Roundtable: Who has been the NFL’s unluckiest team this season?
The NFL has had no shortage of bad teams this year—just 11 enter Week 15 above .500, and multiple division races could be reduced to a scenario in which the first team to reach eight wins lands the No. 4 seed in its conference’s playoff bracket. But while some teams expected to be floundering by December and others earned their poor records by their own ill-advised decisions, a select few teams don’t deserve the lot they drew in 2015.
Who’s the unluckiest team in the NFL right now? In this week’s roundtable, our writers and editors lay out their cases, and although the consensus rests with a team picked by some on staff to win the Super Bowl this season, there is plenty of room for debate.
Don Banks: Ravens. Don’t even begin to try and stack up any other team’s tale of woes next to Baltimore’s in 2015. It’s laughable to even suggest. The Ravens were the epicenter of NFL misfortune this year. For starters, their first 13 games were all by decided by eight points or less, with the combined margin of defeat in eight of their nine losses being a lousy 34 points, or just 4.3 per game. Baltimore has let a bevy of leads get away in the game’s final minutes this season, and who can forget that all-timer of a loss in Week 10 at home against Jacksonville, when the Jaguars won 22–20 thanks to a 53-yard Jason Myers field goal on an untimed play at the end of the game?
The NFL later acknowledged that Myers’s kick, and the 15-yard Elvis Dumervil facemask penalty that preceded it on the previous snap, should never have happened because Jacksonville should have been penalized for a false start on the game’s final play, resulting in a 10-second clock run-off and a 20–19 Ravens win. Sorry about that, Baltimore.
And then there were the injuries, a veritable plague of losses that kept mounting for John Harbaugh’s snake-bit team all season long. The Ravens have roughly $55 million of 2015 salary on their IR list, and the litany of ills have subtracted the likes of Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith, Justin Forsett, Jeremy Zuttah, Breshad Perriman, Matt Elam, Eugene Monroe, Chris Canty and Joe Flacco from the lineup. There’s only so much next-man-upping a franchise can do in one ill-fated season, which is how you wind up with Jimmy Clausen as the starting quarterback on your 4–9 third-place team.
And to think the Ravens were convinced their 2014 season—played out amid the backdrop of the disturbing Ray Rice saga—was their singular year of challenges.
Eric Single: Browns. Give Baltimore all the credit in the world for painstakingly crafting the most complete case for this honor week after week. But in my view, the Ravens sabotaged their own cause in Week 12, when they stunned the Browns (and everyone else) on Will Hill’s game-winning blocked field goal return as time expired.
Need more evidence? Cleveland lost its starting quarterback to a concussion on its first drive of its first game of the season when Josh McCown got plastered by two Jets defenders while leaping for the goal line on a 13-yard scramble and fumbled the ball out of the end zone. That turnover ended a 17-play, 90-yard drive that took up 9:59 of game clock and set a new standard for inauspicious beginnings.
And speaking of fumbles, the Browns have lost four more than any other team through 14 weeks. A so-sad-it’s-impressive 16 of the 23 footballs they put on the ground ended up in the hands of the other team. Only eight other teams have lost more than half of their fumbles this season, and no one is even within striking range of Cleveland’s 69.5% clip.
The Ravens are just renting property at the bottom of the AFC North; the Browns are the kindly retirees who paid off the mortgage on their house down there years ago.
Chris Burke: Ravens. It has to be the Ravens. All the injuries, all the close losses ... They’re a few plays here and there from being a 10-win team. (Granted, they’re a few plays the other direction from being 0–13 right now, but still.)
Baltimore has 16 players on injured reserve right now, including its 2015 first-round pick (Perriman), top receiver (Smith), starting running back (Forsett), defensive leader (Suggs) and multiple first-teamers at other positions. Break down any “unlucky” loss enough and there usually are self-inflicted mistakes pointing to the outcome. Injuries are almost completely random. The Ravens haven’t had much of a chance this season.
Andrew Perloff: Ravens. The Ravens were right there with the eventual champion Patriots in the AFC playoffs last season. Even though they lost receiver Torrey Smith and defensive linemen Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata in free agency, Baltimore has been so good at reloading that it didn’t seem like a problem. The string of bad luck began when Suggs tore his Achilles in Week 1. The Ravens made sense as a Super Bowl pick, but no team, no matter how deep, can stay competitive with that kind of attrition.
Bette Marston: Chargers. When it comes to teams plagued by unlucky injuries, no one can compete with San Diego this season. A solid team on paper at the start of the season, San Diego has fallen to a 3–10 record with their team nowhere near full strength. They don’t have the most players on injured reserve, but they are certainly scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to replacements.
The Chargers’ most unlucky stretch was arguably during Weeks 8 and 9, when they put four players on injured reserve. Let’s recap: In Week 8, a loss to the Ravens (who seem to be the popular consensus in this category…), an unheard-of 12 San Diego players exited with injuries, including top receiver Keenan Allen, who was ultimately placed on IR with a lacerated kidney. The following week, Allen’s replacement Malcom Floyd exited with a shoulder injury against the Bears on Monday Night Football. The cherry on top of that MNF game: cornerback Jason Verrett, who was doing a spectacular job of shutting down Alshon Jeffery, stepped in front of the Bears receiver for a pick-six to put his team up 13–0 with 10:11 remaining in the second quarter. But shortly after, he left with a groin injury, and Jeffery went on to finish with 10 catches for 151 yards. By the end of that game, the Chargers had only 11 projected starters from the beginning of the season still on the field.
On top of that, they’ve been battling relocation talk all season. How’s that for unlucky?
Greg Bedard: Ravens. Without a doubt, it’s the Ravens. Not only do they have 20 players on injured reserve, but the injury bug hit them early and often when Perriman got hurt in training camp and never saw the field, Elam didn’t make it to Week 1 and DE Brent Urban had to be designated for return. Monroe got hurt in the first game and missed the next three. Suggs went on IR after the first game. By the end of the season the Ravens had placed on IR starters at the following positions: QB, RB, WR, TE, slot WR, LT, C and two DEs. It’s Baltimore in a landslide.