The Battle for Ineptitude: The 2009 NFL Season

In the past ten years, so the saying goes, the NFL has seen a vast increase in parity. Popular belief holds that every team has a chance to win any given week, in part thanks to free agency, the salary cap, and the league’s ability to draw from a vast pool of talent and athleticism. However, this season there seems to be a wealth of teams that are either excellent (New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Denver, New York, Pittsburgh, New England) or abysmal (St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit). This gulf was best demonstrated in New England’s 59-0 drubbing of Tennessee Oct. 18. With so many bad teams, let’s take a look at the worst of the worst, and determine who is most likely to remain winless the longest. Is it possible that any of these teams will manage to make the 0-16 Detroit Lions of 2008 look less historically awful?

Watching the shocking fall from grace for the Tennessee Titans has been reminiscent of yet another Hollywood starlet going over the deep end ( la Lindsay Lohan). Last year, Tennessee finished 13-3 and was riding high with home field advantage throughout the playoffs (think Lohan after Mean Girls). The Titans were on the cover of every magazine, and everyone was talking about how cute and perky this upstart team was. Now, after losing seven consecutive meaningful games, the Titans have completed the equivalent of Lohan’s three-year coke binge in a startling nine months. The spectacular collapse was further punctuated by head coach Jeff Fisher’s actions after the 59-0 loss. Fisher wore the jersey of the division-rival Colts’ star quarterback Peyton Manning to a charity event last week because he “wanted to feel like a winner.”

What precipitated this decline? The team has certainly suffered from a tough schedule, the loss of Pro Bowl nose tackle Albert Haynesworth to Washington, and the subsequent collapse of the excellent defense that keyed last year’s success. This monumental decline is still puzzling, however, because the Titans still managed to bring back the majority of their top-five ranked defense without any major personnel changes (besides Haynesworth, but was he really worth five or six wins?). Thus, the most logical reason for the team’s collapse seems to be Tennessee’s blatant disrespect for Pittsburgh’s Terrible Towel during its top-seed-clinching win against the Steelers last December. Running back LenDale White and linebacker Keith Bulluck both stomped on the Steelers’ iconic yellow symbol, drawing the ire of Pittsburgh fans and the reproach of superstitious players. If the curse of the Terrible Towel can keep the Titans without a win until Week 14, we could have one of the most exciting match-ups possible when the Rams visit Tennessee.

Speaking of the Rams, the St. Louis Rams (also winless this season) and the Titans are currently engaged in a heated battle for the title of “worst team in the NFL,” with the Rams being outscored by just one point more than the Titans through six weeks. The Titans got a leg up in this race last week thanks to a bye because, hey, you can’t get outscored if you don’t play. Some fun Rams stats from a depressing season: Through five weeks the Rams had scored 34 points for an anemic 6.8 points per game. St. Louis has already been shut out twice this season, something that didn’t happen once to Detroit’s winless wonders last year. The Rams even lost to the Washington Redskins, who really deserve an article devoted to their own poor performance after starting the season 2-4 despite playing six straight winless teams.

As a Rams fan, I can assure you that this team is only rivaled by Detroit in terms of ineptitude in recent years. I have grown accustomed to prolonged winless starts, followed by an eventual upset victory in the second half of the year that saves the Rams from being completely embarrassed. St. Louis still has chances to win, with games against Detroit and Tennessee still on the slate. However, there are truly no signs of life in the team’s first year under new coach Steve Spagnuolo. I’m a Rams fan, and even I couldn’t name two players on their defense.

By point differential, the best of the winless teams, Tampa Bay, is still in a sorry state of affairs. The nondescript Josh Johnson is the team’s starting quarterback. The stout defense that had been the team’s calling card for years is surrendering 28 points a game. What really separates Tampa Bay from the other two winless teams, though, is its remaining schedule. Every team the Bucs play from here on out already has at least two wins, making it feasible for them to lose out the rest of the season. However, since they still have one more game against Carolina, the Bucs could get one victory if they manage to convert a few pick-sixes off of the shockingly bad Jake Delhomme.

So, which team will be the last to put one up in the wins column? This week, Tennessee and St. Louis both have very winnable match-ups against Jacksonville and Detroit, respectively. Meanwhile, after a bye this week, Tampa Bay will play tough games against Green Bay and at Miami. However, when it comes to the team that is most likely to end the season winless, it has to be the Rams. St. Louis somehow still has a point differential worse than that of the Titans, who lost by 59 points two weeks ago. And when your average margin of defeat is larger than the average number of points your teams scores, it might be worth giving up. The Rams may very well go 0-16, but on the plus side, at least we know that the Rams and Titans can’t both lose every game.

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