In one corner, standing in at 7–8–1, the winners of the worst division in NFL history, the 21st ranked scoring defense in the NFL, ladies and gentlemen, the Carolina PAAAAAAAAAAAAANTHERSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!
And in the other corner, weighing in at 56.8 quarterback rating points, the thrower of five and a half interceptions for every one of his touchdowns, the completer of 50.8 percent of his passes, ladies and gentlemen, RYYYYYYYAAAANNNNNN LIIIIINNNNDDDDLEYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!
Are you excited for this tire fire of a playoff game? Can you wait to watch a quarterback who threw his first career touchdown last week duel with one who was in a serious car accident three weeks ago? Could you even ask for anything more than a sub-.500 team defending its home field against the worst quarterback in football with a trip to the second round on the line?
I’m not even exaggerating when I say this might be the worst playoff game of all time. It’s so miserable that I actually have to research this and figure it out once and for all. So, is Arizona vs. Carolina the worst on-paper playoff game of all time?
.500 or Worse Teams in the Playoffs
Since the merger, 11 teams have made the playoffs in full seasons with a .500 record: the ’85 Browns, ’90 Saints, ’91 Jets, ’99 Cowboys, ’99 Lions, ’04 Vikings, ’04 Rams, ’06 Giants, and ’08 Chargers. Only the ’10 Seahawks and this year’s Panthers made the playoffs with a record below .500, and evaluating all of these teams as a whole against each other would be impossible.
However, several of these teams at least had the X-factor that makes upsets easier. For playoff purposes, that makes them better teams. The ’85 Browns had two 1,000-yard rushers (Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack), the ’04 Vikings had Randy Moss, the ’99 Cowboys still had Aikman and Emmitt, the ’04 Rams still had the bulk of their Super Bowl roster even if they were aging, and the ’08 Chargers had Pro Bowl-level players at every skill position.
We can probably rule out the ’99 Lions as well for playing in an incredibly deep division (four teams finished .500 or better, last place went 6–10) and the ’06 Giants (six of eight losses came to playoff teams and the other two to 8–8 teams) as well. That leaves us the ’90 Saints, ’91 Jets, ’10 Seahawks and ’14 Panthers to look at as the worst playoff teams of all time. But remember, the Panthers are only half of the equation.
Ryan Lindley-level Quarterbacks in the Playoffs
Let’s start by saying this: quarterbacks as bad as Ryan Lindley barely even exist, much less make the playoffs. So really, anyone we list here is bad, but probably not as bad as Lindley. That being said, Kissing Suzy Kolber did some research and created a list of the following quarterbacks to compare to Lindley: Mark Malone, Chris Simms, Todd Collins, Jack Trudeau, T.J. Yates, Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, Anthony Wright, Quincy Carter, and Joe Webb.
Let’s add Richard Todd (67.6 career quarterback rating) and Matt Cassel to that list just to round out the periphery. Though it’s a smaller sample size, Lindley has a worse quarterback rating, QBR, and TD/INT ratio for his career than anyone listed here and leads only Tebow in completion percentage. Lindley is also tied with Yates for the second-fewest starts of his career coming into a playoff game (with five). None had a lower career winning percentage.
So in short, Lindley is probably the worst quarterback to start a playoff game. Maybe Tebow was a worse thrower, but he more than made up for it with his running and the fact that he may actually be God. More than that, he’s also one of the least experienced quarterbacks to start a playoff game, and it doesn’t help that he’s only been with the team for a month and likely doesn’t have full command of the offense yet. Pound-for-pound, the Cardinals likely feel worse about their quarterback situation than any other playoff team in history.
Putting it Together
In order for a playoff game to be as bad as this one, one of three things has to be true: two of the listed worst playoff teams would have to play each other, two of the listed worst quarterbacks would have to play each other, or one of the listed worst teams would have to play one of the listed worst quarterbacks.
Did that ever happen? Nope. The three worst playoff teams remaining all played against good teams, none of which had one of the listed quarterbacks. The Seahawks played Drew Brees and the 11–5 Saints, the Saints lost to the 11–5 Bears quarterbacked by Jim Harbaugh, and the Jets lost to Warren Moon’s 11–5 Oilers.
None of the listed quarterbacks ever started against each other either. There have been bad quarterback match ups, like Carter vs. Jake Delhomme, Yates vs. Andy Dalton and Simms vs. old Mark Brunell, but all of those games had other virtues. Delhomme’s Panthers were a great team and Bill Parcells was coaching the Cowboys, Dalton vs. Yates also featured rookie versions of A.J. Green and J.J. Watt along with stars like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster playing for a Houston team that may have been a Super Bowl favorite with Matt Schaub starting, and both Tampa Bay and Washington had star running backs (well, at the time, Clinton Portis and Cadillac Williams were stars) in their playoff matchup, so passing wasn’t as big of a deal.
There have been bad playoff games, games that have featured underwhelming teams and/or quarterbacks, but never has there been a playoff game that combines such a bad team with such a bad quarterback. On paper, this is the worst playoff game of all time.