The NFL is a fast paced environment. No teams stay on top very long. If the front office is not keeping up with the rest of the league, a great team can fall off very quickly within the course of one offseason. We love to remember the worst to first teams. Last year’s Kansas City Chiefs were a great feel good story. However, there are a lot of teams that faced the exact opposite experience.
The only thing worse than a losing season, is a losing season when the pre-season expectations were extremely high. It is an embarrassment to the organization. Football fans have an undying love for their teams, but they expect the best. When the season starts to go downhill, the fans react accordingly. Attendance quickly goes down and the sound of cheers can turn to boos instantly.
Recently we did and article on the top ten biggest single season turnarounds. It might have left you wondering about the worst. To answer this question we have decided to list the NFL’s worst single season turnarounds. Many of these teams actually made it to the Super Bowl, only to finish in the bottom half of the NFL the very next year. Hopefully this does not bring back any bad memories…
10 2002 Chicago Bears (13-3 to 4-12)
The Chicago Bears went 13-3 in 2001 because of their dominant defense. The following year would prove to be very different. The team went 4-12 in 2002. Soldier Field was being renovated and the Bears were forced to play the entire season in Memorial Stadium. They never adjusted. The defensive declined and allowed the 23rd most points in the league. The offensive was hurt by injuries to quarterback Jim Miller and running back Anthony Thomas who was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2001. 2002 was the Chicago Bear’s 83rd season in the NFL. The team would tie its franchise record for the longest losing streak in their history.
9 1999 San Francisco 49ers (12-4 to 4-12)
1999 was the year the storied San Francisco 49ers would officially fall from grace. In 1998, the 49ers went 12-4 and won the division. The next year they would win just four games. The team started off with a strong 3-1 record through the first four weeks. Problems started when quarterback Steve Young received a career-ending concussion during the third week of the season. He was replaced by Jeff Garcia. Garcia would put together a decent career over time, but he really struggled in his first season under center. The 4-12 record would mark the first time the 49ers would not win at least ten games in a non-players’ strike season since 1980.
8 2013 Houston Texans (12-4 to 2-14)
Following a 12-4 season and an offseason filled with Super Bowl predictions, the Houston Texans went just 2-14 last season. The year started off strong with the team winning its first two games. Then the bottom fell out. Quarterback Matt Schaub's performance worsened throughout the season, ultimately leading to him being sidelined. At one point it was so bad, it seemed like the former NFL passing champion was throwing more touchdowns to opposing defenders than to his own teammates. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster was lost to injury eventually. The defense was not playing the same way it was the year before. The Texans would drop 14 games in a row. Following their 11th loss, head coach Gary Kubiak was fired and replace with interim head coach Wade Phillips. The Texans franchise is the most recent addition to the NFL. In their short existence, they have now held the first overall pick in the draft three times. The team has announced Bill O’Brien, former coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, will be the team's new head coach.
7 1994 Houston Oilers (12-4 to 4-12)
The 1994 Houston Oilers are a perfect example of what happens when an owner becomes restless and decides to break up a team. In 1993, the Oilers went 12-4, but failed to make it to the Super Bowl. Owner Bud Adams was furious and decided it was best to start rebuilding. He fired his longtime defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. Ryan was hired during the offseason as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The most devastating blow to the team’s roster was the release of future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. After a great 1993 season, the Oilers would go just 4-12 in 1994. The ten-loss record swing was the worst in NFL history up until this point. Despite having the worst record in football, Bud Adams' team was not awarded the first overall pick in the 1995 draft. They were forced to pick third after the two new expansion franchises, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
6 2013 Atlanta Falcons (13-3 to 4-12)
Like the 2013 Houston Texans, the Atlanta Falcons were also a very popular pre-season Super Bowl pick last year. In 2012, the Falcons went 13-3 and advanced the NFC Championship game where they were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers. The top flight offense was hampered by injuries to key players such as Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Steven Jackson. The Falcons finished the 2013 season with a 4-12 record.
5 2006 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 to 6-10)
The Philadelphia Eagles were coming off an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX. During the game, quarterback Donovan McNabb became ill on the field. The team would end up losing that game to the New England Patriots. The following offseason was one of the most turbulent any team has ever experienced. The team was in dispute over contracts with wide receiver Terrell Owens and running back Brian Westbrook. McNabb was quick to speak out against Owens’ hold out. This started a major division within the Eagles’ locker room. The season was destroyed by this locker room division and injuries to nine starters including McNabb. The Eagles’ finished the season just 6-10.
4 1990 Denver Broncos (11-5 to 5-11)
Defense definitely helps a team win. Not even a quarterback like John Elway could do very much without a good one. The Broncos went 11-5 in 1989 and advanced to Super Bowl XXIV where they were beat by the San Francisco 49ers. The following season the Broncos went 5-11. Elway’s number actually improved. Unfortunately, the team’s defense fell from first to 23rd in number of points allowed. The 1989 Broncos’ defense was one of the best at taking the ball away. In the 1990, Tyrone Braxton went down with an MCL injury. The star safety led the Broncos in interceptions in 1989.
3 2003 Oakland Raiders (11-5 to 4-12)
2002 was the last season the Oakland Raiders were any good. They went 11-5 and won the AFC Championship. The Raiders were defeated in Super Bowl XXXVII by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Raiders’ quarterback Rich Gannon was named the NFL MVP. The next season, Gannon would injury his should in week seven. Gannon would be replaced by Marques Tiasosopo and Rick Mirer. The Raiders went 4-12. At the end of the season, Al Davis fired head coach Bill Callahan and replaced him with Norv Turner.
2 1999 Atlanta Falcons (14-2 to 5-11)
In 1998, the Atlanta Falcons went 14-2 and were defeated in Super Bowl XXXIII by John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Running back Jamal Anderson led the NFL with 1,846 rushing yards that year. The next season, the Falcons' star back would only play two games due to injury. The team’s quarterback, Chris Chandler, would also be lost for the season. The defense made a horrid turnaround. In 1998, the Falcons had a plus 153 point differential. In 1999, they dropped to a minus 93. These events culminated into a 5-11 season in 1999.
1 1968 Green Bay Packers (9-4-1 to 6-7-1)
We typically forget about this team when we talk about the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. In 1967, the Packers went 9-4-1. The team won the NFL’s first two Super Bowls. At the end of the 1967 season, Vince Lombardi announced he was going to retire from his position as head coach. Phil Bengtson would take his place as the head coach of the Packers. In 1968, the Packers went 6-7-1. It was their first losing season since 1958, the year before Lombardi arrived.