After nine games of the 2014 NFL season, the NFC South looks like a historically bad division. How bad is historically bad? Every team in the division currently resides on the wrong side of .500. While the Buccaneers are basically out of contention at 1-8, the other three franchises in the South are solidly in the playoff race, even if their records are downright ugly. After a tough overtime loss Sunday to San Francisco, the Saints still lead the division despite a 4-5 record. The Panthers are nipping at New Orleans’ heels at 3-5-1, and the Falcons are close behind at 3-6.
Since the NFL realigned to eight divisions of four teams each in 2002, only one team has made the playoffs with a losing record, the 7-9 Seahawks in 2010. And while it’s too early to say definitively how many wins this year’s NFC South champion will finish with, we decided it’s probably at least time to make a list of the worst NFL playoff teams since 2002.
In all, we found a half dozen teams that finished .500 or worse and still advanced to the postseason, a group that the Saints, Panthers, or Falcons could very well join in the next couple of months. The good news for the eventual NFC South champion? Surprisingly, five of these six ‘worst playoff teams of the decade’ went on to win a playoff game. So, look out NFC? Here comes the South?
And now, the six worst NFL playoff teams since 2002, presented in chronological order. (All statistics and records are from Pro-Football-Reference.com)
2004 Minnesota Vikings
Nate Burleson caught 68 Daunte Culpepper passes and Randy Moss added 49 receptions (13 of them touchdowns) in 2004, but the Vikings limped into the playoffs with a lowly 8-8 record after back-to-back defeats to end the regular season. Minnesota, went on to post a 31-17 win at Green Bay in the playoffs as a wild card team before getting eliminated by the Eagles the next weekend.
2004 St. Louis Rams
The other NFC wild card team in 2004 didn’t fare any better than the .500 Vikings, as St. Louis actually rallied from 6-8 to sneak into the playoffs with win number eight. The Rams had plenty of offensive weapons that year with Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce available for quarterback Marc Bulger, and did win 27-20 at Seattle in the postseason, but eventually St. Louis got bounced by 30 points in a January trip to Atlanta.
2006 New York Giants
The Giants finished in third place in their division with an 8-8 record in 2006, but that was good enough to snag a wild-card berth. Eli Manning’s team started the year with high hopes at 6-2, but the bottom fell out in the second half of the season, as New York lost six of seven at one point. The Giants quietly bowed out of the playoffs in their first game, a 23-20 loss at Philadelphia.
2008 San Diego Chargers
The eventual AFC West champion San Diego Chargers got off to an atrocious start in 2008, starting the year with only four wins in their first 12 games, but Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and company turned things on down the stretch. The Chargers got hot and won five in a row, including a 23-17 win over Indianapolis in the playoffs. However, that was the end of the road: The Steelers knocked San Diego out in their next game.
2010 Seattle Seahawks
The aforementioned Seattle Seahawks of 2010 were 6-9 headed into the final week of the season, but held off divisional foe St. Louis 16-6 to win the NFC West crown at 7-9. Seattle used the momentum from that game (and a raucous home crowd) to dispose of New Orleans 41-36 in the playoffs before bowing out the following weekend at Chicago.
2011 Denver Broncos
The streaky 2011 Denver Broncos started 2-5, won six in a row behind newly minted starting quarterback Tim Tebow (pictured), and then lost their final three regular-season games. Still, 8-8 was good enough for a three-way tie atop the AFC West, and Denver advanced to the postseason. In the playoffs, Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown on the first pass of overtime to stun the Steelers 29-23, but the Broncos were outclassed by the Patriots six days later, losing 45-15.