How bad can you be and still make the NFL playoffs? The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to find out as the return of Tony Romo is possibly sparking a comeback from their 2-7 start. There have been only six teams to finish at .500 or worse and still make the postseason since the expansion and realignment of 2002. Can the Cowboys, or someone else, join that “elite” group?
2004 – Minnesota Vikings (8-8), St. Louis Rams (8-8)
While in the AFC that season no team with less than 10 wins got into the playoffs (and three 9-7 teams were left out), in the NFC there was another 8-8 team, the New Orleans Saints, that missed the cut. Only four teams in the entire conference finished above .500 in the regular season. In the playoffs, both the Vikings and the Rams won on the road, at Green Bay and Seattle respectively, before losing in the divisional round to the Eagles (made the Super Bowl) and Falcons.
2006 – New York Giants (8-8)
The 2006 Giants didn’t make it far in the playoffs, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round. They were one of three NFC East teams to make the postseason, although the Eagles were the only ones to make it out of the Wild Card, as the Cowboys famously lost by one point to the Seattle Seahawks, as Tony Romo failed to set up the field goal that might have won the game. Three other 8-8 teams in the NFC didn’t get in that season (Packers, Panthers, Rams) while in the AFC four 8-8 teams were left out, and also a 9-7 team.
2008 – San Diego Chargers (8-8)
The 2008 Chargers finished first in the AFC West, leaving an 8-8 Denver Broncos team out of the playoffs while the Houston Texans also went 8-8 in the AFC South, not making it in. In the NFC, two 8-8 teams were also left out of the playoffs: The Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints. Interestingly enough, both of them were the worst in their division. Four different 9-7 teams didn’t enter the playoffs. The Chargers beat the Colts 23-17 in overtime in the Wild Card round with a Darren Sproles touchdown, but lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the eventual Super Bowl champions, eight days later.
2010 – Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
The first season for Pete Carroll in Seattle ended with a 7-9 record, but it was enough to win the NFC West (before it’s more dominant years) and even win a playoff game, beating the New Orleans Saints, who went 11-5 that season but finished second behind the 13-3 Falcons in their division, forcing them to play in Seattle and lose 41-36. The Seahawks lost to the Bears in the divisional round. Two 10-6 teams in the NFC missed the playoffs (Giants, Bucs) while in the AFC, one 9-7 team (Chargers) and two 8-8 teams (Jags, Raiders) were also left out of the postseason.
2014 – Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)
The Panthers finished the regular season with four consecutive wins to go 7-8-1 and make it in by winning the NFC South. They beat the Arizona Cardinals and their quarterback crisis in the wild card round before losing to the Seahawks in Seattle. One 10-6 team (Philadelphia Eagles), four 9-7 teams (Bills, Texans, Chiefs, Chargers) and two 8-8 teams (Dolphins, 49ers) missed the playoffs.