19 Teams That Never Make the Playoffs

February 15, 2018 by John Harrington

Source: Justin Berl / Getty Images
Reaching the postseason is the goal of every professional sports team, and a reward for a successful regular season. For fans, the postseason is an emotional thrill; for players, it can mean professional and monetary rewards; and for the franchises, it’s additional revenue. Yet, not all teams make it to the playoffs, and some have been in a playoff drought for years.

It has become increasingly easy for professional sports teams to make it into the playoffs. About half of the teams in the NBA and the NHL qualify for the postseason each year. Major League Baseball and the NFL have expanded playoff opportunities in recent years by adding wild-card teams to the playoffs for teams that did not win their division but won enough games to reach the postseason. Ten MLB teams qualify for the postseason and 12 professional football teams make the playoffs.

Franchises such as the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, and the New York Yankees get to the postseason with such regularity that it has become a given for those fans. But for some unlucky teams, the playoffs are elusive. Before snapping the drought this year, the Buffalo Bills held the longest postseason drought of any professional sports team, missing the NFL playoffs for an astonishing 17 seasons.

To identify the 19 teams with the longest playoff drought, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL franchises that have gone the most full seasons without making it to a playoff game. It has been at least five seasons since any of these 19 professional teams played in a postseason game.

Click here to see the 19 teams that never make the playoffs.
Click here to read our detailed findings & methodology.

Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

19. Philadelphia 76ers
> League: NBA
> Playoff drought: 5 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-3, to Boston Celtics

The Philadelphia 76ers finished within the bottom five of the league in the past four seasons and dead last during the 2015-2016 season. The 2011-2012 season was the last time the Sixers saw playoff action, finishing 35-31 and eighth in the conference. Prior to that season, they had only made it to the first round a total of four times since the 2004-2005 season. Currently, the 76ers are ranked seventh in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain this status and make it to the playoffs this year.

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Source: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

18. Orlando Magic
> League: NBA
> Playoff drought: 5 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2012 Eastern Conference, first round 4-1, to Indiana Pacers

While the Orlando Magic has made it to the playoffs five straight years since the 2006-2007 season, it has failed to earn a postseason spot in the last five. To say the past several seasons have been rough for the Magic is an understatement. The team has won just 32% of its games during those years and had four different coaches.The last time there was real magic in Orlando was in the 2008-2009 season. That year the team finished third in the Eastern Conference with a record of 59-23 and reached the NBA Finals only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

17. Arizona Coyotes
> League: NHL
> Playoff drought: 5 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2012 Lost NHL Conference Finals 4-1, to the Los Angeles Kings

Formerly known as the Phoenix Coyotes and before that the Winnipeg Jets, the Arizona Coyotes have not reached the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season, where they went 42-27. This season is looking especially bad for the team; they stand dead last with a record of 15-32 thus far. After making the playoffs for three seasons in succession with Dave Tippett as coach, the past five seasons have been nothing short of disappointment. Tippett left the team at the end of last season and was replaced by Rick Tocchet.

Source: Steven Ryan / Getty Images

16. New Jersey Devils
> League: NHL
> Playoff drought: 5 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2012 Lost Stanley Cup Final 4-2, to Los Angeles Kings

The New Jersey Devils made it the playoffs a total of 21 times, winning three Stanley Cups. The last time they won the championship was in 2003, although they played again in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. That season they finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the league. Fortunately for the Devils, their playoffs drought may just come to an end this year. The team has done relatively well this season, with a 28-20 record so far and currently seeded fourth in the Eastern Division. This is a significant improvement from last season’s standing at eighth in the league having gone 28-40.

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Source: Rich Schultz / Getty Images

15. Philadelphia Phillies
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 6 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2011 NLDS 3-2, to St. Louis Cardinals

The Phillies dominated the National League East in the first decade of this century, winning five consecutive division titles starting in 2007. In 2008, powered by Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley, they won their second World Series. In 2011, Philadelphia rolled up 102 wins, the most in franchise history, and won the division. But the Phillies lost to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Since then, the Phillies have reached .500 only once, and this past season finished 31 games behind the division-winning Washington Nationals. The Phillies have completely turned over their roster from their glory days and are counting on young pitchers such as Aaron Nola to return to contention.

 
Source: Justin Berl / Getty Images

14. Milwaukee Brewers
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 6 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2011 (NLCS) 4-2, to the St. Louis Cardinals

The Milwaukee Brewers’ have been in a playoff drought for six seasons. The team’s last appearance was in the 2011 NLCS, where they lost in six games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Since then, the Brewers have had two managers, Ron Roenicke and Craig Counsell. Counsell became coach in 2015, but wasn’t able to turn the Brewers around from a below .500 team until 2017, when the team went 86-76. 2017 was the best season the Brewers had since 2011, finishing second in their division. It will be interesting to see if Counsell’s efforts to bring this team back up in the ranks will bear more fruit in the the upcoming 2018 season.

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Source: Abbie Parr / Getty Images

13. Buffalo Sabres
> League: NHL
> Playoff drought: 6 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2011 NHL Conference Quarterfinals 4-3, to Philadelphia Flyers

In their 46-year history, the Buffalo Sabres have made the playoffs 29 times and reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice. The current playoff drought of six years is the longest in the franchise’s history. Since reaching the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2011, the Sabres have topped the .500 mark only once. Their prospects for reaching the playoffs this year are bleak. As of Feb. 14, the team was in last place in the Atlantic Division, with a record of 17-30. The Sabres are betting the future on third-year center Jack Eichel. In October, Buffalo and the 20-year-old Eichel agreed to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

12. Phoenix Suns
> League: NBA
> Playoff drought: 7 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2010 Western Conference Finals 4-2 to, Los Angeles Lakers

Until recently, the Phoenix Suns were a perennial contender in the NBA playoffs. In the 22 years starting from the 1988-1989 season, the Suns missed the postseason just three times. Over that span, the Suns reached the NBA Finals in 1993, where they lost to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Things have deteriorated since then. The Suns have had one winning season since they last made the playoffs in 2010, when they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. This season, the Suns have lost four games by 40 points or more. In a 46-point rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr sat back and let his players call the plays.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

11. New York Jets
> League: NFL
> Playoff drought: 7 seasons
> Last appearance results: 2010 AFC Championship Game 24-19, to Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s been four years since the colorful Rex Ryan provided fodder for sportswriters as coach of the Jets. But he did get results in his first two years at the helm of the team, taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game twice. The last time was in 2010, when the Jets lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-19. The Jets have had only one winning season since then and have finished last in the AFC East three times in their last four seasons. Coach Todd Bowles has struggled with team discipline over the last several seasons. He benched pass rusher Muhammad Wilkerson this past season for missing team meetings.

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Source: Leon Halip / Getty Images

10. Chicago Bears
> League: NFL
> Playoff drought: 7 seasons
> Last appearance results: 2010 NFC Championship Game 21-14, to Green Bay Packers

The Bears have a rich history, winning nine NFL championships, including a Super Bowl victory. They last appeared in a Super Bowl in 2006, losing to the Indianapolis Colts. Chicago’s last playoff appearance was in 2010, when the Bears reached the NFC Championship Game and lost to their historic rival Green Bay Packers. Since that season, the Monsters of the Midway have been less than monstrous, posting only one winning season in the last seven. The Bears have finished in last place in the NFC North Division four straight years, and earlier this year fired coach John Fox. There is room for optimism, though. The Bears are getting younger, with 34 players 28-years-old or younger, and they switched to rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky from the more experienced Mike Glennon after a 1-3 start. The Bears also beat three playoff teams this past year.

 
Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

9. Carolina Hurricanes
> League: NHL
> Playoff drought: 8 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2009 NHL Conference Finals 4-0, to Pittsburgh Penguins

The Carolina Hurricanes has only been in existence since 1998, but they have already won a Stanley Cup (in 2006) and have made the playoffs five times in their history. Unfortunately for the hockey team, four of those playoff appearances occurred within the first eight years of their existence. The last time the Hurricanes reached the playoffs was in 2009, when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes have had four winning seasons since their last playoff appearance. Their 27-21 record as of Feb. 14 currently positions them as a wild-card team. Goaltender Cam Ward has a record of 17-7 with goals against average of 2.60.

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Source: David Maxwell / Getty Images

8. Chicago White Sox
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 9 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2008 ALDS 3-1, to Tampa Bay Rays

The White Sox have always been the other Chicago baseball team. That was never more apparent than when the crosstown rival Cubs finally won their first World Series title in 108 years in 2016. The White Sox last postseason appearance was in 2008, when they won the American League Central Division but lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series in four games. Since then, there has been a steady erosion of their success, and that is reflected in game attendance. The White Sox drew just under 3 million spectators the year after they won the World Series in 2005, but attendance shrank to about 1.6 million last year, when they finished fourth in the division with a 67-95 record. The White Sox are taking a page out of the playbook of the last three World Series champions — the Royals, Cubs, and Astros — by tearing up their rosters and rebuilding from the bottom up.

Source: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
> League: NFL
> Playoff drought: 10 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2007 Wild Card Playoffs 24-14, to New York Giants

Beginning in 1997, the Buccaneers enjoyed a sustained period of success, reaching the playoffs in five of six seasons, and winning the Super Bowl in 2003. They haven’t had much success since their Super Bowl glory, reaching the playoffs just twice. The last time was in 2007, when they fell to the New York Giants, who eventually made history of their own by beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Bucs hope quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans can restore their luster.

Source: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

6. San Diego Padres
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 11 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2006 NLDS 3-1, to St. Louis Cardinals

Since their founding in 1969, the Padres have made the playoffs just five times, winning the National League pennant twice. The last time they were in the postseason they lost to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series in 2006. In the years since, the Padres have not been terrible. They won the National League West title in 2005 and 2006. The next year, they tied the Colorado Rockies for the National League wild card and second place in the NL West but were defeated in a tie-breaker. The Padres have a solid power hitter in first baseman and right fielder Wil Myers, who has hit 58 home runs in his last two seasons.

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Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

5. Sacramento Kings
> League: NBA
> Playoff drought: 11 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2006 Western Conference first round 4-2, to San Antonio Spurs

The team may be called the Kings, but Sacramento has never reigned over anyone in the NBA. The Kings last appeared in the NBA postseason in 2006, when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. In the 32 years the Kings have resided in California’s capital, the farthest the team has gone in the playoffs was in 2002, when the Kings lost the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Since 2006, Sacramento has never finished higher than third in its division and has changed coaches nine times. This is an old franchise, beginning life as the Rochester Royals in 1948-1949, but it has not distinguished itself. The franchise has won only one NBA championship.

 
Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

4. Minnesota Timberwolves
> League: NBA
> Playoff drought: 13 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2004 Western Conference Finals 96-90, to Los Angeles

In their 28-year history, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made the playoffs eight times. In their last appearance in the NBA postseason in 2004, they reached the Western Conference Finals but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. The Timberwolves, led by eventual NBA MVP Kevin Garnett, reached the conference finals the only time in their history by beating the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings. It’s been downhill since then. Minnesota has been over .500 only once after the 2003-2004 season. Following the 2006-2007 season, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics, who went on to win their 17th NBA title; the Timberwolves are still looking for their first. Minnesota, with a record of 35-25 so far this year, is paced by center Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging 20.4 points per game. The Timberwolves might end their playoff drought this year.

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Source: Joe Skipper / Getty Images

3. Miami Marlins
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 14 seasons
> Last appearance results: Won 2003 World Series 4-2, beat New York Yankees

The Marlins’ fall from postseason grace is one of the more astonishing stories in Major League Baseball. The franchise has already won two world titles in its 25-year history. Yet, team owners have on several occasions jettisoned players from championship teams to avoid pricey contracts, much to the exasperation of fans. Even so, the Marlins keep developing top talent such as slugger Giancarlo Stanton, outfielder Christian Yelich, and catcher J.T. Realmuto. The team’s new owners, led by former New York Yankee great Derek Jeter, are overhauling the team yet again, trading Stanton to the Yankees to cut salary. They got Yankee pitching prospect Jorge Guzman in the deal. For the Marlins, who have not been to the postseason since winning the World Series in 2003, it will be a daunting challenge to make the playoffs.

Source: Jason Miller / Getty Images

2. Cleveland Browns
> League: NFL
> Playoff drought: 15 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2002 Wild Card Playoffs 36-33, to Pittsburgh Steelers

The Browns’ playoff drought has stretched to 15 years, currently the longest of any professional football team. Their journey in futility was punctuated this past season, when the team’s record was an abysmal 0-16, the second team in NFL history to go winless in a 16-game season. Cleveland, once the storied franchise of coach Paul Brown and running back Jim Brown, has had one winning season since the Browns made the playoffs in 2002, and that was 10 years ago. They have finished last in their division 13 times since they last played in the postseason. They haven’t won an NFL title since 1964. Even after an 0-16 campaign in which the Browns ranked at the bottom of the league in point differential (negative 176), points scored (234), and turnovers (41), they are bringing back Coach Hue Jackson for a third season. His two-year record is 1-31. No wonder their fans wear bags over their heads.

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

1. Seattle Mariners
> League: MLB
> Playoff drought: 16 seasons
> Last appearance results: Lost 2001 ALCS 4-1, to New York Yankees

The Seattle Mariners have not made MLB’s playoffs since 2001. That was the year they won 116 games to tie an MLB record for most wins in the regular season. They did this after trading Ken Griffey Jr. and losing Alex Rodriguez to free agency. The Mariners imported Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki before the start of the 2001 season; got a career year from Bret Boone (37 home runs, 141 runs batted in, a batting average of .331) in 2001, and Jamie Moyer won 20 games. In 2001, the Mariners topped the league in runs scored, hits, on-base percentage, team earned run average, and shutouts, among other categories. In the playoffs, the Mariners ran into the dynastic New York Yankees and lost the American Championship Series in five games. Since that magical year, Seattle has been over .500 six times, and the highest the Mariners have finished was second place in the American League West. Yet a postseason berth has eluded them. Their main offensive weapons are designated hitter Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, but both players are well into their 30s.

Detailed Findings & Methodology

In addition to getting the chance to play for the championship in their respective sport, the playoffs provide teams with the opportunity to earn additional revenue in television and gate receipts. A postseason appearance also allows teams to boost advertising rates.

Playoff appearances can help teams build fan loyalty and sell merchandise. Teams typically see a surge in attendance the year after they appear in the postseason. After appearing in the World Series in 2014, attendance at Kansas City Royals’ games swelled the following year by more than 700,000. The Royals won the world championship in 2015.

It is in the postseason that legends are made, and teams use playoff players heroics to build on their legacy and enhance their brand. Players, too, in addition to enjoying postseason glory, are paid extra for playoff games.

There are many reasons why a playoff drought persists, such as ongoing efforts to rebuild the team. Attempts at reconstructing a team’s roster often involve getting young, fresh, and inexpensive players. The last three baseball world champions — the Royals, the Cubs, and the Astros — drastically slashed payroll and suffered through several losing seasons to get high draft picks and talented, younger, and less expensive players who helped them win. The Phillies, who have not been to the postseason since 2011, are trying the same approach, but the results have been disappointing so far.

Sometimes, the longer-term strategy of accumulating high draft picks at the expense of losing routinely leads to cynicism. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, who have not reached the postseason in five years, have been accused of intentionally losing games to get higher draft picks — what team’s fans call “the process” and what cynics call “tanking.” The 76ers have been at times historically bad during their drought, recording 47 total wins combined over three seasons. That is a number several NBA teams have already surpassed at the midpoint of this season.

New owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter are not helping to improve this pattern. The Players Association is contemplating whether to report the Marlins payroll slashing — that is, not redirecting some of the revenue toward payroll — to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff. The Marlins have also changed managers frequently, leading to instability in the direction of the team. The team has had 10 different managers since the Marlins were world champions in 2003 World Series.

The Miami Marlins are a prime example of a team that has not been able to return to the playoffs for 14 years. The Marlins are notorious for payroll slashing, particularly after they won their two world championships in 1997 and 2003.

Similar to the Marlins, the Sacramento Kings have had a total of nine different coaches since their last appearance in the playoffs in 2006. It seems as though the team’s desperation to find a sound rhythm between its players and coaches is prolonging the drought and hindering the chance of earning a spot in the playoffs. The Kings have not topped the .500 mark since they made they made playoffs.

Finally, playoff droughts can last for extensive periods of time based on the structure of a league’s playoff system. For example, the Seattle Seahawks won their division with a 7-9 record in 2010, while five other NFL teams with better records but not division winners, failed to even make the playoffs. It may just be the luck of the draw in cases such as these.

To identify the 19 teams with the longest playoff drought, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the baseball, basketball, football, and hockey reference sites to determine which professional teams have been absent from the playoff games for at least five seasons.