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At the start of the season, every team dreams of the playoffs. For some, that dream is realized regularly. For others, it’s occasionally accomplished. But each league has a handful that helplessly fails year after year and has given their fans the longest playoff droughts in sports. This is about those teams.
This is not a place you want to find yourself, but if you’re reading this, it’s likely for two reasons: to laugh at the pain of a team you hate or to laugh at your pain because of the team you love. The cause of your attendance will affect your enjoyment. Consider this before continuing.
If that warning didn’t scare you off, then you’re in it for the long haul, which could mean up to 12 years. Also, if you’re a Detroit fan, then I don’t know why you’re still interested in sports – they’re clearly not that into you.
Lastly, congratulations to the Sacramento Kings, whose recent playoff appearance snapped not only the longest active playoff drought in the NBA but also in major North American pro sports. It took the Kings 16 years to get back to the postseason. New York Jets, you’re on the clock!
Longest Active Playoff Droughts in Major North American Pro Sports
3. Detroit Lions – 6 seasons
The Lions last made the playoffs in the 2016 campaign, earning the No. 6 seed in the NFC with a 9-7 regular season record. Under head coach Jim Caldwell, the team traveled to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the Wild Card Round. It didn’t go well – 26-6.
Detroit is 35-61-2 since last appearing in the postseason and has experienced two three-win seasons. Detroit sports fans are whatever the opposite of spoiled is.
2. Denver Broncos – 7 seasons
On Feb. 7, 2016, Peyton Manning and the Broncos lifted the Lombardi Trophy for the third time in the franchise’s history. Denver hasn’t seen a playoff snap since.
From the highest highs to some of the lowest lows the Broncos have been through since the 1970s, it’s been a turbulent decade at Mile High. After the recent hire of Sean Payton as their new head coach, the Broncos are now on their fifth boss since winning Super Bowl 50.
1. New York Jets – 12 seasons
It’s even worse than you think.
Twelve seasons without a playoff appearance in a salary-capped league that lets nearly half of its participants into the postseason is bad enough. But the Jets have only had one winning season since they played in the 2010-11 NFL Playoffs, and that was in 2015. The Jets haven’t topped seven wins in eight years.
In its last trip, New York narrowly defeated the Colts, 17-16, in the Wild Card Round via a Nick Folk field goal as time expired. It was Peyton Manning’s final game as a Colt. The Jets hit the road again to take on the top-seeded Patriots and stunned the NFL, upsetting New England, 28-21. The run stalled in Pittsburgh as the Steelers quickly counted a 24-0 lead that would just about hold NY at bay, 24-19. That AFC Championship defeat marked the start of the longest-active playoff droughts in all of North American pro sports.
T-2. San Antonio Spurs – 4 seasons
From 1998 through 2019, the Spurs set the NBA record for the most-consecutive playoff appearances in a row, winning five championships in that span. But since skipping the postseason in 2020, San Antonio is now on the exact opposite list.
In 2019, the Spurs went 48-34, good for the No. 7 seed in the West and a series with the second-seeded Denver Nuggets. San Antonio pushed the higher seed to seven, even holding 1-0 and 2-1 series leads. But in Game 7, the Nuggets held off a Spurs comeback attempt in the fourth quarter and held on, 90-86, sending the No. 7 seed back home. Since that defeat, San Antonio has gotten progressively worse, going from narrowly missing the playoff spots to now barely hitting the 20-win mark.
T-2. Detroit Pistons – 4 seasons
The Pistons finished .500 in the 2018-19 season to claim the East’s No. 8 seed. In the first round, they met the Milwaukee Bucks, and it didn’t go very well. Detroit dipped quickly, succumbing to the sweep without getting particularly close in any of its four contests against the top-seeded Bucks. It extended the franchise’s playoff appearances without winning an outing to three – Detroit has not won a playoff game since 2008.
Since the swift 2019 exit, the Pistons have hovered around the bottom of the East. They’re poised for their second dead-last conference finish in four years and haven’t won more than 23 games in any of the last four campaigns. It’s been a miserable time in the Motor City.
1. Charlotte Hornets – 7 seasons
Charlotte was the No. 6 seed in the East in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, taking on the Heat in the first round. That matchup went to seven thanks to three-straight Charlotte wins after going down 2-0 in the series, but LeBron’s Miami claimed Games 6 and 7 to send the Hornets home.
The Hornets have had just one winning season since. That was last season, and it got Charlotte into the Play-In Tournament for a quick one-and-done loss to the Hawks, 132-103. The playoff drought in North Carolina continued, and as one of the East’s worst this campaign, the status quo has remained. With the Kings clinching a playoff return, the Hornets now have the longest active playoff drought in the NBA.
T-3. Kansas City Royals – 7 seasons
On Nov. 1, 2015, the Royals used 12 innings to outlast the Mets, 7-2, in Game 5 of the World Series to achieve the team’s second-ever MLB championship and first in 30 years. How many post-seasonless seasons would Kansas City fans have been willing to trade in return for that World Series?
Apparently, at least seven. That’s how long it’s been since the Royals returned to the playoffs. After two campaigns at or hovering around .500, KC plummeted to back-to-back seasons of 100-plus losses. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 2015.
T-3. Pittsburgh Pirates – 7 seasons
A 98-64 record was enough to get the Pirates into the 2015 NLWC against the Cubs, the third-straight postseason berth for Pittsburgh. Jake Arrieta shut out the Pirates with 11 strikeouts in nine innings, and the Cubs advanced to the NLDS, 4-0.
Pittsburgh has not since matched its 98-win total from 2015 and finished with win percentages below .384 in each of the last three campaigns. The momentum built in the middle of the 2010s is long gone, and the Pirates have devolved to the basement dwellers they were for much of the 1990s and 2000s.
T-1. Detroit Tigers – 8 seasons
In 2014, the Tigers were AL Central champions and a No. 3 seed in the MLB Playoffs, their fourth-consecutive postseason bid. This one did not go as well as the other three. Detroit did not win a game in its ALDS series against the Orioles and was swiftly eliminated, 3-0.
The franchise has had one winning season in the years following and finished fifth in its division four times since its last playoffs. There have been some tough times in Motown, and the team’s playoff drought is inching closer to double digits.
T-1. Los Angeles Angels – 8 seasons
After four seasons without making the playoffs, the Angels won 98 games and finished first in the AL West in 2014. As the AL’s No. 1 seed, LA matched up with the Royals, who had to beat the A’s in the ALWC to reach the Angels. In a shock, Kansas City swept Los Angeles, 3-0, taking Games 1 and 2 in extra innings before battering the top seed in Game 3, 8-3.
Things haven’t been the same for the Angels since. They’ve placed in the bottom two of their division five times dating back to 2015, the start of this playoff drought. Despite having some of baseball’s best during this time, the Angels have spent eight years on the outside looking in.
3. Ottawa Senators – 6 seasons
The Senators finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2017, good for the team’s second playoff appearance in three years. Craig Anderson caught fire and Erik Karlsson did the rest as the Sens first dispatched of the Bruins, 4-2, then the Rangers in the second round, 4-2. Ottawa was tasked with the reigning champion Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals and pushed Pittsburgh to the brink, but the dream ended on a back-breaking double-overtime goal in Game 7.
This season, Ottawa’s 86 points were six behind the East’s second wildcard, extending the playoff drought by one more year. This is the longest the franchise has ever spent away from the postseason; the only other period in Ottawa’s history that it missed the playoffs in consecutive campaigns was at its very beginning from the 1992-93 through 1995-96 seasons.
2. Detroit Red Wings – 7 seasons
From 1991 through 2016, the Red Wings didn’t skip a postseason. In that span, Detroit hoisted three Stanley Cups, played in two more Stanley Cup Finals, and was one of the most menacing outfits the NHL had to offer.
That hasn’t been the case for several years now. In 2016, the Red Wings exited the playoffs in the first round for the third time in a row, succumbing to the Lightning in five. The team has spent portions of the last seven campaigns as one of the worst in the league, including a 39-point performance in the slightly-shortened 2019-20 season. This year, Detroit ended in seventh in the Atlantic Division and 12 points outside of a playoff spot.
1. Buffalo Sabres – 12 seasons
The Sabres are the last team in the NHL to have not qualified for the playoffs since the league realigned to four divisions in 2013.
More than a decade ago, Buffalo amassed 96 points in the 2010-11 season, good for third in the Eastern Conference’s Northeast Division. It was the team’s second postseason in a row and fourth in six years. As the No. 7 seed in the East, the Sabres paired with the Flyers in the first round. Buffalo took the second seed to seven, even earning a 3-2 series lead after an overtime victory in Game 5. But Philadelphia got revenge in Game 6’s OT and comfortably finished the job in Game 7, 5-2.
Buffalo has seen some tough times over the last 11 years. Since the inception of the Atlantic Division, the Sabres have occupied its anchor five times. The franchise has rotated through seven different coaches since 2011. In 2022-23, the Sabres put up their best point total since last appearing in the playoffs, collecting 91 points on 42 wins. Buffalo finished just one point behind the required amount for the 2023 postseason.
Until the New York Jets miss the playoffs again later this year to reach that lucky number 13, the Sabres are tied with them for the longest-active playoff droughts in the four major North American pro sports leagues.
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