Longest Playoff Droughts in Sports

Rob Joyce
January 12, 2021 - 8:39 am

Three of the NFL's longest playoff droughts came to an end over the weekend. On Saturday the Bills hosted their first playoff game since 1996 and, by way of a late stop, won their first playoff game since 1995 in a 27-24 nail-biter over the Colts.

That was followed up by the Buccaneers snapping an 18-year playoff drought with a victory over Washington. Then on Sunday night the Browns exorcised some of their demons. Playing their first postseason game since 2002, at a place (Heinz Field) they've lost 17 straight times, throttled the Steelers for their first playoff win since 1994.

On the franchise level things are obviously looking up long-term for Buffalo and Cleveland, while Tampa Bay is riding high with 43-year-old Tom Brady. But what about the group with whom that trio previously shared its company? Who now owns the longest droughts in sports for both playoff appearances and wins? Sport-by-sport, here's a look:

NFL
Longest win drought - Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati is still the active leader in longest stretch without a playoff win, last coming in the wild-card round of the 1990 playoffs. Fast forward 30 years and the Bengals are still in search of a victory, having lost in seven straight playoff appearances, most recently in 2015 when they melted down late against the Steelers.

Right behind the Bengals are the Lions, who last won a playoff game in 1991. Everyone else has at least one playoff game this century.

Longest playoff drought - New York Jets: With the Browns and Bucs both having made the playoffs in 2020, the Jets now own the longest drought, not having appeared in a postseason contest since the 2010 AFC Championship Game. That 10-year drought is twice as long as anyone else in the NFL, as the Cardinals, Bengals and Broncos have all most recently made the playoffs five years ago.

NBA
Longest series win drought - 3-way tie: The Kings and Timberwolves both last won playoff series in 2004 - Minnesota won a seven-game series against Sacramento in the Western Conference semis. Technically those two share the title with the Hornets, but there's a twist!

When the Hornets returned to Charlotte, they re-gained the original franchise's history (the Hornets and Bobcats). Their history in New Orleans belongs to the Pelicans, so from a record-keeping standpoint Charlotte was inactive for two seasons (2002-03 & 2003-04). So despite the fact that the franchise hasn't won a playoff series since 2002, it's technically been 16 years. (You get all that?)

Longest playoff drought - Sacramento Kings: While the Kings share the crown for longest series win drought, they sit alone atop the throne for playoff appearances period. It's been 14 years since Sacramento last made the postseason, losing to the Spurs in six games in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.

After that, the Suns are going on a decade since last qualifying, followed by the seven years the Knicks have waited.

MLB
Longest postseason series win drought - Pittsburgh Pirates: The one-game wild card messes with this a bit, as a bunch of teams have won the single game and then lost in the LDS. So for these purposes we'll go with who has the longest series (LDS, LCS or World Series) drought, and we find ourselves in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won the wild card in 2013 before losing in five games to the Cardinals in the LDS, then lost the wild card game in each of the next two years.

So we have to go all the way back to 1992 to get the last time Pittsburgh actually won a postseason series, winning the NLDS before Sid Bream and the heartbreak in Game 7 of the NLCS against Atlanta.

Longest postseason drought - Seattle Mariners: Everyone has at least made the wild card game in the last decade, except for Seattle. Since winning 116 games and losing in the ALCS in 2001, the Mariners have failed to qualify for the postseason 19 straight years. And not only that, but they haven't been particularly close to doing so in that span either.

They finished six games out of the wild card in 2002 and just two back in 2003. Since then they haven't won 90 games in a season, and have only finished above .500 five times.

NHL
Longest playoff series win drought - Florida Panthers: In just their third year of existence the Panthers made a dream run to the Stanley Cup Final (bring on the rats!), with series victories over Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh... and they haven't won since. They made the playoffs in just four of the next 22 seasons, losing in the first round each time. Then in the 2020 playoff qualifying round they were bounced, bringing their streak to 23 years without a series win.

Longest playoff drought - Buffalo Sabres: The shortest of the "leaders" in the four major sports, Buffalo hasn't been to the playoffs in nine years, making a first-round exit in 2011. They came somewhat close the next year, and since then it's been a struggle despite drafting Jack Eichel in 2015. Since expanding to eight-team divisions in 2013 the Sabres haven't finished higher than sixth, nor have they finished at or above NHL .500.

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