10 longest postseason droughts in NFL history

Browns 2015
The Cleveland Browns have suffered some lengthy playoff droughts. Photo from Dawg Pound Daily.

For any fanbase, there’s nothing worse than being known for having one of the longest NFL postseason droughts.

Having one of the longest Super Bowl droughts doesn’t help either, but having one of the longest NFL playoff droughts is a terrible fate for any franchise.

Granted, making the NFL playoffs isn’t easy. But there is so much parity in the league that postseason droughts shouldn’t be that long. One way or another, every team is bound to be good enough to make the playoffs at least every handful of years or so.

Longest NFL Postseason droughts of all time

Unfortunately, we know that there have been plenty of NFL postseason droughts worth mentioning, even if it’s for all of the wrong reasons. For the record, it gives us no pleasure to mention these because we know it hurts fanbases to mention them.

However, we had to make a list of the longest NFL postseason droughts in league history.

Buccaneers (2008-2019)

Unfortunately for the Bucs, this is only their first of several appearances on this list of the longest NFL postseason droughts. This particular drought began with Jon Gruden’s final season in Tampa and continued through Bruce Arians’ first season, covering the tenure of six different head coaches.

Of course, in Arians’ second season, the Bucs signed Tom Brady, and it’s amazing how quickly Tampa’s drought ended after that, as the Bucs won the Super Bowl despite not winning a playoff game since their previous Super Bowl win after the 2002 season.

Rams (2005-2016)

It’s no wonder the Rams left St. Louis; the city was bad luck with the team failing to make the playoffs over its last 11 seasons there.


Even Jeff Fisher couldn’t find the winning formula in St. Louis.

But during their second season in Los Angeles, the Rams finally broke their playoff drought and a string of 10-straight losing seasons.

Raiders (2003-2015)

During the 2002 season, the Raiders got to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Buccaneers. The franchise took that loss hard, as it led to 13 straight seasons without a playoff spot, including seven seasons in which Oakland finished 4-12 or worse.

There were nine different coaches that failed to reach the playoffs during those 13 years, including Norv Turner, the legendary Art Shell, and even the infamous Lane Kiffin.

Chiefs (1972-1985)

In fairness, it was a little harder getting to the playoffs in the early 70s with just four spots in each conference. But that doesn’t entirely excuse Kansas City’s futility during this span.

In fact, the drought began under Hank Stram just a few years after the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV. They finally got to the playoffs in 1986, although things didn’t completely turn around until the early 90s under Marty Schottenheimer.

Buccaneers (1983-1996)

As mentioned, the Bucs are back with an even longer playoff drought that predates the previously mentioned drought.

This one lasted 14 seasons with all but one including a double-digit loss total.

In fact, there were three 2-14 seasons in a four-year span at the beginning of the drought. Fortunately, Tony Dungy arrived in 1996 and worked his magic, getting the Bucs back to the playoffs in his second season with the team, ultimately setting the table for Gruden to win a Super Bowl.

Bengals (1991-2004)

Few fans will be surprised to see the Bengals on this list.

After two Super Bowl appearances in the 80s, the 90s were a rough time in Cincinnati.

Even when the Bengals finally got back to the playoffs in 2005, they still couldn’t win a playoff game. In fact, as of 2021, Cincinnati’s last playoff win came in 1990.

Cardinals (1983-1997)

Once again, a franchise spending time in St. Louis didn’t seem to work out that favorably for them.

After the merger in 1970, the Cardinals played in just three playoff games, all losses, until leaving St. Louis in 1987. Even after moving to the desert, the Cardinals had to wait until 1988 to get back to the playoffs and win a playoff game.

Bills (2000-2017)

What do you think hurts more, losing four straight Super Bowls or going 18 years without a playoff birth?

Only Bills fans can tell you the answer.

To make matters worse, Buffalo’s last playoff game before this drought was the Music City Miracle. After losing in that fashion, maybe Bills fans didn’t want their team to get back to the playoffs. Buffalo saw eight coaches over those 18 years try and fail, only for Sean McDermott to finally break the streak in his first season at the helm, ushering in a new era for the Bills.

Browns (2003-2019)

Is there an NFL team that’s more futile than the Browns? At their worst, it’s almost like they’re trying to be bad.

That’s almost what it felt like for long stretches between 2003 and 2019.

Most coaches didn’t last more than two seasons in Cleveland before the franchise gave up and started from scratch. There were 10 coaches in Cleveland during that time, including a 1-31 tenure from Hue Jackson.

Yet, Kevin Stefanski came aboard in 2020 and immediately took the Browns to the playoffs. On top of that, they beat the rival Steelers in the first round and nearly did the same to the Chiefs.

Saints (1967-1986)

In fairness, there were no playoffs before the 1970 merger, just four teams playing beyond the regular season.

However, it’s worth mentioning the futility the Saints had for their first 20 years of existence. In those 20 years, they went 8-8 twice and had a losing record in the other 18 seasons. It took until their 10th coach, Jim Mora, to get the Saints to the playoffs for the first time.

Even then, it took until 2000 and the franchise’s 13th coach, Jim Haslett, before the Saints finally won a playoff game for the first time.

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About Bryan Zarpentine 238 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

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