In this series of articles, I am going to attempt to help new fans of American football select their team of choice in the NFL as they begin following the fast growing sport. The teams have been split into four categories for your benefit;
Bandwagon teams – These are teams that the bandwagon fans are quick to jump on; teams that will likely have a lot of success in the coming years. Bandwagon teams do not have to have a rich history, but they do need to be able to win now. These teams will mostly have very talented rosters, and without a doubt they will have a talented starting quarterback. You’ll be interested in picking one of these teams if you don’t like watching your team lose.
Almost bandwagon teams – The name speaks for itself. These are teams that always have a chance to be successful, but who have not managed it consistently enough in recent years to merit a bandwagon following. Some will have great quarterbacks and poor teams, while others might have the rest of the team but not the quarterback. Whatever the case is, they show a lot of promise…
Optimists – These teams don’t look like they are capable of winning a Super Bowl any time soon, but in the uncertain climate of the NFL you never know. At least a few of these teams will likely make the playoffs in the next couple of years.
Tragedists – This is the basement of the NFL. These teams show little quality and little hope, and only fans interested in adopting the most desperate and tragic of franchises should look to find their new team here.
We all have our own special reasons for choosing a sports team. For anyone living outside America, geography doesn’t really come into it. We look, instead, at popularity of the team, style of play, colours, logos, mascots, individual players or anything else that peaks your attention. I myself landed on my NFL team (the New England Patriots) purely by accident. They were playing in the first game of American football that I ever watched on TV, and knowing nothing I selected them as my team simply because they had “England” in their name. It can often be that simple.
Not knowing what each of you will look at in deciding your team, I have tried to provide as much detail as possible. Today, we will be looking at the teams in the tragedists category…
Colours: Royal blue and red
Mascot: Billy Buffalo
Stadium: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Home City: Orchard Park, New York
Super Bowl wins: 0 (4 appearances)
Records over last 5 years: 28 wins, 52 losses, 0 playoff appearances
Best Players: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus
Bio: There isn’t a whole lot I can tell you about the Buffalo Bills that will endear them to you. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, a fourteen year stint of misery which no active NFL franchise can match. It has been particularly bad recently; the Bills have put up five consecutive double digit losing seasons and finished bottom of their division each time.
The Bills did have a successful period in franchise history, but even that is the most depressing form of success you could imagine. From 1990-1993 the Bills appeared in and lost four consecutive Super Bowls, their only four appearances in franchise history.
Buffalo has some talent on its roster. They have a strong defensive front and a dynamic running back in CJ Spiller. Their quarterback EJ Manual was a first round pick in 2013 and shows a little bit of promise. With New England quarterback Tom Brady a matter of years away from retirement, the AFC East division might be up for grabs and the Bills have enough talent to take it. History, however, would warn you against aligning yourself with a team that seems to have embraced losing as a way of life.
The Bills should be the preferred team of fans with any Canadian connections. The team plays one home game in Toronto each year to continue to connect with its northern neighbour fan base.
St Louis Rams
Colours: Blue and gold
Stadium: Edward Jones Dome
Home City: St Louis, Missouri
Super Bowl wins: 1 (3 appearances)
Records over last 5 years: 24 wins, 55 losses, 1 tie, 0 playoff appearances
Best Players: Robert Quinn, Jonny Hekker, Chris Long
Bio: At the turn of the century, the St Louis Rams were the most talented offensive team in football. Nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Turf”, the team won Super Bowl XXXIV on the back of the talents of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torrey Holt; all legitimate hall of fame caliber players.
Fortunes changed quickly for the Rams, however. After their latest Super Bowl appearance in 2001, St Louis has missed out on the playoffs in 10 of the 12 seasons. Their current 9 year playoff drought is the third worst in the league, and in the past seven years they haven’t even come close.
The Rams, however, seem to be followed by bad luck. Between 2007-2009, St Louis won only 5 games. They were the laughing stock of the NFL, even though they played in the NFC West, which was widely considered to be the weakest division in football.
Recently however, and certainly in the last two years, the Rams have improved immensely. They have a ferocious pass rush, dynamic receivers and one of the youngest rosters in the league. They also have the second overall pick in this year’s draft thanks to a trade with the Washington Redskins in 2012. Everything about them is promising.
The problem, though, is that now the NFC West is no longer the weakest division in football. Now, it is almost certainly the strongest. Seattle and San Francisco lead the division, with San Francisco having made the Super Bowl last year and Seattle appearing in it this year. Behind them are the Cardinals, a team that would probably have won half of the divisions in the NFL this past season but who didn’t even make the playoffs because of the strength of the NFC West.
Behind these teams, the Rams don’t stand much of a chance. They have a talented roster, but no team in the NFL has a harder path to the playoffs each and every year for the foreseeable future.
Colours: Brown and orange
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium
Home City: Cleveland, Ohio
Super Bowl wins: 0 (0 appearances)
Records over last 5 years: 23 wins, 57 losses, 0 playoff appearances
Best Players: Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, Joe Haden
Bio: Only four teams in the NFL have failed to appear in a Super Bowl; the Texans, Jaguars, Lions and Browns. The Jaguars have only existed since 1995 and the Texans have only existed since 2002, making the Lions and the Browns the two least successful franchises of the NFL era.
In their last 16 seasons, the Browns have one playoff appearance and 13 double digit losing seasons. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1994, and they haven’t won their division since 1989. They haven’t won more than 5 games in a season since 2007, and have the worst record in the NFL over the past five seasons.
What must be so frustrating to Browns fans is that they have talent on both sides of the ball. Their starting receiver, Josh Gordon, led the NFL this season in receiving yards despite missing two games with a suspension. Jordan Cameron, their receiving tight end, ranked 6th among tight ends for touchdown receptions this past season and went to his first pro bowl. Their starting left tackle, Joe Thomas, is widely believed to be the best pass protector in football.
Defensively, they are just as talented. Joe Haden, their starting cornerback, routinely shuts down the opposition’s best receiving threat. TJ Ward, the starting safety, just went to his first pro bowl and is becoming one of the better run stopping safeties in the game. Their first round pick from 2013, Barkevious Mingo, has the potential to develop into a dynamic pass rusher.
The problem for Cleveland is that they have no talent at two key positions; quarterback and running back. The team started three quarterbacks in 2013, and had 32 year old free agent Willis McGahee as their primary runner from midway through the season. Without addressing those positions, expect this lack of success to continue in one of America’s most championship-starved cities.
Colours: Silver and black
Mascot: Raider Rusher
Stadium: O.co Coliseum
Home City: Oakland, California
Super Bowl wins: 3 (4 appearances)
Records over last 5 years: 29 wins, 51 losses, 0 playoff appearances
Best Players: Marcel Reece, Denarius Moore, Tyvon Branch
Bio: The Oakland Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002. They have suffered through 11 straight seasons of 8 or less wins including six seasons with 4 wins or less. They haven’t had a playoff berth since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002, and that is the second longest active streak in the NFL behind the Buffalo Bills.
The reason for the Raiders lack of success is simple; they have been the worst run team in the NFL for the past decade. They have failed to make the right decisions at quarterback or with the coach, leading to 18 starting quarterbacks and 7 head coaches in a ten year period. That can never translate to success on the field.
Some of the coaching decisions have been truly disturbing. In Tom Cable’s first two seasons as Raiders coach, the team won 5 games each season. In 2010, Cable engineered the best season the Raiders had had since the Super Bowl season in 2002, judging by record and most statistical categories, and he went 6-0 in the division for the first time in franchise history. He was fired at the end of the season.
If they wanted to fire Tom Cable, the year to do that was after the 2009 season when the team failed to make any improvements. To do it after the 2010 season, when Cable had dragged his team to an 8-8 record, the best the franchise had seen in 8 years, was ludicrous.
They have made even worse decisions with player personnel. In 2007 they drafted JaMarcus Russell with the number one overall pick, and he isn’t even in the league anymore. It is considered one of the top 5 draft busts in NFL history. In 2009, the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward Bey with the 9th overall selection. After 4 seasons of disappointment in Oakland, Hayward Bey was released. These are just two of countless examples of bad decisions from the worst run organisation in the NFL.
The future doesn’t look great for the Raiders. They have very few star players on the roster, and those that are seem to be injury prone (Denarius Moore missed 3 games this season, Jared Veldheer missed 11 and Darren McFadden missed 6). What’s more, 18 of the Raiders players are unrestricted free agents this summer, meaning they could lose even more talent before the 2014 season gets underway.
Only a very brave man or a fool would choose to support the Oakland Raiders in their current condition. However, despite their lack of success Oakland is still considered an intimidating place for opposition teams to travel to, and their fan-base is one of the most lively and passionate around.
Colours: Black, gold, teal and white
Mascot: Jaxson de Ville
Stadium: EverBank Field
Home City: Jacksonville, Florida
Super Bowl wins: 0 (0 appearances)
Records over last 5 years: 26 wins, 54 losses, 0 playoff appearances
Best Players: Paul Posluszny, Maurice Jones Drew, Cecil Shorts III
Bio: Jacksonville Jaguars began life as an expansion team in 1995. They began well, earning 6 playoff spots in the team’s first 13 years of existence, no mean feat for a new team in a league as competitive as the NFL.
That success has slipped recently. The Jaguars haven’t been to the playoffs in 6 years, which is the longest drought in their franchise history. They have six straight seasons without a winning record, and have won only 9 games in their last 3 years combined. The problem for the Jaguars is mainly their lack of a franchise quarterback, although the rest of the roster is still regarded as one of the least talented in the NFL.
Holding the third pick in the 2014 NFL draft and with a new owner in Shahid Khan, things could start to brighten up for Jacksonville in years to come. They have committed to playing one regular season game for the next three seasons at Wembley Stadium in England, hoping to become that country’s team of choice and expand their exposure across the world. Right now, there aren’t a lot of reasons to pick up the Jaguars as your team for the future. But in a couple of years there just might be.