That, right there, clutched in the hands of some anonymous NFL Player, is the Vince Lombardi trophy. It’s the trophy that a team is presented with when they win the Super Bowl. The trophy, in other words, stands for a visual representation of what an NFL player is in the profession to achieve — victory over the rest of the field, becoming first among equals for a season, and so on and so forth. It is, in some ways, a manifestation of the entire reason to be an NFL player. The order of operations surrounding nabbing the Lombardi Trophy go like so: In order to win the trophy, you have to win the Super Bowl; in order to win the Super Bowl, you have to win in the playoffs; in order to win in the playoffs, you have to make the playoffs.
Fans know this, of course. This is why every playoff berth is important, no matter how far out the chances of a team going all the way may actually be. This is also part of the reason why truly dejected fanbases watch year after year as their team blows yet another opportunity to provide even the fleeting hope that this year could be the year. And as we ease into the offseason and pine for any NFL games at all, we take a gander at the six teams that have been out of the playoffs the longest, as well as how likely they are to rectify that absence.
5. (tie) Jacksonville Jaguars, seven seasons
5. (tie) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, seven seasons
We’re giving the Bucs the nod because although neither franchise has seen the playoffs since 2007, the Jaguars were a wild card, while Tampa Bay was the winner of the NFC South — a statement that might seem hard to believe now, but there was a time when the Buccaneers actually went 9-7, and it wasn’t so long ago. Of course, the Jaguars have gone without a winning record since ’07, so maybe that’s the ticket the franchise is overlooking — winning games is a good thing.
4. St Louis Rams, 10 seasons
As the Rams head into the double digits of “seasons where they missed the playoffs,” we can’t help but think about Sam Bradford. Not only because he (almost singlehandedly) ended the incredible, cap-crippling contracts that were being handed out to rookies in the days of yore, but because the Rams simultaneously wound up winning the RGIII trade despite not having seen the playoffs since Marc Bulger (their last playoff QB) was 27. Bradford, of course, is now playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. (tie) Cleveland Browns, 12 seasons
2. (tie) Oakland Raiders, 12 seasons
We’re giving the Raiders the nod because the last time they were in the playoffs, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl. The fact that everything that’s happened to them is more akin to a fever dream where everything goes wrong beyond all possible correction than anything to do with reality aside, they made it all the way to the big game. That’s hard to do. Just ask the Browns, who haven’t won a playoff game against anyone since 1994, let alone made it past the second round. But hey, they’ve got Manziel now! Things are looking up! Or, at least, fans can take comfort in the fact that they’re not as bad as the Raiders.
1. Buffalo Bills, 15 seasons
While the Bills are third in their division, they’re also tied for second and just two games outside of first. For a franchise that’s practically defined by losing, this is tremendous — but no one wants to talk about it for fear of jinxing it, which leads to the great enthusiasm juggle among Buffalo fans every year. They want the team to win, but they “know” that they’ll be disappointed. But then the team starts out to an early lead and they can’t help themselves, and all of a sudden it’s been nearly 15 years since the Bills were in the playoffs and all your hopes and dreams have vanished. Kidding, things aren’t that dreary.
All data courtesy of Pro Football Reference.