It’s extremely difficult to go through an entire NFL season undefeated, as the New England Patriots demonstrated last year.
And it’s almost as difficult to go through an entire season without a win.
The Detroit Lions are just about there after being pummeled, 42-7, by New Orleans on Sunday. Only a date with the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field stands between Detroit, destiny and the first 0-16 season in NFL history. The Packers started the Lions misery in the final game of the 2007 season with a 9-7 win in Green Bay, and the bleeding hasn’t stopped since.
Tampa Bay holds the all-time record with an 0-14 finish in its first season, 1976. The Buccaneers. under coach John McKay, lost their first 12 games in 1977 to establish another record with 26 straight losses before beating New Orleans, 33-14, in December of 1977. Two years later, Tampa Bay was in the NFC Championship game.
Early NFL Losers
During the early years of the National Football League, many teams had winless seasons, oftentimes playing several games before disbanding. Teams like the Muncie Flyers, Louisville Bricks, Columbus Panhandlers, Milwaukee Badgers and Buffalo Bisons endured winless seasons in the league’s first decade, beginning in 1920.
Two of the worst teams of that era were the Rochester Jeffersons and the Dayton Triangles. The Jeffs went 0-21-2 between 1922 and 1925, four years without a single win, before passing into oblivion with an overall record of 8-27-04. The Jeffs went winless in both 1923 and 1924.
The Triangles were 0-7 in 1928 and 0-6 in 1929 under coach Faye Abbott before disbanding in the midst of a 17-game losing streak. A charter NFL franchise, the Tris had an overall record of 18-51-8.
Other winless teams before the Bucs were the Cincinnati Reds (0-8) in 1934, the Lions…surprise…(0-11) in 1942, Chicago Cardinals (0-10) in 1943, and Brooklyn Tigers and Chicago-Pittsburgh Cards-Steelers (both 0-10) in 1944.
The Dallas Cowboys began their inaugural 1960 season with 10 straight losses before they tied the Giants, 31-31, at Yankee Stadium. The Boys finished 0-11-1.
The 1981 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike-shortened campaign.
Many Have Gone 1-15
Many teams have gone 1-15 in a season, most notably the Saints in 1980 (the only team other than Tampa Bay and Detroit to open a season with 14 straight losses), the Cowboys with Troy Aikman in 1989, the Patriots in 1990, the Indianapolis Colts in 1991, the New York Jets in 1996, the 2000 San Diego Chargers, the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and the Miami Dolphins last year.
Other than the 1976 Tampa Bay team, the only other team to lose 14 straight games to open the season was the 1980 New Orleans Saints, or more appropriately Aint’s. After starting 1-0, the 2001 Panthers lost their last 15 games.
Of note in the AFC, the Houston Oilers endured back-to-back 1-13 records in 1972 and 1973.
The 1988-1989 Cowboys hold the record for consecutive home losses with 14. Everyone knows the Lions have been one of the worst road teams in recent memory, but their futility is still surprising. Between 2001 and 2003, they lost 24 straight games on the road – that’s three straight years going 0-8 away from the Silverdome.
Not to pile on the Lions, but they also own the longest championship drought in the NFL. The Lions beat the Cleveland Browns, 59-14, behind four touchdown passes from Tobin Rote to win the 1957 NFL championship…and they haven’t been back since. The Lions did make the NFC championship game in 1991, where they were throttled, 41-10, by the Washington Redskins.