NFL Offseason – The Minnesota Vikings are a better football team than the Arizona Cardinals. But the Cardinals are much, much more fun than the Vikings.
The Cardinals have freewheeling quarterback Kyler Murray, an imaginative offense, more skill-position talent than any team needs, and a flair for off-field melodrama. The Vikings are the team in the gray flannel suit: they produce 1.75 highlights per week, and everything else is a flat pass from Kirk Cousins to Alexander Mattison on third-and-17. The Cardinals could beat the Rams one week and lose to the Jaguars the next. The Vikings are allotted one upset of the Packers and one loss to either the Bears or Lions per year. Everything else is chalk.
The Vikings, in turn, are more fun than the Lions, because the Vikings generally stay in the playoff race. If all three teams were food, the Cardinals would be the honey sriracha wings at your favorite gastropub, the Vikings a turkey club at a corner diner, and the Lions the mashed potatoes in a hospital cafeteria.
In anticipation of the 2022 NFL schedule release, this week’s Walkthrough is more interested in fun than Super Bowl worthiness. “Fun” may be hard to quantify, but quantification is Football Outsiders’ business, so let’s rank all 32 teams in terms of joyful watchability.
- Team Quality: Great teams are generally more fun to watch than average teams, which are more fun to watch than most bottom-feeders.
- Quarterback: All NFL quarterbacks were lumped into four categories: Elite, Exciting, Noteworthy, and Boring. When it comes to watchability, a “noteworthy” quarterback like a second-year prospect (Trevor Lawrence), someone involved in a competition (Mitch Trubisky/Kenny Pickett) or a disaster artist (You know who) is better than the same-old same-Cousins.
- Playmaker Corps: More big-name firepower equals more entertainment value.
- Defense: Some teams, like the Steelers, have defenses that are fun to watch in their own right. But most NFL defenses, from the very good to the very bad, add little to the viewing experience for anyone but those true connoisseurs of the chess match who proudly announce how deeply they’re enjoying a Thursday Night Football game that’s 6-3 at halftime.
- Novelty: New quarterbacks. New playmakers. New coaches. Exciting rookies. Even excellence can get a little stale. Fresh faces don’t carry as much weight as being a great team with an elite quarterback, but applying a little spin to the narrative helps to keep viewers hooked.
- Scheme: Designed Kyler Murray runs are exciting. Play-action boot passes to Irv Smith Jr. are about as much fun as commercials for toenail fungus medicine.
Each team gets a rating in each of those categories that I don’t feel like sharing, then those ratings are computed according to a method that’s too subtle and potentially valuable to reveal, then I put my thumb on the scale so this article flows better. Presto! A scientifically rigorous Fun Index!
Let’s just get on with it.
Not Ranked: Cleveland Browns
Fun Index: N/A
The Browns will certainly be interesting this year, and they should be one of the top 10 “fun” teams based on such objective criteria as the quality of their quarterback and the other new faces on the roster. But there’s no way the Browns are gonna be pure, frothy “fun.” And if you slide into the comments with a detailed argument about how satisfying they will be to watch so long as you fully embrace the philosophical presumption of innocence and carefully compartmentalize on-field spectacle from its real-world implications, you will 100% prove my point about fun.
If nothing else, listening to broadcasters mutter and prevaricate their way through the Deshaun Watson “situation” is likely to cause headaches and nausea.
On the other hand, watching the Browns flail through a year with Jacoby Brissett because Watson gets placed on the Commissioner’s Random Discipline List would be an absolute hoot.
31. Houston Texans
Fun Index: 1
Davis Mills does not count as a “noteworthy” quarterback because he’s just an immobile Drew Lock surrogate who put up gaudy numbers in a handful of games no one watched. A productive draft brought a cornerback, a guard, and the less interesting of the two injured Alabama receivers. The Texans won’t just be bad this season, but perfunctory. They’re a placeholder where an NFL franchise should be.
30. Detroit Lions
Fun Index: 1
Jared Goff is back for another dreary tour of duty. Jameson Williams may not need a redshirt year, but he’s unlikely to hit the ground running like Ja’Marr Chase in September, either. Don’t act like you are likely to change your Thanksgiving plans because you simply must watch Aidan Hutchinson and DJ Chark. And marveling at Dan Campbell’s machismo as he struts the sideline gets old in Year 2.
29. New York Giants
Fun Index: 1.25
The Giants get a tiny bump for a new coaching staff and the wisp of interest any Daniel Jones quarterback controversy might generate. Otherwise, at least the Texans and Lions have the decency to mostly stick to early-afternoon kickoffs in their regional markets. The NFL thinks the Giants deserve a London game and will force us to watch them lose to the Cowboys at least once in prime time.
28. Atlanta Falcons
Fun Index: 2
The Falcons began their plunge from awesome to self-destructive to infuriating to a drain on the NFL’s entertainment value on February 5, 2017, and they remain committed to the bit. Still, Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Cordarrelle Patterson could give Arthur Smith a somewhat intriguing offense, and Marcus Mariota vs. Desmond Ridder clears the lowest bar of a “quarterback controversy.” The Falcons won’t cause viewers to toss their televisions out of second-floor windows and renounce spectator sports forever like they threatened to do last year, but appointment television they ain’t.
27. Chicago Bears
Fun Index: 2.5
There’s a 5% chance that Justin Fields overcomes his franchise’s effort to stuff him down the laundry chute and goes on a compelling Vindication Tour 2022, but a 95% chance that the Bears just become a shame-and-loathing hate-watch. The moment Trevor Siemian jogs onto the field, the Bears will dip to 34th place, below NHRA drag racing and Sunday reruns of Vanderbilt games on the SEC Network.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Fun Index: 3.5
Watching the Seahawks will be like going out for beers to cheer up a recently separated pal. Uh-uh, he started drinking before I got here. Oh no, he’s straight-up asking a barmaid his daughter’s age out. Maybe we should go get some coffee, buddy? Please stop sobbing.
Drew Lock, in this metaphor, is the Tinder date who is just using the Seahawks for a free dinner.
25. Carolina Panthers
Fun Index: 4
The 2022 Panthers will replicate the 2021 Bears note-for-note, but with Matt Corral instead of Justin Fields, Sam Darnold instead of Andy Dalton, and Matt Rhule impersonating Matt Nagy. That’s an off-off-off-Broadway touring cast, and while the results could be amusing in the cringy way, the Panthers will be going through the motions from about Halloween onward.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
Fun Index: 5
Urban Meyer’s Fredo Corleone shenanigans provided lots of fun midweek chatter last year, but Jaguars games themselves were inexcusably dull. Meyer rarely even busted out any wild ‘n’ wooly offensive tactics for us to enjoy/discuss/autopsy. Doug Pederson will provide professionalism; Trevor Lawrence’s attempt to rise from the ashes a talking point; and a supporting cast full of Travis Etienne, Christian Kirk, Laviska Shenualt, and Evan Engram a sprinkle of highlights and intrigue. It won’t be great, but it could be diverting and a little promising.
As for midweek chatter, film junkies will give us plenty of I appreciate Travon Walker’s 1-tackle, 2-assist performance on more levels than you do Tweetstorms throughout autumn.
23. New York Jets
Fun Index: 6
The Jets climb to the top of the heap of miserable teams thanks to an offseason that will make them more competitive (their three first-round picks, upgrades at tight end and in the secondary, the returns of Carl Lawson and Mekhi Becton) and entertaining (Breece Hall adds highlights and fantasy interest). Also, as was widely discussed on draft weekend, the Jets employ two players named Michael Carter, both a Bryce Hall and a Breece Hall, two defenders named Q. Williams who are brothers, and a Wilson-to-Wilson quarterback-receiver combo. That’s an interesting story, right? Actually, that’s everything that is interesting about the story.
22. Minnesota Vikings
Fun Index: 9
It’s mid-November. The Vikings are somewhere between 5-4 and 3-5-1, as is their wont. Kirk Cousins ranks 11th in DVOA and DYAR, but fourth in passing yards, and he just narrowly avoided leading a fourth-quarter comeback against the Packers. (His 14-play, 75-yard, six-minute touchdown drive cut the Packers lead to eight with 44 seconds left, but the onside kick failed). The Monday sports talk programmers decide to go to one of their most reliable wells—the Eternal Kirk Cousins Debate—and dragoon the usual tastemakers into defending Cousins against his angry legions of doubters.
And lo, millions of sports fans shall turn onto the sports talk industry and proclaim as one, “Yes, we get it, Kirk Cousins is a capable NFL starter. But if we cannot watch true excellence, we prefer potential to bland, overpriced professionalism.”
At that moment, the human race will take a qualitative leap forward in self-knowledge and actualization, like when the first Homo habilis sketched a mastodon onto a cave wall and realized what our hearts and minds are truly capable of.
Whatever our species aspires to after that, we will no longer give two sh*ts about the Cousins-led Vikings.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Fun Index: 10.5
Matt Ryan counts as a Cousins-like “boring professional” in our system, though he gets credit as an interesting new face. If folks really found Ryan compelling to watch, the Falcons wouldn’t have been the FOX early-afternoon “D” telecast every week for the last three years.
Jonathan Taylor provides some thrills, and the Colts will be wild-card competitive. At best, however, they’ll replace the Titans as the token small-market AFC postseason sparring partner.
20. Washington Commanders
Fun Index: 18
Carson Wentz provides elite rubbernecking opportunities. Jahan Dotson, Terry McLauren, Antonio Gibson, and Curtis Samuel will keep the Commanders competitive during Wentz’s hot streaks while removing excuses for his cold snaps. Chase Young leads a defense with the potential to cause some upsets and mayhem.
The Vikings and Colts may field better teams than the Commanders, but those teams will be like prestigious Netflix dramas you give up on after two episodes because they take too long establishing some mythology you couldn’t care less about. The Commanders are a CW series about a D-list superhero, with the angst cranked up to 11, the plot twists coming by the commercial break, and the special effects a little wonky. Trust me: you will learn to love to hate-watching to see what happens next.
19. Tennessee Titans
Fun Index: 20
The main things the Titans have going for them from an entertainment standpoint at this point are Derrick Henry and a playoff pedigree. The Curse of 370 may claim Henry and the Titans’ playoff plans simultaneously this year, with the A.J. Brown trade providing a crowbar to their kneecap. Hence, the Titans are lumped among the wild card fodder, a notch below both the true AFC contenders and all the challengers who gained ground in the offseason.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
Fun Index: 22.5
Jalen Hurts is often entertaining and sometimes effective. Nick Sirianni uses not one but several hinky, unpredictable schemes, so if you don’t like this week’s House of a Million Screens game plan, stay tuned for next week’s tribute to the 1966 Army-Navy Game. And the Eagles are generally competitive. Everything about the Eagles is good-not-great or fun-not-breathtaking, however, so their best games will feel more like Belk Bowls than New Year’s Day matchups, and their worst games may be 13-10 losses to the Giants.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Fun Index: 22.5
The Raiders are better at accumulating fascinating personalities and generating boardroom intrigue than fielding a successful team. Last week’s sudden, bungled dismissal of team president Dan Ventrelle is a fine example. Ventrelle’s allegations against the Raiders organization are gravely serious, but Mark Davis’ B-movie mobster attempt at a coverup—Imma get ahead of this scandal with a cryptic, suspiciously-worded tweet, signed by me personally so I lose all deniability—suggests that no protracted investigation will be necessary. Ten minutes of sub-Columbo level interrogation, and Davis will be admitting to crimes committed before he was even board.
Oh yeah: Derek Carr gets to throw to Davante Adams now. Yippee.
16. New Orleans Saints
Fun Index: 28.125
Yes, I’m surprised the Saints turned out this high according to my (not-cobbled-together-in-any-way) system, because it’s not like salary cap machinations are fun to watch on Sunday afternoons. But the Saints have Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara (maybe), Michael Thomas (we’ll see), Chris Olave, a new head coach, a defense that will produce some four-turnover games against pathetic bottom-feeders and a schedule that guarantees four wins against pathetic bottom-feeders. The Saints may not engage in many 41-38 shootouts, but they’ll be playing important games in December, whether by merit or default.
15, New England Patriots
Fun Index: 33
Another team I take little joy in watching, but the system is like, “Yeah yeah, they’re good tho, and folks dig Mac Jones for some reason.”
If Bill Belichick led a squad of Pop Warner youths onto the field with Nike the Dog as his offensive coordinator, we would all tune in to see what would happen, and he would probably still sweep the Jets. But we are still about one year of kooky drafts, free-agent defections, and coaching departures away from that actually happening.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
Fun Index: 40.5
Kenny Pickett vs. Mitch Trubisky qualifies as a B-tier quarterback controversy in a year with none on the A or S tiers. Najee Harris, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, and Calvin Austin headline a diverse playmaker corps. T.J. Watt leads a Steelers defense that’s fun on a bun. And who knows how good the Steelers can be when their quarterback doesn’t need a baseball windup and an hour of hot yoga to throw the ball 30 yards downfield anymore?
13, Miami Dolphins.
Fun Index: 43.75
Tyreek Hill. Jaylen Waddle. The Adorkable Mike McDaniel and His Amazing YAC Attack Offense. (It’s just begging to become an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.) Tua Tagovailoa melodrama which could melt into a Teddy Bridgewater redemption narrative. Yes, I will like-and-subscribe to weekly Dolphins football, thank you very much.
12. Denver Broncos
Fun Index: 47.25
You know the Broncos had a rough half-decade when Russell Wilson’s arrival only makes them the third-most interesting team in the AFC West.
11. Green Bay Packers
Fun Index: 50
How entertaining do you find watching Aaron Rodgers scowl and grimace while walking off the field after a three-and-out? It’s a dangerously addictive substance to me; I would rather watch Rodgers radiate misery than eat or breathe. Rodgers and the Packers remain excellent enough to win lots of games while publicly shaming each other, broadcasting their codependency through a fanbase that treats 13-4 seasons like catastrophes. Other Super Bowl contenders may be sweet or spicy, but the Packers are delectably umami.
10. Baltimore Ravens
Fun Index: 54
The Ravens are likely to steer into their skid and break out the Knute Rockne playbook this season with 10 running backs, six tight ends, and three-fourths of a receiver, and it will probably work until either a) Lamar Jackson gets blamed for not being able to lead a two-touchdown comeback with Mark Andrews as his top vertical threat; or b) the entire roster gets injured simultaneously.
9. Los Angeles Chargers
Fun Index: 56.25
The NFL’s official Next Big Thing™. Justin Herbert is a blast, and Brandon Staley’s willingness to go for it on fourth-and-whatever fuels analytics-approved high drama. If teams must first become interesting before becoming excellent, the Chargers are heading in the right direction.
8. San Francisco 49ers
Fun Index: 62.5
This ranking assumes that Trey Lance is the quarterback and Deebo Samuel is in the huddle, giving the 49ers a creative, high-octane offense to go with a turnover-happy defense. Dock the 49ers five spaces if Jimmy Garoppolo is somehow still in the starting picture or Deebo moves on. If both of these things happen, the 49ers will be about as fun to watch as one of those tow-truck rescue shows on the Weather Channel.
7. Dallas Cowboys
Fun Index: 70.25
The Cowboys are most amusing when they are set up like cartoon villains to fail comically and spectacularly, so this promises to be a delightful season. The Cowboys still field a rhinestone-studded offense and defense, which should keep them buoyed atop the standings all year and make their periodic pratfalls and January meltdown all the more hilarious.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fun Index: 75
Fake retirements! Illuminati-like controversies! It feels like we’re straining for fresh Tom Brady storylines. Up next: an evil twin, or perhaps a petulant alien sidekick that only Brady can see.
The Buccaneers will win lots of games, but they lack novelty, and Brady’s quest to become greater than the greatest great only appeals to his hardcore mega-stans and ultra-casual sports fans anymore. Think Law & Order: Special GOATS Unit, a well-produced show that tops the ratings but isn’t cool to talk about around the water cooler.
5. Buffalo Bills
Fun Index: 75
That first-round wide receiver run in the draft kept the Bills from topping this list. Selecting Kaiir Elam made more sense than, say, trading three years worth of high draft picks for Chris Olave. But selecting Olave would have made better drama.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Fun Index: 93.75
Joe Burrow and his cohort are much more appealing as gutsy underdogs who fell a few inches short than they would have been as insouciant, cigar-chomping, Tom Brady pajamas-wearing Super Bowl champions. The Bengals left us wanting more in 2021, and their relatively quiet offseason only makes them more intriguing and likable. Bengals games will have a John Wick feel as Burrow tries to blast his way back to the top.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Fun Index: 101.25
The Cardinals are a Madden team in real life. They have the kooky playbook, the scrambling quarterback, and a roster with more skill-position talent than Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray will know what to do with. Even when DeAndre Hopkins is suspended, Murray must figure out how to dole out targets to Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, A.J. Green, Zach Ertz, and Trey McBride, among others. The results will probably include wicked streaks and slumps, over-engineered play designs to get everyone involved (Oooh, a Murray-Moore-Brown double reverse! For a loss of 6!) some behind-the-scenes sniping, and probably a few Murray trade/Kingsbury hot-seat rumors once the Cardinals get mired in third place. Effective? Not really. Fun? Absolutely, on multiple levels.
2. Los Angeles Rams
Fun Index: 112
The Rams’ obnoxious smartest-guys-on-the-planet routine makes them fun wrasslin’ heels: satisfying to root against but hard to truly despise because the shtick is so self-consciously silly. (The Brady Patriots honestly believed they were social philosophers; Sean McVay and company are just cosplaying The Wolf of Wall Street.) Matthew Stafford is always one bad decision away from a stunning upset, while Aaron Donald gives the Rams one of the league’s most fun-to-watch defenses. It should all make for great football and great storytelling, but the Rams still cannot quite hold a candle to the…
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Fun Index: 112.25
Tyreek Hill is gone, but the thrill remains. We’ll tune in for Patrick Mahomes: Phase 2 the way we flocked to theaters to see if Marvel could follow up on the success of The Avengers, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore could turn out to be the Guardians of the Galaxy. (C’mon, “Skyy Moore” even sounds like a comic book name.) Throw in a defense with fresh faces and whatever new play designs emerge from Andy Reid’s skunkworks and the Chiefs remain the NFL’s most compelling team to watch, even if they are no longer the league’s best team.