The NFL playoffs officially kick off this weekend, which should be cause for celebration. At least until you remember that, thanks to a little thing called “parity,” just because a team made it to the postseason doesn’t mean they’re actually, you know, any good. Just that they’re slightly less bad than whoever they beat out for a Wild Card spot.
In fact, if we’re being completely honest, there are probably only three or four teams with a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl ring. The rest are just happy to be here. But much like pizza, even bad football is better than no football. So, in lieu of actual stats and in-depth analysis, instead, we’re ranking the 12 playoff teams using a far more important metric: watchability.
It’s a highly scientific, completely objective, advanced statistic, taking a number of different factors into account — on-field performance, off-field drama, touchdown celebration complexity, postgame meltdowns, insufferable fan bases. Consider it your own personal guide to NFL playoff-watching glory.
12. Detroit Lions
On paper, Detroit should be eminently watchable. They won eight games this season thanks to fourth-quarter comebacks, they’ve got the league’s reigning “best white running back” (according to Michael Bennett), and a former #1 overall pick at quarterback. Then Matthew Stafford went and tore a few ligaments in his throwing hand and the Lions put up three straight losses, limping into the playoffs with whatever the opposite of momentum is. However you slice it, it’s not great for ratings. Also not helping matters? Their coach shows all the emotion of a brick wall.
11. Houston Texans
If you’re a fan of workplace drama and/or watching other people light $72 million dollars on fire, then boy, have I got the team for you. After Texans coach Bill O’Brien was forced to bench Brock Osweiler due to the fact that he couldn’t throw his way out of a wet paper bag, backup QB Tom Savage suffered a concussion in the season finale, forcing O’Brien to go back to Osweiler for the playoffs. Throw in the Texans’ #1 overall defense and the fact that J.J. Watt, AKA the team’s most watchable player, is out for the season, and you’ve got a recipe for a low-scoring slog full of overthrows and awkward sideline interaction. Honestly, you’re better off just watching Watt’s Bad Moms cameo instead. It’s just as painful, but over sooner.
10. Oakland Raiders
What a difference two weeks make. Going into Week 16, Oakland was expecting Derek Carr to lead them deep into the playoffs. Then the surprise MVP candidate broke his leg, and a week later, backup Matt McGloin got knocked out with a shoulder injury. Now, a franchise that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in 14 years will be led into the postseason by… Connor Cook, a rookie third-stringer making his first NFL start, becoming the first QB in the modern era to do so during the postseason. That’s great for lovers of quirky stats. And considerably less great for fans of the Raiders and/or watchable football games. Seeing Cook go up against Osweiler has all the appeal of watching a Ford Pinto drag race a Datsun.
9. Miami Dolphins
Things in Miami’s favour: they’ve got a straight-talking, hotshot first-year coach in Adam Gase. A running back who can seemingly bust off 200-yard rushing games at will in Jay Ajayi. A star-studded defensive line. They’re back in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Jarvis Landry has been working on his end zone game. Plus, there’s always the chance that Ndamukong Suh stomps on someone and starts a brawl. Things not in Miami’s favour: their playoff hopes are currently pinned on backup QB Matt Moore, whose game is about as exciting as a bowl of lukewarm soup.
8. New York Giants
At first glance, the 2016 edition Giants are a total snoozefest, with a middle-of-the-road offence and a solid, if unspectacular, defence. Also, their face-of-the-franchise quarterback looks suspiciously like a live-action disappointed emoji. But if the NFL playoffs have taught us anything over the years, it’s that Eli, Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants are typically good for at least one “how-the-eff-did-they-do-that?” play per postseason game. Resulting in us making this face.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
No offence to the NFL’s premier game manager, but watching Alex Smith is roughly the quarterback equivalent of downing an entire bottle of NyQuil. Of course, thanks to the third-stringers, backups and overpaid disappointments the Raiders, Dolphins and Texans are being forced to trot out this weekend, Smith isn’t even close to the least-watchable QB in this year’s playoffs. But if the Chiefs are down big and decide to swap Smith out in favour of, say, a 346-pound defensive linemen with a perfect QB rating and a sterling 1-0 TD-to-INT ratio? Then we’re talking. (And, thanks to the fact that they’re coached by noted terrible decision-maker Andy Reid, there is a non-zero chance that might actually happen.)
6. New England Patriots
Yes, we know, Billy from Southie, the Patriots are the only playoff team with both a Top 10 offence and defence, making the perennial AFC #1 seed a heavy Super Bowl favourite (yet again). But you know what else that makes them? Extremely boring. Add in Bill Belichick’s monosyllabic press conferences, and the fact that they lost Gronk, the reigning league-leader in FP/G (fist pumps per game), and the Patriots are at their most entertaining when they’re losing. It’s the NFL version of hate-watching.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks haven’t been their usual powerhouse selves this season, thanks to a series of injuries that took the Legion of Boom to the Legion of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And then there’s the eminently quotable Richard Sherman suddenly channeling his former teammate Marshawn Lynch and going radio silent with the media. That said, Seattle just signed future HOF return man Devin Hester in time for the playoffs, which takes kickoffs and punt returns from an excuse to get another beer to must-see TV. Oh, and they also have a dude who can do this. So no skipping out on those field goals or PATs either. Sorry.
4. Green Bay Packers
OK, so maybe the Lambeau Leap isn’t the freshest touchdown celebration, and it’s become impossible to watch Aaron Rodgers’ own signature move without thinking about car insurance. But no quarterback or team has been hotter over the second half of the season, after the star QB helped the Packers rattle off six straight wins, making good on his gutsy promise that Green Bay would “run the table” to close out the season and officially reclaiming his title as the most famous Rodgers brother on TV. Plus, if they don’t win, you can always watch for how quickly it takes someone to blame Olivia Munn for the L. The current over/under’s at ten minutes.
3. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboy’s run to NFC Super Bowl favourites has been fuelled by the emergence of two star rookies: NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott, who looks every bit like the second coming of Emmitt Smith, and Dak Prescott, who relegated Tony Romo from four-time Pro Bowler to benchwarmer. (That, and a bruising O-line, but that’s not nearly as exciting.) Most of the sports world has been patiently waiting for the wheels to fall off the ‘Boys and Prescott’s feel-good story all season long. And, well, they’re still waiting. (In the biz, this is called “narrative tension.”) If you’re a fan of parsing body language, you’re going to love the frequent cutaways to Romo on the sidelines after every Prescott incompletion and/or touchdown.
2. Atlanta Falcons
The good news: thanks to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ penchant for regularly putting up video game numbers, the Falcons led the NFL in total points scored during the regular season by over 10 touchdowns. The bad even better news: they also gave up the most points out of any playoff contender. See, defence may win championships, but it also makes for boring-ass games. Make yourself some popcorn, pick the over, and sit back and enjoy watching the scoreboard light up.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
By all accounts, the Steelers should be one of the most boring teams in the league. Their franchise is a model of consistency. Their fans’ signature celebration involves twirling towels in the air. Their star quarterback shares his nickname with a famous clock. And yet: there’s Antonio Brown, who shrugs off NFL fines like they were defenders and averages a stellar 2.5 PPTD (pumps per TD). This weekend will be the first time the Steelers’ big three (Big Ben, Brown and Le’Veon Bell) actually appear in a playoff game together, but we’re much more interested to see if we get the postseason’s first McCringleberry. With all the increased scrutiny that comes with the playoffs, you know the refs will be watching extra closely for that third pump. And so will we.