A review of the best and worst franchise records in professional sports


On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears 28-19. Both teams are having mediocre seasons, to put it generously – the Bears even more so. But this contest was about much more than the extent to which a currently bad team was worse. It was also a measure of which historically good team was better.

With their win, the Packers made it 787 franchise wins in the team’s long history. As it happened, they and the Bears were tied at 786 entering the game, giving it an edge that otherwise would have been lacking.

It does raise an interesting question, though: How do other teams stack up in their franchise history? For every Green Bay Packers, after all, there is an Atlanta Falcons, who have more than 100 more losses than wins in their franchise history. So who are the best active franchises in history? And, more fun, who are the worst?

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You can see right away that we’re in trouble. The Washington Post’s local baseball team is the Washington Nationals. Do we count the Montreal Expos in franchise history? The Washington Senators, even though they moved to Minnesota to become the Twins?

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The correct and natural way to solve this question is to refer it to someone else, so we decided to use the definitions of franchise established by the encyclopedic sports sites collected under the umbrella of Sports Reference. So the Expos’ wins (a few) are added to the Nats’, and the Twins are saddled with (a lot) of the Senators’ losses.

From there, it’s simple: gather data on the all-time win-loss records of teams in the professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer leagues through Monday and sort them by winning percentage. The result is below. For reasons that will soon become apparent, teams along the Philly-to-DC axis are highlighted.

As you scrolled through, we hope you noticed that we delineated teams that had winning percentages above .500 and those below — a group that will be highlighted a little further down in this article.

You’ve probably also noticed the surprising number of Major League Soccer teams with high and low winning percentages. It is a byproduct of a smaller sample. Because these teams are newer, they have fewer wins and fewer losses. This is exacerbated by the fact that football matches can end in a draw (known as a tie in the rest of this article for consistency). With fewer matches played, it is easier to have a higher overall win percentage. Win two out of three games and you’re at .667, for example. Win 666 out of 1000 games and your winning percentage is slightly lower.

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You can see this clearly if we show the same ranking as above, but with the actual wins and losses shown. You can also see that baseball franchises are the champions of the game for the obvious reasons of longevity and games per season.

If we limit our analysis of winning percentage to teams that have played at least 1,000 games, we end up with the top five teams in each sport that probably look familiar.

Even if the Bears had won on Sunday, the Packers would still have a higher winning percentage, given that they have fewer losses. With that, let’s turn from historical winners to historical losers.

You may have noticed that teams along the Philly-DC corridor landed in the sub-.500 space on that first chart. Well, as it turns out, two of those teams — the Philadelphia Phillies and the Baltimore Orioles — are finishing up the farthest of .500. The Orioles must win more than 1,000 more games than they lose before passing franchise history; The Phillies need to win more than 1,100.

However, when we look at how far teams are from .500, we again see that Major League Baseball is overrepresented. The Phillies have been around for over a century and now play 162 games a year! Even if they only averaged 10 more losses than wins over that span – a not too shabby 76-86 record each year – you come up with a net deficit of 1,000 games over 100 years.

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So let’s shift the context a bit. Baseball teams play 162 games a year, which means that if the Phillies had a couple of perfect seasons—which is… unlikely, but you’re working with us here—they’d eat up that deficit significantly. So let’s consider that metric instead. Which teams would need the most perfect seasons to make up their win-loss record?

The clear winner is the NFL Arizona Cardinals. If the Cardinals won every regular season game between now and 2034, they would finally be at .500. By this metric, the Phillies are only the fifth least successful franchise in American professional sports.

Now let’s talk about the Washington Commanders. You’ll notice above that it takes them less than one perfect season to reach .500. In fact, they need just three more wins than losses to reach .500 in franchise history – not likely this season, but possible. And for a team currently at the bottom of their division, an imaginary metric worth celebrating. The Packers can explain how good that feels.


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