Everyone was aware that the team records would change as a result of the expanded schedule of 17 games for the 2021 NFL season. The Detroit Lions made a run at history, but the wrong kind, as it turned out, losing their first eight games. Fortunately, these Lions didn’t go 0-17 to go along with the historically poor 0-16 performance of the team in 2008, even though their record was 0-10-1 following their Thanksgiving Day home loss to Chicago. Instead, Detroit had a great finish, finishing 3-3 down the stretch, and avoided being included to this awful list of the worst teams since the Houston Texans entered the league in 2002.
Worst Team in the NFL
Speaking of the Texans, who also attempted to “earn” a spot on this list by winning their first game of the year before dropping their following eight and ten of their following eleven games. However, Houston was able to right the ship sufficiently to disqualify itself with a 4-13 record. In actuality, the Texans’ fellow AFC South team, Jacksonville, put forth the most valiant effort to make this “bottom 10”. But the Jaguars (3-14) managed to win a game, which was something they hadn’t done much of all season.
It takes a lot of (awful) work to compile this list of the 10 worst NFL clubs since expansion, as you will see below, despite how poorly Jacksonville’s 2021 season performed (the team’s first-year head coach didn’t even last the entire season).
1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
Due to the huge, fat, ugly zero they put in the win column, the 2008 Detroit Lions are no longer without a doubt the best team on this list, but they still hold the top slot.
The Lions were the first NFL team to go winless since the league switched to a 16-game regular season schedule, and their troubles were primarily attributable to a defence that was last in terms of points (32.3 ppg), yards allowed (404.4 ypg), interceptions (4), and threatened to break the record for most points allowed in a season (533, 1981 Baltimore Colts). By just 16 points, the Lions managed to avoid this unpleasant distinction. The offence didn’t fare much better, coming in at No. 27 in the league in terms of scoring (16.8 ppg) and No. 30 in terms of total offence (268.3). It also allowed 52 sacks, which was more than all but one other team, while rotating five quarterbacks, who together had a passer rating of 71.3 and 19 interceptions.
The 2008 Lions now have company in the modern winless club thanks to the 2017 Browns. However, not only are the notorious Lions possibly the worst club in NFL history, they are also Detroit’s worst team and may even be the worst since the 2002 expansion.
2. 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16)
Although the Browns’ winless record ensured that they would rank in the top two slots on our list, it is clear from the season’s outcomes and the team’s metrics that Cleveland had a worse overall campaign than Detroit did.
The Browns had a few chances to win before their defeat to the Steelers in Week 17. Actually, Cleveland had a 4-0 record in exhibition games, which is noteworthy solely for the odd contrast between the performance and the regular season.
The Steelers ran out the last 3:36 in Week 1 after Corey Coleman caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from DeShone Kizer, but the Browns still lost 21-18 despite playing Pittsburgh tough. Two weeks later, Kizer led the Browns’ comeback against the Colts, completing a touchdown pass and running for another to cut Indianapolis’ lead to 31-28. However, the rookie quarterback was unable to cover 91 yards in 0:23, and his final pass was intercepted, dropping the Browns to 0-3 on the season. The Browns lost against the Jets 17–14, dropping them to 0–5, and to the Titans 12–9 in overtime, dropping them to 0–7.
In terms of statistics, the Browns weren’t bad at all. Cleveland ranked in the top half of the NFL in total yards allowed per game, led by a unit that was No. 7 in the NFL in rushing defence (97.9 ypg allowed) and second in yards allowed per carry (3.4). The Browns were the only team on this top 10 list to finish higher than 15th in the league in either total defence or offence. Cleveland, which ranks 24th overall with 208.9 yards per game, also demonstrated promise in moving the football. A league-worst 28 interceptions, though, prevented a number of promising scoring drives and gave the opponent far too many short fields. The Browns had the lowest point total in the league as a result.
3. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)
The Rams experienced some of their brightest highs after leaving Los Angeles, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and losing on the largest platform in professional football two years later, but the team also through its fair share of humiliating seasons in St. Louis. In 2009, the Rams didn’t resemble the “Greatest Show on Turf,” finishing worst in scoring offence (10.9 ppg). Only 175 points were scored by St. Louis throughout the entire season, which was 35 more than the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, who had the worst scoring offence in league history.
The Rams, one of just four teams since 2002 to have won one game or fewer, threw 21 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns, were shut out twice, and scored 10 points or fewer nine times.
4. 2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)
The Dolphins, the only team in NFL history to finish an undefeated campaign, narrowly avoided being the first group since the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs to go winless for the whole year in 2008 courtesy to an overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15.
Miami was 30th in the league in scoring defence and let up a franchise-record 437 points. With three quarterbacks — Cleo Lemon, John Beck, and Trent Green — who combined to throw only 12 touchdown passes all season, the offence also suffered immensely.
5. 2016 Cleveland Browns (1-15)
The Browns were in grave danger of being just the second NFL team to go 0-16 in 2016. After starting the season with 14 straight defeats, sealing the franchise’s tenth straight losing campaign, Cleveland eventually made a breakthrough with a 20-17 win over San Diego at home in Week 16. But a defeat to the dreaded Steelers in the season finale clinched a 1-15 record, which was a franchise low.
It’s important to note that the Browns performed better than their record would suggest despite such historically poor victory totals. Cleveland competed against one of the league’s hardest schedules and lost numerous games by a narrow margin, including three by less than a field goal. Even with just one victory, the Browns were a foregone conclusion for this list.
6. 2008 St. Louis Rams (2-14)
The Rams lost their first four games of the 2008 season by an average score of 37-11. With back-to-back victories in Weeks 6 and 7, things seemed to turn around, but St. Louis dropped 10 straight games to end the season. With just 19 offensive touchdowns scored throughout the entire season, this club was as awful on both sides of the ball, ranking second to last in both scoring offence (14.5 ppg) and scoring defence (29.1). Even worse, the St. Louis offensive tied for the most defensive touchdowns scored in the NFL with seven, which only made matters worse.
The St. Louis Rams, the second team after Cleveland to make this list twice, had their worst season ever in 2008, but it was just the beginning of an even worse 2009 season.
7. 2009 Detroit Lions (2-14)
Actually, the 2009 Detroit Lions made a slight improvement, which was most obvious on the scoreboard. In Week 3, the Lions defeated Washington 19-14 to end their 19-game losing streak. In Week 11, they defeated the Browns 38-37 in an exciting game. Detroit’s defence made some slight progress, but the group still ended last in the NFL in terms of both scoring (30.9 ppg) and overall defence (392.1 ypg), as well as having the worst turnover margin in the league (minus-18).
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, quarterback Matthew Stafford, briefly shown the skill that would help Detroit reach the playoffs two years later, but the rookie quarterback suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11 and the Lions ended the year with a six-game losing streak.
8. 2011 St. Louis Rams (2-14)
The Rams managed to win seven games in 2010 after what were perhaps the two worst seasons in franchise history in 2008 and 2009, but they promptly fell apart again the following season. The Rams’ 2011 offence, which ranked 31st in overall offence and dead last in scoring offence (12.1 ppg), was one of the worst in the NFL once more (283.6 ypg). The Rams only mustered nine passing touchdowns and seven running touchdowns entire season, both of which were dead bottom in the league, thanks to an offensive line in St. Louis that surrendered a league-high 55 sacks. Sam Bradford, a second-year quarterback, missed the final six games of the season due to injury as well.
9. 2010 Carolina Panthers (2-14)
By winning seven games in their inaugural year in 1995 and advancing to the NFC Championship Game the following year, Carolina avoided the growing pains associated with expansion. With quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, and Brian St. Pierre, the Panthers had a few unsuccessful seasons, including a 1-15 performance in 2001 and a 2-14 record in 2010 that featured a franchise-worst 212-point deficit and an 18-year low 196 points scored. Only nine touchdowns and 21 interceptions were managed by the trio.
On the plus side, the Panthers were able to choose quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, earning him league MVP honours in 2015.
10. 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
By winning, Carolina avoided the growing hardships associated with expansion. To find out which team was truly the “worst” in the NFL during the 2020–21 season, we could conduct a thorough analysis, and it is reasonable to argue that the New York Jets were a weaker team overall. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars concluded the season with just one victory and suffered a 15-game losing streak. The Jags are equivalent statistically to every other one-win club that finished among the five poorest teams on our list. Jacksonville was outscored more often than the Dolphins from 2007 and gave up more points than the previous three one-time champion teams combined.