Who’s second-worst in the NFL?

As far as which NFL team is currently the worst, these Jaguars fans know that their squad has it in the bag. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

As far as which NFL team is currently the absolute worst, these Jaguars fans know that their squad has it in the bag. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

openingkicklogoWith the Redskins hosting the Chargers (not to mention the Eagles visiting the Raiders), here’s a factoid of which you may or may not have been made aware: the NFC East is 1-9 against the AFC West.

Of course, Washington can take a modicum of pride in the fact that it owns the ’1′ in that lousy record. On the other hand, that one win came against the Raiders, who are not only the worst team in the AFC West, but are the only team from that division that the other NFC East squads have yet to play. And then there’s the fact that the Redskins caught Oakland during the one week when starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor was out with an injury. Pryor’s replacement, Matt Flynn, was so awful in that game that Oakland subsequently cut him, and Flynn eventually wound up banished to Siberia (by which I mean Buffalo).

So maybe beating the Raiders that day and notching the one NFC East win so far against the AFC West wasn’t such an impressive feat. But actually, beating Oakland this year has been a lot tougher than folks anticipated before the season. The Raiders were widely considered a shoo-in to be one the worst teams in the NFL, if not the lousiest of them all. But with the uber-athletic Pryor and a defense allowing the 10th-fewest yards per game, Oakland has been surprisingly frisky. At 3-4, the team is halfway to forcing nfl.com writer Chris Wesseling to eat his softball pants.

Eight weeks into the season, there is very much a shoo-in for worst team, and that is Jacksonville, which isn’t just winless, but has been outscored by double-digits in every game. The awfulness of the Jags cannot even be contained to our continent; just last week, they took their act to Britain and got shellacked by the 49ers.

So there’s no debate about the worst team in the NFL. But what about second-worst?

The obvious answer is — hello — the only other team that has yet to win a game, the Buccaneers. But it’s still early enough in the season that I don’t think that won-loss record is the end-all and be-all for this discussion. In fact, I am of the opinion that the two-win Giants have been an overall worse team, and so have the one-win Buccaneers Vikings.

Start with the fact — well, maybe it’s more of an assertion — that the Bucs really should have one win. One specific player, linebacker Lavonte David, committed a Bey0nd the Valley of the Boneheaded penalty in the final seconds of the Week 1 loss to the Jets that basically handed New York their shot at a game-winning field goal. In fact, Tampa Bay either had a lead or was tied in the final minute of three of its first four games. The Giants have only enjoyed a similar scenario in the two games that they wound up winning, and their 38-0 loss to the Panthers (followed by a 31-7 loss to the Chiefs) represents a far worse effort than anything the Bucs have done so far.

So let’s get to those two games the Giants won. The main thing I would note is that they came against quarterbacks who really had no business being on the field that day. Josh Freeman had been terrible for, yes, the Bucs and had had just a handful of practices with Minnesota before being thrust into the Monday night spotlight. He was predictably awful, but New York wasn’t much better; in fact, many observers noted that the Vikings might well have won that game if only they had stuck with Christian Ponder. Then, last week against Philadelphia, Michael Vick left early with a recurrence of his hamstring injury, and with Nick Foles already out with a concussion, that put the Eagles’ offense in the unprepared and apparently un-talented hands of Matt Barkley.  Barkley and Vick combined for two interceptions, two fumbles (one lost) and four sacks taken, and yet the Giants were only able to convert all that into five field goals. Their 15-7 win over Philly was only exceeded in ugliness by that 23-7 eyesore against Minnesota.

Which brings us to the Vikings, another strong candidate for second-worst team. They did lose that putrid game to the Giants, and their only victory came against a then-winless Steelers squad in London. It speaks volumes about the Vikings that they preferred the quarterback Tampa Bay couldn’t wait to get rid of over anything they already had. Minnesota is terrible on both sides of the ball, ranked 29th in the NFL in total offense and 30th in defense. That’s compared to the Giants at 21st and 18th, respectively, and the Bucs at 31st and 14th. Note that Tampa Bay has both the worst unit of the three teams, and the best — its defense is the only one among the three that is above average.

Then we get to advanced metrics. I won’t pretend to understand all of them, but I don’t have to. The wonks at Football Outsiders do, and in their team efficiency ranks, they also have the Giants second-worst to the Jags. Third-worst is, ahem, the Redskins, then the Texans and Raiders. The Bucs come in at 27th, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Football Outsiders weights its DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) system toward recent results, so it also doesn’t think much of the Giants’ two game winning streak. Numberfire, a Web site that uses statistical analysis to make fantasy football recommendations, has the Giants just ahead of the Bucs, but their power rankings put the Vikings at second-worst to the Jaguars. Finally, Prediction Machine, a Web site that runs endless game simulations in order to make betting recommendations, also has the Vikings second-worst; the Bucs come in at 28th and the Giants are 22nd.

And with all that, I rest my case. The Bucs are bad, but I think the Giants and Vikings have better claims to being the NFL’s second-worst team. What do you think? Did I persuade you? Do you have still another candidate in mind, like, say, the Redskins? (Hey, they haven’t been good, I think we can all agree on that.)

Of course, my argument probably won’t be helped this weekend, when the Giants sit at home on bye and watch the Bucs travel to Seattle. That won’t go well.

Des Bieler is a page designer, artist and writer who contributes his NFL insights to Opening Kick on Fridays and the print edition’s game-day page on Sundays. Follow him on Twitter at @DezBeeWP.

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Around the Web:

● Andrew Heisel of slate.com writes a screed against the “grotesque” frequency with which NFL telecasts show reactions of team owners. Worth reading either for the left-wing vitriol, or the numerous shots fired at Jerry Jones.

● If you missed last night’s Bengals-Dolphins game, you missed events that ranged from the sublime (Giovanni Bernard’s 35-yard touchdown run) to the sad (Geno Atkins’s season-ending injury) to the downright wacky (Cameron Wake’s walk-off safety in overtime). But not to worry — the folks at nfl.com’s Around the League blog have it all recapped for you.

● What’s that you say? You want previews of Sunday’s NFL action, with a little fantasy analysis thrown in? Well, clicky here, my friends!

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice at 1 p.m. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett talks with reporters before practice, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan afterward.

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