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The 2017 RedZone Power Rankings

In a season filled with plenty of dire football, what NFL teams produce the best brief bouts of excitement? The hosts of the highlight channels provide their insights.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL needs RedZone more than ever. The league is facing plenty of off-field drama. Add that to an onslaught of high-profile injuries, a bunch of disjointed offenses, and the Dolphins in prime time three weeks in a row, and there exists a desperate need for a channel that cuts away all of the mediocrity and shows only the most exciting parts of the sport. Full games can be bad from start to finish; RedZone cannot.

The beauty of RedZone, in a year where nothing can be predicted, is that it’s a meritocracy. “The majority of complaints are ‘These two teams suck. Why are they on my screen?’ And the answer is normally, ‘Because they are in the red zone and your team with a better record isn’t,” said Andrew Siciliano, who hosts the Red Zone Channel on DirecTV. “I had a Steelers fan complain [Sunday] about showing [the Bears game]—well, if the Steelers are on their own 14-yard line, they aren’t getting on.”

This is why being an exciting RedZone team is so important: The network does not necessarily show the best team; it shows the teams in best position to score.

So, in order to bridge that discrepancy, we’re introducing our second annual RedZone Power Rankings.

“A ‘great’ RedZone team is traditionally one that makes frequent appearances—three, four trips per game is solid—has a bona fide QB, and highly active skill position players on fans’ fantasy rosters,” said Scott Hanson, host of the NFL RedZone from NFL Network.

As for a bad RedZone team? Well, “It’s a team that relies too much on their kicker,” said Siciliano. “God bless Justin Tucker—he’s a hell of a talented guy, but every time the Ravens are down there it seems like we see him.”

“A team that drags out a red zone trip over eight, 10 plays is so frustrating,” Hanson said. “We’ll see a team get inside the 20, then get called for a penalty knocking them out of the red zone, make a play to put them back inside, take a timeout, have a replay review of something that isn’t a scoring play, and on and on. We groan when this happens.”

In addition to those thoughts, here are the rules from last year:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 …
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Considering all of that, let’s go to the list.

The “Oh No, Is There MLS On?” Teams

32. Miami Dolphins

There’s a contrarian case to be made that the Miami Dolphins are actually a good RedZone team. When they get there, they are efficient: third in points and fourth in touchdowns per red zone appearance through Week 9. They also lead the NFL in “fourth-quarter comebacks.” This argument, however, is swiftly killed when you watch the Dolphins, who rank 31st in touchdowns per drive and punt more than any other team in the league. They are the football equivalent of the “guy pointing to his head” meme. You cannot screw up in the red zone if you never get there. Somehow, Monday marked the third straight prime-time game they played. Get this team off my television.

31. Detroit Lions

There’s no contrarian argument here: After an embarrassing failure to score any points on five red zone trips against the Steelers last month, the Detroit Free Press called the Lions’ red zone offense a “punching bag.” Matthew Stafford completes just over 40 percent of his passes in the red zone: 20 of 45. Touchdowns are the lifeblood of entertaining football, and the Lions are 27th in both points and touchdowns per red zone trip. A year ago, the Lions performed miracle comebacks every week and were one of the most entertaining teams in the NFL. Apparently, neither the comebacks nor the entertainment were sustainable.

30. Cleveland Browns

Look, there’s no recency bias here. On Sunday, the Browns tried to run a quarterback sneak with no timeouts and 15 seconds left at the end of the half. However, our process here is extremely sound and we won’t let that pathetic moment outweigh the rest of Cleveland’s pretty-terrible-but-not-quite-that-terrible body of work.

DeShone Kizer is without a doubt the worst quarterback in the red zone this season and likely the worst quarterback anywhere on the field. He has three interceptions inside the 10. Deshaun Watson, Trevor Siemian, and Eli Manning all have double-digit attempts within 10 yards and have fewer incompletions than Kizer has picks.

The “More Like DeadZone Channel” Teams

29. Arizona Cardinals

Move along; nothing to see here. They average 3.85 points per red zone appearance—31st in the NFL. Not good. At least Larry Fitzgerald still rules.

28. Indianapolis Colts

Here’s what keeps the hapless Colts from being absolutely rock bottom: They manage to make their games kind of awesome with their incompetence. The Colts have allowed six defensive touchdowns this season: two fumbles returned for touchdowns and an astounding four pick-sixes. (It should go without saying that the latter is the league-high.) If you’re not going to add to the RedZone excitement with your own fireworks, the best you can do is help others light the fuse. That is selflessness. Thank you, Colts.

27. Denver Broncos

26. Baltimore Ravens

When Baltimore pops up on RedZone, you should at least shield your eyes. Joe Flacco has a 59 rating when given over 2.6 seconds to throw, the league’s worst mark for QBs with over 300 attempts. Imagine being that bad under ideal pocket conditions. He is also dead last in air yards per completion. Tight end Ben Watson is last in the NFL among wide receivers and tight ends in air yards per target. And receiver Breshad Perriman is among the league’s worst in average separation from his defender. The only reason to watch a Ravens cut-in is for comforting morbidity: It can always be worse than you think, and often is.

25. San Francisco 49ers

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

23. New York Jets

I mean ...

… just … don’t.

The “Hey, They Look Great for 20 Seconds at a Time” Teams

22. Green Bay Packers

In September I wrote a piece—“How Football Stopped Being Fun”—about the NFL’s movement toward check-down offenses that rely on a more boring style centered around shorter passing. Sadly, after Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with a broken collarbone, the Packers became one of the clearest examples of modern football’s aesthetic issue. Brett Hundley’s 5.1 average air yards per completion are last among quarterbacks not named Flacco, who should be in his own category. The Packers were a top-five RedZone team before the Rodgers injury. To make matters worse, their defense specializes in slow, meandering drives: They are tied for the most plays per drive allowed in the NFL and are one of three teams who allow an average drive time of over three minutes.

21. Houston Texans

Someone save DeAndre Hopkins.

20. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are 21st in touchdowns per red zone visit, and if you’ve ever watched them, that number probably seems flattering.

But that’s not their biggest sin: The worst part of RedZone is, without a doubt, when one of the hosts cuts to a game that’s been stopped by a penalty. Once there, the channel then has to focus on the conversation with the refs, the conversation between the coaches and the refs, and then the offense jogging back onto the field. The Seahawks have committed 31 penalties that have given their opponent a first down—second most in the NFL. This is not a fun team to watch.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers should be punished for having so many offensive weapons and being so unexciting. According to Football Outsiders, they score the 21st-most touchdowns per drive in the NFL and the sixth-most field goals per drive. They have a generally efficient offense outside of the red zone—no offense goes three-and-out less often—but I’m not watching RedZone for quality ball control, and neither should you.

18. Carolina Panthers

Similar to the Steelers, the Panthers should be more exciting than they actually are. Christian McCaffrey has been a useful weapon but not nearly the jack-of-all-trades playmaker he was expected to be after the team selected him eighth overall. He doesn’t even have a damn special teams touchdown. The Panthers are good, but not exciting. At least we got this:

17. Oakland Raiders

16. Buffalo Bills

15. Atlanta Falcons

Uh, yeah. These teams are fine. Sure.

14. Cincinnati Bengals

Ringer intern Danny Heifetz put it best when we were discussing the RedZone rankings the other day: “I think Andy Dalton is the best RedZone player. Because every time they cut to the Bengals and say, ‘You’ll never guess what Andy Dalton just did!’ I know it’s going to be a touchdown, but I never know for which team.”

13. Chicago Bears

The Bears are sort of fun! Mitchell Trubisky is barely completing half of his passes, but he can hit exciting plays, and he’s got this going for him:

But here is what I love about the Bears for RedZone purposes: John Fox is a horrific coach who makes bizarre in-game decisions and runs out an unprepared team on a weekly basis. Twice in 10 weeks we’ve had astonishing RedZone-hogging screwups from Chicago. The first:

The second:

This is a perfect formula for entertainment: an exciting young quarterback; some more fun, young pieces elsewhere on the roster; and a coach who manages the team as if it’s some sort or elaborate Nathan for You bit.

The “OH MY GOD, I LOVE REDZONE” Teams

12. New Orleans Saints

If I were to tell you at the beginning of the year that the Saints would be 7-2 and rolling 10 weeks in, you’d assume they were a top RedZone team. After all, who is more exciting than Drew Brees? He plucks receivers from out of nowhere and runs skinny posts with them for 50-yard touchdowns. He throws for 5,000-yard seasons automatically. He is RedZone. Oh wait ...

Brees is still great, but he’s getting a lot of help and isn’t the one-man band he used to be. Most notably, Mark Ingram is the best red zone running back in the NFL—he has six touchdowns on 10 attempts inside the 5.

11. New York Giants

Odell Beckham is instant-offense and his loss makes this team significantly less exciting. Having said that, I still love the Giants because they are so incompetent that Ben McAdoo appears on the screen all the time. I don’t want to oversell this, but McAdoo looks completely ridiculous:

Oh, and uh, Eli Manning is pretty good in the red zone, and rookie tight end Evan Engram has six catches on six targets in the red zone with five touchdowns. But have you seen McAdoo?

10. Tennessee Titans

There are two arguments for the Titans near the goal line. Here is the first:

The second is a corollary of the first: Marcus Mariota rules. Give us Marcus.

9. Dallas Cowboys

My colleague Danny Kelly did a nice job tackling the Cowboys last week. As far as scoring plays, which is all we are concerned with in these rankings, the Cowboys are as good as as any team in the league. They specialize in creative runs and rollouts inside the 30. The have the best touchdowns-per-drive mark in the league because of it.

Also, it makes them fun as hell:

They obviously weren’t as good last week without Zeke Elliott, but that game also led to Troy Aikman saying that Dallas lineman Chaz Green had the worst performance he’s seen in his decades of watching football. How is that not entertaiment?

8. Washington Redskins

This is what a good RedZone team should be—good or bad, all of their plays should be leading towards something. Washington is one of only two teams to have a scoring percentage over 36 and a turnover percentage of 12.4 or higher. The only other team that hits those marks, the Panthers, averages a half a play more per game. The Redskins get to the point more efficiently. Kirk Cousins has the ability to get the ball down the field but is not so good that his passes are always pinpoint.

Cousins’s aggression coupled with his inaccuracy means that Washington’s receivers get to make lots of really cool catches.

The “Mainline This Into My Veins” Teams

7. New England Patriots

The Patriots were in the running for no. 1 earlier in the season when their defense was so bad that they turned every game into a shootout: Tom Brady dueling it out against a quarterback the Patriots’ defense allowed to look like Tom Brady. The Patriots had high-scoring contests with the Chiefs, Saints, Texans, and Panthers in the first four weeks of the season and it was awesome. The defense has since been solidified, apparently—they haven’t given up even 20 points in five games after giving up 30-plus in three of their first four games. But Tom Brady alone is still enough to make them a top RedZone team.

6. Minnesota Vikings

Here is the amazing thing about the Vikings: They are missing some excitement. Dalvin Cook, as exciting as any rookie, tore his ACL in October, and their quarterback at present is Case Keenum, not the relatively more exciting Sam Bradford or the legitimately exciting Teddy Bridgewater. But it sure as hell could have been the most exciting team in the league. And maybe Bridgewater’s eventual return will get them there. As of now, even if they’re not at the top, the Vikings are still worth watching. They have some of the best big-play ability in the NFL, a must for RedZone teams. According to Pro Football Focus, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are tied with each other for best catch rate in the league on deep passes (60 percent).

5. Los Angeles Chargers

At this point, the Chargers are football’s Sisyphus—except once they get the boulder to the top of the hill, it suddenly goes tumbling down the other side. Or maybe they’re the NFL’s Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only for it to get plucked away at the last second. Whatever metaphor, it’s bad, but totally enthralling. The Chargers seem to find a new breathtaking way to lose a game every week. Last year, 11 of their first 12 games were decided by one score. They went 5-11 despite being in nearly every game. This year, they are 3-6, with all but two games finishing within one possession. OK, here’s the best analogy: The Chargers are like a Fast & Furious movie at this point, comically predictable but you aren’t changing the channel.

4. Los Angeles Rams

Remember Hanson’s definition of a great RedZone team? Great offense, relevant team with fantasy implications? Yeah, the Rams, who lead the NFL in scoring percentage (51.9 percent) and net yards per passing attempt (7.9), are his favorite squad to watch.

“Each trip, it’s either [Todd] Gurley or [Jared] Goff who’s cashing in with scoring plays,” Hanson said. “And they’re owned in 99.9 percent of fantasy leagues, so it’s made for fun action with regards to fantasy and real-life football drama.”

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Siciliano joked that the Eagles suffer from one peculiar RedZone fate: “They’ve hit so many big plays, it feels like we miss so many of their scores because they are scoring from midfield.” (He said a similar phenomenon has happened with Chiefs star Tyreek Hill.)

Still, the pairing of Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz is deadly in the red zone. Also, the Philly crowd is good for one or two great moments a game.

And Remember Hanson’s rule about long drives being a slog? The Eagles score on 46 percent of their drives, fifth in the NFL, but do so on 5.8 plays per drive, 12th in the NFL. For comparison's sake, the Panthers score on 35 percent of their drives but run more plays per drive than the Eagles. Philadelphia, though, doesn’t ever waste your time.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

In another year, the Jaguars would be first. They don’t waste time; their offense is so bad that they don’t spend a lot of time in the red zone. But the defense creates really fun turnovers and consistently destroys quarterbacks. And when they need to, the offense can still come up with big plays. Running back Leonard Fournette has touchdowns of 90 and 75 yards this season. Plus, they have just enough bad coaching to keep the games exciting. The team inexplicably abandoned the run on Sunday against the Chargers to orchestrate a thrilling, mistake-flooded overtime game. This is exactly what you want from a RedZone team: They are never on our screen unless they have something to show us.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

What else needs to be said?

Kareem Hunt leads the NFL in runs of more than 15 yards and his “breakaway percentage,” which is the rate at which he makes a run of 15 yards, is an astounding 45.9 percent. Bell, for comparison, is at 20, while Gurley is at 26.9. Kansas City is the right mix of efficiency, excitement, and shots of Andy Reid looking at his play sheet. What earns them the top spot is that mix of production, excitement, and unpredictability: Unlike any team in the NFL, the Chiefs can do anything at any time when they’re in control of the ball. Just ask the Cowboys.