This week, we're breaking out a topic that is sure to receive only kind, gentle tweets in response: Best fan bases. This isn't about pure numbers: It's about the quality, intelligence, intensity and loyalty of the fans that are out there. In short: Showing up to games to be seen is not rewarded.
Top Tier: Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins
No team has a stronger connection to its fans than the Packers. They are smarter and more loyal. They demand better coverage. It's a lifestyle. Bills fans are similarly passionate, smart and hopeful, despite a lot of bad times. Steelers fans overwhelm you with their size. You can see and hear them from 50 feet away. Browns are heroically loyal considering the hand they have been dealt. They deserve so much better.
The Saints own New Orleans. The city goes up and down with them. Oakland's home crowds knock them down a bit, but they remain a national team. The fans they have are absolutely rabid. It's impressive Seattle has built the best home crowd in football without a great franchise. Their fans are quietly football smart. Philly is probably the most sports-mad city in the country, but it's ultimately an Eagles town. The same is true for Denver and the Broncos.
The Bears are a generational thing. They might be the best "big city" fan base on the list. Nothing unites D.C. like the Redskins. I initially knocked them down a tier for mild ticket struggles, but they deserve to be among the elite. Football owns these cities.
The Ravens probably deserve to be a tier up, but it seemed like an insult to Browns fans. For a franchise without history, the Ravens home games rock like a European soccer crowd. These are dark days for Chiefs fans, but we agree with Romeo Crennel: They are usually among the best. The Texans have a sneaky great crowd and a smart fan base that is very passionate.
The Giants and Jets get knocked mostly for factors out of their control. The New Jersey stadium creates a small disconnect with the team and it's not a great home crowd for either squad. The Giants are a bigger deal, but neither team can unite New York City. It's more of a baseball town. If the Knicks were good, it might be more of a basketball town. The team doesn't mean quite as much to the community it calls home. Sorry.
The 49ers have a great tradition and big following, but the fans did not stay passionate during the dark days like plenty of others. As Mr. Aikman intimated, Cowboys fans are front runners. There are a lot of them, but it's a spoiled group overall. It's not a great home team. We are impressed, however, that the Cowboys can dominate talk radio in the middle of May. Fans eat up their coverage and watch them in droves. That's worth something.
Lions fans have been put through a lot. They remain a hearty bunch but it's not a shock their intensity has dwindled at times. The same is true for Vikings fans. Colts fans are actually pretty great, but it's hard to rank them too high when a college basketball team is more popular than them.
Bottom rung: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, and St. Louis Rams.
I grew up in Western Massachusetts, so I can take the inevitable Patriots fan heat from this. The Foxborough crowd is one of the worst -- and quietest in football. It's a fact. The fact it's true during one of the best runs the sport has ever seen is troubling. Boston also remains a baseball town, the last year notwithstanding. The city's emotion doesn't ebb and flow with the Patriots like it does with the Red Sox. There was always a sense of superiority from Red Sox fans in terms of their knowledge and passion about baseball compared to other fan bases. That's how true football towns feel about Boston. Football is not ingrained in the Massachusetts blood. There is some risk here of spoiled complacency after the Belichick era is over, not unlike what's happened in Dallas and San Francisco.
Atlanta and Miami are front-runner towns. The intensity is going to wane without a winner. (Although I'd love to see how Miami comes alive if the Dolphins are good again.) The Titans are embraced in Tennessee; there just isn't much of a history there. The new stadium has helped transform the Cardinals fan base. Jacksonville's ticket problems have improved. The next step is improving the product on the field. The fans they have are passionate; they just need more.
We don't particularly blame Bengals fans for bailing at times. The post-Super Bowl shine wore off quickly in Tampa. The same is true for the post-Greatest Show Rams. St. Louis is a baseball town. If we grew up in San Diego, we probably wouldn't care as much about the NFL either.
I really struggled with who to put in the bottom few. The fans on the bottom of the list here are the least likely to notice, care, or disagree.