The Seattle Seahawks took a lot of heat for making the NFL playoff with a losing record. But where do they stack up among history's worst post-season qualifiers?
These days, you need 16 wins in the playoffs to win the NBA championship. Fifty-eight years ago, that’s all the Baltimore Bullets needed to get into the playoffs.
With just 16 wins in 70 regular-season games, the 1952-53 Bullets earned the ignominious distinction of being far and away the worst professional team to make the playoffs in any of the four major North American sports. This was in the early days of the NBA, back when eight of the league’s 10 teams advanced to the postseason. And 16-54, as bad as it was, was still enough to nab fourth place out of five in the Eastern Division -- a slim 29.5 games out of third.
The Bullets were a bad team by almost any measure. They lost their first three games of the season – the only ones they’d play under Chick Reiser, who was replaced by Hall of Famer Clair Bee – by a combined 68 points.
They lost 16 of 17 in one stretch, and 12 in a row a month after that. After posting stunning back-to-back wins over the Celtics, they were blown out by Boston, 131-87, the next night. Bee, credited with the invention of the 1-3-1 zone, couldn’t help Baltimore’s defense, which allowed 90.9 points per game – three more than any other team.
Want more? Nine of the Bullets’ 16 wins came against the only two teams that didn’t make the playoffs that season. They beat the West-worst Milwaukee Hawks three times and the East’s Philadelphia Warriors six times. Baltimore, in fact, clinched its spot in the playoffs by sweeping a home-and-home with the Warriors in the season’s final week. The Bullets finished 3.5 ahead of 12-57 Philadelphia that season.
How bad was Baltimore’s .229 winning percentage that season? In a modern 82-game schedule, it translates to a 19-63 record, which in most years is good -- or shall we say bad -- enough to land a team the best odds in the draft lottery. There have been NBA teams that won three times as many games as the ’52-’53 Bullets and missed the playoffs.
A .229 winning percentage is barely half of the worst ever put up by an NFL playoff team, and that came in the strike-shortened 1982 season, when the league took 16 of 28 teams to an expanded playoffs. The 4-5 Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns were the only sub-.500 teams to advance to the NFL’s postseason until the Seahawks beat the Saints.
The NHL, with its extended playoffs and one-time divisional setup, has often taken playoff teams with records under the equator. But even the worst that it has conjured up is the 1987-88 Toronto Maple Leafs, who went 21-49-10 for a .325 winning percentage.
And let’s not even talk about baseball. Due to its limited postseason, Major League Baseball has never seen a playoff team dip below .500, with the 2005 San Diego Padres coming the closest at 82-80. MLB has never seen a team – any team – log a winning percentage as bad as .229. The worst team since the World Series began play in 1903 is the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who went 36-117 for a .235 percentage.
Once the Bullets got to the postseason, their momentum from the regular season carried over into a two-game sweep at the hands of the first-place New York Knicks. The Knicks took all 12 of the team’s meetings that season and eventually lost in the NBA Finals to George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers.