Cleveland is returning to the postseason for the first time in 18 years
Both the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the playoffs this year, ending two of the longest postseason droughts in NFL history. To give you a sense of how long those franchise's dry spells were, here is where they rank among the 10 longest runs without making the playoffs in pro football history. And for what it's worth, the longest current active streak now belongs to the New York Jets (10 seasons).
10. St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2005-16) – 12 seasons
The "Greatest Show on Turf" was one of the most exciting offenses in NFL history, but by 2005, it was as painful to watch as the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney World. The Rams went 6-10 and head coach Mike Martz was fired. St. Louis improved to 8-8 in 2006 and then the wheels came off the bus. From 2007 to 2009, St. Louis went 6-42, the worst record for a team during a three-year run since the Chicago Cardinals during World War II. A move back to Los Angeles in 2016 and the hiring of Sean McVay as head coach the next season put the team in the Super Bowl in 2018 and back in the playoffs this season.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-19) – 12 seasons
The Bucs were 9-3 and tied for first in the NFC South going into Week 14 of the 2008 season. Unfortunately, they lost their final four games, missed the playoffs, and head coach Jon Gruden was fired. Five more coaches would lead the team through this 12-season drought, but the arrival of Bruce Arians in 2019 and Tom Brady in 2020 has sent the team back to the postseason. To be fair, Tampa Bay went 10-6 in 2010 and 9-7 in 2016, narrowly missing the playoffs both times.
8. Oakland Raiders (2003-15) – 13 seasons
In 2002, the Raiders entered Super XXXVII as four-point favorites and were blown out 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It seemed as if everything fell apart after that as the franchise went 63-145 and made nine head coaching changes over the next 13 seasons. A 12-4 season in 2016 brought a brief respite, but it wasn't enough to get into the playoffs and the Raiders have come up short each of the past four seasons as well.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (1972-85) – 14 seasons
The Chiefs' last playoff appearance before this drought began was a two-overtime loss on Christmas Day in 1971 to the Miami Dolphins in the longest NFL game ever played. In the years that followed, they were unable to replace the roster of players that propelled them to three AFL titles and winning Super Bowl IV and slowly declined from mediocre to just bad. Kansas City overcame having the 28th-best offense in terms of yards per game to go 10-6 and make the postseason in 1986.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1983-96) – 14 seasons
The only team to make this list twice, Tampa Bay won seven games in its first three seasons as a franchise but followed that by making the postseason in three of the next four seasons. However, the team could not agree on a contract with starting quarterback Doug Williams and he opted for the USFL in 1983. The team went on to average less than five wins a season for the next 14 years, unable to build a winner despite having high draft picks. Then in 1995, the Bucs drafted Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round. The arrival of head coach Tony Dungy the next season put the team on a run where it made the playoffs in seven of the next 11 seasons and won a Super Bowl.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (1991-2004) – 14 seasons
President and part-owner Paul Brown died shortly before the 1991 season and that portended a sign of things to come. The next 14 seasons, in which the Bengals never had a winning record, are known by Cincinnati fans as the "Bungles" years. Fortunately, the arrival of Marvin Lewis as head coach in 2003 turned the franchise around and made it a perennial postseason contender for the next decade.
4. St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals (1983-97) – 15 seasons
While this streak is pretty bad at 15 seasons, it could and probably should have been a lot worse. In the strike-shortened 1982 seasons, the Cardinals made it into the expanded playoffs with a record of 5-4. They returned to the playoffs in 1998 with a 9-7 record despite being outscored 378-325 and ranking statistically below three different 4-12 teams. Take those two seasons away and the Cardinals' playoff drought is 32 years.
3. New Orleans Saints (1970-86) – 17 seasons
This is the saddest run on this list, as the Saints did not have a winning season for their first 20 years of existence. Then New Orleans started the strike-shortened 1987 season at 3-3, but won its final nine games to make the playoffs for the first time ever. The Saints went on to make the postseason three more times in the next five years.
2. Buffalo Bills (2000-16) – 17 seasons
After losing to the Tennessee Titans via the "Music City Miracle" in the Wild Card Round of the 1999-2000 playoffs, the Bills released Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas. For a franchise that had made the playoffs in 10 of the past 12 seasons, including making it to three straight Super Bowls, duplicating that success was going to take a while. Buffalo suffered for 17 years, barely missing the playoffs in 2004 and 2014 before returning to the postseason in 2017. Since then, the Bills have made the playoffs three of the last four years and are the AFC's No. 2 seed this season.
1. Cleveland Browns (2003-19) – 17 seasons
It is hard to believe that this team was 0-16 just three years ago. The Browns last made the playoffs in 2002, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round. After nearly making the postseason at 10-6 in 2007 and then going 4-44 from 2015-17 — the worst three-year run of the modern NFL era — Cleveland is back in the playoffs. This time, the Browns are once again facing the Steelers in the wild-card game.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Baker Mayfield photo by Ric Kruszynski/Clevealnd Browns, courtesy of clevelandbrowns.com)