Sporting Charts

Best NFL Teams to Miss the Playoffs

The NFL playoff system has been criticized many times for placing too much emphasis on the division format, basically guaranteeing every division winner at least one home playoff game despite their total wins record. Even as the division system is understandable from a rivalries and geographical standpoint, it sometimes leads to controversy at the end of the season by virtue of unlucky teams that are left out of the picture despite owning superior records.

This facet of the game again came into play in the final week of the 2013 season, when the Arizona Cardinals faced the prospect of becoming only the third team since 1978 to win 11 games and still miss the postseason. The 1978 line is important to mention as it was the year when the NFL switched to its current 16-game schedule and expanded the playoffs. Previously, the restrictions for playoff squads actually produced three 11-game winners that missed the playoffs: 1962 Lions, '63 Packers and '67 Colts.

Even as the Cardinals lost their final game to the 49ers, they knew of their fate way before the final whistle, as their direct competition, the Saints, were cruising towards a comfortable victory that eliminated Arizona. The Cardinals' loss left them at a very respectable 10-6, ahead or NFC North champs Green Bay and tied with NFC East winner Philadelphia. All this means that despite their valiant effort, the Cardinals have just become the 19th team since 1978 to miss the postseason despite winning 10 games.

The full list of 10-6 teams that fell short consists of:

The aforementioned 11-5 teams that were unlucky enough to have an early vacation were:

1985 Denver Broncos – Featuring the legendary John Elway in his third NFL season, the Broncos were left out of the playoff picture only because of some tough luck with tiebreakers. Even as Elway had a subpar season (54% completion, 22 TD's against 23 interceptions), Denver won 9 of its final 12 games and was among the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, the top-heavy AFC also had the Jets and Patriots finishing at 11-5; the Jets earned the first Wild Card thanks to their conference record, and then the Pats won the second one by virtue of having a better record against mutual opponents. What made it even worse was that the AFC had a division champion with an 8-8 record in Cleveland, who was quickly ousted from the playoffs. The Broncos would come back the following season and go all the way to Super Bowl XXI, though they lost to the Giants.

2008 New England Patriots – The Pats have now made the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and even the year they failed to make it was a pretty good one. Even after losing Tom Brady to a season-ending injury just minutes into their first game of the year, New England responded quickly with backup Matt Cassel and only missed the postseason because of a couple of tiebreakers that didn’t go in their favor. Finishing with exact 11-5 records, the Dolphins took the AFC East for having a better division mark (5-1 versus 4-2 for New England), and after the Colts were bound to be Wild Card #1 with a 12-4 record, the Pats were tied with the Ravens, who advanced due to their better conference mark. The following year, the Pats actually won the division with a 10-6 record, though they would again fall to the Ravens, this time in the first round of the playoffs. 

 


TEAM UP