Determining the best Ohio pro sports teams in the state, from the NFL representatives in Cincinnati and Cleveland to Major League Soccer.
It hasn’t been an easy era for fans of Ohio’s professional sports teams.
Despite seven teams calling the state home between the five major professional sports leagues, Ohio’s seen only three titles since the 1970s. Long gone are the glory days of the 1950s/1960s Browns and the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati in the mid-70s.
Here’s a closer look at the past 15 years of Ohio sports, where we try to find the successes, look towards future potential, and ultimately determine Ohio’s best professional sports team.
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Ohio Pro Sports Teams Over Past 15 Years
|Team||Regular Season Record over Past 15 Years||Playoff/playoff series wins||Championships?|
|Cleveland Browns (NFL)||80 wins – 160 losses – 1 tie||One (2020)||None|
|Cincinnati Reds (MLB)||1,113 wins – 1,215 losses||None||None|
|Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)||534 wins – 465 losses – 132 ties/OT losses||Two (one in 2019, one in 2020)||None|
|Cleveland Indians/Guardians (MLB)||1,212 wins – 1,114 losses||Three (one in 2007; two in 2016)||None|
|Cincinnati Bengals (NFL)||112 wins – 125 losses – 4 ties||Three (all in 2021)||None|
|Columbus Crew (MLS)||195 wins – 168 losses – 120 draws||10 (two in 2008; two in 2015; two in 2017; one in 2018; three in 2020)||Two (2008, 2020)|
|Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)||576 wins – 592 losses||17 (one in 2008; two in 2009; one in 2010; three in 2015; four in 2016; three in 2017; three in 2018)||One (2016)|
Cleveland Browns (NFL)
For too long, the Browns have been synonymous with losing in the NFL. Cleveland’s finished nine of the past 15 seasons with five wins of fewer, bottoming out at 0-16 in the 2017 campaign.
The good news? Since then they’ve had at least six wins every season. They even came through with a big playoff win over their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2020. There’s some promise here, but still a long way to go for the fans in the Dawg Pound and their favorite NFL squad.
Cincinnati Reds (MLB)
The Reds were the next team eliminated from our “Best of Ohio Pro Sports” list. With only four winning seasons over the past 15 campaigns, their playoff opportunities are limited. And while they’ve qualified in each of their winning seasons, the Reds lost twice in the Wild Card game and twice in the Divisional Series.
You’d have to go back to 1995 to find a series victory, and their last World Series championship came in 1990. It’s back to the drawing board for the Big Red Machine.
Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
Ohio’s NHL team came into existence in the year 2000 and didn’t make the playoffs until 2009. By the end of the 2010s, the Blue Jackets qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in four consecutive seasons. The franchise highlight came in 2019, when they swept the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning from the first round for their first-ever playoff series win.
They’re not Ohio’s best, and the NHL has done the Blue Jackets no favors by placing them in the loaded Metropolitan Division. But new coach Brad Larsen has the team over .500 in 2021-2022 and headed in the right direction.
Cleveland Guardians (MLB)
The Guardians (who changed their name from the Cleveland Indians late in 2021), have put up four AL Central championship and an American League pennant.
Overall, they may be Ohio’s most consistent pro sports team in terms of playoff contention. But it’s the lack of titles that keeps them out of our top spot. They came agonizingly close in 2016, as the Chicago Cubs ended their own World Series drought by downing Cleveland in seven games. Now it’s the Guardians looking to break through and end a title drought that’s approaching 75 years (last won in 1948).
Cincinnati Bengals (NFL)
They’re certainly Ohio’s most promising pro sports team, and most people would tell you they’ll be next to bring a championship to the Buckeye State. But we can’t give “top team” honors to a squad that just broke a 31-year playoff drought this past January. For too many years, the Bengals fell short of making the playoffs, or fell flat as the postseason began.
Joe Burrow and friends have things headed in the right direction, and this might be a different conversation if Super Bowl 56 went differently last month. But, for now, the Bengals will have to settle for being “Ohio’s NEXT great pro sports team”.
Columbus Crew (MLS)
This is the team responsible for bringing Ohio two of its three pro sports title in the past 15 years – one at the beginning, in 2008, when they claimed their first MLS Cup, and again in 2020 when the Crew overcame the COVID-19 pandemic-interrupted season to win their second title.
For most of the latter portion of the era, the Crew has been an Eastern Conference contender in MLS. They have repeatedly qualified for the postseason. The 10 playoff victories and two titles make it a two-team race between the Crew and our next Ohio team for the best of the era.
Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers’ fortunes have followed those of franchise icon LeBron James. Starting with the 2007-2008 season, LeBron has played seven years in Cleveland, and eight years elsewhere. Guess which seven years saw the Cavaliers in the playoffs?
But ‘The King’ delivered what most Cleveland fans consider the highlight of their lives as sports fans, when he and Kyrie Irving led a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to topple Stephen Curry and the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
It was Cleveland’s first professional sports title since 1964, and validated LeBron’s return home after four seasons in Miami. James has since signed with the L.A. Lakers, and the Cavaliers are again rebuilding in his wake – albeit more successfully this time with All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen.
So, Who Is the GOAT?
The greatest Ohio pro sports team is hard to determine. However, it was easy to narrow it down to two candidates – the Columbus Crew and the Cavaliers. The Crew has one more title, but like the Cavaliers they’ve had a few thin years in between. However, for many fans, championships equal the bottom line, and it would be easy to declare Columbus’ MLS squad the best of Ohio since 2007.
But our choice is the Cavaliers, if only because most NBA fans consider that 2016 championship series and victory the best in recent history. Two sure Hall of Famers (LeBron James and Stephen Curry) battled for seven games, surrounded by star-studded supporting casts. In the end, LeBron validated his return to Cleveland and his entire career with an improbably Game 7 victory on the road.
Plus, those Cavaliers qualified for the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons. Even Michael Jordan and the Bulls never managed that. They would probably have another championship or two, but they kept running into Curry and the Warriors.
For those reasons, we are declaring the Cleveland Cavaliers the GOAT – or at least the greatest of the past 15 years – among Ohio pro sports teams.