Go ahead and name every 1-15 team in NFL history. There was that Cowboys team during Troy Aikman’s rookie year, and the Browns last year, maybe a Colts team before Peyton Manning …
Here’s the point: Nobody remembers the 1-15 teams through history. They win a game and we forget about them. But the two teams in the Super Bowl era who have played a full season and gone winless, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 2008 Detroit Lions, will live forever. In 20 years, they’ll still be making documentaries and writing long stories about those teams. There’s no bigger difference in the NFL than the one between zero wins and one win.
So all the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers have to do is win one. That might not be easy.
It’s hard to pick any team to lose seven or eight in a row. But the 49ers have lost nine in a row to start the season and the Browns have lost eight. Last season the 49ers were 2-14, with both wins against the Rams (what a difference a year and a competent coach makes, huh?), and the Browns were 1-15. It’s not like either team is some sleeping giant. And the schedules don’t have a lot of great opportunities. Let’s look at each team’s situation and their 0-16 chances.
49ers: They have only seven games left, and this week is their best shot to win. They get the 1-7 Giants at home. There are some other chances after this week, but nothing where you’d feel good picking them:
Week 10: vs. Giants
Week 11: bye
Week 12: vs. Seahawks (nope)
Week 13: at Bears (maybe, but the Bears have been competitive at home)
Week 14: at Texans (Houston did just lose to the Colts, so maybe?)
Week 15: vs. Titans (Tennessee hasn’t been very good, but doubt it)
Week 16: vs. Jaguars (not against that defense)
Week 17: at Rams (maybe if the Rams are resting everyone)
You’d think the 49ers win one of these games. The problem is, Kyle Shanahan obviously had the itch to go to his pet project C.J. Beathard at quarterback, and it has been a big step down from Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer was cut last week, and the 49ers lost their third straight game by double-digits with Beathard starting. Sunday’s double-digit loss came to a Drew Stanton-led Cardinals team at home. You’d think Jimmy Garoppolo gets a shot soon, but this talk of him sitting the rest of the season is confusing. I still refuse to believe Shanahan will take an 0-16 on his resume with Beathard starting every game.
But the 49ers seem to have a better shot to win than …
Browns: Uh, oh. OK folks, pick a win:
Week 10: at Lions (can’t see it)
Week 11: vs. Jaguars (again, not against that defense)
Week 12: at Bengals (Cincy isn’t good, but they’re not this bad)
Week 13: at Chargers (nope, especially after the Browns upset the Chargers last year)
Week 14: vs. Packers (even with Brett Hundley, I don’t think so)
Week 15: vs. Ravens (maybe, just because Baltimore’s offense is that bad)
Week 16: at Bears (tough to pick the Browns on the road against anyone)
Week 17: at Steelers (perhaps if the Steelers have nothing to play for)
Because the odds are against any NFL team losing eight in a row, you’d think Cleveland wins one. Maybe the Browns will get just one, but that saves them from infamy. However, you wouldn’t pick the Browns in any one of these games. Perhaps there’s some optimism for a win because the Browns have been competitive a few times, notably against the Jets and Titans, but unless the offense gets a lot better, they’ll need to catch a fluky win. It could happen, but there has to be some concern, especially considering their next four games look daunting.
(By the way, the 1-15 teams in NFL history: 1980 Saints, 1989 Cowboys, 1990 Patriots, 1991 Colts, 1996 Jets, 2000 Chargers, 2001 Panthers, 2007 Dolphins, 2009 Rams, 2016 Browns.)
We’ll assume the 49ers or Browns win a game this season. The 49ers, who had a five-game stretch of losses by 13 total points, seem to be a decent bet to get a win. The Browns’ situation looks worse, but they still have eight bites at the apple. You have to figure one comes through.
If nothing else it will be an interesting race to get the No. 1 pick of the draft. Each team would love to get that first pick, just not at the expense of being remembered forever for 0-16.
Here are the power rankings following Week 9 of the NFL season:
32. Cleveland Browns (0-8, Last week: 32)
Given all of Josh Gordon’s issues, it would be a great story if he resurrected his career. The talent is there. The opportunity is too, because the Browns could use him. Here’s hoping.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-9, LW: 31)
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the 49ers might not sign Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal, but instead franchise tag him and trade him. Presumably they could get at least a second-round pick back, which is what they gave to the Patriots. Then the speculation turned to Kirk Cousins. Maybe the 49ers sign Cousins and trade Garoppolo. Maybe the trade will be tagged Garoppolo for tagged Cousins.
This all sounds like the 49ers trying to gain contract leverage because the team has none at the moment, but perhaps there’s something to it. Garoppolo is three years younger and would command a much cheaper deal than Cousins (Cousins has 85 career touchdowns, Garoppolo has 94 career passes), so I’m not sure why a rebuilding team would prefer Cousins. But it’s well documented that the 49ers are infatuated with Cousins. Maybe this ends up as we all figure and Garoppolo signs a long-term deal. Perhaps when we see the master plan unfold we give the 49ers credit for buying low on Garoppolo and flipping him for even more in a few months. It’s certainly an interesting situation.
30. New York Giants (1-7, LW: 29)
Ben McAdoo clarified on Monday that Eli Manning is still his quarterback. That’s no surprise. McAdoo knows that playing out the rest of the season with Geno Smith or Davis Webb pretty much ensures the Giants get even worse and McAdoo will be fired earlier rather than later. But it’s what will come after the season with Manning that will be interesting.
28. Houston Texans (3-5, LW: 12)
A week ago, even with a losing record and deficiencies on defense, I had the Texans No. 12. Now, after Deshaun Watson’s injury, I’m not sure they win more than a game or two the rest of the season, and maybe not even that. I can’t believe a rookie quarterback could ever be so valuable, but here we are. The good news is the Texans will probably be so bad the rest of the way they can add a blue-chip prospect with an early draft pick.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-6, LW: 30)
The fact that the Colts have three wins places a harsher spotlight on the 49ers and Browns. The Colts’ roster probably isn’t better than either one of those winless teams’ rosters, but they’ve still found some wins.
26. Chicago Bears (3-5, LW: 25)
The Bears have a fairly favorable schedule the rest of the way, including home games against the aforementioned 49ers and Browns. They’re not good enough to get into the playoff race, but they should end with a record that engenders more optimism heading into next season.
25. Green Bay Packers (4-4, LW: 22)
If you’ve been one of those folks who has wondered if Mike McCarthy has been elevated by Aaron Rodgers, the lack of any offensive ingenuity to get something going with Brett Hundley is some evidence in your favor.
24. Miami Dolphins (4-4, LW: 24)
It was odd to see two teams trade high-level offensive starters when they had winning records. The Dolphins dealt Jay Ajayi and the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin last week. There were reasons for each move, but it was still startling. Maybe the Dolphins realized they were much worse than their 4-3 record at the time would indicate.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5, LW: 23)
The Bengals avoided an A.J. Green suspension, which is huge for them. It would also be nice if top-10 pick John Ross showed up. He was a healthy scratch Sunday. He has one touch this season, on a 12-yard run, and he fumbled. It’s not like the Bengals have so many offensive stars that Ross can’t get on the field. It’s concerning.
22. Denver Broncos (3-5, LW: 20)
The Broncos are turning back to Brock Osweiler at quarterback this week, and that’s not surprising. What is surprising is coach Vance Joseph’s explanation: “It felt good to our team — it was a confident week and the energy was better. It was urgent, it was detailed and the meetings were better. Brock’s experience and Brock’s personality really helped our team bounce back and gave us confidence going into this week. I think Brock’s earned it from that standpoint.” The Broncos lost 51-23 on Sunday and looked horrendous, the worst they’ve looked for a few seasons. I suppose Joseph is trying to keep everything positive during a bad streak, but talking about how Osweiler helped preparation and urgency before an embarrassing loss is not going to play well with an angry fan base.
21. Arizona Cardinals (4-4, LW: 27)
It’s amazing the Cardinals are at .500. How many carries can 32-year-old Adrian Peterson handle on Thursday, considering he got 37 in the win over the 49ers?
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5, LW: 19)
The Titans never held more than a 10-point lead. Still, the Ravens threw 52 times compared to 21 handoffs to backs. Falling into a pass-heavy approach despite being a bad passing team is a weird and recurring bad habit. The Ravens have somehow led the NFL in passing attempts each of the past two seasons. I’m not sure why they believe that’s their best plan.
18. Oakland Raiders (4-5, LW: 21)
Amari Cooper seemed to turn a corner with a 210-yard game against the Chiefs. In the two games since then he had 48 and 58 yards. His quiet season is baffling. The 210-yard game has to rule out a nagging injury, right?
17. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5, LW: 17)
The Chargers, surprisingly enough, are only two-and-a-half games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West despite an 0-4 start. The schedule is tough so they’ll need to pull some upsets (and obviously beat the Chiefs in Kansas City). That probably starts Sunday at Jacksonville.
16. Tennessee Titans (5-3, LW: 18)
Rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who has looked electric on punt returns, got an offensive snap on Sunday. He took a misdirection handoff and looked very fast on a 20-yard run. The Titans might want to explore that bag of tricks a little more.
15. Detroit Lions (4-4, LW: 16)
Matthew Stafford is playing well, and the Lions are in good shape because of a truly soft second-half schedule. But the issues near the goal line are perplexing, and not going away.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-3, LW: 11)
A loss to the Jets isn’t ideal, but it’s not the worst thing. It’s not like there are a ton of scary wild-card contenders in the AFC. The next four games — vs. Saints, at Chargers, at Chiefs, vs. Patriots — will tell us if the Bills are finally going back to the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3, LW: 15)
The Jaguars are allowing 156.4 passing yards per game. No other team has allowed fewer than 180 per game. This defense is special and while there are offensive issues, they could create some real problem for a playoff opponent. This is the best team in the division and also had the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL heading into Week 9, according to Football Outsiders.
12. Washington Redskins (4-4, LW: 14)
One of the best stories in the NFL has been Vernon Davis. In the second half of the 2015 season with Denver, Davis looked done at age 31. He had a solid season last year and this season he’s averaging 16.7 yards per catch on 23 catches, the best among tight ends. It makes the strange disappearance of Jordan Reed (7.8 yards per catch, dealing with another injury) easier to swallow.
11. Atlanta Falcons (4-4, LW: 9)
I still can’t believe that Julio Jones drop. We might look back on that play changing the entire playoff picture in the NFC.
10. Carolina Panthers (6-3, LW: 10)
It’s rare to see an NFL game anymore in which a team has only three players catch a pass. Yet, that’s what happened with the Panthers, as Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel accounted for all 13 receptions from Cam Newton. The first game without Kelvin Benjamin produced only 137 passing yards and I’m still not entirely sure that trade made sense, but they got a big win over the Falcons without him.
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-2, LW: 8)
I’m surprised how often people have either discussed the possibility of Teddy Bridgewater starting or confirming that Case Keenum will start. This is really a debate? Keenum hasn’t been bad. Bridgewater hasn’t played since he hurt his knee in August of 2016 and we have no idea if that injury has had any long-term effect. It’s great that Bridgewater is apparently healthy enough to be the backup as soon as this week, and it’s a great story, but any notion that he can or should step into the starting job is weird.
8. Dallas Cowboys (5-3, LW: 13)
It looked like the Cowboys were in for a disappointing follow-up to last season, then they took off the past three games. If it was guaranteed Ezekiel Elliott would be on the field all season this might be the NFC’s best team (Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali said the Cowboys were the best team in the league, and the Chiefs have faced the Eagles already), but we all know the Elliott situation isn’t resolved.
7. Seattle Seahawks (5-3, LW: 5)
Russell Wilson is an incredible talent, but the downside of playing such an extreme improvisational style — which is necessary behind a bad line — is that sometimes it looks really ugly. The Seahawks offense was bad most of the game Sunday, with Wilson often running for his life and finding nothing happening downfield, and they took a home loss that might eventually be a big problem with the Rams surging.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3, LW: 2)
The Chiefs are still a contender. None of their losses individually were that bad. They’re still the favorite in the AFC West. The problem is losing three of four has put them in a bad spot because the Steelers and Patriots are starting to cruise, as we’ll talk about in a moment.
5. Los Angeles Rams (6-2, LW: 7)
The Rams are for real. Say whatever you will about the Giants, but it’s hard to go on the road and beat any NFL team 51-17. Lost in the gushing over Jared Goff, which is justified, the Rams’ defense has allowed 16, 17, 0 and 17 points the last four games. You knew Wade Phillips would get that unit going.
4. New Orleans Saints (6-2, LW: 6)
Who would have thought Saints at Rams on Nov. 26 would be a possible NFC championship game preview? The Saints probably suffer from a perception issue because a lot of their wins are against bottom-half NFL teams, but they’re good. The defensive improvement is the biggest reason but the emergence of Alvin Kamara as a true difference maker has been fun too.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, LW: 4)
The Steelers are up three games in the loss column on the second-place Ravens. It’s the biggest lead for any division leader. Given how bad the Ravens and Bengals are on offense, the Steelers can start making plans for a home playoff game right now.
2. New England Patriots (6-2, LW: 3)
The Patriots benefit in a big way by the Chiefs losing three times in four games. Due to that season-opening game, the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker over the Patriots. Now the Patriots lead Kansas City in the AFC standings and the Patriots have five very winnable games (at Broncos, vs. Raiders, vs. Dolphins, at Bills, at Dolphins) before a big showdown at the Steelers on Dec. 17. And, in case you were wondering, the Patriots finish with home games against the Bills and Jets. A 14-2 season isn’t out of the question. It seems like a foregone conclusion they’ll be No. 1 on this list before December and might not give that spot up.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1, LW: 1)
They put up 51 points without Zach Ertz, who has been their most reliable receiver. Against a Broncos defense that is still among the best in the NFL. They’re deep on offense, especially with Alshon Jeffery heating up and Jay Ajayi in the mix. The Eagles have a bye week and then a fun Sunday night matchup at Dallas on Nov. 19. Win that and they’re running downhill to a division title.
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