The worst teams in NFL history

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Ryan Murphy

December 15th, 2021

The Detroit Lions spared themselves the ignominy of a winless season on Dec. 5 when they edged past the Minnesota Vikings thanks to a dramatic, last-second touchdown reception by Amon-Ra St. Brown. It was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disastrous campaign that has been marked by injuries, blown leads, and too many turnovers to count.

Before we rush to anoint the Lions the worst of the worst, let’s examine 10 other historically awful cellar dwellers whose feeble feats live on in infamy.

10. 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1)

The Cowboys may be “America’s Team” now, but they were just another overmatched expansion franchise back in 1960. Saddled with washed-up veterans like quarterback Eddie LeBaron, whom they begged to come out of retirement, Dallas finished last in points scored and points allowed and was a true no star team in the Lone Star State.

9. 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1)

Although many fans were devastated when a strike cut into the 1982 NFL season, the Colts were likely relieved, as the work stoppage prevented potential massacres against the AFC champion Miami Dolphins and division-leading Las Angeles Raiders. Even though they dodged those bullets, Baltimore still had its hands full against the league’s lesser lights. The Colts hit their low point in a 20-0 Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills in which they generated just 88 yards of offense and failed to advance the ball past the 50-yard line.

8. 1942 Detroit Lions (0-11)

It may not surprise you to discover that the Lions have been really bad for a really long time. Detroit’s first winless season occurred in 1942 in the midst of World War II, and was due in large part to a depletion of talent as many of the nation’s bravest young men enlisted to serve overseas. The players who stuck around had names like Harry Seltzer and Joe Stringfellow (we kid you not), and were beaten like a rented mule every single Sunday. The toothless Lions were shut out five times in 1942, and finished dead last in points for and points against.

7. 1943 Chicago Cardinals (0-10)

World War II was hard on nearly everyone, but it was especially brutal for fans of the Chicago Cardinals, whose patchwork team went winless while the franchise’s top stars battled the Huns in Europe. The Cards had so few bona fide pros that the franchise merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers the following season to improve its fortunes. The result? Another identical 0-10 finish.

6. 1944 Brooklyn Tigers (0-10)

Never heard of the Brooklyn Tigers before? Consider yourself lucky. The second-rate club was consistently outscored, outmanned, and outclassed during its winless campaign in 1944. The Tigers merged with the equally woeful Boston Yanks the following year, but the franchise’s fortunes barely improved as the Franken-team finished with a dismal 3-6-1 record while simultaneously alienating fans in two different cities.

5. 2016 Cleveland Browns (1-15)

Any team serious about tanking may want to take a page from the playbook of the 2016 Browns, who bid adieu to five established Pro Bowlers and three former first-round picks before the season even began. Adding injury to insult, starting quarterback Robert Griffin III fractured a bone in his left shoulder in the season opener and watched most of the season from the sideline. The Browns finished 2016 ranked 30th or worse in points scored and points surrendered and were dead last in passing TDs. Add it all up and it's easy to see why Cleveland did not rock in 2016.

4. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)

Ever wonder why St. Louis no longer has an NFL franchise? The 2009 Rams are a big reason why. "Led" by quarterback/tackling dummy Marc Bulger, the Rams completed only 12 touchdown passes all season and averaged fewer than 11 points per game despite having one of the league’s breeziest schedules. St. Louis finished the year with the NFL’s third-worst attendance, as discerning fans wisely steered clear of the Edward Jones Dome.

3. 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14)

They say you never forget your first, but we’re reasonably certain Tampa Bay fans would like to forget all about their team's first season in the NFL. Loaded with lightly-regarded veterans and unproven rookies, the expansion Buccaneers were blanked five times and didn’t score a touchdown until their fourth game of the season. The only saving grace for the Bucs was that the NFL mercifully only played a 14-game season back in 1976.

2. 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16)

What do you do for a follow-up act after a 1-15 season? If you're the 2017 Browns, you go for broke and lose every single game on your schedule.

The Browns weren't just awful in America that season. They were also miserable in London, where they fell 33-16 to the Minnesota Vikings. If you're curious why the British have yet to fully embrace American football, that game is Exhibit A.

1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)

There are lovable losers and then there are the 2008 Lions, who griped and whined their way to the NFL's first 0-16 season. Along the way, center Dominic Railoa flipped fans the bird, head coach Rod Marinelli unleashed holy hell on reporters and Detroit's popgun offense consistently found new and inventive ways of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The lowlight in a season full of them came in Week 6 against the Vikings, when QB Dan Orlovsky did a lap around his own end zone while running for his life. Yup, it was that kind of season.