far above or how far below one franchise is from the overall average of all 32 observed. After summing each team’s z-scores, each franchise was then ranked accordingly. This ranking is illustrated in the following graph and rankings at the bottom of this article:
The five franchises that ranked the worst constitute the following ranking. Below, you will find each franchise’s statistical values in the aforementioned eight categories, as well as how they ranked amongst the other 32 NFL franchises in parentheses. PHEW! Now that you know the method to my madness, let’s see who makes this WOAT list!
5.) The Cleveland Browns (1946 to Present)
All-Time Winning Percentage: 0.502 (16th)
Seasons Per Head Coach: 3.381 (21st)
All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: 0.444 (22nd)
Super Bowl Winning Percentage: N/A
Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro: 1 (21st)
Pro Bowlers Per Season: 3.529 (22nd)
Seasons Per Championship: 8.875 (2nd)
MVPs Per Season: 0.062 (4th)
Misery’s no stranger for the moribund Cleveland Browns franchise or its obviously delusional fanbase. The franchise is one of two in NFL history to have gone winless in a season. They haven’t made the playoffs since ’02, and they – frankly – have been a far cry from any definition of “great” since the great Jim Brown was in the backfield. For reference, the entirety of their greatness predates the Apollo 11 moon landing in ’69.
While the franchise has eight championships, the Browns have never won a Super Bowl, let alone been to a Super Bowl. All their titles predate the Super Bowl era (1966 to Present); however, their eight total titles explain the manner in which they ranked 2nd in Seasons Per Championship. In fact, they are tied with the New York Giants for the second most total titles of all time. (The Green Bay Packers have the most with 13.) Aside from Brian Sipe’s MVP in 1980, all of the franchise’s other MVPs were won by Jim Brown in the ’60s. These four total league MVPs are indicative of the Browns’ 4th place ranking in MVPs Per Season. While they boast a middle of the pack winning percentage, they ranked in the bottom half of the league in all other statistical categories.
With two winning seasons in the past two decades, as well as a winless season in that same period, the Browns have been the mediocre laughing stock of the NFL. Since the Browns re-entered the league in 1999, they have been the antithesis of a successful franchise. Given the abominable horror story that is Cleveland sports, it almost makes you wonder whether it’s Cleveland in general or just the Browns franchise itself that sucks. Since 1999, they have started more than 30 quarterbacks, which is indicative of a mountainous level of ineptitude in the team’s personnel and scouting departments. Although the team was an overhyped letdown last season, they and their fans – at least – have reason to hope, given the fact that their current roster features the likes of OBJ, Juice Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and free-agent acquisition Austin Hooper.
4.) The Cincinnati Bengals (1968 to Present)
All-Time Winning Percentage: 0.447 (26th)
Seasons Per Head Coach: 5.2 (8th)
All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: 0.263 (32nd)
Super Bowl Winning Percentage: 0 (tied for last)
Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro: 1.677 (28th)
Pro Bowlers Per Season: 2.423 (30th)
Seasons Per Championship: N/A
MVPs Per Season: 0.039 (13th)
Can we take a second to acknowledge the fact that two of the worst franchises in football reside in the state of Ohio? Ok – wait for it – that’s a second. Now, whenever I think about the Cincinnati Bengals, two thoughts come to mind. First, the manner in which Andy Dalton was absolutely abysmal in the playoffs, having thrown one touchdown against six interceptions with four fumbles in his 4-game Bengals playoff career. Second, how the Bengals were 96 seconds away from ending a decades-long postseason drought spanning four coaches and 14 losing seasons, yet they somehow managed to lose the game. Between Jeremy Hill’s fumble, Vontaze Burfect’s attempted decapitation of Antonio Brown, and Adam Jones’ unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – all within the last minute and 36 seconds of the game, it’s no wonder they didn’t win. In fact, Cincy has not won a playoff game since January 1991 when Boomer Esiason was their quarterback and Sam Wyche was their coach. This predates me!
Unlike the Browns, the Bengals have no championships – pre-Super Bowl era or Super Bowl era – to their name. At least, they do have two Super Bowl appearances on their resume. In their 52-season history they have had two league MVP award winners; however, they haven’t had one since Esiason in ’88. Under normal circumstances, I would say their 8th place ranking in Seasons Per Head Coach was a promising stat, because less turnover at head coach is typically indicative of stability and conducive to a successful franchise – like in New England or in Baltimore; however, Marvin Lewis should have been fired much sooner than he was. In his 16-seasons at the helm, the team had seven winning seasons, four division titles, and not a single playoff win in seven trips – five of which were consecutive. They have an all-time league worst playoff winning percentage of 0.263, a 26th-ranked all-time winning percentage of 0.447, and they ranked 30th in Pro Bowlers Per Season. If I were Andy Dalton in that photo, I would be face palming too. “The Red Rifle” more often shot his team in the foot than led them down the yellow brick road to success. Hopefully, the Ohio-born Joe Burrow can turn this franchise’s fortunes around. He’s from Ohio, so he must already have an astronomical amount of patience.
3.) The Arizona Cardinals (1920 to Present)
All-Time Winning Percentage: 0.410 (31st)
Seasons Per Head Coach: 2.381 (32nd)
All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: .438 (23rd)
Super Bowl Winning Percentage: 0 (tied for last)
Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro: 1.324 (25th)
Pro Bowlers Per Season: 3.6 (20th)
Seasons Per Championship: 50 (27th)
MVPs Per Season: N/A
If you’re looking for putridity, then it’s difficult to overlook the franchise that boasts the longest active title drought in North American pro sports. Just edging out MLB’s Indians – another Cleveland sports team, the Cardinals franchise haven’t won a title since 1947. Since relocating to the desert prior to the 1988 season, they have been as desolate as the region in which they play. They have a grand total of six winning seasons in their 32-season stint in Arizona. To their credit, they went to Super Bowl XLIII over a decade ago – albeit with a 9-7 regular season record; however, they eventually lost to a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had posted a more respectable 12-4 record that season.
The Cardinals ranked 31st in All-Time Winning Percentage, and the franchise ranked dead last in Seasons Per Head Coach. This statistic is particularly indicative of their instability and routine failure, because they cycle through head coaches about every two seasons on average. In more recent history, their former coach, Steve Wilkes, didn’t make it more than one season before he was canned in 2018. Prior to that season, they witlessly dumpster dove for gold in free agency and signed fools gold in the form of the used up pile of broken parts that is Sam Bradford. After guaranteeing him $15 million, the team laughably had the breaks beaten off of them with Bradford as their starter. In those three games, he accounted for two measly touchdowns against four interceptions and three fumbles. He was pulled late in their week-three game in favor of Josh Rosen, a rookie. Rosen proceeded to try and turn the ball over to the point where you would’ve thought he was playing for the other team. Nevertheless, after a 3-13 campaign, Bradford and Rosen joined their coach on the first caravan out of the desert.
The Cardinals also ranked towards the bottom half of the league in All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage, Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro, and – as you surely could’ve guessed – Seasons Per Championship. Being that the franchise has been around for 100 seasons, I suppose sometimes having more cracks at the apple – 100 cracks in fact – is not a good thing.
2.) The Houston Texans (2002 to Present)
All-Time Winning Percentage: 0.455 (25th)
Seasons Per Head Coach: 4.5 (12th)
All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: 0.4 (28th)
Super Bowl Winning Percentage: N/A
Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro: 1.286 (24th)
Pro Bowlers Per Season: 2.889 (26th)
Seasons Per Championship: N/A
MVPs Per Season: N/A
One name. David (freakin’) Carr. If you hold the top pick in the draft, why not grab a surefire signal caller that’ll lead your franchise for at least the next decade, right? As a new expansion franchise, that is exactly what the Houston Texans thought they did in ’02 when they selected David Carr; however, in his 5-season career with the franchise, Carr led the team to everything but success. In those five seasons, the Texans did not post a single winning season. Fumbling the football 68 times, he also had some of the most insecure hands in football. To summarize, he went 22-53 as Houston’s starter with too many interceptions (65) and even more fumbles (68). And the Texans? Well, they started off their NFL existence with a notable draft bust; however, if you can survive that disaster, you should be able to survive anything, right? Think again.
Since their abysmal start to life in the National Football League, the Texans have six playoff berths, eight winning seasons, and six division titles to their name. Though, let’s not praise them too much for those division titles, because you can often win the AFC South nowadays with less than ten wins. The Texans have never had an MVP or been to a Super Bowl, let alone a Conference Championship game. While they ranked 12th in Seasons Per Head Coach, that’s attributed to the fact they’ve only existed for 18 seasons. With the franchise’s lack of postseason success, some of those guys – like Marvin Lewis in Cincy – should’ve been fired sooner.
In 2017, the Bears did them a favor by drafting Mitchell Trubisky, which left the Texans available to select DeShaun Watson. Illustrated by his recent blockbuster four-year, $160 million extension, Watson has turned out to be the signal caller Houston had been begging for since ’02; however, some of the Texans’ recent moves have been more indicative of the Texans being the same old Texans. These moves include the signing of Brock Osweilier to a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016 and the trading of DeAndre Hopkins this offseason.
If you’re looking for proof of incompetence, then look no further than Bill O’Brien’s decision to run a fake punt from the Texans’ own 31-yard line with a 17-point lead in a road playoff game. Was needing DeShaun Watson’s superhuman heroics to beat the Bills in OT not enough for O’Brien? He just had to bring his dunce cap with him to their Divisional Round game the following week. At that point, you wonder if the Texans even wanted to see themselves be great.
1.) The Detroit Lions (1930 to Present)
All-Time Winning Percentage: .444 (28th)
Seasons Per Head Coach: 3.333 (24th)
All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: 0.35 (31st)
Super Bowl Winning Percentage: N/A
Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro: 0.874 (14th)
Pro Bowlers Per Season: 3.386 (24th)
Seasons Per Championship: 22.5 (17th)
MVPs Per Season: 0.015 (tied for 23rd, second to last)
If you are looking for mediocrity, then look no further than the dumpster fire that is the Lions. As a franchise, they have never won a Super Bowl, let alone been to one. Plus, they haven’t won a division crown since ’93. They are in fact the worst franchise in football, the absolute WOATs. They boast the second worst playoff winning percentage and worst winning percentage of all time. The Lions also tied for second to worst in MVPs Per Season and ranked 24th in both Seasons Per Head Coach and Pro Bowlers Per Season. The only reason they ranked about average in Seasons Per First-Team All-Pro is due to the fact that they have always had at least one really good player on their roster, but, unfortunately for those players, they were stuck in the Motor City.
Their coach, Matt Patricia, is yet another Bill Belichick disciple that some moribund franchise thought could replicate the Patriots’ success. They couldn’t have been more wrong. In his two seasons in Detroit, the Lions have finished last in the division twice, and their record has gotten worse from one season to the next. Under Patricia, who was a defensive coordinator in New England, the Lions STILL cannot defend a Hail Mary, and they’re best defensive player, Darius Slay, skipped town.
Clearly, their present sucks. So, let’s regard their past. The Lions have been to the playoffs 17 times in their 90-season history. That equates to just under 19%. Rob Gronkowski – arguably the best tight end of all time – threatened to retire instead of accepting a trade to Detroit. After nine seasons, six Pro Bowls, and three First-Team All-Pro selections, even Calvin “Megatron” Johnson opted to retire instead of playing another down for this desolate franchise. At the time, he was still one of the top receivers in the league, too. Along with the Cleveland Browns, the Lions are the only other team to ever go winless in a season. This season featured one of the worst plays in NFL history, too. The Lions are the proof that not every blind squirrel eventually finds a nut. They are even more of a bermuda triangle for a fanbase’s hopes and dreams than all of Cleveland pro sports. They are undoubtedly the WOAT of the NFL.
So, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a fan of the Lions or one of the other four aforementioned teams, and you’re not irrationally delusional, then like I said in my article, The WOATs: The 5 All-Time Worst Franchises in Basketball, “you ought to question your allegiance as soon as humanly possible,” because you’re wasting your time and fandom here.
Here are the 11 categories I used for this installment of The WOATs:
- All-Time Winning Percentage: A measure of the percentage of games a team has won, using the amount of wins a team has accrued divided by the total games played (total wins + total losses + total ties).
- Seasons Per Head Coach: By dividing the number of seasons a team has been in the NFL by the total number of head coaches that the franchise has employed, the resulting statistic illustrates the average number of seasons a franchise goes before moving on to a new head coach. I used this, because, as we have seen in New England, a successful franchise retains its coach for many seasons. Continuity illustrates stability, and typically stability is positively correlated with overall success.
- All-Time Playoff Winning Percentage: A measure of the percentage of playoff games a team has won, using the amount of playoff games a team has won divided by the total amount of playoff games in which a team has competed (total wins + total losses).
- Super Bowl Appearance: A binary category in which a team gets a one for having won their conference and competed in the Super Bowl or a zero for never having competed in the game. This category helped franchises that have made it to the Super Bowl stand out in the data above those who have never appeared in the Super Bowl.
- Super Bowl Win: A binary category in which a team gets a one for having competed in the Super Bowl and won or a zero for never having won a Super Bowl.
- Multiple Super Bowl Wins: A binary category in which a team gets a one for having won more than one Super Bowl in its franchise’s history or a zero for never having won the game on more than one occasion. This category helps franchises like the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers stand out from a franchise like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because the Bucs won the Super Bowl in their franchise’s lone appearance in the game giving them a winning percentage of 1 in the Super Bowl; however, most would agree the other aforementioned franchises are better than the Bucs despite having a lower winning percentage in the Super Bowl.
- Super Bowl Winning Percentage: A measure of the percentage of the Super Bowls a team has won, using the amount of Super Bowls a franchise has won divided by the total number of Super Bowl appearances.
- Season Per First-Team All-Pro: By dividing the number of seasons a team has been in the NFL since the first All-Pro team was selected in 1922 – because some teams existed before 1922 – by its total number of First-Team All-Pro selections, this statistical value illustrates the average amount of seasons a team goes until it has a First-Team All-Pro player. A value less than one shows that the franchise has at least one First-Team All-Pro player just about every season.
- Pro Bowlers Per Season: By dividing the total number of Pro Bowlers a franchise has had by the amount of seasons a franchise has been in the NFL since the first Pro Bowl game, which occurred after the conclusion of the 1950 NFL season on the 14th of January, 1951, the resulting value measures the average number of Pro Bowlers that a franchise has on its roster every season.
- Seasons Per Championship: By dividing the amount of seasons a team has been in the NFL by the total number of championships it has won, this statistic measures the average number of seasons a franchise goes through before it wins another championship. This includes titles won pre Super Bowl era as well as titles won during the Super Bowl era.
- MVPs Per Season: This statistic was calculated by dividing the total number of league MVP award winners a franchise has had by the number of seasons a franchise has been in the NFL. This stat rewards franchises who’ve had a MVP on their roster, because, for a player to be awarded MVP, the team must’ve been successful.
In case you missed it, here is how all 32 NFL franchises stacked up in the ranking. One represents the best all-time franchise and 32 represents the vitriol-worthy WOAT. Check out how your team fared in the ranking!
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