End of decade: Best pro teams of the 2010s

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In January 2010, the San Francisco Giants were still in the midst of a 56-year title drought, the Golden State Warriors were on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons and some even prematurely thought the New England Patriots’ dynasty might be over. 

It’s safe to say a lot has changed since then. 

Those three franchises combined for three championships apiece this decade, the most in each of their respective sports. As a result, each were obvious choices when we set out to identify America’s 10 best professional sports franchises of the 2010s.

The list includes six teams that won multiple titles this decade and three that did not miss the playoffs even once. It also features another team that hasn’t captured a single championship in more than three decades.   

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)

10. BALTIMORE RAVENS 

Record since 2010: 97-62 (.610) 

Championships since 2010: 1 (2012) 

Playoff appearances since 2010: 6

Most recent losing season: 2015

Baltimore has 97 regular-season wins this decade. Pittsburgh has 102. Baltimore has a losing season this decade. Pittsburgh does not. Baltimore will make its sixth playoff appearance of the 2010s this season. Pittsburgh could make its seventh if it can secure the AFC’s final wild-card spot. So why are the Ravens on this list and the Steelers are not? It’s simple. The Ravens have a Super Bowl victory this decade and the Steelers lost their lone appearance. Powered by a ball-hawking defense, a fourth-straight 1,000-yard rushing season from Ray Rice and a career-best season from Joe Flacco, the Ravens held off a late rally from San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII after defeating New England in the AFC title game. Regression from Flacco and the need to retool the defense kept the Ravens from making another Super Bowl run, but this year’s team has a chance to end that drought. Behind Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have the league’s highest-scoring offense to complement a defense that lately has rounded into form.

Top moments this decade: 

1. Less than 10 yards from surrendering a go-ahead touchdown to the 49ers in the final two minutes of Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens defense came up huge. Jimmy Smith broke up one Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree and contested another, securing Baltimore’s second championship in franchise history.

2. The Ravens would not have reached that Super Bowl were it not for a play forever known as the “Mile High Miracle.” Trailing Denver by seven in the final minute of a 2012 AFC divisional game, Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard touchdown pass. The Ravens went on to win in double overtime via a Justin Tucker field goal. 

3. The first round of the 2018 draft appeared to be over for the Ravens until Ozzie Newsome completed a franchise-altering trade with Philadelphia to secure the 32nd pick. Baltimore then selected Lamar Jackson, the electrifying dual-threat quarterback who could be the face of the franchise for the next decade.

9. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Record since 2010: 919-701 (.567)

Championships since 2010: 0

Playoff appearances since 2010: 7

Most recent losing season: 2010

The inclusion of the Dodgers on this list inspired fierce debate among our staff. On one hand, they’ve won seven straight division titles, piled up the second-most regular-season wins this decade and advanced to the NLCS or beyond four times. On the other hand, they still haven’t delivered a championship to Los Angeles in more than three decades. In the end, the Dodgers made the cut thanks to seven years of sustained success, a run that began with the 2012 sale of the team from cash-strapped, wildly unpopular Frank McCourt to the deep-pocketed Guggenheim Group. Buoyed by a top-five payroll, cutting-edge analytics and a loaded farm system, the Dodgers have achieved consistency through prudent personnel decisions and unparalleled organizational depth. Clayton Kershaw has anchored the rotation, Kenley Jansen has been a pillar in the bullpen and home-grown stars have powered the lineup, from Corey Seager and Joc Pederson to Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy.

Top moments of the decade: 

1. Not since Fernandomania has Los Angeles seen anything like the summer of Puig. The June 2012 debut of rookie phenom Yasiel Puig sparked a 42-8 surge from the Dodgers, lifting them from the N.L. West cellar to first place. When they clinched the first of seven straight division titles in mid-September, the Dodgers infamously celebrated by splashing in the D-Backs’ pool.

2. Clayton Kershaw’s postseason failures have received most of the attention, but Dodgers fans fondly remember one of his greatest successes. The decisive game of the 2016 NLDS against the Nationals ended with Kershaw taking the ball from Kenley Jansen on one day’s rest and securing the last two outs to preserve a 4-3 Dodgers victory.

3. Two dramatic walk-off home runs both deserve mention on this list. Justin Turner’s three-run shot to straightaway center field defeated the Cubs in Game 2 of the 2017 NLCS and moved the Dodgers closer to their first pennant in 29 years. A year later, Max Muncy’s 18th-inning solo shot on Nathan Eovaldi's 97th pitch of relief gave the Dodgers’ their lone 2018 World Series victory against Boston.

8. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Record since 2010: 466-320 (.592)

Championships since 2010: 2 (2016, 2017)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 10

Most recent losing season: 2006

Thanks to the quality of their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Pittsburgh has been a playoff mainstay year after year. Not only do the Penguins boast the NHL’s longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances, they also have the league’s best record during the past decade. Pittsburgh didn’t reach the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2010s until a string of playoff flameouts forced a change in coaches and general managers and a roster overhaul. Trades for Phil Kessell, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin bolstered the roster, as did the development of goaltender Matt Murray, a 2012 third-round pick. The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, easing the sting of previous disappointments and vaulting Crosby and Malkin from great players to all-time greats. Only a long-awaited breakthrough by the Washington Capitals kept Pittsburgh from making a run at a third straight title in 2018. 

Top moments this decade: 

1. Bryan Rust struck the Lightning twice in Game 7 of the 2016 conference finals. The man known as Mr. Elimination lived up to his name, sending the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals with a pair of second-period goals in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay. 

2. The signature moment from Pittsburgh’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup came in Game 7 of the conference finals against Ottawa. A tumbling, knuckling shot from Chris Kunitz found the back of the net in double overtime and turned an anxious crowd into a jubilant one. 

3. Sidelined for more than 10 months as a result of a severe concussion, Sidney Crosby made a magical return to the Penguins’ lineup on Nov. 21, 2011. He dazzled an appreciative home crowd, scoring on his second shift and finishing the night with two goals and two assists.

7. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Record since 2010: 437-349 (.555)

Championships since 2010: 3 (2010, 2013, 2015)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 8

Most recent losing season: 2018

For the first eight years of the decade, the Blackhawks were the NHL’s top team. They captured three Stanley Cups in six seasons and made two other appearances in the conference finals. The run began in 2010 after Chicago added established veterans Marian Hossa and John Madden to a young core that had reached the Western Conference finals the previous season. The result was a loaded team that ended Chicago’s 47-year Stanley Cup drought without facing one elimination game. Seven players from that team were part of Chicago’s subsequent championship squads in 2013 and 2015: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. The 2013 Blackhawks were a powerful team at both ends of the ice, while the 2015 edition made up for a middling offense with a formidable defense. 

Top moments of the decade: 

1. The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup drought ended with a championship-clinching goal that almost nobody saw. Four minutes into overtime of Game 6 of the 2010 Finals, Patrick Kane cut hard to the net and fired a low shot from a bad angle. It went underneath Flyers goalie Michael Leighton but got stuck underneath the pad of the net, delaying a celebration decades in the making while everyone figured out what happened. 

2. The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals appeared headed to a Game 7 before the Blackhawks erupted for two goals 17 seconds apart. Goals by Brian Bickell and Dave Bolland erased a 2-1 deficit in the final minute against Boston and secured Chicago’s second Cup of the decade.

3. Before Chicago even reached the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, the Blackhawks first had to rally from a 3-1 deficit against longtime nemesis Detroit in the Western Conference playoffs. Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal in Game 7 capped the comeback. 

The Red Sox's David Ortiz celebrates with teammates after Game 6 of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first of two World Series titles for the Red Sox in the 2010s. (AP)
The Red Sox's David Ortiz celebrates with teammates after Game 6 of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first of two World Series titles for the Red Sox in the 2010s. (AP)

6. BOSTON RED SOX

Record since 2010: 872-748 (.538)

Championships since 2010: 2 (2013, 2018)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 4

Most recent losing season: 2015

After a September collapse in 2011 and a 93-loss nightmare in 2012, the Red Sox improbably gained redemption the following year. They won 97 regular-season games and captured the World Series title, fueled by timely hits from David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, a strong starting rotation and the desire to lift up a city reeling from the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that year. That overachieving team faded as quickly as it ascended, but the Red Sox regrouped a couple years later. By 2018, they were again baseball’s best team, a 108-win juggernaut that rampaged past the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers en route to their fourth World Series title since 2004. Fittingly, for a franchise that yo-yoed up and down throughout the decade, the success proved unsustainable. A Red Sox roster virtually identical to the previous season won only 84 games and missed the playoffs, done in by a bad starting pitching and too many blown leads. 

Top moments of the decade: 

1. “This is our f---ing city.” 

2. The 2013 Red Sox were only four outs away from facing an 0-2 hole against Detroit. Then with one swing, David Ortiz changed everything, blasting a game-tying grand slam into the Boston bullpen. Boston won the game 6-5 and the ALCS in six games. Ortiz went on to hit .688 in the World Series. 

3. The Dodgers appeared to be on the verge of tying the 2018 World Series at two games apiece until pinch hitter Mitch Moreland made Dave Roberts pay for yanking Rich Hill too soon. Moreland’s 3-run seventh-inning bomb pulled the Red Sox to within one, paved the way for more Boston heroics and proved to be the pivotal swing of the series. 

5. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Record since 2010: 100-58-1 (.628)

Championships since 2010: 1 (2013)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 8

Most recent losing season: 2011

No other NFL team has come close to matching New England’s sustained success this decade, but credit Seattle for coming closest. Not only did the Seahawks win one Super Bowl and come within one yard of going back-to-back, they also have remained contenders even after many of the stars of their Super Bowl teams moved on. A flurry of shrewd draft picks helped Seattle build the league’s best defense, a unit highlighted by a swaggering, intimidating secondary known as the Legion of Boom. When Seattle’s defense began to splinter after a brilliant five-year run, the Seahawks relied on the improvisation of Russell Wilson to stay relevant while they retooled. Seattle hasn’t won a playoff game in two years, but that could change this season. If the Seahawks beat the rival 49ers on Sunday, they’ll claim their fifth division title of the decade. 

Top moments of the decade: 

1. Having already rallied from a 12-point deficit in the dying minutes of the 2014 NFC title game, Seattle made sure that historic rally didn’t go to waste. Russell Wilson threw an overtime strike over the middle to Jermaine Kearse, ousting Green Bay and sending the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl. 

2. With the 49ers driving for a game-winning touchdown, Colin Kaepernick made the mistake of testing Richard Sherman. A leaping, twisting Sherman batted the ball toward Malcolm Smith, whose interception clinched the 2013 NFC title game and sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, where they annihilated Denver, 43-8.

3. In 2010, Beast Mode was born. Saints defender after Saints defender slid off Marshawn Lynch or were sent flying by stiff-arms on a 67-yard touchdown run that salted away Pete Carroll’s first playoff victory as Seahawks coach. 

4. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Record since 2010: 821-799 (.506)

Championships since 2010: 3 (2010, 2012, 2014)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 4

Most recent losing season: 2019

They only made the playoffs four times this decade, but the Giants certainly maximized their opportunities. A franchise that had not yet captured a World Series in San Francisco entering the 2010 season won three championships in the next five years. The cathartic 2010 title was an underdog story fueled by a talented, young rotation and a lineup of clutch-hitting spare parts. The 2012 Giants were formidable in all facets yet dominant in none. In 2014, Madison Bumgarner carried an otherwise ordinary Giants team over the finish line with a legendary postseason performance. The common thread among the three championship seasons was Bruce Bochy pushing all the right buttons. Especially impressive how Bochy deployed a bullpen highlighted by the core four of Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla

Top moments of the decade: 

1. On Nov. 1, 2010, the Giants wiped away the ghosts of past postseason failures. Edgar Renteria blasted a go-ahead 3-run homer and Brian Wilson struck out the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz to clinch the franchise’s first World Series title in 56 years. 

2. He had already won two previous World Series starts, but Madison Bumgarner saved his best performance of the 2014 playoffs for last. With the Giants up 3-2 in Game 7 against the Royals, Bumgarner took the ball on two days’ rest and promptly threw a rare five-inning save, giving up just two hits.

3. Let’s call it a tie between two of the most memorable swings in Giants history. One is Buster Posey’s grand slam off Giants nemesis Mat Latos in the decisive game of the 2012 NLDS against the Reds. The other is Travis Ishikawa’s pennant-clinching three-run blast to beat the Cardinals in 2014. 

3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Record since 2010: 559-245 (.695)

Championships since 2010: 1 (2014)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 10

Most recent losing season: 1996-97

No NBA franchise has been more consistently excellent than the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve made 22 consecutive playoff appearances under coach Gregg Popovich, reaching at least the Western Conference finals 10 times. That continued into the 2010s even as the Spurs’ core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli began to show its age. Kawhi Leonard blossomed into maybe the NBA’s best two-way player, helping the Spurs make the NBA Finals in 2013 and then avenge the previous year’s heartbreaking NBA Finals loss to Miami in 2014. The Spurs might still be annually contending for championships today were it not for the rift that formed between Leonard and the organization. Since Leonard forced a trade by sitting out all but nine games during the 2017-18 season, the Spurs have not won a playoff series. 

Top three moments this decade: 

1. A year after suffering one of the most deflating defeats in Finals history against Miami, the Spurs crushed the Heat in the 2014 rematch. Manu Ginobili’s driving slam over Chris Bosh in Game 5 was the series’ indelible image. 

2. The key to San Antonio’s Game 1 victory in the 2014 NBA Finals might have been a busted air conditioner at the AT&T Center. In temperatures that approached 90 degrees, LeBron left the game with leg cramps in the fourth quarter and the Spurs pulled away for a 110-95 win.

3. In Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference semifinals against Houston, Manu Ginobili won the game with his first block all season. He swatted away James Harden's final attempt from behind to preserve a pivotal Spurs victory.

LeBron James, center, holds up the NBA championship trophy alongside teammates Kyrie Irving, left; Kevin Love, rear right; J.R. Smith, right; and Tristan Thompson, front, at the airport in Cleveland on June 20, 2016. (AP)
LeBron James, center, holds up the NBA championship trophy alongside teammates Kyrie Irving, left; Kevin Love, rear right; J.R. Smith, right; and Tristan Thompson, front, at the airport in Cleveland on June 20, 2016. (AP)

2. THE LEBRONS

Record since 2010: 533-271 (.662)

Championships since 2010: 3 (2012, 2013, 2016)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 9

Most recent losing season: 2018-19

In the period that they didn’t have LeBron this decade, Cleveland didn’t sniff .500 and Miami won just a single playoff series. As a result, it’s hard to make a case to include either the Cavs or the Heat on this list, yet it’s also impossible to ignore the accomplishments of the greatest basketball player of his generation. Feasting on the undermanned Eastern Conference, LeBron appeared in eight straight NBA Finals from 2011-2018, winning two in Miami before leading Cleveland to the city’s first championship in any major sport in 52 years. His coaches, zip code and supporting cast may have changed frequently, but wherever LeBron was and whoever was around him, his teams were always contenders. 

Top three moments this decade: 

1. The defining moment of LeBron’s career might be his chase-down block of Andre Iguodola in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. It paved the way for Kyrie Irving’s go-ahead 3-pointer and enabled LeBron to fulfill his promise to deliver a championship to Cleveland.

2. Plagued by questions over when he was going to win a title, LeBron delivered a triple-double in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals to lead the Heat past an Oklahoma City team that starred James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. 

3. His supporting cast was wholly unexceptional, so LeBron almost won an NBA Finals game by himself. At the age of 33, he posted 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in an overtime loss to Golden State in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. 

2. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Record since 2010: 505-299 (.628)

Championships since 2010: 3 (2015, 2017, 2018)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 7

Most recent losing season: 2011-12

In a span of just a few years, the Warriors evolved from laughingstock to juggernaut. Playing a scintillating style of small ball fueled by unselfish passing, versatile defenders and flurries of 3-pointers, the Warriors stormed to their first championship in 2015 and then won an NBA record 73 games the following season. When LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs rallied from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to wrest away the 2016 championship, the Warriors responded by adding Kevin Durant to their core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodola. That group cruised to championships in 2017 and 2018 and nearly won another in 2019. Injuries to Durant and Thompson placed too great a burden on Curry in the NBA Finals, helping Toronto spring a memorable upset.

Top three moments this decade: 

1. Could a jump-shooting team win a title? Yes. The Warriors decisively captured their first title in 40 years in 2015, outgunning injury-plagued Cleveland in six games. 

2. Never before had a team won 73 games until the 2016 Warriors did it, eclipsing the record set in 1996 by Michael Jordan’s 72-win Chicago Bulls. 

3. Never doubt Klay Thompson in a Game 6. The other Splash Brother erupted for 41 at Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference finals, helping the Warriors rally from a 3-1 deficit and paving the way for Kevin Durant to come to Oakland. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge Street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on Feb. 5, 2019, in Boston. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge Street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on Feb. 5, 2019, in Boston. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Record since 2010: 125-34 (.786)

Championships since 2010: 3 (2014, 2016, 2018)

Playoff appearances since 2010: 10

Most recent losing season: 2000

Only four players have been part of all 10 Patriots teams this decade: Tom Brady, of course, plus receiver Julian Edelman, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and special teams ace Matthew Slater. What that exemplifies is how well Bill Belichick adapts to constant roster turnover and deploys whatever talent he has in devastating ways. The Patriots have won the AFC East 16 of the last 17 years and have won 11 or more regular-season games every year this decade. They’ve appeared in eight conference title games and five Super Bowls this decade, winning three of them. Before the decade began, the Patriots were already a dynasty. Ten years later, it’s time to appreciate them as the greatest dynasty in the history of modern American professional sports. 

Top three moments this decade: 

1. Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception at the goal line clinched Super Bowl XLIX and left Pete Carroll with a lifetime of regret for not running Marshawn Lynch from the 1-yard line. 

2. The Patriots couldn’t possibly rally from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, right? Wrong. James White’s overtime touchdown run completed a crazy comeback. 

3. In a rare underdog role, Tom Brady led a dramatic overtime touchdown drive to beat the host Chiefs in last January’s AFC title game.

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