May 2, 2023 - Sports

Bruins, Bucks are latest top seeds to fall short

Data: Axios Research; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Axios Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Early exits for the Boston Bruins and Milwaukee Bucks surely sting the Boston and Milwaukee faithful. But history says that even as No. 1 seeds, they were unlikely to reach their respective finals.

By the numbers: The National Football League is the only major North American sports league whose top-seeded teams have reached the championship round at a better-than-50% clip over the last 20 completed seasons.

  • 🏈 NFL: 21 of the last 40 No. 1 seeds have played in the Super Bowl.
  • ⚾️ Major League Baseball: 15 of the last 40 No. 1 seeds have played in the World Series.
  • 🏀 National Basketball Association: 13 of last 40 No. 1 seeds have played in the NBA Finals.
  • 🏒 National Hockey League: 6 of the last 40 No. 1 seeds have played in the Stanley Cup.

Between the lines: The Bruins and Bucks weren't just No. 1 seeds — they had their leagues' best regular-season records. But even that, it turns out, isn't exactly a recipe for championships.

  • Only three of the past 20 Stanley Cup champions had the best regular-season record that year.
  • The NFL, MLB and NBA have each had six such teams over the past 20 seasons — double the NHL's tally, but still fewer than you might think.

Wild stat: The Bruins' early departure means that the best regular-season team in the history of each Big Four league failed to cap their historic season with a title.

  • 🏈 NFL: 2007 New England Patriots (16-0): Lost in the Super Bowl.
  • ⚾️ MLB: 1906 Chicago Cubs* (116-36-3): Lost in the World Series.
  • 🏀 NBA: 2015-16 Golden State Warriors (73-9): Lost in the NBA Finals.
  • 🏒 NHL: 2022-23 Bruins (65-12-5): Lost in the first round.

The bottom line: It's really hard to win a championship.

*The 2001 Seattle Mariners matched the Cubs' 116 wins but had more losses (46) in a longer season. They also failed to win the title.

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