The 5 Worst Teams for the Upcoming 2014 NFL Season
If you clicked on this article hoping not to see your favorite team's name appear, I feel for you. I understand completely. I'm a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the worst teams in NFL history with an encyclopedia full of the most frustrating and embarrassing losing records imaginable.
Fortunately for my health and sanity, the Buccaneers avoided the bottom-five of our NFL Team Rankings (just barely, they finished 27th), but for the fans of the franchises listed below, my deepest apologies.
But it's the competition and parity of the NFL that makes it great. No other sport has quite the same uncertainty heading into any season or any week, and even though these teams are in our bottom five, they're still capable of beating even the best team under the right circumstances.
Now that I've sufficiently prepared you for the inevitable, let's begin our countdown with the best of the worst.
28. Cleveland Browns
Yes, they have Johnny Football, and yes, they have a new coach (again). That's not enough to spare the Browns from the bottom of our team rankings.
Our algorithms have the Browns 22nd on defense and 25th on offense heading into the season, with only an 11% chance of winning their relatively soft division. Our nERD calculation, which measures the expected point margin against an average NFL team, says that Cleveland would lose by more than a field goal to a run-of-the-mill NFL franchise.
And it's pretty easy to see why. The offense in Cleveland was eighth-worst last year according to our Net Expected Points data, and with Josh Gordon facing a suspension of some sort in 2014 (possibly a season-long one), there's simply not as much talent as there was in a bottom-tier unit in 2013. Johnny Manziel may not even start, and if he does, he's not going to set the world on fire from a fantasy or real-life perspective as a rookie.
There's talent on the defense, and they'll be well coached on that side of the ball. But after finishing in the bottom 10 last year defensively according to our numbers, there's not a ton of hope for a big enough bounce-back to justify a higher ranking.
29. Minnesota Vikings
No team is projected to have a worse defense heading into 2014 than the Minnesota Vikings, who lost veteran defensive end Jared Allen, and didn't add much of anything to a unit that finished third from the bottom last year.
The Vikings have a nERD of -4.99, meaning they're five points worse than an average NFL team, and in a division with the Lions, Packers and Bears, that's a recipe for disaster. That's why we have the Vikings' playoff odds at only 11.3% and a projected win total of only six games.
The offense ranks 22nd in our preseason numbers, but apart from adding a rookie in Teddy Bridgewater and a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, things will look largely the same on offense as the team that ended up in the middle of the pack last season according to our metrics. If the quarterback situation proves to be better than expected, or if Adrian Peterson can find one last historic season to cap off a legendary career, things could be alright for the Vikings when they have the ball.
But the defense is still a huge question mark, and even a defensive guru like Mike Zimmer will struggle to find the talent he needs to coach a respectable defensive unit in 2014. And that will prove to be Minnesota's downfall.
30. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are one of the worst teams in our preseason offensive rankings, ending up 31st and well behind the pace of Washington, who sit only eight spots higher. A year after seeing Matt Schuab's offensive implosion, and with Case Keenum doing more of the same (with fewer pick-sixes), Houston will have to rebound in a major way to avoid being in the running for the first pick yet again.
New head coach Bill O'Brien brings experience as an offensive coach with a history of success, but can he harness the magic of Ryan Fitzpatrick while getting the most out of oft-injured Arian Foster and an aging Andre Johnson (who is apparently unhappy with the franchise)? If he can, there's a ray of hope for the Texans, as their defense should be able to bounce back after a disappointing 2013.
J.J. Watt returns to combine with Jadeveon Clowney to form one of the scariest combinations of players in the front-seven of a defense in the NFL, but they'll have some work to do to improve a defense than ranked eighth-worst in 2013. The other players on that side of the ball for Houston must perform better (and stay healthy) to give the franchise a chance while they adapt to a new system and scheme on offense.
The AFC South is a weak division, and so despite ranking 30th, the Texans have a more than a one-out-of-five chance of winning the group and nearly a one-in-three chance of making the playoffs. No bottom-10 team has quite as good playoff odds as the Texans, who are the most likely of the bottom-five teams to surprise us and make a bid for January football.
31. Oakland Raiders
Fans of the Browns, Vikings and Texans might not have expected to see their teams on this list. But let's be honest, Raiders fans. You knew you'd be here.
After finishing with the fifth-worst defense and 10th-worst offense in 2013, the roster looks largely the same, with no big name additions to spark any optimism about a franchise that hasn't been the same since a loss in the Super Bowl over ten years ago (sorry, it's the only bragging I can do as a Bucs fan).
Competing in a division with three top-13 teams (according to our rankings), the Raiders never really had much of a chance at the playoffs to begin with (only 2.3% odds of winning the AFC West), but combine that with their poor rankings on both sides of the ball, and things just keep getting worse.
The offense ranks 24th, and while Matt Schaub can't possibly be worse than he was last year (he can't, right?), James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew aren't enough to spark a rise to even a mediocre NFL offense this year. The Raiders have added a couple of decent pieces on defense this summer, but a year after finishing as a bottom-five unit on that side of the ball, things seem to be pointed in that direction yet again.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
I hate to do this. I really do.
There may be no better fan base in football than the one in Jacksonville, who support and defend their team with a passion unlike any other NFL franchise. But the facts are pretty clear: they kinda suck at football lately.
Head coach Gus Bradley draws rave reviews from media and players, but he doesn't have a lot to work with. The team has been at the bottom of the league in sacks for two years running, and that's led to a defensive output that ranks second-worst last season, and the same heading into this season.
The offense is even worse, ranking last in our preseason predictions. Chad Henne isn't very good to begin with, and has very little to work with as Justin Blackmon continues to distance himself from the game of football more and more by the day. Toby Gerhart is an attractive fantasy option, but he's not a game-changer and won't help get the Jags out of the basement.
Jacksonville is a full five points behind the Raiders in our nERD calculation, projected to lose to an average NFL team by 10.68 points. And despite a weak division, our metrics only see a 5.4% chance of the team winning the AFC South, with a league-low 0.1% chance of winning it all.
I believe there's a bright future in Jacksonville, but there's still a lot of work left to do.