Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs
For six particular franchises, December ends with nothing to root for - their playoff elimination becoming official before Week 17. Now, the focus shifts to an early investigation of draft prospects while the rest of the league clamors over seeding order and home-field advantage.
Behold, football's pinnacle of pain, misery, and broken expectations (presented in order from shortest to longest drought):
6. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Last Appearance: 2007
Head Coaches During Drought: 4 - Jack Del Rio, Mel Tucker, Mike Mularkey, Gus Bradley
Starting Quarterbacks During Drought: 7 - David Garrard, Todd Bouman, Trent Edwards, Luke McCown, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles
Winning Percentage During Drought: 30.6% (34–77)
The Jaguars were once the bellweather of expansion franchises - making the playoffs in four of their first five seasons, but since then, Jacksonville has taken up permanent residence in the league's basement. The last time the team made the playoffs, franchise legend Fred Taylor was still the starting running back, with Maurice Jones-Drew as his 22-year-old back-up apprentice.
For the record, I'm already declared my admiration of eternally peppy head coach Gus Bradley, but even the merriest of rebuilders must begin showing results at some point. The Jaguars will play a Houston Texans team led by Case Keenum in Week 17, meaning that Jacksonville is in good position to win four late-season games after starting the season mired in a miserable losing streak for the second year in a row. Another 4–12 finish in 2014, though, would hardly be cause for hope in North Florida.
The fate of Bradley's tenure quite obviously rests on the shoulders of Blake Bortles. Although the rookie quarterback has thrown a ton of interceptions, his completion percentage of 60.2 and his 6.3 yards per attempt are a pretty significant improvement over Gabbert's rookie totals (50.8% and 5.4), so maybe a sense of optimism within the organization that Bortles could be the team's quarterback of the future, isn't entirely without merit.
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Last Appearance: 2007
Head Coaches: 4 - Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith
Starting Quarterbacks: 7 - Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Mike Glennon, Josh McCown
Winning Percentage: 35.1% (39–72)
Tampa Bay has had one of the more bizarre playoff droughts in any era. During the seven straight seasons they've missed the playoffs, they've actually had a winning record twice. In 2008, the Gruden-coached Bucs finished 9–7, only to see the Eagles slip into the final NFC Wild Card seed with a 9–6–1 record. In 2010, Morris' Bucs had even worse luck: at 10–6, they were left out of the postseason party while the 7–9 Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs as champion of their then-lackluster division.
That said, the arrow is definitely pointing south in Tampa Bay. With a 2–13 record so far this year, the Buccaneers are guaranteed to finish with four or fewer wins for the second season in a row. This franchise hasn't experienced that type of losing in consecutive seasons since 1986–87, a team that started rookie Vinny Testaverde.
The good (?) news is that these Bucs have a long ways to go before they match their franchise's longest playoff drought, a 14-year famine - including zero winning seasons - from 1983–1996.
4. ST. LOUIS RAMS
Last Appearance: 2004
Head Coaches: 6 - Mike Martz, Joe Vitt, Scott Linehan, Jim Haslett, Steve Spagnuolo, Jeff Fischer
Starting Quarterbacks: 13 - Marc Bulger, Jamie Martin, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gus Frerotte, Brock Berlin, Trent Green, Kyle Boller, Keith Null, Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill
Winning Percentage: 30.8% (49–109–1)
The Rams' playoff drought has the dubious distinction of including the worst three-year stretch by any team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. In 2007, the Rams went 3–13, which they followed with a 2–14 season in 2008, which they followed with a 1–15 season in 2009. No other team has ever lost 13 or more games three seasons in a row.
The Rams have followed up that historically awful era by winning seven games in three of the last four full seasons, which is actually a notable accomplishment in the rugged NFC West. As I discussed a few weeks ago, though, St. Louis' inability to find a quarterback in the draft means that entry into the playoffs is hard to see on their horizon.
3. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Last Appearance: 2002
Head Coaches: 7 - Butch Davis, Terry Robiskie, Romeo Crennel, Eric Magnini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine
Starting Quarterbacks: 18 - Kelly Holcomb, Tim Couch, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thaddeus Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel
Winning Percentage: 32.9% (63–128)
The Browns have not only missed out on the postseason party in every season since 2002, but they've scarcely even been competitive over the past decade. This year is just the second time during their current playoff-less streak that the team did not suffer at least 10 losses.
Cleveland has repeatedly tried to recapture the magic of what Bill Belichick has created with the New England Patriots - only they've been completely unable to do so. For most of this drought, the Browns have been coached by former Patriot assistants Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Even this year's primary starting quarterback, Brian Hoyer, has spent most of his time in the NFL backing up Tom Brady.
Speaking of quarterbacks, the defining characteristic of the Browns' drought is the incomprehensible number of players that have started under center for Cleveland. Hoyer has a 10–6 record as a starter during his two seasons with the Browns, and when a quarterback other than Hoyer has started in 2013 or 2014, the Browns are 1–14(!) Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Hoyer is the only one of the 18 Browns starting quarterbacks since 2002 with a winning record to his name.
2. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Last Appearance: 2002
Head Coaches: 8 - Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano
Starting Quarterbacks: 18 - Rich Gannon, Rick Mirer, Marques Tuiasosopo, Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Matt Flynn, Derek Carr
Winning Percentage: 29.3% (56–135)
It's hard to gauge which streak is more painful: the Rams' run of three straight seasons of at least 13 losses, or the Raiders' seven-season run (2003–09) of at least 11 losses, which also happens to be a post-merger record. Even the Cleveland Browns, who have also not made the playoffs since 2002, have won five more games than the Raiders over the same stretch of time, and no other team has a worse record over the same span.
Oakland's rapid cycling through head coaches looks even worse when you consider that the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh and the Colts' Chuck Pagano were both assistant coaches with the team during these "dark times."
It looked like the Raiders would begin a new identity starting in January 2012, when they hired Reggie McKenzie and his two Super Bowl rings from Green Bay as their new General Manager. While McKenzie has at least cut payroll like a rebuilding team would do, there hasn't yet been any evidence of the actual building part.
1. BUFFALO BILLS
Last Appearance: 1999
Head Coaches: 7 - Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey, Mike Marrone
Starting Quarterbacks: 13 - Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, E.J. Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Kyle Orton
Winning Percentage: 40.1% (96–143)
The last time the Bills were in a playoff game, they were eliminated thanks to the Music City Miracle. That was a long time ago. Peyton Manning was 23 years old and had a career .500 record as a quarterback. Brett Favre was only halfway through his tenure as a Green Bay Packer. Steve Beuerlein led the league in passing yards. Troy Aikman, Steve Young, and Dan Marino were all still starting NFL quarterbacks. The Houston Texans didn't exist. Russell Wilson was 11 years old.
What's bizarre about the Bills' drought is that they have a much, much better record (or perhaps, a not-as-bad record) as the other teams on this list. The Bills' drought has included a couple three-year streaks in which they finished exactly 7–9 (2006–08) and exactly 6–10 (2011–13). Not great, but when you consider that the Rams and Raiders were setting all-time futility records at about the same time, the situation in Buffalo could have been a lot worse. Since the last time the Bills made the playoffs, 14 different franchises (that's nearly half the league) have had a season in which they won two or fewer games. But not the #consistent Bills!
It was only fitting that - on the brink of their first winning season since 2004 and a shot at their first playoff entry in 1999 - the Bills lost by two points last Sunday ... to the Oakland Raiders.
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