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Yesterday, I looked at the best defenses in football history in terms of (estimated) points allowed on an (estimated) per drive basis. Today, the reverse: the worst defenses in history, at least, without adjusting for era, in terms of points allowed per drive.

The 1981 Colts take the top spot, and that’s not going to be a surprise to any fan of NFL history. Those Colts teams were terrible, particularly on defense. In ’81, Baltimore beat New England 29-28 in week 1, beat New England 23-21 in the last game of the season, and lost every game in between. In ’82, Baltimore finished 0-8-1. In fact, beginning in December 1980, over the team’s next 31 games, the Colts went 3-1 against the Patriots and 0-26-1 against the rest of the NFL! And beginning in ’81, the Colts went 24 straight games without being favored.

The ’81 Colts finished last in just about every defensive category, including points, yards, turnovers, first downs, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and net yards per attempt. Baltimore’s defense ranked in the bottom three in both rushing yards and passing yards, too. Baltimore allowed 533 points, which remains the most in a single season in NFL history, undisturbed by the modern era.

Here’s how to read the table below, which shows the 200 worst defenses by this metric. In 1981, Baltimore faced 177 estimated drives (measuring drives by the end of drives) or 180 estimated drives (measuring drives by the start of drives). The Colts allowed 529 estimated points, which means the defense allowed 2.96 points per estimated drive, the most of any team since 1950.

RkTeamYearLgEst Drive (End)Est Drive (St)Est Pts AllDPPED
1Baltimore Colts1981NFL1771805292.96
2New York Giants1966NFL1641604522.79
3Detroit Lions2008NFL1651794672.72
4Tampa Bay Buccaneers2011NFL1681724612.71
5Denver Broncos2008NFL1461634182.71
6New England Patriots1972NFL1591644232.62
7Washington Redskins1954NFL1521594072.62
8Detroit Lions2009NFL1781814642.58
9Chicago Bears2014NFL1581684212.58
10New Orleans Saints1980NFL1781974822.57
11Arizona Cardinals2000NFL1611664172.55
12Kansas City Chiefs2008NFL1611734212.52
13New York Jets1975NFL1511613932.52
14Minnesota Vikings1984NFL1801864572.5
15Tampa Bay Buccaneers1986NFL1751804412.48
16Washington Redskins1959NFL1341443452.48
17Atlanta Falcons2013NFL1631744172.47
18Baltimore Colts1950NFL1761754342.47
19Oakland Raiders1961AFL1711874422.47
20Houston Texans2010NFL1611684062.47
21Cincinnati Bengals1998NFL1611664032.46
22Miami Dolphins2007NFL1631684062.45
23Denver Broncos2010NFL1791894512.45
24Chicago Bears2013NFL1631744132.45
25Minnesota Vikings2004NFL1531633872.45
26Jacksonville Jaguars2010NFL1541713982.45
27New England Patriots1990NFL1691834312.45
28Houston Texans2005NFL1561703992.45
29Kansas City Chiefs2004NFL1621764132.44
30Carolina Panthers2011NFL1551764032.44
31Green Bay Packers1958NFL1471593722.43
32Atlanta Falcons1966NFL1571703972.43
33San Francisco 49ers1999NFL1691694102.43
34St. Louis Rams2000NFL1731804282.42
35San Francisco 49ers2000NFL1641724072.42
36New Orleans Saints2014NFL1571713942.4
37Cleveland Browns1990NFL1701794192.4
38Minnesota Vikings2013NFL1771884382.4
39Cincinnati Bengals2002NFL1621643912.4
40Houston Oilers1984NFL1681794162.4
41Dallas Cowboys2013NFL1681874252.39
42Cincinnati Bengals1999NFL1801864372.39
43Atlanta Falcons1968NFL1521653772.38
44Indianapolis Colts2001NFL1781924402.38
45St. Louis Rams2008NFL1711784152.38
46Tennessee Titans2012NFL1731774162.38
47Phoenix Cardinals1990NFL1591703912.38
48New Orleans Saints2012NFL1711864242.38
49New York Giants2009NFL1691834182.38
50Oakland Raiders2004NFL1631814082.37
51Arizona Cardinals2008NFL1671764062.37
52Atlanta Falcons1996NFL1751934342.36
53Oakland Raiders2012NFL1711814152.36
54Atlanta Falcons1985NFL1821944432.36
55Tennessee Titans2014NFL1741784142.35
56New York Jets1996NFL1811884332.35
57Baltimore Colts1982NFL991042382.34
58Jacksonville Jaguars2013NFL1781824212.34
59Washington Redskins2013NFL1771894272.33
60Atlanta Falcons1989NFL1691814082.33
61Miami Dolphins1967AFL1631683852.33
62Cleveland Browns1999NFL1711914212.33
63Houston Oilers1983NFL1791914302.32
64Kansas City Chiefs2002NFL1691764002.32
65Jacksonville Jaguars1995NFL1611813962.32
66San Diego Chargers1983NFL1861984442.31
66Atlanta Falcons1987NFL1681844072.31
68Minnesota Vikings2011NFL1701804042.31
69San Diego Chargers2003NFL1681834052.31
70Indianapolis Colts1998NFL1711874132.31
71Atlanta Falcons1967NFL1641753912.31
72New Orleans Saints1969NFL1571703772.31
73Minnesota Vikings1961NFL1671763952.3
74Dallas Cowboys1960NFL1431573452.3
75Buffalo Bills2010NFL1781794092.29
76Philadelphia Eagles2012NFL1641763892.29
77Baltimore Ravens1996NFL1661833992.29
78Cincinnati Bengals1991NFL1661743882.28
79Buffalo Bills2011NFL1741824062.28
80Detroit Lions2007NFL1751834082.28
81Indianapolis Colts2011NFL1691783952.28
82Indianapolis Colts1997NFL1651773892.27
83Indianapolis Colts1991NFL1551673662.27
84Minnesota Vikings2002NFL1651873992.27
85Los Angeles Rams1990NFL1751794012.27
86Green Bay Packers2013NFL1681803942.26
87Denver Broncos1963AFL1831974302.26
87Cincinnati Bengals1997NFL1661763872.26
89St. Louis Rams2009NFL1631723792.26
90Atlanta Falcons2014NFL1631733802.26
91Cincinnati Bengals1985NFL1821914212.26
92Houston Oilers1989NFL1641793872.26
93Cleveland Browns2000NFL1711854012.25
94Oakland Raiders2013NFL1751904112.25
95Arizona Cardinals2003NFL1641783852.25
96St. Louis Rams2005NFL1771914142.25
97San Francisco 49ers1963NFL1561663622.25
98Buffalo Bills2012NFL1701853992.25
99Atlanta Falcons1992NFL1591663652.25
100Houston Texans2008NFL1601693692.24
101Jacksonville Jaguars2008NFL1541623542.24
102Miami Dolphins1986NFL1671843932.24
103Chicago Bears1964NFL1641703732.23
104Buffalo Bills2001NFL1651803852.23
105Los Angeles Rams1991NFL1601703682.23
106San Francisco 49ers2004NFL1801954182.23
107New York Jets1963AFL1671833902.23
108Green Bay Packers1951NFL1611563532.23
109New York Giants1967NFL1541673572.22
110Washington Redskins2014NFL1711783882.22
111Seattle Seahawks1976NFL1691813892.22
112Houston Texans2007NFL1571713642.22
113Atlanta Falcons1983NFL1711783872.22
114Tampa Bay Buccaneers2014NFL1711793882.22
115Philadelphia Eagles1963NFL1631733722.21
116Philadelphia Eagles1973NFL1631753742.21
117Oakland Raiders2014NFL1811974182.21
118Arizona Cardinals2002NFL1651863882.21
119Dallas Cowboys2010NFL1711763832.21
120Detroit Lions2002NFL1831884092.2
121Washington Redskins2012NFL1681753782.2
122Tennessee Titans2009NFL1771823952.2
123Jacksonville Jaguars2012NFL1741793882.2
124St. Louis Rams2007NFL1741803892.2
124Dallas Cowboys1962NFL1741803892.2
126St. Louis Cardinals1969NFL1731823902.2
127Seattle Seahawks2000NFL1681833852.19
128Philadelphia Eagles1972NFL1491633422.19
129Minnesota Vikings1965NFL1651723692.19
130New York Yanks1951NFL1651693652.19
131Minnesota Vikings2000NFL1521733552.18
132San Francisco 49ers2006NFL1691893912.18
133Buffalo Bills1984NFL1881944172.18
134Arizona Cardinals2010NFL1861874072.18
135Denver Broncos2007NFL1631623542.18
136New York Jets1989NFL1721883922.18
136Los Angeles Rams1982NFL1081172452.18
138Cincinnati Bengals2003NFL1651763712.18
139Philadelphia Eagles1967NFL1621693602.18
140Pittsburgh Steelers2014NFL1611733632.17
141Kansas City Chiefs2012NFL1661803762.17
142San Francisco 49ers2005NFL1802034162.17
143San Diego Chargers1984NFL1841914072.17
144New Orleans Saints2001NFL1741913962.17
145Kansas City Chiefs1987NFL1601713592.17
146Green Bay Packers1956NFL1341382952.17
147Indianapolis Colts2006NFL1441553242.17
148Tennessee Titans2006NFL1751843892.17
149Philadelphia Eagles1968NFL1491633382.17
150Tennessee Titans2005NFL1781713782.17
151Jacksonville Jaguars2009NFL1551703522.17
152San Francisco 49ers1980NFL1771873942.16
153San Diego Chargers2011NFL1461633342.16
154Denver Broncos1964AFL1881974162.16
155Washington Redskins1963NFL1661733662.16
156Dallas Texans1952NFL1681743692.16
157Tennessee Titans2004NFL1791903982.16
157Carolina Panthers1998NFL1791903982.16
159San Francisco 49ers1979NFL1741833852.16
160Chicago Cardinals1958NFL1541653442.16
161Detroit Lions2001NFL1661793722.16
162New York Jets1990NFL1561583382.15
163Washington Redskins1961NFL1701723682.15
164Oakland Raiders2011NFL1701883852.15
165Houston Oilers1982NFL1011122292.15
166Minnesota Vikings1962NFL1761853882.15
167St. Louis Cardinals1973NFL1541673452.15
168Detroit Lions1984NFL1711833802.15
169Seattle Seahawks2010NFL1781793832.15
170Seattle Seahawks1981NFL1771813842.15
171Houston Oilers1973NFL1761883902.14
172Dallas Cowboys2004NFL1691843782.14
173Pittsburgh Steelers1968NFL1611653492.14
174Cincinnati Bengals2007NFL1611713552.14
175Detroit Lions1996NFL1551633402.14
176Miami Dolphins2009NFL1661823722.14
176San Francisco 49ers1958NFL1371533102.14
176Houston Texans2006NFL1541653412.14
176St. Louis Cardinals1981NFL1821954032.14
180Miami Dolphins2014NFL1631723582.14
181New Orleans Saints1967NFL1721783742.14
182Seattle Seahawks1980NFL1781873902.14
183Houston Oilers1985NFL1871944072.14
184Seattle Seahawks2008NFL1671863772.14
185New Orleans Saints2007NFL1601693512.13
186Tampa Bay Buccaneers2009NFL1771853862.13
187Dallas Cowboys2012NFL1621763602.13
188Pittsburgh Steelers1988NFL1781913932.13
189Washington Redskins2006NFL1651763632.13
190Buffalo Bills2002NFL1601833652.13
191Green Bay Packers1986NFL1741863832.13
191Arizona Cardinals1995NFL1761843832.13
193Tampa Bay Buccaneers1985NFL1882054182.13
194Miami Dolphins1988NFL1581743532.13
195Cleveland Browns1995NFL1551693442.12
196Detroit Lions1990NFL1701793702.12
197Tampa Bay Buccaneers1976NFL1661683542.12
198Tampa Bay Buccaneers2013NFL1721803732.12
199New Orleans Saints1999NFL1831863912.12
200Minnesota Vikings2001NFL1651733582.12
  • Number 2 on the list? The awful 1966 Giants, whose defense was so bad the team responded by trading two first round picks and two second round picks for Fran Tarkenton. New York famously allowed 72 points in a game in Washington that season, which I imagine did not help out their numbers here. Washington scored ten touchdowns that day, although only seven came on offense!
  • The 2008 0-16 Lions take the third spot on this list. No surprise there. The 2011 Bucs — coached by Raheem Morris and notable for being terrible at not quitting in the middle of a football season — have the fourth spot. Tampa Bay started the season 4-2, but lost their last 10 games, allowing 349 points over that period, an even worse rate than the ’81 Colts over a full season.
  • Jay Cutler has two teams crack the top ten of this list! The 2008 Broncos and the 2014 Bears, two of the more disappointing teams in their respective franchises recent history. The Broncos were 8-5 and held a 3-game lead in the AFC West, but wound up missing the playoffs after allowing 52 points to the Chargers in the final game of the season. The 2014 Bears? Over the three-week period from week 8 to week 10 of the 2014 season, no team allowed more points than Chicago (104). That’s pretty impressive, given that the Bears had a week 9 bye.

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

  • Nick Bradley

    Can you control for starting defensive field position?

    I want to measure “the Jay Cutler Effect”. I think it’s substantial.

    It would also give you a proxy for expected points added (EPA) allowed per drive.

  • I figured I’d make an era adjusted table for this too. Baltimore and New York look as bad as ever, but the ones who really jump out are the 1976 Seahawks and the 1952 Texans. Once their more defense-friendly eras are accounted for, they shoot up 94 and 137 spots respectively. Last year’s Saints show the most improvement, falling from 36 to 139.