Special Report

Greatest Teams to Never Win a Championship

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Each year, one team from each major sports league wins a championship. While all championship teams go down in history, only a handful are remembered as truly legendary. Squads like the 1972 Miami Dolphins, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, and 1927 New York Yankees are still talked about to this day because of the way they dominated opponents in the regular season and in the playoffs.

Yet for every great team, there are plenty of others that couldn’t win a championship and secure their legacy as an all-time great team. The 2007 New England Patriots might have been remembered as great, until they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. The 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors won 73 games in an 82 game season, an NBA record, but LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat them in the NBA Finals.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the regular season records of teams from the four major U.S. sports leagues — the NHL, NFL, NBA, and NHL — to determine the greatest teams to never win a championship.

Click here to see the greatest teams to never win a championship.

There are many reasons why great regular season teams can’t win it all in the postseason. It may be that the teams are inexperienced and unaccustomed to playing in the playoffs. It may be the teams lose key players to injury and can’t find a way to succeed without them. Or maybe the teams’ good fortune simply runs out.

Frequently, the teams that made the list of greatest teams to never win a championship did go on to postseason success, just not the year when they were dominant. The Detroit Red Wings of 1995-1996 very nearly set a record for the best regular season in NHL history before losing in the Western Conference Finals. However, the team likely used the experience from that season to fuel future success, winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998.

For other teams, they had a single shot at glory that never returned. The Seattle Mariners tied an MLB record with 116 wins in 2001. That team lost the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees, and the Mariners have not made it back to the playoffs since.

To determine the greatest teams that never won a championship, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical regular season records of each team in the four major American sports leagues — NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB — to find the teams with the best regular season record that failed to win a championship. We considered NFL and AFL teams starting in the Super Bowl era, MLB teams starting in the World Series era, and NHL teams starting in the post-WHA merger era. All NBA teams were considered. Only teams with the best overall record in their league were considered.

Source: Rob Carr / Getty Images

25. 2015-2016 Washington Capitals
> League: NHL
> Record: 56-18-8
> Star players: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin
> Playoff performance: Lost in second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins

After posting the best record in the NHL, the Washington Capitals seemed poised to make a run at the 2016 Stanley Cup, but the team lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Before the Caps finally won the Cup in 2018, the Penguins had knocked them out of the playoffs in 9 of their 10 previous playoff matchups, dating back to 1991.


Source: Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

24. 1995 Cleveland Indians
> League: MLB
> Record: 100-44
> Star players: Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton
> Playoff performance: Lost in World Series to the Atlanta Braves

The 1995 MLB season was shortened from the typical 162 games due to a players strike that started the year before. But the Cleveland Indians still won an impressive 100 regular season games of the 144 they played that year. Six Indians batters hit over .300 and the pitching rotation was playing well going into the playoffs. The Indians couldn’t overcome the Atlanta Braves’ trio of Hall of Fame pitchers — Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz — and lost the World Series in six games.

Source: Doug Benc / Getty Images

23. 2005-2006 Detroit Pistons
> League: NBA
> Record: 64-18
> Star players: Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton
> Playoff performance: Lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat

The Detroit Pistons won the NBA Finals in 2004 and kept much of that team’s core intact two seasons later, with players like Richard “Rip: Hamilton and Ben Wallace. Detroit posted an NBA-best regular season record of 64-18 but lost in the playoffs to the eventual champion, the Miami Heat.

Source: Mike Stobe / Getty Images

22. 2009-2010 Washington Capitals
> League: NHL
> Record: 54-15-13
> Star players: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom
> Playoff performance: Lost in first round to the Montreal Canadiens

In the 2009-2010 season, the Washington Capitals had just won their division for the third season in a row, posting the best record in franchise history. The Capitals’ postseason ended abruptly when the Montreal Canadiens beat them in a win-or-go-home game 7. The Caps were the top seed in the Eastern Conference but failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season.


Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

21. 1931 Philadelphia Athletics
> League: MLB
> Record: 107-45
> Star players: Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane
> Playoff performance: Lost in World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals

The 1931 Philadelphia A’s were absolutely loaded with talent. Five players from the team — Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, and Waite Hoyt — would go on to the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with legendary manager Connie Mack. The Athletics franchise has existed since 1901, and the 1931 team’s record of 107-45 is still the best in franchise history. The A’s were looking for their third World Series in a row but lost the Fall Classic to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

Source: Tim Warner / Getty Images

20. 2017-2018 Houston Rockets
> League: NBA
> Record: 65-17
> Star players: Chris Paul, James Harden
> Playoff performance: Lost in Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors

Going into the 2017-2018 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors were the overwhelming favorites to repeat as NBA champions. Yet the Houston Rockets took the top overall seed heading into the playoffs after winning an impressive 65 regular season games. The Rockets took a 3-2 series lead against the Warriors but lost star point guard Chris Paul to a hamstring injury in game five. The Warriors won the next two games and went on to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers to secure their third championship in four years.


Source: Mike Powell / Allsport / Getty Images

19. 1985-1986 Edmonton Oilers
> League: NHL
> Record: 56-17-7
> Star players: Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey
> Playoff performance: Lost second round to the Calgary Flames

Going into the 1985-1986 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers seemed unstoppable. Wayne Gretzky had won his sixth consecutive Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, and the Oilers were two-time defending Stanley Cup winners. Edmonton was again the best team in the regular season but faltered in the playoffs, losing to the Calgary Flames in the second round of the playoffs. The Flames would go on to lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens. The Oilers would go on to win the Cup twice more, in 1987 and 1988.

Source: The Sporting News Collection / Wikimedia Commons

18. 1949-1950 Syracuse Nationals
> League: NBA
> Record: 51-13
> Star players: Al Cervi, Dolph Schayes
> Playoff performance: Lost Finals to the Minneapolis Lakers

During their inaugural season, the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers) were flat out dominant. Basketball Hall of Famers Al Cervi and Dolph Schayes led the team to a 51-13 record and Eastern Division title. The team made it to the NBA Finals but lost in six games to the Minneapolis Lakers.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

17. 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
> League: NBA
> Record: 66-16
> Star players: LeBron James, Mo Williams
> Playoff performance: Lost Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic

LeBron James won his first MVP in the 2008-2009 season as the Cleveland Cavaliers posted the best record in the NBA. Despite their regular season success, the Cavs failed to get out of the Eastern Conference, losing the Conference Finals to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in six games. The Magic would go on to lose in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.


Source: Malcolm W. Emmons / Wikimedia Commons

16. 1968 Baltimore Colts
> League: NFL
> Record: 13-1
> Star players: Earl Morrall, John Mackey
> Playoff performance: Lost Super Bowl to the New York Jets

Even though star quarterback Johnny Unitas missed most of the 1968 season with an arm injury, the team was still dominant. With the best defense and the second best offense in the NFL, Baltimore lost only one game during the regular season. The Colts were heavily favored heading into Super Bowl III against the New York Jets, prompting Jets quarterback Joe Namath to issue his famous guarantee that the Jets would win. Namath turned out to be right, as the Jets defense stifled the Colts offense, and the Jets won the Super Bowl 16-7.

Source: Greats of the Game / Amazon

15. 1967 Oakland Raiders
> League: AFL
> Record: 13-1
> Star players: Daryle Lamonica, Billy Cannon
> Playoff performance: Lost Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers

Before the AFL and NFL merged into one league, the AFL still had to prove it could play up to the NFL’s level. The 1967 Oakland Raiders, led by quarterback Daryle Lamonica, seemed to be up to the task, dominating the rest of the AFL and finishing the season with a 13-1 record before demolishing the Houston Oilers 40-7 in the AFL championship game. Yet the Raiders were handily defeated 33-14 in Super Bowl II by the defending champions, the Green Bay Packers.


Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

14. 2005-2006 Detroit Red Wings
> League: NHL
> Record: 58-16-8
> Star players: Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom
> Playoff performance: Lost in first round to the Edmonton Oilers

The 2005-2006 Detroit Red Wings had by far the best record in the NHL that season. Loaded with experienced players who helped the team win the 2002 Stanley Cup, the Red Wings seemed poised to make another deep run at the cup. But Detroit was stunned in the first round by an Edmonton Oilers team that barely snuck into the playoffs. The Oilers surprised many people that year, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Source: National Basketball Association / Wikimedia Commons

13. 1946-1947 Washington Capitols
> League: BAA
> Record: 49-11
> Star players: Bob Feerick, Fred Scolari
> Playoff performance: Lost in semifinals to the Chicago Stags

In the inaugural season of the Basketball Association of America, which would later become the NBA, the Washington Capitols were clearly the team to beat heading into the playoffs. Coach Red Auerbach, who would later go on to win nine titles with the Boston Celtics, led the Capitols to a 49-11 record. But the Chicago Stags beat Washington in the semifinals before losing the championship to the Philadelphia Warriors. Both the Stags and Capitols would become defunct just a few years later.

Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

12. 2015 Carolina Panthers
> League: NFL
> Record: 15-1
> Star players: Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly
> Playoff performance: Lost in Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos

The 2015 Carolina Panthers were close to being an all-time great NFL team. Quarterback Cam Newton accounted for 45 touchdowns and won NFL MVP. The Panthers defense, led by Luke Kuechly, was one of the best in the league. The team lost just once in the regular season, and they were favored to win the Super Bowl after crushing the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship game. But Carolina couldn’t handle the Denver Broncos pass rush in the Super Bowl. Newton was sacked six times and lost two fumbles. The Panthers could only muster 10 points, losing 24-10.


Source: Nick Laham / Getty Images

11. 2011 Green Bay Packers
> League: NFL
> Record: 15-1
> Star players: Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson
> Playoff performance: Lost in divisional round to the New York Giants

After winning the Super Bowl as a wild card the season before, the Green Bay Packers seemed poised to repeat as champions in 2011. Aaron Rodgers won his first NFL MVP award, and the Packers cruised through the regular season with a 15-1 record. Green Bay was stunned at home in its first playoff game by the 9-7 New York Giants, not just losing but losing badly 37-20. The Giants would go on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Source: Grant Halverson / Getty Images

10. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
> League: NFL
> Record: 15-1
> Star players: Ben Roethlisberger, James Farrior
> Playoff performance: Lost in AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots

In 2004, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was having a dream start to his NFL career, posting a 13-0 record in the games he started as a rookie, helping the Steelers to a 15-1 record overall. This largely came as a result of the stingy Steelers defense, which gave up an average of 15.7 points per game, the best average in the NFL that year. But the defense couldn’t handle Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense in the AFC Championship game. The Pats put up 41 points and cruised past the Steelers on their way to a third Super Bowl in four years.


Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

9. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
> League: NFL
> Record: 15-1
> Star players: Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss
> Playoff performance: Lost in NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons

The Minnesota Vikings had high hopes that 1998 would finally be the year they won their first Super Bowl. The team, led by quarterback Randall Cunningham, scored nearly 35 points per game to lead the NFL. Minnesota narrowly missed a chance to make the Super Bowl, blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead to the Atlanta Falcons. Kicker Gary Anderson had hit 122 field goals in a row before missing a fairly short kick when the Vikings led by seven. The defense gave up a last-minute touchdown, and the team lost in overtime 30-27. The Falcons later lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

8. 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks
> League: NBA
> Record: 67-15
> Star players: Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard
> Playoff performance: Lost in first round to the Golden State Warriors

After losing the 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks came out strong the next season, winning 67 games — by far the most of any team in the NBA that year. Having secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs, Dallas appeared to be set for another deep playoff run. But the Mavs flamed out in the first round, losing in six games to the 42-40 Golden State Warriors. They became just the third number one seed to lose to an eighth seed in NBA history. The Mavs also lost in the first round in 2008 and 2010 before winning a championship in 2011.

Source: Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

7. 2001 Seattle Mariners
> League: MLB
> Record: 116-46
> Star players: Ichiro Suzuki, Bret Boone
> Playoff performance: Lost in ALCS to the New York Yankees

In 2001, the Seattle Mariners tied an MLB record with 116 wins in a single season. Four Mariners pitchers won at least 15 games, including Jamie Moyer with 20 victories. Ichiro Suzuki established himself as a star in his rookie year, batting .350 and winning MVP as well as Rookie of the Year. Yet everything fell apart for Seattle in the playoffs. After beating the Cleveland Indians in the first round, the Mariners lost the American League Championship Series to the Yankees 4-1. The Yankees lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Mariners haven’t been back to the playoffs since.


Source: Sporting News / Robert Kingsbury / Wikimedia Commons

6. 1972-1973 Boston Celtics
> League: NBA
> Record: 68-14
> Star players: John Havlicek, Dave Cowens
> Playoff performance: Lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Knicks

The Boston Celtics tied an NBA record for most wins, 68, in an 82 game season in the 1972-1973 season. Center Dave Cowens won MVP, and Boston seemed like it had a good shot to win its 12th NBA title. But the Celtics were upset in the Eastern Conference Finals by the eventual champions, the New York Knicks. That was the last time the Knicks won a championship. The Celtics wouldn’t stay down for long. The franchise won two of the next three NBA Championships.

Source: Bowman / Amazon

5. 1954 Cleveland Indians
> League: MLB
> Record: 111-43
> Star players: Larry Doby, Bob Feller
> Playoff performance: Lost in World Series to the New York Giants

The Cleveland Indians’ 1954 roster was loaded with all-time great talent. Five players from the squad would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and many team members already had World Series experience from when the Indians took home the title in 1948. The Indians won 111 games during the 1954, but couldn’t win any in the postseason. The New York Giants swept Cleveland 4-0 to win the World Series.


Source: George Lawrence Company / Wikimedia Commons

4. 1906 Chicago Cubs
> League: MLB
> Record: 116-36
> Star players: Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance
> Playoff performance: Lost in World Series to the Chicago White Sox

No Major League Baseball team has ever dominated in the regular season like the 1906 Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won 116 games, which is still tied for the most in baseball history — but the Cubs needed just 152 games to reach that mark, whereas the 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games out of 162. Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown was a dominant force on the mound, going 26-6 with a 1.04 ERA. The Cubs could not keep their winning ways alive in the postseason, losing the World Series to their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox in six games. Those postseason struggles didn’t last long though. The Cubs won championships in 1907 and 1908.

Source: Glenn Cratty / ALLSPORT / Getty Images

3. 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings
> League: NHL
> Record: 62-13-7
> Star players: Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov
> Playoff performance: Lost in Western Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche

With a record of 62-13-7, the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings got 131 out of a possible 164 points in the season, the second highest total in NHL history after the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens. That Canadiens team went on to win the Stanley Cup, but the Red Wings didn’t even make the Finals. The Colorado Avalanche upset the Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference finals, before sweeping the Florida Panthers in four games to win the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings would eventually break through and snap their Stanley Cup drought of more than 40 years, winning the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cups.

Source: Bob Donnan / Pool / Getty Images

2. 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors
> League: NBA
> Record: 73-9
> Star players: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson
> Playoff performance: Lost in NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers

After winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors seemed like a dynasty in the making. The young, homegrown talent of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green led the Warriors to an NBA record of 73 wins during the next regular season, surpassing the record set by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. But that Warriors team couldn’t secure a second consecutive championship. Golden State took a 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the series before LeBron James led his team back from the brink. The Cavs reeled off three straight wins, including a dramatic game seven, to bring the city of Cleveland its first title in 52 years and spoil the Warriors claim of being the greatest team ever. The Warriors would get their revenge — the team signed one-time MVP Kevin Durant and won the next two championships.


Source: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

1. 2007 New England Patriots
> League: NFL
> Record: 16-0
> Star players: Tom Brady, Randy Moss
> Playoff performance: Lost in Super Bowl to the New York Giants

The 2007 New England Patriots seemed to be one of the most dominating football teams of all time. Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards and set a since-broken NFL record of 50 touchdowns during the season, leading New England to a perfect 16-0 record. The Pats didn’t just win all of their games, they crushed their opponents. New England’s average margin of victory was nearly 20 points. But the Patriots’ high-caliber offense was stifled in the Super Bowl, giving up five sacks to the New York Giants pass rush. The Patriots were 12.5 point favorites going into the game but could only manage to score 14 as the Giants but together a last-minute touchdown drive and beat them 17-14. The Giants spoiled the Patriots’ perfect season and ensured that the 1972 Miami Dolphins would remain the only NFL team to post a perfect regular season record and win the Super Bowl.

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