Top Five Meltdowns En Route To The NFL Playoffs: A Brief History Of Futility

Ronald Martinez

History shows that after 11 NFL games, even a 9-2 record is no guarantee for a playoff spot. We look at some of the biggest meltdowns of the last 20 years in the stretch run for the playoffs, and wonder which 2012 NFC teams could miss out on the playoffs despite having a winning record after 11 games.

After 11 games played, not a single team in the NFL has officially clinched a playoff spot yet - although a couple of teams are pretty close.

Yesterday, we looked at some of the most unlikely playoff runs since the league moved to the current playoff format in 1992. We saw that since then, 15 teams with four or five wins after 11 games managed to claw their way into the playoffs. Today, we'll look at some of the biggest meltdowns down the stretch after 11 games, and we'll start it off by looking at the overall numbers:

Playoff chances based on W/L record after 11 games, 1992-2011
Record after 11 games 11-0 10-1 9-2 8-3 7-4 6-5
Total Teams 6 15 34 67 104 82
Teams making Playoffs 6 15 33 62 71 37
in % 100% 100% 97% 93% 68% 45%

Historically, less than half the teams at 6-5 ended up making the playoffs. Things get a little better at 7-4, but the chances of making the playoffs remain dicey. A record of 8-3 or better after 11 games has been a virtual guarantee for a playoff spot.

But for every rule, there are exceptions. So here's a look at some of the biggest meltdowns down the stretch.

5. The 1996 Redskins: Washington stormed out to a 7-1 record, made it to 8-3 by week 11 and then went on a 1-4 skid that saw them miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record. In that season, the Redskins gave up more than 100 yards rushing in 15 out of 16 games and led the league in rushing yards allowed. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA, the '96 Redskins, play-by-play, had the worst run defense of any team since 1991.

4. The 1995 Raiders: In their first season back in Oakland, the Raiders looked like strong playoff contenders as they marched to an 8-3 record after 11 games. In their eleventh game, against the Cowboys, Oakland QB Jeff Hostetler suffered a bruised left shoulder after taking a hit from Dallas defensive tackle Chad Hennings. That shoulder kept him out for most of the remaining season as the Raiders lost their final five games to finish 8-8.

3. The 7-4 Cowboys: In 2005, 2008 and 2011, the Cowboys stood at 7-4 after 11 games. At that point in '05 and '11 they had the lead in the NFC East; they were in second place in '08. But 2-3 finishes in '05 and '08 as well as a 1-4 finish last year saw them drop out of the playoff race. But the Cowboys are not the only team with multiple failed tries at 7-4. The Broncos (4 times), Jets (4), Redskins (3) and Dolphins (3) also have a shoddy record at 7-4.

2. The Year 2008: In 2008, an NFL-record five teams with 7 or more wins after 11 games failed to make the playoffs.

  • In the NFC East, the Cowboys and Redskins were both sitting at 7-4 behind the 10-1 Giants and were both looking good for a wildcard spot before ending the season 9-7 and 8-8 respectively and missing out on the playoffs.
  • The 8-3 Buccaneers led the NFC South before going on a 1-4 nosedive to end the season with a 9-7 record and winding up third in their division.
  • At 8-3, the New York Jets had a one-game lead over the Patriots and two-game lead over the 6-5 Dolphins. The Dolphins ended up winning their last five games and the division, while the Jets crumbled 1-4 down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
  • The Patriots, 7-4 after week eleven, finished with an 11-5 record and lost the division title to the 11-5 Miami Dolphins on the fourth divisional tiebreaker (better conference record: 8–4 to 7–5). This made the Patriots the first 11-win team since the 12-team playoffs were introduced in 1990 to not make the playoffs.

1. 1993 Dolphins: The 1993 Dolphins are the only team since 1992 to not make the playoffs despite a 9-2 record after 11 games. In Week 5 of 1993, the Dolphins lost QB Dan Marino for the season to a torn Achilles tendon. But they soldiered on with QB Scott Mitchell, who was named player of the month of October that year, before a Week 9 injury sidelined him as well. QB Steve DeBerg took over and on Thanksgiving 1993, the Dolphins beat the Cowboys to improve to 9-2, the best record in the NFL after 11 games. But it turned out to be their last win of the season, as they lost their final five games and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

There are a host of NFC teams with six or more wins today. Which ones do you think have the best chance of experiencing a meltdown in the coming weeks, and could one of those teams be the Giants?

2012 NFC Playoff Standings after 11 games
Team (Seed) Wins Losses Ties Position
Atlanta Falcons (1) 10 1 0 South Division Leader
San Francisco 49ers (2) 8 2 1 West Division Leader
Chicago Bears (3) 8 3 0 North Division Leader
New York Giants (4) 7 4 0 East Division Leader
Green Bay Packers (5) 7 4 0 Wild Card #1
Seattle Seahawks (6) 6 5 0 Wild Card #2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 5 0
Minnesota Vikings 6 5 0
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