W9 poll -- best expansion franchise

01/01/2005

Week Nine poll: Best expansion franchise

Both Jacksonville -- featured in this week's spotlight matchup with Dallas -- and Carolina both had recent success as expansion franchises, but they aren't the only nascent league members to get up to speed in a hurry. We've chosen four fast-learning franchises from NFL history -- which expansion team was the best?  We set out the criteria -- early success, playoff berths and longevity should be weighed equally-- and let you decide. Don't forget to check out our previous poll results from Weeks One-Eight.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Mark Brunell

The Jags joined the league in 1995 and established themselves as credible competitors immediately. Though they dropped their opener to the Houston Oilers, 10-3, Jacksonville's 4-12 record in its initial campaign was one more than any previous first-year team. In addition, their 4-4 divisional mark was an expansion a record. But 1996 proved to be even more stunning. The Jags made the AFC playoffs before shocking Buffalo and Denver by identical 30-27 scores behind the heroics of Mark Brunell. New England finally ended the second-year group's magical run in the AFC Championship game. Since then, Tom Coughlin -- the franchise's lone coach -- has led the team to two AFC Central titles in three years.

Carolina Panthers

Kerry Collins

As amazing as expansion brethren Jacksonville's first year was, the Carolina Panthers outdid the Jags in 1995. Carolina finished at 7-9 in their first-year, shattering the previous mark for wins in an opening campaign by 4!  In 1996, Dom Capers' amazing Panthers stunned the football world by winning the NFC West with a 12-4 mark, including a sweep of the 49ers in the regular season. Though the Packers eventually knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs in the NFC Championship game, Carolina's two-year opening act may be unparalleled in football history. Since '96, the Panthers have only finished at .500 or better once -- an 8-8 mark in 1999.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

John McKay

Remembered largely for a futile 26-game opening losing streak and a hilarious head coach (John McKay), it's easy to forget the success of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa went 0-14 in 1976, its initial season, and would lose 12 more to open 1977 before knocking off New Orleans for the team's first win. But after finishing '77 at 2-12 and '78 at 5-11, Tampa stopped the laughing by winning the NFC Central in 1979 with a 10-6 mark. Led by future Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon and QB Doug Williams, the Bucs advanced to the NFC Championship game, where they fell to Los Angeles, 9-0. Tampa built on this early success in 1981 by claiming a second division crown. The recent Bucs have returned to prominence by advancing to a second conference title game in 1999.

Dallas Cowboys

Tom Landry

Dallas entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1960 under the leadership of coach Tom Landry. The Cowboys did not experience the immediate success of the aforementioned teams, finishing 0-11-1, 4-9-1, 5-8-1, 4-10, 5-8-1, and 7-7 in their first six years. But beginning in 1966, Dallas strung together 20 straight winning seasons, including 18 playoff berths, 13 division titles, five Super Bowl appearances, and two Super Bowl titles (VI and XII). So while the Cowboys' success didn't arrive as early, it proved to be more lasting -- the team added three more Super Bowl titles in the '90s. 

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Note: Photos courtesy of the Associated Press.

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