5 times an NFL team made the playoffs with a losing record

Marshawn Lynch's run to glory allowed the Seattle Seahawks to earn a playoff win with a losing record (Photo: Getty)
Marshawn Lynch's run to glory allowed the Seattle Seahawks to earn a playoff win with a losing record (Photo: Getty)

The countdown to the NFL playoffs is in its final stages. In fact, most would assert that postseason proceedings begin this week, with several teams engaged in win-or-go-home situations (primarily the Sunday night finale between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers).

The expansion of the NFL playoffs to four rounds has left an interesting wrinkle in the sense that teams who probably would've been eliminated by now, remain alive and kicking for one of the three playoff spots still available.

Those teams at the cusp of the playoff picture (i.e. the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints who own matching 8-8 records) have gotten SK thinking...

Which NFL teams have reached the playoffs with a losing record?

-1982 Cleveland Browns (4-5)

The NFL's strike-shortened 1982 season featured an expanded 16-team, a NBA/NHL-style playoff that afforded some mediocre teams a chance at success. Despite issues at the quarterback spot (a season long battle between Paul McDonald and Brian Sipe), Cleveland emerged victorious in a three-team tiebreaker with Buffalo and Seattle for the final AFC spot.

Facing off against the Los Angeles Raiders in the first round, Cleveland kept things respectable to the tune of a 13-10 halftime deficit. However, they were unable to overcome a 510-yard outing from their hosts, who changed the course of the game by forcing a Charles White fumble 14 yards from the end zone.

Despite the Browns' mediocrity that season, 1982's third overall pick Chip Banks won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in Cleveland.

Lions helmets seen in 2014 (Photo: Getty)
Lions helmets seen in 2014 (Photo: Getty)

-1982 Detroit Lions (4-5)

So topsy-turvy was the 1982 season that not one, but two teams reached the NFL playoffs with a losing record: the NFC's eighth seed was likewise occupied by a 4-5 team, as the Lions ended an 11-year playoff drought by winning another three-team tiebreaker (which booted the Saints and New York Giants).

Alas for Detroit, they proved to be no match for the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins, who forced five Motor City turnovers en route to a 31-7 victory.

-2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

The Seahawks became the first losing team to qualify for the playoffs in a "full" NFL season. Seattle took advantage of a dreadful NFC West to secure a fourth-seed berth and the home game that came with it. The Seahawks would set further history in that contest by becoming the first losing team to win a playoff game, topping the defending champion Saints by a final score of 41-36.

The game's defining highlight has become a staple of Wild Card weekend broadcasts, as Marshawn Lynch sealed the deal with an electrifying 67-yard rushing touchdown run that saw him break several tackles en route to the end zone.

It was a play that would eventually become known as the "Beast Quake", referencing Lynch's "Beast Mode" identity. As well as monitoring stations around what was then known as Qwest Field, picking up seismic activity from the stadium during the score. Thus cementing Seahawks fans' status as among the loudest in the NFL.

However, reality came Seattle's way a week later, as they were knocked out by the Chicago Bears in the divisional round a week later.

Also check out: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Playoff History, Appearances, Wins and more

Two more NFL division winners entered with a losing record

Fozzy Whittaker's 39-yard touchdown reception gave Carolina the lead for good (Photo: Getty)
Fozzy Whittaker's 39-yard touchdown reception gave Carolina the lead for good (Photo: Getty)

-2014 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)

Carolina hardly resembled a playoff team entering the December of the 2014 NFL season, sitting at 3-8-1 with four games to go. However, holiday magic emerged in the form of a four-game winning streak capped off by a 34-3 demolishing of Atlanta that afforded them the NFC South title.

In the Wild Card round against the reeling Arizona Cardinals (who were missing starting quarterback Carson Palmer), the Panthers allowed only 78 yards of offense, an NFL playoff record. Arizona lingered thanks to a strong defensive effort of its own, even holding a 14-13 lead in the third quarter.

But the Panthers took the lead for good on Fozzy Whittaker's 39-yard touchdown grab of a pass from Cam Newton. Newton later found Mike Tolbert for a one-yard score after Carolina recovered the ensuing kickoff. The Panthers would eventually win the game 27-16. However, they eventually fell to the defending champion Seahawks in the Divisional round.

Combined with the 14 wins they had earned to start the ensuing season, the Panthers went on to amass an 18 game regular-season winning streak, tied with the 2003-04 New England Patriots for the third-longest of all-time. They would face the Cardinals in the following year's NFC title game, crushing them 49-15 en route to Super Bowl 50.

-2020 Washington Football Team (7-9)

In their first post "Redskins" season, Washington created deja vu all over again for head coach Ron Rivera, who coached the aforementioned Panthers to their division title and win over Arizona in the 2014-15 season. Anchored by a 5-2 win streak to end the year (and a dreadful NFC East), Washington earned a division title with a 7-9 record.

The season was notable for the emergence of Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, as well as the inspiring return of injured quarterback Alex Smith, who was later named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.

Few gave Washington a chance against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card game in Landover. Anchored by the surprising play of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, Washington kept things respectable against the eventual Super Bowl champs, losing 31-23.

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Edited by David Nyland
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