Is it possible for a matchup of winless NFL teams to be appointment viewing?
Sunday’s game between the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins could hardly be described as the marquee game of Week 6. Yet there’s an undeniable intrigue to a meeting of two of the league’s most moribund franchises, with the Redskins making their first outing since firing Jay Gruden while the Dolphins fight off tanking accusations.
Yet those two teams are hardly alone in the NFL’s cellar, as the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals are also without a win through the season’s first five weeks. And on the heels of our ranking of the 100 worst teams in league history, we couldn’t help but wonder if any of this year’s groups could be in line to join that list.
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With that in mind, we asked reports and editors from USA TODAY and the USA TODAY Network: Who is the most helpless team in the NFL heading into Week 6?
Without a doubt, the team in Washington. It isn’t the only winless team in the NFL, but the others have either a method to their mess (Dolphins), an excuse for it (Jets) or players good enough to turn things around (Bengals). With Washington, you look at the roster and wonder how it’s ever going to get fixed.
Contrary to what Bruce Allen thinks, the culture in Washington is not “actually damn good.” It’s toxic and pathetic, and the fact he’s either too blind to see it or too arrogant to admit it means nothing will change. Allen can fire umpteen more coaches, trade more disgruntled players, and it’s akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This is a team that is rotten to the core, and it starts with him and owner Dan Snyder.
Miami Dolphins strong safety Bobby McCain (28) reacts against the New England Patriots during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)
Is this a trick question? Of course, it’s Washington. Unless it’s Miami. Or Cincinnati. Or the Jets. It’s like asking which team has the “best” fans. There’s no wrong answer because they pay in Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland with the same kind of cash they use in Foxborough. Yet this begs to be broken up – and not only in the sense of blowing up these winless teams and starting all over. Broken up in the sense of short-term helpless vs. long-term helpless.
That said, Miami’s the most helpless in the short term as they “Tank for Tua” or — sorry, Dolphins brain trust — appear to be tanking. They’ve got hope for the long term because of all of that future ammo with the high-round picks, provided that GM Chris Grier makes good on the choices. Then again, maybe it will be a race against the clock with the Dolphins chances coinciding with Tom Brady’s 50th birthday and Bill Belichick retiring with 9 rings. Or something like that.
Long term? That’s Cincinnati. Sure, Washington is a sexy pick because Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and R’s culture remain factors. But interim coach Bill Callahan turned off the music in practice this week! Change is coming. Then again, Callahan may make progress, just like Marty Schottenheimer did a few years back, but it won’t be enough. Snyder will be searching for the next Sean McVay, next Kyle Shanahan or next Matt LaFleur. Oh, wait a minute. McVay, Shanahan and LaFleur were once in Washington…but Snyder & Co. let them get away. No, the Jets don’t get a pass. Question is, who’ll catch a pass from Sam Darnold? But the Bengals seem poised to be in a funk for a long time because I just can’t get my arms around the idea that Zac Taylor is the next big thing when it comes to rising NFL coaching stars. Besides, no NFL franchise has gone as long as Cincinnati – not Buffalo, Cleveland or Detroit even – since last winning a playoff game. It’s been 28 years since the Bengals last won a playoff game. And soon it will be 29, then maybe 30 and then some. That’s long-term helpless.
The question posed asks “who is the most helpless team?” this week, a nuance my silly colleagues will surely overlook.
The Redskins are playing the Dolphins. The Dolphins are playing the Redskins. If you’re stuck in a rut trying to break through for your first win – assuming you actually want to win – who would you rather face if you’re playing for either of these spiraling clubs? And with QB Sam Darnold back from mononucleosis, hard to say the Jets are “helpless” anymore – even if they are deserved underdogs at home against the Cowboys.
So that leaves us with the Bengals, fresh off serving up the first victory of the year to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals. Now Cincinnati – while packing the NFL’s second-worst defense, second-worst defense against the run and second-worst ground attack – heads to Baltimore, where the Ravens feature the league’s second-best ground attack (about three times as good as the Bengals in terms of yards produced) and an offense that has posted the most points so far this season with more than 32 per outing. And, FWIW, the Bengals have been competitive in odd-numbered weeks, losing all three games by a total of eight points. But in even-numbered weeks, they’re getting trashed by an average of 24. It’s Week 6 … and the Bengals are surely the most helpless winless team on the board.
If I simply picked one of the four winless teams in the NFL as the most helpless, you could probably garner that analysis from one of my astute colleagues. Not to mention we’ll have at most three winless teams by the end of this weekend…unless, in some crazy game I am so down for, the Dolphins and Redskins tie. So I’ll take the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’re clearly not the worst team in the league nor even last in the AFC South. But they seem helpless in compelling cornerback Jalen Ramsey to play, and that if the two-time Pro Bowler had augmented the defense opposite Gardner Minshew’s effective offense, Jacksonville would have a winning record. (They’re 2-3 entering a matchup with 4-1 Saints.) Seems like two-week-old daughter Brooklyn Ramsey has more swing over Jalen than the Jags do.
The Washington Redskins, of course. I don’t even have an ounce of confidence that they could beat the Miami Dolphins this week. I had to pick the Dolphins. I know that might mess with Chris Grier’s plans, but I actually think this young Dolphins team has more fight in them than the Redskins, who are in a full-on state of disarray. They’ve got injuries to key players, massive holes on the roster, constant miscommunications, no identity … This is a legit candidate for an 0-16 team.
I wouldn’t be doing my job as an editor if I didn’t parse the language of the question at hand. Had this been an investigation of the league’s most helpless franchise, Washington would be the easy choice. The systemic rot of Daniel Snyder’s reign leaves little hope for the long term.
But we’re in search of the most hopeless team, and the Redskins have at least had brief bursts in which they’ve at least appeared competitive. The same can’t be said of the Dolphins, whose astonishing minus-137 point differential puts them in a class of ineptitude all their own. Most importantly, this franchise is clearly taking a long-term view by selling off parts for picks. Can’t find hope for a team that doesn’t want help.
This one, to me, isn’t hard. It has to be Washington. And the reason is due to something that teams typically cannot change: ownership. While the Dolphins haven’t been the paradigm of consistency or stability by any stretch, Washington has been an unmitigated mess. Since Dan Snyder took control of the team, Washington’s record is 139-185-1. Certainly, ownership isn’t the sole cause of underperforming teams, but the issue is that Snyder has installed a dysfunctional environment that has bred power struggles (Gruden’s successor will be Snyder’s eighth head coach in 21 seasons) and short leashes (Marty Schottenheimer was fired after just one season). Remember the Robert Griffin III fiasco? That, too, was Snyder’s doing.
The team fired former general manager Scot McCloughan, one of football’s top talent evaluators and the exec who oversaw the team’s ascension to its last playoff berth (2015), when Washington finished first in the NFC East. McCloughan did have off-field issues he needed to work through, but in his place, Snyder installed Bruce Allen, a familiar face in the organization who has failed to elevate the organization. Miami’s roster is awful, yes. But at least the Dolphins are trying to completely overhaul their team. They’ve amassed draft capital and are building for the future. Washington genuinely thought it could win. But under Snyder, failure is just history repeating itself.
The Miami Dolphins are currently ranked last in the NFL in both scoring offense (6.5 points per game) and scoring defense (40.8 points allowed per game). They are 31st in both passing yards (173.3 per game) and passing yards allowed (296.3 per game). Their longest run of the season went for 11 yards. And their defense is allowing 7.0 yards per play.
I know the Bengals and Jets are bad, and the Redskins are quickly sliding toward irrelevance, but the numbers really speak for themselves on this one.
Martin Frank, Wilmington (Del.) News Journal
I can’t remember seeing a more inept NFL team than the Jets team I saw lose to the Eagles 31-6 this past Sunday. The Jets allowed 10 sacks, and the Eagles’ defense scored two touchdowns against beleaguered third-string QB Luke Falk. The Eagles’ margin of victory could have easily been much higher.
At least the Jets will get their starting quarterback Sam Darnold back this week. No, they won’t beat the Cowboys, but at least they’ll be more competitive.
That leaves Cincinnati, Washington and Miami. I’m going with the Dolphins as the most helpless. They play host to Washington, which changed coaches and quarterbacks (again). Washington put a scare into the Eagles in the season opener. And WR Terry McLaurin is the real deal. The Bengals won’t beat the Ravens, but they haven’t given up yet.
Sal Maiorana, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
The Dolphins certainly have what appears to be the worst roster in the NFL, but at least there seems to be a point to the complete tear down as Miami is stockpiling high draft picks for 2020 and beyond.
The Redskins, however, are a train wreck of epic proportion. They fired Jay Gruden after five-plus fruitless years and have a retread interim in Bill Callahan in place for now. They’re 0-5, and have three quarterbacks being considered for playing time, which means they have no quarterbacks.
And of course, they have arguably the worst ownership-general manager situation in the league in Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen. Pretty clear cut choice here.
Bob McManaman, Arizona Republic
Having talked this week with someone who is very close to the organization, my pick has to be the Redskins. They’re going nowhere fast and it’s not like there is a plan in place to get them out of it after firing Jay Gruden. He was saddled with a mess of a roster, one that has been turned upside down because of a magnitude of injuries and unavailability. Not only that, but they have no stability at quarterback and not enough skill players to overcome their deficiencies. They’re also one of the most undisciplined teams in the league with the third-most penalties. Looking ahead, it would be a surprise if there is more than two “wins” on their remaining schedule. This week and maybe the Jets at home on Nov. 17. Things in Washington might not ever get fixed until Daniel Snyder decides it’s finally time to restructure the front office and bring in real football people to make football decisions, starting with hiring a general manager.
Art Stapleton, NorthJersey.com
I’ll go with the Redskins because they can’t fire the owner, and the owner appears unwilling to part ways with the team president responsible for a significant part of the dysfunction. Compounding the issue is the potential franchise quarterback is apparently being badmouthed by some in the organization. This is a terrible mix that is about to be inherited by a new coach.
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Is a national and foreign correspondent based in D.C. She files investigative reports and covers breaking news on a range of topics, including corruption, police shootings, etc. Before joining the TimWorld in 2018, she worked at the Miami Herald. She was a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University.