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6 Worst Single Season Collapses in NFL History

| November 27, 2021 6:34 am PDT

It’s a great feeling when your NFL team gets off to a great start. You’re cruising along picking up wins and waiting for your shot at the Super Bowl. All of a sudden, the losses start piling up. You go from dreaming about the Super Bowl to wondering how you missed the playoffs.

It’s a terrible feeling for the fans and players, but it happens.

For a list no one wants to be a part of, here are the worst single-season collapses in NFL history.

6. 1993 Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins came into the 1993 season looking to capture their first Super Bowl in the Dan Marino era. Early in the season, things were looking up for Miami. That is, until Week 5.

Marino went down with a ruptured Achilles that ended his season. Marino remains one of the best athletes to never win a title.

Following Week 5, the Dolphins had a 3-1 record.

Backup quarterback Scott Mitchell came in and did an admirable job. However, he too went down with an injury. While not season-ending, he did miss three games.

Following a wild victory on Thanksgiving Day, the Dolphins were 9-2. They were still without Mitchell, but he was on the verge of returning. Maybe they scuffle with the quarterback change but they’d at least hang on to a playoff berth, right?

Well, not exactly.

Miami dropped three straight home games, including one to the Buffalo Bills. At the time, the Dolphins were in a tight battle with the Bills for the AFC East title.

The Dolphins dropped their final two games to the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots. Not only did they lose the division title, but they also lost a spot in the playoffs on a tiebreaker. The Pittsburgh Steelers claimed the final spot because they beat the Dolphins by one point in Week 15.

In the end, the biggest downfall for the Dolphins was their defense. Check out how they performed in their first 11 games vs. the final five.

  • First 11 Games: 186 (16.9 points per game)
  • Final Five Games: 165 (33.0 points per game)

Over the final three games, Miami allowed a combined 125 points. It’d take an elite offense to compete with that.

While Miami’s offense finished fifth in points per game, they couldn’t keep up with the Dolphins terrible defense.

5. 1978 Washington Redskins

For much of the 1970s, the Washington Redskins were one of the best teams in the NFL. They had made the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons, including making the Super Bowl in 1972.

In 1978, it looked like Washington was in prime position to make another Super Bowl run.

Washington came flying out of the gates with six straight wins. Perhaps the only issue was that four of those six were by five points or less. But hey, a win is a win.

From there, they dropped back-to-back games on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Still, they won two of their following three games to move to 8-3.

At this point, it looked like the division title would come down to them and the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan.

Washington dropped their final five games and missed the playoffs entirely.

They began the losing streak to a St. Louis Cardinals team that began the season 0-8. Then, we saw the Cowboys embarrass them in a 37-10 defeat.

By then, they knew they were in trouble. Three more losses sealed their fate.

Overall, Washington never had a great offense. Check out Joe Theismann’s numbers.

  • 9 completion percentage
  • 2,593 yards
  • 13 touchdowns
  • 18 interceptions

Outside of a 38-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Washington failed to score over 20 points in their final 10 games. It didn’t help that their defense allowed at least 17 points in seven of those 10 games.

Maybe Washington had a few breaks go their way early in the season, with all the close games. When that ended, they couldn’t pick up the wins.

It was an unfortunate ending to a once promising season.

4. 2018 Carolina Panthers

Just two years before 2018, MVP Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record and Super Bowl appearance. They ultimately fell short but made it back to the playoffs in 2017. In 2018, Carolina looked to build upon that success.

Carolina had a decent 3-2 start to the season. People really began to take them seriously when they rattled off three straight wins to move to 6-2.

At the halfway point, they looked like one of the best teams in football. Unfortunately, we all know what happens next.

In Week 10, the Panthers lost big to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was the beginning of their downfall.

They went on to lose the following six games to fall from 6-2 to 6-9. Suddenly, the Panthers were a serious threat to missing the playoffs entirely. And honestly, it wasn’t like they were losing big.

Check out the score of each of their games from Week 11 to 15.

  • Week 11: 19-20
  • Week 12: 27-30
  • Week 13: 17-24
  • Week 14: 20-26
  • Week 15: 9-12

You would think the Panthers would be able to win at least one of those close games. It wound up being a combination of blown leads and not being able to close out games.

Carolina did end the season on a positive note with a 33-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints. On one hand, the Panthers didn’t end their season with eight straight losses. On the other side, it took a Saints team resting their starters to end the losing streak.

Ultimately, they finished 7-9, two games behind the Philadelphia Eagles for the second wild-card spot.

It certainly didn’t help that they had a Week 4 bye. Maybe a break in the losing streak could’ve put a stop to their skid.

3. 1987 San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers had very little success in the mid-1980s. From 1983-1986, the Chargers didn’t have a winning season. However, they were moving in the right direction with an 8-8 record in 1986.

San Diego opened the season with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. They responded with a win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Week 3, the NFL players went on strike. They wound up returning for the originally scheduled Week 4, which was now Week 3.

That was the start of the Chargers impressive march to the top of the league.

The Chargers rattled off seven straight wins. That stretch included a pair of wins over the Oakland Raiders and a blowout victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. It looked like San Diego was on the verge of making their first playoff appearance in a while. That’s when things went terribly wrong.

San Diego’s skid began with a pair of losses to the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. Certainly not ideal considering both teams were battling San Diego for the top spot in the AFC West.

From there, the Chargers lost their final four games, including the season finale against the Broncos. Honestly, none of the games were very close.

Here is a scoring breakdown of the Chargers final six games.

  • Points Scored: 61 (10.2 points per game)
  • Points Allowed: 162 (27.0 points per game)

Talk about a brutal stretch.

Overall, San Diego didn’t have a good offense, but their defense played a lot better in the first half of the season.

In the end, the Chargers finished 8-7. Denver won the division at 10-4-1, while Seattle claimed a wild card spot with a 9-6 record.

For a team that went through a rough few years, it looked like the Chargers were finally going to return to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the disappointment continued.

2. 1994 Philadelphia Eagles

The 1994 season marked a big transition in the Philadelphia Eagles franchise.

Jeffrey Lurie took over as the majority owner of the team. While the Eagles had success with former owner Norman Braman, they only made it past the divisional round once. The hope was that Lurie could help lead them to new levels.

Right away, the transition made a major impact.

Philadelphia lost their opening game to the New York Giants. They went on a four-game winning streak before dropping another division game. This time, it came at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.

Following the loss, the Eagles won three straight games to move to 7-2. At that point, they sat at the top of the NFC. It looked like the Eagles were in position to finally advance past the divisional round.

I can’t imagine Eagles fans could’ve predicted what happened next.

The Eagles lost five straight games to drop to 7-7. They went from Super Bowl contender to playoff longshot.

In Week 16, the Eagles lost in a heartbreaker against the New York Giants. New York kicked the game-winning field goal after the Eagles fumbled on a late kick-off return. Philadelphia had a chance to tie the game but missed the field goal.

That loss officially eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention.

To top things off, Philadelphia lost in Week 17 to a Cincinnati Bengals team that came into the game with a 2-13 record. Not long after the loss, the Eagles fired head coach Rich Kotite.

Following a 7-2 start, the Eagles finished 7-9.

It’s crazy how far this team fell. I mean, they destroyed the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5. Meanwhile, the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, Philadelphia found themselves thinking about what could’ve been.

1. 2001 San Diego Chargers

Unfortunately, the San Diego Chargers have made this list yet again. Fourteen years after their first collapse, they had an even bigger one in 2001.

I can’t imagine there were high expectations for the 2001 Chargers. After all, they finished a league-worst 1-15 in 2000. That’s why I bet it surprised a lot of people when the Chargers got off to a great start.

San Diego won their first three games before dropping a pair to the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots.

Following the brief slide, they picked up back-to-back wins to move to 5-2. Just under halfway through the season, the Chargers were looking like a serious playoff contender.

With seven of their remaining nine games against division opponents, the Chargers knew they had to keep the pedal to the medal. However, they did the exact opposite.

After defeating the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, San Diego went on to lose their final nine games. A 5-2 start turned into a 5-11 ending.

Coming into the season, 5-11 is probably around what people were expecting. After starting 5-2, people’s expectations were much higher.

We’ve talked about a lot of teams who played terribly on both sides of the ball in their collapse. The Chargers were not that team. Let’s check out a few of their scores from the losing streak.

  • Week 8: 20-25
  • Week 11: 17-20
  • Week 12: 10-13 (OT)
  • Week 14: 6-13
  • Week 15: 17-20
  • Week 16: 22-25

Just so many excoriating losses. Those three-point losses are almost worse than losing in blowout fashion.

It seems fitting that the Chargers have a pair of entries on the list. Doesn’t it seem like they always fall short of expectations?

Surprisingly, they also own one of the best in-season turnarounds in NFL history. But of course, they weren’t good enough to make my main list, making the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions 

  • 2009 Denver Broncos
  • 2008 New York Jets

In 2009, the Denver Broncos went into their bye week with a 6-0 record. I guess that bye week killed their momentum because they lost the following four games. They eventually finished 8-8, missing the playoffs.

Led by Brett Favre, it looked like the 8-3 Jets were heading to the playoffs. That all changed when they lost four of their final five games. Their 9-7 record wasn’t enough to earn them a spot in the postseason.

A great start to the season is the first step towards making a playoff run. However, it’s important not to ease up and keep your foot on the pedal. If not, you could disappoint like these teams.

I hope you didn’t have the misfortune on betting of these teams before their losing streak. If you want to place some more NFL bets moving forward, check out the top NFL betting sites.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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