If you missed part one of the NFL Fun Index, you missed a lot, including:
Bijan Robinson transforming Atlanta Falcons games from a crime against the Geneva Convention to merely a Sunday afternoon chore for proper fantasy-league maintenance;
Anthony Richardson out-highlighting C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young;
Injury concerns keeping Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins from cracking the top ten;
Aaron Rodgers propelling the New York Jets into a whole new category which transcends mere “fun.” (That’s the polite way of looking at it);
And much more!
It’s time now to look at the ten most fun-to-watch teams in the NFL for 2023. They also happen to be most of the NFL’s best teams, because winning is fun, as are most of the components (superstars, touchdowns, defensive turnovers, highlights) of winning.
As we approach the NFL’s top tier of entertainment value, however, expectations begin to rear their head. It’s not much fun rooting for the team that’s supposed to win, and novelty is an important factor when getting neutral fans excited about tuning in.
That’s why the Chiefs are facing the Lions in the season opener, not the Bills or Eagles: the NFL and it’s broadcast partners hope to whet your appetite with something a little different.
You get the idea. On with the countdown!
The Jaguars’ greatest enemy in 2023 will be their own expectations. What if Trevor Lawrence doesn’t earn his parking space among the S-tier quarterbacks immediately? What if Calvin Ridley doesn’t immediately spring back to 2020 form? What if Doug Pederson needs Howie Roseman, Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz to look like the cool science teacher who let you call him “Doug” and allowed you mess around with the chemicals until the day the lab exploded?
Lawrence, Ridley, Travis Etienne and a deep corps of secondary weapons should provide plenty of wins/touchdowns/highlights. But there will still be some growing pains, and anyone tuning in each week expecting the Teal Chiefs will likely be disappointed.
The Josh Allen thrill isn’t gone yet, but it’s starting to fade. We’ve seen Ken Dorsey’s offense get stuck on “throw it over the rainbow” too many times. There’s little second-tier starpower behind Allen and Stefon Diggs. And for all its billing, the defense is just stout enough to go along with the bit when the offense decides it’s time to blow a 17-point lead.
Watching the Cowboys or Patriots trip over their own feet in big games is hilarious; watching the Bills do it just feels like punching down. There’s nothing entertaining about flop sweat, and the beads are building on the Bills’ brow.
The big news in Seattle is that the Seahawks finally joined the 21st century by adding a bona fide WR3 in Jaxon Smith-Ngiba. That’s right, Seahawks fans: no more talking yourself into David Moore! No more weird obsession with Jermaine Kearse! No more – eek! – Laquon Treadwell. JSN joins DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to give the Seahawks the best receiver trio since those 45 minutes when Percy Harvin was healthy back in 2013-14.
The Seahawks rank higher than you might expect due to the number of legitimately interesting storylines they bring to the table. There’s year two of the Geno Smith resuscitation arc, of course. There’s Bobby Wagner’s return. There’s Jamal Adams’ latest effort to justify the team’s investment in him; with Devon Witherspoon joining a revamped secondary, Adams could just switch full-time to World’s Lil’est Edge Rusher and try to rack up a dozen sacks. There are enough running backs to ruin fantasy football for millions of gamers. And it all feels relatively fresh and new.
The fun of watching the Lions will not come from the frontline offensive talent – Jared Goff is still their starting quarterback – or even from the fact that alpha timberwolves tuck their tails and cower when they catch a whiff of Dan Campbell’s manly pheromones. It’s all about catching the hot side-stage band at the exact moment they become headliners.
Campbell’s Lions play an appealing brand of balanced football, but rooting for a franchise to win its first playoff game in over 30 years brings an intrinsic joy that cannot be quantified, one that the more successful teams who rank lower on the Fun Index can no longer match, because we’ve already grown familiar with their shtick.
Come for Lamar Jackson, Odell Beckham, Zay Flowers, Marc Andrews and J.K. Dobbins. Stay until injuries inevitably reduce the Ravens to Tyler Huntley, Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay Again (Rashod Bateman ain’t happening, folks), Isaiah Likely and (searches free agent pool for appropriate broken-down Week 13 replacement running back) Rex Burkhead.
As a bonus, viewers can enjoy watching a talent-saturated offense fail catastrophically every time it attempts a fourth-and-inches or two-point conversion, causing mass hyperventilation in the analytics community.
Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and company would rank higher if they didn’t have a habit of getting dragged down to the level of their competition. Remember their 32-13 loss to the Browns? Their early-2022 pratfalls? Their snoozers against the Titans and Patriots?
That said, there’s nothing quite like watching the Bengals embarrass the Bills in a Buffalo snowstorm or a Burrow-Mahomes championship (or New Year’s Eve) duel. And while new toys Chase Brown and Charlie Jones aren’t headliners, they will keep the Bengals offense from browning out if there’s an injury rash.
Dak Prescott. Ceedee Lamb. Micah Parsons. Trevon Diggs. Newcomers Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore. Old friends Tank Lawrence and Michael Gallup. The Cowboys are a blast on offense and defense, and they make great villains for millions of fans along the I-95 corridor.
So why aren’t they more fun?
Mike McCarthy will f*** up the offense.
Seriously. McCarthy will call the same six plays over and over again, then fire Brian Schottenheimer for it.
Prescott haters will take to the social networks after every interception demanding Cooper Rush, Tom Brady or Arch Manning
Prescott ultra-stans will also take to the social networks after every interception blaming Schottenheimer, McCarthy or late-stage capitalism.
Endless reaction shots to the owner’s booth, where Jerry Jones is hosting some of his buddies: Beelzebub; the dot-com zillionaire whose experimental rocket just accidently destroyed Terre Haute; and the senator who just proposed a bill to make it illegal to mention The Crying Game in public.
Your brother-in-law, lurking on Facebook, itching to post a “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys” meme after a win, even though: a) that win launches them into third place in the NFC East, and b) he did not actually watch the game.
Baggage aside, the Cowboys will be must-see TV most weeks.
Baggage aside, the Cowboys would not be the Cowboys.
The Eagles are heels now: scourge of millions of fans of their NFC East rivals and tormentors of 49ers fans (How DARE they beat our fourth-string quarterback, asks the team that beat Jarret Stidham and David Blough in the final two weeks on 2022). The rest of the NFL is sick of Howie Roseman’s robber-baron routine, unimpressed by the all-Georgia defense, bored with the Jalen Hurts feel-good story, suspicious of those sneaky sneaks and, most of all, despises those bellicose Iggles fans.
No worries. Some Eagles players (Lane Johnson) love being villains, and I have neighbors who will pour a pitcher of beer on a toddler’s head if her parents dressed her in blue for a home game. The Eagles are worthy heels, and they would rank higher if they added more to their roster than just the Georgia Bulldogs marching band. The Eagles probably operated at peak efficiency on offense and defense for much of 2022. If they regress to the mean just a little, it will impact both the standings and the viewing experience.
Sacks are sexy. YAC is sexy. Quarterback controversies? SEXY. The 49ers are the NFL’s alt-hot grungebabies, and not knowing how the Brock Purdy/Trey Lance competition will play out just makes them alt-hotter.
In fact, the 49ers would be the most fun team in the NFL if
Their top stars were not so injury prone that we might be watching Sam Darnold throw to Ray-Ray McCloud while Clelin Ferrell rushes the passer come November;
Kyle Shanahan wasn’t guaranteed to attempt a 56-yard field goal into a maelstrom with rookie Jake Moody on fourth-and-millimeters when trailing by four points in the fourth quarter at some point in 2023; and
Patrick Mahomes did not exist.
It’s not just about Mahomes. Or Mahomes and Travis Kelce. Or Mahomes in Andy Reid’s system. It’s also about a defense just dangerous enough to produce turnovers but just porous enough to force Mahomes into endless shootouts. It’s about Mahomes’ ability to improvise himself into trouble, then MacGyver himself out of that trouble. It’s about a team that wears its heart and its flaws on its sleeve, making it hard to hate them or grow sick of them.
But mostly, it’s about Mahomes’ ability to turn every game into a video game, to combine Michael Jordan-worthy, greatest-moments-in-sports-history level highlights with Willis Reed/Kirk Gibson heroics in the face of injury or adversity, to make no lead safe and every snap into a potential moment you will never forget.