Which US Teams Have Had the Longest Playoff Droughts?

Sports is all about winning. Obviously, there is the old adage about “the taking part that counts”. But fans – and the media – count success in the number of trophies won over the years. The fans also make a strong mental note of how much longer their greatest rivals go without that all-important success!

Only one team can win a championship every year, of course. But, in the US, the playoff systems in all major leagues allow more than just a few teams the chance to dream of a title – and extend their season a little at the same time. Parity is a big thing in American sports but, even with the drafts and salary caps, there are still a few teams that haven’t experienced the postseason in quite a while.

We’ve taken a look at the seven teams currently enduring the longest playoff droughts. Many of the teams here come from Major League Baseball – which probably just shows how tough it is to make the postseason in that sport. But there is also an NFL representative and a hockey team that will not have attracted much attention in the best NHL sportsbooks for a while.

Denver Broncos

We have started our countdown in traditional reverse order. But our first team is actually tied with two others as the joint fourth worst. We have to start somewhere, though, so we have decided to feature the Denver Broncos – a success-laden franchise that has not enjoyed even the playoffs for eight seasons now.

Bringing in Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson two years ago was supposed to set that record straight. But that trade turned out to be one of the worst in recent NFL history. With Wilson now moved on to the Steelers there might be a chance of a new start. Ironically, in the three years prior to the current drought, the Broncos made it to two Super Bowls – winning one in 2015.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have been around for a long time. The franchise claims its history way back to 1882 when it was known as the Alleghenys. But it has never been what you would really recognize as successful. In fact, in 132 seasons, this team has only ever made it to the playoffs on 20 occasions. Incredibly, the Pirates are still able to boast five titles.

Times have been hard over the last 30 years or so though. A longer drought was ended in 2013 when the Pirates lost in the Division Series round. But the current dry spell stretches back to 2015 and eight seasons. There has only been one winning season in that time – but even then the Pirates finished fourth in their division.

Kansas City Royals

More baseball next, with the luckless Kansas City Royals. Perhaps once again proving the relative parity of US sports, the Royals featured in back-to-back World Series before the current drought of eight seasons. In 2015, they even won the Fall Classic, beating the New York Mets in five games.

There has been precious little to celebrate since, however. Even enforced shortened seasons have not helped this team’s cause, with no winning record since that last World Series triumph. Only the hapless Oakland Athletics fared worse last year and Royals fans will be hoping for much better in 2024.

LA Angels Stadium
The team that can’t make up it’s mind – LA / Anaheim / California Angels (Credit: Aijohn784 / bigstock)

Los Angeles Angels

Tied in third for the longest playoff drought is the Los Angeles Angels. This dry spell is so bad that the team went by another name entirely the last time it featured in the postseason. To be fair, the Angels have regularly switched monikers between LA, Anaheim, and California. But is still an interesting side note to a dismal history.

To make matters worse, the Angels have seen close neighbors the Dodgers win plenty of divisional titles and a World Series in that time. Plus, the Angels had arguably the best player in baseball on the roster, Shohei Ohtani, until this year and still didn’t make it. Now Ohtani has switched to the Dodgers and any success feels even further away.

Detroit Tigers

We’re nearing our longest playoff avoiders and now come around to the worst baseball team on the list. Detroit has suffered a lot in recent decades and the relative success of the Lions in the NFL last season was the first bright spot as far as sports goes. The Tigers have certainly not made the fans cheer for much in quite a while now.

Although never particularly successful, Detroit did win two championships in the 2000s and 2010s. There were further postseason games up until 2014 – but that was when it all went a little quiet. The Tigers are another team who find themselves in a tough AL Central and have now managed just one winning season since the last time they made the playoffs.

Buffalo Sabres

Baseball teams may find it difficult regularly qualifying for the postseason. But it is two other leagues that boast the worst teams in US sports. The Buffalo Bills are infamous for losing four Super Bowls in a row at the beginning of the 1990s. But it is the city’s hockey team that has arguably been even more woeful.

The Sabres are one of the oldest clubs in the NHL but hold the unwelcome record of being one of just 11 to have never won a championship. Some of the others have only been around for a few years or have re-appeared after decades away. The Sabres have no such excuse – and haven’t made it to the playoffs since 2011.

New York Jets
New York has seen surprisingly little sports success. But the Jets are the worst. (Credit: Debby Wong / bigstock)

New York Jets

So, now to the worst team in sports. The New York Jets regularly play in the shadow of city rivals the Giants (not one of the most successful teams in the league themselves) and have failed to make the postseason for an incredible 13 seasons. In 2010, they lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

Trading for Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers was supposed to change things last year. But the veteran quarterback suffered a season-ending injury on just the fourth snap of the first series of the first game. Hopefully – for the long-suffering fans – the franchise’s luck will change this year.