The NFL playoffs begin this weekend, but it's next week that brings Tom Brady, and the Steelers, and wild Eagles fans. If you wanted, you could sit the first weekend out and wait for that one.
The guy putting on his jacket remains my favorite part of that video. That's another disappointed Bills fan who hung around a little longer than he should have out of a sad, empty hope, putting on his coat to brave another unforgiving Buffalo blast of frozen air, knowing that once again, his Bills have fallen short. And then! And then! Next thing you know, Andy Dalton's charity is swimming in cash.
Yes, the primary reason to watch the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs is Buffalo, a proud city so desperate for a playoff game that fans waited in the snow at the airport to greet their team when it returned from Miami. The Bills will end the longest playoff drought in professional sports, 17 seasons, when they play Jacksonville on Sunday, and it's the signature story of the NFL postseason to this point. Eighteen years is too long to wait for anything, let alone a playoff game for one of the best football cities on the planet.
Let me tell you as someone who cheers for a football team that once made one playoff appearance over a 26-year stretch, playoff droughts are the worst. Losing seasons are tough, but you can handle them; they happen. (Unless you are the Yankees, of course.) But watching, every year, every other team get to be the focus of the sports world for at least one afternoon (or one week in October) and never getting the opportunity to be that yourself is brutal. It's not just that your team is bad. Playoff droughts mean that your team is forgotten. This weekend, the Bills will be remembered.
So now that the Bills' streak is snapped, it's bad news for … the Seattle Mariners, who now have the longest playoff drought in the four major North American professional sports. They haven't made it since 2001, since Ichiro was a rookie. It has become easier for baseball teams to reach the postseason with the addition of the second Wild Card, but there are still six teams that have gone at least six years without reaching the postseason. Six seasons is a long time. Six seasons is before Mike Trout was a regular starter. Six seasons is before Bryce Harper or Yoenis Cespedes entered the league.
Last season, one of the five MLB teams with the longest playoff droughts snapped theirs: The Colorado Rockies reached the National League Wild Card Game, though they lost it and didn't get to play a home game. But it still counts! Allotting for the fact that there are still plenty of moves to be made this offseason -- like, pretty much all of them -- you can still take a look at those six teams and rank their likelihood to end their droughts and break through this season. One of these days, they will get their Buffalo Bills moment. But will it be this year?
6. Miami Marlins
Last playoff game: 2003 World Series
Playoff drought: 14 years
Maybe you buy into Derek Jeter's vision for the franchise, and even those skeptical of the new regime have to admit that trading away Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna made some sense, both financially and competitively. Maybe you disagree with every move Jeter has made. Maybe you're somewhere in the middle. The one thing you cannot doubt, whether the Marlins keep Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto or not, is that the 2018 Marlins are unlikely to be playing a postseason game this October. It's possible the groundwork is being laid this offseason for a future playoff appearance, but probably not immediately.
5. San Diego Padres
Last playoff game: 2006 NL Division Series
Playoff drought: 11 years
The Padres could still be in on Eric Hosmer, and it's clear that A.J. Preller and company both have a plan and are starting to ratchet up the urgency. You can see a foundation here, from Manuel Margot to Luis Perdomo to Jose Pirela to Hunter Renfroe to still-only-27 Wil Myers. But it's tough to see them jumping over the Rockies or the D-backs in 2018, let alone the Dodgers. And the Giants are ramping themselves up to contend this year. Patience is still the word in San Diego.
4. Chicago White Sox
Last playoff game: 2008 American League Division Series
Playoff drought: nine years
The White Sox might be building the biggest potential monster on this list, and they're so happy with how their rebuild has been going that they've even floated the idea of trading for Manny Machado. There's so much talent coming that the White Sox's biggest challenge is figuring out how it all fits, when to promote players, when to finally hit the gas pedal and push for a title in a division that, in the next few years, might be winnable. This year is probably a bit early, but then again, you would have said the same thing about the Twins last year. Either way: If you're asking what team on this list is most likely to make the playoffs multiple times by 2022, this is the one.
3. Seattle Mariners
Last playoff game: 2001 AL Championship Series
Playoff drought: 16 years
You can't say the Mariners haven't been desperately trying to go for it, with the big free-agent signings (and Robinson Cano is going to be around through 2023) and Jerry Dipoto's constant barrage of little trades on the margins. But for all the effort, I'm not sure the Mariners are that much closer to the playoffs than they've been any season over the past few years. Playoff spots in the American League are becoming particularly sparse: The Yankees and Red Sox account for two themselves, with the AL Central champion and the monster that is the defending champion Astros two others. That leaves one spot for everyone to fight for, one that the Angels, in particular, are positioning themselves for in 2018. Do you think the Mariners can be better than the Angels in 2018? It will be a challenge. Again.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
Last playoff game: 2011 NLDS
Playoff drought: six years
For most of the first half of last year, you had to wonder just how much progress the Phillies were making. But then Rhys Hoskins happened. The young slugger single-handedly boosted the spirits of this franchise with his thunderous home run barrage the final two months of the season, and suddenly, the Phillies think they might be ready to make a run at this. The signing of Carlos Santana is a big leap forward, even if it moves Hoskins to the outfield, and the Phillies might be even more aggressive in the years to come. (Boy would Bryce Harper be a gas in Philly.) More to the point: There seems to be a couple of Wild Card spots up for grabs in the NL this year. The Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals are heavy division title favorites, but the Cardinals, D-backs Rockies, Mets and yes, the Phillies will all be fighting it out for the Wild Card Game. The Phillies might be a year away, but they're still second on this list in likelihood. And it's only another Wild Card contender that keeps them out of the top spot.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
Last playoff game: 2011 NLCS
Playoff drought: six years
Side note: Half the teams on this list played their last postseason game against the Cardinals. The Brewers are the pick as the most likely to break their postseason drought here, partly because they had the best 2017 record of any team on this list (and missed the Wild Card by only one game) but mostly because they're obviously on a big upward swing. They've got a ton of young, emerging talent (with more coming down the pipeline), they've got the willingness to potentially spend for a quality starting pitcher or two and they're -- unlike everyone else on this list -- a team that already had a winning record in 2017. The Cardinals are clearly trying to end their own (very brief) postseason-less streak, but the Brewers had a better record than them last year and could be in position to do so again in 2018. There are many moves yet to be made. But this is probably the best bet.
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