What does it take to make this list? We tried to strike the right balance between listless blowouts and closely contested slopfests.
Earlier this week, we highlighted the 10 best games of the 2015 season, the shining examples of how entertaining and compelling football at its highest level can be. Of course, there was more than enough bad football this year to balance it all out. Below, we rank the 10 worst games of the season, a group that stretches from Week 2 to the playoffs, with games played on the West Coast and on another continent, including the previous year’s Super Bowl champion and its worst team.
What does it take to make this list? We tried to strike the right balance between listless blowouts and closely contested slopfests. No game is played in a vacuum, so any off-field storylines that sucked the entertainment out of a promising game were also taken into consideration. And it doesn’t hurt to have Brandon Weeden or Matt Schaub involved.
10. Week 5: Patriots 30, Cowboys 6
This matchup was an easy bet to get national exposure when the schedule came out in April, but it grew less appetizing by the month as the summer wore on. First it was slated to be the final week of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, then it became Greg Hardy’s first game back from his suspension and then it became Brandon Weeden’s second start of the season after Tony Romo injured his collarbone in Week 2. Hardy’s graceless return to the lineup dominated the news cycle that week, and the Patriots dominated the game itself, holding the Cowboys to no touchdowns for the first time in Dallas’s last 66 games.
9. Week 5: Seahawks 13, Lions 10
On the long list of games this season affected by poor officiating, this one stands apart from the countless instances of catch rule uncertainty and toss-up pass interference rulings.
The game’s pivotal play, Kam Chancellor’s desperation strip of Calvin Johnson with the Lions’ star wideout just inches away from the go-ahead touchdown, was marred by the shot of the back judge looking on as linebacker K.J. Wright gently—and illegally, as most of the national TV audience learned for the first time minutes after the final whistle—tapping the ball out the back of the end zone. Most viewers and fans can live with the occasional tough-luck judgment call, but a blatant omission on Monday Night Football stings a little more.
8. Week 10: Bucs 10, Cowboys 6
There are MLB games with higher scores than this snoozer. Jameis Winston was the only player to reach the end zone his go-ahead touchdown run with 54 seconds left in the game. For the third time this season, the Cowboys didn’t score an offensive touchdown.
But the real issue here? Greg Hardy was again involved in a sideline incident with another teammate. The Cowboys season was all but lost here.
7. Week 12: Lions 45, Eagles 14
The opening game of this year’s Thanksgiving tripleheader did nothing to distract from the awkward conversations in living rooms and kitchens across the nation. The Eagles went completely belly-up against the Lions: The defense gave up 45 points for a second straight week as Matthew Stafford tied a career-high with five touchdowns, the run game completely stalled and backup quarterback Mark Sanchez, in for the injured Sam Bradford, couldn’t find any rhythm with his receivers. This loss ramped up the calls for Chip Kelly’s firing at that point in the season.
6. Week 3: Seahawks 26, Bears 0
With both Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery sidelined with injuries, the Bears tossed backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen to the lions at CenturyLink Field, resulting in the most predictable outcome of the 2015 season: Chicago managed 146 total yards and just seven first downs, and all 10 of its possessions ended in punts.
Seattle’s special teams did what it could to salvage this one: Richard Sherman scampered for 64 yards on a misdirection punt return (the ensuing drive, of course, ended in merely a field goal), and rookie Tyler Lockett took the second-half kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. But the Seahawks struggled on offense in their own right, taking a meager 6–0 lead into halftime in front of a Seattle crowd that came to see carnage.
5. Wild-card round: Chiefs 30, Texans 0
True story: This was an actual playoff game in 2016. No one wanted to win the pitiful AFC South this season, and riding on the back of their defense, the Texans backed into that No. 4 seed. But the Chiefs, riding a 10-game winning streak, exposed the flaws in the NFL’s playoff system and dismantled Houston from top to bottom. Texans QB Brian Hoyer turned the ball over five times, and Charcandrick West put the game out of reach 11 seconds in by returning the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown. On a wild-card weekend filled with thrilling finishes and close games, this matchup was completely forgotten.
4. All three London games
The novelty of an early-morning football game in a different country lasts only as long as you can prove that the product is up to NFL standards. Miami showed Joe Philbin the door after their no-show in a 27–14 loss to the Jets, making it two years in a row that a head coach was fired after a loss overseas. The Lions nearly followed suit after a 45–10 blowout at the hands of the Chiefs, ultimately sparing Jim Caldwell but canning their GM and team president once they were back stateside. Only the Bills and Jaguars came through with a competitive game at Wembley Stadium—sure, Jacksonville choked away a 24-point second-quarter lead to make it interesting before squeaking out a 34–31 win, but let’s not get hung up on details.
3. Week 2: Cowboys 20, Eagles 10
Because it was only Week 2, we couldn’t have known how sideways the 2015 season would go for both of these supposed NFC East contenders, but Tony Romo’s broken collarbone and the Eagles’ nightmare afternoon on offense provided a pretty good glimpse of what was to come. Philadelphia’s rushing output in its home opener belongs in a museum: 17 carries for seven yards, headlined by ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray’s 13 carries for two yards. This late-window, nationally televised game didn’t have an offensive touchdown until just under five minutes to play, when Brandon Weeden connected with Terrance Williams on a slant that went for 42 yards to make it a three-possession game.
2. Week 12: Ravens 33, Browns 27
On paper, this late-season Monday Night Football game had all of the makings of a forgettable matchup between two bad teams: a combined 5–15 record, backup quarterbacks starting on both sides, injuries wreaking havoc across both lineups. And while neither team did much to try and exceed that low bar (Baltimore QB Matt Schaub threw two interceptions, one of which went the other way for six), nothing could top the Browns letting a shot at victory blow up in their faces.
Cleveland’s Travis Coons lined up to attempt a 51-yard field goal to break the tie and avoid overtime, but Ravens DE Brent Urban got a hand on the ball, and Will Hill scooped it up and returned it for the winning touchdown, handing Cleveland its sixth straight loss, the longest losing streak in the league at the time. Ever heard of anything more Browns? Neither have I.
1. Week 3: Steelers 12, Rams 6
The Edward Jones Dome turf catching fire during pregame introductions certainly didn’t do anything to spark either team in this matchup. Todd Gurley only managed nine yards rushing on six attempts in his NFL debut, and Nick Foles was held to just 197 passing yards and no touchdowns. An additional pitfall of this game: Michael Vick had to steer the Steelers into harbor after Ben Roethlisberger was carted off with a knee injury.