NFL Offseason – Marty Schottenheimer, Rex Grossman, and the Snowplow Game all showing up in one article? It must be time to continue our look at the Dynasties of Heartbreak.
As our countdown continues, we begin to enter the realm of the truly devastated teams. So far, we have not found any teams that feel that they should have won a Super Bowl, just ones that could have. True, there were some minor favorites here and there, and teams grumbling about titles that slipped through their fingers. For the most part, however, teams below this line have no one to blame but themselves for their lack of ultimate success.
Around these parts, however, we begin to see teams that have legitimate arguments that they were unfairly deprived of the chance for glory. Questionable refereeing decisions taking away huge plays. Ticky-tack flags that changed the direction of multiple franchises. Teams so poorly done by the rules of the time that the league was forced to change how plays were officiated going forwards. All of these teams could screw up perfectly fine on their own merits, but many of them had an unfair amount of help from forces outside of their control.
Of course, there’s more than a little bit of cursing star players, with the names of Elway, Namath, and Brady being forever carved into our collective memory banks. Let’s meet our next 10 teams.
Links to the full series:
No. 30: 1999-2002 Oakland Raiders
Total Heartbreak Points: 484.2
Playoff Points: 211.6
Win-Loss Points: 107.5
DVOA Points: 156.2
Record: 41-23 (.641)
Playoff Record: 4-3 (one Super Bowl loss, one AFCCG, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 22.2%
Head Coaches: Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan
Key Players: QB Rich Gannon, WR Tim Brown, OT Lincoln Kennedy, CB Charles Woodson
The Raiders’ return to Oakland was something less than triumphant, with the team failing to post a winning record in their first three seasons back in the Coliseum. This wasn’t what Al Davis had in mind in his return the franchise’s roots, nor was it what Alameda County had in mind when they had okayed the construction of Mount Davis, the towering block of seats which increased the Coliseum’s seating and destroyed its sightlines. Something had to be done.
It’s awkward at this point in 2022 to praise Jon Gruden, considering his ignoble exit from both the Raiders and the NFL in general. But Gruden, only the second coach ever hired from outside the Raiders organization, helped turn an offense that had finished in the bottom half of the league for five years straight into a perennial top-five squad. Rich Gannon, longtime journeyman, became a multi-time All-Pro and league MVP. And at age 37 in the Super Bowl year, Gannon was practically a spring chicken on this team. We’ll be very nice and call them “experienced,” with Tim Brown (36), Jerry Rice (40), Bill Romanowski (36), and Rod Woodson (37) all playing significant roles at advanced ages. Gruden had a reputation for preferring veterans over rookies throughout his career, but never did it work as well as it did in his first run in Oakland.
Gruden’s teams were snakebit, however. They only went 8-8 in 1999, but none of those eight losses were by more than a touchdown. They missed the playoffs despite being third in DVOA. They were more fortunate in 2000, making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens. Unfortunately, bad luck struck again—Gannon was knocked out of the game after a Tony Siragusa sack, leaving Bobby Hoying to try to pick apart one of the best defenses in NFL history. That went about as bad as you’re currently imagining. Hoying’s very first pass was intercepted, one of four for Hoying and Gannon combined on the day, as the Ravens fought to a 16-3 win.
And then you had the Tuck Rule Game in 2001—the divisional matchup between the Raiders and Patriots in the swirling snow and wind at Foxboro. If you’re a Raiders fan, you likely claim to this day that Tom Brady fumbled the football when Charles Woodson sacked him with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. The ball certainly popped out and Greg Biekert certainly fell on top of it, there’s no question about any of that. But under the new rules put in in 1999, any intentional forward movement of the arm started a pass, and even if control was lost when the ball was being tucked back to the body, it was still an incomplete pass. It was the correct ruling with the rules that were in place at the time. It was a bad rule, which is why it was repealed in 2013, but it was the rule, and correctly called so. That led to the Patriots tying the game with a field goal and subsequently winning in overtime, and we all know how that story goes from there.
Gruden didn’t protest the call at the time, and the rumors state that this was the final straw in the decaying relationship between him and Al Davis. Davis ended up trading Gruden to the Buccaneers for multiple draft picks and installing offensive coordinator Bill Callahan as head coach. Callahan didn’t touch anything as the Raiders stormed through the regular season and playoffs on their way to Super Bowl XXXVII—a strategy that has worked wonders for coaches coming into good situations throughout NFL history. But George Seifert didn’t end up facing Bill Walsh in a Super Bowl. Barry Switzer never had to battle Jimmy Johnson. Callahan had to go heads up against Gruden and the Buccaneers.
The Raiders came in with the second-best offense in the league by DVOA, but that doesn’t help so much when the opposing defense knows everything you’re about to do. The 2002 Buccaneers defense didn’t need any extra advantages, but Gruden was able to basically give them the entire Raiders playbook—John Lynch, miked up during the game, was calling out the Raiders plays before they began. Callahan allegedly hadn’t even bothered to change the Raiders’ audibles before the Super Bowl. Callahan had, however, drastically changed the game plan just 48 hours before kickoff, stunning the team. To make matters worse, All-Pro center Barrett Robbins vanished before the game, his mental health issues overwhelming him. The Raiders entered the contest vastly underprepared. The Buccaneers entered it vastly overprepared, and that’s how you get a 48-21 blowout.
For most teams, an embarrassment in the Super Bowl like that would cap off the most painful year in franchise history. The Raiders aren’t most teams. The Callahan Raiders were never going to become a dynasty. There are multiple Raiders teams from the 1960s and 1970s who would have run circles around both Gruden and Callahan’s Raiders. They end up with significantly more heartbreak points and we’ll meet them in the future.
On This Date: In 2002, it looked like Tom Brady fumbled it … but the Tuck Rule changed everything. pic.twitter.com/lhUgB4qKzM
— ESPN (@espn) January 19, 2019
No. 29: 2013-2017 Carolina Panthers
Total Heartbreak Points: 493.7
Playoff Points: 204.4
Win-Loss Points: 168.8
DVOA Points: 120.6
Record: 51-28-1 (.644)
Playoff Record: 3-4 (one Super Bowl loss, two divisional losses, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 9.4%
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Key Players: QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, C Ryan Kalil, G Trai Turner, LB Luke Kuechly, LB Thomas Davis
This a very strange run. It’s five seasons long, with no back-to-back good years; the Panthers alternated between positive and negative DVOAs like a metronome. But in the years they were good, they were very good, with three double-digit-win seasons. And they went to the playoffs four times, thanks to a very weird playoff season with a losing record. You can be forgiven for thinking less about heartbreak and more just about confusion when you look like a team like this.
What isn’t confusing is just how much better and more fun the Panthers became to watch in 2011, when Ron Rivera and Cam Newton came to town, and in 2012 when Luke Kuechly joined them. The end of the John Fox era was practically unwatchable, especially on offense with a -36.2% DVOA. Newton became a sensation from Day 1. He led the league in rushing DYAR, and he was filling highlight reels from the moment he stepped on the field. When Rivera leaned into that, taking more chances with his offense and earning the “Riverboat Ron” nickname, the Panthers started winning football games. When we did our dynasty rankings two years ago, the Panthers did not have a qualified unit, but this exact Panthers squad remains the closest they have ever come.
The bulk of the Panthers’ score here comes from 2013 and 2015. They get nothing for their 6-10 year in 2016 as they struggled with injuries, while the 2017 wild-card loss to the Saints ends up as kind of a vestigial tail, a decent season that didn’t go anywhere in particular. 2014 is the odd season out, with the 7-8-1 Panthers not only winning a weak NFC South but also managing to win a playoff game, defeating the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round in a contest that did not exactly showcase the best the NFL had to offer. The Seahawks handled the Panthers fairly easily the week after, with the whole debacle being worth just 30 points.
2013 is interesting, as the Panthers rebounded from a 1-3 start to go 11-1 the rest of the way behind more aggressive play calling from Rivera. That won the NFC South and had Carolina pegged as the team with momentum entering the postseason, but the Panthers basically failed to show up against the 49ers in the divisional round. They allowed Colin Kaepernick and company to score 17 unanswered points on their way to a 23-10 win. The 2013 team is still the third-best team in Panthers history by DVOA, and their best not to reach the Super Bowl; any year where you’re approaching a 25.0% DVOA is going to score fairly highly.
But 2015 is the reason the team qualifies for the list at all, a 15-1 season out of the blue. The 2015 Panthers are one of only four teams in our records to have a season above 25.0% DVOA sandwiched between two negative DVOA years. If you swap the 2013 and 2014 years chronologically, this era makes more sense. The 2015 Panthers are the only NFC team to ever start a season 14-0, and Newton won his MVP award. I covered this team for Bleacher Report, and it was a weird team to write about, as they just kept winning despite a lack of clear receiving talent. They had the easiest schedule of the year, but not historically so, and they dominated against it. It seemed that people were more interested in talking about how they were secretly not contenders, or that Newton’s dancing was in some way a cultural detriment, or really anything else other than acknowledging a run to near-perfection.
The defining moment for me for the 2015 team is a Newton highlight, but not a flattering one. In Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos had taken a lead based more on big individual plays (a Von Miller strip sack-turned-touchdown and a long punt return by Jordan Norwood) than actually outplaying Carolina. The Panthers had the ball down 16-10 with less than five minutes to go when Miller got to Newton once again and stripped the ball free. The ball lay there on the ground for the taking and Newton … hesitated, letting the Broncos recover, score a touchdown, and win the game. This is a moment that perhaps has become too prominent in hindsight, but championship games produce championship moments. It’s the inverse of John Elway laying his body on the line, helicoptering his way forward in the Super Bowl against the Packers—a moment where football goals clash with self-preservation goals. Newton’s career should not be defined by a split-second of hesitation in a crucial moment, but maybe the Panthers don’t appear on this list if he’s a fraction faster.
With four minutes left in Super Bowl 50, MVP Von Miller strip sacks Carolina’s Cam Newton, who appears to hesitate when attempting to recover his own fumble.
The #Broncos‘ TJ Ward recovers and, four plays later, Denver scores to salt away its third Super Bowl title.
OTD in 2016 pic.twitter.com/0HCcknbkgd
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) February 8, 2022
No. 28: 1977-1982 San Diego Chargers
Total Heartbreak Points: 522.1
Playoff Points: 191.6
Win-Loss Points: 145.8
DVOA Points: 184.8
Record: 55-32 (.632)
Playoff Record: 3-4 (two AFCCG losses, two divisional losses)
Average DVOA: 17.4%
Head Coaches: Tommy Prothro, Don Coryell
Key Players: QB Dan Fouts, FB Chuck Muncie, WR Charlie Joiner, WR John Jefferson, TE Kellen Winslow, OT Russ Washington, OT Billy Shields, G Doug Wilkerson, DE Fred Dean, DT Gary Johnson, DT Louie Kelcher
In just a couple of weeks, we’ll be revealing the 1981 and 1982 DVOA ratings, so keep an eye out for those. When we write them up, you’ll get to learn all about the early 1980s Chargers, because they are all over the top of the leaderboards.
Don Coryell joined the Chargers the same year the passing rules were opened up to try to revitalize the stale offense of the 1970s, and San Diego was the first team to really take advantage of them. Coryell had already made strides in pass-first offense with the St. Louis Cardinals and at San Diego State before that, being one of the first coaches to experiment with single-back formations and option routes. He was one of the first to tinker with move tight ends, something that became a staple of the Chargers when they drafted Kellen Winslow in 1979. And then, with the rules against illegal contact put into place, Coryell’s offense went into overdrive.
The Chargers sent receivers in motion on nearly every play, making them nearly impossible to jam coming off the line under the new rules. This stretched the defense, allowing Coryell and the Chargers to read the coverage before the snap and move defenders where they wanted them. Often, all five receivers would run out in patterns that stretched the coverage to its breaking point, adjusting their route options based on what the defenses were doing. The bones of this offense were found in the Sid Gillman systems of the 1960s, but Coryell took everything to the next level. And so the Chargers led the league in both passing yards and total yards in every season from 1978 to 1983 before defenses could begin catch up.
The knock on Air Coryell, compared to the West Coast Offense of the time, was that you needed more talented players to make it work. You had to have superstars running things perfectly or it was going to collapse in under its own weight. The Chargers had those superstars. Dan Fouts is still the only player to lead the league in passing four years in a row. Winslow was the first real modern tight end, the wide receiver in an offensive lineman’s body that became the prototype for every top pass-catching tight end in the league today. Charlie Joyner was the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards by the time he retired in 1986. The Chargers acquired Wes Chandler from New Orleans and he gained over 1,000 yards in just eight games in 1982. On a pure talent level, the Chargers may well have had the best offense of the entire 1980s.
And seeing that this is the history of the forever-cursed San Diego Chargers, they of course didn’t win anything. Fouts and the Chargers offense was lethal during the regular season, but they had a bad habit of getting turnover-prone in the playoffs when it mattered most.
In 1979, the Houston Oilers managed to decipher the Chargers’ signs when they were signaling plays in from the sideline during their divisional-round playoff game. With Houston knowing when and where Fouts was going to pass on nearly every snap, they picked him off five times in a 17-14 upset. The next season, Fouts threw a couple more picks while both Chuck Muncie and Mike Thomas fumbled in the running game to help set the Raiders up to a 28-7 early lead in the AFC Championship Game, and Oakland managed to hold on to the ball for enough of the fourth quarter to escape with a 34-27 win.
The 1981 postseason saw the Chargers come out victorious in the Epic in Miami, the exhausting overtime thriller in the sweltering heat and humidity that the NFL named the fourth-greatest game of all time during their 100th anniversary celebrations. And then they had to turn around, mentally and physically drained, and go play in Cincinnati in the Freezer Bowl, where the -59-degree wind chill made it the coldest game in history. Dropping nearly 150 degrees in effective temperature between playoff games is beyond anything you could possibly prepare for, and the warm-weather Chargers just could not adjust. The Bengals opted to kick to begin both halves to force San Diego to play into the brutally cold wind, and the precision passing offense froze solid, with Fouts throwing a pair of picks and openly wondering how anyone could throw a spiral in those conditions. San Diego lost that one, and then lost the rematch with Miami on a five-pick day from Fouts the next year. That’s four playoff losses and 14 interceptions from the second-team All-1980s quarterback there.
The Chargers probably should have had a few more bites at the apple, but owner Eugene Klein was in a penny-pinching mood. Klein refused to renegotiate any contracts after the successes in 1979 and 1980, trading away stars such as John Jefferson and Fred Dean rather than pony up to keep them around. Jefferson had replacements in the passing offense, but the loss of Dean, and then Gary Johnson and Louie Kelcher and the rest of the Bruise Brothers, in salary cuts ended up tanking the San Diego defense. They ended up plummeting to the bottom of the league for the rest of the 1980s, and the Chargers struggled to stop anyone.
Fortunately for Chargers fans everywhere, Klein’s salary cuts were just a prelude to him selling the team to the Spanos family, and San Diego never had to worry about their owner ever again.
40 years ago today: The Freezer Bowl ❄
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 10, 2022
No. 27: 2005-2013 Chicago Bears
Total Heartbreak Points: 528.2
Playoff Points: 259.8
Win-Loss Points: 163.1
DVOA Points: 105.2
Record: 84-60 (.583)
Playoff Record: 3-3 (one Super Bowl loss, one NFCCG loss, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 3.4%
Head Coaches: Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman
Key Players: QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, WR Brandon Marshall, G Roberto Garza, C Olin Kreutz, DE Julius Peppers, DT Tommie Harris, LB Lance Briggs, LB Brian Urlacher, CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings, PR/KR Devin Hester
It does seem a little weird to see these Bears not only on the list, but this high up it. They are, without a doubt, the worst team to qualify for the heartbreak rankings. If you were to get all 44 teams to play one another, the Lovie Smith Bears would end up in the cellar.
Chicago had negative DVOAs in three of the nine seasons in this run, never putting together back-to-back years with double-digit DVOAs. If I was doing this subjectively, I would have broken apart the Super Bowl team from 2006 and the Jay Cutler-led teams starting in 2009. Smith being in charge the whole time gives it a little bit of connective tissue to work with here, but this feels like the most tenuous team on this list. They squeak in because they just happen to tiptoe on the edge of the ruleset, with the 9-7 Kyle Orton-led 2008 team doing just enough to pin the two eras together. No matter how, when, and where you draw the line in an exercise like this, someone is going to barely fall on one side or the other.
All that being said, it’s still worth remembering Smith’s defenses. Behind Brian Urlacher, Peanut Tillman, and Lance Briggs, the Bears had a top-10 defense in seven out of nine seasons between 2004 and 2012, the longest sustained run of success they’d had since the Monsters of the Midway in the 1980s. Even when the offense was floundering under Chad Hutchinson or Kyle Orton, the defense was more than enough to keep Chicago competitive week-in and week-out. And the one year Chicago did put together a top-20 offense, the Bears went straight to the Super Bowl.
In many ways, the 2006 Bears actually were the team that posterity has tried to turn the 1985 Bears into. Everyone talks about the 1985 team as one of the greatest defenses all time, dragging the lead weight that was the Bears offense to glory. But the Bears were fourth in offensive DVOA in 1985, and they didn’t drop below 20th until the early 1990s; there’s only so bad a Walter Payton offense can be, and Jim McMahon was above average when healthy. But the mid-2000s offense only had one season in the top 20 between 2002 and 2012. They really were the anchor sinking the Bears down throughout the 21st century. Maybe the Bears belong here after all, as watching promising defense after promising defense be thwarted by terrible quarterback play has to take a toll on a fan base.
Like McMahon, Rex Grossman was often injured, missing most of 2004 and 2005 with damaged knee ligaments and a broken ankle. Unlike McMahon, Grossman wasn’t good, never finishing with a positive DVOA. Smith’s insistence that, no, Grossman was the quarterback was questionable at the time and downright unbelievable with even the slightest hindsight. Even in 2006, his best season in Chicago, Grossman was massively inconsistent, able to go between multi-touchdown days and multi-interception nightmares at the drop of a hat. By the beginning of the 2006 postseason, fans were demanding that he be benched for Brian Griese, which may not be an ideal situation to be in as you’re trying to win a championship.
Grossman held it together for long enough to win the NFC Championship setting up Grossman vs. Peyton Manning in the most lopsided passer matchup in Super Bowl history. The Bears got on the board early with Devin Hester’s kick return, and they took a 14-6 lead after Thomas Jones rumbled into scoring position on the next drive, but it couldn’t last forever. Grossman ended up throwing a pair of picks and fumbling twice as the Bears failed to find the end zone for the last 50 minutes of the game.
Would the Bears have been better off if we hooked their 2006 defense to the Jay Cutler and Matt Forte offenses from the back half of the decade? Probably, although it’s not like those squads have a stellar place in the hearts of Chicago fans either. Cutler’s tenure with the team will be forever defined by the 2010 NFC Championship Game, when he left with a sprained MCL and spent most of the second half glowering on the sidelines. The sight of Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie trying desperately to keep up with Aaron Rodgers sums up the history of Bears football.
One day, one day, the Bears will go into a big postseason matchup with an advantage at the quarterback position for the first time since the 1940s. I mean, it has to happen eventually, right?
15 Years Ago Tonight
Super Bowl XLI
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) February 5, 2022
No. 26: 1998-2007 Seattle Seahawks
Total Heartbreak Points: 528.8
Playoff Points: 254.4
Win-Loss Points: 147.5
DVOA Points: 126.9
Record: 90-70 (.563)
Playoff Record: 4-6 (one Super Bowl loss, two divisional losses, three wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 3.3%
Head Coaches: Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren
Key Players: QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, RB Ricky Watters, WR Darrell Jackson, WR Bobby Engram, OT Walter Jones, G Chris Gray, G Steve Hutchinson, C Robbie Tobeck, DT Cortez Kennedy, LB Chad Brown, LB Lofa Tatupu
We just finished saying the Bears were the worst team to make the heartbreak rankings, but here come the Seahawks with a lower DVOA. The difference here is that these Seahawks had four years of double-digit DVOA mixed in with some bad years early in the run, while the Bears only had two years of double-digit DVOA spread thinly across their reign. On average it comes out to about the same, but the peak Mike Holmgren Seahawks were the better team.
The Seahawks were mired in a long period of mediocrity—six straight seasons with six to eight wins, and only one year with double-digit wins in the history of the franchise. Seattle had almost lost the Seahawks to Los Angeles three years before, with owner Ken Behring bizarrely claiming that he had to move from Seattle to L.A. because of the fear of … earthquakes. The NFL found a (San Andreas) fault in that logic and stopped the move, and Behring ended up selling to Paul Allen.
Allen kept the team in Seattle and settled on Mike Holmgren a few years later, handing him the head coach and general manager jobs with the directive to make Seattle actually relevant. Fresh off of success with the Packers, Holmgren was looking for more control over the roster and early results were good—Holmgren’s first season saw the Seahawks making the playoffs for the first time since 1988. Even though the Dolphins shut down the Seattle offense entirely in the wild-card round, things were certainly looking up!
Well, no, things were not looking up, with the Seahawks not making the postseason again until Holmgren stepped down from his general manager role, but that’s not to say that Holmgren was a terrible GM. He drafted the core of what ended up being the 2005 Super Bowl team in Shaun Alexander, Darrell Jackson, and Steve Hutchinson. He traded for Matt Hasselbeck, who ended up becoming the best quarterback in franchise history at the time. It’s probably fair to say that Holmgren was stretched too thin by being both coach and general manager from 1999 to 2002, and that of the two you would want to keep coach Holmgren over GM Holmgren, but credit where credit is due. With Holmgren returning just to the sidelines, however, he could focus on putting the Seahawks into positions where they could repeatedly blow it in major situations.
I’m fairly certain “we want the ball and we’re going to score” still triggers flashbacks for a significant swathe of Seahawks fans after the 2003 wild-card game against the Packers. Hasselbeck’s attempt to pump the crowd and his team up as they entered overtime backfired when he ended up throwing the game-losing pick-six to Al Harris a few moments later—the first ever overtime defensive touchdown in playoff history. Of course, things wouldn’t have even gotten to that point in the first place had Koren Robinson not dropped a pass in the end zone, but hey, memes be memes and all that. It’s certainly more painful than the loss to the Rams in the wild-card round the next season, even if going 0-3 to an 8-8 Rams team in one season is frustrating in its own right.
But no, obviously the reason this Seahawks team gets so high is the Super Bowl XL loss to the Steelers—fun trivia note, that was played in Jerome Bettis’ hometown of Detroit! It’s a wonder no one ever mentioned that leading up to the game! It would have been a fun storyline. A less fun storyline for Seattle fans was the officiating, as Bill Leavy and his crew made several controversial calls in Pittsburgh’s favor. Jackson was flagged for offensive pass interference to nullify a first-quarter touchdown, Sean Locklear was flagged with holding that cancelled a long fourth-quarter pass, Hasselbeck was flagged for an illegal block on Ike Taylor’s interception, and a catch-and-fumble by Jerramy Stevens was ruled an incomplete pass. After the game, Holmgren told fans “we knew it was going to be tough going against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn’t know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well.”
It certainly wasn’t the refs’ best night by any stretch of the imagination. Without the flags against Seattle, we’d probably remember Super Bowl XL as the year Ben Roethlisberger choked away a title with a pair of interceptions, or how Bettis couldn’t run at all against the Seattle front. Blaming the entire loss on the referees is an overstatement, but when all the borderline calls go one way, you can understand why Seattle fans (and neutral fans hoping for a good game!) were so up in arms in the immediate aftermath. It’s not that the referees got everything wrong, per se, but the Seahawks were on the losing end of a half-dozen coin flips, and that’s going to make it hard to win a football game even if they had played better.
Seattle didn’t immediately go away after the Super Bowl loss, of course. An overtime defeat to Rex Grossman and those aforementioned Bears in the divisional round in 2006 certainly hurts; maybe Chicago really was a better team than these Seahawks. And then they were crushed by Green Bay in the divisional round in 2007, allowing the Packers to score touchdowns on six consecutive drives on the way to a 42-20 romp. Those help pad Seattle’s stats out to the point where they hit the top 30 rather than lingering around with the 2000s Panthers and 1980s Eagles. But they never got a second shot at the Super Bowl, with Holmgren and Alexander both departing at the end of an injury-plagued 2008 season.
“We want the ball and we’re going to score.” – Matt @Hasselbeck
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2021
No. 25: 2014-2021 Pittsburgh Steelers
Total Heartbreak Points: 545.4
Playoff Points: 148.2
Win-Loss Points: 215.4
DVOA Points: 181.8
Record: 83-44-2 (.651)
Playoff Record: 3-6 (one AFCCG loss, two divisional losses, three wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 10.7%
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Key Players: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown, OT Alejando Villanueva, G David DeCastro, C Maurkice Pouncey, DT Cameron Heyward, LB T.J. Watt, LB Ryan Shazier, S Minkah Fitzpatrick
This the third of our five active heartbreak dynasties, but “active” is doing quite a bit of work here. With Ben Roethlisberger retiring this offseason, and Ben Roethlisberger’s arm retiring two years ago, I feel somewhat comfortable in saying that there’s going to a period of retooling before the Steelers are contenders once more. Maybe Kenny Pickett wows from Day 1, and the defense is still projected to be near the top of the league—it’s possible this paragraph will look very silly in a few months. At the very least, however, the last remnants of the Killer Bs are gone without a ring to show for it.
This is our first entry without 150 playoff points since down in the mid-30s, as the Steelers haven’t honestly done all that much in the postseason in the past decade. The prime years of Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown rarely saw them all on the field together in the playoffs. Bell missed the 2014 wild-card loss to the Ravens after hyperextending his knee against the Bengals in Week 17. Both Bell and Brown missed the 2015 divisional loss to the Broncos—Bell tore his MCL against the Bengals in November, while Brown took a cheap shot from Vontae Burfict against the Bengals in the wild-card round. In 2016, Bell was injured in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots. It is very difficult to win football games when your stars get hurt! Especially when you’re talking about arguably the best receiver and running back of this mid-2010s, with both Bell and Brown picking up multiple first-team All-Pro nods. None of these losses were really close enough to say that yes, the Steelers would have gone to the Super Bowl had they been at full strength, but it does feel like these constant injuries to key players caused some very good Pittsburgh teams to be playing with one hand tied behind their back in January.
2017 was going to be different. The team’s 13-3 record was their best in this run—and you could argue it should have been better, as they lost out on going 14-2 and having home-field advantage when Jesse James’ apparent touchdown against the Patriots was overturned on replay against the Patriots in December. Their 25.9% DVOA was their best since the 2010 Super Bowl team. The Killer Bs were in top form and had been bolstered by the addition of JuJu Smith-Schuster. And for the first time, these Steelers had a defense, with T.J. Watt joining Cameron Heyward and, before his career-ending injury, Ryan Shazier; the first top-10 defense in Pittsburgh since 2011. The stars were aligned for an AFC Championship Game rematch against the Patriots, avenging the controversial loss from the regular season and finally bringing Pittsburgh back to the Super Bowl where they belonged. All they had to do first was get past the #Sacksonville Jaguars, which shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Jacksonville, of course, punched Pittsburgh in the mouth from the opening gun, jumping to a 28-7 first-half lead on the back of multiple Roethlisberger turnovers. The Steelers fired back, with Big Ben throwing five touchdowns and putting up 545 yards of offense, but it was too little, too late. The Steelers were heavily criticized for looking past the Jags and they got beaten up for it.
And that was it for the Killer Bs. Bell never played another game for Pittsburgh, holding out in a contract dispute. Brown started, well, Antonio Browning, leading to his trade after the 2018 season. Roethlisberger tore his UCL to begin the 2019 season and was never the same player again. There has been a smattering of success in the past couple of seasons, but that has been due to a dominant defense, as the Steelers offense died along with Roethlisberger’s elbow ligaments. If you could combine, say, the 2020 defense with the 2014 offense, you’d have a team that could match up with anyone in any era. But considering the Steelers luck over the past decade, they’d just end up with half their stars in slings and casts on the sidelines in January once again.
We’re re-airing classic Jaguars games in preparation for kickoff of the 2020 NFL season.
Tune in tomorrow night at 8 pm and relive our divisional playoff win over the Steelers in January of 2018.
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) August 21, 2020
No. 24: 1960-1969 Baltimore Colts
Total Heartbreak Points: 550.9
Playoff Points: 251.0
Win-Loss Points: 165.5
DVOA Points: 134.3
Championship Penalty: 478.4
Record: 92-42-4 (.681)
Playoff Record: 2-3 (one Super Bowl loss, one NFL Championship loss, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 17.0%
Head Coaches: Weeb Ewbank, Don Shula
Key Players: QB Johnny Unitas, RB Lenny Moore, RB Tom Matte, E Raymond Berry, WR Willie Richardson, WR Jimmy Orr, TE John Mackey, OT Bob Vogel, G Jim Parker, C Dick Szymanski, DE Gino Marchetti, DE Ordell Braase, DT Fred Miller, LB Don Shinnick, CB Bobby Boyd, S Rick Volk
I could just write “Super Bowl III” here and leave it at that, right? Everyone would nod their heads and understand and move on? But no, the 1960s Colts are much more than just one game, even if that game remains the biggest upset in NFL history and makes them one of two NFL champions not to be world champions. In fact, that 1968 season doesn’t even end up making the biggest contribution to the Colts’ heartbreak score, as Baltimore was snakebitten for an entire decade.
With all respect to the Ray Lewises and Peyton Mannings of the world, this remains the best decade of football for either the Colts franchise or the city of Baltimore. Their 17.0% average (estimated) DVOA tops the best either franchise has been able to do since. The Colts were in the championship picture every season, with only the Packers managing to win more games than they did. This is the era of Don Shula, youngest coach in NFL history at the time. Behind Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry, the Colts had the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL. Behind Gino Marchetti and Bobby Boyd, they had the second-best scoring defense in the NFL. They were coming off multiple championships in the 1950s, including the Greatest Game Ever Played. They would win Super Bowl V in 1970. That they could go 0-for-the-entire-1960s seems unfathomable, even acknowledging how good the Packers and Browns also were in this era. Baltimore repeatedly got screwed over by bad luck and by rules and practices which no longer exist.
In 1964, the Colts were favored as they went into the championship game against the Browns, but they had to play it on the road—at that point in history, the NFL Championship Game just alternated between the Eastern and Western conference champions’ home stadium, rather than going to a neutral site or being hosted by the team with the better record. Home-field advantage alone isn’t enough to explain why the Browns walked to a 27-0 victory, though the snowy conditions in Cleveland did contribute to Unitas’ two interceptions and Moore’s key fumble. At the time, this was considered the biggest upset in NFL playoff history as the Colts were seven-point favorites entering the game.
The Colts were back in 1965, playing in a one-game playoff against the Packers to see who would face the Browns in the NFL Championship Game—this time, in the Western conference city. The Colts were severely undermanned going in, however, as both Unitas and backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo were injured. Baltimore tried to sign Ed Brown and George Haffner, picking them up on waivers in the week leading up the playoffs, but the league ruled they were ineligible to play because they were not on the roster for Baltimore’s final two regular-season games, a rule which no longer exists because it is dumb. That left halfback Tom Matte as the emergency option. The former college quarterback became the first player ever to wear a playbook on his wristband as he tried to run the Colts’ simplified offense against the Vince Lombardi Packers. And you know what? It almost worked! The Colts were winning 10-7 with two minutes left when Green Bay kicker Don Chandler lined up for a potential game-tying 22-yard field goal. The kick sailed left of the uprights … but the officials ruled it good, because it was kicked high enough to be over the goa lposts, and the one referee standing underneath couldn’t get a clear view of the kick. The Packers would go on to win in overtime, and the NFL extended the goal posts 10 feet upward and added an extra official underneath the uprights on field goal attempts starting the next year. When the league immediately changes the rules to prevent what happened to you from happening to anyone else, you have a good argument for being screwed.
The Colts also have a bone to pick in 1967. They tied for the best record in the league at 11-1-2, but didn’t get to go to the playoffs. This is because 1967 was the first year the NFL split into four divisions, and the Rams also finished 11-1-2 in the Coastal Division. In the rules before 1967, the Colts and Rams would have had a one-game playoff to determine who won the division, but 1967 saw new tiebreaking rules come into play. Since the Rams had a better point differential than the Colts did in their matchups, they were declared the champions, and the Colts had to stay at home. It’s fair to note that the Rams would have won the tiebreaker under modern rules as well, going 1-0-1 against the Colts during the regular season, but getting knocked out of the postseason because you lost your first game of the year on the last day of the regular season is exceptionally painful. Their .917 win percentage is the best in Big Four sports history for a non-playoff-qualifying team.
So you can see why the 1968 Colts felt like they were somewhat due as they stormed through the NFL season. They crushed the Rams twice. They ended the Packers’ playoff hopes with a win in September. They destroyed the Browns 34-0 to win the NFL Championship Game. All their demons had been slayed. All they had to do now was coast as 19.5-point favorites over some fur coat-wearing, showboating, sideburn-coiffed upstart from the AFL. What could possibly go wrong? They didn’t even bother adjusting their zone defense—rare in the NFL, but quite common in the AFL at the time—figuring their regular game plan should be good enough to hold off the Jets. Instead, Matt Snell ran all over a predictable Colts scheme while Joe Namath’s fast release beat the Baltimore blitzes, and the Colts were the victims of the greatest upset in NFL history. Again.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) December 26, 2021
No. 23: 1983-1989 Cleveland Browns
Total Heartbreak Points: 554.0
Playoff Points: 295.2
Win-Loss Points: 129.2
DVOA Points: 129.7
Record: 63-47-1 (.572)
Playoff Record: 3-5 (three AFCCG losses, one divisional loss, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 8.2%
Head Coaches: Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson
Key Players: QB Bernie Kosar, TE Ozzie Newsome, OT Cody Risen, DT Bob Golic, LB Clay Matthews, LB Chip Banks, CB Hanford Dixon, CB Frank Minnifield
You never want to be on the wrong end of a game that ends up being described as The [Noun]. The Catch, The Ice Bowl, The Guarantee, The Immaculate Reception, The Music City Miracle—if a game is notable enough to be referred to in shorthand like that, being on the losing end of it is usually something you want to avoid! The 1980s Browns got to experience two of them in back-to-back years, part of a stretch in which they lost three out of four AFC Championship Games. That’s about as painful as you can get for a franchise which has never reached the Super Bowl.
But before the Drive was Driven or the Fumble was Lost, the 1980s Browns represented the stories of two men.
Defensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer took over in the middle of the 1984 season after Sam Rutigliano had essentially been booed out of the stadium and publicly questioned by owner Art Modell for terrible play calling and strategic football. If there is a patron saint of the heartbreak dynasty list, it is Schottenheimer. He’s one of eight coaches to win 200 games—and the only one not to be in the Hall of Fame. He took his teams to the playoffs 13 times, sixth most in NFL history. Those five coaches above him won a combined 18 championships, winning a title more than 20% of the time they reached the postseason. Schottenheimer never won a title. Heck, Schottenheimer rarely won playoff games to begin with, as his 5-13 playoff record is second-worst among coaches with at least 10 playoff games (we’ll meet Steve Owen next time out). But in 21 years of coaching, Schottenheimer’s teams averaged a second-place finish in their division, better than legendary coaches such as Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Tom Landry, Bill Parcells … the list goes on. If you had Marty Schottenheimer as your head coach, you essentially guaranteed yourself a competitive team—a sense of stability and regular-season success that very few coaches in the history of the league have managed. You can critique him for playing not to lose, with an offense designed to limit turnovers and a defense designed to force them. But by playing not to lose, Schottenheimer’s teams rarely did. He has the second-best winning percentage in Chiefs and Chargers history, and the third-best for non-interim Browns coaches.
Schottenheimer’s defenses had already been strong as part of the Kardiac Kids run from the early 1980s, but the Browns’ offenses tanked after Brian Sipe left for the USFL. Sipe went to play for Donald Trump, so Cleveland did the only thing they could—they became Bernie Bros. Bernie Kosar wanted to play for Cleveland, and manipulated the draft to make it happen. The Bills had the No. 1 pick and weren’t about to trade that away—they wanted Bruce Smith, and weren’t going to let anyone else have him. They were more than willing to trade away the first pick in the supplemental draft, however, and Kosar declared himself eligible for the supplemental draft only after the Browns arranged a trade for the top pick there. Despite complaints and threats of lawsuits from the quarterback-needy Vikings and Oilers, the NFL basically did an Air Bud “there’s no rule against it” shrug, changed the rules for the future, and let the Browns draft their hometown hero.
Behind Kosar, the Browns would reach the playoffs in each of the next five seasons, reaching the AFC Championship Game three times. In 1985, they let the Dolphins score 21 unanswered points to come back and knock them out of the divisional round. In 1988, they lost to the Oilers by one point in a sloppy, penalty-filled wild-came game. Those would have been bad enough, but the other three years, they had to play John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game and … oh boy.
1986 was The Drive. The Browns had a 20-13 lead over the Broncos with 5:32 left to play, and Denver backed up on their own 2-yard line. All Elway did was march 98 yards in 15 plays. The Broncos never faced a fourth down, and the few times Cleveland had the chance for a stop, Elway delivered,most notably hitting Mark Jackson for 20 yards on third-and-18. The touchdown tied the game, the Browns punted in overtime, and Denver won on a Rick Karlis field goal a few plays later.
The shoe was on the other foot in 1987. Kosar and Earnest Byner fought back from a 21-3 third-quarter deficit and had the ball late in the fourth, down by just a touchdown. They marched right down the field, inside the Denver 10, and Byner ran a trap. It would have been his third touchdown of the day, but Webster Slaughter missed a block and Jeremiah Castille was able to knock the ball out of Byner’s hands just before he could cross the goal line. The Fumble. Broncos recover, Broncos win, Browns stay home yet again. By comparison, Elway and company romping over Cleveland 37-21 in the 1989 Championship Game was no big deal—how can you break the spirit of one whose spirit was already broken?
Without a Super Bowl appearance, and with the crumbling defense ultimately leading to the demise of this era of Browns football, it’s hard to rank them much higher than this, even if the Drive and Fumble are a one-two punch the likes of which few franchises have ever seen before. It just isn’t long enough to reach the top 20. You could push them into the top 15 if you linked the Kardiac Kids squads to this run. Ultimately, though, the Browns just weren’t good enough on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis to get much higher. It’s the exceptional level of postseason pain that turns them from a forgettable team that wouldn’t even qualify into one that nearly hits the top 20.
— TodayInSports (@TodayInSportsCo) January 11, 2022
No. 22: 1974-1988 New England Patriots
Total Heartbreak Points: 590.0
Playoff Points: 209.0
Win-Loss Points: 232.3
DVOA Points: 148.8
Record: 123-101 (.549)
Playoff Record: 3-5 (one Super Bowl loss, three divisional losses, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 2.3%
Head Coaches: Chuck Fairbanks, Hank Bullough, Ron Erhardt, Ron Meyer, Raymond Berry
Key Players: QB Steve Grogan, RB Sam Cunningham, RB Tony Collins, WR Stanley Morgan, TE Russ Francis, OT Brian Holloway, OT Leon Gray, G John Hannah, G Sam Adams, C Bill Lenkaitis, C Pete Brock, DE Julius Adams, NT Ray Hamilton, LB Steve Nelson, LB Andre Tippett, CB Raymond Clayborn, CB Mike Haynes, S Roland James
One of the challenges in doing a project like this is balancing peak with longevity. Lean too far in one direction and we’d be bemoaning the poor fans of a one-and-done shock Super Bowl contender such as the 2017 Jaguars. Lean too far the other and a decade of 9-7 finishes becomes as bad as a Super Bowl loss. I think the balance here ends up being more or less right, but there are always going to be some exceptions right along the borderline. If I were doing this purely subjectively, I’d knock the 1970s and 1980s Patriots down a few pegs, or at least split them in twain. Because what we really have here are two different runs, superglued together by the strange 1982 strike season and expanded playoffs.
The late 1970s Patriots were the better team by far, generally finishing with double-digit estimated DVOA. Under Chuck Fairbanks, the Patriots drafted a golden age of players—the team’s first Hall of Famer in John Hannah, all-time leading rusher Sam Cunningham, receiver Darryl Stingley, and lineman Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton all were picked in 1973, and the next couple years’ drafts brought in significant contributors as well, capped off by quarterback Steve Grogan. With the labor unrest of the early 1970s over (remember that, it’ll come up again shortly) and Grogan set behind center, the Patriots put up their first winning season in the NFL in 1976.
In the playoffs, the Patriots had a 21-17 lead over the mighty Oakland Raiders late in the fourth quarter of their divisional-round matchup. But Hamilton was flagged for roughing the passer on a third-down sack of Ken Stabler, giving the Raiders new life and allowing them to score the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left. And remember, this was 1976—quarterbacks didn’t have anywhere near the same protections as they do today. Hamilton reached up and slapped Stabler in the head as they went to the ground. That’s a definite penalty in 2022 but hardly even worth noting in 1976, when if a quarterback could stand up after taking a shot, it probably was a legal hit.
The Fairbanks era would come to an end in 1978 as the coach feuded with the owning Sullivan family. Fairbanks sided with John Hannah and Leon Gray, who held out in 1977; the Sullivans kept the pocketbook closed and forced Fairbanks to renege on contracts he had promised his stars. And in 1978, Fairbanks had worked out a contract extension with Stingley leading up to a preseason game, but Stingley was paralyzed after a hit by Jack Tatum. The next week, the Sullivans responded by pulling Stingley’s new contract. Fairbanks was furious and vowed to leave the team after the year. The Pats were 11-4 and Super Bowl contenders, but the Sullivans suspended Fairbanks for the last game of the season because he had accepted a job at the University of Colorado for 1979. Fairbanks was back for the divisional-round game, but perhaps slightly distracted by all the drama, New England was upset by Earl Campbell and the Oilers.
That’s one nice, consistent run, and things might have ended there had the NFL been calm in the 1970s and 1980s. But there was significant labor strife all around this period. Fairbanks had taken advantage of a 1974 players’ strike to establish his defense with a bunch of non-union players; the Patriots players had gone on strike again in 1975 and cancelled a preseason game over the Sullivans’ hardball negotiating tactics; we could go on.
Things did not get better over the late 1970s, which led to the 1982 strike and the subsequent shortened season. That meant expanded playoffs, and the 1982 Patriots, despite being in the middle of a run of negative DVOA and coaching shuffling, managed to slip into the postseason on the back of the Snow Plow game, when the field crew illegally plowed a patch of field to allow New England to kick a game-winning field goal in a blizzard against the Dolphins. Had 1982 been a normal year, or if that snow plow not entered the field, then the 1970s Patriots would stand alone.
Instead, Mark Henderson plowed a connection between the 1970s teams and the Super Bowl team of 1985. About half of the points from this run come in the years when New England got shuffled over by the Bears in Super Bowl XX and beaten by a late John Elway touchdown in the divisional round in 1986. A solid team, for sure, with Raymond Berry (briefly) bringing back respect to the franchise after a half-decade of muddling around after Fairbanks left. The 1985 season ends up being the biggest point-scoring season of this run, as any Super Bowl loss hurts, even if it’s a 46-10 embarrassment. But Berry’s teams weren’t good enough for long enough to qualify for this list on their own, and Fairbanks’ teams would be down in the mid-40s if it weren’t for the Berry years. Instead, we Frankenstein them together and give the Patriots a higher spot than they deserve—but not the highest spot they’ll get. Stay tuned.
Kenny talks about the infamous 3-18 play
Sugar Bear Hamilton hits Stabler in the face with his forearm and a roughing the passer penalty is called.
The 🐍 scores on a 1 yard rush to give the #RaiderNation a 24-21 win.
Oakland is in the AFC Championship for the 7th time in 9 years pic.twitter.com/VKkU0zcoe1
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) February 9, 2020
No. 21: 2017-2021 New Orleans Saints
Total Heartbreak Points: 632.2
Playoff Points: 190.8
Win-Loss Points: 201.6
DVOA Points: 239.8
Record: 58-23 (.716)
Playoff Record: 3-4 (one NFCCG loss, two divisional losses, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 26.2%
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Key Players: QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, OT Ryan Ramczyk, OT Terron Armstead, G Andrus Peat, G Larry Warford, DE Cameron Jordan, CB Marshon Lattimore
Here is a list of every team in history to have four straight years with at least a 25.0% DVOA:
- The 1983-1989 San Francisco 49ers, who won three Super Bowls.
- The 1994-1997 San Francisco 49ers, who won one Super Bowl.
- The 2012-2015 Seattle Seahawks, who won one Super Bowl.
- The 2017-2020 New Orleans Saints, who never even reached a Super Bowl.
If you include estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1980, you can add on the 1950-1954 Cleveland Browns and the 1974-1977 Pittsburgh Steelers, while SRS-to-DVOA conversion adds the 1920-1923 Canton Bulldogs. All those teams won multiple titles as well. It’s hard to be 25% better than the league year-in and year-out. Even Lombardi’s Packers or Belichick’s Patriots had years when they were just good and not great. We have never seen a team like the Saints who have had so much regular-season success and so little to show for it in the postseason.
It’s also worth pointing out that three of the Saints’ postseason exits since 2017 have been particularly agonizing, which probably should earn some bonus kudos. The 2017 divisional round saw the Saints bounced by the Minneapolis Miracle, the first playoff game in NFL history to end on a game-winning touchdown as time expired. Saints fans can close their eyes and still see Marcus Williams whiffing the tackle, knocking Ken Crawley out of position, and leaving Stefon Diggs with 60 yards of daylight. Blowing a lead you had with 25 seconds left is painful enough, but doing it on a missed tackle on a play that will be in Vikings highlight reels forever hurts all the more.
And the Miracle was then immediately dwarfed by the No-Call the year afterwards. At least the Vikings won the divisional round on a great play. The Rams arguably won the 2018 NFC Championship Game on a blown call. The league admitted that yes, Nickell Robey-Coleman interfered with Tommylee Lewis with 1:49 remaining in regulation. That forced the Saints to kick the game-tying field goal early, leaving enough time on the clock for the Rams to tie the game back up, get an interception in overtime, and kick a field goal to go to the Super Bowl. I would point out that the Saints still kicked the go-ahead field goal after the missed pass interference call, and that all they had to do was get one defensive stop to win in regulation. Or that they did in fact get the ball first in overtime and could have ended things themselves had Drew Brees not thrown an interception to John Johnson. I’d point out either of these things, but I would like to return to New Orleans one day without stale beignets being thrown at my head, and so I’ll leave them be.
The Saints just remixed their previous two losses in 2019 by losing to the Vikings (again) in overtime (again), never touching the ball in the extra period and with a Wil Lutz missed field goal at the end of the first half that would have prevented overtime to begin with. By comparison, simply blowing a third-quarter lead against the Buccaneers in the 2020 divisional round seems downright quaint and trouble-free.
Can the Saints build on this run? They barely squeaked out 15.3 heartbreak points last year at 9-8 with a single-digit DVOA, and they’re clearly not the same team they were without Brees and now without Sean Payton. But our projections do like them this season, and you don’t have to have a great year to keep your run going, just a solid one. The future of this run probably would be a stat-padding tail to the four-year run of phenomenal DVOA, but who knows? Maybe Dennis Allen just really needed a second chance to show the world what he could do. Crazier things have happened.
Vikings fans will always have the memory of the Minneapolis Miracle 🙌pic.twitter.com/y7dfCDPyc2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 17, 2020
The Rankings So Far
The Saints take over the overall top spot, as well as the most DVOA-specific heartbreak points; you don’t have four straight seasons of 25% DVOA or more without getting your fair share of notoriety. But it’s not a clean sweep for New Orleans atop the leaderboard, far from it. Marty Schottenheimer’s Browns take over the lead for most playoff points earned, which is impressive considering they never made a Super Bowl and thus topped out at a maximum of 100 points per season for playoff pain, not the 200 you could theoretically get from the title match. Turns out, three straight AFC Championship Game losses, two bad enough to be named, leaves a permanent scar.
Technically, the Patriots take over the top spot in win-loss heartbreak points, but that’s a factor of two eras getting welded together by a snowplow. If you don’t like that, it’s the active Steelers reign that currently sits in pole position for most pain just from winning regular-season games. Take your pick.