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Best In-Season Turnarounds in NFL History

| November 9, 2021 11:20 am PDT

How many times do you see people write off an NFL team after a bad start? Against the criticism and odds, these teams managed to turn things around and make a playoff push. At the beginning of the season, no one thought that was possible.

You know the team and players are so eager to prove the critics wrong. When they do, it’s a very satisfying feeling.

Let’s check out the best in-season turnarounds in NFL history.

6. 2002 Tennessee Titans

After rebranding from the Tennessee Oilers to Tennessee Titans in 1999, the Titans looked like one of the league’s best.

They advanced to the Super Bowl in 1999 and went 13-3 in 2000. They had a down 2001 season and the 2002 season got off to a rough start.

Tennessee kicked off the season with a three-point victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. From there, it was tough sledding. Check out their results over the next four weeks.

  • Week 2: 21-13 loss
  • Week 3: 31-28 loss
  • Week 4: 52-25 loss
  • Week 5: 31-14 loss

It’s one thing to lose four straight games, but how about back-to-back by a combined 44 points? I can’t imagine there was much hope after that. However, the Titans weren’t ready to throw in the towel.

The Titans ended their losing streak with a 23-14 victory in Week 6 over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Coming off their bye week, the Titans rattled off four straight wins to move to 6-4. They had a brief setback with a one-point loss against the Baltimore Ravens, but that was their only hiccup after the bye week.

Tennessee went on to win their final five games to finish 11-5. They won 10 of their final 11 games to clinch the AFC South and enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Eddie George spearheaded the offense with 1,165 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

The Titans success didn’t stop in the postseason. They defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-31 in overtime. It was their first playoff victory in franchise history over the Steelers.

Tennessee’s run came to an end with a loss in the AFC Championship Game to the Oakland Raiders.

After Week 5, I can’t imagine anyone thought the Titans would be in the playoffs, nonetheless the AFC Championship Game.

5. 1975 Baltimore Colts

The 1975 Baltimore Colts were just a few years removed from a pair of Super Bowl appearances. Of course, one of those being one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

However, they had taken a fall from grace since. They won a combined 11 games over the previous three seasons.

Baltimore began the season with a dominant 35-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, they couldn’t build any momentum off the victory, as they lost their ensuing four games.

Just when it looked like the Colts were heading for another bad season, “The Miracle on 33rd Street” happened.

In Week 6, the Colts losing streak came to an end with a 45-28 road victory over the New York Jets. From there, we saw a dominant stretch from the Colts offense.

Including the Jets game, Baltimore scored over 30 points in five of their last nine games. Baltimore ran the table to finish the season 10-4.

Their lone close call came in a 10-7 overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins. That win ultimately won them the division since the teams tied for the best record in the AFC East.

Baltimore’s 28.2 points per game ranked second in the league. A big reason for that success was Pro Bowl running back Lydell Mitchell.

  • 289 carries
  • 1,193 rushing yards
  • 11 rushing touchdowns
  • 60 receptions
  • 544 receiving yards
  • 4 receiving touchdowns

The Colts opened the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a 7-7 tie at halftime before the Steelers pulled away in the second half. Baltimore had a chance to cut into a 21-10 deficit, but they fumbled at the Steelers three-yard line.

Pittsburgh won the game by a score of 28-10.

It wasn’t the ending Colts fans hoped for but they had to be happy with the playoff appearance. After all, the team was 1-4 through five weeks.

4. 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers never had much success in the 1980s and early 1990s, but things were beginning to look up. They made the playoffs in 1997 and went 8-8 in 1998. They came into the 1999 season looking to build off their success.

Early in the season, it looked like the Buccaneers were back to their losing ways.

Ahead of their Week 6 bye, Tampa Bay was just 2-3. Their defense was doing the job but their offense only scored over 20 points once.

Even after the bye, Tampa Bay went 1-1 to give them an overall record of 3-4. It looked like their weak offense was going to ruin the season. Then, we saw both sides of the ball play at a high level.

Tampa Bay went on a six-game win streak. Their defense didn’t allow more than 17 points in any game. While their offense wasn’t elite, they played well enough to pick up wins.

Following an ugly 45-0 loss against the Oakland Raiders, the Buccaneers won their final two games to finish 11-5.

They can thank their defense for the turnaround.

  • Yards Per Game: 267.5 (3rd)
  • Passing Yards Per Game: 179.6 (2nd)
  • Rushing Yards Per Game: 87.9 (5th)
  • Points Per Game: 14.7 (3rd)

Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Warren Sapp made the All-Pro First-Team. Sapp also won Defensive Player of the Year.

The Buccaneers erased a 13-point second-half deficit to win in the divisional round against Washington.

Unfortunately, their offense couldn’t find the end zone in an 11-6 loss in the NFC Championship Game.

While you can win a championship with a great defense, you need to at least have an average offense. Tampa Bay ranked bottom five in most offensive categories.

A little more offense and they could’ve gone all the way.

3. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Well, we go from one great defense to possibly the greatest defense of all time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 1976 season on the drink of a dynasty. They had three straight 10+ win seasons and were looking to defend their Super Bowl title.

Early in the 1976 season, they looked nowhere near as good as those teams.

They lost four of their first five games, allowing 22 points per game. Their offense was doing its job, but this elite defense was nowhere to be found. That all changed in Week 6.

Pittsburgh defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-6 in Week 6. That wound up being the most points their defense allowed for five weeks.

Their defense had a brief hiccup in Week 11, but the Steelers offense played well enough to earn their sixth straight win.

The Steelers defense allowed a combined three points over their final three games. A nine-game win streak gave them a 10-4 record. They won the AFC Central on a tiebreaker over Cincinnati.

Check out the Steelers box score in their nine-game win streak.

  • Points Scored: 234 (26.0 per game)
  • Points Allowed: 28 (3.1 per game)

Pittsburgh’s defense had a whopping five shutouts on the season.

In the playoffs, Pittsburgh’s offense dominated in a 40-14 victory in the divisional round. Unfortunately, both their offense and defense underwhelmed in the AFC Championship Game. The Oakland Raiders defeated Pittsburgh 24-7.

The Steelers had a dynasty in the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls in six seasons. However, a lot of people will tell you that the 1976 squad was the best out of all of them.

After all, the defense had Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Green, Jack Ham, and Mel Blount.

In addition to one of the greatest defenses, the 1976 Steelers also engineered one of the greatest in-season turnarounds.

2. 2015 Kansas City Chiefs

Before the Kansas City Chiefs formed a juggernaut with Patrick Mahomes, they were a fringe playoff contender.

In 2015, there was hope they could return to the playoffs after going 9-7 the season before. However, they immediately put themselves in a big hole.

Following a Week 1 victory over the Houston Texans, the Chiefs lost five in a row. In Week 5, star running back Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL. Needless to say, things were not looking up.

Kansas City went into their bye with back-to-back wins, including a 45-10 victory over the Detroit Lions in London. That momentum carried over into the rest of the season.

Following the bye week, four of their first five games were against AFC West opponents. The Chiefs hit the ground running, winning all four games by at least seven points.

They went on to win their final three games to finish the season on a 10-game win streak. Just like that, they went from 1-5 to 11-5 and a spot in the playoffs.

Their defense featured five Pro Bowlers.

  • Derrick Johnson
  • Marcus Peters
  • Eric Berry
  • Tamba Hali
  • Justin Houston

That defense kept it up with a 30-0 victory in the wild card round against the Texans. The following week, they knew they’d have their work cut out for them against the New England Patriots.

Kansas City’s great defense didn’t have an answer for Tom Brady and the Patriots. They made a late-run but in the end, New England hung on to win 27-20.

Making the playoffs was an accomplishment in itself. Before the 2015 season, only once did a team make the playoffs after starting 1-5. With the odds stacked against them, the Chiefs did the improbable.

1. 1970 Cincinnati Bengals

The 1970 season marked the third season in Cincinnati Bengals franchise history. They went a combined 7-20 in their first two seasons.

With their start to the 1970 season, it looked like their losing ways would continue.

Following a 31-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, the Bengals lost six straight games.

If I had to guess, I’d say a lot of people thought the Bengals were on an inside track to pick top five in the NFL draft. Well, Cincinnati made sure that wouldn’t happen.

Cincinnati put an end to their six-game losing streak with a 43-14 victory over the Buffalo Bills. From there, they went on a run I can’t imagine anyone saw coming.

In addition to the Buffalo game, the Bengals won their final seven games to finish the season 8-6. As with most great in-season turnarounds, it was a combination of their offense and defense.

Check out their numbers from the seven-game win streak.

  • Points Scored: 209 (29.9 points per game)
  • Points Allowed: 78 (11.1 points per game)

The great finish won them the AFC Central by one game. Cincinnati also became the first expansion team in NFL history to make the playoffs within the first three years of their existence.

In the playoffs, the Bengals ran into the Baltimore Colts. Baltimore had their way in a 17-0 victory. Even with the loss, it’s hard for Bengals fans to be disappointed with their accomplishments.

I think what sets this turnaround apart from others is the Bengals only had seven games to turn things around. Remember, this was a 14-game season.

Most teams start badly but have 11-13 games to bounce back. Cincinnati only had seven. Not to mention, they were a new team looking for their identity.

Other Great NFL In-Season Turnarounds

  • 2013 Carolina Panthers
  • 1992 San Diego Chargers

The Carolina Panthers went 13-19 in Cam Newton’s first two seasons. Following a 1-3 start, it looked like they were in for another rough season. While Newton had the headlines, the Panthers defense led them to an 11-1 finish. They finished 12-4 but lost in the wild card round.

In 1992, the San Diego Chargers started 0-4. Behind backup quarterback Stan Humphries, the Chargers won 11 of their final 12 games. They became the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 0-4.

San Diego won in the wild card round before falling in the divisional round.

All of these teams showed a lot of resilience. Even with the odds stacked against them, they were able to turn things around and make something out of nothing. That’s why you should never give up on your season.

Imagine betting on any of these teams right before their winning streak. Make sure you use the top NFL betting sites to place your bets.

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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