The Worst Teams to Win a Championship

November 6, 2019 by Grant Suneson

Any team that wins a championship needs the right mix of coaching, talent, and toughness. But while sports fans laud teams like the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls or 1972 Miami Dolphins that have gone down as some of the greatest teams of all time, there are plenty more teams that shocked the world by winning titles.

The 2019 Washington Nationals had slim hopes of winning the World Series — as the Wild Card team, they had no home field advantage in any full postseason round, and they had to square off against division champions like the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Astros, who seemed to be better, at least based on their regular season performance. This is the year each team won their first championship.

But any team in the playoffs has hope, and the Nats fought their way to win their first World Series. With a 93-69 regular season record, Washington is just a bit too good to make the list of the worst teams to win a championship.

To determine the worst teams to win a championship, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the Sports Reference family of sites on the regular season records and point differentials of modern era champions of the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB. We considered each league’s modern period to have begun when it merged with its rival league. For the NFL, this was 1966, the NBA 1976, the NHL 1979. We considered the World Series era, which began in 1903, the start of the MLB’s modern era.

Many of these teams benefitted from playing in weaker divisions, where it took fewer wins to earn a playoff berth. But these teams still had to fight through tough opponents who seemed to be title favorites en route to their championships. The 2007 New York Giants went 10-6, but they made a postseason run that culminated in facing off against the previously undefeated New England Patriots. It seemed to be a mismatch, but the Giants pulled off the improbable upset, spoiling a would-be perfect season for the Patriots. These are the greatest teams that did not with a championship.

Click here to see the worst teams to win a championship.

Source: Layne Murdoch / BBS / Getty Images

25. 1982 St. Louis Cardinals
> Regular season record: 92-70 (0.568 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 685 runs scored, 609 runs allowed
> Star player: Lonnie Smith

With 11 World Series titles, the St. Louis Cardinals franchise has put together some incredible teams. The 1982 squad is one of the most surprising championship teams it ever had. World Series winners tend to win more than 60% of their games during the regular season, but this team won less than 57%. The Cardinals were slumping toward the end of the season, losing five of their final seven games. Like all good teams, however, they got hot at the right time, sweeping the Atlanta Braves to win the NL pennant before beating the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games to win the World Series.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Allsport / Getty Images

24. 1980 Philadelphia Phillies
> Regular season record: 91-71 (0.562 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 728 runs scored, 639 runs allowed
> Star player: Mike Schmidt

Based on their 91-71 record, the Phillies were the worst team to make the 1980 MLB playoffs. Philly barely got to the World Series, surviving two straight 10-inning games in the NLCS against the Houston Astros to keep their hopes alive. The team got some good fortune when the dominant, 103-win Yankees lost to the Kansas City Royals, providing an easier World Series matchup. The Royals and Phillies played six close games, but Philadelphia eventually triumphed 4-2, giving the franchise its first World Series title.

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

23. 1997 Florida Marlins
> Regular season record: 92-70 (0.568 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 740 runs scored, 669 runs allowed
> Star player: Kevin Brown

The 1997 Florida Marlins were historic, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. They became the first Wild Card team to make it to and win the World Series, just two seasons after the Wild Card game was introduced. And the Marlins were barely able to make their franchise’s first postseason appearance, after losing seven of their final nine games. But Florida stunned the Giants and the Braves before beating the Indians in a thrilling seven-game World Series, culminating with a walk-off RBI single in the 10th inning.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

22. 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics
> Regular season record: 52-30 (0.634 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 106.6 points per game scored, 103.9 points per game allowed
> Star player: Jack Sikma

The average NBA championship team wins more than 70% of its regular season games. But the Seattle SuperSonics had a .634 winning percentage, despite finishing first in the Western Conference. Their point differential of just 2.7 is also far lower than you would expect from a championship team, but the Sonics consistently found ways to win close games, eventually culminating in the franchise’s first, and only, NBA title.

Source: Rick Stewart / Allsport / Getty Images

21. 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens
> Regular season record: 48-30-6 (0.607 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 283 goals scored, 248 goals allowed
> Star player: Patrick Roy

The Montreal Canadiens did little to distinguish themselves as Cup contenders during the 1992-92 NHL regular season, finishing third in their division and fourth in their conference. The Habs hit their stride in the playoffs, losing just four games in all four playoff series. The team scored three or more goals in 14 of their 20 postseason games to win the 1993 title — the last time any Canadian team was able to win the Stanley Cup.

Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

20. 2012 Baltimore Ravens
> Regular season record: 10-6 (0.625 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 398 points scored, 344 points allowed
> Star player: Haloti Ngata

The Baltimore Ravens were an afterthought in the 2012 NFL playoff picture. The team went 10-6, winning the AFC North by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore was an underdog against the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers, but beat each of them to capture the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

19. 2003 Florida Marlins
> Regular season record: 91-71 (0.562 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 751 runs scored, 692 runs allowed
> Star player: Ivan Rodriguez

The Florida (now Miami) Marlins made it to the postseason just twice in franchise history — both ended with World Series titles. The 2003 team, like the 1997 squad, finished well back of the Atlanta Braves and settled for a Wild Card spot. The Marlins then stunned the 100-win Giants and edged out the Cubs in a controversial NLCS to make the World Series. To the surprise of most baseball fans, Florida went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored New York Yankees, beating them in six games.

Source: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

18. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
> Regular season record: 90-72 (0.556 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 762 runs scored, 692 runs allowed
> Star player: Albert Pujols

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals simply refused to lose on their improbable run to the World Series. The team had to win 16 of their final 21 games just to get a Wild Card spot. The Cardinals’ 90-72 record is tied for the fifth-worst for a World Series-winning team. But the Cardinals toppled a 102-win Phillies team in the first round and survived a wild game six of the World Series against the Texas Rangers to keep their season alive, before finally pulling away in game seven.

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

17. 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins
> Regular season record: 45-28-9 (0.604 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 264 goals scored, 239 goals allowed
> Star player: Evgeni Malkin

The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins posted a 45-28-9 record, good only for fourth in the Eastern Conference and severely underperforming preseason expectations. The team was below .500 going into the All-Star break and fired coach Michel Therrien. New coach, Dan Bylsma, righted the ship, leading the Pens to an 18-3-4 record after taking over. The Pens continued to topple terrific teams like the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings en route to the Stanley Cup.

Source: Rick Stewart / Allsport / Getty Images

16. 1996-97 Detroit Red Wings
> Regular season record: 38-26-18 (0.573 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 250 goals scored, 196 goals allowed
> Star player: Brendan Shanahan

The 1996-97 Detroit Red Wings played a lot of close games, having the second-most ties in the NHL with 18. The Colorado Avalanche separated themselves as the Stanley Cup favorites throughout the regular season, while Detroit floundered, going 6-7-2 in their final 15 games. But Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman was able to get the team ready for the postseason. The Red Wings beat the Avs 4-2 to win the Western Conference title before sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Cup.

Source: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images

15. 1985 Kansas City Royals
> Regular season record: 91-71 (0.562 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 687 runs scored, 639 runs allowed
> Star player: George Brett

The 1985 Royals barely made the playoffs, winning the weakest division in baseball by a single game. Unlike teams with overpowering offenses or stellar pitching staffs, the Royals were able to eke out close wins, a trait that served them well in the playoffs. In the regular season, they scored, on average, 0.3 more runs than they allowed per game, one of the worst ever run differentials for a championship team. Kansas City won two close seven-game series en route to the franchise’s first title.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

14. 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers
> Regular season record: 88-68 (0.564 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 705 runs scored, 670 runs allowed
> Star player: Don Drysdale

Prior to 1969, only two teams — the AL and NL champs — would make the MLB postseason. You’d think this would ensure that only truly great teams made the postseason, but this was not always the case. The 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers won just 88 games, but were able to make the World Series because of a relatively weak National League that season. Los Angeles relied on pitcher Larry Sherry, who notched two saves and two wins in the series, to beat the odds and take down the Chicago White Sox.

Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

13. 2007 New York Giants
> Regular season record: 10-6 (0.625 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 373 points scored, 351 points allowed
> Star player: Osi Umenyiora

Going into the 2007 season, the New York Giants were projected to be a mediocre team. After starting 0-2, the team rallied to go 10-6 and earn a wild card berth. The Giants were underdogs in all four playoff games in which they played, finally ending up as 12.5 point underdogs to the previously undefeated New England Patriots. But the defense held down the high-powered Pats offense and, thanks to some late-game heroics from Eli Manning, David Tyree, and Plaxico Burress, the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Source: Charny / Wikimedia Commons

12. 1979-80 New York Islanders
> Regular season record: 39-28-13 (0.569 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 281 goals scored, 247 goals allowed
> Star player: Bryan Trottier

The early 1980s New York Islanders are now remembered as a dynasty, but the 1979-80 team had little in the way of expectations. After four straight 100-point seasons that ended in disappointment, the Islanders appeared to take a big step back, amassing just 91 points. But the Isles were able to stifle the powerful offenses of top seeds like the Flyers and Sabres on their way to their first of four straight titles.

Source: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

11. 2014 San Francisco Giants
> Regular season record: 88-74 (0.543 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 665 runs scored, 614 runs allowed
> Star player: Buster Posey

Going into the 2014 MLB postseason, the Giants were certainly underdogs — they barely made the playoffs with a 88-74 record, and had to win a one-game Wild Card playoff just to keep their season alive. But after winning the 2010 and 2012 titles, they had experience on their side. San Francisco rode the pitching of Madison Bumgarner through the postseason and to their third championship in five years. Since the MLB expanded the season to 162 games, the Giants are one of just four teams to win the World Series with fewer than 90 regular season wins.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

10. 2000 New York Yankees
> Regular season record: 87-74 (0.540 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 871 runs scored, 814 runs allowed
> Star player: Jorge Posada

It is odd to think of the Yankees as underdogs, especially in 2000, with the team coming off their second straight title. The 2000 team had only the fifth best record in the AL, at 87-74, but still won the AL East. New York ended the regular season with a seven-game skid, but its championship pedigree kicked in once the postseason started. The Yankees defeated the A’s and Mariners in the AL playoffs, then beat their crosstown rival Mets to capture their third straight World Series.

Source: Allsport / Getty Images

9. 1985-86 Montreal Canadiens
> Regular season record: 40-33-7 (0.544 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 330 goals scored, 280 goals allowed
> Star player: Larry Robinson

Going into the 1985-1986 season, the Edmonton Oilers were heavy favorites to win their third straight Stanley Cup. All other teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, were an afterthought. The Habs finished second in their division and fifth in their conference. But many dominant regular season teams lost early in the postseason, so Montreal had a relatively easy road to the Finals. There, they met the Flames, who had shocked the Oilers in the Division Finals, and beat them in five games to hoist the Cup.

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images

8. 1989-90 Edmonton Oilers
> Regular season record: 38-28-14 (0.563 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 315 goals scored, 283 goals allowed
> Star player: Mark Messier

After trading away Wayne Gretzky, the future appeared uncertain for the Edmonton Oilers. The team won the Stanley Cup in 1987-88, Gretzky’s final season with the team, then lost in the first round to Gretzky’s Kings the next year, prompting head coach Glen Sather to step down. Six teams had better odds to win the Cup going into the 1989-90 season, but the Oilers persevered to win their fifth Cup in seven seasons.

Source: Ken Levine / Getty Images

7. 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins
> Regular season record: 41-33-6 (0.550 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 343 goals scored, 308 goals allowed
> Star player: Mark Recchi

Going into the 1990-91 NHL season, just three teams had worse odds to win the Stanley Cup than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even as late as March, the team was barely above .500 but still won a relatively weak division. This earned them favorable matchups against mediocre Devils and Capitals teams early in the postseason. The Pens knocked off the 44-24-12 Boston Bruins to make it to the Cup Finals. There, they faced a surprising upstart Minnesota North Stars team that went just 27-39-14 in the regular season, and they beat Minnesota 4-2.

Source: ALLSPORT USA / Getty Images

6. 1994-95 Houston Rockets
> Regular season record: 47-35 (0.573 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 103.5 points per game scored, 101.4 points per game allowed
> Star player: Hakeem Olajuwon

After winning the NBA title the season before, the Houston Rockets seemed to be running out of gas toward the end of the 1994-1995 season. They ended their season on a three game skid to finish 47-35, earning the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But they proved their championship mettle in the playoffs, beating high-powered teams like the Jazz, Suns, and Spurs on their way to the NBA Finals. There, they met a young, talented Orlando Magic team led by Shaquille O’Neal. But the Magic were no match for the experience of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and the rest of the Rockets. Houston won its second straight title in a sweep.

Source: Glenn Cratty / Getty Images

5. 1994-95 New Jersey Devils
> Regular season record: 22-18-8 (0.542 point pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 215 goals scored, 202 goals allowed
> Star player: Martin Brodeur

In the strike-shortened 1994-95 NHL season, teams had just 48 games instead of the standard 82 to hit their stride and get ready for the postseason. The New Jersey Devils limped into the postseason, going 2-4-1 in their final seven games to earn the fifth seed. But their stingy defense kicked into gear just in time. The Devils, led by goalie Martin Brodeur, lost just four games across their four postseason series, including a stunning sweep of the NHL’s top regular season team, the Detroit Red Wings, in the Finals.

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

4. 2011 New York Giants
> Regular season record: 9-7 (0.563 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 394 points scored, 400 points allowed
> Star player: Eli Manning

After the 2011 season, few expected the New York Giants to become champions. The G-Men capitalized on a weak NFC East, making the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Because of a few blowout losses, the Giants actually gave up more points than they scored that regular season — a rarity for playoff teams. But just like in 2007, the Giants got hot at the right time, knocking off the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and eventually the New England Patriots to claim the Super Bowl title.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

3. 2006 St. Louis Cardinals
> Regular season record: 83-78 (0.516 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 781 runs scored, 762 runs allowed
> Star player: Albert Pujols

No team in baseball history has won the World Series with a worse record than the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. The team stumbled to the finish line, ending the season with a 3-8 record in their last 11 games, but held onto the NL Central. St. Louis seemingly turned into a different team once the playoffs started, knocking off the Padres, Mets, and Tigers to win the World Series.

Source: MLB Photos / Getty Images

2. 1987 Minnesota Twins
> Regular season record: 85-77 (0.525 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 786 runs scored, 806 runs allowed
> Star player: Frank Viola

The Minnesota Twins are the only team in MLB history to win the World Series after giving up more runs than they scored throughout the regular season — scoring 786 runs, while giving up 806. The Twins, however, profited from playing in the weak AL West. Minnesota won the division with just 85 wins — a lower total than four of the seven teams in the AL East. The Twins stunned the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, then survived a 3-2 World Series deficit to the St. Louis Cardinals to win the championship.

Source: George Gojkovich / The Sporting News Archives / Wikimedia Commons

1. 1977-78 Washington Bullets
> Regular season record: 44-38 (0.537 win pct.)
> Regular season scoring: 110.3 points per game scored, 109.4 points per game allowed
> Star player: Elvin Hayes

At just six games over .500, the Washington Bullets are the team with the worst record — by a wide margin — to win the NBA title. Their 0.537 win percentage was tied for just the seventh best in the NBA that season. But the Bullets, now the Wizards, relied on Hall of Famers like Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes to power them to the NBA Championship — the only one in franchise history.