NFL

The NFL’s 5 most exciting teams to watch on TV

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One more month. That’s all you’ve got left, football fans. So it’s time to make it count.

Whether at the sports bar or flipping through DirecTV channels on the couch, certain franchises just make for better television. Why spend another Sunday watching the Jacksonville Jaguars hand the football to opposing defenses for four quarters? Why bother with the 49ers in the midst of an 11-game losing streak and torn between starting Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert at quarterback?

Great teams aren’t locks, either. The Patriots are unmistakably awesome, but they win every week with such ruthless, calculated precision that it’s almost become boring. As for the 8-4 Giants, even with Odell Beckham Jr., they rank 30th in the NFL in offense since Week 7.

With that in mind, it’s time to look at the league’s five most watch-worthy squads. First, let’s hand out some honorable mentions.

Green Bay Packers: Once or twice a game, Aaron Rodgers just makes a throw that causes even the most hardened football fan’s jaw to drop. Plus, the tundra finally froze over last week. Snowy football is fun football.

Tennessee Titans: Exotic smash-mouth, baby. Marcus Mariota is improving rapidly, and DeMarco Murray adds plenty of punch on the ground. Tennessee’s in a three-way tie for first in the AFC South.

Atlanta Falcons: The ominous feeling of December doom surrounds the Falcons franchise. But Matt Ryan and Julio Jones pace the league’s highest-scoring offense, and Vic Beasley is a force off the edge.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Out of nowhere, the Bucs have emerged as a credible wild card contender thanks to a four-game winning streak. In that span, Mike Smith’s defense has allowed 13.3 points per game and created 11 takeaways.

Cleveland Browns: I know, I know. They are bad. But the Browns might be historically bad, and you have to appreciate the potential of running the table in reverse. At 0-12, Cleveland’s best chance for victory could be Sunday against rival Cincinnati.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here are the five most exciting NFL teams on TV, listed in ascending order.

5. San Diego Chargers

Not having a winning record certainly doesn’t disqualify a team from cracking this list.

Sure, the Chargers are 5-7 and long gone from the playoff race. But it seems like every game comes down to the final drive. And sadly for San Diego fans, in what could very well be the Chargers’ final year before moving to Los Angeles, most of those wild endings have resulted in heartbreak.

Since the start of the 2015 season, the Bolts have played 22 games decided by eight points or fewer. They’ve posted a 7-15 record in those games.

It’s been a year of what-ifs. San Diego started the campaign by blowing a 21-point, second-half lead at Kansas City. Consecutive final-minute gut punches from the Colts, Saints and Raiders put the Chargers in a 1-4 hole. Lastly, Philip Rivers tossed four interceptions in 13 minutes against the Dolphins, including the decisive 60-yard pick-six by Kiko Alonso in the final minute.

This team will certainly not surrender over the final month. Rivers holds a 32-14 career record in December, and Mike McCoy’s coaching for his job.

4. Washington Redskins

Sixth in the NFL in completion percentage on throws of at least 20 yards, Kirk Cousins loves to let it fly. And he’s certainly got the weapons to make it happen – vertical threat DeSean Jackson, slot specialist Jamison Crowder and elite tight end Jordan Reed.

Defensively, Washington’s not really stopping anyone these days. But Josh Norman’s always worth the price of admission – not only for his ability to match up with elite receivers but for his insistence to engage them in verbal sparring sessions as well.

And how can you not love an undrafted rookie running back nicknamed “Fat Rob?”

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Can you name a better trio of offensive players than Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown?

The Steelers are surging after an ugly four-game losing skid, defeating a pair of playoff contenders in Indianapolis and the Giants since Thanksgiving.

More importantly, Pittsburgh’s young defense – save for ageless wonder James Harrison – seems to be maturing on the fly. Rookies Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave have developed into useful starters right away, and third-year linebacker Ryan Shazier is one of the league’s best.

Plus, Mike Tomlin couldn’t care less about kicking field goals. Two-point conversions and fourth-down gambles make for great drama.

2. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have developed the prototype for modern-day NFL offense.

In rookie Dak Prescott, Big D has a sturdy, athletic quarterback who can break the pocket and protect the football. Ezekiel Elliott has quickly morphed into a game-changing running back with elite vision, speed, receiving ability and pass blocking skills.

Not to mention, the Cowboys boast a diverse cast of wide receivers, including a dominant No. 1, a twitchy slot option and a multi-faceted tight end,  and a dominant offensive line which opens massive holes in the run game and keeps the QB upright.

Few teams can slow down the Cowboys – an offensive juggernaut that only seems to gain strength deeper into ballgames.

It’s not like you have much choice but to glance at the Cowboys, anyway. Their next three games are set for primetime – Sunday night dates with the rival Giants and Bucs, followed by a Monday night showdown with the NFC North-leading Lions.

1. Oakland Raiders

There’s just so much to like about the Raiders, who earned the top spot on this list easily.

In seven of the team’s 11 games, both the Raiders and their opponent scored at least 24 points. They’ve also turned in several memorable finishes – namely going for two, and the win, in Week 1 at New Orleans and a pair of Derek Carr late game-winning touchdown passes in Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

Thanks to three very successful recent drafts and huge additions in free agency, the Raiders have assembled one of the league’s most enticing, talented rosters.

Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree form as potent a passing tandem as you’ll find, and Khalil Mack might be the league’s best defensive player. Per Pro Football Focus, Mack has 49 total pressures on 252 pass-rush attempts – including nine sacks, four hits and 36 hurries.

And for the first time in seemingly ages, the Black Hole is fired up. It’s Halloween at least eight Sundays each year in the south end of the O.co Coliseum, and when the Raiders are good, the fans create a huge home-field advantage.

Well, at least until they remember that rumored move to Las Vegas.


About Chris Boyle