The NFL season is long, grueling, and filled with unexpected twists and turns. Each team is tasked with warding off a bevy of obstacles as they attempt to achieve their goal of reaching the playoffs. Finishing the season strong requires collective toughness and a little luck, attributes that not every team possesses. The following teams were plagued with adversity, and their seasons were failures as a result.
1.1977 Cleveland Browns — started 5-2, finished 6-8
In 1976, the Browns completed a six-game turnaround under second-year head coach Forrest Gregg, overcoming a 1-3 start, but a loss to the Chiefs in the final week of the season cost them a playoff berth. They continued to play well during the first half of the 1977 season, boasting a 5-2 record and a one-game lead over the rival Steelers. After a low-scoring, unexciting loss to the Bengals in week eight, the Browns entered week nine prepared to reassert control of the division. Instead, quarterback Brian Sipe suffered a season-ending injury, the Browns lost, and they proceeded to win just one of their last five games. Coach Gregg lost his job before the season ended.
2.1978 Washington Redskins — started 6-0, finished 8-8
The Redskins fired head coach George Allen, who boasted a .691 winning percentage in seven seasons with the team, after the 1977 season because he failed to make the playoffs. It was a questionable move, but nobody was complaining when the Skins began the 1978 season 6-0 under new head coach Jack Pardee, who fully utilized the team’s rushing attack led by John Riggins. But, when they went on to lose eight of their last 10 games, GM Bobby Beathard placed the blame on Allen, who had been critical of the team throughout the season. In the end, the old coach got the last laugh.
3.1987 San Diego Chargers — started 8-1, finished 8-7
It was the Chargers’ first winning season since 1982 but the manner in which they accomplished their 8-7 record was awfully unsatisfying. Fans were thrilled after the first nine games of the strike-shortened season as the Dan Fouts- and Kellen Winslow-led team boasted an 8-1 record, a far cry from their dismal 4-12 season in 1986. Seven of those wins came by less than a touchdown, an indicator that they were just sliding by their opponents. Their luck ran out during the final six games, all but one of which they lost by double digits. Future Hall of Famers Fouts and Winslow called it quits after the season.
4. 1993 Miami Dolphins — started 9-2, finished 9-7
A torn Achilles tendon suffered during week 5 sidelined Dan Marino for the season, seemingly ending the team’s chances of reaching the Super Bowl. However, hope was kept alive by backup Scott Mitchell, who performed well in his first four starts before suffering his own injury. Veteran Steve DeBerg stepped in, winning his first two starts and helping the Dolphins to a 9-2 record. Then, the team lost its ability to win close games, dropping two in a row at home by less than a touchdown, which began a five-game collapse that caused them to miss the playoffs.
5.1994 Philadelphia Eagles — started 7-2, finished 7-9
With the then-recent firing of head coach Buddy Ryan, loss of Reggie White in free agency, and unfortunate death of Jerome Brown, the Eagles’ identity as a defensive powerhouse had somewhat diminished. Even still, the presence of an intimidating group of linebackers, cornerback Eric Allen, and quarterback of Randall Cunningham made them playoff contenders. An impressive 7-2 start to the season, including a win over rival and defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys in Texas Stadium, had Eagles fans excited over a possible NFC East championship. In the middle of the season, head coach Rich Kotite announced he would explore job options following the season, as new owner Jeffrey Lurie made it apparent he wouldn’t renew his contract. That disruption, along with inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, caused the Eagles to lose their final seven games of the season.
6. 1995 Oakland Raiders—started 8-2, finished 8-8.
Welcomed back to Oakland after spending 13 seasons in Los Angeles, the Raiders had little trouble regaining their fan following after winning eight of their first 10 games of the season. Needing only a win to clinch a playoff berth, they proceeded to lose their final six games of the season, four of which were at home. Injuries suffered by quarterback Jeff Hostetler, a Pro Bowler in 1994, were the primary reason for the collapse.
7. 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers — started 7-4, finished 7-9
Entering their Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Lions, the Steelers were hoping to finish the season with an AFC Central title and their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. Although the Steelers were favored, the Lions played them to a 16-16 tie in regulation. The game’s costliest error occurred during the coin toss, during which Steelers’ captain Jerome Bettis changed his call from “heads” to “tails” while the coin was in midair. Referee Phil Luckett interpreted the call as “heads,” and when the coin landed on tails, he declared the Lions had won the toss. The Lions proceeded to kick a game-winning field goal on their first possession, and the Steelers proceeded to lose five games in a row.
8. 2003 Minnesota Vikings — started 6-0, finished 9-7
The 1978 Redskins and 2003 Vikings are the only two teams in NFL history to start 6-0 and still miss the playoffs. Unlike the Skins, though, the Vikings had a prolific passing attack, as Dante Culpepper and Randy Moss posted gaudy stats during the season. Of course, they couldn’t make up for the team’s other deficiencies, which was evident when the team lost seven of its last 10 games, four of which came to teams that finished the season 4-12. In the final game of the season against the Cardinals, one of those 4-12 teams, they were eliminated from the playoffs on the game’s final play, in which the Cards’ Josh McCown completed a game-winning touchdown pass to Nate Poole on 4th-and-28, capping off the come-from-behind victory.
9. 2007 Detroit Lions — started 6-2, finished 7-9
Lions’ fans were cautiously optimistic about their team’s 6-2 start in 2011, and for good reason. Four years ago, the team tallied the same record through eight games, only to watch their playoff hopes wither away because of a putrid defense that finished the season ranked last in the league in points allowed. Twice the unit allowed 40 or more points — the second time occurred during the team’s six-game skid. The offense, led by Jon Kitna and Roy Williams, was far from prolific, and failed to compensate for the weaknesses on the other side of the ball. Fortunately for the Lions, this year’s team has much, much more talent.
10. 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — started 9-3, finished 9-7
In a matter of a month, the Bucs went from the upper tier of the NFC to missing the playoffs, and it was, for the most part, due to the collapse of the defense. At the very beginning of December, longtime defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin announced his plan to leave the team after the season to join his son’s coaching staff at the University of Tennessee. After he delivered the news, his unit gave up 38, 34, and 31 points in three of its last four games. The team’s four-game losing streak resulted in the firing of head coach John Gruden and GM Bruce Allen, both of whom were given contract extensions before the season.