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Losing cultures in the NFL

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There are a number of teams that have been losing for years and just can not stem the flow. Its not easy to change that culture and it sits within the bones of the franchise.


The Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, St Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills all are suffering from a losing culture to varying degrees.

One of the things that I find the most confused when talking about a losing culture is the fact that sometimes teams will do well for a year but that does not eliminate the culture that exists. Whether it is in the front office, the players, the coaching staff, or even the fans there is an innate sense inside that success is always just out of reach.

It might not be a conscience thought by any means but underneath everything is an inability to regain the winning confidence. Whether it is something obvious or something subtle it is still there. The losing culture shows up in many different ways.

  • A seemingly endless amount of wasted draft picks even when you choose the supposedly safest choice.
  • The failures of free agent acquisitions even when they are the seemingly top free agent available.
  • Internal player discipline issues such as Rolando McClain in Oakland or Titus Young in Detroit.
  • Subtle failures that allow games to slip away even after a win seemed within grasp.
  • Injuries to key players that seem to happen more frequently than to other teams.

There are many different things that show this losing culture and it is frustrating to watch your favorite team lose year in and year out. Even more frustrating is when it seems like the team is on the verge of finally overcoming the losing curse (Oakland two 8-8 seasons in a row only to regress, Detroit playoffs last year only to regress, Kansas City winning the division in 2010 followed by two losing seasons) only to be sucked back into the losing process.

The fans in particular do not handle these instances very well, as they are often the most frustrated party involved. The fans believe they know the problems and if the team would only listen to them all would be well, and the team feels they know the problems and if they were just given the time they could fix them.

The players, coaches and front office people are working to get the team better but when they feel the frustration of the fans it doesn't help them move forward. They know they are disappointing the fans, because they are disappointed themselves, and when they feel the ridicule it adds onto their lack of confidence.

The fans can't just stop feeling frustrated and angry at losing though, especially when they are paying their hard earned money to watch their team fail. It creates a vicious circle of frustration that radiates through the franchise and its fan base. This circle of frustration is a main culprit in the continuing of the losing culture. The problem is that it is a Catch-22 situation where nobody is wrong and yet everything just keeps perpetuating itself onto one another.

There are teams that have gone through losing cultures in the past as well though. This is one of the things that should give the fans of these frustrating teams hope. History repeats itself and the NFL is no different. Look at the Packers in the 80's, the Patriots through much of the 80's and 90's and the Colts also through much of the 90's. Growing up in those times these were three of the worst teams in the NFL year in and out in my childhood.

After years of dealing with the losing culture something finally gave and made these teams perennial powerhouses. It often coincides with acquiring that one player that changes everything for you. Each of these teams also got Hall of Fame head coaches at the times of their revivals with Bill Parcels, Mike Holmgren, and Tony Dungy all being hired by their respective franchises.

The Packers it was Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Patriots it was Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady, and the Colts it was Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck. Once their teams learned to win again they have been dominant ever since, minus a year or two here and there.

That was the difference though, it was a year or two here and there of losing for those teams with a winning culture. For the teams with a losing culture it is the opposite. It is winning a year or two here and there but only to regress back to losing.

Each of those teams I mentioned it was the QB/coach combo that saved them, but I don't believe that the missing piece always has to be the Quarterback or the coach. It just often is the easiest path to success. The missing piece just has to be somebody coming into the organization that gives them the faith and confidence to succeed again though.

The good news is that several of these franchises have made serious steps forward in recent times towards acquiring that franchise piece needed to succeed. I am concentrating on offensive players because I believe that the offense is what most effects overcoming a losing culture.

  • Lions have Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson to build around for the next 10 years.
  • Rams have a great coach in Jeff Fisher and a franchise caliber quarterback in Sam Bradford.
  • Browns just drafted Trent Richardson who can be that culture changing player and a passionate new owner which really goes a long way to improving franchises.
  • Redskins have a new powerhouse duo of RG3 and Alfred Morris and a Super Bowl winning head coach in Mike Shannahan. This is the team farthest ahead on removing the losing culture.

The remaining teams do have pieces to move forward with but that one piece who can create the buzz among the team is still missing. Every team in the NFL has somebody to be proud of, but that doesn't mean that every team in the NFL has the piece that instills the confidence the team needs to succeed.

  • Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, and Denarius Moore in Oakland all are good players but for one reason or another they can not be trusted to build the team's confidence.
  • Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City are great but Bowe might not be there much longer. They are desperately in need of a Quarterback and a quality head coach among all aspects of the game.
  • Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. This team like the Chiefs will go no where until they can get a viable starting Quarterback and it is also time to move on from Ken Wisenhunt. Bill Cowher could be a great fit here with their defense.
  • CJ Spiller and Stevie Johnson in Buffalo. The team seems to be standing up for Chan Gailey but I do not believe he is the answer. Buffalo has paid a lot of money to a lot of different players without getting much of a return on their investments.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts, and Justin Blackmon in Jacksonville are all good players that they can continue to build around but they have a lot of growing they need to do as a franchise.
  • Cam Newton just needs to improve his mental strength to become the missing franchise piece in Carolina.

These players are stars but they are not enough to win in the NFL. They do not not instill enough to the team to overcome the losing culture. Some of these players may not even be a piece of overcoming the culture anymore, and some may still become the missing piece as they develop.

The confidence to win is still missing from each one of these teams moving forward, but the argument of coach changes being necessary can be made for each of these franchises as well. It could be as simple as picking the right head coach next time they hire somebody for any one of these teams.

Once the franchise can get that player, coach, or even owner to change the culture it can finally move forward. It needs the one franchise piece that makes the team really feel like they can overcome and win again. Until then the vicious circle of frustration will continue.

Remember to have faith that it all can change, because once the culture of losing is defeated the sky is the limit. The Colts, Packers, and Patriots all have Super Bowl rings proving that. Unfortunately the culture of losing is one that can last decades and one never knows when it is finally going to be over.

Stay strong for your team, try to be optimistic, and know that one day it will be there for your team and you can forget all of this pain from having a losing culture.