The 3 Worst NFL Teams That Made the Playoffs With a Losing Record

Head coach Bruce Arians oversees his starting quarterback, Carson Palmer

Head coach of the Arizona Cardinals Bruce Arians oversees his quarterback Carson Palmer | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

You have to admire Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians’ optimism. Earlier this year, with a 4-6-1 record and five games remaining, the man in the Kangol cap still believed his team would make the playoffs. While such a feat seems improbable, it wouldn’t be the first time a team with a lousy record made the playoffs. (For what it’s worth the Cards are now 7-8-1, second in the NFC behind Seattle).

As it turns out, two teams made it to the NFL postseason with records below .500 and another 10 teams went to the bonus rounds with a .500 record. There is justice knowing that not a single one of these 12 undeserving squads made it past the second round. These are the three worst NFL teams that snuck into the postseason despite the most dismal seasons.

1. 1982 Cleveland Browns

1999 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Ozzie Newsome stands next to his bronze bust

1999 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Ozzie Newsome stands next to his bronze bust | David Maxwell/AFP/Getty Images

The 1982 season was a strike-shortened one with teams playing nine games. The Cleveland Browns ended the year with a 4-5 record under head coach Sam Rutigliano. Overall, the Browns finished 23rd in total offense (out of 30) with a -42 point differential between scoring and points allowed. A 33-year-old Brian Sipe was in the twilight of his career and didn’t have much in the way of offensive weapons around him; tight end Ozzie Newsome was the only shining light.

Chip Banks, the No. 3 pick in the 1982 NFL Draft, received named Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and registered 6.5 sacks. The Browns showed some improvement, especially with the addition of Bernie Kosar at quarterback. They made the playoffs from 1985 through 1989, but only twice in the past 28 years. Of the 8-8 teams that made the playoffs, one team stands out as being totally unworthy of the postseason.

2. 2004 St. Louis Rams

Head Coach Mike Martz of the St. Louis Rams looks on from the sideline during a game | Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

Head Coach Mike Martz of the St. Louis Rams looks on from the sideline during a game | Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

The year after Kurt Warner and the Rams parted ways, Marc Bulger took over under center, and the team went from greatness to mediocrity. The St. Louis Rams finished 8-8; they ranked second in the NFC West behind Seattle and made the playoffs as a wild card team. The team finished 19th in offense and 25th in defense out of 32 in the league. The Rams had a -73 point scoring differential for the season.
In the playoffs, the Rams traveled to Seattle where they beat the Seahawks 27-20 but fell to the Atlanta Falcons 47-17 in a one-sided game.

The Rams, a dozen years before returning to Los Angeles, did not have a 1,000 rusher but future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk led them with 774 yards on the ground. Hard-running rookie Steve Jackson added 673 rushing yards to complement him. Mike Martz’s passing-oriented offense led to two 1,000-plus-yard receivers in Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce. Holt was the team’s lone selection for the 2004 Pro Bowl.

Martz went on to coach the Rams five games into the 2005 season, getting the ax after going 2-3 for the first five games. Joe Vitt replaced him and went 4-7 for the team’s remaining 11 games. The former Rams coach went on to become offensive coordinator for Detroit, San Francisco, and Chicago before spending the 2012 season in the Fox Broadcast booth. That stint as an analyst lasted only one season.

3. 2010 Seattle Seahawks

Marshawn Lynch of Seattle Seahawks fame adjusts his helmet

Marshawn Lynch of NFL fame participated in the 2010 Seattle Seahawks team | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Finishing the season with a 7-9 record, the Seahawks won the NFC West in their first season under current head coach Pete Carroll. As a division winner, they hosted the 11-5 wild card New Orleans Saints and pounded out a 41-36 win thanks to Matt Hasselback’s passing and Marshawn Lynch’s running. The postseason run ended the following week with a 35-24 loss to the Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

It’s worth noting that for the 2011 season, the Seahawks ended the year with a similar 7-9 record but did not qualify for the playoffs. The 49ers, with a 13-3 record, won the division by five games over the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals.

The 2010 season for the Seahawks may hold an ignominious place in the record books, but the team’s draft picks that year became the nucleus for a powerhouse contender for years to come. Draftees included tackle Russell Okung, safety Earl Thomas, wide receiver Golden Tate, cornerback Walter Thurmond, and free safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks reached a premier status in 2012 with 11 wins and 13 in 2013.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.