After finishing the 2018 season winning five of their final seven games, the Cleveland Browns entered the 2019 season full of hope—something that had been a scarce commodity since football returned to Cleveland in 1999. Their fans were optimistic that this would be the year Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and co. would build on last year’s strong finish and make the playoffs. Some even thought the Browns could contend for the AFC championship.
Instead, following another disappointing 6-10 campaign, the Browns have etched their name into the record books, tying the Buffalo Bills’ NFL recent NFL mark for most seasons between playoff berths (17). It’s the longest streak since 1986, when the New Orleans Saints snapped a 20-year playoff drought.
While the Bills snapped their drought in 2017 and are about to make their second trip to the playoffs in three seasons under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, their counterparts in Cleveland have now missed the postseason for 17 straight seasons after posting a sub .500 record for the 12th consecutive year.
Cleveland also dismissed first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens after the season—the second time the Browns fired a coach after one season in the last seven years. (Rob Chudzinski was canned following a 4-12 campaign in 2013.)
The Browns’ last playoff appearance came in 2002, when former Bills QB Kelly Holcomb completed 26 of 43 passes for 429 yards with three touchdowns as Cleveland raced out to a 24-7 lead vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Wild Card game. But Tommy Maddox passed for 367 yards and three touchdowns as Pittsburgh scored 29 second-half points to stun the Browns, 36-33. Cleveland has not been back to the playoffs since, a remarkable statistic in today’s parity-driven NFL, where since the 2010 season, 30 of the league’s 32 teams have made at least one playoff appearance.
Cleveland and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last playoff appearance came in 2007) are the two exceptions, and are the only two franchises to have missed the playoffs in ten or more consecutive years (although the New York Jets are close to joining the list, having missed the playoffs in nine straight years).
The good news for the Browns? There’s still one North American fan base that has endured a longer active streak of playoff-less seasons: the Seattle Mariners, who haven’t qualified for the baseball playoffs since 2001—a span of 18 seasons.