We’re down to the final eight teams left in the NFL Season.
Odds are you might root for one of the other 24 teams that have been eliminated.
If you’re one of those unlucky, now neutral followers of the sport, who is the narrative that’s easy to pull for? What would be a generally happy ending for the league to cap off one of the most interesting, unpredictable seasons in NFL history?
This is the Likeability Index rankings for football’s elite eight teams remaining.
8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay essentially went out and acquired every supervillain in the NFL. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the duo we’ve rooted against through their success in New England for over a decade? Check.
Ndamukong Suh, the guy who can’t stop stomping on people? Check.
Antonio Brown, the guy involved in several sexual and domestic disputes and cried or diva-ed his way out of Pittsburgh, Oakland, and New England? Check.
LeSean McCoy, the guy who spoiled the ending of Avengers: Endgame on Twitter?? DIABOLICAL. Root against Tampa.
7) New Orleans Saints
To be blunt, the Saints are the whiners. Yes, they have undergone some of the most egregious calls to end playoff runs (the no-call on Kyle Rudolph’s game-winning touchdown last year, the no-call on the obvious pass interference against the Rams in the 2019 NFC Championship game). Still, if your team is known for complaining about the referees, no matter how wrong they are and how justified you are, it’s insufferable. They SHOULD be likable given how tortured a franchise they were before Drew Brees came in and saved the day with a Super Bowl in 2009, but they’ve become heels, and they’re fine with it.
It’ll most-likely be Brees’s last ride, playing with broken ribs at 41 and throwing the ball with what looks like the last of his remaining velocity, so this will be the final chapter of a book in New Orleans that has been a roller-coaster of a drama the past decade; one hopes it doesn’t end with a man in a black-and-white striped referee shirt fearing for his life in the state of Louisiana.
6) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are Team Spite. Scouts thought Lamar Jackson should’ve been a running back coming out of college, and he won MVP last year. They’ve had embarrassing performances the last two seasons in the playoffs, and this year they continued to be criticized as frauds when they would lose against any time they faced real competition like the Chiefs, Titans, or Steelers.
Now, they’re rolling into the playoffs with that “nobody believes in us!!!” energy that coaches so often use as motivation and then stomped on the field logo of the Titans after their first playoff win with Lamar and then went into the locker room without shaking their hands.
You pull for guys to overcome the odds and narratives, but this “let’s silence the haters” thing Baltimore has going on is exhausting and makes them too a bit too dramatic; win games.
Lamar Jackson wants to silence the haters. ? pic.twitter.com/HkZxv1uij7
— Ravens Nation (@RavensNationCP) January 6, 2021
If they want to go with the narrative fueled by pettiness, so be it, but they would be so much more likable without it. Lamar’s style of play as possibly the best running quarterback we’ve ever seen could revolutionize the game, and you would love to see him win.
Be the good guys, Baltimore!
5) Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are just a team with a narrative we’ve seen before? They lost the most boring Super Bowl in history to the Patriots in 2019, with Jared Goff managing Sean McVay’s offensive system and Aaron Donald as the most dominant athlete in the league on defense. And now they’re somehow more boring. The defense is now top-ranked in the league with the addition of Jalen Ramsey at the corner and the hiring of DC Brandon Staley installing a system that made his D-III college a dynasty. Still, their offense has significantly regressed since then, just averaging 23 points-per-game via Goff’s play-action passes for around 10 yards apiece. AND this year, Goff has a broken thumb, so don’t expect any fireworks.
They have a few elements you can pull for- Goff has become almost a tragic figure even as a former #1 overall pick because he’ll receive all of the blame when anything goes wrong and when things click for him, McVay gets the credit. Cam Akers has been an incredibly impressive rookie running back who lit up Seattle last week, and of course, on the other side of the ball, you’d love to see Donald cement his future first-ballot Hall of Fame campaign with a ring.
You don’t hate the Rams. You’re not excited by the Rams. You simply watch the Rams. It’s like rooting for a computer program.
4) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have the same faces collective America rooted for to end the tyranny of the Patriots in the AFC- Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins. It was a glorious run that ended Kansas City’s 50-year title drought and cemented the team as the future of the league since Mahomes was so perfect, and he’s still only 25 years old. This season they were nearly just as head-and-shoulders above everyone else at 14-2 that it almost felt boring watching the most exciting product the sport has to offer? There were moments where the opposition would still be in the game, but you never felt like they had a chance because the Chiefs are inevitable.
They would be bored enough to not lay the hammer down on the opponent but good enough to win while looking like they aren’t even trying. They haven’t transitioned into the “empire sports villain” role yet, but their greatness might give some people a bit of fatigue despite being the best product and the darlings of 2020. It really feels like the Chiefs vs. everyone else.
3) Green Bay Packers
The Packers are typically a polarizing franchise when it comes to fan-interest just due to their historical culture of being a team you’re a diehard fan of, or you can’t stand them. Still, this year you can’t help but fall in love with the MVP play of Aaron Rodgers. He’s got the narrative of the revenge tour after they drafted a rookie quarterback to be his successor, and he now plays like a grizzled county sheriff still gun-slinging to prove he’s still got it; his resurgence this season has also made Davante Adams the best wide receiver in the league, and they’re the most-fun watch on TV offensively.
It lacks the charm of an underdog narrative, but Rodgers getting another ring for his legacy is a thrill.
2) Buffalo Bills
The Bills ended a 24-year playoff win drought on Saturday. The Bills went to FOUR Super Bowls in a row in the ’90s and lost all four of them. The Bills have been caught under a New England-sized shadow in the AFC East for the past two decades.
The Bills have finally found a redeemer. His name? Josh Allen.
He’s been the most improved player from one year to the next in the sport that we’ve seen in a very long time; analysts were projecting him to be a future backup someday because of his decision-making and accuracy paling in comparison to his hose of an arm. Now, he’s got the accuracy, he’s playing smart, he’s an absolute unit of a man who can still scramble and take hits and get right back up, and he’s slinging the ball with electrifying air yards to his new favorite toy, Steffon Diggs.
The Bills have been the underdog, from living in the shadow of the Giants and Jets in New York, from the shadow of their AFC East counterparts, and Allen embodies that as he outworks the doubters with his play. The Bills Mafia fans who you can find shirtless in subzero weather jumping through tables in excitement deserve some glory.
1) Cleveland Browns
Under any other circumstances, the Bills would have been the biggest loveable underdog story of the postseason. Except this year, the Cleveland Browns are here, snapping a 25-year playoff drought against all odds.
The Browns had their team taken away from them after terrible postseason curses. Since 2017, they’ve had 28 different failed quarterbacks since their return in 1999. They went 0-16 in 2017. After humiliating seasons racking up one after the other, they finally found their guy in Baker Mayfield, taken #1 overall in 2018 and improved to 7-8-1, only to have a disastrous year full of failed playoff expectations to follow up in 2019 under the excuse of a head coach in Freddie Kitchens… And Baker was on every commercial during their losses.
Enter the savior: Head Coach Kevin Stefanski.
Stefanski made the offense simple for Baker this year through play-action and pounding the ball through the two-headed dragon of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb this year, and they went 11-5 and made the postseason for the first time since 2002 in a win-or-go-home game against the “big brother” rival Pittsburgh Steelers… Only to be hit with a COVID outbreak that prevented their HEAD COACH, 3 assistants, and 4 players from playing in their playoff game and the entire team from practicing at their facility all week.
In a team of destiny fashion, the Browns destroyed Pittsburgh from the first play, scoring a touchdown and never looking back. Against all odds. Against all curses. Against all history. It was arguably the greatest Cleveland football win in their history. They continue to be the Cinderella story, and their narrative makes them the most-beloved story.
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