by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Every once in a while, pro football fans get intrigued by oddball occurrences. Such as Denver’s near-record 26½-point spread against Jacksonville a few weeks ago. Interestingly, such ignominious accomplishments like those of the Jags are almost as apt to capture the imagination of the audience as do examples of excellence.

And for those sorts drawn to hopeless situations like the ones in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, the second half of the 2013 NFL season is going to provide some entertainment. Especially in the case of the lowly Jaguars, the team most believe has the best chance of a wrong-way run that could put them in the record books alongside some of the all-time worst pro football entries. (Most NFL insiders suspect that the Bucs, with several near-misses, including last week at Seattle, will break their winless streak sometime before the end of the season; not so with Jacksonville).

Handicapping-wise, it is definitely worth mentioning such enduring examples of infamy, as both Jacksonville and Tampa Bay have also been providing awful pointspread value, covering the number just three times in their first sixteen combined games.

But it’s Jacksonville, and its chances to join the all-time pantheon of the inept alongside the two other modern-day winless sides, the expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs and the 2008 Detroit Lions, that appears more ready to be mentioned among the worst sides in pro football history.

Seldom have we seen a marriage of offensive and defensive ineptitude as being displayed by the current Jacksonville edition, which some observers mistakenly believe only has to solve its enduring Chad Henne-or-Blaine Gabbert QB dilemma to get competitive. But that’s only part of the problem at EverBank Field; the “D” is also a mess, allowing at least 34 points in all but one of its last six games. Moreover, only Denver has scored more points that the Jags have allowed in 2013. Jacksonville is conceding nearly 5 yards per rush and has recorded only 11 sacks, the latter stat continuing a disturbing trend that reared its ugly head in 2012 and was not properly addressed in the offseason.

How bad has it been for Jacksonville? Consider that the loss margin of the winless 2008 Lions was 15.6 ppg; for the winless 1976 Bucs it was 20.5 ppg. But to this point in 2013, the Jags are losing by a whopping 21 ppg! Moreover, the 2008 Lions and 1976 Bucs at least had a few close calls along the way; in one four-game stretch in the 2008 season, Detroit lost games by a combined 21 points. And even the 1976 expansion Bucs played foes within three (twice) and five points. By comparison, at the halfway point of this season, Jacksonville has not been within single digits of anybody. Interestingly, the Jags’ best effort might have been in that aforementioned monster pointspread game against the Broncos, when Jacksonville still had a look at the game deep into the third quarter when it cut the Denver lead to 21-19. In the end, the 35-19 scoreline almost seemed like a moral victory for the Jags, but it was still a double-digit defeat, like every other result thus far on the Jacksonville schedule.

Now things might be getting even worse for the Jags with news that top wideout Justin Blackmon, who sat out a four-game suspension at the start fo the season but provided some spark to the offense upon his return, snaring 29 passes in his first four games of active duty, has been suspended again, this time for the remainder of the season. Promising first-round OT Luke Joeckel was also lost for the rest of the campaign in early October when breaking his ankle in a game at St. Louis. Thus far, Jacksonville has been able to keep star RB Maurice Jones-Drew, bothered by various injuries in recent years, on the field, but if MJD should go down, the Jags’ chances to get an elusive win would decrease even further.

Is there a silver lining in here somewhere for Jacksonville? Well, entering this past weekend, only one of the Jags’ remaining six opponents (AFC South rivals Tennessee and Houston to be played twice in the final eight games) sported a winning record. And history has provided us with many examples of weakling teams summoning enough energy and resolve to escape the clutches of a winless season at the last moment.

But to put the Jags’ predicament in perspective, we thought we would recall some of the other “worst” teams in NFL history as we ponder whether Jacksonville (or, who knows, maybe even Tampa Bay) will join this collection of noteworthy pro football misfit teams since we began publishing TGS in 1957.

2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)...The new gold standard for futility, technically eclipsing the 0-14 Bucs of 1976 because a longer schedule provided two more chances for defeat. As mentioned, the Lions were competitive in several games and close to a handful of wins. Injuries proved problematic, KOing starting QB Jon Kitna after the first month, with the position cycling trough Dan Orlovsky and eventually Daunte Culpepper, pulled off of the scrap heap for one more NFL shot. Although we still don’t think HC Rod Marinelli’s troops were the worst pro football team we’ve ever seen, or even close to it; they just couldn’t win a game.

1976 Tampa Bay Bucs (0-14)...John McKay’s Bucs had a legit excuse of being an expansion team, but the product was unsightly nonetheless. Tampa Bay was blanked five times in its debut season en route to scoring just 8.9 ppg, putting a league-high 17 players on IR in the process. The QB for most of the season was none other than Steve Spurrier, who should have thanked McKay for waving him after the season and indirectly beginning a brilliant coaching career for the “old ball coach.” The 1976 Bucs were actually placed in the AFC West for standings purposes, although they would play every other AFC team, plus expansion twin Seattle (competing in the NFC West that season), in their maiden voyage. The subsequent 1977 Bucs (playing all NFC teams, plus Seattle) looked even more inept for most of their season, blanked six times while losing 12 in a row to begin their campaign, before finally breaking a 26-game dry streak at New Orleans in a result that would contribute to Hank Stram’s dismissal as Saints coach.

2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)...The Dolphins narrowly missed the big donut in 2007, the season after Nick Saban resigned and took the Alabama job. Cam Cameron’s lone shot as an NFL head coach would be disastrous; like the 2008 Lions, Miami was forced to use three different starting QBs (Trent Green, John Beck, and Cleo Lemon), but the Dolphins’ result margin was just -10.6 ppg, much better than the 0-win 2008 Lions or 1976 Bucs. Still, Miami came dangerously close to a winless campaign; after 13 straight losses, the Dolphins needed OT to squeeze past Baltimore 26-20 and claim their only win of the season.

1966 New York Giants (1-12-1)...While Allie Sherman’s G-Men did not threaten a winless campaign, we still believe this might have been the worst pro football team we have covered in TGS annals. A succession of powerhouse Giants teams had effectively been dismantled by the mid ‘60s, as almost all of the championship-era vets had either retired or been replaced. By 1966, the roster was a hodge-podge of journeymen and youngsters. Losing RB Tucker Frederickson to a knee injury was a tough blow, and when QB Earl Morrall went down at midseason with a broken wrist, Sherman desperately rolled the dice with an Ivy Leaguer, Cornell’s Gary Wood, with predictable results. But it was the “D” that was legendarily bad, allowing a then-record 501 points (35.8 ppg!) in a 14-game schedule and being mostly responsible for an infamous 72-41 loss to Otto Graham’s Redskins late in the season. Only an opening tie with Pittsburgh and a mid-October 13-10 win over the Redskins (who would avenge that defeat, and then some, in late November) prevented an 0-14 epitaph.

1967 Atlanta Falcons (1-12-1)...In their second year of existence, the Falcons regressed from their debut season the year before, and we still don’t know how they didn’t lose every game they played. The Falcons did not upgrade their roster from their expansion campaign, able to only add a handful of castoffs from other teams. The young stars from 1966 (QB Randy Johnson, RB Junior Coffey, and LB Tommy Nobis) continued to battle, but there were no significant reinforcements from the maiden voyage in '66. Atlanta’s scoring differential was -17.6 ppg, worse than the 2008 Lions, and the offense was held to single-digit scoring on eight occasions. The only non-losses were fluky; Washington was forced to use DB Brig Owens as an emergency PK, costing it FGs and a missed PAT, in a 20-20 mid-October draw, and then the sloppy Vikings, despite holding Atlanta to 186 yards of offense, gave away a game when Nobis recorded a 4th Q pick-six off QB Ron Vander Kelen for the deciding points in a 21-20 win.

Dishonorable mention: 1960 Cowboys (0-11-1), 1961 Redskins (1-12-1), 1962 Raiders (1-13), 1968 Bills (1-12-1), 1969 Bears (1-13), 1969 Steelers (1-13), 1971 Bills (1-13), 1972 & ‘73 Oilers (both 1-13), 1980 Saints (1-15), 1989 Cowboys (1-15), 1991 Colts (1-15), 2000 Chargers (1-15), 2001 Panthers (1-13).

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