Derry: Is Expansion Over Yet?

OBR Columnist Frank Derry takes a look at the Browns pain over their first eight years since coming back to the league, and compares it to similar franchises. Are the Browns a typical expansion franchise? Here's your answer...

So, just how long should it take for an expansion team to grow from being an easy mark to one that is capable of competing with any team in the league on a weekly basis?

More than eight years?

If you go by what the new Cleveland Browns have done, that's what you might think.

Now eight years old, the Browns still look, and play, like a first or second-year expansion team. Sure, they will occasionally show enough to lose a close game to a good team and sometimes beat an average or sub-par club.

But is this the norm for a franchise nearly a decade old?

The only way to make such a determination is to study the results of other modern-day expansion teams eight years into existence.

A look at history shows there are eight other teams that have formed since the mid-1960s. I'm including the Miami Dolphins in that group, even though they were born as an American Football League team. And I'm excluding the Houston Texans, because they are not yet eight.

Half of the teams in question produced much better results. One was slightly better than the Browns. Two others were about equal and there's one that couldn't even match the Browns' dismal performance.

The best of the bunch were the Dolphins, who were born in 1965 and played their first game in 1966, the same year the NFL and AFL merged. Five years (1970) into their existence, the Dolphins were in the playoffs with a 10-4 record. The next year they reached the AFC Championship Game after going 10-3-1 in the regular season.

In 1972 they became the last team to go undefeated en route to their first Super Bowl crown, then repeated as Super Bowl Champions in their eighth year in 1973. That left them with an eight-year regular-season record of 61-48-2, two Super Bowl titles and two other playoff appearances.

The Browns, by comparison, are 40-88 with one playoff loss over their first eight years.

Also proving that successful organizations can be built almost overnight were the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 9-7 in just their second year (1996) and then made the playoffs the next season with an 11-5 mark.

They followed that by going 11-5 in 1997 and 14-2 in 1999, when they reached the AFC Championship Game. The next three seasons brought them back to earth a bit, but after eight years they were 68-60 with three playoff appearances.

Also doing very well very quickly were the Cincinnati Bengals, who played their first game in 1968. Owned and coached by former Browns legend Paul Brown, the Bengals won their first AFC Central Division title in 1970 despite going just 8-6.

Two years later they won the division again, this time with a 10-4 record and then in their eighth year qualified for the playoffs as a wild card team with an 11-3 record. They had the misfortune of becoming a powerhouse at the same time the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the midst of a dynasty.

Overall, the Bengals went 55-56-1 in their first eight years and made the playoffs three times.

Yet another team that met with success in its first eight years was the Carolina Panthers, who also joined the NFL in 1995. In just their second season, the Panthers went 12-4 during the regular season and actually reached the NFC Championship Game.

Things went downhill after that, but the Panthers did finish their first eight years with a 53-75 record and one playoff appearance.

On the other end of the ladder are four teams that achieved very little success during their first eight years.

The Seattle Seahawks began play in 1976 and went their first seven years without a playoff appearance, finally breaking that streak in year eight when they went 9-7 and qualified as a wild card team.

They also went 9-7 in their third and fourth years and went 48-69 in their first eight years.

Tampa Bay and Atlanta were about equal with the Browns during their first eight years.

The Buccaneers, who began play in 1976, were 38-78-1 in their first eight years, including an 0-14 mark their first year. They did have two years of over .500 (10-6 in 1979 and 9-7 in '81), but made no playoff appearances.

The Falcons and Saints both began play in 1967 and, while neither made the playoffs during their first eight years, the Falcons had much the better of it.

Atlanta went 39-69-4, with a high-water mark of 9-5 in 1973.

The Saints are the only team that posted a lower winning percentage than the Browns, going 30-77-5 during their first eight years, with a high-water mark of 5-9 on three separate occasions.

And so, while we obviously haven't had much to cheer about when it has come to the Browns the past eight years, things have been worse. At least a little.

 TEAM  FIRST GAME  8-YR RECORD  PLAYOFF APP.
 Miami 1966 61-48-2 4
Jacksonville 1995 68-60-0 3
Cincinnati 1968 55-56-1 3
Carolina 1995 53-75-0 1
Seattle 1976 48-69-0 1
Atlanta 1967 39-69-4 0
Tampa Bay 1976 38-78-1 0
Cleveland 1999 40-88-0 1
 New Orleans 1967  30-77-5 0




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