NFL expansion teams often suffer early in their existence. For instance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set an NFL record with 26 straight losses before picking up their first-ever victory. Prior to the new millennium, the new Cleveland Browns started 0-7 in 1999 and finished 2-14 with both wins coming in nail-biting fashion. The NFL’s most recent expansion franchise, the Houston Texans, won in their debut in 2002 but finished the season 4-12 and didn’t post a winning record until ‘09.
Of course, there have been many terrible teams in NFL history without the excuse of recent expansion. In fact, most of the most unsuccessful teams in pro football history had decades of drafts, free agency and trades with which to build a roster, only to see it fail miserably on the field. With that in mind, we take a look at the worst NFL teams since expansion in 2002.
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 the unquestioned No. 1 team on our list because of the big, fat, ugly zero they put in the win column. The first NFL team in the modern era to go winless, and the only winless team since the league expanded to a 16-game regular season schedule, the Lions suffered primarily because of a defense that ranked dead last in scoring defense (32.3 ppg), total defense (404.4 ypg), interceptions (4), and flirted with the NFL record for points allowed in a single season (553). The Lions avoided the embarrassing distinction of becoming the worst defense in NFL history 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, and rotating five quarterbacks that combined for a 71.3 passer rating with 19 interceptions.
Simply put, the 2008 Lions have a case not only as the worst team since the 2002 expansion, but may possibly be the worst team in NFL history.
2. 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 three teams since 2002 to win one or fewer games, the Rams threw 21 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns, were shutout twice, scored 10 or fewer points on nine occasions and were outscored by 261 points over the course of the season – a franchise record.
3. 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.
4. 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 then 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.
5. 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 first team to appear on our list twice, the 2008 St. Louis Rams produced the worst season in franchise history, but were only setting the stage for an even more disastrous 2009 campaign.
6. 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, 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
Of course, looking on the bright side, the Panthers were able to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft to use on quarterback Cam Newton, who won league MVP honors in 2015 and took the franchise to Super Bowl 50.
9. 2011 Indianapolis Colts (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)
From 1999-2010, the Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs 11 times, won Super Bowl XLI and came up just short of a second world championship in Super Bowl XLIV. Quarterback Peyton Manning won four NFL MVP awards over that span, but an unfortunate neck injury sidelined the veteran quarterback for the entire 2011 season.
With Manning sidelined, the Colts relied on Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky under center and the offense sank all the way to the bottom of the league. Following a 0-13 start to the season, Orlovsky actually did something he couldn’t do for the Lions in 2009 – he helped Indianapolis avoid the embarrassment of a winless season by leading the team to victories in two of its final three games.
Still, the Colts selected Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, which led to Manning's eventual release and signing with Denver.
10. 2014 Oakland Raiders (3-13)
Point Differential: -199 (253 PF, 452 PA)
Offense: 31st (15.8 ppg), 32nd (282.2 ypg)
Defense: 32nd (28.2 ppg), 21st (357.6 ypg)
There were other teams that won fewer games than the 2014 Oakland Raiders that could make a claim for a spot on this list, including the 2006 Oakland squad that finished 2-14. However, only two teams on our list fielded a worse defense – the 2008 and ‘09 Lions – than the Raiders, who surrendered a staggering 452 points despite finishing 21st in the league in total defense (357.6 ypg).
With rookie quarterback Derek Carr under center and a running game that ranked last in the league in yards (1,240) and touchdowns (4), the Raiders suffered through 10 losses to open the season before splitting the final six games of the year.
And, despite winning three games down the stretch, Oakland still managed to lose 52-0 to St. Louis and 47-14 to Denver over that same six-week period.
(In chronological order)
2002 Houston Texans (4-12)
The Texans’ NFL debut wasn’t the worst record in team history from a won-loss standpoint, but Houston scored just 213 points all season, which is still a team record for futility. The team ranked last in the NFL in total offense and allowed a league-high 76 sacks.
2004 San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
In 2004, the 49ers tied the franchise record for fewest wins in a season, set in 1978 and matched in ‘79. The Niners posted the worst scoring defense in the league (28.3 ppg), allowed 452 points (just one point shy of a franchise record), and were outscored by a pitiful 193 points, which set a team record. San Francisco also came incredibly close to going winless, with only a pair of overtime victories over the Arizona Cardinals standing between the team and a big, fat zero in the win column.
2005 Houston Texans (2-14)
The most recent expansion franchise in the NFL, the Texans barely missed the top 10 with a 2-14 record in their fourth season. The Texans were outscored by 171 points, ranked last in the league in scoring defense (26.9 ppg), and averaged just 253.3 yards of offense per game while allowing 364, which ranked No. 30 and No. 31 in the league, respectively.
2006 Oakland Raiders (2-14)
The 2006 Oakland defense actually ranked in the top three in the NFL in yards allowed, but the offense scored just 168 points all season, which was a team record that includes every team that played just 14 games and the 1982 Los Angeles Raiders that played nine games in a strike-shortened season. In fact, the Raiders narrowly missed the NFL record for fewest points in a season by 28. Oakland also finished dead last in total offense, sacks allowed and turnover margin.
2008 Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
The worst team in Chiefs history, the 2008 team ranked No. 31 in the league in total defense, surrendered a franchise-record 440 points, and managed to sack opposing quarterbacks just 10 times all season.
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Tampa Bay looked like a playoff team early in the 2011 season after jumping out to a 4-2 record. However, a 48-3 loss to San Francisco in Week 5 foreshadowed what would come as the Bucs were outscored 349-174 during a 10-game losing streak to end the season. When the dust settled, Tampa Bay had allowed a franchise-record 494 points.
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
Like the Panthers, the Jaguars were competitive early in their franchise history, making the playoffs in four of their first five seasons. However, the Jags haven’t made the postseason since 2007, and stumbled all the way to 2-14 in 2012, setting a franchise record in point differential (-189) that was broken by the 2013 4-12 squad (-202).
2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14)
The Bucs were actually more competitive in 2014 that most of the teams listed here, having been outscored by 133 points for the season after losing 10 one-possession games (including two overtime losses). However, a struggling offense that ranked No. 29 in scoring, No. 30 in total yardage and No. 31 in interceptions was the primary reason Tampa Bay fell to 2-14 despite playing in a division that didn’t have a single team with a winning record.
2014 Tennessee Titans (2-14)
The Titans opened the 2014 season with a 26-10 victory over Kansas City, but lost 14 of their final 15 games – including 10 in a row to close the schedule. The team ranked No. 30 in the league in scoring offense and scored just 254 points all year – the worst since the franchise moved to Nashville prior to the 1997 season. The defense was nearly as bad, allowing 438 points, which produced a franchise-worst minus-184 point differential.
2016 San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
The 49ers played in Super Bowl XLVII to conclude the 2012-13 season and made it to the NFC Championship Game again the following year. Unfortunately, the franchise suffered a quick drop thereafter and crashed in 2016, head coach Chip Kelly’s only season at the helm. Following a 28-0 victory in Week 1, San Francisco lost 13 in a row and 14 of its final 15 games. Despite Kelly’s reputation as an offensive genius, the 49ers ranked 27th in the NFL with just 309 points. Worse, the defense was last in the league at 30.0 points per game allowed.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on SaturdayDownSouth.com, SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.