When people discuss the golden age of television, they often miss the point. Sure, it’s great that we’re living in an era of consistently stellar shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men and Atlanta, but the real beauty comes from seeing Ryan Tannehill hit Damien Williams for a 10-yard score to extend the Dolphins’ lead over the Browns.
Fans nationwide can see that thanks to RedZone, a channel that’s designed to show every scoring opportunity and notable play and that’s probably a government-funded program designed to save oxygen by guaranteeing that no one goes outside on Sundays. RedZone is almost always fun, but some moments, and some teams, honor the intent of the platform better than others.
Great RedZone teams:
- Make big plays in crucial moments: Fourth-quarter comebacks aren’t a particularly telling way to gauge a quarterback’s talent, but they’re a great way to gauge a team’s RedZone viability. If a squad is driving late, chances are it’s earning some RedZone love, hopefully by doing something wild.
- Perform in the red zone itself: The vast majority of RedZone plays come when a team is simply in the actual, physical red zone, running its typical offense. In order to stand out, a team needs to score a lot in those situations, and do so in exciting fashion. Two-yard runs never made anyone want to abandon their lives and marry their television. A leaping catch in the corner of the end zone, however …
- Don’t waste time: No team is perfect, but great RedZone squads avoid being bad in the spotlight. That means avoiding too many garbage-time scores that waste everyone’s time.
- Look great in short bursts: It doesn’t matter if a team is 2–5. If it looks good for a few seconds when the channel pans to it, it can contribute greatly to a football Sunday.
With those qualifications in mind, we’ve ranked the RedZone teams of 2016.
32. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens aren’t the worst team in the NFL, but they are the worst RedZone team in the NFL. They force their way into our living rooms, masquerading as a decent team in close games, and then they, uh:
With great RedZone power comes great RedZone responsibility, but the Ravens are abusing theirs. This season, they’ve started 15 fourth-quarter drives when down one score. Unfortunately for the viewer, they’ve scored just two touchdowns in those situations — the same number of interceptions they’ve thrown.
The Ravens have run an NFL-high 135 plays in one-possession games in the fourth quarter, but they’ve averaged an NFL-low 3.22 yards per play in those situations. Given how inept they’ve been late, it’s a miracle they’ve even been in these games to begin with.
31. New York Jets
The Jets lead the league in one category that’s a sure RedZone killer: Teams have run 11 QB kneel downs against them. Jets games aren’t coming down to the wire, because the Jets are usually getting destroyed.
The problem is that the Jets somehow put up enough yards to force their way onto our television screens. In the same way MTV has to kinda-sorta always be about music, the RedZone channel has to document the teams in the red zone at a given moment. The Jets get there. But once they do, things begin to turn.
There are two solutions: The Jets could finish their red zone chances. Or they could end all of their possessions at the 21-yard line and stay off our televisions.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles has just four career first-quarter touchdown passes, but this year, Bortles’ 2–5 Jaguars have come alive in the fourth quarter, completing 64 percent of their passes (as opposed to 45 percent in the first quarter), and passing for seven touchdowns (they have five combined in the other three quarters and 43 first downs (they have nine in the first quarter all season). Fourth-quarter scoring makes for RedZone fun, but only when it’s meaningful. That’s not what the Jaguars are delivering: Their average second-half drive has begun with them trailing by nearly 11 points, making most of their late scoring drama-free.
That’s valuable RedZone time. To make matters worse, the Jaguars are almost always in the 1 p.m. ET slot, meaning they slide into our feeds when it’s most crowded. There are plenty of teams worth highlighting around 3:45, but not Jacksonville. For additional evidence, please enjoy this wonderful video called “Blake Bortles Missing Throws:”
29. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have delivered seven fourth-quarter scoring drives when trailing or tied. Thrilling, right? Uh, no, because they’ve trailed by an average of 21 points when those drives began. There is a hopelessness to these 49ers, who get blown out routinely. They rank ahead of the Jaguars only because they are slightly less likely to sneak back onto the screen in garbage time.
28. Houston Texans
Part of the criteria for ranking highly here is looking good in short bursts. The Texans look good in exactly zero bursts. The RedZone channel is for fun, not for the Texans, who, along with the Jets and Browns, lead the NFL in drives over 30 yards that end in an interception.
The good news here is that Houston is barely on the channel: The Texans’ 137 points scored are the least in the division. Houston also has the fewest plays of at least 30 yards and is last in the NFL in yards per catch.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A mistake-prone, dull team with a bad rookie kicker. Where do I sign up? Roberto Aguayo, the Bucs’ second-round pick, misses kicks so often (five field goals and two extra points already!) that his whiffs now interrupt the normal flow of a RedZone day. Showing a missed kick is mandatory: There are fantasy points at stake, and it’s just plain funny.
It’s not funny how often we have to leave a good game because Aguayo doinked one off the uprights in front of a pirate ship, though.
26. Chicago Bears
There is a video called “Brian Hoyer Groans While Throwing Interception” on NFL.com. And it’s the audio-visual highlight of the Bears’ season.
25. Washington Redskins
Entering Sunday, Kirk Cousins was connecting on only 41.5 percent of his throws inside the 20 and just 28.6 percent of his passes inside the 10. Drew Brees, for comparison’s sake, was connecting on almost 90 percent from inside 10 yards. The best things about Washington are Josh Norman’s personality and Cousins’s weird motivational yelling. Unfortunately, neither of those translates in 25 seconds of action.
24. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ nondivisional games tend to be surprisingly but sufficiently entertaining NFL contests. Look at the 31–28 Lions-Rams game from two weeks ago or the 37–32 Rams-Bucs showdown from September. Those games actually featured points!
The Rams’ divisional contests, meanwhile, are some of the worst games in the NFL. They include the Rams’ 9–3 win over the Seahawks from September and their 17–13 win over Arizona last month, and should be avoided at all costs. In the rare moments when the Rams appear on RedZone during divisional play, try to avert your eyes.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are fueled by slow drives built on short passes, giving us football that’s about 20 percent too methodical to be RedZone-approved. Plus, they haven’t played in a RedZone-dominating, lead-trading shootout since their opening-week overtime win over the Chargers, and four of their past five gave have been decided by 16 points or more. Not a ton of intrigue here. But at least there’s this:
22. Arizona Cardinals
Once a popular Super Bowl pick, the Cardinals now have the distinction of being tied with the Browns for the most third downs with at least 25 yards to go. Yay. They can no longer hit the deep pass, the thing that made them the most exciting team in the league last season. The result? They’re no longer a team you want on your screen.
21. Cleveland Browns
It’d be easy to call the Browns the worst RedZone team, but doing so would be a failure of imagination. First of all, they’ve played in some genuinely decent games: Their loss to the Ravens and their overtime loss to the Dolphins were both exciting. Add in the incredible stakes that any coach that loses to them could get fired, and there’s real reason to watch.
20. Minnesota Vikings
A certain type of football fan will find solid safety play from Harrison Smith and pressure from a good defensive line appealing. But RedZone is about fun offense, and as of now, the most fun thing about the Vikings offense is Sam Bradford’s sleeves. Stefon Diggs has been hobbled since Week 2, when he last registered a 100-yard game, and despite boasting the best starting field position in the NFL entering Monday’s game against the Bears, this offense was 27th in scoring percentage, ending its drives with a score just 29 percent of the time.
19. Green Bay Packers
It’s disappointing that the Packers have fallen this far: For years, few things in football were more exciting than Aaron Rodgers dodging two pass rushers to throw a dart in the back of the end zone. That hasn’t happened a lot this season. Entering Sunday, the Packers had 14 pass plays of 20 yards or more, tied for 29th in the NFL. Few rosters carry more potential for fun, but it’s just not happening for Green Bay this season.
18. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers were a top-three RedZone team in 2015. Cam Newton was the league’s best player, and he was also its most electric: In the first eight games of the season, he orchestrated five wins within one score. The ’15 Panthers were the perfect team to watch: Newton could hit a deep pass, but he could also scramble for 10 yards in the most dire situations.
This year they’re losing, and they’re not even losing in dramatic fashion. They’ve played only two games that were within one score at the end of three quarters. Newton will dominate this list for years to come, but this season, he’s in the back half.
17. New York Giants
Here are the distances on Odell Beckham’s past 10 touchdowns, dating back to last year: 66, 75, 8, 14, 84, 6, 72, 21, 87, 50. The Giants are still a great highlight team thanks to Odell, but they’re not a great RedZone team, because aside from their star receiver, they’re pretty boring. Without Odell, the Giants might be a bottom-five RedZone team — and if Eli Manning were able to find his best receiver more consistently, they might be in the top five.
16. Denver Broncos
15. Atlanta Falcons
These two teams are polar opposites, because Atlanta is offense-only and Denver is defense-only, but they’re grouped together here because they share a common RedZone characteristic: Both have one superstar (Julio Jones for Atlanta, Von Miller for Denver) who can strike at any moment.
It’s the moments in between that can be dull. Atlanta entered Sunday with 12 field goals in the red zone, second most in the NFL, while Denver had tied Houston for the fewest plays of 30 yards or more. Denver is particularly hard to get excited about from a RedZone perspective. A football team with its most exciting player on defense is like a band whose focal point is a drummer (here’s one of those). It’s fine, but there are limitations to the fireworks.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
The Wentz Wagon, last seen with a flat tire on the side of I-95, once looked like it was headed straight toward RedZone eliteness. But through seven games, the Eagles have revealed themselves to be a defense-first team that abhors the downfield throw. Carson Wentz has thrown for 179, 138, and 202 yards in his past three games, and Darren Sproles, who’s capable of being incredibly exciting, has just 46 rush attempts and 22 receptions this season.
13. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are exciting. The Bills! They’re tied for the most defensive touchdowns in the league. They also have a quick-strike, boom-or-bust offense: Of the teams that average drives of two minutes and 30 seconds, only the Bills and Broncos score on more than 35 percent of them. Plus, when LeSean McCoy is healthy, he’s as dynamic a big-play runner as there is. No team has more 20-plus-yard runs in opponent territory.
12. Seattle Seahawks
They play close games, but at what cost?
Despite those struggles, the Seahawks are saved from being a bottom-tier team by having such great weapons, an electric home atmosphere, and pretty exciting conclusions to their games. They’re like the Ravens, except sometimes they win.
11. Tennessee Titans
Nothing says “excitement” quite like Mike Mularkey, right? His Titans are pretty damn good at scoring. Marcus Mariota’s career numbers in the red zone: 25 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 115 passer rating. He has thrown as many touchdowns as incompletions in the red zone. And even if his team isn’t in a clear scoring opportunity, Mariota can make his way onto our screens by doing this:
10. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins might be the best example of a team that looks a lot better on RedZone than in real life. In 20-second bursts, Ryan Tannehill actually looks like a good quarterback.
Over 60 minutes, he looks like … a guy who’s never led his team to more than eight wins in a season. Tannehill, the somehow-awesome Jay Ajayi, and Jarvis Landry form one of the NFL’s best “please only watch a little bit of us” offenses. They’re essentially the fake town from Blazing Saddles.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts fit the description of a great RedZone team: Their offense is at its best in the fourth quarter, when Andrew Luck’s passer rating rises from a first-quarter mark of 64 to a fourth-quarter mark of 106. But even more crucially, they allow a 125 passer rating in the fourth quarter, by far their worst period. This is how they end up in shootouts. Six of their eight games have been one-score contests, and they have the most touchdowns scored with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with four. They’d be even higher on this list if the first three quarters were anything other than Luck being destroyed by pass rushers.
7. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys might be the franchise that fans are most excited about right now, and Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott look like the cornerstone of the league’s next great offense. But they’re not necessarily an elite RedZone team. Great passes are the key to being a top-five RedZone team, so a rush-first offense that relies on bootlegs for most of its passing game doesn’t quite qualify. The teams built around Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were the stuff of RedZone legend, but Cowboys fans will still take this:
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. San Diego Chargers
“I love the Chargers this year because they’ve been the ultimate ‘Will they or won’t they?’ team this year,” Scott Hanson, a RedZone host, said via email. “Extreme drama. Glory or gory.”
The data back up that assessment. The Wall Street Journal claimed that the chances of the Chargers picking up their first four losses the way they did were 1-in-30-million. Their games have been so insane that they could top this list, but we’re docking them for some minor RedZone flaws. Philip Rivers completes just 47 percent of his passes in the red zone, and the team is more likely to hand off to Melvin Gordon, who leads the NFL in red zone rushing attempts and touchdowns.
4. New England Patriots
The Pats play such beautiful football that RedZone check-ins can make it look like New England is playing a different sport than the other teams on the channel.
Few things in sports are more thrilling than the RedZone hosts shouting “check THIS out” when cutting to a shot of the Patriots offense on the field. Steph Curry with the ball 10 feet behind the 3-point line; Messi getting the ball 15 yards out — that might be it. Tom Brady stepping up in the pocket and finding a receiver with a half-step of separation is the best thing we can see in football right now.
There are only two minor issues preventing the Pats from ranking even higher: The first is that RedZone offers too few shots of Bill Belichick looking miserable on the sidelines, and the other is that their touchdowns are so effective and continuous that they usually put the game out of reach early-ish. The Patriots are the only team to enter halftime up two possessions in four different games this season.
3. Detroit Lions
As with every Black Mirror episode, there’s a point in every Lions game where everything changes — and then all hell breaks loose. In the Lions’ case, that means great catches, weird Jim Caldwell onside kicks, and porous defense. It’s football simultaneously at its best and worst.
The biggest margin of victory in a Lions game this season was seven points: Detroit has one of the league’s worst pass defenses, but it also has Matthew Stafford throwing darts all over the field in crunch time. Stafford has a higher completion percentage, passer rating, and yards-per-attempt average in the second half than in the first half. When the game is tied, he has a 117 passer rating. The Lions don’t always have the ability to win, but they always have the ability to make things awesome.
2. New Orleans Saints
Every Saints game is essentially a Die Hard sequel: Can Drew Brees do everything by himself? The answer is usually no, but he sure as hell gives it a shot. Brees’s Saints lead the NFL in passing yards per game, and they also allow the fourth most passing yards per contest. The result is beautiful RedZone football. Only one of their games has been decided by more than six points. And they’re pretty entertaining before the fourth quarter, too.
1. Oakland Raiders
If the RedZone channel became the RaidersZone channel, it might be an upgrade. Oakland has everything we want from a RedZone team: great passing, exciting young players, close games, huge comebacks, and breathtaking touchdowns. Derek Carr has consistently found Michael Crabtree in the end zone for some of the prettiest and most crucial touchdowns of the season, and the Raiders lead the NFL with 16 offensive touchdowns in the second half and overtime combined.
Don’t take my word for it, though. “The Raiders have been great,” RedZone host Andrew Siciliano said in an email. “Derek Carr is throwing it all over the yard, and they’re giving up 500 yards a game defensively. How is that not fun? That’s what the RedZone channel was made for.”