The 2019 Los Angeles Chargers currently sit at 5-8 having amassed a point differential better than 3 potential playoff teams if the season ended today. Goal line fumbles, a last second end zone interception, and the worst pass interference call of the season has brought the Bolts to playoff elimination.
I will spare them from the following list, however, dear reader, let it be known that they were the inspiration for this article.
10. 2012 Detroit Lions (4-12)
Through week 12 this team was 4-7, losing all but 1 game by a touchdown or less including 2 overtime losses. The Lions outscored their opponents in 12 games – some quick math will tell you they were victorious in one third of those games.
Calvin Johnson set the single season receiving yards record at 1,964 while catching only 5 touchdowns. Legend has it he was tackled at the goal line 6 times that season.
9. 2008 New England Patriots (11-5)
I honestly hate to include the blessed Patriots on this cursed list, however, whenever a team finishes 11-5 and misses the playoffs they should be considered.
This was the only season of the last 16 wherein the Patriots failed to win the division. Matt Cassel was serviceable and deserved the contract he received after replacing an injured Tom Brady. Falling victim to the wildcat fad of ‘08, including a heart-breaking home OT loss to the Jets, the Patriots finished the season with over a +100 point differential.
8. 2003 Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
The Vikings, led by Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, started the season 6-0 and had the NFL buzzing about a future dynasty-in-the-making. Random turnovers, penalties, and horrible coaching decisions had this team finish 3-7, including a heartbreaking final defeat at the hands of the 4-12 Cardinals that gave the division to Green Bay.
7. 2010 Buffalo Bills (4-12)
The Bills were dealt the toughest schedule of any team on this list, and amazingly faced 9 teams who made the playoffs, with a combined record of 136-108.
Despite having a talented running back corps of Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and CJ Spiller, Buffalo only had 6 rushing TDs. Almost every contest was close, including 3 crushing overtime loses.
6. 2005 San Diego Chargers (9-7)
Drew Brees injured his shoulder on the final play of the season while scrambling to recover an inconsequential fumble, which would lead to his departure for greener pastures in New Orleans.
The Bolts beat the Super Bowl champion Patriots in Foxboro 41-17, and ended the Colts bid for perfection in week 15. Shame on this Chargers team for wasting 3 TD passes by LaDanian Tomlinson.
5. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
Even if a team is laughably bad, it still must suffer through a series of unfortunate events to finish with zero wins. In week 5, Detroit lost on a last second field goal to Minnesota and later in the season blew a fourth quarter lead to those same Vikings at home.
4. 2012 Chicago Bears (10-6)
Jay Cutler flat out lost this season for the Bears. The Bears D still finished with a staggering 44 turnovers and a +20 differential despite all of Cutler’s turnovers.
Arguably one of the most dominant teams of the decade, but ‘Smokin’ Jay’ went and ruined everything, and the Bears missed the playoffs.
3. 2017 Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
The year is 2017, and the Charger’s have a chance to turn over a new leaf. New city, new coach, maybe their luck might start to turn around. Or maybe not so much.
The Chargers find a new way to choke every year, and this year it was the kickers turn. They employed four different place kickers who made 66% of their attempts with each missing a fourth quarter field goal. The Buffalo Bills (-57 point differential) ended up with the final wildcard spot that year, edging out the Bolts (+83 point differential) despite losing their week 11 match up 54-24.
2. 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
This Bucs teams may have suffered through the worst Super Bowl hangover in the modern era. They lost 6 games in which they out-gained their opponents.
This team started the year with a shutout in Philly and played stellar defense all year long. They were on the wrong end of possibly the greatest comeback in NFL history, as Peyton Manning and the Colts rallied from a 35-14 deficit with 5 minutes left to win in overtime.
1. 2016 San Diego Chargers (5-11)
This team lost an NFL record 9 games by a TD or less, tying the Billy Joe Tolliver led Chargers team of 1989.
Full disclosure: the 1989 Chargers are the unluckiest team in NFL history, but alas, I have relegated myself to writing about this current century only to spare myself the research and the reopening of emotional childhood scars. There couldn’t be a sadder ending for the San Diego chapter of the Chargers franchise. The Bolts had comfortable leads in their first five losses, prompting The Wall Street Journal to calculate the odds of such a scenario at 0.0000034%. Rad.
I hope to add this year’s Chargers team to my next list this time next year.