Entering the 2018 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns were one of the most laughable franchises in sports. The Browns were coming off an 0-16 season, and had won just one of their last 32 games.
One year later, the narrative has completely changed. After a 7-8-1 season with rookie Baker Mayfield at quarterback, Odell Beckham Jr. joined Jarvis Landry to create one of the most lethal pass-catching duos in football.
Nick Chubb proved he can be a workhorse running back, and Kareem Hunt will share the backfield once Hunt’s suspension is over. The defense is filled with legitimate playmakers. Mayfield is one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Browns went from 0-16 to a team projected by oddsmakers to win 9.5 games and make the playoffs two seasons later — something difficult to do in the NFL.
With all the expectations surrounding Cleveland this season, let’s take a look at some other teams that won two games or less since the year 2000, and examine how long it took them to find success.
2000 San Diego Chargers: 1-15
The San Diego Chargers hit the jackpot entering the 2001 season. They traded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to the Atlanta Falcons, who selected Michael Vick. San Diego got back special-teams ace Tim Dwight, the No. 5 overall selection and a second-round choice, and those picks turned into LaDanian Tomlinson and Drew Brees on draft night.
San Diego won five games in 2001, before going 8-8 in 2002. After some regression in 2003, the Chargers made the postseason after going 12-4 in 2004, starting a streak of five postseason appearances in six seasons, although they made the AFC Championship game just once (a 2007 loss to the Patriots).
2001 Carolina Panthers: 1-15
The NFL oddly placed Carolina in the NFC West as an expansion franchise in 1995. The Panthers had some immediate success, going 12-4 in their second season. Regression quickly followed, and in 2001, Carolina ended the year on a 15-game skid after winning the first game of the season.
The team moved to the NFC South. Quarterback Chris Weinke quickly fell out of favor. Rodney Peete was able to go 7-7 as the starter and No. 2 overall pick Julius Peppers helped lead to an improved 7-9 record in 2002.
But nobody expected what was in store for the next season. Backup QB Jake Delhomme found his way onto the field, and the Panthers went 11-5. Carolina then won three NFC playoff games to advance to the Super Bowl, losing to the New England Patriots on a late field goal.
2002 Cincinnati Bengals: 2-14
This season landed the No. 1 overall pick, which the Cincinnati Bengals turned into Carson Palmer. But the club chose to let him learn on the bench. Jon Kitna started every game of the 2003 season at QB, leading Cincinnati to an improved 8-8 record. Palmer took over in 2004, and although he also went 8-8, his potential was obvious.
The Bengals won the division the next season at 11-5. Palmer then suffered a devastating knee injury on the opening drive of the postseason showdown against the Steelers. The Bengals then missed the playoffs in three straight seasons, winning fewer games each year.
2004 San Francisco 49ers: 2-14
This season led to the selection of Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick, so who knows how things would have gone had San Francisco selected Aaron Rodgers instead? Smith didn’t develop the way the 49ers hoped, and they missed the postseason in the first six seasons of his career.
Smith led the 2011 49ers to the NFC Championship Game (loss to the Giants), but eventually lost his job to Colin Kaepernick. After deep runs in 2012 and 2013, San Francisco has missed the postseason in five consecutive years.
2007 Miami Dolphins: 1-15
The Miami Dolphins make for an extremely interesting outlier, as they improved from 1-15 to 11-5 and the playoffs in one year. Miami won the AFC East after New England QB Tom Brady tore his ACL in the 2008 season opener.
Chad Pennington started all 16 games, but this was just a flash in the pan. The Dolphins got smoked by Baltimore in a wild-card game, and they didn’t finish above .500 again until 2016. They have the lowest win projection of any team in 2019.
2008 Detroit Lions: 0-16
The Lions had a tougher time bouncing back from a winless season than the Browns have had, but not by much.
The ’08 season resulted in Detroit drafting QB Matthew Stafford, who started 10 games as a rookie, but the Lions won just two games. That resulted in Detroit selecting DT Ndamukong Suh in the next draft, and a six-win season in 2010 while Stafford dealt with injuries.
With a healthy Stafford, who won Comeback Player of the Year, the Lions won 10 games in 2011 and made the playoffs.
Stafford’s health has always been an issue, but Detroit was able to make the playoffs three times in five years after that first appearance (although they’ve missed it the last two seasons).
2009 St. Louis Rams: 1-15
This season resulted in the Sam Bradford pick.
Bradford makes Stafford’s injury history look tame. Bradford did lead the St. Louis Rams to a 7-9 record in 2010, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he started to get injured, and St. Louis reverted to a two-win team in 2011.
The Rams never reached .500 again in St. Louis. The move to Los Angeles was rocky at first (4-12 in 2016), but we all know the improvements Sean McVay made in his two seasons as the head coach.
2011 Indianapolis Colts: 2-14
This is another unique situation. Peyton Manning sat out this season with a neck injury, resulting in the pick that made Andrew Luck the franchise quarterback and drove Manning out of town.
Luck was able to give his team an immediate shot in the arm, much like Mayfield.
Luck won 11 games in each of the first three seasons in Indianapolis, and went deeper into the postseason each time.
While injury issues kept the Colts from going better than .500 in the three following seasons, Luck brought his team back to the postseason in 2018, winning a game in the process.
2012 Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14
This one just led to more misery in Jacksonville. The Jags won four games the following season, part of a six-year span where the franchise failed to reach 6-10 in any individual season.
A nine-year postseason drought ended in 2017, but Jacksonville finished 5-11 last year. We’ll see what QB Nick Foles has in store for his new team.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs: 2-14
This is an interesting one, as a change at coach and quarterback made all the difference.
Romeo Crennel, Matt Cassell and Brady Quinn went out the door after 2012, and Andy Reid, and Alex Smith, entered the picture.
The Chiefs immediately became a Super Bowl contender, winning double-digit games and making the postseason in five of the next six years, a streak that continues into the 2019 season.
It began with an 11-5 record in 2013, as the Chiefs then lost to the Colts in a memorable 45-44 Wild Card shootout.
2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tennessee Titans: 2-14
The jury’s still out on this one, I guess. But things aren’t looking great for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the quarterbacks Tampa Bay and Tennessee added in the 2015 NFL draft, respectively.
Winston has won between 5 and 9 games in each of the first four years of his career, with zero playoff wins.
Mariota won just three games his first year in the league, but has managed 9-7 in each of the last three seasons, along with one postseason appearance.