As the NFL lockout rambles onward and encroaches on the portions of the calendar typically reserved for mini-camps and training camps, moods around the league are turning sour by the week. Perhaps that's why Football Outsiders began a "Top 10 Disappointments" series on Tuesday with the 10 most disappointing teams of the past 25 years.
The article unfortunately falls behind the ESPN Insider paywall, but here's the list FO compiled:
- 2003 Oakland Raiders
- 2002 St. Louis Rams
- 1999 San Francisco 49ers
- 2010 Minnesota Vikings
- 1995 Miami Dolphins
- 2001 Tennessee Titans
- 2006 Seattle Seahawks
- 2009 New York Giants
- 1996 New York Jets
- 1995 Cleveland Browns
Finding gripes with this list is difficult, especially since all 10 teams clearly underachieved. That's how FO developed its list, by identifying the preseason expectations for each squad and determining how poorly they failed to meet them. The top 10 most disappointing teams were not the worst or most embarrassing teams, nor were they necessarily Super Bowl-or-bust teams.
FO largely used its DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) metrics to justify the selections, but when dealing with something as intangible as preseason expectations, it seems somewhat irrational to rely on hard-crunched numbers.
That's why I decided to develop a list of my own. Taking into account generally acknowledged preseason expectations and wholly evaluating teams' actual performances, this list ranks the top 10 most disappointing teams of just the 2000s. Rather than compete with FO's list by trying to reorder the 10 teams, I figured it would be more intriguing to narrow the scope and add to the list of the most disappointing teams of the 2000s. I kept the six teams from the 2000s in FO's original order and added in four others where I saw fit. My list was developed purely for entertainment, so feel free to share your own thoughts, as usual.
1. 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Preseason expectations for the Bucs could not have been any higher after a 48-21 beatdown of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. But in finishing only 7-9, Tampa Bay seemed to eclipse the typical symptoms of the Super Bowl hangover.
The Bucs returned much of their roster and began the 2003 season with a 4-3 record, but a 17-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints was the first in a 3-game losing streak. Tampa Bay recovered with a victory over the Giants in Week 12, but lost three of its last five games, including its final two.
Defense wasn't the problem for the Bucs, as they finished fourth in the league with just 16.5 points allowed per game and fifth with 279.1 yards allowed. Linebacker Derrick Brooks led Tampa Bay with 101 tackles in what would be his third of seven consecutive seasons with 100+ tackles. Defensive end Simeon Rice, meanwhile, tied for second with 15 sacks (three behind Michael Strahan's 18.5).
On offense, the Buccaneers ranked 18th with 18.8 points per game. Quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Shaun King combined to throw for 3,941 yards, giving Tampa Bay the league's No. 6 passing offense. On the ground, however, the Bucs averaged 103 yards per game (24th in the nation) as running back Mike Alstott suffered a neck injury that ended his season after four games.
Off the field, general manager Rich McKay left the organization in December after tension with head coach Jon Gruden ultimately boiled over. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson also stirred some controversy and was deactivated for the final seven games. After the season, Johnson was traded to the Cowboys for wide receiver Joey Galloway. After the magical 2002 season saw a 12-4 regular season record culminate in a Super Bowl victory, 2003 was a harbinger of poor performance, as Tampa Bay fell to 5-11 in 2004.
2. 2003 Oakland Raiders
These Raiders topped FO's list of the top 10 most disappointing teams, and for good reason - Oakland just got old in 2004. Quarterback Rich Gannon entered 2003 at 38 years old, wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown were 41 and 37, respectively, and three running backs were over 30 (Tyrone Wheatley, Charlie Garner and Zack Crockett). On defense, free safety Rod Woodson and linebacker Bill Romanowski were nearly 40.
After beginning 2003 with a split 2-2 record, Oakland collapsed, finishing 4-12 after 2002's 11-5 regular-season record propelled the Raiders to the Super Bowl. After defeating San Diego in Week 4, Oakland lost five straight. After rebounding against the Vikings in Week 11, the Raiders lost three more, won one and then lost their final two.
Five players ultimately attempted a pass for Oakland (six if you count Rice's one attempt), with Gannon completing 55.6 percent of his throws for 1,274 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games played. Rick Mirer and Marques Tuiasosopo were the other two quarterbacks that saw significant playing time. Oakland's offense as a whole averaged 16.9 points per game, 26th in the league.
Defensively, Oakland was 25th with 23.7 points allowed per game. Linebackers Eric Barton and Napoleon Harris led the team with 99 and 76 tackles respectively, while defensive tackle Roderick Coleman had a team-high 5.5 sacks.
As silver linings go, owner Al Davis could have taken heart in the fact that the Raiders lost seven games by a touchdown or less - but he didn't. Head coach Bill Callahan - again, one year after a Super Bowl berth - was fired, and Norv Turner was hired as his replacement.
3. 2002 St. Louis Rams
St. Louis finished 7-9 in 2002, but the Rams' record wasn't the major reason for their disappointing season. After finishing with the league's top-ranked offense in both scoring and yardage in each of the past three seasons, St. Louis finished 23rd and 13th, respectively. As FO points out, quarterback Kurt Warner returned to his pre-glory days as an Arena Football League castoff, throwing one touchdown to seven interceptions before breaking a finger on his throwing hand and missing most of the season.
After opening the season with five consecutive losses, the Rams won five straight to even their record, oddly enough. Three more consecutive losses ensued before the team won two of its last three. Warner's injury paved the way for Marc Bulger, who won six of the seven games he started for St. Louis in 2002. Marshall Faulk, who signed a 7-year, $43.95 million contract prior to the season, played in 14 games (started 10) and rushed for 953 yards and eight touchdowns on 212 carries (4.5 yards per). Faulk also finished second behind Torry Holt with 80 receptions. In total, Faulk finished with 1,490 yards from scrimmage - 657 less than he gained in 2001.
Defensively, the Rams also suffered a significant drop-off in production. After finishing with the league's seventh best scoring defense in 2001, the Rams were 25th in 2002 with 23.1 points allowed per game. Strong safety Adam Archuleta led the team with 102 tackles, but free safety Kim Herring was the next closest with only 66. Defensive end Leonard Little finished with 12 sacks, tied for sixth in the league.
The Rams' offense improved significantly the next year, finishing second in scoring, and the team improved to 12-4. But with Bulger at the helm, the Greatest Show on Turf ended with St. Louis' struggles in 2002.
4. 2010 Minnesota Vikings
As the first of two teams from this past season on this list, the Vikings' failures in the franchise's 50th season in the NFL haven't yet completely faded from memory. After a 31-3 trouncing at the hands of division rival (and eventual Super Bowl Champion) Green Bay, Minnesota fired head coach Brad Childress and replaced him with assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Quarterback Brett Favre suffered through 13 abysmal games before being forced to the bench - prior to the Dec. 13 game with the Giants - with a sprained shoulder, effectively ending his record streak of 297 consecutive regular season starts.
Wide receiver and kick returner Percy Harvin endured persistent migraines, and on December 12, the inflatable roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome collapsed under the weight of heavy snowfall. The Vikings' next game - also against the Giants - was moved to the Detroit Lions' Ford Field, and their last "home" game had to be played at the University of Minnesota.
On the field, the Vikings were largely considered a preseason NFC favorite. It seemed as though Favre would be able to return to his glory days, bringing Minnesota along with him. Yet, in his 13 starts, Favre completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,509 yards, 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Adrian Peterson, largely by way of fixing his fumbling issues, was one of the few bright spots for the Vikings. Peterson finished sixth in the league with 1,298 rushing yards (4.6 yards per carry) and tied for fourth with 12 touchdowns.
The "Williams Wall" and Jared Allen all posted down years, contributing to Minnesota's defense falling to 18th with 21.8 points allowed per game. The offense, however, remained the greater letdown, as the Vikings finished with the 29th-ranked scoring offense (17.6 points per game).
5. 2001 Tennessee Titans
The Titans finished with a 7-9 record in 2001, but the principal disappointment stemmed from the fact that Tennessee was a combined 26-6 in the prior two seasons.
Steve McNair, unlike the quarterbacks of the other teams on this list, had his finest season to date, throwing for 3,350 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 61.3 percent of his passes. McNair also added 414 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The main contributor in the rushing game, Eddie George, wasn't nearly as successful. George, playing with injuries throughout the season, finished with 939 rushing yards on 315 carries, a paltry average of 3.0 yards per attempt.
Thanks to McNair, the Titans still recorded the league's 12th-best offense (21 points per game). Defensively, the Titans fared worse, allowing a 25th-ranked 24.2 points per game.
6. 2006 Seattle Seahawks
Once again, a team fresh off a Super Bowl berth. After a largely unimpressive showing against Pittsburgh (who wasn't great, either) in Super Bowl XL, Seattle hoped to ride a stout offense back to the playoffs. In 2005, the Seahawks had the league's top scoring offense and 2nd-ranked total offense, primarily due to running back Shaun Alexander's 1,880 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Alexander was the league's MVP, and with five other Pro Bowlers returning to the offense as well, Seattle appeared primed for another postseason run.
Of course, the season failed to unfold as planned. Left guard Steve Hutchinson (one of those six offensive Pro Bowlers) left for a big money contract with the Vikings, and his absence was painfully conspicuous. In 2005, Hasselbeck played in 16 games and was sacked 24 times. In 2006, he played in four fewer games (12) but was sacked 10 more times (34). The loss of Hutchinson wasn't the sole factor in the increase in sacks, but it certainly was the most notable.
Hasselbeck missed four games with a right knee sprain (suffered in the Week 7 matchup with the Vikings, coincidentally Hutchinson' return to Seattle), finishing with 2,442 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Alexander played in only 10 games himself (cracked bone in foot), rushing for 896 yards and seven touchdowns on 252 carries (3.6 yards per). In total, Seattle's offense fell to 14th in the league (20.9 points per game).
Thanks in part to a defense (led by then-rookie and Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu with 93 tackles) that managed to keep them competitive, but mainly to a feeble NFC West, the Seahawks were able to finish 9-7 and capture the division title. They even won a playoff game, when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo botched the hold on a late field-goal attempt in the NFC Wild Card Round.
I think you remember that one, Giants fans.
7. 2002 Baltimore Ravens
In 2002, the Ravens finished with a 7-9 record. That was in sharp juxtaposition to the previous two years, when they went a combined 22-10.
Both of those years, Baltimore finished with the 2nd-ranked overall defense (they were first and fourth in scoring defense, respectively, as well). In 2002, the Ravens' D fell to 19th in scoring and 22nd in overall defense.
So, what gave?
Ray Lewis played in only five games after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, which likely was the most significant explanation. By that point in his career, Lewis had already made five consecutive Pro Bowls (including three consecutive first-team appearances). The Ravens' D still had some of the more recognizable names in its history, including linebacker Ed Hartwell (team-leader with 105 tackles), strong safety Ed Reed, cornerback Gary Baxter and outside linebacker Peter Boulware. Yet, the significance of the loss of Lewis seems impossible to overstate.
On offense, Baltimore finished with the No. 23 scoring offense, down five spots from the year before. Jeff Blake replaced Elvis Grbac at quarterback, and the former threw for 2,084 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Running back Jamal Lewis, in just his second season, ran for 1,327 yards and six touchdowns on 308 attempts (4.3 yards per carry).
8. 2010 Dallas Cowboys
Giants fans, consider yourselves lucky. Despite the doom and gloom fostered throughout this lockout mess, this story's brought you a Romo-messing-up-the-hold reference and now this. Dallas hosted Super Bowl XLV in February, prompting quite a large number of preseason experts to project the Cowboys as the first team to play and host the big game.
That, of course, didn't happen. Dallas struggled to a 6-10 record and third-place finish in the NFC East. After starting 1-7, head coach Wade Phillips was fired and replaced by assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Not all of Dallas' issues can be placed on Phillips, though. In the Week 7 game with the Giants, New York linebacker Michael Boley drove Romo into the ground, breaking the quarterback's left clavicle. Romo missed the rest of the season, and backup Jon Kitna started the remaining nine games, passing for 2,365 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Kitna's 65.7 completion percentage was slightly below Romo's 69.5, and his QB rating also fell short of the incumbent starter (88.9 to 94.9).
Dallas received little help from its 16th-ranked running game (111.6 yards per game), and the total offense finished the season seventh in scoring (24.6 points per game). The defense, though, fared much worse. The Cowboys allowed 27.2 points per game, 2nd-most in the league. Dallas ranked 26th against the pass, allowing 243.4 yards per game through the air. Against the run, Dallas surrendered only 108.4 yards per game, good for 12th in the league.
Before Romo went down, Dallas was 1-4. Once Kitna took over, the Cowboys played 5-6 football the rest of the season. All in all, the combination of Dallas' injuries and the dissatisfaction with Phillips' coaching proved too formidable to overcome.
9. 2009 Denver Broncos
When Josh McDaniels replaced Mike Shanahan as the Broncos' head coach prior to the 2009 season, there was a clear changing-of-the-guard feeling around Denver. Before Raheem Morris was hired by Tampa Bay a few days later, McDaniels was the fifth-youngest head coach in NFL history.
Quarterback Jay Cutler quickly became the subject of rampant trade rumors, which continued into April. Cutler was eventually traded (along with Denver's fifth-round pick) to the Chicago Bears for first- and third-round draft picks, as well as a first-round pick in the 2010 draft and quarterback Kyle Orton. Two months later, Orton was named starting quarterback (over Chris Simms).
Denver played to an 8-8 record, equaling their 2008 performance. But the disappointment comes not only from missing the playoffs, but also in how that happened. The Broncos won their first six games, most notably a 20-17 overtime victory over the New England Patriots in Week 5. Yet, Denver managed to lose eight of its final 10 games, with a 2-game winning streak (the first was against the Giants in Week 12) sandwiched in between two 4-game losing streaks.
The Broncos finished 20th in scoring offense (20.4 points per game) and 12th in scoring defense (20.2 points allowed). Orton finished with an 86.8 passer rating (14th in the league, seven spots higher than Cutler), 3,802 yards (11th, 136 more than Cutler), 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. However, Denver did not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the third consecutive season, as then-rookie Knowshon Moreno led the team with 947 yards.
The biggest disappointment, then, was the manner in which the Broncos lost their eight games. In the first 4-game losing streak, Denver lost each by an average of 20 points. In the second slide, the Broncos lost by an average of nine. McDaniels wasn't necessarily expected to arrive in Denver and bring the Broncos right back to the Super Bowl, but after shipping out Cutler and beginning the season with a considerable amount of controversy, a negative tone was set from the beginning.
10. 2009 New York Giants
The final team on this list of disappointments might be difficult to recall for Giants fans, but it's hard to argue its place in the top 10.
After a 2008 season that saw the Giants endure the loss of wide receiver Plaxico Burress after he accidentally shot himself to finish 12-4, an 8-8 record in 2009 was largely viewed as underachieving. New York began the season 5-0, blowing out teams like Tampa Bay (24-0 in Week 3) and Oakland (44-7 in Week 5).
Then, the Giants travelled to New Orleans in Week 6 to face the eventual Super Bowl-champion Saints. Widely viewed as a potential NFC Championship preview, the game ended up a 48-17 blowout by the Saints. New York lost its next three games, and entered its Week 10 bye with a 5-4 record. After surviving Atlanta in overtime, New York fell to Denver on Thanksgiving Day (see above). The Giants split the next two games with division rivals Dallas (win) and Philadelphia (loss) before trouncing Washington, 45-12, in Week 15.
New York entered Week 16 with an 8-6 record, and likely needed to win both games to secure a postseason berth. Instead, the Giants were routed by the Carolina Panthers, 41-9, in the final game at Giants Stadium. Next week, with their playoff hopes seemingly crushed, New York was embarrassed in a 44-7 loss at Minnesota.
To date, 2009 has been quarterback Eli Manning's best year. Manning finished the season with a 93.1 passer rating (11th in the league), 4,021 yards (10th), 27 touchdowns (t-8th) and 14 interceptions (t-19th). The Giants had the league's eighth-best scoring offense (25.1 points per game), but the defense was ranked 30th (26.7 points allowed per game).