Who are the Lakers of the NFL? Is the Clippers historical awfulness more similar to the Bengals or the New York Jets? Are all Cleveland teams equally bad?
I set out to answer these questions, and others, by attempting to find the best match for each team across the four major North American sports leagues, using statistical analysis. The results pair up each team with counterparts in the other four leagues.
Teams were compared using a broad range of categories:
- Size of the market/city
- All-time win percentage (points percentage for hockey)
- All-time championships
- All-time finals losses
- All-time playoff appearances
- Number of retired jerseys/numbers
- Number of MVP awards
- Recent win percentage (since 2000 season)
- Recent playoff appearances
- Recent championships
- Recent finals losses
- Current championship drought, in years
- First year of franchise
- First year in current city
- Franchise value
- Average attendance
- Average payroll
- Number of team name changes
- Number of team relocations
Matches between cities were determined by minimizing the coefficient of variation (the standard deviation, which measures the distance of a data point from the rest of the data, divided by the average of the data) between four teams, one from each league. Some categories were normalized to account for major discrepancies between leagues (ie. Baseball awards double the number of MVP trophies per year, NFL franchises are worth way more than NHL teams).
Some executive decisions on the categories:
- Championships, finals losses, and MVP trophies from rival leagues count for the NBA (ABA), NFL (AFL) and NHL (WHA), but not for baseball prior to World Series play.
- Despite all logic and sense, per NFL mandate the Baltimore Ravens are an expansion franchise and the Cleveland Browns merely shut down for a few years, despite the fact that the Baltimore Ravens ownership and roster looks surprisingly similar to the 1995 Cleveland Browns ownership and roster.
- Name changes count changes to both the team nickname (Hornets to Pelicans) and city (Boston Patriots to New England Patriots)
- The retired number category is meant to capture athletes that made substantial contributions to a team and city. Hall of Famers were considered, but too much judgement is involved in assigning HoF-ers to specific franchises. Let the teams decide (expect for the Raiders, who inexplicably refuse to honour anyone). Coaches, announcers and owners are not included (especially owners!), nor is blatant fan pandering (I’m looking at you Orlando, Sacramento, Seattle and Minnesota Wild, which have all retired “the fans” number) or numbers retired league wide (Jackie Robinson, Wayne Gretzky) unless that player played significant time with the franchise.
Teams could only be matched once, so not all matches listed below are the best possible match for each team. As a result, there are some outliers that might not make complete sense. Other matches are more surprising, but make sense when you give it some thought. Since there are 32 NFL teams, some NFL teams are doubled up.
Here are the best matches, loosely categorized from historically bad to historically great.
Years of frustration
Pittsburgh Pirates, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Lions, Phoenix Coyotes
Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Bucks, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Sabres
Chicago Cubs, New York Knicks, New York Jets, New York Rangers
Baltimore Orioles, Washington Wizards, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Islanders
Cleveland Indians, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Wild
Milwaukee Brewers, Memphis Grizzlies, Buffalo Bills, Columbus Blue Jackets
This group is a sadfest. Notable: Cleveland’s Indians AND Browns got matched with the Charlotte Bobcats, despite both Cleveland teams stature as old, storied franchises with memorable players and the Bobcats being generally crap for less than a decade. The machine works!
Years of frustration, Recent Improvement
Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Saints, Nashville Predators
Preds are a bit of an outlier here; otherwise, all these teams have generally been frustrating for fan bases for years before recent turnarounds, though the Clippers have yet to turn that into a championship.
Minnesota Twins, Houston Rockets, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Stars
Oakland Athletics, Utah Jazz, St. Louis Rams, Calgary Flames
Moved around, had some success.
Wanderers….and the Florida Panthers
Atlanta Braves, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Chargers, Florida Panthers
Moved around, had some success, except for Florida. Can’t really explain this one, other than that every team needs to be matched.
New City, Same Result
Washington Nationals, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Texans, Winnipeg Jets
I recognize the Texans are an expansion franchise, but they pretty much immediately replaced the departed Houston Oilers to ensure that football fans in south Texas got to suffer through the David Carr years.
Relatively New, Absolutely Unexceptional
Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning
Seattle Mariners, Toronto Raptors, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Jose Sharks
Tampa Bay Rays, Orlando Magic, Carolina Panthers, Ottawa Senators
Diamondbacks, Bucs, and Lightning at least got a championship, but those years are more outliers than the result of a good team for many years.
San Diego Padres, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Blues
Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Cavaliers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Capitals
Houston Astros, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Falcons, Vancouver Canucks
Texas Rangers, Brooklyn Nets, Oakland Raiders, Anaheim Ducks
Mostly Mediocre….and the Arizona Cardinals
Miami Marlins, Oklahoma City Thunder, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Hurricanes
Let it never be said that the Cardinals are mediocre.
Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Heat, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Penguins
These teams haven’t been around that long, and have had a few really good stretches, but also some prolonged periods of bad.
Long History, Recent Disappointment
Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Redskins, Montreal Canadiens
Interesting that Montreal is lumped in here, given their 23 Stanley Cups and numerous legends of the game. However, they are in a relatively small market, don’t spend as much as the other big name teams, and have been generally bad since their last Stanley Cup in 1993.
Storied, Not Dominant
Detroit Tigers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Flyers
Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bears, Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Mets, Chicago Bulls, San Francisco 49ers, Edmonton Oilers
Chicago White Sox, Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Dolphins/Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Kings
Some of these teams have had pretty long championship droughts (I’m looking at you, Maple Leafs), but generally these fans of these teams have to be pretty happy, though I’ve heard no one in Philadelphia is every happy about sports.
Recent Success, Long History
Boston Red Sox, San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots, Colorado Avalanche
San Francisco Giants, Detroit Pistons, Indianapolis Colts, Boston Bruins
Philadelphia Phillies, Dallas Mavericks, New York Giants, Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche may be a surprise to some, but remember they were the Quebec Nordiques for two decades before moving to Denver. Mavericks have only been around since 1980, but their play since the turn of the millennium puts them into the same category as the Phillies, Giants and Blackhawks.
The Big Boys
St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Celtics, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Red Wings
New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Green Bay Packers, New Jersey Devils
Obviously the Devils are the surprise here, but when you consider they play in the largest market (NY/NJ), and have been one of the most successful NHL teams over the last decade, this match somewhat makes sense.
No surprise that the Yankees and Lakers are paired, these are the teams that everyone loves to hate. Lots of championships, huge market, huger payroll, and tons of recent success.
So there you have it, rest easy tonight knowing which teams are the closest matches across the four major sports leagues. Hopefully this can settle some sports bar debates.