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NFL PLAYOFFS: The Super Bowl era’s weakest teams to reach the postseason

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The 2011 Broncos were a statistical mess with point differential (minus-81), turnover margin (minus-12) and blowout losses (4). However, Tim Tebow also engineered an OT win over the Steelers on Wild Card Weekend.

BATSBY Sports invokes a whimsical, resume-based look at the weakest teams to reach the NFL playoffs in the Super Bowl era (1966-2019) — citing the tangible marks of regular season record, home/away splits, seasonal point differential, turnover margin, decisive wins/losses (spread of 10 points or more), losses to sub-.500 teams, record against playoff-bound clubs and strength of division.

On the plus side, there’s a component rewarding postseason victories, when applicable.

HONORABLE MENTION

1986 NEW YORK JETS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 10-6
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 5-3
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -22
TURNOVER MARGIN: +1
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 5
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Chiefs in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) The 1986 Jets are the only 10-win club in this countdown (regular season). They’re also the only postseason-bound team in NFL modern history to incur five straight losses before the playoffs.

b) All six regular-season defeats were blowouts. In fact, the Jets fell to the Patriots, Dolphins, Rams, 49ers, Steelers and Bengals by a staggering average of 22.6 points.

c) Interestingly, if defensive end/sack artist Mark Gastineau hadn’t committed a horrible penalty in the divisional-playoff round (vs. the Browns), Wesley Walker and QB Ken O’Brien likely would have advanced to the AFC title game.

NFL’S WEAKEST PLAYOFF ENTRANTS

1989 HOUSTON OILERS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME: 6-2 / ROAD: 3-5
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -47
TURNOVER MARGIN: +4
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 3
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 3
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-4
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) This marked the final season of enigmatic head coach Jerry Glanville in Houston. (The Oilers’ secondary coach for this year: Nick Saban).

b) In 1989, the Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) incurred three desultory losses to the Vikings, Chiefs and Bengals … by an absurd aggregate score of 133-14.

As part of that, it’s easy to explain Houston’s minus-47 point differential.

c) Hall of Famer Warren Moon (3,631 yards passing, 23 TDs) and the prolific Oilers offense had too many dry spells that year, notching 17 or fewer points five times.

2017 BUFFALO BILLS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME:
6-2 / ROAD: 3-5
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL:
-57
TURNOVER MARGIN:
-7
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE:
2
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE:
5
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS:
2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS:
2-4
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5):
2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT:
None

SUMMARY

a) The Bills were a feel-good story in 2017, breaking an 18-year postseason drought on the final Sunday — through the miracle touchdown of Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd … in a classic game that, technically, didn’t involve Buffalo in Week 17.

b) Buffalo’s last five regular-season defeats had a staggering average margin of 24 points.

c) The absolute low point of the above nugget: For the Bills’ 54-24 loss to the Chargers (Week 11), rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman incurred a flameout for all time, tossing five interceptions in the first half of his NFL debut.

1982 CLEVELAND BROWNS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 4-5 (strike-shortened campaign)
HOME: 2-2 / ROAD: 2-3
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -35
TURNOVER MARGIN: +4
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 1
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-4
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) The Browns’ countdown legacy would have been worse, had the deplorable point differentials extended to a full 16-game campaign.

b) Cleveland was one of two sub-.500 clubs to reach the NFL postseason in 1982 (along with Detroit). The AFC and NFC playoff fields expanded to eight teams, as a means of rationalizing the strike-halted schedule of nine games.

c) Quarterback Brian Sipejust two years removed from being named NFL MVP, averaged only 177 yards passing and 0.7 TDs in six starts.

d) It’s also worth noting: Strangely, Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome had a superb nine-game run, accounting for 49 catches, 633 yards and three scores.

1983 DENVER BRONCOS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME: 6-2 / ROAD: 3-5
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -25
TURNOVER MARGIN: +6
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 3
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 3
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) Here’s Exhibit A for why NFL teams MUST exercise patience with newbie quarterbacks:

As a rookie, Hall of Famer John Elway accounted for eight touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a middling 4-6 record as Denver’s starter.

b) On the positive side, the ’83 Broncos made the playoffs … only because Elway rallied the squad from a 19-0 deficit against the Colts (Week 15) — the same franchise which drafted him the previous spring (No. 1 overall, subsequently traded Elway’s rights five days after the draft).

2004 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7 (NFC West title)
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 4-4
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -2
TURNOVER MARGIN: +8
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 3
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 1-4
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) On the plus side, running back extraordinaire Shaun Alexander notched his fourth straight year of 1,600-plus yards/16 TDs.

b) Seattle curiously surrendered only 13 total points in the first three weeks … and then allowed 26 or more seven times after that.

c) Incredibly, the Seahawks lost three times to the 8-8 Rams that season (including at home during the playoffs).

1996 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 4-4
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -17
TURNOVER MARGIN: +3
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 2
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 4
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) The 1996 Vikings took off like a rocket, winning their first four games; but things turned sour after that.

From Weeks 5-13, the Vikings endured an ugly 2-6 stretch.

b) The Minnesota offense tallied 20 or fewer points 10 times — a confounding stat for a club with Hall of Famer Cris Carter (96 catches, 1,163 yards, 10 TDs) and RB Robert Smith in their relative primes. And don’t forget about Jake Reed, Qadry Ismail and Leroy Hoard.

c) At best, this was a meh campaign for a franchise with high standards during the 1990s.

1990 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 8-8
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 3-5
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -1
TURNOVER MARGIN: -12
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 3
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 4
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5)2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

SUMMARY

a) The 1990 Saints netted only eight total wins, despite playing seven clubs with six or fewer overall victories.

b) The forgettable QB tandem of Steve Walsh and John Fourcade accounted for 15 TDs/21 INTs.

How anemic was the situation? Neither quarterback accounted for 300 yards passing (solo or combined) in any game that season.

c) The mammoth-sized Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward led the so-so tailback committee with 599 yards rushing.

d) The anemic Saints (five games of 10 or fewer points) reached the eminently doable threshold of 24 points just five times in 1990.

e) The New Orleans ‘D’ certainly saved that season. In games where the defense held the opposition to 17 or fewer points … the middling Saints posted a 6-3 record.

2011 DENVER BRONCOS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 8-8
HOME: 3-5 / ROAD: 5-3
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -81
TURNOVER MARGIN: -12
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 1
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 1-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Steelers in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a)  The 2011 Broncos had all the core metrics to be the worst team of this countdown.

However, it doesn’t seem fair to assign top billing — on a weakness front — to a club which advanced to the divisional-playoff round.

So, in that vein, Denver was spared at least one notch of the humiliation belt.

Which brings us to …

b) Tim Tebow (366 total yards, three TDs vs. Pittsburgh) never possessed the long-term skills of a starting or even clipboard-holding quarterback. For example, his 2011 completion rate was 46.5 percent.

But Tebow deserves props for leading the Broncos to a stunning playoff victory over the Steelers.

Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas (first play of scrimmage during overtime) remains one of the signature NFL moments of this decade.

c) The Broncos were painfully ordinary in many ways, losing to the Lions, Packers and Patriots (twice) by an average margin of 29.5 points.

The Denver defense, in turn, surrendered 40 or more points five timesOuch.

2010 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 7-9 (NFC West title)
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 2-6
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -97
TURNOVER MARGIN: -9
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 5
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 3
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 1-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Saints in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) Here’s another obvious contender:

**A below-.500 club that needed a season-finale victory just to hit seven wins?

**Fourteen games with point differentials of 10 or more (five positive, nine negative)?

**How are these confounding numbers even possible … in a league that prides itself on parity?

And yet, just like the 2011 Broncos, it seems cruel and unusual to completely demonize a team which advanced into the divisional-playoff round … and captured the NFC West crown.

b) The wild-card victory over the Saints stands out for one earth-shaking reason:

It introduced the entire NFL universe to Marshawn Lynch … and his Beast Mode runs (below clip).

As such, the 2010 Seahawks remain the only countdown member to upend the defending Super Bowl champs in the postseason.

2014 CAROLINA PANTHERS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 7-8-1 (NFC South title)
HOME: 4-4 / ROAD: 3-4-1
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -42
TURNOVER MARGIN: +3
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 3
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 3
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 1-4-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 1
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Cardinals in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) Through 12 games of the 2014 campaign, the Panthers were 3-8-1 and contending for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.

From that perspective, their advancement to the divisional-playoff round was an astounding achievement.

b) Carolina stands as the second NFL team of the modern era to claim a division crown with a sub-.500 record (2010 Seahawks).

c) QB Cam Newton (3,666 total yards, 23 TDs) endured a rough-and-tumble season of surgery, accuracy issues and a car accident. But he would rally the following season, leading Carolina to a 15-1 record, NFL MVP honors and a berth in Super Bowl 50 (losing to Denver).

d) Carolina’s defense allowed 28-plus points seven times.

e) The Panthers were a certifiable mess on three fronts: The losing record, six blowout defeats and presiding over a wretched division (NFC South) that accounted for 22 total victories in 2014.

1998 ARIZONA CARDINALS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 4-4
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -53
TURNOVER MARGIN: +5
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 2
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 0-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Cowboys in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) The ’98 Cardinals would be worse off here, if it weren’t for the revenge shellacking of the Cowboys during Wild Card Weekend.

The minus-53 point differential and 0-2 record against playoff-bound teams were glaring foibles.

b) For the 1998 season, quarterback Jake Plummer owned marginal tallies of 17 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

c) Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams and the Arizona defense shockingly surrendered 27-plus points seven times. In fact, over the first 13 weeks, the Cardinals allowed 33 or more points six times.

2004 ST. LOUIS RAMS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 8-8
HOME: 6-2 / ROAD: 2-6
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -73
TURNOVER MARGIN: -24
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 7
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 3
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 3-4
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Seahawks in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) How does a Mike Martz-led offense featuring QB Marc Bulger, Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce average just 19.9 points?

It’s one of the great mysteries of the NFL’s modern era.

b) Conversely, when does a team with a turnover margin of minus-24 even sniff the playoffs?

c) Here’s why: The confounding 2004 Rams incurred seven drubbings that year — but collected three wins over the NFC West-champion Seahawks.

1994 CHICAGO BEARS

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 9-7
HOME: 5-3 / ROAD: 4-4
SEASONAL POINT DIFFERENTIAL: -36
TURNOVER MARGIN: -4
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 4
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 2-6
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Beat Vikings in wild-card round

SUMMARY

a) This might rank as the Bears’ least talented playoff team in franchise history.

Not much star power. (Sorry, Tom Waddle.)

Zero realistic hopes of reaching the conference championship.

b) Quarterbacks Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh (his second appearance in the countdown!!!) combined for 18 TDs/16 INTs that season.

In 1995, Kramer would rebound in dramatic fashion, passing for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns (both gaudy figures at the time).

c) The 1994 Bears also had a schizophrenic defense: Five opponents netting 30-plus points … and 10 foes being held to 16 points or less.

Go figure.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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