The St. Louis Blues and Toronto Raptors won their first championships in franchise history this week in the NHL and NBA, respectively. That begs a question across the other major sports.
Who is next?
Sporting News looked at the four major professional American sports – MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL – and the teams that have not won a championship. One important disclaimer: For the NFL, we did not include NFL championships won before the Super Bowl era or AFL championships won before the merger. Your team must win the Super Bowl.
That leaves several pro franchises across the four sports looking to hold up that championship trophy for the first time. How close – or how far – is your team from winning the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Final or the NBA Finals?
We take a closer look from top to bottom, with the teams ranked based on their likelihood of becoming the next first-time champion.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
This year: 39-29, first in NL Central
How close? The Brewers’ time is now. MVP candidate Christian Yelich leads a heavy-hitting lineup complimented by a strong pitching staff. Milwaukee has been to the NLCS twice this decade but has not made the World Series since 1982.
2. Houston Texans
Last year: 11-5, first in AFC South
How close? The Texans have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, a dominant receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, an elite pass rusher in J.J. Watt and a coach in Bill O’Brien who has shown he can get to the postseason. Minuses? Houston just fired its GM, and it has been to the divisional playoffs only three time this decade. If the Texans don’t take the next step soon, then the next NFL team on this list might.
3. Cleveland Browns
Last year: 7-8-1, third in AFC North
How close? Believe in The Land, which last won an NFL championship before the Super Bowl era in 1964. The Browns have the same things as the Texans with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Myles Garrett, and first-year coach Freddie Kitchens has the confidence of an aggressive GM in John Dorsey. Cleveland’s Super Bowl window is open. One could argue they should be ahead of the Texans, but Houston beat Cleveland last season and plays in a weaker division. Perhaps they will settle it in the playoffs this year.
4. Vegas Golden Knights
Last year: 43-32-7, third in Pacific Division
How close? The Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first year as a franchise, and a mix of four 50-point scorers and goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury should help the Knights keep that window open.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Last year: 12-4, second in AFC West
How close? The Chargers have an experienced quarterback in Philip Rivers, and coach Anthony Lynn was exactly what this franchise needed to get back on track. Los Angeles, however, must deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes in its division. That could block the Chargers from the Super Bowl in this window.
6. Nashville Predators
Last year: 47-29-6, first in Central Division
How close? The Preds have made five straight playoff appearances under Peter Laviolette, and that includes the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Nashville will have to bounce back from a first-round upset, but the Preds aren’t alone in that regard in the Western Conference.
7. Denver Nuggets
Last year: 54-28, first in Northwest Division
How close? The first NBA team is a result of a predictable landscape. The Nuggets had the second best regular-season record in the Western Conference last year, but they were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by Portland. Still, this group had seven players average double figures. They could benefit from a potential Golden State break-up, too.
8. Winnipeg Jets
Last year: 47-30-5, second in Central Division
How close? The Jets had a tough first-round exit from the playoffs last season, but they have averaged 106.5 points over the last two years and should be right back in contention in the Western Conference in 2019. Will Winnipeg be the team that ends Canada’s Stanley Cup drought.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Last year: 7-9, second in NFC South
How close? The Falcons are two years removed from the 28-3 meltdown in the Super Bowl, but Matt Ryan has proven he can lead a team to the title game. The Falcons have made the second weekend of the NFL playoffs four times this decade.
10. San Jose Sharks
Last year: 46-27-9, second in Pacific Division
How close? The Sharks have made four straight playoff appearances and were in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. The recent conference final loss to the Blues was a missed opportunity for a franchise that has averaged close to 100 points the last four seasons.
11. Brooklyn Nets
Last year: 42-40, fourth in Atlantic Division
How close? The Nets made the playoffs last year, and D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert are emerging stars. Brooklyn, however, needs more star power to reach the next level in the Eastern Conference. Is Kyrie Irving that guy?
12. Carolina Panthers
Last year: 7-9, third in NFC South
How close? The Panthers for some reason can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons. The good news is this is the “good” year, Cam Newton looks ready to return from a shoulder injury and the defense will keep them in games.
13. Minnesota Vikings
Last year: 8-7-1, second in NFC North
How close? The Vikings made the NFC championship game two years ago, but the Kirk Cousins contract has become a lightning rod for criticism. They missed the playoffs last season, and coach Mike Zimmer will have his hands full to get back to the top of the NFC North.
14. Utah Jazz
Last year: 50-32, third in Northwest Division
How close? Utah could not get past the first round of the playoffs this year, but Donovan Mitchell is the kind of player who could lead an NBA Finals run at some point in his career. Utah has not been to the Western Conference finals since 2006-07.
15. Colorado Rockies
This year: 35-32, second NL West
How close? The Rockies have been in the postseason the last two years, and we like their ballpark for offensive purposes. Will Bud Black lead a breakthrough this season?
16. Tampa Bay Rays
This year: 41-26, second in AL East
How close? The Rays have found their rhythm under fifth-year manager Kevin Cash and could make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. It’s still difficult in a division that features the Red Sox and Yankees.
17. Los Angeles Clippers
Last year: 48-34, second in Pacific Division
How close? They have made seven playoff appearances in this decade, but the Clippers have been bounced in the first round in three of the last four seasons. Doc Rivers is a solid coach, but this franchise needs to go all in if it ever wants to make the NBA Finals. The next NBA team on this list can relate.
18. Tennessee Titans
Last year: 9-7, third in AFC South
How close? The Titans just missed the playoffs last season, but coach Mike Vrabel proved his worth in his first season. Tennessee can compete for playoff berths, but it has some catching up to do against Indianapolis and Houston.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last year: 5-11, fourth in AFC South
How close? The Jaguars were in the AFC championship game just two seasons ago, but a blown lead against New England ballooned into a hangover season. Is Nick Foles the cure around a group that still has enough young talent to win the division?
20. Texas Rangers
This year: 36-31, second in AL West
How close? The Rangers have gone 58 seasons without a championship and last made the World Series in 2011. They are challenging for a wild-card spot this season.
21. Detroit Lions
Last year: 6-10, fourth in NFC North
How close? The Lions won the NFL championship in 1957, but they have yet to reach the Super Bowl. Matthew Stafford remains a solid quarterback, but how much time does he have left in Motown?
22. Indiana Pacers
Last year: 48-34, second in Central Division
How close? The Pacers are a playoff regular with eight appearances this decade, but they have lost in the first round each of the last four seasons.
23. San Diego Padres
This year: 33-35, fourth in NL West
How close? The Padres made a splash by getting Manny Machado, and and have a young core of exciting players, but they still struggle at PETCO Park. San Diego has not played in the postseason since the one-game playoff loss against Colorado in a tiebreaker for the wild card in 2007.
24. Vancouver Canucks
Last year: 35-36-11, fifth in Pacific Division
How close? The Canucks have just one playoff appearance in the last six seasons, but they have a bright future around center Elias Pettersson, who piled up 66 points as a rookie. Vancouver must continue to build around him to take that next step.
25. Orlando Magic
Last year: 42-40, first in Southeast Division
How close? The Magic made the playoffs under coach Steve Clifford in his first year in Orlando, but this team is a long way from playing like the group that made the 2009 NBA Finals.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year: 47-31-4, fourth in Metropolitan Division
How close? The Blue Jackets made history by winning their first playoff series with a thrilling sweep of top-seed Tampa Bay last season, but a pending free-agent exodus that might include Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin will test a young farm system. Otherwise, Columbus would be much higher on this list.
27. Florida Panthers
Last year: 36-32-14, fifth in Atlantic Division
How close? The Panthers have been looking to return to the Stanley Cup Final since their only visit in 1995-96, and they have two 90-point scorers in Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Joel Quenneville was hired to get this team back to the postseason.
28. Washington Nationals
This year: 31-36, fourth in AL East
How close? Bryce Harper left for Philadelphia, and despite a strong pitching staff, the star’s departure is going to make it tougher for the Nationals to win it all. A string of four NLDS losses this decade will only grow more painful with time – especially if the Phillies win it all.
29. Minnesota Wild
Last year: 37-36-9
How close? The Wild missed the playoffs last season after six straight appearances, a run that ended after three first-round exits. Did they miss their window?
30. Cincinnati Bengals
Last year: 6-10, fourth in AFC North
How close? The Bengals moved on from Marvin Lewis, so maybe Zac Taylor is the right coach to lead this team back to the Super Bowl. Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990-91 – which came shortly after the Reds won the World Series.
31. Arizona Cardinals
Last year: 3-13, fourth in NFC West
How close? The Cardinals begin the great experiment with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. Will that be enough to get them back to the Super Bowl? If it is, then the NFL will be changed forever.
32. Memphis Grizzlies
Last year: 33-49, third in Southwest Division
How close? The Grizzlies have their third coach in three seasons in Taylor Jenkins, and they appear headed for yet another makeover in the loaded Western Conference. At least they to get build around the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
33. Buffalo Sabres
Last year: 33-39-10, sixth in Atlantic Division
How close? The Sabres have finished sixth or worse in the Atlantic Division the last six seasons. Ralph Krueger inherits a team that increased its point total by 14. A playoff berth should be next if they can proprerly build around Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.
34. Buffalo Bills
Last year: 6-10, third in AFC East
How close? The Bills haven’t won a playoff game since 1995 and have been to the playoffs once since 2000. Tom Brady has not retired yet, either.
35. Charlotte Hornets
Last year: 39-43
How close? Kemba Walker’s future is a question mark. The Hornets have not advanced past the first round since before they relocated in 2001-02. Charlotte has finished below .500 the last three seasons, too.
36. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year: 36-46, fifth in Northwest Division
How close? If Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler can’t get this team to the postseason, then what’s it going to take? There’s a long way to go here.
37. Arizona Coyotes
Last year: 39-35-8, fourth in Pacific Division
How close? The Coyotes just missed the playoffs last season under second-year coach Rick Tocchet. We need to see them get in before we start thinking championship.
38. New Orleans Pelicans
Last year: 33-49, fourth in Southwest Division
How close? There are too many unanswered questions about Anthony Davis’ future here, but it looks like New Orleans might get to start over with Zion Williamson. We will re-evaluate this after the NBA Draft.
39. Seattle Mariners
This year: 29-42, last in AL West
How close? It’s not looking good for the M’s, who have not made the playoffs since the magical 116-46 season in 2001.
40. Ottawa Senators
Last year: 29-47-6, Eighth in Atlantic Division
How close? The Senators face a long rebuild after trading away some top talent and finishing last in the Eastern Conference with just 64 points.
41. Phoenix Suns
Last year: 19-63, fifth in Pacific Division
How close? The Suns are a perpetual NBA Lottery team that has not made the playoffs in nine seasons. They are a long way from a championship.
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