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Just How Bad Is the Raiders' Offense?

Nov 17, 2006 – 8:03 AM
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Michael David Smith

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It's pretty well-established that the Raiders have the worst offense in the NFL this year. (If I could think of a bed-and-breakfast joke that hasn't already been used, that's what I'd write now.) But are they the worst of all time? That's what Jason Whitlock wants to know.

Football Outsiders uses play-by-play data to measure teams, and the site ranks the Raiders' offense as the worst in the league this year, but actually slightly better than the San Francisco 49ers of last year and the Houston Texans of 2002. Football Outsiders stats encompass 10 seasons, so the Raiders are third-worst since 1997 by their measures. (For an explanation of the Football Outsiders stats, click here.)

What about other stats? The Raiders aren't in much danger of breaking any all-time records for offensive futility because those records are safely in the hands of teams from the old days. Look, for instance, at the record for fewest first downs in a season. The top three teams are all from the 1930s. Ditto for fewest points and fewest yards gained.

But that says more about the type of football played in the 1930s than it does about those teams. What happens when we compare teams to the other teams in their eras? The writer Eddie Epstein has a terrific book called Dominance. As the title suggests, most of it is about the best NFL teams, but he also lists some stats about the worst teams. He created a stat called Offensive Power Index, which judges teams based on their yards gained and points scored, compared to the league average. The book was written in 2001, and at that time Epstein ranked these as the five worst offenses in NFL history:
(I've always found it amazing that Barry Sanders was able to get drafted by the team with the second-worst offense in history, the 1988 Lions, and instantly become an all-pro running back.) In any event, take the five teams from Dominance, add in the 49ers of 2005 and the Texans of 2002, and you've got a pretty good list of the worst offenses since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Tom Walsh and his players have seven more games to see if they can avoid joining that list.
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