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10 Absolute Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16, becoming the first NFL team to do so since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule.

As the first team to go 0-16, the 2008 Detroit Lions remain the standard-bearer for NFL imperfection

Going into the 2021 NFL season, one thing everyone already knew is that the team records would look different with the schedule expanding to 17 games. And as things would turn out, the Detroit Lions made a run at history, the wrong kind, by losing their first eight games. Fortunately, these Lions didn't go 0-17 to pair with the franchise's historically bad 0-16 showing in 2008, although their record was 0-10-1 after their Thanksgiving Day loss to Chicago at home. Instead, Detroit finished strong, going 3-3 down the stretch, avoiding the distinction of being added to this ignominious list of the worst teams since 2002, when the Houston Texans joined the league.

Speaking of the Texans, they also made their own run at "earning" a spot on this list, winning their first game of the season before losing their next eight and 10 of 11. But Houston righted the ship enough, finishing 4-13, disqualifying itself. In fact, the team that made the most spirited attempt at cracking this "bottom 10" was the Texans' fellow AFC South member, Jacksonville. But the Jaguars (3-14) earned a late reprieve by doing something it didn't do much at all this season — win a game.

And as bad as Jacksonville's 2021 campaign went (the team's first-year head coach didn't even make it through the season), as you will see below, it takes a lot of (bad) work to make this list of the 10 worst NFL teams since expansion.

1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)

Point Differential:-249 (268 points for, 517 points against)
Offense: 27th (16.8 ppg), 30th (268.3 ypg)
Defense: 32nd (32.3 ppg), 32nd (404.4 ypg)

The 2008 Detroit Lions are no longer the unquestioned No. 1 team on this list simply because of the big, fat, ugly zero they put in the win column — but they retained the top spot nonetheless.

The first NFL team to go winless since the league expanded to a 16-game regular-season schedule, the Lions suffered primarily because of a defense that ranked dead last in points (32.3 ppg) and yards allowed (404.4 ypg), as a well as interceptions (4), and flirted with the NFL record for the most points given up in a single season (533, 1981 Baltimore Colts). The Lions avoided this embarrassing distinction by a mere 16 points. The offense wasn’t much better, ranking No. 27 in the league in scoring (16.8 ppg), No. 30 in total offense (268.3), allowing 52 sacks, which was more than all but one other club, while rotating five quarterbacks that combined for a 71.3 passer rating with 19 interceptions.

Because of the 2017 Browns, the 2008 Lions have company in the modern winless club. However, not only does Detroit’s worst team have a case as the worst since the 2002 expansion, these infamous Lions are arguably the worst team in NFL history.

2. 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16)

Point Differential: -176 (234 PF, 410 PA)
Offense: 32nd (14.5 ppg), 24th (308.9 ypg)
Defense: 31st (25.6 ppg), 14th (328.1 ypg)

The Browns were winless, which guaranteed them one of the top two spots on our list, but when looking through the results of the season, and the stats the team produced, there’s really no question that Cleveland’s most disappointing single season was better than Detroit’s.

Prior to the Week 17 loss to the Steelers, the Browns had several opportunities to win. In fact, Cleveland actually posted a 4-0 record in exhibition games, which is notable only for the peculiar contrast the performance provided to the regular season.

The Browns played Pittsburgh tough in Week 1, but fell 21-18 after the Steelers ran out the final 3:36 following a fourth-quarter TD pass from DeShone Kizer to Corey Coleman. Two weeks later, Kizer led Cleveland on a comeback charge against the Colts, throwing a TD pass and running for a score to cut the Indianapolis lead to 31-28, but the rookie couldn’t cover 91 yards in 0:23, and his final pass was intercepted to drop the Browns to 0-3. The Browns lost 17-14 to the Jets to fall to 0-5, and fell 12-9 to the Titans in overtime to drop to 0-7.

Statistically speaking, the Browns were far from terrible. Led by a unit that ranked No. 7 in the NFL in rushing defense (97.9 ypg allowed) and second in yards allowed per carry (3.4), Cleveland ranked in the top half of the NFL in total yards allowed per game — making the Browns the only team on this top 10 list to finish better than 15th in the league in either total defense or offense. Cleveland also showed promise moving the football, ranking 24th with 208.9 yards per game. However, a league-worst 28 interceptions halted several potential scoring drives and set up the opposition with far too many short fields. As a result, the Browns scored the fewest points in the league and allowed more than all but one other team.

3. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)

Point Differential: -261 (175 PF, 436 PA)
Offense: 32nd (10.9 ppg), 29th (279.4 ypg)
Defense: 31st (27.3 ppg), 29th (372.8 ypg)

The Rams reached some of their highest highs following the move from Los Angeles, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and losing on professional football’s biggest stage two years later, but the franchise also suffered through their fair share of embarrassing seasons in St. Louis as well. The Rams looked nothing like the “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2009, having ranked dead last in scoring offense (10.9 ppg). St. Louis managed just 175 points all season, which was 35 points more than the 1992 Seattle Seahawks — the worst scoring offense in league history.

One of just four teams since 2002 to win one or fewer games, the Rams threw 21 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns, were shut out twice, scored 10 or fewer points on nine occasions, and were outscored by 261 points over the course of the season — a franchise record.

4. 2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)

Point Differential: -170 (267 PF, 437 PA)
Offense: 26th (16.7 ppg), 28th (287.5 ypg)
Defense: 30th (27.3 ppg), 23rd (342.2 ypg)

The only franchise in NFL history to complete an undefeated season, the Dolphins nearly became the first team since the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs to go winless for an entire year in 2008 — escaping that fate thanks to an overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15.

Miami surrendered a franchise-record 437 points and ranked No. 30 in the league in scoring defense. The offense struggled mightily as well under a trio of quarterbacks — Cleo Lemon, John Beck and Trent Green — that combined to throw just 12 touchdown passes all year.

5. 2016 Cleveland Browns (1-15)

Point Differential: -188 (264 PF, 452 PA)
Offense: 31st (16.5 ppg), 30th (311.0 ypg)
Defense: 30th (28.25), 31st (392.4 ypg)

In 2016, the Browns came dangerously close to becoming just the second NFL team to finish a season 0-16. Following 14 consecutive losses to begin the season, which sealed a ninth straight losing campaign for the franchise, Cleveland finally broke through with a 20-17 victory at home over San Diego in Week 16. But a loss to the hated Steelers in the season finale sealed a franchise-worst 1-15 campaign.

However, despite such historically bad results in the win column, it’s worth noting that the Browns played better than their record would indicate. Cleveland played one of the toughest schedules in the league, and fought hard in several close losses, including three by less than a field goal. Still, with only a single victory, the Browns were a lock for this list.

6. 2008 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Point Differential: -233 (232 PF, 465 PA)
Offense: 31st (14.5 ppg), 27th (287.3 ypg)
Defense: 31st (29.1 ppg), 28th (371.9 ypg)

In 2008, the Rams were blown out in each of their first four games by an average score of 37-11. Things improved with back-to-back wins in Weeks 6 and 7, but St. Louis lost 10 straight to finish the season. This team was equally bad on both sides of the ball, ranking second to last in both scoring offense (14.5 ppg) — having scored just 19 offensive touchdowns all season — and scoring defense (29.1). Making matters worse, the St. Louis offense allowed seven defensive touchdowns, which tied for the most in the NFL.

The second franchise to appear on this list twice (Cleveland), the 2008 St. Louis Rams produced the worst season in franchise history, but were only setting the stage for an even more disastrous '09 campaign.

7. 2009 Detroit Lions (2-14)

Point Differential: -232 (262 PF, 494 PA)
Offense: 27th (16.4 ppg), 26th (299.0 ypg)
Defense: 32nd (30.9 ppg), 32nd (392.1 ypg)

The 2009 Detroit Lions actually showed modest improvement — most noticeably on the scoreboard. The Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak with a 19-14 victory over Washington in Week 3, and then picked up a thrilling 38-37 victory over the Browns in Week 11. Detroit showed modest improvement on defense, though the unit still finished last in the NFL in both scoring (30.9 ppg) and total defense (392.1 ypg) and also posted a league-worst minus-18 turnover margin.

Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford showed flashes of the talent that would help Detroit make the playoffs two years later, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11 and the Lions finished the year on a six-game losing streak with Stafford on the sidelines.

8. 2011 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Point Differential: -214 (193 PF, 407 PA)
Offense: 32nd (12.1 ppg), 31st, (283.6 ypg)
Defense: 26th (25.4 ppg), 22nd (358.4 ypg)

After arguably the two worst seasons in franchise history in 2008 and ‘09, the Rams managed to win seven games in 2010, but quickly collapsed again the following year. The 2011 Rams were again plagued by one of the worst offenses in the NFL, finishing dead last in scoring offense (12.1 ppg) and No. 31 in total offense (283.6 ypg). The St. Louis offensive line allowed a league-high 55 sacks, and the Rams managed just nine touchdown passes and seven rushing scores all season, both of which ranked dead last in the league. Also, second-year quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the final six games of the season due to injury.

9. 2010 Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Point Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)
Offense: 32nd (258.4 ppg), 32nd (12.3 ypg)
Defense: 26th (25.5 ppg), 18th (335.9 ypg)

Carolina skipped the growing pains that come with expansion by winning seven games in their first season in 1995 and making it to the NFC Championship Game in Year 2. However, the Panthers hit a few rough patches, such as a 1-15 2001 campaign and the 2-14 record in 2010 that included a franchise-worst 212-point differential and an 18-year low 196 points scored under the direction of quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore and Brian St. Pierre. That triumvirate managed to combine for 21 interceptions and just nine touchdowns.