Fifteen Years Without Playoffs

Fifteen years have passed since the New Browns lone playoff appearance since returning as an expansion franchise. There is little reason to believe that streak will come to an end in 2017, but it’s illustrative to consider what that run means in franchise and league history.

  1. A few quick facts about the second year of the 21st century:
  • George W. Bush was in the second year of his first term as president.
  • Only four Harry Potter books had been released.
  • Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man” topped the domestic box office.
  • The Cleveland Browns most recently made the playoffs.

As far as current streaks go, Browns fans can take solace in knowing they are not the longest wait in the country. While it may seem like a while since the Browns played a postseason game, they can at least say they’ve appeared in one this century. The Buffalo Bills last graced the postseason stage in the 1999 season. They dropped a 22-16 decision to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card Round. You may know it as the Music City Miracle. Cleveland’s Great Lake’s neighbor in suffering has had a three-year head start on their playoff drought. Very considerate of them to keep the Browns company in the waiting room.

The current streak of ineptitude is by far the longest in team history. The second-longest playoff-less run came from 1973-1979, a run of seven seasons in which the team went a combined 46-54-2 (.461 win percentage). The club even managed three winning records along that stretch. Those teams may have been unremarkable, but none his rock bottom like last season’s 1-15 club.

Fifteen years is certainly a long time, but much less than the all-time NFL playoff drought. Both Washington and the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals endured a 25-year playoff-less streak. The Burgandy and Gold couldn’t reach the playoffs from 1946-1970 while the Cardinals’ trough ran from 1949-1973. Browns fans may be surprised to hear that the Pittsburgh Steelers had a 24-year drought from 1948-1971. The Saints took the collar from 1967-1986 (twenty seasons). Three different teams endured seventeen-years of misery – Denver Broncos (1960-76), Philadelphia Eagles (1961-77), and New York Giants (1964-80). The Detroit Lions couldn’t make the playoffs from 1936-51, a sixteen-year run. That puts the Browns’ current streak seventh all-time, tied with a few others.

We have been discussing playoff appearances, but if you want to talk about the Browns last playoff win the story gets simultaneously sadder and more interesting. In 1994 Cleveland finished second in the AFC Central, earning a wild card spot. They defeated the New England Patriots 20-13 at home and in the Divisional Round fell at Pittsburgh 29-9. Obviously it’s a bummer that the Browns have not won a playoff game in 23 years. However, despite that dearth and the fact that the team suspended operations for three years, they still have a more recent win than the Detroit Lions (1991) and Cincinnati Bengals (1990). It’s especially amazing when you consider that Cincinnati had eight chances to win a playoff game since and Detroit had nine. It you have to have a weird, obscure bragging right over two teams it helps that they are geographically close.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps faintly. The Browns are not going to make a Super Bowl run this autumn, but seven teams with longer runs of failure have survived worse to eventually win a title. The Steelers followed up their 24 years of disappointment with three straight playoff appearances capped with a Super Bowl title in 1974. Fortunes can change quickly in the NFL so long as you have the right personnel and leadership. The Browns tank job was a success last year (I guess), and if Myles Garrett becomes the game-breaking defensive weapon we all hope him to be than it’ll all be worth it. There might be a few more high draft picks to flesh out the team, but (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the foundation may be in place. Oh, and for the curious, top pick Myles Garrett was seven years old the last time the Browns made the playoffs. It’s all about perspective.