The Steelers have looked like Super Bowl contenders in ALMOST EVERY GAME THEY HAVE PLAYED.
If they WIN their last game against the disorderly Cleveland Browns, they will finish the season at 10-6. That is a good record in most divisions. But if the Jets beat the Buffalo Bills this week it wont be good enough. I guess 10-6 will not cut it, when playing in a competitive division like the AFC North. And even though a tough division means playing tougher teams more often, it doesn’t grant teams more “points” toward earning a Wild Card.
It definitely wouldn’t be the first time a 10-6 team misses the postseason. What it would be is an absolute travesty for this very talented, super-watchable Steelers team to have its season come to an end, without a chance at the tournament. This potentially ill-fated scenario the Steelers could have to actually experience, brought me to wonder; Who are the Most Talented Teams in NFL History to Fall Just Short of Making the Playoffs….and could they have rewrote history??
The 1977 Miami Dolphins WENT 10 AND 4 DURING THE REGULAR SEASON, OUT SCORING THEIR OPPONENTS BY 116 POINTS. THE 10 GAMES THEY WON WERE ENOUGH WINS FOR THEM TO BE TIED FOR THE 3RD BEST RECORD IN THE NFL.
THE RULES IN 1977 CALLED FOR ONLY 8 TEAMS IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, 4 FROM EACH CONFERENCE.
So you would think that having the 3rd best record in the entire league would get you in the playoffs if 8 teams enter the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the 1977 Miami Dolphins, the 3rd best record in the NFL was not enough. The division winners from each of the 3 divisions in both conferences were crowned a playoff spot, along with one wild card spot from each conference. The Oakland Raiders at 11-5 would be awarded the one and only AFC wild-card spot, bringing the 77′ Dolphins season to an end.
Because of the poor Dolphins horrible luck, the next year the NFL changed the rules so that each conference would award 2 wild card spots, along with the division winners. Ironically, come playoff time, the new rule did not help the Miami Dolphins, who would have captured a 1978 Wild Card playoff spot even if they still awarded only one. Even more Ironically, they were matched up against the winners of the AFC’s first ever 2nd Wild Card spot winner the Houston Oilers in the AFC’s first ever Wild Card game in the playoffs. The Oilers made them wish they would have never inspired that new rule, defeating them on their own turf, sending Miami home to watch from their couches as the Oilers played the team they would of played had the rules stayed the same. Ouch. Ouch again.
But even since the 1978 rule change, there are still cases similar to the 1977 Dolphins where a team with a very good record who is playing very good football, ends up missing the playoffs by a game or two, causing the world to wonder, what if?
Here are the 11 best teams since the 1978 rule change to not make the postseason…….
11. 1989 WASHINGTON REDSKINS (10-6)
Ricky Sanders. Art Monk. Gary Clark. Only 5 times in NFL history has a team had 3 receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards, and the Washington Redskins nearly did it twice. In 1989 they did it with ease, and would have did it again if all 3 receivers could have stayed healthy. One thing the 1980 Chargers, 1995 Falcons, 2004 Colts, and 2008 Cardinals all have in common besides having 3 receivers all go over 1,000 yards is that they all made the playoffs in the year they accomplished this amazing feat. The 1989 Redskins were not so lucky. Despite outscoring their opponents by 78 points, going 10-6, and winning their last 5 games, the Washington Redskins and the 10-6 Green Bay Packers both had to watch the playoffs from their futons. The 11-5 Philadelphia Eagles and 11-5 Los Angeles Rams won the 2 wild card spots in the NFC the last year the NFL had only 5 teams from each conference participate in the postseason. Similar to the 1977 Miami Dolphins, the 1989 Redskins were a year too early. The NFL changed the number of spots from 5 to 6 for the 1990 season, and has never looked back.
10. 2012 CHICAGO BEARS (10-6)
I know what you are thinking. Wasn’t Jay Cutler on that team? Yes it’s hard to imagine a team with Jay Cutler on it that should of made the playoffs. This was even the year before Alshon Jeffery had his breakout season. I am not going to say that one man made a difference, but that is pretty much the case. Brian Urlacher had his defense 5th in total defense, and the Bears led the league in turnovers and interceptions. Although Brian hurt his hamstring in an overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks, on a play where he chased Russel Wilson around and made a tackle. It was rumored that he might of played if the Bears had made the postseason. Cutler wasn’t playing outstanding, but the Bears did outscore their opponents by 98 points, and win 10 games. They were very worthy of the postseason.
9. 1984 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS(the football team) (9-7)
The 1984 NFL season for the St. Louis Cardinals is often overshadowed by the amazing MVP season Dan Marino had, throwing for over 5,000 yards, and 48 touchdown passes. Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax had quite the year of his own, completing 61.6% of his passes for 4,614 yards, and 28 touchdown passes. St. Louis wasn’t very strong defensively, but their high flying offense, and stout running game led by Ottis Anderson, outscored their opponents by 78 points while playing the 10th hardest schedule in the entire league. The Cardinals beat two of the 3 division winners in the NFC conference, and took care of every team in their own division at least once. As mentioned before, only 10 teams would make the playoffs in 1984, and the Cardinals fell short of the NFC’s fifth seed to the Giants, who also were 9-7, but owned the division tiebreaker. The Giants went on to win their first wild card game against the Rams, but then lost in the divisional round to the 49ers.
8. 2013 ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-6)
The 2015 Arizona Cardinals took care of business early in the season by securing their spot in the tournament with a week 14 victory over the Vikings. Its safe the say the 2015 Cardinals are a very good team. If someone were to pick them to win Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, only a stupid person would tell that person they made a stupid pick. The only thing the 2015 Cardinals have in common with the 2013 Cardinals besides it being the same franchise, is 21 players still on the roster, 5 offensive starters, 5 defensive starters, Bruce Arians, (2 time head coach of the year) offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, a top 12 offense, and a top 6 defense. Not too much. Besides having a winning record at 10 and 6, the 2013 Cardinals beat the division winning 12-4 Carolina Panthers, the division winning 11-5 Colts, and the division winning soon to be Super Bowl champion 13-3 Seattle Seahawks in Century Link Field. They were the only team able to beat the Seahawks in their own building that year. The “twelves”, as they like to be called, blossomed to full force that year, as Russel Wilson proved with each week that passed to be the franchise quarterback every Seahawks fan was hoping for. Although their season was successful in the eyes of an optimist, a loss early in the season to the New Orleans Saints proved to be a costly one, that didn’t enable the Cardinals to control their own destiny in week 17. The Cardinals needed a Saints loss, and to win their own game against the 49ers. The two games were played in the same 4:25 pm eastern time slot. I am sure this was frustrating for Cardinals especially if they caught glimpse of the Saints boatracing the Buccaneers, with a final score of 42 to 17. If they did capture the 6th seed that year instead of the Saints, they would of played the Eagles in the first round, who the Saints ended up beating. If the Cardinals beat the Eagles as the Saints did, they would have once again met the Seahawks, for a rematch I am sure the Seahawks would happily endure. Who knows? Maybe the Cardinals could have spoiled the Seahawks Super Bowl season, and Russel Wilson would still be a ringless man getting his feet wet.
7. 1985 DENVER BRONCOS (11-5)
1985 was John Elway’s 3rd season for the Broncos, and even though he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, he led his team to 11 wins, something 7 teams accomplished that year. Out of those 7 teams, the Broncos are the only team that didn’t get to play in January. Only 2 teams in NFL history have missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record, and the Broncos were the first. Not the type of record a franchise should be proud of. John Elway would come to find throughout his career that the odd numbers of 11-5 were a curse. The very next year in 1986, the Broncos again went 11-5, and lost in the Super Bowl. Elway caught on to the 11-5 curse early, so in 1987 the Broncos purposely tied a game to go 10-4-1. But to the football Gods, a tie is a loss, so they awarded the Broncos with another Super Bowl loss that year. Obviously Elway didn’t learn his lesson, because in 1989 the Broncos went 11-5 and for the third time lost the Super Bowl. Finally it 1997 and 1998, Elway decided just to go 12-4, and 14-2, nice even numbers, and was granted a nice even amount of Super Bowls. 2. Terrell Davis might of had something to do with it.
6. 2008 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-5)
The most heartbreaking loss for any franchise in the history of the NFL has to be the loss the Patriots suffered to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42. With the 2007 season behind them, Patriots fans couldn’t imagine anything getting worse than what they already experienced. And then it happened. Tom Brady tore his ACL on the second drive of the game, ending his season, and unintentionally putting Matt Cassel in the cockpit of Air Force One. Bill Belichick showed why he is the greatest coach of all time, taking a backup quarterback with zero experience and leading his team to 11 wins. Only 2 teams in NFL history have managed to miss the playoffs with a record of 11 and 5. With bad luck still following them, the Patriots of 2008 were the second team to have this happen to them.When the 1985 Broncos missed the postseason at 11-5, 35.7% of the league (10 out of 28 teams) would make the playoffs, which is slightly less probable of a chance to not make it at 11-5, compared to the 37.5% that make it in the modern 12 team tournament with 32 teams. Therefore, the Patriots of 2008 hold the record for the team most likely to make the playoffs that didn’t make the playoffs. So why did they miss the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The Baltimore Ravens who won the 6th seed wild card in the AFC had a conference record of 8-4, one game better than the Patriots 7-5. Two of the 5 losses the Patriots suffered were by 3 points, one in overtime to no other than the Jets. You can only assume that Tom Brady would of had another multiple record breaking year that ended with a Super Bowl appearance had he not been injured.
5. 1986 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-6)
It is an absolute shame that the 1986 Seahawks didn’t get an invite to the postseason. Not only did they have the 4th toughest schedule in the entire National Football League, but they beat 4 playoff teams, including the Patriots, Giants, and Broncos, who also won their division. The 1986 Seahawks had the second highest positive point differential in the entire AFC, and their defense allowed the least amount of points in their conference as well. The reason they missed the playoffs was because of a 4 game losing streak they had in the middle of the season. It started when Dave Krieg had a bad game against the Broncos. Head coach Chuck Knox took him out late in the game and then started the backup quarterback Gale Gilbert in the next game against the Jets. Lets just say Gilbert was more of a 2015 Austin Davis, then an as it stands now A.J. McCarron. Gilbert lost the Jets game, and then midway through the next game against Kansas City, coach Knox decided to put Krieg back in. Krieg didn’t break his slump until a game and a half later when he got the start versus the Eagles. Once he found a rhythm, he never looked back, leading his team to a 5 game winning streak, and being named AFC Offensive Player of the Month. The only problem was the two games he didn’t start in the middle of their 4 game losing streak, happen to be against the two AFC teams who also ended up at 10-6, and happen to own the tiebreaker that eliminated the very good Seattle team, that just won 5 games in a row. Sad.
4. 1980 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-6)
Just like Tom Brady, Steve Grogan was drafted by the New England Patriots late in the draft. Grogan was taken in the 5th round of the 1975 draft and Brady in the 6th round of 2000. After the Patriots lost their first 5 games in 1975 with Jim Plunkett steering the ship, the captain’s hat was passed to Steve Grogan, who would retain the starting QB job at the beginning of the next season. Grogan took a 3-11 1975 Patriot team, and did a complete u-turn with the boat, going 11-3 in 1976. They managed another winning season of 9-5 in 1977, then 11-5 in ’78, and 9-7 in ’79. In their 11-5 1978 season, which was long time head coach Chuck Fairbanks’ last, they were eliminated in their first game by the Oilers in the divisional round. Fairbanks’ offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt took over as head coach, and in 1980 led the Patriots to another outstanding offensive season, outscoring Don Coryell’s Chargers, who were known for putting up lots of points. They outscored their opponents by a whopping 116 points, while winning 10 games on the year. In 1980 3 teams in the NFL went 12-4, and 6 teams went 11-5. Only three times in NFL history have 9 teams had records of 11-5 or better. 2005, 1992, and in 1980 when the New England Patriots missed the playoffs because 5 teams in the AFC went 11-5. Grogan would never get the captain’s hat all to himself ever again, always having to share it with the likes of Matt Cavanaugh, Tony Eason, and Doug Flutie for the rest of his career.
3. 2005 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7)
The 2005 AFC West was a damn good division. When you have 3 winning teams in the division and only the division winner makes the playoffs, its a compliment to the rest of the competition in the AFC at the time. Despite the Chargers having the hardest schedule in the National Football League, and the Chiefs having the 5th hardest, they both managed to outscore their opponents by 106 and 78 points respectively. The Chargers roster featured the likes of Drew Brees throwing to Eric Parker, Keenan McCardell, and a 25 year old Antonio Gates who caught over 1,000 yards. They had one of the best backfields in NFL history and didn’t even know it. They had future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, future Falcons franchise running back Michael Turner, the super elusive Darren Sproles, and Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal. Shaun Phillips, Igor Olshansky and Shawne Merriman were terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. And speaking of quarterbacks again, if for some reason Drew Brees would of gone down in the playoffs if they would have made it, Philip Rivers would of came in to replace him. Along the 2005 season they beat 5 teams with a record of 10-5 or better, including the division winning 11-5 Giants, division winning 10-6 Patriots, and division winning 14-2 Colts. They lost by 2 points to the soon to be 2005 Super Bowl winning Steelers in a week 5 thriller between a young Brees and Roethlisberger. So why on earth did this team not make the playoffs. Well you can start with the fact that the Chiefs who went 10-6, one game better than the Chargers at 9-7, didn’t make the playoffs either. It was a strong year for the AFC. Drew Brees got out of it.
2. 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
At the moment the Steelers are 9-6. Two of their losses came from the 4 games that Big Ben didn’t start because of an ankle injury he was dealing with in the middle of the season. The first game Big Ben didn’t start was against the Ravens and Ben’s replacement Michael Vick ended up losing the game in overtime. Vick wasn’t horrible, but he definitely wasn’t good. The fourth game that Ben sat with injury against the Chiefs was the game that catapulted the Chiefs into the 9 game winning streak that just clinched them a playoff spot last week. Landry Jones started that game and he was horrible. I would like to say that it doesn’t matter what Jones and Vick did when they played because when Roethlisberger is behind center, the Steelers have one of the most dynamic, unstoppable offenses I have ever seen in my 24 years of watching football. But only the latter part of that sentence is true. The fact of the matter is, as mentioned earlier, the Steelers are 9-6 because of those games that Vick and Jones lost. This means that the Steelers, no matter how bad they kill the Browns, and make them cut ties with Manziel, are still not in control of their own destiny. If the Buffalo Bills do not beat the New York Jets than the Steelers will be eliminated from the 2015 postseason. This is a very uncomfortable situation because I would love to see the Jets get a shot at the playoffs as well. But sorry Jets…You guys did your part in beating the Patriots to make the week 17 Broncos game potentially be more interesting but now you guys need to lose so we can see the Steelers and their amazingly fun to watch offense take the field in January.
1. 1991 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (10-6)
The 1991 49ers were somewhat of an anomaly. From 1990, when they switched the number of playoff teams from 10 to 12, until 1995 when they added 2 expansion teams to the league, there was a 5 year window when 42.8% of the league would make the playoffs each year. There were only 28 teams in the league and 6 from each conference would make the playoffs. During that 5 year window, not many teams had the problem of feeling like they should of made the playoffs with the record they held, except for the 1991 49ers and the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were a good 10-6 team, but the 10-6 49ers were outstanding, especially for a team whose starting quarterback didn’t play 6 of the last 7 games. They obliterated their opponents by an incredible 154 points on the year. The only team with a better point differential were the almost unbeatable, soon to be 1991 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. The 49ers beat 4 playoff teams, including 2 division winners, and finished the season with a 6 game winning streak, 5 of which came from backup quarterback Steve Bono. Fans of rival 49ers teams were happy to see them miss the playoffs. In their eyes, the smooth transition from Joe Montana to Steve Young was borderline not fair. If the 49ers would have made the playoffs instead of the Falcons who took the #6 seed from them, chances are they would have met the Redskins in the divisional round. Redskins vs 49ers was the game that fans of both teams wanted to see. It would be the battle of the two high flying, top scoring offenses. Fans would have to wait until the divisional playoffs of the 1992 season to see this game take place. The 49ers won 20 to 13, not the shootout that was anticipated.