The Anti-Dynasty project roars ever-faster towards its inevitable conclusion with this, the penultimate 10! The teams bad enough to leave permanent scars on their fans’ psyches, but not bad enough to get into the rarified air of the very worst teams of all time. Exciting, isn’t it?
In the penultimate part of the dynasty rankings, we talked about the Legion of Boom Seahawks, a team that was elevated to lofty status not just by championships or divisional titles, but by their strong DVOA. The DVOA Dynasty ranked first on our tables for four years in a row, which ended up vaulting them over traditionally higher-rated runs—better than the Purple People Eater Vikings, the Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas Colts, the Monsters of the Midway Bears, and so on and so forth. They weren’t just dynasty rankings, they were Football Outsiders dynasty rankings, and so the Seahawks were rated with respect to how our numbers viewed them on the field.
Today’s quest, then, is to find the Anti-Legion of Boom Seahawks. What run of terrible football, perhaps shorter than expected or with a higher win-loss percentage than some of their rivals, vaults a terrible football team above where other, lesser rankings would place them? Who aren’t just a terrible team, but an analytically terrible team, far below where the history books would otherwise place them?
Now, we have never had a team rank last four times in a row, or even three times in a row—no direct one-to-one comparisons to be had here. But we have a few very solid contenders for the title in the first four teams we’re talking about today. We have teams that were dead last in DVOA in two out of three or three out of four seasons, and two more that match that feat if we allow ourselves to use estimated DVOA. All four finish between 10 and 25 spots higher on this ranking than they did on the strict Anti-Dynasty point rankings from the initial article. One of them deserves the title of the Anti-Seahawks, the team that deserves more recognition and notoriety as an all-time stinker. Let’s get into it so we can fight over which one it actually is.
THE FULL SERIES
No. 20: 2003-2010 San Francisco 49ers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 46-82 (.359)
Average DVOA: -23.4%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -34.3%
One last-place finish in the NFL; Two last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jim Tomsula
Key Players: RB Frank Gore, C Eric Heitmann, DE Justin Smith, DT Bryant Young, DT Aubrayo Franklin, LB Patrick Willis, LB Derek Smith, CB Shawntae Spencer
We have finally arrived at the worst team in DVOA history.
Teams like the 0-16 Lions and 0-16 Browns certainly have a claim to be the worst ever … and the fact that neither of those runs have shown up shows you that it was more than one-year flop on their part. But by our stats, while both teams were certainly terrible, they don’t hold a candle to the 2005 49ers, who somehow managed to stumble into a 4-12 record despite a -57.7% DVOA. They have the fourth-worst offense and the second-worst passing offense we have ever recorded in the nearly 40 years we have broken down.
Even expanding into estimated DVOA from the 1950s on, the 2005 49ers still hold the record. To find a team with worst advanced stats than San Francisco, we have to dip into SRS-to-DVOA conversions for pre-war teams. Only 13 teams in the history of the league come out with a lower estimated DVOA than the 2005 49ers. Only seven teams are worse in the NFL, as opposed to the AFPA. And only one (the 1934 Cincinnati Reds) are worse once you get out of the 1920s. None of those teams played more than eight games in a season; most played three or four. To be as bad as the 2005 49ers were for 16 games takes a sustained effort in all facets of the game, a drained talent pool to begin with, and someone incompetent calling the shots. Check, check, and check.
The 49ers’ dynasty crumbled in 1998 with Steve Young’s career-ending concussion and a massive salary cap bill after years of pushing charges forward. But there was still continuity going into the early 2000s, as Steve Mariucci kept the West Coast offense rolling and Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens serving as successors to Young and Jerry Rice. But Mooch lost a power struggle in 2003 and was fired after a playoff appearance, with retread Dennis Erickson replacing him. Meanwhile, Garcia and Owens were at each other’s throats, with Owens implying that Garcia was gay and Garcia implying that Owens was a locker room sickness. That led to both of them leaving the team after the season, along with other offensive stars such as Garrison Hearst, which itself led to the 49ers going 2-14 in 2004, tied for the worst record in franchise history. Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue were fired and the 49ers had the top pick in the draft. It was time for a bold new era of 49ers football to begin!
New braintrust Mike Nolan (son of successful 1970s coach Dick Nolan, so nepotism checkbox there) and Scot McCloughan wanted to take Matt Leinart with the first pick in the 2005 draft, but Leinart opted to stay at USC for one more year. Instead, the 49ers had to decide between local product Aaron Rodgers out of Cal or Utah’s Alex Smith. With 15 years of hindsight, I think we can safely say that the 49ers made the wrong choice by going with Smith, but also that Smith was a perfectly acceptable passer when surrounded by a competent coaching staff. In other words, not the 2000s 49ers.
Smith still holds the rookie record for worst DVOA for players with at least 100 attempts; a cool -88.6%. The other three passers weren’t that much better—Cody Pickett was the worst passer in the league with at least 20 pass attempts (-101.4%), and both Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey were below -25.0% as well. I was in school in the Bay Area at the time; this was my team, and I watched every sorry, hopeless second of this season. After years of Montana and Young and multi-time Pro Bowler Garcia, the shock of seeing these four seem incapable of understanding how to throw a football forward was almost too much for the mind to take.
And they were followed in ensuing years by Trent Dilfer, Chris Weinke, J.T. O’Sullivan, Shaun Hill, Troy Smith—a cavalcade of the worst passers you will ever see in your life. That’s nearly a decade of Daniel Jones- or Sam Darnold-quality passing, all while coaches such as Mike Singletary are pulling their pants down in the locker room, or Nolan is too busy fighting with the league for the ability to wear a suit on the sideline to coach up his team. From 2004 to 2010, the 49ers averaged a -18.8% passing DVOA; that’s the worst seven-year stretch in DVOA history. They also have the worst three-, four-, five-, and six-year stretches. Is it any wonder 49ers fans beat the drum for Frank Gore’s Hall of Fame candidacy so strongly? It’s the only thing we had for half a decade! Gore, Patrick Willis, Andy Lee, and a bunch of nothin’. It is not a coincidence that the first time someone paid me to write about the league, it was to trash this specific team; I needed somewhere to yell about these guys and most of my friends were, at that point, tired of hearing about it.
15 years later, and I’m still yelling about them. If you’ve found this whole Anti-Dynasty thing to be monotonous and excessive, well, blame Cody freaking Pickett.
No. 19: 1966-1970 Atlanta Falcons
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 40
Record: 16-51-3 (.250)
Average DVOA: -28.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -28.8%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL
Head Coaches: Norb Hecker, Norm Van Brocklin
Key Players: RB Cannonball Butler, T Errol Linden, DE Claude Humphrey, LB Tommy Nobis, CB Ken Reaves
There are still a pair of expansion teams left to come in our rankings, but their position on this list is due to decades of failure, not just their initial poor performance. In terms of coming out ready to go and just utterly faceplanting, the Atlanta Falcons were the worst expansion team of all time—the worst average DVOA in their first five years, the most Anti-Dynasty points, the worst record, the whole deal.
Much like the Cowboys and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Falcons’ existence can be credited to the NFL’s desire to mess with the AFL. The NFL had decided to expand by two more teams in 1967, but the AFL undercut them by announcing two new expansion teams for 1966, one of which would have been in Atlanta. In a panic, the NFL rushed their own plans up and convinced the Atlanta Stadium board to take their new team instead—the better, established, and more prestigious league should be the one to move into the rapidly growing Atlanta market, not some rank upstart. Of course, this would all be made moot in June of 1966 as the two leagues agreed to merge, making the rush to beat the other entirely meaningless. Maybe if the Falcons had gotten to play an AFL schedule, they wouldn’t have been quite so helpless from the beginning. Or maybe they would.
The Falcons’ Plan A was to become Green Bay Packers, Southern Edition. Green Bay had a disgruntled superstar in Jim Taylor, who was upset because the Packers had drafted a rookie in the first round whom they intended to groom to replace him, a crazy situation which has of course never been repeated. Nothing ended up coming from that, and Taylor remained with the Packers for the rest of his contract, but the Falcons figured, hey, while we’re here, why not ask if Vince Lombardi would like to be the coach of a new team? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and all that. To no one’s surprise, Lombardi said no. Alright, the Falcons replied, what about one of your assistants? Lombardi recommended a couple of people on his staff, but notably did not recommend defensive backs coach Norb Hecker. Oh, Falcons’ owner Rankin Smith thought, I see what’s going on. Lombardi doesn’t want anyone to hire Hecker way from him; he’s trying to keep one of his best assistants hidden! Smith immediately hired Hecker to be the first coach of the franchise.
It turns out the reason Lombardi didn’t recommend Hecker for the job was that Hecker was not ready to coach an NFL franchise—the only mind games being played were the ones in Smith’s head. The Falcons got off on the wrong foot, literally, missing the ball on their first kickoff of their first exhibition game, and things didn’t get much better from there. The Falcons had estimated DVOA of -39.0% or less in each of their first three seasons. To put that in perspective, the Chicago Bears have been playing since 1920, and don’t have a single season that bad. No other team has put up three straight years so awful in either regular or estimated DVOA. If we use SRS-to-DVOA conversions, we do find the 1921-1923 Louisville Breckenridges, who at least had the dignity of immediately folding afterwards. Despite the valiant efforts of Tommy Nobis, the Falcons had the worst defense in the NFL in all three seasons, and Randy Johnson’s passing attack joined them. Hecker was fired midway through the 1968 season with a 4-26-1 record and went back to being a decently successful coordinator and position coach, as he should have been from the beginning.
Hecker’s replacement was Norm Van Brocklin, who was known for crazy press conferences (including threatening to fight beat reporters on multiple occasions), his players absolutely hating him and demanding to be traded away … and managing to bully his way into the franchise’s first winning seasons starting in 1971. Certainly a more entertaining era than Hecker’s, much like being strapped on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile is entertaining.
No. 18: 1981-1986 Houston Oilers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 47
Record: 23-66 (.258)
Average DVOA: -27.0%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -30.9%
One last-place finish in the NFL, Five last-place finishes in the AFC Central
Head Coaches: Ed Biles, Chuck Studley, Hugh Campbell, Jerry Glanville
Key Players: QB Warren Moon, RB Earl Campbell, T Bruce Matthews, G Mike Munchak, G John Schuhmacher, LB Robert Brazile
We used a semi-arbitrary cutoff of -39.0% in the previous entry to show how bad the Falcons were, which really is poor statistics. So, let’s try that again, a little more rigorously.
The 1982-1985 Oilers had a DVOA of under -30.0% in four straight seasons (well, estimated for 1982, but still, roll with it). No one else in history has managed that—not in DVOA, not in estimated DVOA, not in SRS-to-DVOA conversions, nobody. We mentioned that the Legion of Boom Seahawks earned the title of DVOA Dynasty, having been first in DVOA for four straight years. The Oilers can’t quite match that feat, as they weren’t dead last in all four years, but in my opinion, they are the ones to have the best claim to the DVOA Anti-Dynasty title, the most concentrated terribleness in league history.
And they started off so well! Bud Adams fired Bum Phillips after an embarrassing loss in the 1980 divisional round—there were Super Bowl expectations in Houston. Earl Campbell was the NFL’s leading rusher. They had just pulled off a daring trade, swapping Dan Pastorini for Ken Stabler as the quarterback piece that would put them over the top. Elvin Bethea led the defense. Luv Ya Blue was going to last forever!
Never mind that all those players other than Campbell were aging and aging fast—the Oilers were one of the oldest teams in the league by the end of the Phillips run. Never mind that they had already traded away their first-round picks in 1979, 1980, and 1981. This team had Super Bowl aspirations, and anything less will be unacceptable. Sure, 1981 was a tough year, going 3-7 in their last 10 games and clinching their first losing season since 1976, but to be fair, Campbell was injured and the defense was a little shaky—Biles will get that straightened out. It’s 1982, after all, and the Oilers have started the season a respectable 1-1. Once this player’s strike has blown over, it will be smooth sailing. Yup. Yessiree bob.
The Oilers lost their first game after the strike ended. And their next. And their next. And, in fact the rest of the season, finishing the year on an 0-7 streak. And then they lost their first 10 games in 1983, with Biles resigning halfway through the year. That makes them one of 11 teams to have managed a 17-game losing streak. It was also part of a 23-game losing streak on the road, which was the 20th-century record, breaking a mark that had stood since the 1940s. And don’t think the occasional win was the sign of things turning around, either; the Oilers had also lost 27 out of 30 games between 1972 and 1974. That’s not supposed to happen in the modern NFL, and certainly not to a non-expansion team. And yet the Oilers franchise managed it twice in two decades.
You would think the defense would be the sole problem, looking at the roster of key players up there. An offense with Campbell running behind Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchack, with Warren Moon under center, sounds like a hell of a time. But Moon only arrived after Houston won a bidding war for the CFL star in 1984, the same year a near broken-down Campbell was pawned off to the Saints for a first-round draft pick. The two played six games together, all losses.
Moon, of course, was the centerpiece of the run ‘n’ shoot offense that propelled Houston to … “great success” is too strong, but the Oilers did make consistent playoff appearances in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But Moon might never have been with the Oilers had the franchise not opted to make Hugh Campbell their head coach the year after Biles resigned. Campbell is a CFL legend—as a player, coach, or executive, he won the Grey Cup 10 times. And, importantly, he had coached Moon with the Edmonton Eskimos from 1978 to 1982. By hiring Campbell as head coach even though he was not exactly a highly-sought after commodity, the Oilers basically ensured Moon would pick them. Campbell was dumped a few years later after his explosive offense never materialized, but Moon and those linemen stuck around through better times.
Hrm. Hiring a head coach in order to ensure a much-coveted quarterback comes to your team, ay? Anyone know what Jeff Tedford is doing right now? Asking for entirely non-Aaron Rodgers related reasons…
No. 17: 1989-1995 New England Patriots
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 42
Record: 35-77 (.313)
Average DVOA: -25.6%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -32.9%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL
Head Coaches: Raymond Berry, Rod Rust, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells
Key Players: TE Ben Coates, TE Marv Cook, T Bruce Armstrong, T Pat Harlow, DE Brent Williams, NT Tim Goad, LB Vincent Brown, LB Andre Tippett, CB Maurice Hurst
Remember back in the 40s, where we talked about the Jim Haslett Saints? Well, add Bill Parcells’ Patriots to the list of teams that don’t belong in this series. In 1994, Parcells’ second season, the Patriots went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. 1995 saw quarterback Drew Bledsoe take a temporary step back, but the same basic roster made Super Bowl XXXI the year afterwards. Subjectively, I would put a hard divider between the Berry/Rust/MacPherson Patriots and Parcells’ squads; those five years’ teams weren’t fit to shine the boots of the Flying Elvii-clad mid-1990s clubs. Cut the line at 1993 and these Patriots would rise to 14th overall. They would be my subjective answer for team with the most concentrated torture, at least in the modern era. Combine the horrible on-field product, the off-field scandals, and the uncertain future of the franchise, and the early 1990s were a terrible time to be a Patriots fan.
Let’s cover the on-field failures first. By the late 1980s, the core of the team that had been shuffled upon in Super Bowl XX was aging or retired, and young players weren’t coming in to replace them. Things got off to a stirring start in 1989 when All-Pro Andre Tippett and regular starters Garin Veris and Ronnie Lippett were knocked out for the year—in the same preseason game. It turns out losing three starters at one time really sucks; their 15.4% defensive DVOA is the worst in franchise history. Out went Raymond Berry, in came former defensive coordinator Rod Rust to set things straight.
The 1990 Patriots started out alright. They were 1-1! The long-simmering quarterback battle between Tony Eason, Steve Grogan, and Doug Flutie had been solved by cutting Eason and letting Flutie run off to Canada. They hadn’t lost an entire starting lineup in preseason. Things were looking good. And then all hell broke loose off the field.
The day after their win, reporter Lisa Olson came forward and accused multiple Patriots players of sexually harassing her. New Patriots owner Victor Kiam responded in his typical classy way, calling her a “classic bitch” and saying that it was “asking for trouble” to send women into the locker room—his players could “wiggle their waggles in her face, as far as [he was] concerned.” Great guy, that Victor Kiam. We’ll come back to him in a moment.
The ensuing investigation and eventual massive fines weren’t exactly great for team morale, and most outside the organization found a decent amount of schadenfreude in the Patriots dropping all of their remaining games, finishing 1-15. Rust shuffled between an injured Grogan, an utterly ineffective Marc Wilson, and an untested and unprepared Tom Hodson at quarterback, to no avail. The Patriots were outscored by 265 points, worst in the 1990s; their -40.8% DVOA would have been even worse if they had not faced the hardest schedule in the league. They failed to take a lead at any point in 11 games, still the NFL record. And most of those losses came in embarrassing fashion—Washington jumped out to a 9-0 lead without running an offensive play thanks to a fumble returned for a touchdown and then a snap which sailed over Hodson’s head for a safety. The team was uninterested and dispassionate on the field, an attitude which was reflected in their coach. Fired after the year, all Rust could say was “I think there are a whole lot of factors that made it a very unusual year.” Thanks, Rod.
The team did not get better from there. We actually have the 1992 2-14 season under Dick MacPherson as worse than 1990. But by that point in time, Patriots fans were more concerned about what was going on off the field.
Right, back to Kiam. The Patriots and Sullivan Stadium were owned, in a massive coincidence, by the Sullivan family. But they were close to being bankrupt by the end of the decade, thanks in part the flop of the 1984 Jacksons Victory Tour—the Sullivans had beaten the 49ers’ DeBartolos in part because they were willing to offer more money, which included putting up their stadium as collateral for a loan to cover expenses. The tour was a disaster, the Sullivans were broke, and they were forced to sell. The team went to Kiam, while the stadium entered bankruptcy and was bought by Robert Kraft. With me so far? Alright.
It was Kiam’s turn to face bankruptcy in 1992 thanks in part to his razor business hitting the pits (ha!), and he was forced to sell to St. Louis’ James Orthwein. Orthwein had been trying to get a franchise to move to St. Louis ever since the Cardinals had left after 1987, and the Patriots were his opportunity—they would move and become the St. Louis Stallions after the 1993 season. They had a logo and ugly 1990s uniforms and a stadium and everything ready to go; the Patriots were gone! … except they were still in a long-term lease with the stadium, which Kraft still owned. Kraft refused to break the long-term lease and threatened a long and costly legal battle if Orthwein moved the team. Outmaneuvered, Orthwein had no choice but to sell the team to Kraft and keep the Patriots in business.
So, between 1993 and 1994, the Patriots got to stay in town (good!), replaced Orthwein with Kraft (an upgrade!), replaced Pat Patriot with the Flying Elvii (a massive downgrade!), and replaced MacPherson with Bill Parcells (a massive upgrade!). But can you imagine if the world had been slightly different—if Kraft had taken a buyout, and Tom Brady had led St. Louis to multiple Super Bowl titles? Or if the Sullivans hadn’t outbid the DeBartolos for the Jacksons tour, and the 49ers were the ones shipped out to the Midwest, with a St. Louis-Green Bay rivalry developing in the late 1990s? Of all the never-were teams—the Baltimore Bombers, the Memphis Hound Dogs, and so on—the St. Louis Stallions might produce the most interesting What Ifs.
No. 16: 2003-2009 Oakland Raiders
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 54
Record: 29-83 (.259)
Average DVOA: -23.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -28.7%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL, Five last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable
Key Players: T Barry Sims, T Robert Gallery, DE Derrick Burgess, DT Tommy Kelly, LB Kirk Morrison, CB Nnamdi Asomugah, P Shane Lechler
Oh, let me tell you, 2000s football in the Bay Area was something else. There have been two instances in history where two teams had overlapping Anti-Dynasty runs in the same media market. It never happened in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas. The Giants and Jets pulled the feat off from 1971 to 1977, but both of those runs clocked in well below the 49ers and Raiders from 2003 to 2009. One day, we’ll have to do some kind of longitudinal study on the effects of so much concentrated exposure to terrible football. For now, it seems to spawn Scramble for the Ball writers and curiously alternative spelling.
The Super Bowl XXXVII Raiders fell apart fast. The team immediately turned on Bill Callahan, with veterans such as Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Charles Woodson all implying at one point or another that Callahan was intentionally sabotaging the team. Callahan, in turn, called his Raiders the “dumbest team in American in terms of playing the game” and lobbied for the veteran locker room to be cut and replaced with cheaper, younger players. Instead, Callahan was fired after a 4-12 season in 2003, but the veterans weren’t too far behind him out the door. Rich Gannon never played a full season for the team again, with shoulder and neck injuries eventually forcing his retirement after 2004. Brown and Rice were gone before the end of that 2004 season as well, and Woodson left after 2005. Al Davis, not one to take losing talent lying down, organized a blockbuster trade for Randy Moss in 2005, but Kerry Collins-to-Moss ended up not setting the world on fire, with the mercurial Moss often displaying lackluster effort during yet another double-digit-loss season.
Davis kept trying to cycle through coaches to find a spark. After Callahan, he went with offensive guru Norv Turner. That lasted all of two years before Davis fired him and brought back Art Shell, with Davis saying that firing Shell in 1995 had been a mistake. If it was, it was a mistake he repeated the next season, firing Shell and bringing in 31-year-old Lane Kiffin to run the team. Kiffin managed to last a season and a quarter before Davis busted out the overhead projector and fired him, appointing Tom Cable to finish out the season. For those keeping track at home, that’s five coaches in six seasons, which is just great for locker room chemistry and cohesion.
The lackluster free-agent signings came and went too. While no one can criticize the Raiders for taking a stab at Moss, the signings of Aaron Brooks, DeAngelo Hall, and Javon Walker to large deals were questionable even at the time, and even worse when the results came out on the field. And then there were the draft flops—Robert Gallery, would-be franchise left tackle, taken just before Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, and Sean Taylor. Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree. And, of course, there was JaMarcus Russell.
Picking a quarterback first overall after cycling through Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Aaron Brooks, and Andrew Walter was an obvious move. The 2006 Raiders are in the bottom 10 since 1983 in both passing DVOA (-42.8%) and total offensive DVOA (-37.2%), and taking Russell would surely help an offense more than adding a wide receiver such as Calvin Johnson, a running back such as Adrian Peterson or an offensive tackle such as Joe Thomas—you have to shoot your shot.
Now, there were no correct shots at quarterback in 2007 (can I fancy anyone with a Trent Edwards?), but it’s hard to be more disastrous than Russell was. With -1,204 career DYAR, Russell is the sixth-least valuable quarterback of the DVOA era, and his weighted career passing DVOA averages out to about -39.0%, worst for anyone with at least 750 passing plays (thanks, Ryan Leaf, for stopping at 728). Russell held out as a rookie, then struggled with his weight, his work ethic, and his drug habits, and washed out of the league within three years. Considering he was the first overall pick to Leaf’s second, I have to consider him the biggest draft bust in NFL history, at least in the common draft era.
All in all, the Raiders lost at least 11 games in all seven years of this run, still an NFL record. A couple of 8-8 seasons officially ended this run, but the Raiders still had a very old team, few draft picks, and no salary cap space thanks to the mismanagement of this era. They didn’t manage to put together a winning season until 2016, after years of Reggie McKenzie digging the franchise out from a decade of bad decisions.
And so a decade of terrible football dominated the air waves in the Bay Area, but my therapist says that I should be over it any day now.
No. 15: 1978-1986 Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 65
Record: 38-98-1 (.281)
Average DVOA: -21.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -29.3 %
Two last-place finishes in the NFL, Three last-place finishes in the AFC; Five last-place finishes in the AFC East
Head Coaches: Ted Marchibroda, Mike McCormack, Frank Kush, Hal Hunter, Rod Dowhower, Ron Meyer
Key Players: RB Curtis Dickey, FB Randy McMillan, T Chris Hinton, T Wade Griffin, G Ken Huff, G Robert Pratt, C Ray Donaldson, LB Barry Krauss, S Nesby Glasgow
It has been long enough that we can agree that the Baltimore Colts sneaking out in the middle of the night, with moving vans taking alternate routes across state lines so angry fans or the Maryland State Police couldn’t stop them all, is hilarious, right? A multi-million-dollar corporation hastily shoveling bags of footballs and office equipment into the back of a fleet of trucks in order to get out of dodge before the state legislature seized the team via eminent domain is some Three Stooges-level nonsense. In a league where owners have swapped teams because one didn’t feel like commuting, and one asked for his franchise to be folded and a new one formed so he could participate in a complicated tax write-off scheme, this one takes the cake as the single dumbest way a team has changed cities.
It didn’t seem funny at the time, of course. The Colts had been looking for a new stadium in Baltimore since 1971, floating ideas for an ambitious BaltoDome stadium that made everyone happy—except for, y’know, the taxpayers in Baltimore itself. That project died, but the friction between the team and the city continued for the next decade. While the Colts were winning, that awkward status quo was sort of accepted by everyone, but by the beginning of the 1980s, Baltimore was the laughingstock of the league.
New owner Robert Irsay was gradually trading everything not nailed down to save on salary, feuding publicly with his head coach, and aggravating his players by accusing them of being lazy and faking injuries. That last bit pissed off multi-time Pro Bowl lineman John Dutton, leader of the 1970s Sack Pack; he was traded away before the 1979 season started. Quarterback Bert Jones missed much of 1978 and 1979 with a bum shoulder, the offense cratered, and the team stumbled to a pair of 5-11 seasons. But, hey, they rebounded a little and won seven games in 1980. Things were looking up, right?
In 1981, the Colts defense—and there is no other word for this—imploded. Other Sack Pack members left—Joe Ehrmann waived, Fred Cook and Lyle Blackwood traded away. With all the star defenders gone, there was no one left to hold down the fort. With an estimated 28.0% DVOA, the Colts have the fourth-worst defense since 1950, and I suspect when we get actual DVOA for the 1981 season, they’ll end up looking worse. The Colts set records by allowing 533 points and 6,793 yards (though the 2012 Saints eventually broke that last one, in a much friendlier offensive era). They gave up 8.2 net yards per passing attempt, still an NFL record. You could write 4,000 words just trying to explain how all this came about—and Mike Tanier did, a decade and a half ago. (Go ahead, go read it. We’ll be here when you’re done.) As Tanier put it, the Colts were the sort of team “that knew the meaning of, and several synonyms for, the word ‘quit.'”
Things got worse from there. The aging Jones was traded away and rookie Art Schlichter was drafted to replace him … but Schlichter had massive gambling problems and was ultimately suspended by the league. Rudderless, the 1982 Colts went 0-8-1 in the strike-shortened season. The next year, they solved their passer problems by drafting John Elway … except Elway refused to play for the team, had told the team he would refuse to play for them in large part to try to avoid Robert Irsay, and eventually had to be traded away for pennies on the dollar. By the time the Colts were sneaking away to Indiana, fans had pretty much stopped showing up to see a subpar, embarrassing on-field product.
Things didn’t magically become better in the Hoosier Dome, either. The team bottomed out yet again in 1986, starting the year 0-13 before winning their final three contests under interim head coach Ron Meyer. The next year, Meyer traded for his old college running back Eric Dickerson, and the Colts had their first winning season in a decade.
No. 14: 1967-1975 Boston/New England Patriots
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 58
Record: 37-88-1 (.298)
Average DVOA: -23.5%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -34.3 %
One last-place finish in the AFL, Four last-place finishes in the AFL/AFC East
Head Coaches: Mike Holovak, Clive Rush, John Mazur, Phil Bengtson, Chuck Fairbanks
Key Players: QB Jim Plunkett, RB Carl Garrett, FB Jim Nance, WR Ricky Vataha, C Jon Morris, G Len St. Jean, T Tom Neville, DT Houston Antwine, DT Jim Lee Hunt, S Don Webb
Another team, another relocation, albeit this one in the same state. Counting franchise relocations is more complicated than it first appears—do you count the Cardinals moving from Tempe to Glendale?—but the Anti-Dynasty project is a great way to visit them.
By my count, you have 20 cases which I’d call significant moves, changing metro markets entirely, most recently the Raiders moving to Las Vegas. Then you have 12 cases where significant parts of a franchise moved, but broke continuity with the original team, like when the Browns became the Ravens. You have 12 NFL teams that merged, either temporarily or permanently—sometimes with other NFL teams, like the various World War II mergers, and sometimes with defunct teams from the AAFC or 1920s AFL. And then you have 28 cases like these Patriots, who moved from Fenway to Chestnut Hill to Allston and finally out of Boston altogether between 1969 and 1971. That’s 72 cases of significant relocation, and at least 28 of them are related to teams on this countdown. If you look at just the post-war era, you’re talking 22 out of 46. If you’re relocating, there’s a very good chance that your team is pretty darn bad.
This Patriots move, like so many of those others, was about money—but it was from an external source pushing in rather than the team just looking to maximize their profits. One of the promises the NFL made to Congress when merging with the AFL was that the combined league would continue to grow, including having every team play in a stadium with at least 50,000 seats. Well, Nickerson Field, Fenway Park, Alumni Stadium, and Harvard Stadium all fall short of those benchmarks, and the Patriots couldn’t get a deal done anywhere in the city to build a stadium large enough to meet NFL requirements. So after considering offers from Salem, Birmingham, and Jacksonville, the Patriots opted to move to Foxboro because of one important fact: the city offered the land for free. And thus, the Boston Patriots became the Bay State Patriots … for about two weeks before the league told them no, that name was dumb. And thus, the Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots we all know and tolerate today.
While we’re counting things, there have been 34 teams since 1950 with a DVOA (either estimated or real) of -40.0% or worse. You’re looking at three of them—the Patriots pulled the feat off in 1968, 1970, and 1972 in some kind of bizarre even-year curse. Add in the Patriots we saw back down at No. 17 and the franchise has managed five seasons below the -40.0% mark. No one else has managed more than two. Before Bill Belichick, or at the very least before Bill Parcells, the Patriots were a terrible franchise. Maybe they couldn’t match the Buccaneers or Saints for long-term, sustained misery, but they could hit the low notes like nobody’s business.
The 1968 Patriots were just an old AFL team in a modern AFL world. The quality of play rose throughout the AFL’s life as they added talent to the league, and the 1968 Patriots were basically just the remnants of the 1963 Patriots who had reached the AFL title game, only five years older, minus several star players, and without reinforcements to replenish the roster. The departure of Babe Parilli in particular hurt, with Boston putting up an estimated passing DVOA of -49.7%. The 1970 Patriots didn’t even sign their starting quarterback, Joe Kapp, until October 2—a bold strategy when the season began on September 20. Their passing DVOA, too, was less than -40.0%, but they were also joined by the collapse of the defense—they were dead last in both points scored and points allowed. It’s probably a coincidence that head coach Clive Rush developed an irregular heartbeat while watching the Patriots get pasted by scores of 45-10 and 31-0 and then had to leave the team. Probably.
The bad passing and terrible record at least ended up with the Patriots drafting Jim Plunkett. Plunkett wouldn’t develop into a consistently good passer until he joined the Raiders in his thirties, but he did provide New England with a regular bad passing attack and not a disaster. Sadly, the pass defense collapsed in 1972, resulting in the second-worst point-differential in the 14-game era at -254. They went 3-11, with eight losses coming by at least three touchdowns, and two wins of the wins being one-point nailbiters. Not many teams are fortunate to win three games, but these Pats certainly counted. The next year, Chuck Fairbanks was brought in to coach the team and gradual solid drafting brought in players such as John Hannah, Steve Grogan, Sam Cunningham, and Mike Haynes. They surprisingly made the playoffs in 1976 and remained in contention for the rest of the decade and into the mid-1980s, only for things to crash down again for the other Patriots team we have talked about in this article.
All those years of failure makes you begrudge their two decades of modern-day success a little less, don’t they. What’s that? They don’t? Well, OK, fair enough.
No. 13: 2008-2020 Jacksonville Jaguars
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 68
Record: 64-144 (.308)
Average DVOA: -16.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -30.7 %
Two last-place finishes in the NFL, Seven last-place finishes in the AFC South
Head Coaches: Jack Del Rio, Mel Tucker, Mike Mularkey, Gus Bradley, Doug Marrone
Key Players: QB Blake Bortles, QB David Garrard, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, G A.J. Cann, G Uche Nwaneri, C Brad Meester, DE Calais Campbell, DT Tyson Alualu, LB Paul Posluszny, LB Telvin Smith, LB Myles Jack, CB Jalen Ramsey, S Johnathan Cyprien
While it’s possible for the Browns or Buccaneers to flounder in 2021 and keep their Anti-Dynasty run alive going into the future — and it is very likely the Jets will — it’s the Jaguars who clock in with the worst active run as these articles go live. Good luck to Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence; they’re going to need it.
The way the criteria work, it’s technically possible for a team to make, or even win, a Super Bowl in the midst of an Anti-Dynasty; if one glorious year is surrounded by enough pain and misery on both sides, a championship would be regarded as an outlier. That has never happened, though two teams have reached a conference championship game in the midst of a run—the 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and your 2017 #Sacksonville Jaguars. We were two games away from Blake Bortles, Super Bowl champion—how weird would that universe have been?
It’s the 2012-2014 Jaguars that are at the core of this run—three consecutive years below a -30.0% DVOA. Take those out and replace them with the average Jaguars DVOA in the other 10 years they have been struggling and the Jags would fall all the way down to 26th in our rankings. The Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley eras weigh heavily here, as does the reign of one Blaine Gabbert.
With nearly 40 seasons in our database, Gabbert has a strong argument as the worst passer of the DVOA era. With -2,224 combined rushing and passing DYAR, Gabbert isn’t just last of all time, but last by a mile and a half. Second place is Josh Rosen, at -1,532; there’s basically a full Brady Quinn between Gabbert and second place. Part of that is due to just how much time Gabbert has had to do damage, but don’t think that he gets a pass on efficiency, either. If you weight his average passing DVOA by annual number of attempts, Gabbert comes out with a -33.1% career passing DVOA, which is the worst for anyone with at least 1,000 passing attempts—no one else even hits -25.0%. As bad as the Bortles era was, Gabbert sits alone on the top of Terrible QB Mountain.
As we’re still very much in the thick of terrible Jaguars football, it’s hard to really get the sort of 20,000-foot view that would let us really take everything in. We could talk about how the NFLPA warned its members not to sign with the team when Tom Coughlin was calling shots, citing repeated grievances over CBA rights. We could talk about drafting Taven Bryan over Lamar Jackson, Leonard Fournette over Patrick Mahomes, Bryan Anger over Russell Wilson. We could talk about the 2009 Jaguars being so bad that seven of their eight home games were blacked out, requiring the league to step in to help promote ticket sales and leading to London becoming a quasi-second home for the franchise. We could talk about the hideous two-toned helmet experiment.
But instead, let’s talk about how the Jaguars could graduate to the top of this list. Just how bad would the Urban Meyer/Trevor Lawrence era have to be to really keep things rolling? Are the likes of the NuBrowns, the Ain’ts, and the Phoenix Cardinals really in Duval’s sights?
Sadly, we can’t just repeat 2020 over and over again—we can guarantee the Jags won’t go 1-15 in 2021, because they’re playing 17 games. But if we kept giving them 14 Anti-Dynasty points a year and DVOAs of -28.0%, the Jags would break into our top 10 after 2021, crack the top five after 2022, and proudly stand atop all comers after the 2025 season. Just a half-decade more to go, guys! You can do it!
No. 12: 1933-1942 Philadelphia Eagles
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 84
Record: 23-82-4 (.229)
Average DVOA: -21.1%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -29.1 %
Three last-place finishes in the NFL, Six last-place finishes in the NFL Eastern
Head Coaches: Lud Wray, Bert Bell, Greasy Neale
Key Players: HB Jay Arnold, FB Swede Hanson, FB Dave Smukler, BB Jim Leonard, E Joe Carter, E Bill Hewitt, T Paul Cuba, C Hank Reese, C Maurice Harper
Have you ever wondered what the worst state was at football? Of course you haven’t; that’s a really weird thing to wonder. And anyway, the answer is 1930s Pennsylvania, where the history of the Eagles and Steelers are both strangely intertwined and utterly terrible from beginning to end. Let’s do the Pennsylvania Polka, shall we?
The Eagles were born from the ashes of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, one of the better teams from the 1920s that were crushed by the Great Depression. Bert Bell and Lud Wray founded a new team, acquiring in the process most the Yellow Jackets’ gear (and most of their debt as well), and proceeded to play some very bad football. The early Eagles teams were basically a post-college hangout joint for graduates from Penn, Temple, and Villanova who still wanted to play football but couldn’t get offers from the Giants, Packers, or Bears—you know, the good teams, the ones with fans, and money, and championships. The Eagles didn’t have any of those things, which meant they had trouble signing good players, which meant they had trouble being competitive, which meant they had trouble selling tickets, which meant they had trouble getting money, which meant they had trouble signing good players…
Bell’s solution was a draft, allowing the worst teams to get solid players and increasing competitiveness for the good of the league. In 1936, the first draft was held. The Eagles had the first overall pick and took Heisman Trophy-winner Jay Berwanger … who opted against a football career and took a job with a rubber company instead. Well, A for effort, at least. It wasn’t until 1939 that the Eagles finally found their first legitimately great player: All-American quarterback Davey O’Brien, who went about setting some of the earliest NFL passing records. In between, Bell, who had taken over head coaching duties when Wray wanted out for financial reasons, put up a 10-44-2 record; his .179 career win percentage remains the lowest for anyone with at least 50 games in charge.
That’s all well and good, and somewhat familiar to this point—combine the worst of the expansion-team entries with the worst of the 1930s “we can’t afford to pay our players” entries, and you get the Eagles. They only had one year below a -30.0% estimated DVOA, too, so there’s not really a season to point to where things get disastrous. Where things get really interesting is after the 1940 season, when the Eagles stopped being the Eagles.
After the 1940 season, Yale-educated entrepreneur Alexis Thompson came to the financially struggling Eagles and offered to buy them outright and move them to Boston, which had just lost its NFL team three years earlier. Bell refused to sell. But across the state, Art Rooney was tired of owning the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were losing a bunch of money, there were rumors of an upcoming military draft due to some things happening over in Europe, and his team stank (we’ll get to them soon enough). He was done owning a football team, at least by himself, and sold the Steelers to Thompson instead. Rooney then turned around and bought Wray’s old half of the Eagles, teaming up with his good friend Bell as co-owners. The Eagles and Steelers then split up players in a mini-draft, sending 11 players from the Steelers to the Eagles and seven players back the other way.
Now, Rooney had never left Pittsburgh, and both franchises had bold new plans. Thompson was going to rename the Steelers the Iron Men and move them to New England—probably to Boston, which, again, had just lost their franchise a few years prior. Meanwhile, the Eagles were going to be renamed the Pennsylvania Keystoners, playing half their games in Pittsburgh and half in Philadelphia—kind of like how the Packers played some home games in Milwaukee for years, only more insane. But the other owners put the kibosh on both of those ideas, leaving both teams in a bind.
Rooney did not want to leave his hometown and go to Philadelphia to run a team, and he couldn’t move the Eagles to Pittsburgh while the Steelers were still around. Meanwhile, Thompson didn’t want to commute all the way from New York to Pittsburgh to run his team, failing to open up an office in the new city and grumbling about the commute—”it’s as easy for a newcomer to make a start in one city as another,” he said, and noted that Philadelphia was ideal because it was much more conveniently located to where he lived.
The solution? The two owners swapped teams—owners, front office staff, players, equipment, everything but jerseys and names. Until the mid-1940s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were run by the “Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, Ltd,” and the Eagles became Alexis Thompson’s new franchise. This is, quite possibly, the strangest thing that has ever happened.
And, to add a coda to the entire thing, the two teams merged in 1943 for a season due to World War II, with Eagles coach Greasy Neale running the offense and Steelers coach Walt Kiesling running the defense, the first offensive/defensive coordinator distinction in league history. The two men hated each other, and most of the players didn’t like the other team much either, but it still resulted in a 5-4-1 season for the “Steagles,” the first winning year in Philadelphia history. The Eagles continued that success into the 1940s, making three straight NFL title games under Neale, while the Steelers soon went back to being quite bad. But that’s a story for another entry.
No. 11: 2005-2016 St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 71
Record: 60-131-1 (.315)
Average DVOA: -18.8%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -36.8%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL, Six last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Mike Martz, Joe Vitt, Scott Linehan, Jim Haslett, Steve Spagnuolo, Jeff Fisher, John Fassel
Key Players: QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson, WR Torry Holt, T Rodger Saffold, T Alex Barron, DE Robert Quinn, DE Chris Long, DT Aaron Donald, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Janoris Jenkins, S O.J. Atogwe
We already covered the Los Angeles Rams moving to St. Louis; it’s only fair we cover them going back in the other direction, as the Greatest Show on Turf went insolvent.
What we really have here is two eras. From 2005 to 2011, the Rams averaged four wins a season and a -29.1% DVOA as the talent drain and front office squabblings made the Rams arguably the worst team in the league. And then you have the 2012-2016 Jeff Fisher Rams and his 7-9 bullsh*t—a substantial improvement that had to feel good for a while, until Rams fans realized there was no next step after reaching mediocrity. Rams fans are our best modern test case for whether it’s worse to be hopeless or to be bland—is it worse to know your season is over by Week 4, or to be just close enough to .500 that you get strung out until December, only for the season to end the same way?
You could make a strong argument that the late-2000s Rams deserve to be a little bit higher on the list. Mike Martz, who had taken over the team when Dick Vermeil retired, had seen some of the luster come off of his offense once he no longer had Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk in prime form running it. He also feuded with Jay Zygmunt, the director of football operations, to the point where the team wouldn’t let him return for the final game in 2005 after he had to sit out most of the season due to a heart defect; a rather classless move. Martz had made the playoffs the year before (albeit at 8-8; the 2000s NFC West was not good), and the team had collapsed more because of injuries to Marc Bulger and all their cornerbacks than anything Martz had specifically done, but he was fired after the season anyway.
Wanting to replace Martz is entirely justifiable, front office feud or no front office feud. But replacing him with Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo, it turns out, was not the answer. Linehan feuded with Bulger, Steven Jackson, and Torry Holt, including open shouting matches on the sideline. And when he didn’t discipline any of those players, he got accused of being soft, and basically lost the locker room. The offensive line was destroyed by injuries, the defense crumbled thanks in large part to years of poor drafting (Tye Hill, anyone?), and Linehan was fired at 11-25. His 2008 Rams ended up with a -44.7% DVOA, the sixth-worst total since 1983.
That led to Spagnuolo, whose 2009 Rams would have a DVOA of -43.6%, the seventh-worst total since 1983—an improvement! All in all, between 2007 and 2009, the Rams would win just six games, which was at the time a post-World War II record for futility, and one that we thought would never be matched (pipe down, Cleveland; you get to be in the next article). With an average DVOA of -40.5%, the 2007-2009 Rams have the worst three-year run in DVOA history, just beating out the 2004-2006 49ers (whom we have already met) and the 2007-2009 Lions (who we’ll meet next time). Pure, concentrated terribleness. And then, after a minor (and lucky) bounceback year in 2010, Spagunolo went 2-14 in 2011 and the Rams were the worst team in football again. What’s a team gotta do to go 7-9 around here?
Jeff Fisher could make a bad team mediocre. He could also make a good team mediocre, but that wasn’t exactly an issue for the Rams at the time. Even with Sam Bradford repeatedly getting injured, Fisher’s Rams went 7-8-1, 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, and 7-9, all with DVOAs between -0.9% and 5.4%. It’s a thundering run of basic competence and not much else; never slipping back to be bad enough to require a rebuild, never building enough to be in contention. If you define a run of consecutive single-digit DVOA seasons as NFL purgatory, then the Jeff Fisher Rams are one of only three teams to live there for four straight years (along with the 2009-2012 Bengals and the 2017-2020 Falcons).
The Rams as a franchise was also experiencing regret from having left Los Angeles. The TransWorld/Edward Jones Dome had been exciting, shiny, and new when the Rams had moved there in 1995, but the luster had quickly worn off—it was regularly voted the worst stadium in the league, and this is a league which still had Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum, so yikes. The place was called an “urban eyesore from the get-go, an ugly multi-purpose dome that’s one defining feature was its inability to fit into any conceivable cityscape”; overly expensive and with no atmosphere to speak of. When Stan Kroenke took full control of the team in 2010, he said that he would “attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis.” Apparently, that included buying a bunch of land in Inglewood, California, and planning a new stadium there. Plans to build a new open-air stadium in St. Louis were dismissed by Kroenke, who said that St. Louis wasn’t a viable market for the NFL in the 21st century. Considering Kroenke bought 30% of the Rams to move them to St. Louis in the first place, and tried to buy the Patriots in the 1990s and move them to St. Louis, and was part of the team trying to get one of the 1995 expansion teams to go to St. Louis, this was a massive crock of something-or-other. It’s entirely possible Kroenke isn’t particularly good at his job.
Fisher lasted part of one season in Los Angeles, with the bottom finally falling out in 2016. We may never see a coach that committed to being just OK ever again.
Coming next Tuesday: THE FINAL TEN!