The criteria: I judged this based on 3 things,
1. Overall lack of strengths and abundance of weaknesses. We’ve seen in the NFL teams be able to get far with a bad run defense, with below average receivers, with below average coaching. But to be a good team, you have to do usually two-to-three things well, whether it’s running the ball, defending the pass, holding onto the ball, executing in the red zone, executing on third down or something else. A team that doesn’t do anything well is going to be very easy to gameplan against. 2005 was a very balanced playoffs crop, which is why none of those teams appear on this list. You could argue neither of the top teams were dominant but the worst teams still did a few things well. Ironically, two of the 2005 playoff teams made the 2006 list.
2. Record vs. Schedule. Surprisingly, with so many 8-8 and 9-7 teams getting in the playoffs, including a no-name 2002 Cleveland Browns roster, I discovered that many of the worst playoff teams finished with double digit wins. It might be because some of the 8 and 9 win teams have gone into the playoffs with McNabb, Rivers, Warner, and Pennington leading them to victories. Generally, though, you have to put the wins and losses for a team in context.
3. Nature of playoff exit. Sometimes a team came out playing messy or suffered from their quarterback self-destructing. Good examples of these teams that probably would have done better on a different night or 3 times out of 4 are the 2008 Panthers, 2009 Patriots, and 2003 Packers. But, if the loss was a thorough beatdown by a superior team, that helped prove the case that they were a weak playoff team. Good examples of this are the 2002 49ers @ the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002 Indianapolis Colts @ the New York Jets, and the 2005 Denver Broncos hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both San Francisco and Denver had good regular seasons and won a playoff game those seasons.
1. 2007 Tennessee Titans, 10-7. Jeff Fisher remains the head coach. Allowed into the playoffs due to collusion between Tony Dungy and Jeff Fisher, they responded by allowing a San Diego defense, who would fire its coordinator less than a year later to hold the Titans’ offensive drives to FG, punt, lost fumble, punt, punt, FG, punt, missed FG, punt, INT in a 17-6 loss at San Diego. 16th in point differential, 16th in turnover ratio, throwing for only 9 touchdowns and their only win against a playoff team after week 1 was the aforementioned Colts game.
2. 2004 St. Louis Rams, 9-9. Coach Mike Martz was fired during the 2005 season. They shouldn’t have been so awful given how dangerous the offense was, and they did win a playoff game, partly because of dropped TD pass by Seattle’s Koren Robinson. That said, they gave up 327 rushing yards the next week against Atlanta in a 47-17 annihilation.
3. 2006 New York Giants, 8-9. Tom Coughlin remains the head coach. 16th in point differential, 17th in takeaway/giveaway. They went 2-6 down the stretch and were 1-9 against playoff teams, losing 23-20 to Philadelphia in the playoffs.
4. 2001 Chicago Bears, 13-4. Coach Dick Jauron was fired after the 2003 season. A wacky year filled with defensive touchdowns and cakewalk games. The quarterbacks were Jim Miller and Shane Matthews, they averaged 3.7 yards a carry, the offense did almost nothing from week 8 on, and they were coached by Dick Jauron who has never been to the playoffs but has been fired twice since. They had the top defense statistically, so that keeps them from being higher but this team got exposed at home against the Eagles, 33-19 with just 10 first downs and 184 yards on offense, turning the ball over four times.
5. 2000 Denver Broncos, 11-6. Coach Mike Shanahan was fired after 2008 season. They beat up on the Falcons, Browns, and Seahawks and Chargers twice each to fatten their scoring total to second in the NFL. They scored 3 points with 177 total yards of offense against the Ravens in their opening round loss, 21-3.
6. 2003 Dallas Cowboys, 10-7. Coach Bill Parcells retired after the 2006 season. Parcells rode a 2nd-ranked scoring defense into the playoffs only to suffer one of his worst playoff losses as a head coach, 29-10 on the road in Carolina. The offense was led by Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick and that top ranked defense failed to get a turnover in its last three outings after getting 6 in a road game against the Redskins.
7. 2002 Green Bay Packers, 12-5. Coach Mike Sherman was fired after the 2005 season. A loss almost as embarrassing as the 8-turnover game against St. Louis in early 2002. They turned the ball over 5 times at home, giving Michael Vick one of only two playoff wins for his career, 27-7. Sherman’s penalty-prone teams were often filled with misleading stats. 2-2 that year against playoff teams, they cleaned up in a division in which Minnesota finished 2nd with just 6 wins and in which two of the three worst defenses in points allowed played. They cleaned up against bad competition a year later down the stretch against three losing teams and a Denver team without its starters to finish 2nd in the NFL in point differential.
8. 2006 Seattle Seahawks, 10-8. Coach Mike Holmgren retired after the 2008 season. The myth that the NFC West is horrible is sort of debunked by the Seahawks and Cardinals winning playoff games in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. This Seahawks team won the Bobble Game against Dallas but was 15th in the NFL in point differential. While this stat was affected somewhat by Hasselbeck going out and Wallace throwing 8 picks in 4 games, the Seahawks were 27th in takeaway/giveaway ratio. Their run defense gave up 108 or more yards in 12 of their last 15 games and they lost 27-24 in overtime to the notorious Chicago Bears in the divisional round.
9. 2009 Philadelphia Eagles, 11-6. Andy Reid remains the head coach. 19th in points allowed, they feasted on non-playoff teams, finishing 0-4 against playoff teams when their youth got exposed week 17 and in the playoffs with back-to-back losses to the Cowboys, 24-0 and 34-13.
10. 2003 Baltimore Ravens, 10-7. Brian Billick was fired after the 2007 season. The quarterback was Anthony Wright, the top receiver was Todd Heap. They scored 7 non-offensive touchdowns in the regular season and lost 20-17 in the first round hosting Tennessee.
Dishonorable mention: 2006 Chicago Bears. Lovie Smith remains the head coach.Yes, I know they made it to the Super Bowl but as much as the 2002 Raiders and 2000 Giants got manhandled in games that got out of hand fast, the Bears got out of a really weak NFC and layed a really embarrassing egg with fumbled snaps, a TD allowed on blown coverage and a pick thrown into double coverage. Some say the 2008 Arizona Cardinals were the worst Super Bowl team of all time but I think this Bears roster was far more bare. The Cardinals nearly won the Super Bowl, knocked off two established teams, the Panthers and Eagles, opened up with a convincing win against one of the best rushing teams in the Falcons and came back the next year and won another playoff game. The Bears beat a Seahawks team in transition and a New Orleans team that had been 3-13 the year before, in the cold and haven’t been back to the playoffs since. There are more than 10 worse playoff teams from the 60 who made it in the last decade, but this was the worst of the 20 that made a Super Bowl.
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