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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top-11 Turn-Arounds in NFL History

Top-11 Turn-Arounds in NFL History

Greatest single season turnarounds
Publish Date: 07/03/2022
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

11) 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, 15-1, Lost AFC Championship Game (6-10 in 2003)

In recent memory, putting together a disappointing campaign in 2003 may have been one of the best things to happen to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization.

Their record allowed the Steelers to select Miami (Ohio) University quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft.

The Steelers came up short in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, but it set up a run of 3 super bowl appearances in the next six years.

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10) 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (2-14 in 2012)

After winning just two games in 2012, the Chiefs brought in veteran head coach Andy Reid and journeyman quarterback Alex Smith to help instill a new culture.

The plan got off to a fantastic start, as Kansas City doubled its previous win total by the end of the first month and went on to win its first nine games of the season.

Unfortunately, the Chiefs lost five of their final seven games and missed out on a home playoff game and a possible first-round bye. Chiefs went to Indianapolis and lost a considerable lead 45-44 to the Colts.

9) 2012 Indianapolis Colts, 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (2-14 in 2011)

The 2012 Colts rallied around first-round draft pick Andrew  Luck and new head coach Chuck Pagano, who spent much of the season battling Leukemia. Riding behind the battle cry of “Chuck Strong,” Indianapolis made a nine-win improvement and earned a spot in the playoffs.

The Colts were dominated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual world champion Baltimore Ravens 24-9.

8) 1975 Baltimore Colts, 10-4, Lost in Divisional Round (2-12 in 1974)

The Baltimore Colts suffered through a horrendous three-year stretch from 1972-74, winning just 11 games in that span.

The suffering came to an end in 1975, when the Colts produced an eight-win improvement and earned a trip to the postseason.

The improvement was good enough to earn Ted Marchibroda Coach of the Year honors and bring Baltimore an AFC East division title.

The campaign sparked a three-year run during which the Colts did not miss the postseason, though the team did not win a playoff game in that span, either. Unfortunately, the health of Colts star QB Bert Jones put an end to an incredible three-year run and has always left a what-if question in the city of Baltimore.

7) 1963 Oakland Raiders, 10-4 (1-13 in 1962)

1963 was a notable year for the Raiders’ organization; it is was the first year of the Al Davis regime. With the arrival of Davis, the Raiders became immediate contenders.

After winning a single game in 1962, the Raiders rebounded with a new look (silver and black) and an exciting new offense.

A nine-win improvement was good enough to earn second place in the AFL West and earn Davis the AFL’s Coach of the Year award. The Raiders would spend the next 20 years as one of the most dominant teams in the history of professional football.

6) 2008 Miami Dolphins, 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round (1-15 in 2007)

In case you have forgotten, 2008 was the year of the Wildcat offense in Miami. With Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown running over opponents, the Dolphins raced to a 10-win improvement and an AFC East division title.

The unsung hero of the offense was Chad Pennington, who passed for more than 3,500 yards and won Comeback Player of the Year honors for the second time of his career.

This team would have ranked much higher, but in the playoffs, at home, they were dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and haven’t returned to the playoffs since. Check out the best new sportsbooks for betting on the NFL.

5) 1976 New England Patriots, 11-3, Lost in Divisional Round (3-11 in 1975)

New England produced an eight-win improvement in 1976 and appeared in the postseason for the first time since losing the AFL title game, 51-10, to the San Diego Chargers following the 1963 season.

The Patriots lost a highly controversial playoff game in Oakland; the Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl. The Raiders lone loss during the season was a blowout loss to the Patriots early.

4) 1999 Indianapolis Colts, 13-3, Lost in Divisional Round (3-13 in 1998)

It is fairly safe to say that drafting quarterback Peyton Manning back in 1998 forever changed the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise for the better.

However, that fact wasn’t quite apparent until Manning’s second season. As a rookie in 1998, Manning completed just 56.7 per cent of his passes (the lowest total of his career) and tossed 28 interceptions. The Colts won just three games for the second consecutive season.

Everything changed in 1999, as the Colts increased their win by ten and earned a first-round bye in the postseason. However, Manning and the Colts missed the postseason just once over the next 11 years and won a Super Bowl along the way. Indianapolis’ season ended with a 19-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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3) 1988 Cincinnati Bengals, 14-5, Lost Super Bowl XXIII (4-12 in 1987)

Quarterback “Boomer” Esiason took home NFL MVP honors during the regular season and nearly led the team to a Super Bowl title. Just the year before that, he was lying in front of a bus during the players strike. The 1987 season got away from the Bengals from the second game and just kept getting worse.

Unfortunately, Cincinnati fell short against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII, and the franchise has won just one playoff game since. The 1988 Bengals will be remembered as one of the most colorful teams in NFL history. That was led by a rookie of the year Ickey Woods, whose Ickey shuffle took the nation by storm.

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2) 2022 Cincinnati Bengals, 10-7 Lost Super Bowl LVI (4-11-1)

The Bengals were three points from winning the Super Bowl, if they would have won it they would have been a hands-down number one pick on this list.

In 2020 the Bengals looked like an improved team until starting quarterback Joe Burrow went down in Washington. It seems that injury was actually very lucky as the Bengals were horrible down the stretch which put them in a position to draft Ja’Marr Chase.

The Bengals slipped into the playoffs at 10-7 and then got hot winning in the final seconds against the Raiders, then a last-second field goal took down the number one seed Tennessee Titans. To top it off they came from 21-3 down in the second half to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City.

1) 1999 St. Louis Rams, 13-3, Won Super Bowl XXXIV (4-12 in 1998)

Commonly referred to as the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the 1999 St. Louis Rams also come in as the greatest single-season turnaround on our list.

After winning a combined 15 games over the three previous seasons, St. Louis found a way to flip things around, especially on offense. With unknown quarterback Kurt Warner leading the charge, the Rams offense scored 30 or more points a remarkable 12 times during the regular season en route to an NFC West division title.

Not only was the Rams team good enough to make a nine-win improvement during the regular season, but it was also good enough to take home an NFL title by defeating the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Still, I contend that if Dick Vermeil didn’t retire after the Super Bowl, this Rams team would have won at least another Super Bowl.

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