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There's been a long drought in Cleveland

There’s been a long drought in Cleveland

October 27, 1991. The 4-3 Browns were hosting the 3-4 Steelers, and Vegas oddsmakers set the Browns as 1.5-point favorites. Bernie Kosar would complete 21 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a score, while Kevin Mack would lead the team with 54 yards rushing on 19 carries. It was not a great offensive day for the Browns, but the team managed to pick off Neil O’Donnell two times, and held Merrill Hoge to just 48 yards on 12 carries (the factor back chipped in with 56 receiving yards, too). Clay Matthews — the middle one — had one sack, Louis Lipps led all players with 69 receiving yards, and the only thing that would trick you into thinking that this game didn’t take place generations ago was that Matt Stover started the scoring with a 34-yard field goal.

That was the last time the Browns (a) were favored to beat the Steelers and (b) actually beat the Steelers. Since then, Cleveland has been an underdog or lost to Pittsburgh in 42 consecutive games. During that stretch, the Browns were only favorites three times: in 1994, when the team lost at home 17-14 despite being 2.5 points, in 2003, when Cleveland lost at home 13-6 as 3-point favorites, and last year, when Cleveland lost at home as 2-point favorites, 27-11. The quarterbacks for the Browns in that game were Vinny Testaverde, Kelly Holcomb, and Brandon Weeden, a declining pattern in quarterback play that Browns can must hope does not end with Brian Hoyer. On Sunday, Cleveland is currently listed as 1.5-point favorites, and based on each team’s results so far, I like their odds of ending the streak.1

I don’t think I’m breaking any news in telling you that the Browns have generally been bad, and the Steelers have generally been good. But isn’t it kind of crazy to go 42 straight games against the same team where you either are expected to lose or actually lose? As it turns out, yes, yes it is kind of crazy. It’s the second-longest streak in NFL history, at least according to the game spreads at Pro-Football-Reference. Can you guess the longest?

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

The table below shows all teams since 1978 to be underdogs or losers in at least 20 straight games against the same opponent. In addition to the Browns/Steelers, there are quite a few other active streaks:

  • We all know about the Mo Lewis game — you know, the one where Lewis injured Drew Bledsoe, allowing Tom Brady to enter the game? That 2001 game was the last time the Jets entered a game against the Patriots as the favorite and won. Four of the Jets last seven wins against New England have come on the road, where New York will never be favored, and the other three were home wins where the Pats were roughly 3-point favorites. The streak will hit 28 games a week from today, and will probably hit 29 by the end of the year.
  • The Jets aren’t exactly unique in this regard. Last December, the Dolphins beat the Patriots in Miami in a game in which New England was a 2.5-point underdog. That was the first time since 2003 — in the 31-0 game played in the wake of the Lawyer Milloy release — that New England lost an AFC East game as an underdog. For the Dolphins, the streak spanned 23 straight games; for the Bills, this Sunday will mark the 22nd time Buffalo has either been an underdog or lost to the Pats.2
  • The Raiders had gone 21 straight games where Oakland either lost to, or was an underdog against, San Diego. The teams meet this weekend, with the 7-point favorite Chargers assured of extending that streak to 22 games. This one might not change for awhile.
  • In every game from 2004 to 2013 — including the team’s playoff matchup in ’04 — the Rams have either lost to the Seahawks or been the underdog. That streak has almost no chance of ending in 2014, so it should jump to at least 23 games.
TmOppGmsFirst YearLast Yr
CINPIT4619902012
CLEPIT421991curr
STLSFO3719811998
ATLSFO3419811998
NYJNWE272001curr
TAMCHI2719831996
TAMMIN2619872000
PHOWAS2519811993
KANDEN2419781990
MIANWE2320022013
CHIGNB2219942004
DETMIN2219962006
BUFNWE222003curr
OAKSDG222003curr
PHODAL2119781988
KANRAI2119781988
NORSFO2119801990
NYJBUF2119871997
SDGOAK2119932003
STLSEA212004curr
INDMIA2019781987
INDNWE2019781988
DALWAS2019831993
ARIDAL2019901999
JAXIND2019952010

Here’s something you might not have noticed from that table: there are TWO 20-game streaks between the Cardinals and Cowboys. From 1978 (and perhaps earlier) until 1988, the Cardinals did not beat the Cowboys in a game in which Dallas was the underdog. That pattern repeated itself beginning with the teams’ second meeting in ’90 and ending in 1999.

Finally, let’s close with a list of the longest streaks for each franchise against a single opponent where the team was either an underdog or lost the game.

TmOppGmsFirst YrLast Yr
CINPIT4619902012
CLEPIT421991curr
STLSFO3719811998
ATLSFO3419811998
NYJNWE272001curr
TAMCHI2719831996
PHOWAS2519811993
KANDEN2419781990
MIANWE2320022013
CHIGNB2219942004
DETMIN2219962006
BUFNWE222003curr
OAKSDG222003curr
NORSFO2119801990
SDGOAK2119932003
INDMIA2019781987
DALWAS2019831993
JAXIND2019952010
GNBCHI1919831992
HOUIND1820022010
NWEBUF1819871996
PHIDAL1819922000
WASDAL1819932002
SEAOAK1719881996
MINSFO1619831997
NYGDAL1619921999
HOU3CLE1619821989
DENRAI1519781985
SFOSEA1220032008
PITNWE111998curr
BALTEN1119962000
CARATL920082012
  • In a weird twist, the Chargers will stretch their steak against Oakland to 22 games on Sunday, while the Raiders had a 21-game streak against San Diego that ended 11 years ago.
  • The Steelers, overlords of all things Ohio, have their worst streak come against the Patriots. The run was extended to 11 games last year, and the teams do not play this year.
  • The only other streak that didn’t involve division rivals was Minnesota/San Francisco. The Vikings longest streak against the Packers was 12 games (ending in ’85), against the Bears was 11 games (ending in ’88), and against the Lions 7 games (current). But from 1983 to 1997, the Vikings played the 49ers once every year other than 1996 (zero games) and 1988 and 1997 (two games each). The 49ers beat Minnesota as an underdog in ’83, and then was favored in the next 15 times the teams faced (with Minnesota going 5-10). The teams didn’t meet in 1998, but the Vikings ended things by beating the 49ers 40-16 as 7-point favorites in 1999.

What stands out to you from these tables? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  1. So far, the Browns have an SRS rating slightly higher than Pittsburgh’s; coupled with being at home, and I agree with Vegas that Cleveland should be the favorite. []
  2. Note: In the table below, I have used the #22, including Sunday’s game. For the Jets, I have used 27, since the line for the week 7 game is not yet out. For Raiders/Chargers, I have used 22, since the week 6 line is already up. []
  3. Representing the Oilers/Titans franchise, of course. The longest streak involving the Titans was 14 games against the Colts. []
  • roger

    I’ll say it again. Bernie Kosar’s Cleveland Browns are today’s Baltimore Ravens. They are not today’s Cleveland Browns. Is there some law that if the NFL lies we have to accept it?

    • Bill

      The original Cleveland Browns franchise was held in legal trust from 1996-98, and the current Baltimore franchise begins its history in 1996. The Browns trust became an active franchise again in 1999.

      • Richie

        Yeah, legally and from an NFL standpoint, Browns v1 and Browns v2 may be the same organization. But operationally they are not. Although, Browns v2 is doing a great job of mimicking all other non-Kosar Browns teams.

        Comparing a Pittsburgh-Cleveland streak that spans both versions of the Browns would be pretty similar to comparing a streak and combining the Oilers and Texans. The only difference is that the Browns happen to wear the same uniforms for both.

        On the other hand, compare the 1999 Browns to the 1995 Browns. And then look at teams like the 1989 Cowboys compared to the 1985 Cowboys. How much of that Cowboys organization in 1989 was there in 1985? More than the Browns had, but not by much.

  • Kevin

    Without having the point spread data in front of me, was NO favored against SF in their wins in ’93 or ’95? I’m guessing no. If not, the 49ers were that one NO loss in 1991 away from owning concurrent 30+ game streaks against the entire (old) NFC West. Not that we didn’t already know they dominated that division for 18 years…

    • Richie

      San Francisco was favored in both of its losses against New Orleans in 1993 and 1995.

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  • Without looking, what is the only streak in the table of 15+ games that included a Super Bowl win for the team on the bad end of the streak? For example, the Steelers run of 11 losses against the Patriots includes two Super Bowls (’05 and ’08). The streak in question is an interesting one. The losing team wasn’t that bad across the streak altogether, either, going 82-83 (including the playoffs) over the course of the streak.

    • Chase Stuart

      Good one. The ’92 Cowboys were underdogs in both games against Washington, which makes some sense. They were even road dogs in week 1 of the ’93 season, which also makes some sense I suppose.

  • Alejandro

    Antone Smith catches a 40+ yard TD pass against the Bears and the Cleveland Browns have broken their streak of losing as favorites. Football perspective wins Accidental Prophet of the Week Award.

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