While in college, I once worked at a fast-food chain at multiple locations after moving apartments.
The job and its duties were the exact same at both places. However, it was absolutely mind-blowing how different they were.

One was run like a well-oiled machine with people who enjoyed being there and I considered it one of my favorite jobs, while the other’s incompetent management and people in charge somehow made what should have been one of the easiest jobs possible one of the worst, miserable experiences I’ve ever had.

Every season, front office move, coaching scheme, personnel change, draft pick, free-agent signing, or strategy implemented year after year makes the NFL a continuously evolving league.

One thing, however, that has remained tried and true throughout the changes is this: much like the fast-food industry, the success of a franchise begins and ends at the top.

Photo: South Bend Tribune

The smart teams? They’re the ones that are making smart moves that make them a consistent Super Bowl contender; they put the right people in charge to run their operation.

The ownership does right by the city and the fans. The General Manager knows how to work the cap space, negotiating deals with clients with ease. The coaches know how to lead, working with what players and coordinators they have in any circumstance thrown at them. The culture is well-established.

We’ve seen the Seattle Seahawks turn mid-round picks into all-pros that lead a Title-winning team. The Steelers coaching staff somehow managed to still get production out of some of the most egotistically-driven, divided players in their locker room. The Eagles had an MVP-caliber quarterback suffer a season-ending injury in the thick of the season and won the Super Bowl with their backup, figuring out how to play-call most-efficiently for the players in their scheme.

The dumb teams? They stay dumb.. And have been dumb.. And will be dumb until massive changes are made.

Unlike the NBA, where you can conceivably surround prime LeBron James with YMCA players and he could still contend, the NFL is a place where all of the pieces matter. It doesn’t mean a thing if you have the #1 overall drafted talented quarterback if he’s in a toxic environment or has a bad coach; this is now a league where franchises can win a Super Bowl with an average to the below-average quarterback if the roster is constructed and utilized properly. There are just certain teams that you can trust are going to adapt or make the right decision and others that are going to completely blow it no matter how good they have it.

The NFL has never been more reliant upon infrastructure than it has now. Teams operate like businesses.

With that, here are a few comparisons to some fast food operations to put some of the league’s different operations in perspective.

New England Patriots // Chick-fil-A

Unlike this chain chicken joint, New England has consistently shown up on Sundays as the standard for over twenty years because of head coach Bill Belichick, research director Ernie Adams, and owner Robert Kraft. Chick-Fil-A is the model of consistency in the fast-food world, voted sixth most-trusted amongst all companies by Americans in a national poll despite being only primarily-based in the south. Every visit you’re pretty much guaranteed a clean environment with an efficient drive-thru, a correct order, and employees trained so well they’re basically brain-washed into saying “my pleasure” after everything. That’s the sort of operation Belichick has run successfully in New England on the way to winning six Super Bowls under the team mantra “Do Your Job.” It’s like an academy- people as wild as Rob Gronkowski were afraid to accidentally say something inappropriate. They simply evaluate bargain-level talent and incorporate them into a winning formula better than anyone else, and that’s why they’ve been the most dominant franchise in sports for the past two decades.

Houston Texans // KFC

Let me just throw out a few items KFC has put on the menu for a moment that they thought were good ideas: the double-down (just two pieces of fried chicken with bacon and cheese smack in the middle), the Cheetos sandwich (a fried chicken sandwich just plastered with Cheeto dust on top of said Cheetos), the Chizza (Hawaiian pizza with fried chicken as the bread) and a fill-up bowl (you literally just order things you want with your chicken and they stuff it in a bowl all together). Surface-level, the items are fine. I’m a man who can get behind meat and potatoes, but the Colonel clearly is coming up with ideas no one should ever do with something as great as meat and potatoes.

Bill O’Brien operates the Houston Texans the same way as general manager. He is the Colonel. He has Deshaun Watson, a quarterback who could win him some MVP’s, and makes moves with the team around him that set him up for failure. While Watson has been in the league, O’Brien has stuffed him in a bowl of a team that either had no offensive line, traded away Jadeveon Clowney for pennies on the dollar and most recently traded away his favorite receiver DeAndre Hopkins when he asked for a raise.

The Texans have still managed to make the playoffs season after season since they have the right meat and potatoes ingredients: an MVP-contending quarterback. They’re not going to have anything to show for it if they keep doing KFC-level bold moves and ruin a good opportunity.

Tennessee Titans // Raising Cane’s

I don’t know if you’ve ever been through the drive-thru at a Raising Cane’s, but it’s one of the fastest operations in the business. Why? They only need to cook chicken strips. There’s no extensive list of sides or a plethora of options. Just strips with fries, toast, and slaw. They just stick to their bread and butter and don’t feel the need to differ away from what they do well.

That’s the Tennessee Titans’ game plan that’s allowed them to go 9-7 every year since 2016. While the league has significantly tried to innovate on offense with things like pre-snap motion or play action and has never thrown the ball more than it has now, they’ve continued to just play their brand of smash-mouth, tough football. It might be because their quarterbacks have been sort of labeled as mere “game-managers,” but regardless, they’ve just pounded the rock down their runningback’s throat. Derrick Henry has led the league in rushing attempts ever since he’s been in the league and the Titans’ coach, Mike Vrabel, literally arrived at their week one game donning a mask that read, “Please give the ball to Derrick Henry.”

I don’t think they plan on straying away from their “chicken strip” formula any time soon.

Dallas Cowboys // Whataburger

Whataburger has the “Texas Pride” branding. The iconic orange-striped look and “fancy” ketchup packets are what make southerners willing to fight anyone who prefers a burger from somewhere else. I’m a Texan and may be crucified for this, but I truly believe it’s all a product of the branding and regional pride. The actual operation is a “meh” burger, service that may or may not mess up your order, and an overrated product.

The Cowboys have the privilege of permanently being labeled “America’s Team,” getting a primetime TV spot essentially every week, yet owner Jerry Jones seems to run the same family-owned operation that fails to reach expectations season after season while still sticking to the same front office strategies. He keeps the same management in-house too long, thus the stale play-calling and talent evaluators have either signed the wrong players/personalities or are doing the right ones a disservice. After they finally replaced Jason Garrett, who ran one of the least-creative offenses of this generation despite having a stout offensive line to block for superstars, Mike McCarthy came in on week one and they appeared to run the same boring offense with no creativity to max out Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliot’s potential in a loss to the Rams, then week two they go down 20-0 to Atlanta to clawback by the skin of their teeth to win off of their foolish mistakes and reel everyone back in. The franchise has been putting butts in the seats because of the flashy brand-name developed in the ’90s when in reality they’re just slapping a piece of beef between a sandwich bun and crowning it a success.

New Orleans Saints // McDonald’s

The Saints have been considered one of the model franchises of the way the NFL has been run since the beginning of time: the inseparable quarterback-to-head coach relationship and build the team around that. It’s been the standard; Drew Brees and Sean Peyton captained the Saints to consistent success and they even got a Super Bowl out the run. They’ve laid the framework for the league this generation of teams to structure their organization the same way that McDonald’s is the largest fast-food conglomerate in the world.

However, it sometimes feels like the Saints have underperformed. Brees is setting all of the all-time passing records as we speak and they only have one title to show for it in his fifteen years on the team. McDonald’s maybe the “Godfather” of it all, have all of the locations/monetary assets in the world, and it still feels like other chains that are trying new things are passing them by from a public relations standpoint. I personally don’t know anyone that eats McDonald’s on a consistent basis or considers it their favorite. It’s almost as if these two businesses are resting on their laurels they’ve gained over time.

Saints fans will tell you they should have two more Super Bowl appearances over the last two years over terrible calls by the referees in the postseason to try and flip their narrative the same way that McDonald’s will try and tell you they’re healthier now by making apples a Happy Meal side option after the movie Supersize Me exposed them and grossed everyone out. Drew Brees has looked washed up for the past year and a half in what could be his final season, so eventually, the franchise will have to look in the mirror with Ronald McDonald and realize successful formulas don’t last forever.

New York Jets // Little Caesar’s

Little Caesar’s has two notable branding mantras: “Pizza pizza” (gee, I’d love to have been a part of that creative marketing meeting when they made that decision), and “Hot ‘n ready”. They are more outwardly-obvious about what their company is all about than anyone else. They are guaranteeing that for $5, we might not be giving you a GOOD product, but we are going to be serving you A product. At every gathering where you needed a ton of food for cheap, they assured you that you’d have a quantity rather than quality if that was your concern.

That’s how the New York Jets operate. They’ve had absolutely no quality whatsoever, but still field a team every single Sunday. One poor coaching hire, free-agent signing, and draft pick at a time.

Unfortunately for Jets fans, this has been the only pizza joint in town, leaving them to eat it every Sunday since Joe Namath.

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