Skip to main content

Watchability rankings: Chargers high ahead of Week 1

Half of the NFC's most fascinating teams reside in the NFC South. I also believe that half of the NFC's best teams play in the NFC South, although the upcoming season will likely render that prediction silly, like most predictions.

There's no debate that Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston form football's best division of quarterbacks. The difference in the Dirty South this season is that all four players have more assistance than usual. The Saints' and Falcons' defenses are set to improve because of an influx of young talent. Winston has more pass catchers than he knows what to do with, and Newton should be supported by a quietly strong defense and running game.

Much like the AFC West, it's easy to imagine any of the four teams in the NFC South taking the division crown and even earning a bye. The 2016 Falcons should be a reminder that there are more Super Bowl contenders entering each season than commonly believed. All four NFC South teams should be seen as potential teams to reach Super Bowl LII in Minnesota, which makes their division games this season among the most watchable in all of the NFL.

Below is my regular, 100 percent subjective and 110 percent meaningless ranking of the teams I'm most looking forward to watching this season.


1) Los Angeles Chargers
2) New England Patriots
3) Green Bay Packers
4) Pittsburgh Steelers
5) Dallas Cowboys

From Philip Rivers to running back Melvin Gordon, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joey Bosa and ferocious undersized cornerback Jason Verrett, the Chargers are loaded with players who love to ball. That energy and surplus of emerging talents like tight end Hunter Henry, pass rusher Melvin Ingram and deep threat Tyrell Williams should make the Chargers such a blast to track this season.

Unlike the rest of this tier, the Chargers have little recent success to build off. They are playing in a converted soccer stadium in a city whose love they will have to earn. There are weaknesses (offensive line and injury luck) that could sink the entire enterprise, but this is the best team Rivers has been gifted since LaDainian Tomlinson was in the backfield. Rivers is a Hall of Fame quarterback ready to make a sentimental, potentially awkward ride in a new city. Who's with me?

The rest of this group is populated by top-shelf quarterbacks surrounded by incredible offensive talent. For Dak Prescott, that talent is primarily on the Cowboys' offensive line. It's almost strange how little attention Dak is receiving entering this season, considering the high-profile team he plays for and his almost unprecedented rookie success. A typical Year 2 quarterback leap -- which already looked apparent in the preseason -- would potentially have him recognized among the game's great players as a second-year, fourth-round pick, yet he doesn't get that respect just yet. It's not merely the system, folks.

Buy NFC South stock now

6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7) Carolina Panthers
8) New Orleans Saints
9) Atlanta Falcons

One overlooked intra-division move could make a huge difference in the NFC South race. Luke Kuechly's former understudy in Carolina, A.J. Klein, impressed the Saints in August and could provide the kind of three-down stability at linebacker that coach Sean Payton hasn't seen since Jonathan Vilma left town. All Drew Brees needs is an average defense, because the team's passing game doesn't have down years, and the Saints' three-headed running back monster of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara could make this a ground-and-pound offense when necessary. Really. Payton and Brees will have an incredible amount of ways to attack defenses.

Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey immediately makes the Panthers more watchable. He is a GIF waiting to happen, and his presence could make Jonathan Stewart a better player with a reduced role. Throw in Cam Newton, and there won't be a more difficult running game to defend. The Panthers also have a host of defensive players to track, from Luke Kuechly to Kawann Short to emerging second-year cornerback James Bradberry to Julius Peppers in his homecoming. This is an eminently entertaining team, even if the offense takes some time to get in gear.

No one who watched "Hard Knocks" needs to be sold on Tampa's buzzworthiness. It's not just Jameis Winston's personality, but his go-for-broke style playing with two of the league's most entertaining wideouts to watch (Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson). While the rest of the division is breaking in new players, the Falcons' offense is returning almost everyone but the coordinator from one of the great offenses of all time. And it's coach Dan Quinn's defensive vision being realized that should help prevent any Super Bowl hangover.


10) Arizona Cardinals
11) Oakland Raiders
12) Seattle Seahawks
13) New York Giants
14) Tennessee Titans
15) Cincinnati Bengals
16) Miami Dolphins
17) Philadelphia Eagles
18) Detroit Lions
19) Houston Texans
20) Denver Broncos

Complaining about watching any of these teams says more about your suspect character than it does about the team in question.

The Cardinals have a "last hurrah" feel, with coach Bruce Arians, quarterback Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald all potentially in their final year in the desert. But it will be the re-emergence of Tyrann Mathieu and John Brown that makes them especially fun to watch.

It's been a while since a Giants team had this many playmakers on both sides of the ball. Rookie tight end Evan Engram has shown signs of bypassing the usual tight end learning curve. Second-year pro Sterling Shepard has the skills to turn Brandon Marshall into a relative afterthought as a No. 3 receiver. Jason Pierre-Paul dominated preseason play, looking ready to build on last year's excellence. The defense has a chance to be the league's best. (Seattle, my pick to win the Super Bowl, also is in that mix, especially after the Sheldon Richardson trade.)

The Lions have largely been ignored this offseason, but there's a lot to get excited about when watching this offense. Matthew Stafford has long pulled off some of the most improbable completions in the league. Receivers Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and rookie Kenny Golladay can all make acrobatic plays on the ball with dramatically different skill sets. Running back Ameer Abdullah, if he can stay healthy, gives coordinator Jim Bob Cooter a lot of options when dialing up plays.

Like Stafford, Marcus Mariota has a deeper group of players around him to help move the offense this season. Tennessee's multi-faceted running game will make it even harder to defend rookie receivers Taywan Taylor, Corey Davis and free-agent import Eric Decker. ... Cincinnati's pair of rookie playmakers, receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, add a lot of juice to the Bengals' offense. Mixon appears more ready than Davis to contribute right away.

Jay Cutler makes the Dolphins more watchable, if not better in the standings. He's going to trust DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry to make plays down the field, interception totals be damned. ... J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney form the most exciting pair of pass-rushing teammates this decade in Houston. They just need one healthy season together.

Rising from the dead

21) Cleveland Browns
22) San Francisco 49ers
23) Los Angeles Rams

This group demonstrates the difference between power rankings and a watchability list. The trio may not be ready to contend for the playoffs yet, but I can't wait to see what they look like in September after offseason overhauls.

DeShone Kizer has the coach, offensive line and running game in Cleveland to show off a dazzling skill set as a rookie QB. (His pocket presence alone made him worthy of winning the job.) The 49ers quietly have some of the more compelling young front-seven talent in the league. Based on his preseason play, linebacker Reuben Foster is going to be in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Rams quarterback Jared Goff and an improved group of pass catchers, including rookie Cooper Kupp, should be helped along by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' quick-fix credentials.

Unfair they're this low

24) Baltimore Ravens
25) Minnesota Vikings
26) Kansas City Chiefs
27) Washington Redskins

These teams all have playoff aspirations and exciting players, but they lack overall juice when it comes to storylines. Minnesota's offensive line threatens to obscure quarterback Sam Bradford's quiet growth. It's on coach Mike Zimmer's defense, carefully built entering his fourth season, to carry this group. ... Baltimore's young, deep defense is worthy of preseason respect, but there's little reason to think the Ravens' offense got better, even with Joe Flaccoback on the field. ... Washington's defense lacks difference makers, and the offense barely played together in August. A lot of their season hinges on wideouts Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor. ... The Chiefs suffer in this exercise from their reliability. Even with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, it feels like we've seen this show before.

Save for NFL Game Pass

28) Chicago Bears
29) Jacksonville Jaguars
30) Buffalo Bills
31) Indianapolis Colts
32) New York Jets

A potential top-10 defense in Jacksonville is harder to get excited about when the team is running back the same quarterback duo for the fourth straight season. ... The eventual ascension of Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago will make the Bears more compelling, although it will be difficult to create a passing game with Kendall Wright as the team's most compelling receiver.

The Bills have fun players to watch in Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy, who could be trapped on an offense stuck in the mud. Buffalo will face the Jetsin Week 1, so at least one of the two AFC East teams will get some early hope. ... Going from Andrew Luck to Scott Tolzien at quarterback in Indy is like jumping off a watchability cliff.

Of course, even the fans in this tier have a lot to look forward to. Week 1 is the best week of the season, because it will make all the preseason analysis look silly, and because there's so much football ahead.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content