Playoff droughts are one of the most frustrating aspects in sports. Winning a championship is hard, which is even harder when a franchise perennially misses the postseason. The frustrating aspect of teams missing the postseason every year makes the pill even more difficult to swallow when 14 teams make the playoffs (or 43.75% of the teams in the league).
Several teams have long postseason droughts, even though they aren’t even close to the longest in NFL history. In a league full of parity, that makes the postseason drought even more frustrating.
The New York Jets have the longest playoff drought in all four major North American professional sports — and they haven’t won a championship since the 1968 season. The Detroit Lions haven’t won a title since 1957 (and just one playoff game in the last 65 seasons), while also having one of the league’s longest playoff droughts.
Which playoff droughts are set to end in 2023, and which teams own the longest playoff droughts in the NFL? These are all the playoff droughts in the league longer than three-plus years, ranked by the teams’ chances of ending the dubious streak this year. (The Jets’ playoff drought isn’t even ranked in the top 15 in NFL history, so it could be much worse).
1. New York Jets (12-year drought)
Last playoff appearance: 2010
The Jets only have one winning record in this playoff drought, a 10-6 season in 2015 when Ryan Fitzpatrick set the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (31). Quarterback play in the history of the Jets franchise has been helter skelter, which is supposed to turn to the good with Aaron Rodgers aboard.
New York was likely a playoff team with average quarterback play last season (demonstrating how bad Zach Wilson was). The Jets added a four-time MVP in Rodgers to pair with a young core of Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall (whenever he returns from his ACL injury), along with adding free agents Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman and Randall Cobb.
Led by Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner, the defense jumped from No. 32 to No. 4 in the league in points and yards allowed last season. This unit should be top five again this year. The offense should be in the top half of the league (at worst) with Rodgers at quarterback.
The AFC East is a gauntlet, but the Jets should be one of the seven playoff teams in the AFC. If New York doesn’t make it, significant changes could be coming to this franchise.
2. Detroit Lions (six-year drought)
Last playoff appearance: 2016
The Lions were just a Seattle Seahawks loss away in Week 18 last season from being off this list, yet the playoff drought appears set to end in 2023. Dan Campbell has this franchise heading in the right direction, as the Lions won seven of their last nine games to finish with their first winning record (9-8) since 2017.
The NFC North is up for grabs with Aaron Rodgers getting traded to the New York Jets, the Chicago Bears still in a rebuild with Justin Fields and the Minnesota Vikings could go in either direction. Doesn’t hurt the NFC as a whole isn’t very good either.
Detroit improved its 30th-ranked pass defense by revamping its entire secondary, while the pass rush is expected to take the next step with Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston. The offense revamped at running back with veteran David Montgomery replacing Jamaal Williams and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs taking over for D’Andre Swift. The Jared Goff-to-Amon-Ra St. Brown connection should be better than ever — and Goff will be well protected by one of the top offensive lines in football.
A playoff spot is there for the taking for the Lions, who just need to get off to a good start in 2023.
Last playoff appearance: 2017
Thanks to the uncertainty of the NFC South, the Panthers have an opportunity to make the postseason with a rookie quarterback. Bryce Young has the potential to lead Carolina to the playoffs with his arm and legs, a franchise that has been riddled with poor quarterback play since the decline of the Cam Newton (which was also the last time Carolina made the postseason).
Frank Reich is a better head coach than what was displayed his last two years with the Indianapolis Colts, finally having a quarterback he can build around with for multiple seasons (the Colts started a different quarterback in Week 1 every year under Reich).
Carolina also added Miles Sanders and Adam Thielen to the mix to help Young out in Year 1. The offensive line should have another year of improvement as well, thanks to a strong second half that got the Panthers into the playoff mix last season — thanks to how bad the NFC South was.
The defense added Ejiro Evero as defensive coordinator, and should be improved if Jaycee Horn can stay healthy. Derrick Brown and Brian Burns significantly help that unit up front.
The NFC South is up for grabs, even with the Saints having the best quarterback in Derek Carr. If Young develops quickly, Carolina is in the thick of this division race.
Last playoff appearance: 2017
Give credit to Arthur Smith for making this franchise more competitive than it should have been over the last two seasons. The Falcons had consecutive 7-10 seasons despite facing many significant challenges on its roster.
Despite the last-place finish in the NFC South last season, the Falcons formed an identity as a ground-and-pound team. With defenses concentrating on the pass, the Falcons used a dominant run-blocking offensive line to control the clock and wear down defenses. A four-game losing streak in December extended the playoff drought, but each loss was a one-score game with a quarterback change to Desmond Ridder in the process.
Adding Bijan Robinson makes the Falcons’ run game more dynamic, but is Ridder a good enough passer to win games? Do the Falcons have enough pass catchers outside of Drake London and Kyle Pitts to score enough points?
The defense underwent an overhaul with the signings of Jessie Bates III, Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata and Mike Hughes — fitting Ryan Nielsen’s scheme. Adding Elliss and Onyemata should improve a pass rush that has been brutal over the last several seasons.
Atlanta is building a roster with Smith, but the Falcons are still a few pieces away. Thanks to the uncertainty of the NFC South, they have a shot at the playoffs.
Last playoff appearance: 2015
This drought was expected to end last season with the arrival of Russell Wilson, but the Broncos were a disaster in limping to a 5-12 record in finishing last in the AFC West. Nathaniel Hackett didn’t even last the season and was fired, while Wilson had his worst season as a pro as the Broncos finished with the worst scoring offense in the NFL.
In comes Sean Payton to fix Wilson and the mess in Denver, back from taking a one-year hiatus from coaching. Denver has offensive playmakers to immediately fix this offense with Courtland Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Greg Dulcich and Javonte Williams. The question will come down to Wilson. Is he cooked?
Denver had a top-10 defense in yards allowed last season, and added Frank Clark to pair with Randy Gregory to improve the pass rush. The defense should keep them competitive in games, but the AFC is a gauntlet with plenty of playoff-caliber teams. Let’s not forget Denver is in the AFC West.
Can the Broncos enter the playoff conversation? That will come down to Payton’s impact on Wilson.
Last playoff appearance: 2019
The Texans are finally starting to turn the corner on what has been a painful rebuild, finally having a franchise quarterback to build around in C.J. Stroud. DeMeco Ryans is a first-year head coach tasked with revamping the defense, adding Denzel Perryman, Cory Littleton, Sheldon Rankins , Jimmie Ward and Hassan Ridgeway in free agency. The big prize was trading up in the draft to select Will Anderson at No. 3 overall, giving the franchise the pass rusher they badly needed.
The Texans can build around Anderson and Stroud, who will have a year of development in Bobby Slowik’s offense (which is quarterback friendly). Dameon Pierce will pace the running game, but Stroud also has veteran pass-catching help in Dalton Schultz and Robert Woods.
This team should be better, but there’s a lot of work to do in Houston. The rebuild is still ongoing, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
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