≡ Menu

Great Offenses and Missing the Playoffs

A common sight on any fall Sunday in the early '00s.

A common sight on any fall Sunday in the early '00s.

From 2002 to 2005, Peyton Manning was the best quarterback in the NFL, at least statistically, by a wide margin. But the #2 quarterback in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt was Trent Green, and there was a wide gap between Green and all other quarterbacks not named Manning.  Over that same period, Tony Gonzalez led all tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. And the Chiefs rushed for 34 more touchdowns than any other team, in addition to ranking third in rushing yards and fourth in yards per carry.

Kansas City ranked 4th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt in 2002, 1st in 2003, 3rd in 2004, and 2nd in 2005.  In terms of Adjusted Yards per Carry, the Chiefs were 2nd in 2002, 3rd in 2003, 1st in 2004, and 3rd in 2005. That’s an incredible streak of not just dominance, but balanced dominance. And Kansas City missed the playoffs in three of those four years! (pours one out for Jason Lisk).

On Monday, we looked at some great defenses that missed the playoffs. Today, a look at some of the best offenses to stay home for the winter. And in the last 15 years, the 2002 Chiefs, 2004 Chiefs, and 2005 Chiefs are the only teams to rank in the top five in both ANY/A and AYPC and miss the playoffs.

What other teams since the merger met those criteria?

  • In 1996, Washington ranked 3rd in ANY/A and 4th in AYPC, behind Pro Bowlers Gus Frerotte and Terry Allen, and wide receivers Henry Ellard and Michael Westbrook. The head coach was Norv Turner (he’ll come up again, of course), and the quarterbacks coach was Cam Cameron. Those two put together a good offense, but a 9-7 record was only good enough for third in the NFC East behind the Giants and Cowboys.
  • To no surprise, the Dan MarinoMark ClaytonMark DuperDwight Stephenson Dolphins had a good passing game. The team ranked 5th in ANY/A, and Marino ranked 3rd in that metric individually. The big surprise is that the running game not only had an above-average YPC average but was extremely effective at picking up first downs. The Dolphins finished 8-7, although Miami might have made the playoffs had they not gone 1-2 in the replacement players games.
  • In 1986, the Bengals went 10-6 with much of the same roster (plus an in-his-prime Cris Collinsworth) that dominated defenses in ’88 and ’89.2 Brooks helped the team lead the league in AYPC, and Esiason guided a passing attack that rank 3rd in ANY/A. The ’86 Dolphins also join the list, thanks to a miserable defense.
  • The 1984 St. Louis Cardinals ranked 3rd in both ANY/A and AYPC. Wide receiver Roy Green was a first-team All-Pro, quarterback Neil Lomax was a Pro Bowler, and running back Ottis Anderson rushed for 1,174 yards and picked up another 611 through the air. But despite a decent defense, the team finished just 9-7.
  • The 1983 Falcons finished 7-9 despite ranking 5th in both ANY/A and AYPC. William Andrews set a career high with 1,567 rushing yards and 2,176 yards from scrimmage, while Steve Bartkowski had one of the best seasons of his career.
  • Prior to 1980, five other teams pulled off this feat: the ’79 Saints (5th in ANY/A, 1st in AYPC), ’77 Dolphins (3rd, 1st), ’75 Bills (3rd, 1st)3, ’74 Bengals (5th, 3rd), and ’70 Skins (2nd, 2nd).

Too Long; Didn’t Read

  • Since 2002, only 17 teams have ranked in the top five in both ANY/A and AYPC, compared to 24 teams on the defensive side. All but the three Chiefs teams made the playoffs, while the top defenses made the playoffs in 19 out of 24 cases.
  • Of the 36 teams to rank in the top 3 in Adjusted YPC, 19 of them missed the playoffs! On the defensive side, the ratio was similar, with only 19 making the playoffs. The 2011 Panthers, 2009 Titans, 2007 Vikings, 2004 Chiefs, 2003 Chargers, and 2002 Vikings all led the NFL in AYPC but missed the playoffs.
  • Only 5 of the 36 teams to rank in the top 3 in ANY/A missed the playoffs.4 The 2010 Chargers ranked 1st in total yards and 1st in total yards allowed (Norv!), but missed the postseason thanks to one of the all-time bad special teams units. The 2008 Saints finished 8-8: Drew Brees threw for over 5,000 yards back when that meant something, but six losses by five or fewer points kept New Orleans out of the playoffs. In addition to the ’05 and ’02 Chiefs, the ’03 Vikings — you know, the Daunte CulpepperRandy Moss Vikings — ranked 3rd in ANY/A but went 9-7, including four losses to the four worst teams in the league.
  1. This game produced one of the greatest game scripts ever. []
  2. With a notable exception. []
  3. Wait, O.J. Simpson played for a team that could pass the ball one year? []
  4. Note that 8 of the 36 teams to rank in the top 3 in ANY/A allowed missed the playoffs. []
  • Those Chiefs offenses were incredible. That offensive line was so good, it makes me feel a little crazy. Any time your starting HB scores 4 touchdowns, and then you pull him only to have his backup score 4 more, you know the fat boys are doing something right (I played o-line, so I can call them that).

    When Denver got bludgeoned in the Super Bowl (and when the 2011 Packers and 2007 Patriots fizzled out), it made me wonder how often that happens to high powered offenses. The 1983 Skins and 2001 Rams are other famous examples. I used a (very) simple method to find the top 50 offenses since 1941; basically, I used the PFR passing index formula and applied it to points scored to find a points+ score.

    What I found was that, of the top 50 offenses by this method, only the 1985 Chargers and the 2002 and 2004 Chiefs missed the playoffs. The 2003 Chiefs, for their part, scored 31 points and still lost in the divisional round. Of the teams in the data set, only the 2011 Saints scored more points in a loss.

    The 1964 and 2004 Colts, as well as the juggernaut 1942 Bears are probably the most notable letdowns outside of the ones I mentioned earlier.

    Overall, 28 teams at least made it to the championship game, including 16 title winners.

    Obviously, there are many ways to measure offense, and simple points is not the best way. But this is a pretty neat stat to look at, I think.

  • Ty

    Those Chiefs teams were incredible to watch (on offense), GOAT level offensive line, GOAT level TE, very good (and very underrated) QB, very good RB, GOAT level returner. That Colts-Chiefs playoff game was one of the most exciting games in the post-2000 years; it was pretty obvious that it there were going to be a lot of points scored.

    As for your quibble about the Vikings in the last sentence of your post…


    • Kibbles

      You forget to mention that Poole never actually caught a touchdown. He didn’t get two feet down in-bounds, but the play was ruled a force-out and a touchdown was awarded. A few years later, the force-out rule was taken off the books.

      Also, the 2003 Vikings started 6-0 and were one of the last two undefeated teams in the league before they went 3-7 down the stretch and missed the playoffs.

      Kind of a gut-punch of a season all around.

    • Whenever I think of those Chiefs, I think of that 2003 playoff game vs. the Colts. No punts. One Priest Holmes fumble and one missed field goal for KC. The Colts had six real drives where they were interested in scoring: 5 TDs and 1 FG.

  • Richie

    8 players have thrown for 5,000+ yards in a season. Drew Brees is 4 of those players, and last year he didn’t even lead the league with his 5,000+ yards!!


    (I just wanted to remind people about this fact, because I had forgotten.)

  • Tom

    Using Adj PPG (PPG adjusted for era and SOS), from Chase’s “Greatest Scoring Offenses” posted a while back, the top 5 offenses to miss the playoffs were:

    1. 1975 Bills
    2. 2004 Chiefs
    3. 2002 Chiefs
    4. 1985 Chargers
    5. 1980 Patriots

    The 1985 Chargers have the distinction of having the best offense and the worst defense that year…Simple Ranking System on PFR’s website show +8.5 OSRS and -7.2 DSRS. Yikes…I’m sure there’s a post somewhere in here about the most unbalanced teams of all time, I’m this Bolts team has to be one of them.