Craig: There's a big loser ready to become an NFL winner

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2012 - 6:57 AM

Over the past 15 seasons, 45 teams have reached the playoffs after losing 10 or more times the previous season.


Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton

Photo: Brian Blanco, Associated Press

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MANKATO - In every season but two since 1978, the NFL has had at least one team reach the playoffs a year after losing 10 or more games.

That's a 31-for-33 stretch from 1979 through 2011. And, actually, it's more like 31-for-32 since teams played only nine games during the 1982 strike season.

"Really?" asked Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. "Wow."


Asked to guess how long it has been since there wasn't a playoff team with a double-digit loss total the year before, Winfield thought for a few seconds before saying, "I'd have to guess, ah, three years?"

Not exactly. Try 16 seasons. Yes, 1995 was that long ago.

"1995?" said Vikings rookie first-round draft pick Matt Kalil. "I was 6 years old and probably being baby-sat by someone."

Over the past 15 seasons, 45 teams have reached the playoffs after losing 10 or more times the previous season.

"How about teams that lost 13 times?" asked Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, whose team just happened to lose 13 times a year ago.

Good question. The Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 and division champs in 2008. The Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3 and division champs in 1999. And the Saints went from 3-13 to 10-6 and division champs in 2000 and 2006.

Super leap

Since 1995, teams with double- digit loss totals have reached nine conference championship games and three Super Bowls just a year later. The Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV a year after going 4-12. The Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI a year after going 5-11.

What does any of this mean? Well, it means the most dissected, scrutinized, overanalyzed and overhyped league in all of sports is likely to produce one, two or possibly three surprise teams that few, if any, among the thousands of expert analysts will have seen coming. And that's encouraging news for last year's teams that went 2-14 (Rams and Colts), 3-13 (Vikings), 4-12 (Buccaneers and Browns), 5-11 (Redskins and Jaguars) and 6-10 (Panthers, Bills and Dolphins).

"I think it means you just take the same approach year in and year out; go about it as if you're going to have a successful season that year," said Rick Spielman, Vikings general manager. "Everyone in that group you're talking about wonders if they can be that team that surprises everybody."

The Vikings play the Bills in each team's second preseason game on Friday night at Mall of America Field. We assume neither team will amount to much this season since they were a combined 9-23 while finishing last in their divisions a year ago. But we also soon forget what happened only months ago.

Five of last year's 12 playoff participants -- Bengals, Lions, Texans, Broncos and 49ers -- lost 10 or more games in 2010. The Bengals and Broncos went from worst to first in their divisions.

"Guessing and predicting is good for the fans and for the people, but I don't really care," Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson said. "You're talking to a kid who went from being a [projected] first- or second-round draft pick to being undrafted. So I really don't think there's a whole lot of good analyzing going on."

Anything's possible

Speaking of worst-to-first teams, there has been at least one of them in every season since the NFL realigned into eight divisions in 2002. The NFC South had one every season from 2003 to 2007. Heck, the Bucs went from worst to first in 2005, first to worst in 2006 and worst to first in 2007.

Things like this have been happening for more than 30 years. In 1980, the Bengals and 49ers both went 6-10. In 1981, they played each other in Super Bowl XVI.

Several Vikings players were asked this week to pick this year's surprise team among those that lost 10 or more games last season. They weren't allowed to pick the Vikings since that obviously would have been their choice.

The Panthers were the most popular pick.

"Why?" Greenway said when asked why he picked the Panthers. "Cam Newton. That's why."

Newton, last year's No. 1 overall pick, had the best statistical rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, a four-year veteran who led Tampa Bay to a 10-6 season in 2010, also was mentioned by those Vikings who picked Tampa Bay as the surprise team to watch.

Other Vikings seemed to be picking a name out of a hat.

"I'll go with Cleveland as the surprise team," receiver Jerome Simpson said. "Why? One of my buddies, Frostee Rucker, is there now. Why not?"

Hey, at this time of year, it might be as good a guess as any.

Mark Craig •

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San Francisco 0 Top 4th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington 1 3rd Prd 10:53
Buffalo 6
Carolina 2 3rd Prd 9:44
Columbus 4
Pittsburgh 1 3rd Prd
Detroit 0
Montreal 0 1st Prd :58
Chicago 0
Arizona 0 1st Prd 19:37
Edmonton 0
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
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2014 preseason     
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Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
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