As the NFL season kicks off, you'll no doubt be inundated with rankings and predictions, sorting out the best rosters from the worst. But really only one metric really matters when it comes to football teams: Which ones are actually worth watching? You might call this the Red Zone Index, but really it's all about the squads that boast the most electric playmakers and dynamic schemes (or the ones that have any kind of personality at all).
You'll notice this list sags a bit in the middle, which seems about right: the NFL has just a few elite teams that keep you glued to the screen, while most seem to teeter on the edge of relevance or mediocrity. This could all change in a week or two. But for now, this is the landcape as we see it. Feel free to list your own watchability rankings in the comments section.
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TIER ONE: Must-See TV
Broncos. Peyton Manning and the Broncos touchdown-porn offense last season set an NFL record for most points scored (606), and there's no reason to think they'll slow down this year, even with Wes Welker's situation. Bonus: you can bet the over/under on number of times commentators swoon over Manning's beautiful football mind.
Seahawks. They are the defending champs, and title holders are always worth watching. Russell Wilson is still coming into his own as a multi-threat QB, and Percy Harvin -- on the four weeks a year he suits up -- is as electiftying as anyone in the open field. And then there is the defense, which led the league with 39 takeaways last year and might be the most entertaining since Chicago's 46 defense of the mid-80s, and that's saying something.
Packers. They finished third in the NFL in total yards last season despite playing their home games in the "Frozen Tundra" and with star QB Aaron Rodgers missing seven games. Imagine what kind of damage Rogers and Co. could do if they played their home games in a dome? Mercy.
Saints. Speaking of domes, no team takes better advantage of its cozy digs than New Orleans: This is the greatest show on turf since the phrase was invented for Kurt Warner's Rams squad. Drew Brees - -- who has surpassed 5,000 yards passing in each of the past three seasons -- is a good bet to do it again this season, and Jimmy Graham is doing his best to literally reinvent the tight end position.
Eagles. Chip Kelly enters his second year as head coach, and unlike last year, when Michael Vick was still around, there won't be any kind of QB controversy. The Eagles were 9-2 with Nick Foles as the starter and managed to finish second in the NFL in total yards and first in rushing despite not settling on a signal-caller until October. With roles clearly defined this year, watch out.
TIER TWO: Mostly Entertaining
49ers. You kind of get the sense that Colin Kaepernick is going to become the best QB in the NFL at some point, and this might be that season. In 2012, Michael Crabtree had become Kaepernick's security blanket, but a torn Achilles ruined Crabtree's 2013 campaign. He's healthy, and combined with tight end Vernon Davis, the Niners have two legit receiving weapons. Oh, and that defense: Even with Aldon Smith suspended for nine games, this unit is still something to behold.
Panthers. Their wide receivers are as mediocre as they come, and the running back combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart hasn't been productive since the second Bush administration. Doesn't matter: Cam Newton is on the short list of "can't take your eyes of them" players, and he is reason enough to tune in to Panthers games. But if he gets hurt, there might not be a less interesting team in the NFL. It's a fickle system, friends.
Colts. Captain Neckbeard should thrive in his third year with an assortment of weapons (including a healthy, if old, Reggie Wayne) and an offensive scheme that favors the vertical passing game. If their crazy shootout playoff win against the Chiefs was any indication, Indy could be one of the most exciting boom/bust teams in the league.
Patriots. Love him or hate him, Bill Belichick's teams are nothing if not compelling. And though Tom Brady may be past his prime, overgrown frat boy Gronk (who once pitched an animated "reality" show with his brothers) is back in action and says he's good to go for Week 1. Don't you want to tune in to see if they do a keg stand celebration dance together?
Chiefs. Jamaal Charles is a one-man highlight reel (as long as he doesn't break down), Dwayne Bowe/Donnie Avery should provide some circus catches, while Andy Reid's mustache and general resemblance to the Kool-Aid Man are all worth the price of admission. Just don't forget to jump off the bandwagon come playoff-time.
Lions. The Lions are the closest thing we have to the personification of video games. They will throw the ball roughly 70 times a game -- Matthew Stafford was third in the NFL in passing yards despite a pedestrian 84.2 passer rating -- and are capable of some eye-popping box scores when Calvin Johnson can get loose. Megatron set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, and if Stafford can improve his accuracy just a smidge, Johnson has a chance to crack the 2K plateau.
TIER THREE: Mildly Interesting
Bengals. A watchable team with the Red Rifle as QB? Hell yes, we say! The Bengals have quietly produced a solid roster on both sides of the ball, with playmakers at most of the skill positions. A.J. Green will likely decide many fantasy matchups, while Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard are ones to watch. Ohio is totally the new cool sports state.
Chargers. Usually, you'd want to wait until the second half of the season before watching the slow-starting Chargers, but a soft early schedule (with the exception of the Seahawks in Week 2) may get them going in the right direction. Keenan Allen is one of the most dynamic young receivers in the league and "intense Philip Rivers" makes great GIF memes.
Texans. Diminished Arian Foster is no fun, and we anticipate lots of incredulous head shakes from Andre Johnson in the Ryan Fitzpatrick era. But the Texans should be a surprisingly entertaining team to watch on the defensive side of the ball, with J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney all capable of making "holy sh-t! did you see that!?" type plays on a regular basis.
Cardinals. They might rate a little higher if Patrick Peterson was still returning punts, but his run-back reputation was built on a strong rookie year. He had four punt return touchdowns in 2011, but didn't take one the distance in either of the last two years, and his long was 26 yards. There is still some excitement on offense, where Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd give the rejuvenated Carson Palmer a pair of weapons to work with, and running back Andre Ellington -- who had eight carries of more than 20 yards in limited duty -- offers a big-play threat.
Bears. Jay Cutler just doesn't care. He is going to take his seven-step drop, look at his downfield options, and either try to thread a crazy 30-yard out -- or some other type of ridiculous throw -- or get absolutely hammered by a defensive end. In other words, every time he drops back to pass something interesting is going to happen.
Cowboys. The NFL equivalent of rubber-necking. It does not matter what the Cowboys do, they are worth checking out for morbid curiosity -- not to mention reaction shots of Jerry Jones in his owner's box -- if nothing else. Frankly, they'd be at the top of this list if they had just drafted Johnny Manziel, so they get downgraded for a rare show of restraint.
Rams. Despite the loss of Sam Bradford, the Rams hope to take a few steps forward this year with one of the strongest defensive lines in the league (so solid that Michael Sam couldn't even make the practice squad) and a solid special teams unit (Tavon Austin is always fun to watch on returns). The playbook may get more conservative with the QB situation still in flux, but look for Zac Stacy to pick up the slack.
Vikings. Adrian Peterson turns 30 in March, and the list of running backs who were effective in their 30s (let alone at age 29) is virtually non-existent. That said, he's still the preeminent back in the league until he isn't, and the one guy who reminds us of the days when this was a running back-centric league. Oh, and then there is rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who is certainly worth your attention.
TIER FOUR: Possible Trainwrecks
Giants. It's never a good sign when your quarterback's face of disbelief gets immortalized by a storied video game franchise. The Giants got tired of seeing Eli Manning get demolished after a series of deep drops, so they hired Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator and installed a West Coast Offense. This could be great for Victor Cruz, who thrives after the catch, but it will only work if Eli can get him the ball. After a rocky preseason, skeptics are out in full force.
Falcons. Matt Ryan somehow threw for more than 4,000 yards last season, but that makes a lot more sense when you remember that the Falcons went 4-12, and were playing from behind pretty much all season. Julio Jones was on pace for 1,800 yards before breaking his foot in Week 5 of last season, so there is some hope for some offensive fireworks, but you just don't get the sense that this team will light up the scoreboard despite playing in a dome.
Browns. Once Johnny Manziel is tabbed to start, they should jump up at least one tier. But until then? Oof. Nobody wants to see Brian Hoyer skip passes to the feet of Jordan Cameron and the rest of the not-Josh-Gordon Cleveland receiving set. And unless you grabbed Ben Tate as a fantasy sleeper, there's not much else to look forward to before Johnny Football comes wagging his finger under center.
Steelers. James Harrison retiring pretty much marks the end of a Steeler era. A new one is still probably a few years in the making, and although there are a few bright spots (Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, first-round pick Ryan Shazier), this team has a last call at the bar kind of vibe to it. Not even worth picking against in elimination leagues.
Jets. How can a team with Geno Smith and Michael Vick in a potential QB battle be boring? Well, coming off two disappointing seasons and helmed by a much more subdued (and slimmer) Rex Ryan, the Jets could certainly surprise. But this is still a squad relying on a lot of "what-ifs" and an offense that's still pretty one-note. At least they have a new chant leader.
Raiders. Derek Carr getting the starting gig should make things interesting … at least at first. But this is still a team struggling to find an identity. And it's been years since that identity has included "interesting football." Best thing going for them has been those West Coast time slots on Sundays and Mondays, perfect for hate watching.
Redskins. If RGIII can recapture some of his rookie year form, Washington has worst-to-first potential, and there is always the possibility that some sort of crazy protest will erupt about the team's name. Those two factors alone give you some incentive to watch this team. Right?
TIER FIVE: Where's the Clicker?
Bills. Besides looking for the most creative anti-Bon Jovi sign in the stands, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to tune into a Bills game. EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins could develop a strong rapport, but there will certainly be growing pains. Take solace in the fact that you don't have to freeze your ass off in Buffalo to actually watch in person.
Ravens. Two years removed from a Super Bowl win, and Baltimore looks like one of the more depressing franchises around, with a running back who is deservedly persona non grata in the NFL, a franchise QB who is consistently inconsistent and a defense that is a shell of its former self. But, hey, at least they signed the young, spry Steve Smith, right? Oh.
Jaguars. When you start out previewing a team by saying they're not the worst, chances are this isn't a squad that will keep you glued to the TV. Blake Bortles should make them mildly intriguing, but the fact that the Jags had to get fans excited in the offseason by revealing a new logo that was barely different from their old one, tells you all you need to know.
Titans. *Stares at wall trying to think of one Tennessee playmaker* Wait, wait … Chris Johnson is still on the team, right? Nope? Okay … um ...
Bucs. The best way to make this team more interesting would be to bring back the tangerine uniforms. Until they do that, this is as faceless of an NFL team as you will find. Yes, Doug Martin is valuable in fantasy, but that's only because there are few running backs who are a lock to average 20 carries a game. This is not a Barry Sanders situation where a bad team is worth watching because of its featured back.
Dolphins. They are the Miami Dolphins. They are warriors and members of an unbeatable team. And they recently splurged for a T-shirt screen printing machine.