The ’76 Buccaneers, ’08 Lions, and ’17 Browns are the only teams in NFL history to end a season without a single win or tie. That so few teams have completed this feat should show just how difficult it truly is to lose every game in a season. The winless season, just like the perfect season, is an albatross. It takes a truly special team to go 0-16, so the fact that after two weeks the Dolphins are already being forecasted by many to do so ought to be a testament to how bad they truly look. After getting embarrassed by New England at home via a 43-0 shellacking, the Dolphins went on to trade their best player (Minkah Fitzpatrick) for draft capital. This roster is outstandingly bad, and will surely be underdogs in every game they play this season; so can they manage an 0-16 season? And if they do, would they go down as the worst team in NFL history?
The answers to those questions are: yes and yes.
Let’s start with the first one; the Dolphins could absolutely go 0-16. There are quite a few winnable games on the docket: the hapless Giants, bottom feeder Redskins, and Dalton-led Bengals all offer majorly depleted rosters that the Dolphins could take advantage of. However, its undeniable that each of these teams is still better than Miami and it would take a pretty surprising upset to see the fish come out on top. The best chance for the Dolphins lies in two divisional matchups against the injury-riddled Jets. The Jets have lost their first and second string quarterbacks, leaving it up to former 199th pick Luke Faulk. New York’s injury report is so long at this point that it may as well be a complete roster with a preposterous 20 players. This Jets team was supposed to compete for a Wild Card spot at the beginning of the season, but now the Jets will take any wins they can get. All that being said, the Jets are still far superior to the Dolphins. Le’Veon Bell is probably enough of a reason on his own, as it is quite obvious that no one on the Dolphins will be able to stop him on the ground or through the air. The Jets also have some nice defensive pieces, with Jamal Adams (at least for now), C.J. Mosley, and rookie Quinnen Williams (whose injury shouldn’t keep him out for too long). The Jets should still be favored to beat Miami in both of their matchups this year, meaning any game that the Dolphins win will come as a surprise to the majority of the NFL world. A winless season could very well be in the cards.
However, a winless season isn’t enough to crown a team as the worst in NFL history. Can we say the Dolphins are worse than the ’76 Bucs, ’08 Lions, or ’17 Browns?
Answer: probably. To start with, the Bucs tend to get a mulligan in this conversation, as this was their inaugural season as an expansion team. The season was also only 14 games long, and every additional loss makes this rare feat harder to achieve (yes the Bucs lost their first 26 games, but we are looking at the worst individual season to determine the worst team).
For most NFL fans, the decision on who to crown as the worst team in NFL history is a tricky one. There is no doubt that the Lions had more individual talent than the Browns. This is mainly thanks the Calvin Johnson, who was one of the most dominant receivers in NFL history. Detroit also enjoyed some talent in rookie Cliff Avril and long-time offensive tackle Jeff Backus. Not to even mention that Kitna and Culpepper (who started a combined total of nine games for the Lions that season) were both competent quarterbacks. The Browns had some nice pieces too, with future Canton inductee Joe Thomas and rookie Myles Garrett, but the Lions best were better. However, the rest of the rosters are pretty abysmal for both teams, making a roster comparison a tough way to truly determine the worst. This leaves stats.
Stat wise, the worst team in NFL history is undoubtedly the 2008 Detroit Lions. Both teams suffered through miserable offenses, with the Lions having averaged 16.8 points and 268 yards per game and the Browns managing 14.6 points and 309 yards per game. Where the Lions really shine is in defensive ineptitude, where they allowed 107 more points and 1,220 more yards than the Browns. The bad offense and defense left the Lions with a ridiculous -249 point differential on the season, good for 4th worst in NFL history (and by far the worst of the winless teams). For the sake of comparison, the Browns had a point differential of -176 (which was still last in the league by far in 2017).
Now lets compare this with what the Dolphins are projecting to do through 2 games. Miami is on pace to have a point differential of -736(!!!!) at the end of this season. If Dallas beats the spread this week, the Dolphins will already be at least at -100 with 13 games left to play. Even if they don’t keep up their historically bad performances, this is a hole that would be nearly impossible for them to dig themselves out of given that they should not win many (if any) of their remaining games.
If the Dolphins can manage an 0-16 season, they will in all likelihood be the unanimous pick for worst team of all time.