Just How Bad Have The Browns Been?

USA TODAY Sports

A sobering look at the recent performance of the Cleveland Browns, and what that may mean for the future.

It's no secret that the Browns have been awful since rejoining the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. The question I wanted to answer was "Have the Browns been much worse than the other terrible teams in the NFL?" Basically, is there a way I can quantitatively determine who the worst teams in the NFL are and with what regularity should an NFL team have a winning season? That question led to this chart:

Team

Playoff Appearances

PO ratio

Winning Seasons

WS ratio

Cleveland

1

14.00

2

6.50

Oakland

3

5.00

3

5.00

Arizona

3

5.00

3

5.00

Cincinnati

4

3.50

4

3.50

Carolina

4

3.50

4

3.50

Houston

2

5.50

3

3.33

Buffalo

4

3.50

5

2.60

Detroit

4

3.50

5

2.60

St. Louis

5

2.60

5

2.60

Washington

4

3.50

6

2.00

New Orleans

5

2.60

6

2.00

Jacksonville

6

2.00

7

1.57

Tennessee

6

2.00

7

1.57

Chicago

4

3.50

7

1.57

Kansas City

5

2.60

8

1.25

San Diego

6

2.00

8

1.25

San Francisco

8

1.25

8

1.25

Atlanta

8

1.25

9

1.00

Tampa Bay

7

1.57

9

1.00

Seattle

8

1.25

9

1.00

Miami

7

1.57

10

0.80

New York (J)

7

1.57

10

0.80

Dallas

8

1.25

10

0.80

New York (G)

8

1.25

10

0.80

Baltimore

9

0.89

10

0.70

Denver

9

1.00

11

0.64

Philadelphia

11

0.64

11

0.64

Minnesota

9

1.00

11

0.64

Pittsburgh

11

0.64

13

0.38

Indianapolis

14

0.29

14

0.29

Green Bay

13

0.38

14

0.29

New England

13

0.38

15

0.20

So some explaining is in order I think. First, the sample selection. I chose to take all season going back to 1995, except I excluded the Browns 1995 season. Remember, this exercise is aimed at the expansion team, so including that '95 data point wouldn't have been a good idea. I picked 1995 because it allowed me to include every season for the teams who started that year, Jacksonville and Carolina. I wanted to include the first seasons of these expansion teams (along with Houston) so that there would be a little more of an apples to apples comparison.

Now, I should probably explain what those numbers in the chart are. Playoff appearances and winning seasons are pretty self-explanatory. The other two columns are playoff ratio and winning season ratio. This is the number of seasons in which the team did not make the playoffs or win at least nine games divided by the seasons where they did. In this 18 year sample size, a team with nine winning season would have a WS ratio of one. I included these ratios because not every team had the same number of seasons, so looking at just the total number of playoff appearances or winning seasons would have been unfair. I also specifically split up playoff appearances and nine win seasons because some teams, like Chicago or Kansas City, have a pretty good history of winning games but not of making the playoffs. Since there is variation in how many wins it takes to make the playoffs, I wanted to give credit to teams who were good but came up just short.

And now the depressing part. As you can see, Cleveland has been the worst team over the last 18 years, and it isn't really even that close. Oakland and Arizona are the next two terrible teams, but both of them have three playoff appearances to the Browns one. Wow, that's bad. Sure, some of that terrible record is due to having the years right after expansion included, but that doesn't go a long way toward explaining anything. What has made the Browns so bad for so long? Some people may point to Randy Lerner, and in some respects those people are right. It was Randy Lerner's job to hire the right people to run the Browns, and he never did that. However, some of these years were under Randy's father Al, and even though none of the hires worked out, all of them seemed like slam dunk moves at the time.

It is my personal belief that the Browns have simply been a victim of bad luck. I don't mean to say that the people in charge haven't been at fault. They've been almost unanimously bad at their jobs. I just mean that in my personal opinion there's no way to be absolutely certain ahead of time which people will succeed and which won't. This extends from general managers down to draft picks. You can do all the homework you want, but at the end of the day these selections are largely a crapshoot. We've just been on a cold streak. There is nothing special about Cleveland or the Browns that dooms the team to failure. There is no reason some of these decisions can't start going the right way for us. I've spilled enough virtual ink on my opinion of the guys currently at the helm so I'll spare everyone that chore. I don't know whether they'll succeed or not. I just know that eventually someone has to.

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