Browns, Chiefs among candidates to be next America's Team

Print

The NFL in 2019 is packed with talented teams, swaggering superstars and magnetic personalities. In short, there are plenty of squads in position to challenge the Dallas Cowboys as America's Team.

So, like I did last year around this time, I've put together the top five candidates to push Dallas for the title of America's Team. But before you get to the rankings ...

... A CAVEAT: The Dallas Cowboys are America's Team.

Let me repeat that clearly, so there's no confusion: The Dallas Cowboys ARE America's Team, now and forever.

As someone who helped put together America's Team, it would be impossible for me to even suggest Dallas no longer holds that title. So for the purposes of this piece, I am assuming the Cowboys remain America's Team by default and setting them aside. That said, there are always a handful of teams positioned to capture the hearts of football obsessives on a wide scale. These are those teams in 2019:

1) Cleveland Browns

The Browns are poised to become football's Horatio Alger, living out a gridiron rags-to-riches story. Two years ago, no team was as destitute as Cleveland, which became just the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. Fittingly, the leader of the Browns' renaissance is Baker Mayfield, a former walk-on who rose to become a Heisman Trophy-winner at Oklahoma. Mayfield will be joined this season by another bigger-than-life superstar, trade acquisition Odell Beckham Jr., who ranked second only to Tom Brady in jersey and merchandise sales between March 1 and May 31, according to the NFL Players Association.

There is something American about the passion the Browns fans in the Dawg Pound display despite having endured an extremely dire existence since the franchise's return in 1999. I know it's only anecdotal, but I can say that, after years of receiving hardly any calls about the Browns while hosting my radio show on SiriusXM Radio, I now receive almost as many such calls as a I do about the Cowboys. General manager John Dorsey has a done a great job assembling the most talented Browns roster in two decades. Now we need to see what first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens can do with it.

2) Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are ready to graduate from strong regional team (with a loyal fanbase that can make Arrowhead Stadium quite the daunting venue for opponents to visit) to commanding national presence -- and it's thanks largely to the emergence of superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The surprise MVP of the 2018 season rocketed to 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes in his first season as a full-time starter, thrilling football fans with his acts of derring-do and leading an offense that quickly became a must-see attraction on a wide scale.

One of the reasons the Cowboys became America's Team was because of how frequently they were showcased on national TV. With Mahomes directing one of the most potent attacks in a league that currently favors offense, the Chiefs should garner plenty of media attention -- they're currently slated for five prime-time games this season -- while representing one of the country's most storied Midwestern cities.

3) Chicago Bears

Memories of Da Bears winning it all and taking America by storm in 1985 -- with their hip Super Bowl Shuffle music video; their sunglass-sporting, headband-wearing quarterback, Jim McMahon; and their cigar-smoking, sweater-vest-clad head coach, Mike Ditka -- were supplanted by decades of mediocrity. After 1985, Chicago finished at or below .500 in 19 of the next 32 seasons, pushing this franchise from the national stage. Until, that is, last season, when new head coach Matt Nagy helped propel the Bears to the top of the NFC North. Now, they have the potential to become the darlings not just of the Windy City but the football watching public at large, led by rising young QB Mitch Trubisky and a dominant, Khalil Mack-headed defense.

With the NFL beginning its 100th season, it would be appropriate for one of the original founding franchises to capture the Lombardi Trophy and sweep the country off its feet. And the Bears will get a heckuva national showcase when they kick off the year against the Packers on "Thursday Night Football." Interestingly, this extremely long-running rivalry is about as evenly matched as you can get: Going into the Week 1 tilt, Green Bay has won 97 games, Chicago's won 95, and there have been six ties.

4) Los Angeles Rams

Rams head coach Sean McVay was hired at an impossibly young age (30), but he quickly showed signs of becoming a potential lifer with his team -- just like the head coach of the original America's Team, Tom Landry, who was 35 when he was hired by Dallas and went on to spend the next 29 years on the job. McVay is a charismatic figure with the kind of personality that can help this Rams team build its brand, especially if the city of Los Angeles continues to embrace him. Bearing the name of the one of the biggest markets in the country, the Rams are also smack in the middle of a Super Bowl window, having reached the big game last season. If McVay and Co. can learn their lessons from that loss to Bill Belichick's Patriots and win a title or two of their own, the Rams will be in position to gain the affection of football fans on a massive scale.

5) Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have posted a winning record once since 2002 -- and yet, they rank 11th among NFL teams in Facebook followers, according to trackalytics.com. People clearly still have affection for this team, and if Jon Gruden and Derek Carr can string together some wins in what will likely be their final season in Oakland, the Raiders could surge in popularity like they did in the 1970s and '80s, when late owner Al Davis' commitment to excellence was in full swing. Adding talent like Antonio Brown was a step in the right direction, and their appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" surely helped keep this squad centered in the national conversation. A competitive or entertaining season could combine with nostalgia for the dominant Raiders' teams of old and excitement over their impending move to Las Vegas to create serious buzz for this squad.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop