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The Worst Matchups in NFL History

Johnson returns to Nashville

Johnson returns to Nashville

The Jets and the Titans play tomorrow, in a matchup of 2-11 teams that ranks as one of the worst in NFL history. If you’re watching this game, you’re either a diehard fan of both teams or are fascinated by the idea of a Chris Johnson revenge game (which is probably even sadder than being a fan of either team). It’s even worse than the Colts-Jaguars game of a few years ago, when the 2-13 Colts needed a loss in Jacksonville to the 4-11 Jags in order to secure the rights to Andrew Luck. Something similar could be on the line in Tennessee: with the Jets, Bucs, and Titans all 2-11 (not to mention the Jaguars and Raiders), there are three quarterback-needy teams in a draft with two marquee quarterbacks: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. As a result, the loser of the New York/Tennessee game could ultimately be the long-term winner.

This will be the first matchup of 2-11 teams since a 2008 game between the Rams and Seahawks. That game turned out to be much less exciting for draftniks with the benefit of hindsight: St. Louis selected Jason Smith with the second overall pick, while the Seahawks drafted Aaron Curry fourth overall.

So what’s the worst matchup of teams in NFL history? You can’t use just winning percentage, and it’s hard to compare teams who have played a different number of games. One solution is to add 11 games of .500 ball to each team. For the Jets and Titans, that would make both teams 7.5-16.5, which translates to an adjusted winning percentage of 0.313. That would be tied for the 19th worst game in NFL history.

The worst? There’s a tie there, too, involving a pair of Colts teams a decade apart. In 1981, the 1-14 Colts defeated the 2-13 Patriots. Baltimore had an adjusted (after adding 11 games of .500 play) winning percentage of 0.250, while New England was at 0.288, for an average of 0.269. The win swung the first overall pick to the Patriots and dropped the Colts to second overall, although Kenneth Sims and Johnie Cooks didn’t change the fate of either franchise. Ten years later, the Colts were again 1-14 and were scheduled to play the 2-13 Bucs. The twist here: Tampa Bay had already traded the team’s first round pick in 1992 to Indianapolis in exchange for Chris Chandler in 1990. The Bucs defeated the Colts, and Indianapolis selected Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt with the first two picks. Spoiler alert: that didn’t change the fate of the franchise, either.

The table below shows the worst matchups in football history. Each game is listed from the perspective of the winner, and displays each team’s each team’s adjusted winning percentage and the average of the two adjusted records. Finally, I’ve included a linkable boxscore to each game.

RkTmOppYearWkTm RecOpp RecTmAdjW%OppAdjW%AvgBoxscorePFPA
1BALNWE1981161-142-130.250.2880.269Boxscore2321
1TAMIND1991172-131-140.2880.250.269Boxscore173
3NORNYJ1980150-143-110.220.340.28Boxscore2120
4NWECIN1993151-111-110.2830.2830.283Boxscore72
4TAMHOU1983131-111-110.2830.2830.283Boxscore3324
6SDGIND1986132-100-120.3260.2390.283Boxscore173
7BUFCAR2001131-101-110.2950.2830.289Boxscore2524
8BCLCHR1947131-10-11-110.3040.2830.293Boxscore147
9HOUIND1986122-90-110.3410.250.295Boxscore3117
9NYJMIA2007132-90-110.3410.250.295Boxscore4013
11CLEBUF1984101-80-90.3250.2750.3Boxscore1310
12TAMNOR1977130-123-90.2390.370.304Boxscore3314
13CHRBCL1947110-101-7-10.2620.350.306Boxscore2721
14SFOHOU2005173-122-130.3270.2880.308Boxscore2017
14GNBDET2008175-100-150.4040.2120.308Boxscore3121
16PHIPIT193990-7-10-8-10.3160.30.308Boxscore1714
17MIASFO2004121-91-90.310.310.31Boxscore2417
17CARIND2011122-80-100.3570.2620.31Boxscore2719
19MIABAL2007150-134-90.2290.3960.313Boxscore2216
19ATLNYG1966100-91-7-10.2750.350.313Boxscore2716
19SEASTL2008152-112-110.3130.3130.313Boxscore2320
19ATLNOR1996152-112-110.3130.3130.313Boxscore3115
19INDCIN1998152-112-110.3130.3130.313Boxscore3926
19STLSFO1979143-101-120.3540.2710.313Boxscore1310
25HOUBUF1971132-9-11-110.3480.2830.315Boxscore2014
26CRDPHI193680-71-80.3060.3250.315Boxscore130
27CINKAN2008173-11-12-130.3460.2880.317Boxscore166
27STLTAM1986163-11-12-130.3460.2880.317Boxscore2117
29PITPHI1939110-9-11-7-10.2860.350.318Boxscore2412
30NYGSEA1976121-102-90.2950.3410.318Boxscore2816
30GNBIND1991132-91-100.3410.2950.318Boxscore1410
30SDGOAK1962123-80-110.3860.250.318Boxscore3121
33INDBUF1986151-134-100.260.380.32Boxscore2414
33INDTAM1985153-112-120.340.30.32Boxscore3123
33GNBTAM1986153-112-120.340.30.32Boxscore217
33NYJNWE1990164-101-130.380.260.32Boxscore427
37NORATL1967111-91-8-10.310.3330.321Boxscore2724
38BDACHR194791-6-10-90.3680.2750.322Boxscore73
39BKNCRD194370-60-60.3240.3240.324Boxscore70
39PITPHI196870-60-60.3240.3240.324Boxscore63
41CINHOU1994111-81-80.3250.3250.325Boxscore3431
41DETCLE2009111-81-80.3250.3250.325Boxscore3837
41WASBAL1950101-81-80.3250.3250.325Boxscore3828
41CININD1997112-70-90.3750.2750.325Boxscore2813
41NYJTAM1976102-70-90.3750.2750.325Boxscore340
46SDGNYJ1975131-113-90.2830.370.326Boxscore2416
46TENHOU2005143-91-110.370.2830.326Boxscore1310
48WASRAM1994172-134-110.2880.3650.327Boxscore2421
48GNBDET1979164-112-130.3650.2880.327Boxscore1813
48JAXIND2011174-112-130.3650.2880.327Boxscore1913
51DETDAL2001171-145-100.250.4040.327Boxscore1510
51CARIND1998173-123-120.3270.3270.327Boxscore2719
53SEASDG2000102-70-80.3750.2890.332Boxscore1715

The Jets-Titans game definitely qualifies as one of the worst in recent memory. But if the Jets win this weekend, it probably won’t be the worst game of the year. Next week, the Titans face the Jaguars, who are 2-11 and are playing the Ravens on Sunday. If both AFC South teams lose, the matchup of 2-12 teams would produce adjusted winning percentages of 0.300, and tie for the 10th worst in NFL history.1

Update: It’s official. The Titans/Jaguars are both 2-12, making this the worst matchup of teams since 2007, the second worst since realignment in 2002, and tied for the 10th worst NFL matchup ever.

  1. It would come in 10th place on the list, but I’m excluding what appears to have been the worst game in AAFC history. []