For reasons I can’t fully explain, I decided that it might be interesting to take a look at some of the biggest late season collapses in NFL history. As you will see, all of these have occurred since 1977, as before that, very few teams made the playoffs and there was no room for an epic collapse. I’m not looking at teams that lost one crucial game here in the heat of a playoff race, these are teams that built a gaudy record and then fell apart.
Our fearful leader is already predicting an epic Jets collapse, but I think he is overreacting. This year’s Jets have virtually nothing in common with most of these teams, who built up excellent records with close wins, lost a big game, often by a large margin, and then went into a tailspin.
10. 1986 New York Jets – The Jets were on top of the football world, with the best record in the NFL at 10-1, and a New York Super Bowl was looking like a possibility with the Giants also at 9-2. A 45-3 (cue twilight zone music) drubbing against Miami, and the Jets fell apart. They would go on to lose five in a row to end the regular season, but were still able to get a home playoff game in the wildcard round based on tiebreakers. The Jets beat the equally fraudulent Chiefs in the wildcard game, but lost in overtime at Cleveland after allowing the Browns to kick a late field goal to tie. The only reason they finish this low is because they are the only one on this list to make the playoffs despite the collapse.
9. 1988 New Orleans Saints – The Saints started the season 7-1, and with a month to go, were still 9-3 with the second best record in the NFC. They had a two game lead on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West and two game lead on the wildcard contenders. New Orleans played a crucial Sunday night game against the New York Giants in the Superdome, and lost 13-12 when Hebert threw three interceptions, and Morten Anderson missed the first kick inside of 30 yards of his career. The following week, the Saints were destroyed by the Minnesota Vikings 45-3 (and cue twilight zone music again), then they lost the game for the division title to San Francisco. A win in the final week over Atlanta was not enough to salvage a promising season.
8. 1977 St. Louis Cardinals– The Cardinals had a 7-3 record and a two game lead for a playoff spot heading into a Thanksgiving day game at home against the Miami Dolphins. St. Louis lost to Miami by a score of 55-14, and were outgained by 300 yards. Still, St. Louis was in playoff position, but lost the following week at the also-ran New York Giants, who were 4-7 entering the game. They still had a chance the following week, but lost to one of the teams chasing them, the Washington Redskins. Clinging to slim playoff hopes entering the final week, the Cardinals lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were one year removed from a winless season, to finish at 7-7.
7. 1995 Oakland Raiders– The Raiders were 8-2 and tied for the best record in the conference. The Raiders lost two consecutive tough games, to the Cowboys and Chargers, and then lost at home to the Chiefs in a game that clinched the division for Kansas City. Still, the Raiders had a two game lead for a playoff spot. A home loss by 19 to the Steelers, followed by a 44-10 embarrasment at Seattle, and a loss to Denver at home closed out a 6-game losing streak.
6. 2008 New York Jets– After giving the Tennessee Titans their first loss of the season, the Jets were 8-3 and in first place, and riding high with Brett Favre at quarterback. A bad loss at home to Denver the following week, followed by a loss at San Francisco left them hurting, but they pulled out a ridiculous game against Buffalo to get to 9-5. A loss at Seattle pretty much eliminated the Jets, but they removed any doubt by losing at home to the Dolphins, which also ultimately eliminated the Patriots.
5. 1996 Kansas City Chiefs– The Chiefs were 8-3, and then 9-4, and with three weeks remaining, had a two game lead over several teams for a wildcard spot. The Chiefs got beat soundly at Oakland, but still had a two game lead for a playoff spot with two remaining, and were playing the 8-6 Colts at Arrowhead. Indianapolis won that game, then Kansas City lost the finale to allow the 9-7 Jaguars, who won their last 3 games, to make the playoffs.
4. 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Bucs were 9-3 and tied for the division lead with the Carolina Panthers and one game ahead of Atlanta in the division. They had games against both teams in the next two weeks, and lost both, with the Atlanta loss coming in overtime. Still, the Bucs were in position, even after a third consecutive loss to San Diego, to still make the playoffs with a win over the lowly Oakland Raiders at home. The Buccaneers had a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter, but gave up 17 points, including a 67 yard Michael Bush touchdown run, and blew their chance at the playoffs. 2008 was so collapse-tastic that two teams made the list from that year, and neither was the Dallas Cowboys, who were a close runner up.
3. 2002 New Orleans Saints– A 9-4 record had the Saints with a two-game lead over the Giants with three games left, and New Orleans had a pretty easy schedule coming up. New Orleans lost at home to the Vikings on a late touchdown to Randy Moss, followed by Mike Tice’s decision to go for two and win it in regulation. The following week, the Saints traveled to 1-13 Cincinnati, and had a 13-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Bengals score 13 points in the fourth to put the Saints in jeopardy. The Saints would have still made the playoffs the following week, but lost at home to the Panthers by an embarrassingly awful 10-6 score.
2. 1978 Washington Redskins – The ‘Skins started the year 6-0, and were 8-3 before losing to the hated Cowboys in a showdown for first place by a 37-10 score. Washington would not win another game. They lost a key showdown in game 15 at Atlanta when they blocked a potential game-winning kick at the end of the game, but were offsides. Atlanta made the second chance kick, and would ultimately make the playoffs at 9-7. Washington still had a chance entering the final week, but lost at home to the Bears on Saturday, and didn’t even have to wait around to see if the other results would get them in.
1. 1993 Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins, who lost Dan Marino early in the year, were still 9-2 after winning several close games (5-0 in games decided by a touchdown), with the ninth win coming on Thanksgiving in the famous Leon Lett game. Miami, though, lost the last five games to barely miss the playoffs. The season came down to two overtime games, as the Dolphins lost in overtime at New England, but still would have made the playoffs at 9-7 if Jason Elam would have hit an overtime kick for Denver against the Raiders. He missed, and the Los Angeles Raiders won after having trailed by 17 in regulation, eliminating the Dolphins.
[photo via Getty]