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The 2019 RedZone Power Rankings

It’s not only about winning games. It’s about entertaining the football fan with the short attention span. From the sorry Bengals to the greatness of Lamar Jackson, here are the best and worst from the NFL’s RedZone Channel

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL’s RedZone channel, launched a decade ago, serves an important function: Bring football to those with very short attention spans, like myself. It is football designed to give the biggest adrenaline rush. There’s a comedic trope wondering why airlines don’t make the entire plane out of the material used in black boxes. The NFL sort of did: They made an entire channel with nothing but the good parts of football: scoring, the hint of scoring, turnovers. The worst parts, which include long challenges, unwieldy announcer rants, and commercials, happen in another universe, as far as the RedZone viewer is concerned. I care deeply about RedZone, and that is why, for the fourth straight year, I am analyzing the best and worst teams to appear on the service. Look, when they go Triple Box at around 4 p.m. ET, there’s no such thing as a bad team, but some are better than others. From previous seasons, we’ve established some rules on what makes a good RedZone team:

  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. 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.

With that in mind, on with the list …

32. Washington Redskins

31. New York Jets

30. New York Giants

29. Cincinnati Bengals

The four horsemen of bad RedZone apocalypse: There is very little to separate these four teams, but I did so based on the relative amount of on-field entertainment each provides. There is nothing, save for wide receiver Terry McLaurin worth watching on the Redskins. Off the field, the team is an unfun bore, coached by Bill Callahan. There have been scandals ranging from, “We won’t fire our terrible team president” to “our best player, Trent Williams, is feuding with us and everyone pretty much agrees Williams is correct.” There is nothing interesting about this team.

On Slow News Day a couple of weeks ago, RedZone host Andrew Siciliano talked about the social media furor he caused every time the channel showed any of the Jets-Redskins game last month. Essentially, fans found it offensive. I understand the purpose of the channel. I understand the obligation the channel has to show scoring opportunities, and even I was offended when the game was shown.

The Jets are mildly funny but most of the fun takes place away from the RedZone cameras. For instance, RedZone will not broadcast Le’Veon Bell bowling a 251 after being ruled out with the flu:

Or Adam Gase’s intensely lit, impossibly grim weekly press conferences:

On the field they have been so wildly inconsistent—they’ve beaten the Cowboys but lost to the Patriots so badly it led to Sam Darnold “seeing ghosts”—but mostly, they are just boring. Darnold has thrown four red zone picks this year, tied for the league lead, which is a type of entertainment. But it’s not nearly enough.

As for the Giants, not even a late Eli Manning resurgence could erase this:

At least you get this:

Daniel Jones is the type of player whose turnovers lead to Siciliano or Scott Hanson saying, “Wild play we gotta show you in New York …” before narrating a 30-yard scoop-and-score. Keep an eye on Jones as a potential RedZone MVP in a few years if he gets better and keeps fumbling. That could be a very specific type of RedZone excitement.

The Bengals rank ahead of these teams because, well, they are funnier. Down eight, midway through the fourth quarter and inside the 5-yard line, the Bengals called a draw with quarterback Andy Dalton. He did not make it. The Bengals have started Ryan Finley at quarterback in three games this year. Their most fun offensive talent, A.J. Green, is not playing after a training camp injury. Also, the Bengals get the nod because of this:

28. Miami Dolphins

This team is bad, but they’ve got Ryan Fitzpatrick, a RedZone legend, and this:

27. Denver Broncos

26. Detroit Lions

These are two teams that have been elite RedZone contenders this decade, with different levels of actual team success. The 2013 Broncos, one of the best offenses in history, were great watches in the early days of the channel. The Lions have, throughout the decade and particularly in 2016, been involved in so many completely off-the-wall games that they merit discussion with the top RedZone teams. Both teams are now boring and have played multiple quarterbacks this year. Broncos rookie Drew Lock has shown some promise, and the Broncos have been playing well of late, but neither of these teams is watchable yet.

25. Atlanta Falcons

We saw how good Matt Ryan can be in 2016 during his MVP season—he should always be a top-half RedZone quarterback. Wide receiver Julio Jones should also catch more than 65 percent of his red zone targets. The Falcons have the talent to be alongside some of the great RedZone franchises of the decade, but have failed to reach their entertainment potential. The less said about them the better.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has the actual worst red zone scoring percentage this season. Mason Rudolph, when he plays, has the lowest average air yards in the NFL. It is the height of visually uninteresting football. The Steelers deserve massive praise for cranking out a nice season, and they deserve praise for averaging just 5.3 plays per drive, among the lowest in the sport. At least they aren’t wasting time.

23. Chicago Bears

Mitchell Trubisky has thrown four red zone interceptions this year, tied with Darnold for the most. There’s not a lot to say about the Chicago Bears.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

Only four teams score less than the Jaguars’ 1.5 points per drive. Literally, the only reason they aren’t lumped in with the four horsemen of the apocalypse ranked 28th through 32nd is the brief, glorious few weeks where Gardner Minshew II looked great.

21. Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns were my pick for no. 1 last year. It is almost mind-boggling how far they have fallen in a calendar year, but it can be summed up thusly: Baker Mayfield’s red zone completion percentage this season is 38.9 percent. No one with more than 20 throws in the red zone has been worse. Last year he completed nearly 65 percent of his throws in that area and, not surprisingly, the Browns were one of the most efficient offenses in football as soon as Mayfield took over midseason. The Browns are the perfect crappy RedZone team: Just good enough for their games to matter, huge stars, and then … nothing. Frankly, a 20-slot drop seems too light a punishment.

20. Indianapolis Colts

Competent team, great coaches, solid players, great front office. Boring 2019 team. The Colts are tied for fifth in the NFL in plays per drive, but 13th in scoring percentage, meaning they are decent at creating drives that go nowhere. It was a weird year: Andrew Luck retired in the preseason and Jacoby Brissett may or may not be the long-term answer. It’s hard to judge a franchise’s ability to excite in a year like this.

19. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were no. 1 in 2016 for their incredible season of comebacks and exciting plays. They have been much better in 2019 than in 2018, but Tyrann Mathieu puts it best:

Derek Carr’s 6.5 yards in the air on an average pass is the lowest among quarterbacks who have played the full season. It’s not a football felony to be this low (Drew Brees is lower) but unfortunately, the Raiders offense doesn’t have Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara.

18. Philadelphia Eagles

Not just bad, boring.

17. Carolina Panthers

A lost season and a lost team: It is a shame that Christian McCaffrey, one of the most exciting players to watch, will likely never be paired with a healthy Cam Newton. If it had been timed differently, we’d be looking at a historically good RedZone team. At least we got this:

16. Los Angeles Rams

I am not mad, just disappointed. The Rams started a minor offensive revolution in football over a two-year period, all of Sean McVay’s best friends were hired, and then the Rams stopped being exciting. More than that, they’ve been confounding:

When a team goes from great to average from one season to the next, the fan pays the price because they are scheduled in so many big, marquee games that we are forced to watch. I believe in McVay’s ability to get exciting again—even in a stacked NFC West—but for the most part I’ve wanted them off my television this year.

15. Arizona Cardinals

14. Dallas Cowboys

There is a good chance that both of these teams will rank in the top five next year. Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray has a real shot to be one of the most exciting playmakers in the sport:

And the Cowboys will, one day, not have Jason Garrett as head coach. They will presumably still have Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. The day Garrett leaves, the Cowboys will become a better watch. If he leaves and someone like Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley comes in, well, they could be in real contention for the top three.

13. Minnesota Vikings

12. San Francisco 49ers

11. Green Bay Packers

All three of these teams are from the same genre: good teams who don’t do anything so well or so poorly that they are must-watch when they pop on the screen. 49ers running back Matt Breida was the fastest player in the league at any point this season when he ran 22.3 miles per hour, which is nice.

The Vikings’ Dalvin Cook is one of the most talented running backs in football. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can still make some of the most exciting plays in football. These teams aren’t elite RedZone teams, so they’ll have to settle for contention for the actual Super Bowl. Tough break.

10. Buffalo Bills

JOSH ALLEN:

Not only is Allen avoiding tackles better than anyone but Lamar Jackson, he also has just enough inconsistency to keep things interesting:

The Bills are a good team, and Allen is a better quarterback than I and many others thought he would be, and he is an unstoppable RedZone force because he is still capable of anything when the ball leaves his hand. Anything.

9. New England Patriots

Whenever I’ve interviewed the RedZone hosts and ask what makes a bad RedZone team, the answer usually centers on teams that waste our time before scoring opportunities. Broadly speaking, a team like the Browns, which can’t complete a pass, is in this category. The Patriots are the greatest team of all time and they have the best quarterback of all time. Their legacy as a good RedZone watch, historically, is secured. They are, however, a bad RedZone offense this year: The Patriots have visited the red zone 52 times this year, tied for most in football, and have scored a touchdown just 48 percent of those times. The Ravens have been in the red zone the same amount and have scored 67 percent of the time. The Bucs score 63 percent of the time, the Seahawks score 61 percent. No team ranked in the top ten of red zone visits scores less often than the Patriots. Only the Redskins, Jags, Cardinals, Bengals, and Steelers have a lower touchdown rate overall. Brady has, at his best, been the most exciting passer in football. He’s not at his best in 2019.

So: The Patriots are a good RedZone watch because they are compelling, Bill Belichick gives good reaction shots, and the defense does enough to make things interesting:

8. Houston Texans

Are they as efficient as they could be? Nah, but Deshaun Watson has a standing spot in the top 10 on this list until further notice.

7. Tennessee Titans

When I wrote this column last year, I asked for reader submissions, and the Titans were one of the most popular teams fans complained about. From reader Matt D.: “Every time they’re shown it’s depressing, even if they’re scoring. Unbelievable turnovers and sacks, unimpressive play-calling, the least explosive scoring plays you’ll ever see—it’s all there. I can’t imagine being a Titans fan viewing the team through the RedZone lens. It’s atrocious.”

No team made a bigger leap on RedZone watchability than the Baltimore Ravens this year—who started 2018 with Joe Flacco at quarterback and are about to end 2019 with one of the most exciting and efficient offenses in the history of the sport. But the Titans are on the short list. This seems counterintuitive: Marcus Mariota is one of the most electric players in the history of college football. When he was drafted, it was within the realm of possibility that Mariota would become a RedZone MVP: a must-watch dynamo who could run or pass, as he did in college. Instead, he was often injured, never found his offensive groove, and was replaced by Ryan Tannehill this season, who has been a roaring success. Tannehill has not just had success from a team perspective, but also an entertainment one: He’s one of the top red zone passers in the league, completing 68 percent of his passes. He’s completing his passes everywhere.

Then there’s Derrick Henry, who is playing as well as anyone in the sport:

6. New Orleans Saints

See the Eagles, Philadelphia.

They have not yet reached the RedZone pinnacles of 2018, when two players had over 20 receptions in the red zone, and both of those players had a catch rate of over 80 percent in the red zone—and both of those players, Thomas and Kamara, played for the Saints. However, Thomas still has six touchdowns inside the 20 this year, and is in the midst of a historic season. The Saints are doing what they’ve done the entire decade: scoring efficiently and not wasting anyone’s time.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

In October, Rotoworld’s Patrick Daugherty, one of the best football Twitter follows on the planet, made an observation: “How is every single Chargers game the EXACT same.” An astute point. “Shit sad,” one Twitter user wrote in a quote tweet. This is notable because the Twitter user was Keenan Allen, the Chargers’ best offensive player and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. The “EXACT sameness” of it all is, by now, clear:

The Chargers have a chance to win every game late and rarely do—this is now the purgatory that Philip Rivers is stuck in, one that is now joked about during every Chargers game. When a team crosses a threshold in which its wide receiver is weighing in on the sameness of its futility, things are bad. The Chargers are fifth in the NFL in percentage of drives that end in scores at 42.3 percent, and fifth in percentage of drives that end in turnovers. Their drives are everything all of the time.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

It is almost incredible how much we’ve forgotten about Mahomes because he’s been banged up and his Chiefs may not get a playoff bye. The Chiefs were no. 1 on this power ranking in 2017, with quarterback Alex Smith, when Andy Reid unveiled some of the best college-influenced schemes the league has ever seen. Mahomes, due to a knee, ankle, and hand injury, has not exactly been himself this year, but he’s still better and more exciting than almost anyone else:

Mahomes’s watchability rating, like his overall rating as a player, will be through the roof for the next decade. He will provide mind-boggling excitement for the remainder of his career, even when banged up. The Chiefs are fourth this year due only to the glut of watchable teams in an unusually watchable season.

3. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have never played a normal game, as evidenced by the number of plays they have had where their win probability shifts dramatically:

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The point of RedZone is not good football. It is entertainment.

The Bucs lead the league in drives that end in turnovers at 19.3 percent. Jameis Winston turns the ball over and takes sacks at alarming rates. Winston throws the ball 10.2 yards in the air on an average pass. This team gives up more points than all but one team in the NFL. It was engineered in a lab to play exciting football. This is the team that gave us this:

In a lot of years, this team would be number one, except …

1. Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are the only NFL team to score on over half of their drives. If an alien came down tomorrow and asked to see a football team to learn what the sport is, we’d take them to Baltimore. When John Harbaugh told Lamar Jackson he was changing the sport, he was not speaking for the team or the staff, he was speaking for the TV viewer, too:

There is not really any part of the Ravens that is unwatchable. There are the missed tackles:

The lack of special teams:

This team goes for it on fourth down because it’s analytically sound. And true to the nature of the channel, Jackson converts in the red zone, completing 60 percent of his passes inside the 20, and 60 percent of his passes inside the 10. This is separate from his running talents. He has had either a 100 passer rating, 100 rushing yards, or both, in every game since the first week of October. And when the Ravens don’t have the ball, we can watch their visually pleasing brand of defense:

It almost makes me want to turn off RedZone and just watch the Ravens. Almost.