It’s not uncommon for NFL teams with a .500 winning percentage or less to qualify for the postseason. With the newly expanded playoffs, which grants an additional wildcard team from each conference entry beyond Week 17, the league will most certainly see a rise in subpar teams vying for a trip to the Super Bowl.
While a few 9-7 teams have found success in the postseason, most notably the 2011 New York Giants who went on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, teams with less stellar records have flopped terribly.
With that said, here are five of the worst playoff teams in NFL history.
Cleveland Browns – 1985 (8-8)
A year following an abysmal 5-11 season, the Cleveland Browns “improved” their record to 8-8, capturing the AFC Central title after winning three of their final five games.
Led by 1,000-yard running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack, the Browns matched up against the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs. While they jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, they could not contain Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
The Dolphins would go on to score the game’s final 21 points and defeat Cleveland 24-21. All was not lost, however. The Browns would appear in three AFC title games over the next four seasons.
New York Giants – 2006 (8-8)
A year after going 11-5, Eli Manning and the New York Giants continued their NFC East dominance by starting the 2006 season with a 6-2 record. Unfortunately, their hot streak fizzled, losing six of their final eight games. Nonetheless, they still qualified for the postseason.
Their season came to a fitting end with a 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round. A final analysis of their collapse showed the Giants finished 28th in the NFL in passing and 32nd in red zone efficiency.
Carolina Panthers – 2014 (7-8-1)
With 75% of the 2014 season in the books, the Carolina Panthers owned a 3-8-1 record. Despite the team’s poor performance, the NFC South was wide open. The Buccaneers, Falcons, and Saints were all equally disappointing.
The Panthers would go on to win their final four games and capture the division title at 7-8-1.
While Carolina became the fifth non-winning playoff team to win a postseason game when they defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-16, they couldn’t get past the Seahawks during the divisional round, losing 31-17.
Seattle Seahawks – 2010 (7-9)
The 2010 Seattle Seahawks led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Marshawn Lynch captured the NFC West title with a losing record of 7-9.
The “reward” for winning the division was a matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Clinging to a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Lynch activated “Beast Mode” and bulldozed his way into the endzone with a 67-yard game-clinching run.
The Seahawks would go on to lose 35-24 to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round. Three seasons later, second-year quarterback Russell Wilson would lead Seattle to its first Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Washington Football Team – 2020 (7-9)
The Washington Football Team and the other members of the NFC East looked as if none of them wanted to earn a spot in the playoffs. No matter how often each team lost, the division crown was still within reach up until the final week.
With the lack of self-discipline displayed by young quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the questionable health of veteran Alex Smith, Washington’s season was already behind the eight-ball.
While grit and determination — not talent — earned them a trip to Tampa Bay to face off against Tom Brady in the wild-card round, it wasn’t enough as the woeful “Football Team” lost 31-23, ending a very tumultuous season.