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The Six Biggest Takeaways From Half a Season of NFL Watchability

Teams have largely rounded into form at this point in the season, but just because a squad is near the top of the league’s standings doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch (just ask the Patriots)

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

With half of the NFL season in the books, the league is coming into focus. We know which teams are looking at the playoffs, and which are looking at the draft. We have MVP favorites and Super Bowl picks. The trade deadline has passed. A coach has been fired. And somehow, through it all, Nathan Peterman is still finding ways to start games. The NFL season is in full swing.

Still, it’s not always easy to decide which teams and games are worth watching each week. That’s where The Ringer’s watchability rankings come in. This system combines six different statistics to identify the most watchable teams in the NFL. Some of the results are obvious—you probably already know to avoid Bills games, and that the Chiefs are appointment viewing. But the metric also reveals the nonobvious. For instance, the Patriots, despite their 6-2 record, haven’t been very entertaining this year, but the Bears (at 4-3) have. Here’s where the rankings stand right now (this week’s Thursday Night Football results excluded):

Midseason NFL Watchability Rankings

Rank Team TDs Score Big Plays Score Punts Score TOs Score Sacks Score Takeaways Score TOTAL SCORE
Rank Team TDs Score Big Plays Score Punts Score TOs Score Sacks Score Takeaways Score TOTAL SCORE
1 Kansas City Chiefs 2.20 2.06 1.71 1.11 0.81 0.11 8.00
2 Los Angeles Rams 1.27 1.80 1.58 1.36 0.39 0.34 6.74
3 Los Angeles Chargers 0.69 1.48 0.61 1.15 0.10 0.24 4.26
4 Chicago Bears 0.69 0.43 0.61 0.02 0.57 1.85 4.17
5 New Orleans Saints 1.40 0.73 1.91 0.86 -0.14 -0.83 3.93
6 Cincinnati Bengals 0.95 0.49 0.07 0.62 0.19 0.34 2.66
7 Seattle Seahawks 0.33 -0.17 -0.68 1.15 0.34 1.58 2.55
8 Pittsburgh Steelers 1.22 1.03 -0.39 -0.55 1.52 -0.29 2.54
9 Green Bay Packers -0.21 0.58 0.47 0.30 1.29 -0.29 2.14
10 Indianapolis Colts 0.80 -0.95 0.95 -0.37 0.19 1.05 1.66
11 Carolina Panthers 0.33 -0.91 0.32 0.86 0.10 0.78 1.48
12 Washington Redskins -0.74 -0.32 -0.25 1.15 0.81 0.78 1.43
13 Detroit Lions -0.03 0.28 0.90 0.02 1.29 -1.09 1.36
14 Atlanta Falcons 0.51 0.43 0.32 1.71 -0.85 -0.83 1.30
15 Denver Broncos 0.02 0.88 -0.93 0.12 0.81 0.11 1.01
16 Minnesota Vikings 0.17 0.23 -0.30 0.12 0.19 0.34 0.75
17 Houston Texans -0.14 -0.43 -0.30 0.12 0.19 0.58 0.02
18 Baltimore Ravens 0.17 -0.69 -0.05 0.12 1.43 -1.06 -0.07
19 New England Patriots 0.80 -0.82 0.70 -0.37 -1.68 1.05 -0.33
20 Cleveland Browns -0.45 0.62 -3.07 0.12 -0.02 2.45 -0.35
21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1.04 1.18 0.90 -2.53 -0.38 -1.09 -0.88
22 Philadelphia Eagles -0.30 -0.43 -0.05 -0.13 0.39 -1.06 -1.57
23 Dallas Cowboys -1.10 -1.06 0.04 0.58 0.34 -1.09 -2.30
24 New York Jets -0.30 -0.30 -0.93 -1.12 -0.65 0.81 -2.47
25 Miami Dolphins -0.14 -0.82 -0.68 -0.37 -1.89 0.58 -3.33
26 New York Giants -1.23 0.36 -0.05 0.12 -2.10 -1.06 -3.97
27 Oakland Raiders -0.74 -0.02 0.61 -0.55 -2.52 -1.09 -4.31
28 Jacksonville Jaguars -1.23 -0.17 -0.30 -1.61 -0.23 -1.06 -4.60
29 San Francisco 49ers -0.61 0.10 -0.30 -1.61 -0.85 -1.53 -4.81
30 Arizona Cardinals -1.23 -1.74 -1.56 -1.36 0.81 0.11 -4.97
31 Tennessee Titans -1.81 -2.26 -0.39 0.58 -0.62 -0.83 -5.33
32 Buffalo Bills -2.32 -1.60 -1.44 -1.61 0.19 0.11 -6.68

With that, here are the biggest takeaways from half a season of watchability:

The Most Watchable Offense, by Far: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are the most watchable team in football by a relatively wide margin. They score 4.5 touchdowns per game, and no other team is above four. They’re also the only team that puts up more than six big plays (plays that gain 20 or more yards) per game. They’re second to last in number of punts per game, and they’re above average at avoiding turnovers. News flash: The Chiefs are fun!

And even though Kansas City’s defense isn’t great or necessarily reliable, it’s slightly above average in both sacks and takeaways, which is good enough for these rankings. We don’t need to belabor the point here: The Chiefs are the most watchable team in the league, and they fact that they come in at no. 1 in these rankings is a sign that the system is working as intended.

The Most Surprisingly Watchable Team: Chicago Bears

I highlighted the Bears the last time we looked at these rankings as one of the season’s early surprises. Through four weeks, Chicago was third in watchability. They’ve slipped just a bit in the last month, now landing in fourth at the halfway mark.

But what’s remarkable about the Bears is how the team has changed in the last four weeks. At the quarter-season point, Chicago’s watchability score was mostly a reflection of the team’s defense—the squad led the NFL in sacks and was second in takeaways. The team is still second in takeaways, but the sacks number has fallen off considerably as Khalil Mack has struggled with an ankle injury. After recording 18 sacks in their first four games, the Bears have just two in their last three.

So why is the team still watchable? The offense has picked up the slack. The team is one of only five squads that are above average in every watchability category. And Mitchell Trubisky and Co. have accomplished this facing the Dolphins (who they lost to in OT), the Patriots (who they very nearly upset), and the Jets (who they walloped 24-10). If Mack can come back healthy and return to the force he was in the early season, Chicago could field not only one of the league’s most watchable teams, but one of the best, too.

The Most Surprisingly Unwatchable Team: New England Patriots

At 19th on this list, the Patriots aren’t exactly unwatchable, but the fact that they’re even below average after eight games is a shock.

The problem is that the Patriots haven’t been generating very many big plays on offense, and on defense, the team has failed to rack up many sacks. The Patriots are one of the more run-heavy teams in football, rushing on 44 percent of their plays (10th most), per Sharp Football Stats. When they do pass, Brady is often dinking and dunking and has an average depth of target of just 7.5 yards (tied for 28th among qualified passers) per NFL Next Gen Stats. Adding Josh Gordon hasn’t yet given the team the downfield element the offense was lacking, which is probably why the Pats were reportedly looking to add a receiver at the trade deadline.

While Sunday night’s Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers matchup will be a must-watch game due to the legendary quarterbacks involved, there’s a good shot the on-field fireworks don’t live up to the off-field story lines.

The Team That Needs, for the Love of God, to Stop Punting: Cleveland Browns

I thought Baker Mayfield could give some life back to this Browns offense, but through five starts, that hasn’t been the case. Cleveland averages 7.38 punts per game while no other team is even above six.

Some of that is because the Browns have played in overtime a billion times this season [editor’s note: four times], but even stripping out their punts in OT, the Browns have still given the ball away more than any other team in the league. The problem is that Cleveland keeps backing itself into bad situations. The Browns have faced third down 125 times this season, the most of any team, and have converted those chances just 31.2 percent of the time, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. They’ve been playing the worst kind of football: not good enough, or even disastrous enough, to be entertaining. They’re just boring.

Cleveland cleared out its coaching staff this week, so maybe the team will fix some of its issues in the final half of the season. New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens is a Bruce Arians disciple, and Arians led some great offenses in Arizona with David Johnson, Carson Palmer, and Larry Fitzgerald. Let’s see what Kitchens has cooking:

Uh, OK. Maybe the Browns will just be bad until they inevitably hire Lincoln Riley.

The Team With the Turnover Problem: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers score touchdowns, produce big plays, and rarely punt. There’s just one issue: They cough up the ball more than any other team in the NFL. Tampa Bay has averaged 2.71 turnovers per game, while the next-closest teams (the 49ers, Jaguars, and Bills) have averaged just 2.25.

It doesn’t matter much who is under center, either. Jameis Winston has been the primary problem here, with an abysmal 10 interceptions in four games. But Ryan Fitzpatrick’s five picks in four starts isn’t great, either, and the team has lost an additional four fumbles, too.

The Bucs could have one of the more fun offenses in football with exciting, athletic playmakers like DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, and O.J. Howard. Instead, their games often turn into sloppy chaos. With a below-average defense, it’s no wonder the helter-skelter Bucs rank just 21st in watchability.

The City That Really Needs to Watch More Football: Los Angeles

The Rams currently rank second in watchability, and the Chargers are third. Despite that, Aaron Rodgers was able to pump up a sizeable portion of the crowd at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Sunday as his team faced off against the Rams:

And Sundays at the StubHub Center (the Chargers’ home turf) basically always look like this:

Only Kansas City has a more watchable football team than Los Angeles, and L.A. has two options for great football. Both of these teams look like playoff squads, and they both have real Super Bowl aspirations. If L.A. doesn’t care about the NFL right now, it may never care about it.

Most Watchable Second-Half Matchup: Chiefs “at” Rams, November 19

This is a no-brainer. Not only are the Chiefs and Rams the two most watchable teams in the league, but this game is flush with story lines. The two best teams in the NFL, with the two best offenses, and MVP candidates on each side. This game could be a Super Bowl preview, and we get it on Monday Night Football from Mexico City.

Go ahead and clear your calendar for this day immediately.

Least Watchable Second-Half Matchup: Jaguars at Bills, November 25

Can you believe that both of these teams made the playoffs last year? The Bills are certainly a long way from their postseason selves, having fielded the most abysmal offense in the league through the first half of the season. Buffalo could soon be playing its fourth quarterback of the year, too, as the team signed Matt Barkley on Wednesday after Derek Anderson left last week’s game with a concussion (Nathan Peterman is expected to start on Sunday against the Bears). It’s no wonder the Bills are the least watchable team in the sport.

But the Jaguars? Jacksonville ranked eighth in watchability in 2017, but this year the team has tumbled all the way down to 28th. The offense was never much to write home about last season, but the Jags were buoyed by an incredible defense—one that has cratered through eight weeks in 2018. #Sacksonville is somehow below average in both sacks and takeaways. The defense still ranks eighth in DVOA, but it’s nowhere near as fun to watch as it was last season. And as the team is currently deciding between Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler under center, it doesn’t look like the Jags will be appointment viewing in the second half of the season, either.

The Bills and Jags each have effective but relatively boring defenses and simply horrific offenses. Maybe this game will enter so-bad-it’s-good territory, but I certainly wouldn’t block out a chunk of time to watch it.