Two months ago, we ran a special feature listing the best teams of the past 30 years according to Football Outsiders' advanced DVOA metric. The coming disaster of the 2017 New York Jets has us thinking about the flip side of that list: the worst teams of the past 30 years.
Once again, we can tell you that our DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric accounts for all of this, measuring success on each play based on down and distance, then comparing it to an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent. (You can read more of the details here.) It's built to balance a measurement of how well a team has played in the past with a forecast of how well a team will play in the future. Ratings each year are normalized, accounting for changes in the NFL's offensive environment over the past 30 years.
It's important to remember that DVOA is measuring efficiency on a per-play basis, rather than looking at top-line wins and losses. The 0-16 Lions do not have the worst DVOA of all time, and some 1-15 teams don't even come close to the bottom. (The 2007 Miami Dolphins went 1-15 but don't even rank among the 100 worst teams of the last 30 years; they played one of the three toughest schedules in the league and lost six games by just a field goal.)
Will the 2017 Jets appear on this list a year from now? Just like it takes balance to rank among the greatest teams ever, it takes balance to rank among the worst teams ever. The 25 worst teams since 1987 all ranked 25th or worse on offense and 20th or worse on defense. So as bad as the Jets' offense appears to be, it's going to be very difficult for Gang Green to make it onto this list of the worst modern NFL teams. Their defense is simply going to be too good.
The Jets ranked 21st in defensive DVOA a year ago, and there are a number of reasons to believe their defense will be better in 2017. They were fifth in the league in 2015, so a rebound is likely. The Jets ended just 7.5 percent of opposing drives with takeaways, 29th in the league, and that probably will regress toward the mean. The run defense was phenomenal, and run defense is more consistent from year to year than pass defense. Meanwhile, the Jets improved that pass defense by using their top two draft picks on defensive backs.
So when you read this list of the worst teams since 1987, remember this: As bad as the Jets look right now, these teams were probably much worse. However, we also have a list of the worst offenses since 1987 -- and that's a group the Jets are in serious danger of joining.
10. 2004 San Francisco 49ers (minus-41.8 percent, 2-14)
The 49ers cleaned house to escape salary-cap problems, cutting Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst after the 2003 season. The 2004 49ers then ranked 29th in offensive DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA. Their two wins both came in overtime against the 6-10 Arizona Cardinals, even though the 49ers played one of the league's 10 easiest schedules.
9. 2002 Houston Texans (minus-41.9 percent, 4-12)
This is all about the worst offense in DVOA history, with rookie David Carr playing behind an expansion offensive line that allowed 76 sacks. Plus, starting running back Jonathan Wells managed just 2.7 yards per carry. The Texans managed just three points in a game on five occasions. However, the defense was only slightly below average (21st in DVOA) and the special teams were pretty good (eighth).
Houston won four games despite a horrendous performance overall, but the Week 14 win over Pittsburgh deserves its own paragraph. The Texans managed only three first downs; Carr had more sacks (four) than completions (three); and running backs Wells and James Allen combined for a miserable 31 yards on 23 carries. Yet the Texans won 24-3 because Pittsburgh turned the ball over five times and Houston returned three of them for touchdowns: two Aaron Glenn interception-return touchdowns and a Kenny Wright fumble-return touchdown.
8. 2003 Arizona Cardinals (minus-42.0 percent, 4-12)
The Cardinals finished last in defensive DVOA and next-to-last in offensive DVOA. These were among their losses: 38-0 to Seattle, 50-14 to San Francisco and 44-6 to the Browns (who finished 5-11). They did win four games, but only by a combined 14 points, including an 18-17 last-second win in Week 17 to knock Minnesota out of the playoffs.
7. 2009 St. Louis Rams (minus-45.1 percent, 1-15)
Remarkably, two straight Rams teams are on this list, and neither was the worst team in the league. That's how bad the Detroit Lions were in 2008 and 2009. The 2009 Rams were dead last in offensive DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA, but they end up slightly ahead of the 2008 Rams in overall DVOA because of above-average special teams. The Rams were shut out twice in the first four weeks and then lost two other games by over 35 points. Their only win came against the aforementioned Lions, 17-10 in Week 8.
6. 1987 Atlanta Falcons (minus-45.8 percent, 2-10)
The Falcons upset the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins, 21-20 in Week 2, but their only other win in a nonstrike game came against Dallas in Week 13. Otherwise, the Falcons were losing games by scores such as 48-10, 38-0 and 35-7. Our DVOA ratings only measure the 12 nonstrike games of 1987, and Atlanta ranked 27 out of 28 teams on defense and dead last on offense. Including the strike, five different quarterbacks started games for the Falcons.
5. 2008 St. Louis Rams (minus-47.1 percent, 2-14)
They were dead last on offense, 30th on defense and 20th on special teams. Head coach Scott Linehan was fired after an 0-4 start in which the Rams were outscored by a combined 147-43. The Rams won their first two games under interim coach Jim Haslett, then dropped another 10 in a row.
4. 1991 Indianapolis Colts (minus-47.7 percent, 1-15)
Second-year quarterback Jeff George led one of the worst offenses in DVOA history; the Colts were also 25th on defense and 19th on special teams that season. Their only win came by a single point, 28-27 over the 8-8 Jets.
3. 2008 Detroit Lions (minus-48.4 percent, 0-16)
The only 0-16 team in NFL history, the Lions combined the fourth-worst defense in DVOA history with the No. 30 offense of 2008. But, hey -- the special teams were slightly above average!
2. 2009 Detroit Lions (minus-51.6 percent, 2-14)
DVOA says the Lions were worse the year after their 0-16 season. The defense was a little better but remained the worst in the league, while the offense and special teams both fell to 31st out of 32 teams. Detroit won two games by a combined six points over two other teams with losing records.
1. 2005 San Francisco 49ers (minus-55.5 percent, 4-12)
The 49ers combined the third-worst offense in DVOA history with the 36th-worst defense. They somehow managed to pull off four victories, all by less than a touchdown. But their 12 losses were abysmal, featuring scores such as 42-3, 28-3, 52-17 and 41-3.
The next 10
11. 1999 New Orleans Saints (minus-40.3 percent, 3-13)
12. 2000 Cleveland Browns (minus-40.2 percent, 3-13)
13. 1992 New England Patriots (minus-40.1 percent, 2-14)
14. 2012 Kansas City Chiefs (minus-40.1 percent, 2-14)
15. 1999 Cleveland Browns (minus-39.7 percent, 2-14)
16. 2000 Cincinnati Bengals (minus-38.8 percent, 4-12)
17. 2000 Arizona Cardinals (minus-38.7 percent, 3-13)
18. 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars (minus-38.2 percent, 4-12)
19. 1991 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (minus-38.1 percent, 3-13)
20. 1990 New England Patriots (minus-38.0 percent, 1-15)
The 2016 New York Jets were the worst Jets team of the past 30 years by DVOA, the worst team of last season -- yes, below Cleveland -- and the No. 39 worst team since 1987, at minus-32.4 percent.
The worst offenses of the past 30 years
These are the teams the Jets are really challenging; not the worst teams, but the worst overall offenses of the past 30 years. For each team, we're listing both offensive DVOA and the quarterbacks responsible, including how many games they each started. We have a baker's dozen here so that Jets fans can revisit the current record-holder for worst offense in Jets history.
13. 1995 New York Jets (minus-30.7 percent)
QBs: Boomer Esiason (12), Bubby Brister (four), Glenn Foley (zero)
12. 2012 Arizona Cardinals (minus-30.9 percent)
QBs: John Skelton (six), Kevin Kolb (five), Ryan Lindley (four), Brian Hoyer (one)
11. 2007 San Francisco 49ers (minus-32.2 percent)
QBs: Alex Smith (seven), Trent Dilfer (six), Shaun Hill (two), Chris Weinke (one)
10. 1991 Indianapolis Colts (minus-32.8 percent)
QBs: Jeff George (16), Mark Herrmann (zero)
9. 1997 New Orleans Saints (minus-35.6 percent)
QBs: Heath Shuler (nine), Billy Joe Hobert (four), Danny Wuerffel (two), Doug Nussmeier (one)
8. 2010 Arizona Cardinals (minus-35.6 percent)
QBs: Derek Anderson (nine), John Skelton (four), Max Hall (three), Richard Bartel (zero)
7. 2010 Carolina Panthers (minus-35.8 percent)
QBs: Jimmy Clausen (10), Matt Moore (five), Brian St. Pierre (one)
6. 2004 Chicago Bears (minus-36.5 percent)
QBs: Chad Hutchinson (five), Craig Krenzel (five), Rex Grossman (three), Jonathan Quinn (three)
5. 2006 Oakland Raiders (minus-37.0 percent)
QBs: Aaron Brooks (eight), Andrew Walter (eight)
4. 2016 Los Angeles Rams (minus-37.8 percent)
3. 2004 San Francisco 49ers (minus-40.4 percent)
QBs: Tim Rattay (nine), Ken Dorsey (seven)
2. 1992 Seattle Seahawks (minus-41.3 percent)
QBs: Stan Gelbaugh (eight), Kelly Stouffer (seven), Dan McGwire (one)
1. 2002 Houston Texans (minus-43.3 percent)
QB: David Carr (16)
Note: Zero percent DVOA represents the league average, so a team with a minus-35 percent mark rated 35 percent worse than an average unit. Special thanks to Jeremy Snyder, who did most of the transcription work on the late '80s and early '90s.