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The 2020 NFL RedZone Rankings

Welcome to the only NFL rankings where the Chiefs and the Chargers go head-to-head for the top spot.   

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL’s RedZone Channel is, in an increasingly polarized world, one thing we can all agree on. It is not a completely different version of football: The sport is a game of nuances and moments between the moments. The RedZone Channel is none of those things. It’s just pure, uncut offense that, if it starts to drag, will be replaced by something better. It is an action movie with almost no dialogue and more explosions. It is, in short, perfect. And that’s why, every year, we rank the best and the worst teams on RedZone. Here are the criteria:

  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.

Let’s get to the list:

32. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ Week 15 game against the Niners was recently flexed out of Sunday Night Football night in favor of a Browns-Giants game. “Can you imagine, man, the Dallas Cowboys flexed out for the Cleveland Browns?” Michael Irvin said. “Honestly, that’s a new low. That’s just absolutely a new low.” New lows are a recurring theme for the Cowboys this year. They were bad prior to Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury in October, but they have run the gauntlet of humiliations since then. They started a quarterback, Ben DiNucci, who was so bad that owner Jerry Jones compared him to Kendall Hinton, the practice squad wide receiver the Broncos were forced to start in Week 12 when all of their quarterbacks were unavailable due to COVID-19. Zeke Elliott, who signed a six-year, $90 million deal through 2026, has been brutal this year (his dead cap is just $6.7 million in 2023, so they can cut him relatively painlessly then). Dallas, despite having a veteran coach in Mike McCarthy and a roster it expected to contend, is unable to succeed even in one of the worst divisions in modern history. Now, the Cowboys have been abandoned by the one group that has stuck with them through thick and thin: television executives. This is a team, mind you, that is so popular that even in its putrid condition, it commanded the season’s biggest television audience for its Thanksgiving game. When the Cowboys have lost TV executives, they’ve lost everything.

31. Atlanta Falcons

This is the first of many teams whose ranking is complicated. Early-season Atlanta, coached by Dan Quinn and routinely blowing games that seemed sealed, was a must-watch RedZone team. How could you miss the potential for history in every fourth quarter?

Under interim coach Raheem Morris, however, things have gotten dull. The Falcons are a special kind of bad in the red zone—a team that wastes time. Of the five worst red-zone teams this year, they’ve spent the most time there, making 17 more trips than the Jets. Matt Ryan is the only regular starter who completes under 50 percent of his attempts inside the 20-yard line and inside the 10. Being that inefficient inside the 10 is a particularly grim marker: Four quarterbacks are above 70 percent inside the 10. Carson Wentz—Carson Wentz!—has completed 72 percent of his passes inside the 10 this year.

30. New York Jets

I want to briefly give props to Joe Flacco: 19 percent of his pass attempts are deep balls, best in the NFL among players who have 100 dropbacks this year. Now, on to everything else. The Jets score a touchdown on 40 percent of their red-zone trips. This is not only the worst rate in the league, but it seems impossible. In the past few years, the Jets have, at times, been funny, but they’ve ceased even to make us laugh this year. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been fired, and with him go Gregg Williams jokes, one of the silver linings of the season, and his propensity to play so aggressively that the Jets accidentally become visually appealing. The only joke that remains is the franchise itself. This is a bad team to watch.

29. Cincinnati Bengals

Last year, I dubbed the worst four teams on this list the Four Horsemen of the RedZone Apocalypse. They were Washington, the Jets, Giants, and Bengals. Washington and the Giants moved out of this zone this year. The Jets are firmly still in it. The Bengals had a real chance to get out of it and into watchability when they selected Joe Burrow first overall. And in September and October, they looked vaguely watchable.

Since Burrow’s injury, they, are, uh, not.

28. Chicago Bears

It’s not the notes you play in jazz, it’s the ones that you don’t play. The Bears can be described the same way. The only entertainment here is the subtext. The quarterbacks who are not on the roster make everything about the Bears’ quarterback situation funnier. Every huge mistake the franchise has made in the last few years hangs over them like a fog. But you can’t see that on a play-to-play basis, which makes them a terrible RedZone team. The only thing worth watching is who gets fired and who gets benched. This is entertaining but not visually appealing. They are a funny team to tweet or read about and a terrible team to watch. At least they have Allen Robinson. Chicago isn’t last on this list because a late-season Mitchell Trubisky run, potentially forcing the Bears to bring him back, would actually be one of the most entertaining things of the season. Fingers crossed.

A few years ago, NFL Network’s RedZone host, Scott Hanson, told me that because offenses can score from anywhere on the field now, the channel has had to get more precise in how and when to present each touchdown. You can’t predict a 60-yard touchdown in the same way you can a 5-yarder, yet 60-yard touchdowns are increasingly common in this era of football. The Bears are something different: a threat to score from nowhere, a slog no matter where they are on the field. An unwatchable mess.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

I award the Jaguars points for such a transparent tank that almost anything good they do is an accident. People around the league think the team’s general manager vacancy is actually a pretty good job. One day, we might laugh at how bad this year was. Well, we’re laughing now, but we might laugh in a good way.

26. Detroit Lions

Like the Falcons, the Lions reliably blew games to the point that you couldn’t keep your eyes off them. You had to watch them if they were in the double box. You never knew what was coming next.

And, like the Falcons, once they fired their bad coach, things got a little more boring. The Lions are tied for the league lead for the most red-zone touchdowns, so that’s something. Even Matthew Stafford, the king of creating something from absolutely nothing, has mostly failed to create any good content this year.

25. New York Giants

Last season, Daniel Jones led regular starters in what Football Outsiders calls “failed completions”—the short explanation is that he throws less than the ideal yardage on every down. This season, the Giants are one of the worst red-zone teams in football, scoring on half of their trips. There hasn’t been a lot of watchable football in New York.

The Giants deserve kudos for not being a disaster: Joe Judge seems like a decent coach, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has gotten the most out of players like Jabrill Peppers.

They have a long way to go, however, to be anything other than mediocre. When Hanson or host of DirecTV’s RedZone, Andrew Siciliano, does cut to the Giants, there’s always a chance that Jones is about to fumble, which he does at a historic rate. But that’s simply not enough to get anyone excited when this team is on the channel.

24. Denver Broncos

The Broncos turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their drives, by far the most in the NFL, which at least keeps things interesting. It’s not all bad. Drew Lock leads the NFL in intended air yards per pass attempt—he’s the only QB averaging over 9 yards per attempt. That’s something to watch. Hinton, the aforementioned practice squad receiver who started a game for Denver at quarterback, made for one of the most thrilling concepts in a game this year. But that game, like the Broncos overall, was better in concept than in reality. The Hinton game, through no fault of his, was an unwatchable mess. And this Broncos team isn’t much more watchable on a normal week.

23. Carolina Panthers

If I could buy stock in a team improving its ranking next year, I’d probably buy Carolina’s. If offensive coordinator Joe Brady stays, and running back Christian McCaffrey is healthy, they might push for the top 10. For now, it’s mostly Teddy Bridgewater playing mistake-free football and little else.

At least Matt Rhule’s smock shakes things up.

22. New England Patriots

I suppose New England would be high on your list if you’re into Pats schadenfreude. The Patriots are not particularly good, and they’re not nearly as good as they should be in the red zone. Cam Newton is tied with Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook for most rushing touchdowns in the red zone. He leads the league in touchdowns inside the 5. But New England is still one of the most inefficient teams in the red zone and simply doesn’t score enough to be worth watching.

21. Houston Texans

It is hard to believe that the Texans played one of the most entertaining games of the calendar year in a wild win over Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in last season’s wild-card game. You should watch Deshaun Watson every time he drops back—something special can always happen—but his franchise has stacked the deck against him. Bill O’Brien spent the last few years misunderstanding value and talent until Watson was left basically alone on offense. He’s still worth watching, and he’s scrambled 53 times this year, by far the most in the league. That’s exciting. It’s also part of the problem.

20. San Francisco 49ers

Injuries have dealt a huge blow to the Niners’ watchability and their success. George Kittle breaking tackles is fun. That defense destroying dudes is fun. Jimmy Garoppolo getting the ball in playmakers’ hands and letting them run through people’s faces is fun. At their best, the 49ers play a brand of bullyball that is aesthetically pleasing. But because they’ve been so decimated by injuries, I do not want them on my television.

19. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders are not unwatchable, but they’re not nearly as watchable as they could be. Las Vegas leads the NFL with 13 field goals from 20 to 29 yards. By comparison, the Packers have one field goal from that range despite being near the end zone much more frequently. The Raiders have not attempted a two-point conversion this year. If they have one saving grace, it’s that they are the only team to allow points on over half their drives this year. They have the pieces to get more exciting: Henry Ruggs III and Josh Jacobs are watchable. Derek Carr is fine. I’m OK with this team in a triple box. Maybe a double box.

18. Washington Football Team

Alex Smith’s completed air yards per pass, 3.9, is last in the league. No one is all that close to that mark. This team does not play an arresting style of football. But it does have individual talents worth watching: Chase Young is starting to take over games.

Terry McLaurin is one of the NFL’s best young receivers.

This team’s watchability heyday has yet to come. But it’s coming.

17. Minnesota Vikings

This week, Bills star Stefon Diggs revealed he wanted to leave Minnesota because of its run-heavy offense.

Diggs is right that the Vikings prefer a more conservative style, but they can be watchable in spurts, which is the point of this list. Only Aaron Rodgers has more deep completions this season than Kirk Cousins, according to Pro Football Focus. Rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson is a revelation. Dalvin Cook is one of the most exciting players with the ball in his hands.

16. Philadelphia Eagles

Last year, I wrote of the Eagles: “Not just bad, boring.” They are still bad, but they are no longer boring. There are two Eagles teams. One can be described thusly:

The other can be described with this:

The Wentz version would be in contention for dead last on this list. The Hurts version is too new to make declarations about, but it exhibits some competence. Pro Football Focus’s Seth Galina made the case this week that the Eagles improved across the board with Hurts as the starter. The Hurts-led version of the Eagles is clearly better and has a very high watchability ceiling.

15. Indianapolis Colts

A fine team with great players. Not particularly exciting unless we had a live feed of this:

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A few years ago, I talked to Siciliano about the RedZone Channel era of the NFL. He mentioned that if there’s a Mount Rushmore, the first two names on the list are Tom Brady and Drew Brees. These two, he explained, always deliver. When they are on, things will happen. In Tampa, however, the things that are happening are not all that good. Twenty percent of Brady’s throws are labeled as bad throws by Pro Football Reference, third-worst in the league. His deep passing problems late in this season are well documented.

The Bucs offense will probably click at some point—there’s too much talent to not improve by January, and Brady and Bruce Arians are too good at their jobs not to figure it out. I just don’t want to watch them until it’s figured out.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

Well, this is a type of watchability.

The Steelers blitz at one of the highest rates in the NFL and they pressure and knock down quarterbacks more than anyone in the league. At different points this season, they have had weapons who have looked like legitimate stars, like Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, before he started dropping passes. Although they are a generally pleasant team to watch, Ben Roethlisberger is simply very limited in what he can do.

On defense, Pittsburgh has playmakers like Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt to spice things up, but they don’t offset how unfun it is to see Big Ben hobbling around. This is a very good team with a real chance of a playoff run. That doesn’t mean you should be excited when RedZone cuts to them.

12. Cleveland Browns

The idea of the Browns winning games is more exciting than watching the Browns win games. Baker Mayfield has had six games with fewer than 200 yards passing, which is partly attributable to the weather Cleveland has played in, and partly due to a change in their style of play. Browns fans absolutely do not care whether it looks particularly pretty as long as they make their first playoff appearance in almost 20 years. But this list cares. In 2018, the Browns were ranked no. 1 in these rankings. “The Browns will not make the playoffs,” I wrote then. “Mayfield is 6-6 as a starter and he’ll have to settle for being hyped up for the next nine months. But the Browns accomplished something as impressive in 2018: They are fun as hell to watch.” The Browns have gotten more boring since that chaotic season. (Gregg Williams was their coach!) They’ve also gotten much, much better. They’ll take that.

11. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have a good chance to compete for this list’s no. 1 spot in future seasons. Kliff Kingsbury’s play-calling has been strange this year, and Kyler Murray has been slightly banged up in recent games. Still, Arizona plays an appealing brand of football. Murray has the most pass attempts in the league on RPOs and is second to Lamar Jackson in rushing attempts by a quarterback. Kyler has the capability to be one of the league’s best quarterbacks and soon.

There’s also this keeping the Cardinals out of the top 10:

10. Baltimore Ravens

It pains me to put the Ravens, last year’s top-ranked team, this low. Last year I wrote: “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.” That was very much true a year ago. Now we’d take them to Kansas City. Or Green Bay. Or Buffalo (we gotta get the aliens to a Bills tailgate). The offense has looked stagnant at times this season. Lamar Jackson has questioned the predictability of the team’s play-calling, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman has come under fire. But we have to watch for one reason: When Jackson drops back, there is a chance that we are about to see the coolest thing we’ve ever seen.

9. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins create fun. They force turnovers on 17 percent of their defensive snaps, the highest rate in the league. They are allowing the second-fewest points. On offense, Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL in aggressive throws. They are a fun, young team competing for the playoffs sooner than anyone thought. Let’s watch this team!

8. Los Angeles Rams

Sean McVay is back. Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has one of the most interesting defenses in the sport. And the team does enough to make Jared Goff look OK:

A bonus: The stadium legitimately looks cool on television!

Also this:

7. New Orleans Saints

Let’s say this up top: If Jameis Winston started in place of the injured Drew Brees, the Saints might be no. 1 on this list. Instead, it’s Taysom Hill, a different type of entertainment. Hill makes far fewer mistakes than Winston—who threw 30 interceptions last season and somehow still led the league in interceptions that should have been thrown. Taysom Hill averages 9.3 yards per scramble. Among regular starters, that is behind only Newton. He is getting better as a passer:

Brees will likely return at some point and bring a higher level of competence to a team with exciting players like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. For now, just enjoy the weirdness. It’s not Jameis, but it’s the next best thing.

6. Tennessee Titans

The ingredients for a great game: terrible pass rush and letting teams stay in it by allowing them to convert third downs. There is an unpredictability to everything the Titans do, coupled with the fact that A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry can do basically anything they want at any time.

Henry is tied for the NFL lead with 11 rushing touchdowns in the red zone, so he gets the job done there. More importantly he can do this from anywhere on the field:

5. Seattle Seahawks

I don’t actually remember what prompted me to tweet “The Seahawks have literally never played in a normal game” last November. It seemed like an obvious statement during a pretty wild 49ers-Seahawks game. The reason it connected with Seahawks fans is that it is their reality. It turns out Seattle simply doesn’t play normal games. The data backs this up.

Per The Wall Street Journal in January 2020:

“On 53 plays this season, Seattle’s win probability in a given game either increased or decreased by at least 15 percent. That wasn’t just the most in the NFL. It was leagues beyond the norm. The league average team had only 26.6 plays that created that much change, or around the Seahawks. The next closest team, the 49ers, had 47, or a difference of more than 10 percent.”

What’s important here is that the Seahawks’ games are getting weirder: Seattle’s defense is worse this year and its offense is better. Russell Wilson is better than ever, yet he leads the league in picks inside the 10-yard line (three), which is enough to keep things interesting. The Seahawks are getting more exciting. They are getting less normal. I’ll take all of that you got.

4. Buffalo Bills

Ahem.

...

3. Green Bay Packers

Hanson once told me that the worst RedZone teams are the ones who get there and then waste time with no efficiency. The Packers are definitely not that. Davante Adams leads the NFL in receptions inside the 10, catching 81 percent of his passes. He’s tied for first with Mike Evans in touchdowns inside the 10 and second in touchdowns inside the 20. Aaron Rodgers has the best completion percentage among regular starters in the red zone. He leads the NFL in red zone touchdowns with 28, three more than Russell Wilson. Unsurprisingly, he has zero interceptions there, either.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

I have written, conservatively, tens of thousands of words about the Chiefs since the start of the 2018 season—about Patrick Mahomes’s ability to make miracles look normal, or his ability to correct mistakes in mid-drive or mid-play. But no description can match seeing it for oneself:

A lead isn’t a lead against the Chiefs, and that’s why they are incredible to watch. They can feature any player they want, whether it’s Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, or whomever else, and score quickly and emphatically. They are the perfect offense.

1. Los Angeles Chargers

The two most important days of your life, the saying goes, is the day you’re born and the day you figure out why. If you’ve wondered why the Chargers exist—a team mostly unwanted by the city they play in, and who have contributed almost nothing to the greater good of the sport in recent years—we are getting closer to finding the answer. They are the perfect cocktail of football entertainment. Justin Herbert looks like he’s going to be one of the league’s best passers for years to come, but he’s been surrounded by so many little disasters that he not only doesn’t win, he aggressively loses. The Chargers do things like this:

Or this:

This week, The Wall Street Journal detailed that, statistically, the Chargers have by far the most horrible losses in the sport. The same paper also found that in 2016, the Chargers lost four consecutive games in which they had win probabilities in the third quarter or later of 77.9 percent, 84.7 percent, and 99.9 percent twice. The WSJ found, incredibly, that the Chargers had a 1-in-30 million odds of losing all four of those games given those circumstances.

Since then, they have changed quarterbacks, cities, and coaches. They have promise. They also have a purpose. To play the most entertaining football in the league.