Only 12 of the 32 NFL teams make the postseason every year, so it’s rare for a .500 or worse team to sneak into the playoffs.
For a losing team to make the playoffs, a combination of embarrassing events must happen simultaneously. The team must be close to .500 during the regular season, and the division they play in must be historically bad. That’s been the case a few times in NFL history, and it’s actually led to a handful of teams reaching the playoffs with a losing record. So, how many teams made the postseason with a losing record, and did any of them win a playoff game?
Four teams in NFL history have made the playoffs with a losing record
It might seem impossible for a team with a losing record in the regular season to make the playoffs, but it’s actually happened four times in the history of the NFL.
In fact, it happened twice in one season. In 1982, both the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions made the playoffs in a shortened season. Both teams went 4-5 in the nine-game regular season.
Unsurprisingly, both teams looked like losing teams in their playoff games. The Browns lost to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10, and gave up 510 total yards of offense in the game. The Lions fell, 31-7, to the Washington Redskins after surrendering four turnovers.
More recently, the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs in 2010 after going 7-9 in the regular season. The Seahawks still won the NFC West with a sub-.500 record and hosted a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
In 2015, the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers won the NFC South and hosted a playoff game of their own. The Seahawks and Panthers sparked the conversation of changing the postseason system so that a losing team couldn’t sneak in, but nothing has changed over the last few years.
Did any of those teams win a playoff game?
The 1982 Browns and Lions got exposed in the playoffs for the below-average teams they were all season, but the Seahawks and Panthers both proved the haters wrong and actually won a postseason game.
The 7-9 Seahawks beat the 11-5 Saints in 2010 thanks to Marshawn Lynch’s iconic “Beast Mode” run in the fourth quarter. Seattle scored 41 points in the game and pulled off the upset despite gaining 59 fewer yards than the Saints.
The Panthers also used their home-field advantage to upset the 11-5 Cardinals in 2015. Cam Newton threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 35 yards in the 27-16 victory.
The NFC East might produce another playoff team with a losing record this year
No losing team has made the playoffs since the Panthers in 2015, but that might change this season. The NFC East is a combined 3-12-1 through four weeks, and the eventual winner might not get to 8-8 by the end of the year.
The Philadelphia Eagles currently hold a slim lead over the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the four teams steal a playoff spot by winning the NFC East this year.
Somehow, one of these teams will host a playoff game later this year. Boy, will this be interesting to watch all season.