NFL teams to make playoffs with a losing record: Buccaneers — or NFC South winner — can join exclusive list in 2022

By | December 23, 2022

The Buccaneers entered the 2022 NFL season with high expectations. Tampa Bay was running back much of the same core that challenged the Super Bowl-winning Rams in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, and Tom Brady ultimately decided not to retire following an MVP-caliber year.

Indeed, Tampa Bay was supposed to be one of the NFC’s best teams.

Instead, it has been one of the conference’s biggest disappointments.

The Buccaneers have recorded a record of just 6-8 through 15 weeks of the 2022 NFL season. The team’s offense has largely looked out of sorts while its defense isn’t the same immovable force that it was en route to a Super Bowl title in Brady’s first year with the Bucs.

Still, Tampa Bay is in the NFC playoff picture despite its poor record. That will give the Buccaneers a chance to join an exclusive list of NFL teams to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record.

The Buccaneers would need to win each of their last three games to avoid finishing the season with a losing record. They are the only team in the NFC South that can make the playoffs with a winning record, so there’s a solid chance that the NFL sees a losing team make the postseason for just the fourth time in a non-strike season.

Here’s everything to know about the history of teams with a losing record that have made the NFL playoffs.

MORE: Everything to know about the NFL playoffs in 2023, from start time to TV schedule

Has an NFL team with a losing record ever made the playoffs?

Yes, the NFL has had a team with a losing record make the postseason before. In fact, it has happened five times since the NFL season expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

That said, it hasn’t been easy for teams with a losing record to make the postseason. Only three of the five teams to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record did so in a non-strike season.

Teams to make NFL playoffs with a losing record

Below is a look at the NFL’s five losing-record playoff teams, starting with the two that qualified in 1982.

1982 Cleveland Browns

The 1982 NFL season was derailed by a 57-day player strike that reduced the league’s normal 16-game schedule to nine games. The NFL also decided to adopt an expanded postseason because of the shortened season, so a league-record 16 teams made the playoffs that season.

The Browns were one of them. They made the postseason as the AFC’s No. 8 seed after posting a 4-5 record. Brian Sipe and Paul McDonald quarterbacked Sam Rutigliano’s team during the season while rookie linebacker and No. 3 overall pick Chip Banks recorded 6.5 sacks during the nine-game season.

Cleveland was unable to parlay its postseason admission into any success. The Browns faced Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen and the Raiders in the first round of the playoffs; the Raiders — then located in Los Angeles — held the Browns scoreless in the second half and won the game 27-10.

MORE: Updated NFL playoff picture entering Week 16

1982 Detroit Lions

The Lions were the other team to benefit from the 1982 strike, as they also made the playoffs with a 4-5 record. Monte Clark’s squad was led by Billy Sims, who led the team in rushing yards (639) and receiving yards (342) during the season.

Detroit’s defense also posted solid stats during the season. Al Baker and Dave Pureifory each ranked top-10 in sacks with 8.5 and seven respectively while defensive tackle Doug English was named an All-Pro.

Like the Browns, the Lions failed to find success in the postseason. They played the No. 1 seed Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs, and Washington beat them 31-7 after scoring the first 24 points of the contest. Washington would go on to win the Super Bowl while the Lions rebuilt for the 1983 season.


2010 Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks became the first team with a losing record to make the playoffs in a non-strike-shortened season in 2010. They earned that historic label after beating the Rams in Week 17 to tie them with a 7-9 record.

Had the Seahawks lost that game, the Rams would have gone to the postseason with an 8-8 record. So, their Week 17 win under the leadership of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was especially important.

Seattle’s 2010 team was a run-heavy one under Pete Carroll’s leadership. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett each rumbled for more than 500 yards while quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3,001 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Few gave the Seahawks — just a few years ahead of their dominant “Legion of Boom” defense days — a fighting chance in the playoffs. After all, they were playing a Saints team that easily could have won their division over the Falcons. And the Seahawks had fallen to them 34-19 in the regular season

Seattle shocked the world. It kept pace with Drew Brees and New Orleans’ high-flying offense, outscoring them 41-36 in an explosive offensive battle. That win produced the enduring Marshawn Lynch “Beast Mode” run, which is regarded as one of the greatest individual scoring efforts in NFL history.

The Seahawks’ magic was short-lived, as they lost the following week to the Bears, 35-24. But they proved that the NFL’s “Any Given Sunday” mantra is more than just a cliché.

POWER RANKINGS: Where Buccaneers rank among NFL’s best teams in Week 16

2014 Carolina Panthers

The Panthers just narrowly avoided being a .500 team when they made the playoffs in 2014. They posted a record of 7-8-1 in Ron Rivera’s fourth season, and that was good enough to win the NFC South.

Rivera’s squad was, per usual, led by a strong defense. All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, as well as stalwart linebacker Thomas Davis, edge rusher Charles Johnson and the ascending Josh Norman, formed a strong front core that helped Carolina go on a four-game winning streak to close the season.

During that stretch, the defense allowed 8.3 points per game while the Cam Newton-led offense did enough to get the Panthers some easy wins.

The Panthers’ first playoff game turned out to be a relatively easy win, too. The Cardinals were forced to start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley amid injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. As such, they were expected to struggle against Carolina’s vaunted defense.

The Cardinals gave the Panthers a good run for their money in the first half, and Carolina trailed 14-13 at halftime. However, Lindley’s inexperience eventually caught up with him. The Panthers defense allowed him to complete just 16 of 28 passes for 82 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions during the game, a 27-16 Carolina win.

The Panthers didn’t get as lucky in the divisional round, however. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense proved a lot stronger than the Cardinals while the “Legion of Boom” gave Cam Newton and the Panthers trouble in a 31-17 loss.

Taylor Heinicke

Getty Images

2020 Washington Football Team

Strangely enough, Rivera’s teams have twice made the playoffs with sub-.500 records. He did it during his second year in Washington after leading the Football Team to a 7-9 record.

Washington’s 2020 season was eerily similar to that of the Panthers. The team relied on its strong defense to carry it, and it got on a late-season hot streak, going 5-2 in its last seven games to win the NFC East.

Terry McLaurin and then-rookie Antonio Gibson carried the Washington offense. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line, which consisted of four first-round picks — Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat — provided a massive advantage in the trenches and allowed them to overcome middling quarterback pay from Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins.

Washington was expected to struggle immensely in the postseason. After all, the team was playing Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and was down to their fourth-string quarterback for the game, Taylor Heinicke, a veteran who only months earlier had been unsigned and attending classes at Old Dominion.

Washington put up a fight. Heinicke kept the game close with a gritty scrambling effort and had a third-quarter touchdown run that many fans will fondly remember for years to come.

Even still, the Football Team couldn’t get the win. The Buccaneers emerged with a 31-23 victory en route to Brady’s seventh Super Bowl title.

Now a couple of years later, it looks like it might be the Buccaneers’ turn to try to earn a playoff win with a losing record. It all depends on how they finish out the season and whether any of the other NFC South teams can catch them in what is the NFL’s weakest division.