NFL “Watchability” Rankings

Brook Ward (Flickr album: Sports From My Perspective)[]

“It’s too early in the year to start doing power rankings,” screamed a voice in the back of my head.

“But we’re launching the website soon and I need to do some rankings,” I said to myself with the outloud confidence of the weird guy at the bus stop who talks to himself.

Then it hit me. Sure we’re months away from the NFL regular season, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start planning your football getaways. I know I poured over the NFL schedule after it was released, drooling over all the juicy matchups. Granted, many Week 12 games that look sexy now could be rendered completely useless come November. But today is for the dreamers!

And so I’ve dreamt up my first installment of the NFL “Watchability” rankings! I’ve gone through each team and ranked them from best to worst in terms of how excited I am to see them on TV. Team no. 1 is appointment viewing, team no. 32 is check the boxscore online (maybe).

I stress, these are not rankings for a team’s Super Bowl chances. It’s simply a list of how much I want to watch them, based off how fun their style of play is, whether they have interesting storylines, and/or if they inspire such feelings of hatred that I can’t look away.

These are the inaugural NFL “Watchability” rankings. Adjust your TVs accordingly.

1. Cardinals

On-field fun: 5/5                  Intrigue: 3/5                          Hate-ability: 0.5/5

The Cards have become the must-watch team in the NFL and, this year, the league took notice. The team was flexed into Sunday Night Football twice last season and has four primetime games in the first seven weeks this year. They don’t have any scheduled for the latter half, but that’s probably so the league can flex them in again and rescue us from doomed Pats-Jets games.

But how did a team that was voted the least popular in the NFL a decade ago have such a meteoric rise? Well, you start with Carson Palmer resurrecting his career behind a high-flying spread attack led by an ageless Larry Fitzgerald and electric running back David Johnson. Then you add a swarming, lightning-fast defense with stars like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Deone Bucannon. Add a pinch of the most amusing head coach in the league (Bruce Arians) and top it all off with the storyline of Palmer trying to rebound from a heinous NFC Championship.

Moral of the story: the Cards should have a permanent reservation on your PVR.

2. Steelers

On-field fun: 4/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger. At least one of those players is usually on the field, and that’s good enough to have the Steelers in the top-ten. When all three are, that’s just gravy.

3. Patriots

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 5/5                          Hate-ability: 5/5

The Pats are so polarizing, you’re either tattooing Bill Belichick’s face on your back or you’re vehemently rooting for every player’s appendix to burst. But that kind of passion makes for good watching. And it will make for great watching when Tom Brady spends the first four games on the sidelines. Will New England actually prove itself without their leader? Or will the haters get to enjoy a quarter-season of struggles?

4. Panthers

On-field fun: 4/5                  Intrigue: 3/5                          Hate-ability: 4/5

Like the dabbing or not, the Panthers are a fun team. That’s not up for debate. Kelvin Benjamin’s return was somewhat spoiled by the loss of Josh Norman, but the shakeups make the Super Bowl runner-ups worth following again.

5. Seahawks

On-field fun: 3.5/5                  Intrigue: 2.5/5                          Hate-ability: 3.5/5

As the Seahawks roster continues to lose pieces, they become a more intriguing team. Sure, the original Legion of Boom is back together, and Russell Wilson is still a big game playmaker, but a leaky o-line means a trip to Seattle is no longer a guaranteed loss.

6. Cowboys

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 6/5

There is no team more enjoyable to watch get blown out than Dallas. The joy I get from seeing shots of a disappointed Jerry Jones in his owner’s box just proves that the Boys will always be the most polarizing team in the NFL.

But for once, Dallas actually enters the season as an intriguing team. After years of finishing 8-8, the Boys bucked the trend going 12-4 in 2014, then followed that up by going 4-12 last season. While you can blame some of that record on the injury to Tony Romo, no one really knows where this team stands in the pecking order entering this year.

7. Packers

On-field fun: 3.5/5                  Intrigue: 1.5/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

Sadly, the Packers won’t be relying as heavily on last second Hail Marys this season with deep threat Jordy Nelson back to aid their anemic offense. But having Aaron Rodgers at QB will always make this team appointment TV.

Keith Allison (Flickr album: Jaguars at Redskins 9/14/14)[]
Keith Allison (Flickr album: Jaguars at Washington 9/14/14)[]

8. Jaguars

On-field fun: 4/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 0/5

Fantasy footballers were aware of how explosive Jacksonville’s offense could be last season, and after a high-priced, highly-publicized offseason, it’s time for the rest of the nation to catch Jags fever. Blake Bortles, the Allens (Robinson and Hurns), Julius Thomas, and Chris Ivory should continue to light up scoreboards. If the new-look defense holds, maybe December talk will revolve around more than how ugly their “Color Rush” jerseys were.

9. Raiders

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 3.5/5

Ew. The Raiders this high, really? For so long, the only reason to watch Oakland was to observe their fans with the same kind of disgust and curiosity one views an anglerfish. But now the Raiders might finally be back.

Even if we ignore all the potential and possibilities on the roster (and the ceiling is high), right now, at this very moment, Khalil Mack is one of the top-three defensive players in the league. The second-coming of Derrick Thomas alone is worth the price of admission: anyone who watched him dominate the Super Bowl champion Broncos in Week 14 knows this to be true.

10. Giants

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

Having the best wide receiver in the game will always make the Giants a good watch. But it’s the fact that they make the game of football so hard for themselves that really boosts New York’s ranking. They blew so many 4th-quarter leads last season, and almost never won in convincing fashion. Hopefully a new head coach and revamped defense doesn’t stop the Giants from playing weekly nailbiters.

11. Texans

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

J.J. Watt and Deandre Hopkins were dominant enough to make Houston a playoff team without a quarterback. Now they have one … possibly? We don’t know exactly how Brock Osweiler will look in the Texans offense, but we know he’ll bring one thing to the team: attention.

12. Broncos

On-field fun: 2/5                  Intrigue: 5/5                          Hate-ability: 2/5

The tagline for Denver’s season last year was “winning despite quarterbacking.” Yet somehow, they’re only going to be worse in that area this season. While that should knock them way down the rankings, the possibility of more butt fumbles by Mark Sanchez means the defending champs will be worth following all year.

13. Buccaneers

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 3.5/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Famous Jameis and the “Muscle Hamster” form the exciting core of another young team on the rise. Sure a sophomore slump from Winston could bury them, but the Bucs are an unknown entity with a more exciting upside than teams below them on this list.

14. Bengals

On-field fun: 3.5/5                  Intrigue: 1/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Most of us only see the Bengals when they’re melting down in primetime and that is, by itself, a satisfying storyline. But by all accounts, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and the rest of this team plays some fantastic football between the hours of 1:00 and 7:00 o’clock. I guess it raises the age-old question: if Cincinnati is only great when nobody is watching, are they really great at all?

15. Washingtons

On-field fun: 2.5/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 4/5

This team had a lot of targets in the pass game even before they drafted Josh Doctson. With his big body joining the likes of Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed, it’s fair to say Washington will bring an aerial assault wherever they go. While the Washingtons were happy enough with Kirk Cousins to offer him the big money usually reserved for the Albert Haynesworths of the world, I’m not sold on the young QB just yet. But either good or terrible play from the quarterback will make this team fun to watch.

16. Colts

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 2.5/5                          Hate-ability: 2/5

When Andrew Luck went down last year, the Colts became some of the league’s worst football from a viewing perspective. This team was not designed to win with a safe, ball control offense and solid D, and it showed. Hopefully the bearded one is back to full strength and ready to make this offense hum again.

Bills at Redskins 12/20/15
Keith Allison (Flickr album: Bills at Washington 12/20/15)[]

17. Bills

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

You know what a team is thinking when they hire Rex Ryan: “our defense shall suffer but our offense will flourish!” While Buffalo’s bizzaro first season under Ryan was viewed as a disappointment by most, the team did discover something with Tyrod Taylor under center. Boasting the top rushing offense in football, the Bills should provide some quality Sunday moments, as long as their defense can rediscover its ferocious pass rush. And if the D needs a lesson in brutality, they should look no further than their fans.

18. Eagles

On-field fun: 1/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

A member of the “it’s so awful I can’t look away” club, the Eagles attempts to quickly reverse the damage done to their roster by Chip Kelly seem destined to come up short. Sam Bradford will try desperately to hold onto his starting job this season, and Philly fans will rain down boos in hopes that he can’t.

19. Jets

On-field fun: 2/5                  Intrigue: 3/5                          Hate-ability: 2.5/5

Only the Jets could take such a promising 10-6 season and turn it into a soap opera. The watchability potential with this team only grows the more they keep stringing along Ryan Fitzpatrick too. While the offense was good with Fitzy under center, watching Geno Smith or Christian Hackenberg take the lead offers great new possibilities in terribleness.

20.  Falcons

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 1/5                          Hate-ability: 1.5/5

Julio Jones. That’s all they have. And yet there are still 12 teams below them. I guess that says a lot about Jones.

21. Vikings

On-field fun: 1/5                  Intrigue: 2.5/5                          Hate-ability: 2/5

The Vikings are a good team, don’t get me wrong. But even Minnesota fans must have to admit this team is more formulaic than a History Channel reality show. The Vikes pound the rock and win with a solid defense that doesn’t make the sexy plays a Panthers or Jets unit does. As for the offense, it’s All Day all day, new weapons for Teddy or not.

22. Rams

On-field fun: 2/5                  Intrigue: 3/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Hey, the Rams finally have a quarterback! Too bad Jared Goff will be throwing to an Arena Football team. Todd Gurley might have a claim to best running back in the game, but like the Vikings before them, the Rams will have to stick to a formula to win this season, a formula that isn’t exactly shooting off fireworks.

23. Titans

On-field fun: 2.5/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 0.5/5

For any offensive talent to be able to shine, a team first needs to get solid blocking from its line. Until the Titans figure out theirs, we won’t know what Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray can truly do. Also their defense still sucks.

24. Ravens

On-field fun: 1.5/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

We only got to see Baltimore at full strength for one half last season, but it still wasn’t great. Without Terrell Suggs, the defense lost their spark. Without Steve Smith, the offense lost theirs. It’s never a good sign when your best players are both over 33 years old.

Keith Allison (Flickr album: Saints at Ravens 8/13/15)[]
Keith Allison (Flickr album: Saints at Ravens 8/13/15)[]

25. Saints

On-field fun: 3/5                  Intrigue: 0/5                          Hate-ability: 1.5/5

The Saints proved they could still be fun some of the time, with two classic games against the Panthers and Giants last season. But this Nawlins offense isn’t quite the juggernaut it used to be. And while high scoring games can be fun, there is something sickening about the ineptitude of the D in Who Dat nation.

26. Bears

On-field fun: 2/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 2.5/5

John Fox is doing a great job of molding the Bears to match his vision. But remember what that vision is. Think less Peyton Manning throwing 55 touchdowns a year and more making a Super Bowl despite Jake Delhomme dragging your team down. The Bears might be trending upward, but if there’s a fall game in Chicago worth catching, it’s probably going down at Wrigley.

27. Chiefs

On-field fun: 1/5                  Intrigue: 1/5                          Hate-ability: 2/5

Haven’t the Chiefs been talking about getting a legitimate deep threat for, like, five years? Alex Smith: game manager or not, your offense is a snooze fest.

28. Dolphins

On-field fun: 1/5                  Intrigue: 2/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Miami should spend all the free agency money they keep wasting on defense to hire Gallagher to smash watermelons on the sideline. Anything has to be better than watching Ryan Tannehill spin his tires. Plus, maybe it’d help fill out a perpetually empty stadium.

29. Browns

On-field fun: 0.5/5                  Intrigue: 3/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Tire fires burn long and slow, but every once in awhile, some careless person pours gasoline in the mix and you get a flare up. Enter RGIII to Cleveland. The Browns are in the midst of a full-blown rebuild, but with so many new faces coming in and Griffin smack dab in the middle, it’ll be hard not to take some cursory glances at Cleveland.

30. Chargers

On-field fun: 1/5                  Intrigue: 1/5                          Hate-ability: 2/5

Why did Philip Rivers agree to stay again? The Chargers still haven’t gotten adequate help for their beaten down quarterback, and he’s not a big enough selling point on his own to get me to tune in. Call me when you relocate to Mexico City.

31. 49ers

On-field fun: 0/5                  Intrigue: 4/5                          Hate-ability: 3/5

What’s more fun than a Chip Kelly-run offense filled with “his guys?” A Kelly-run offense with players nobody wanted! The Niners offense is going to suck, and the defense might also regress this year. No amount of Jarryd Hayne hype can fix that.

32. Lions

On-field fun: 0.5/5                  Intrigue: 1/5                          Hate-ability: 1/5

Sometimes, seeing how a team adjusts without a star player is worth tuning in for. I can’t imagine this will be. Without Calvin Johnson, the franchise leader in receiving, it’s going to be a lot more bad Matt Stafford than good. Detroit’s defense was solid for stretches last season, but if Ziggy Ansah is the only reason for me to watch the Lions, I might just stick to Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.

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Henry Mardukas

The author Henry Mardukas