There are three NFL teams in Florida, the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Historically the Dolphins are one of the NFL’s most successful franchises with a long run of success in the 70s and early 80s including an undefeated season in 1972. But all three teams have mostly struggled in the 21st century with just a handful of playoff appearances between them. But Tampa Bay has made the most of their eight playoff berths with a pair of titles.
Growing up a Vikings fan in the late 90s, it never made sense to me that Tampa Bay was in the same division as Minnesota. Thank goodness they finally fixed that when the divisions were realigned. But as frustrating as my favorite team has been, Florida fans have to feel the similarity for the last twenty years.
How have the NFL’s Florida franchises fared? In this article, we’ll take a look at the history, successes, failures, and stories of these three organizations. Spoilers, the last twenty years have been pretty rough for the most part unless you happen to stumble into a couple of years of Tom Brady.
- The NFL has three franchises in Florida, the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars
- The 1972 Miami Dolphins are still the only NFL team to post an undefeated season
- All three franchises have struggled to maintain success in the 21st century, although Tampa Bay has won a pair of Super Bowls
The most storied and successful of Florida’s franchises is unquestionably the Miami Dolphins. While they have only two Super Bowl championships, they’ve appeared in the title game five times and have the sixth-highest winning franchise of any NFL team. [1, 2]
For current fans, most of that success feels like a distant memory or stories their parents tell them. The 1972 Dolphins remain football royalty, the only team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular and postseason. But those days are long gone, Miami hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since 1984, Dan Marino’s rookie year. Since 2001, they’ve only qualified for the postseason three times. 
Miami’s first taste of professional football came in 1946 with the Miami Seahawks who played in the All-American Football Conference. But financial woes and virtually no support from their owner made the Seahawks run a brief one, and they completed only one season.
But 20 years later, an investor group led by Joe Robbie with the backing of the Miami community was awarded an expansion team in the growing NFL. The Dolphins struggled financially their first couple of years and attendance numbers were initially disappointing. But Robbie and his group continued to invest in the franchise, and their fortunes turned around when legendary coach Don Shula was hired in 1970. Shula and the Dolphin quickly rose to prominence, setting off a fifteen-year run as one of the best franchises in the league. 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After spending most of their first 20 years as a laughingstock, the Buccaneers turned their franchise’s fortunes around in 1997 under the tutelage of their defensive-minded head coach, Tony Dungy. The Bucs won ten games for just the second time in franchise history, setting off a run of five playoff appearances in six years that culminated in a Super Bowl title in 2001.
After their title, Tampa Bay would make the playoffs just twice between 2001 and 2019. But the arrival of Tom Brady from New England turned their fortunes around. The club won their second Super Bowl in Brady’s first year in 2020 and followed it up with two more playoff appearances. 
Now, with Brady retired, the Bucs look to be back in rebuilding mode.
Anxious to expand the NFL’s presence in Florida, Tampa Bay was given their expansion franchise at the advent of the 1976 season, entering the league along with the Seattle Seahawks. 
But the Buccaneers’ new fans would have to wait a long time to have anything worth celebrating. The franchise struggled mightily out of the gate, losing their first 26 games. 
While they now have two Super Bowl banners hanging, Tampa Bay has never managed to reach the .500 mark as a franchise. In fact, Tampa Bay has the lowest winning percentage of any NFL team at .404. 
The newest Florida-based football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars played their inaugural season in 1995. 
The franchise enjoyed almost immediate success, earning a playoff berth in its second year and reaching the AFC Championship game before falling to the New England Patriots. 
The team returned to the playoffs the following three seasons including another appearance in the AFC Championship game. But Jacksonville has struggled to recapture the glory of the late 90s with just four playoff appearances since 2000. 
The arrival of the Jaguars ended a decades-long attempt by the city to have its own professional football team. The city hosted AFL all-star games in the late 60s that included football legends such as Joe Namath. Jacksonville got its first professional team in the mid-70s in the now-defunct World Football League, but financial issues quickly ended the experiment.
For many years, the city was used as leverage by other NFL owners who would threaten to move their teams if they did not receive a new stadium or renovations. At various times, the Colts, Falcons, and Houston Oilers flirted with the prospect of moving to Florida.
But it wasn’t until the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL posted the highest attendance numbers in the league during the mid-80s that the NFL began to seriously consider the city for an expansion franchise. Growing support from the city and a track record of high attendance eventually led to the NFL rewarding Jacksonville with its first NFL franchise. 
With multiple highly regarded collegiate programs and three NFL franchises, Florida has long been a football hotbed. But their NFL teams haven’t enjoyed sustained runs of success. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville have enjoyed popup seasons that have resulted in a couple of titles for the Bucs. But even the storied Dolphins have struggled in the last twenty-plus years and those legendary teams of the 70s have to feel like a distant memory.
But the fortunes of an NFL team can turn around fast, and both the Jaguars and Dolphins have young quarterbacks with the potential to provide stability at the position for the next decade. Tampa Bay’s future looks murky post-Brady, and they may be looking at another stretch of mediocrity, something their fans are unfortunately used to.