NFL: Not For Long


Luke Lawhorn, Assistant Sports Editor

The Cincinnati Bengals have been the laughingstock of the National Football League for years. While they won the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 30, just making the playoffs and securing a victory that ended a 31-year drought, the current longest in the sport and fourth-longest drought of all-time for no playoff wins. Now, the Detroit Lions currently have the longest drought, with it being 30 years since their last postseason win. Yet, both the Lions and Bengals have been to multiple playoff games in the last decade. 

Including the 2022 postseason, only two teams have not made the playoffs within the last five seasons: the Denver Broncos with a six-year drought and the New York Jets with an 11-year drought. In other words, of the 32 NFL teams, only two have not made the playoffs in the last half decade. But only nine of the 32 teams have not won a playoff game in over five years, which is less than a third of the NFL. The NFL, until this current postseason, let only 12 teams participate in the playoffs. This shows that NFL teams have slimmer chances to make the playoffs than other leagues. In the NBA, however, they let 16 teams in the playoffs of the 30 total teams. 

There have been 10 total NBA teams who have not won a playoff series in over five years, showing that not only is there an easier chance to make the playoffs, but there are also the same “bottom feeder” teams every year. In the MLB, there are 30 total teams in which ten make the playoffs. Though it is a smaller number, there are still six teams that have not gone to the playoffs within the last half decade and a whopping 12 teams that have not won a playoff series within the last five years.

The NFL is structured to help the bad teams out: the teams who have the worst record will get higher draft picks, which can lead to immediate success. After a team gets a top-five pick, within two to three years most of them will be back in the playoff picture. The 2019 draft had the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the top five, meaning they were the worst five teams in the NFL. Four of those five teams have made the playoffs since then, ultimately showing an immediate turnaround. The 2020 draft had the Cincinnati Bengals, who are now in the Super Bowl, and the Washington Commanders as the worst teams in the league and both made the playoffs since then.

The NBA, however, is more “star-driven” and is harder to get to a championship level. Not only is the NBA draft lottery style – which does not reward bad teams with tools to become better sooner – but the same teams are struggling. The 2019 draft included the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Four of those five teams have not even made the playoffs yet, despite having an easier path to get there. With the NFL, teams are not “terrible” for long (except the Lions). These are teams who did not make the NFL playoffs this season, but have actually won playoff games within the last four seasons: Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks. All of these teams had losing records this past season but have clearly had success recently.

The MLB always has the same teams win it all every year. There is no salary cap in the MLB, which makes smaller cities and poorer franchises have a much harder chance to get top free agents. A team like the New York Yankees, or the Los Angeles Dodgers can spend much more money on players. The top five MLB teams with the highest payrolls are in Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego and Houston. It is no coincidence that their teams are always good.

In the NFL, different teams are also in the Conference Championship game. In the last decade, there have not been more than two teams to reach the NFC Championship game in consecutive years. In the AFC, the New England Patriots went eight straight years, but they are considered the greatest dynasty in all of sports, and only went to the Super Bowl five of those times. In the NBA, the same teams go to the finals each year, let alone the Conference Finals. There also has not been a back-to-back Super Bowl Champions in almost two decades, while there have been two this decade in the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have been in all but one Finals series since 2011, which is just two teams per conference. An NFL fan can always count on “newer” playoff teams while NBA fans have to wait what will likely be a half decade just for the same team not to win.

The NFL is set to dominate for years to come. Even though there are not as many rule changes, not as much celebrity power, and it has much more structure than other leagues, the NFL keeps viewers happy with the feeling of hope for immediate success for any franchise.