Yardbarker's NFL wild-card game previews, picks
There is plenty of potential for strangeness on Wild Card Weekend. Yardbarker's Chris Mueller breaks down the four games.Yardbarker previews each Sunday game with a pick against the spread. Weekly point spreads are from BetOnline.ag. They are current as of 10 p.m. ET Tuesday. For the latest spreads, check BetOnline.ag.
Sunday's conference championship games are rematches of regular-season games. In Week 10, the Titans beat the Chiefs, 35-32, in Nashville, but they face a huge challenge in the AFC Championship Game. In the divisional round, the Chiefs outscored Houston, 51-7, after spotting the Texans a 24-0 lead. Kansas City's offense seems unstoppable. In the NFC, the Packers get another crack against the 49ers, who humiliated Green Bay in a Monday night game, 37-8, in Week 12. © Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports In the Titans' 35-32 regular-season win over the Chiefs, Derrick Henry rushed for 188 yards.
Yardbarker previews each game with a pick against the spread. Weekly point spreads are from BetOnline.ag. They are current as of 10 p.m. ET Tuesday. For the latest spreads, check BetOnline.ag.
Bill Belichick dodges questions about Tom Brady's future with Patriots
NFL Insider Mike Garafolo sits down with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz before his first playoff game vs. the Seattle Seahawks.
NFL playoff schedule© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill scrambles for a first down on the winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week X.
Tennessee (11-7) at Kansas City (13-4), Sun., 3:05 ET
TV: CBS LINE: Kansas City -7.5
What you need to know: RB Derrick Henry, the first player in NFL history to run for at least 180 yards in three straight games, is the Titans' driving force. The Chiefs couldn't slow him (23 carries, 188 yards) during a regular-season loss. Henry averages 4.7 yards gained after contact per attempt this postseason, per Pro Football Focus. The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL (4.9 yards per carry, 29th in league). Tennessee should be able to take away Kansas City’s running attack; the Titans were seventh in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, and the Chiefs were just 20th in the league in yards per carry. With Henry running wild in the playoffs, Titans QB Ryan Tannehill hasn't had to throw much (160 yards, 29 attempts, 3 TDs) in two games. Tannehill’s battle against a stingy Chiefs secondary should be fun to watch.
Bowl Grades For Every Team, Conference: How Did Everyone Do?
Bowl Grades For Every Team, Conference: How Did Everyone Do?
Patrick Mahomes’ arm is the most dangerous weapon Kansas City has, but his legs are an important variable. In the divisional round against Houston, Mahomes ran for 53 yards on seven carries, his third game this season with 50-plus yards on the ground. CB Adoree’ Jackson will likely draw the assignment against Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill (58 catches, 860 yards). Good luck. Jackson has been strong all season, but Hill is a unique weapon. Tight end Travis Kelce (10 receptions, 134 yards, 3 TDs) is coming off the best game of his career, and if Tennessee is without linebacker Jayon Brown (shoulder) again, he will be primed for another outburst. Safety Kevin Byard is one of the NFL’s most underrated players, and figures to have multiple different coverage assignments versus Kansas City. Punter Brett Kern is an All-Pro and a major weapon for Tennessee, but the Titans, incredibly, have just eight made field goals all season. Conversely, the Chiefs' Harrison Butker led the league with 34 made field goals, and his 89.5 percent conversion rate was sixth in the NFL.
Yardbarker's NFL divisional round previews, picks
The divisional round features the league's four best rushing teams and four elite quarterbacks. Yardbarker's Chris Mueller previews the Saturday and Sunday matchups.Elite quarterback battles are also featured: Houston's Deshaun Watson aims for a second win this season over Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson hopes to lead the depleted Seahawks over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
On the spot: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. In the divisional-round upset of Baltimore, his quick-change touchdown to Kalif Raymond was a turning point. If the Chiefs take an early lead, he must prove that his stellar regular season (70.3 % completion percentage, 22 TDs) was no fluke.
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu: Defenses have used eight defenders in the box and still failed to stop Henry, who emasculated Baltimore safety Earl Thomas on a highlight-reel run in the divisional round. Whether or not Mathieu can tackle effectively and make plays near the line of scrimmage could be a determining factor.
Betting nuggets: Tennessee is 6-3 ATS on the road this season; Kansas City is 5-3 ATS at home this season.
The pick: Titans 30 Chiefs 28© Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports Packers tight end Jimmy Graham
Green Bay (14-3) at San Francisco (14-3), Sun., 6:40 ET
TV: FOX LINE: San Francisco -7.5
What you need to know: Aaron Rodgers gets a chance to avenge one of the worst performances (20-for-33, 114 yards) of his career and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since his 2011 (2010 season) triumph over the Steelers. Green Bay ranked 18th in yards allowed and yards gained; the Packers’ major strength is its ability to protect the football and take it away. Green Bay was second in the league with just 13 turnovers, and its 25 takeaways ranked seventh. San Francisco was even better at taking the ball away (27 turnvers), but it was sloppier with it, turning it over 23 times. QB Jimmy Garoppolo was responsible for 18 of those (13 interceptions, five lost fumbles). His play remains a question; Garoppolo attempted a only 19 passes in the divisional-round win over the Vikings, managing just a 74.7 passer rating, well below the NFL average.
Report: Tom Brady 'embarrassed' by salary, plans to move out of New England
The end of the Brady-Patriots relationship has been rumored for a while now, and this report will only fuel the flames.Speculation continues to run rampant about Tom Brady and what comes next in his Hall of Fame career, and his purported unhappiness with his situation suggests his time with the New England Patriots could be nearing its end.
Garoppolo’s ability to attack a ball-hawking Green Bay secondary is the most important variable for the 49ers’ offense. His task will be easier if San Francisco can run the ball effectively against a defense that ranked just 24th in the league in yards per carry allowed. The game’s pivotal matchup will happen when the Packers have the ball. San Francisco CB Richard Sherman has had a marvelous season, arguably the best of any corner in the NFC, and perhaps third only to New England's Stephon Gilmore and Buffalo's Tre’Davious White in the league. Sherman will be matched up against Davante Adams; if he can neutralize the wide receiver, Green Bay’s offense could grind to a halt. RB Aaron Jones (1,084 rushing yards, 16 TDs) must give the Pack some semblance of offensive balance; the Niners can be had against the run, as they were 23rd in the league in yards per carry allowed. San Francisco’s offensive game plan will no doubt involve a heavy dose of rushing, as the Packers were way below average defending the ground game (24th in yards per carry allowed). Green Bay’s Mason Crosby was the fifth-most accurate kicker in the NFL this season.
On the spot: Packers TE Jimmy Graham. Adams will attract most of San Francisco’s attention, so Graham -– whose four targets against Seattle in the divisional round were second most on the team behind Adams’ 11 –- must exploit favorable matchups, particularly if Green Bay is in the red zone.
Brady sparks Raiders rumors by chatting with Davis at UFC fight
A simple conversation set off a firestorm of speculation.Brady attended Conor McGregor’s 40-second thrashing of Cowboy Cerrone in Las Vegas, and NFL fans went wild on social media after the 42-year-old was spotted chatting with Raiders owner Mark Davis.
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: He was sharp (14-for-20, 253 yards) when the Niners pasted Green Bay in Week 12; but he has zero experience in this high-pressure environment. San Francisco is unlikely to rout the Packers again, so can Garoppolo outplay Rodgers when it matters most?
Betting nuggets: Green Bay is 5-2 ATS on the road this season; San Francisco is 5-3-1 ATS at home this season.
The pick: Packers 28 49ers 27
Related slideshow: From rotten to rabid, we rank all 32 NFL fan bases (Provided by Yardbarker)
From rotten to rabid, we rank all 32 NFL fan bases
Being an NFL fan is a tough, often thankless endeavor. You pour your heart and soul into your team's fortunes, and unless you're the lucky group whose team is holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year, you dealt with some level of disappointment along the way. Watching your team battle through injuries, bad luck, bad calls and more is tough emotional business. Oh, and there's always the looming threat of relocation unless you pony up cash for a new stadium every 25 years or so. Still, some fans do a better job than others at managing all the stresses of fandom and cheering for their guys until the end. With that in mind, let's rank all 32 NFL fan bases, worst to first.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Back when the Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys were together in the NFC East, Jerry Jones could count on having eight home games, seven road games and one de facto home game when his team traveled to Phoenix to take on Cowboys West. You could understand the indifference of Cardinals fans back when the team played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe and was largely terrible. The franchise made a grand total of one playoff appearance in its first 20 seasons in the desert. Since 2006, though, the Cardinals have bordered on good. They got themselves a shiny new stadium, albeit in Glendale, won their division a few times, were two minutes away from beating the mighty Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII and even drafted and kept a surefire Hall of Famer in Larry Fitzgerald. Despite those successes fans still don’t seem to care. State Farm Stadium is routinely taken over by visiting fans, and really, when is the last time you thought, “Goodness, Arizona Cardinals fans sure do love their team? These folks are rabid!” Exactly.
31. Miami Dolphins
“Should I go to the Dolphins game or go to the beach? Should I go to the Dolphins game or play golf? Should I go to the Dolphins game or kick back and eat some of the best food and drink some of the best drinks anywhere in the world?” That seems like a reasonable internal monologue for most Miami fans, who, despite the franchise’s major success under Don Shula, and longstanding tradition, don’t seem all that interested in the team. On one hand, it’s tough to blame them because the Fish have become a factory of mediocrity, churning out 7-9 seasons with metronomic consistency with a dash of 6-10 or 8-8 thrown in here and there to liven things up. They even made the playoffs in 2016, just their second trip to the postseason since 2001. Truly passionate Dolphins fans spent most of the last seven seasons caring deeply about whether or not Ryan Tannehill would someday lead them to the Promised Land. That would be a sadder sentence to type if there were more truly passionate Dolphins fans out there.
30. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons share the same team colors as the University of Georgia: black, red, white and gray. If only they matched the Bulldogs in popularity around the state or in its largest city. Though they were achingly close to a Super Bowl in 2017 — do you remember that they were up 28-3 on New England? — Atlanta still hasn’t won the big one. But if you went up to most folks around the city and asked them what the more crushing loss was, that Super Bowl or Georgia’s CFP national championship defeat to Alabama two years ago, you’d get a lot more frustration and handwringing about the latter. The Falcons’ problem is that they are a pro team in a college town — specifically they are a pro football team in a college football-crazed part of the country. Their jewel of a new stadium is great and all, and the fans care to an extent, but the Falcons will always play second fiddle to the Bulldogs.
19 Easy Ways To Supplement Social Security
29. Los Angeles Rams
Truth be told, Rams fans might deserve to be lower on this list. Their team is exciting, high-flying and features Aaron Donald, currently the best overall football player on the planet. There should be plenty there to attract fans, but if you watch any of their games on television, you see a lot of empty seats. The weather is great, the product on the field is great, the population base is the second-largest in the country, so what gives? Los Angeles is certainly a Lakers/Dodgers town, but the NFL is the most popular league in the country, and it stands to reason that a powerhouse team would pique interest. The Rams just don’t seem to move the needle like they should. Angelenos haven’t rejected them, but you get the sense that if any football team captures the imagination of fickle L.A. fans, it’s USC.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I can scarcely remember seeing more empty seats in a stadium than I have in Tampa, when I’ve been unfortunate enough to catch one of the Bucs' games on television. Yes, the weather is hot and humid there, especially early in the year, but there are just rows upon rows of empty seats. Fans haven’t had much to cheer for in some time, and Jameis Winston has been mediocre on and off the field. There are still some die-hards who got that way because they watched Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch anchor a defense that ended up winning a Super Bowl. But the majority of this fan base seems only casually interested in the team. You’re unlikely to goad a Bucs fan into an explosive argument about Cameron Brate anytime soon is what I’m saying. Tampa Bay fans, like Dolphins fans, must decide whether to enjoy the fact that they live in Tampa, which usually entails going out on the water or going for a stroll or going to watch a mediocre team play ball. I know what I’d pick.
27. Houston Texans
Texans fans feel like Cowboys fans who just happen to live in Houston. Football is king in Texas, but the hierarchy goes something like this: high school football, the Cowboys, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, University of Houston, UTEP, Texas State and then maybe the Texans. Do fans in H-Town actually care? Deshaun Watson is exciting, DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most talented athletes in the entire sport and the team should be playoff caliber. Oh, and it has J.J. Watt, who will have a gold jacket five years after he retires. I have not been to a Texans game in person, but I have been to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at NRG Stadium, and I got the sense that the crowd was much more enthusiastic for that than for Texans games. When the Cowboys play the Texans, sure, you’ll get genuine Texans fans who try to puff out their chests and talk tough about Dallas. The truth is, most of the people in attendance are cheering for Dak Prescott, even if they don’t realize it.
26. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts get docked here because they haven’t had to endure much in the way of hardship. The team was only a few years removed from a near-miss in the 1995 AFC championship game when it sank to the bottom of the standings just in time to select Peyton Manning first overall. Fast forward about a decade and a half and, wouldn’t you know it, Manning was out for a year and the Colts were once again the laughingstock of the league. What was their prize for being so bad? Only Andrew Luck, hyped as the best quarterback prospect since, wait for it, Peyton Manning. Indianapolis’ nickname is the “Crossroads of America,” which is a nice way of saying that the most interesting thing about the city is that a lot of people pass through it. Colts fans are much the same. Can you think of one defining quality that jumps out? They’re not rude or vile or particularly rabid or noteworthy in any memorable way. They cheer for generationally talented players at the most important position in sports. That’s it. I can’t think of anything truly awful to say about them, but then again, I can’t think of anything good, either. When apathy is the only emotion you inspire, you’re not great fans. Oh, and they used to pipe in noise at the old RCA Dome. Big negative points for that.
25. Carolina Panthers
Panthers fans love Cam Newton, and Christian McCaffrey and Luke Kuechly, but do they love the team? Here again lies a franchise whose fans might care more about college sports than they do about the pro football team that plays in town. If you’re thinking about the North Carolina sports scene overall, you think of the Duke/North Carolina basketball rivalry first and everything else second. The Panthers have had nice runs here and there, but they fail, as so many teams near the bottom of the heap do, at one of the most basic tests: keeping opposing fans out of their building. I’m sure it’s tough to turn down decent money if an opposing fan, particularly one from a cold-weather city in the north, wants to buy your tickets above face value. Still, isn’t one of the most fundamental aspects of fandom the desire to watch your team play — particularly in person? Panthers fans are Colts fans who wanted a warmer climate.
24. Los Angeles Chargers
You have to feel for Chargers fans because most of them are concentrated about 120 miles south of where they actually play. The team should still be in San Diego, and the fact that they play their home games at the StubHub Center, a soccer stadium with under 30,000 seats, speaks to how much of an afterthought they are in L.A. The Bolts were good last year, and one could actually make the argument that they were better on the field than the Rams, despite bowing out earlier in the playoffs. Chargers fans in San Diego still care about the team but were victims of the all-too-typical stadium standoff with owner Dean Spanos. I’ve actually encountered real, honest-to-goodness Chargers fans in my life, and they seem to genuinely care about the team. Maybe that should have been taken into consideration before Spanos up and moved it and tried to create a new fan base in a city that wouldn’t notice if it moved away tomorrow.
Expert: This Is The #1 Balance Transfer Card
23. Detroit Lions
The Lions have been so bad for so long, it’s no wonder their fan base has atrophied. One of the worst-run organizations in sports has fans who want to care but are repeatedly encouraged not to on account of the team’s mediocrity. Ford Field is always filled with silver-and-blue-clad fans, and they all seem to be at least somewhat invested in the outcome of the game. But something always seems missing. Lions fans and Matthew Stafford are a lot alike: Stafford is a former No. 1 overall pick who has made it to only one Pro Bowl and has never taken over the division, to say nothing of the league. He looks the part, and at times his stats are great, but there is something obviously missing. When you look at his career record — 66-75, by the way — it seems about right. Lions fans show up, and they cheer, and at times they cheer loudly. Then you see them here in the bottom third of the league’s fan bases, and it seems about right.
22. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati is and always will be a baseball town. That’s the first thing you need to know when evaluating Bengals fans. Despite that, Cincy fans care and often root boisterously if their team is giving them something to cheer for. But years of skinflint ownership by Mike Brown have beaten them down. This is a pessimistic bunch, and while Brown’s presence makes that understandable, the team has actually had some regular-season success. Cincy made the playoffs five straight seasons, from 2011 through 2015, and won the AFC North twice in that span. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in almost 30 years, which isn’t great, but it hasn’t been all storm clouds for this franchise. That makes their fatalism a little less forgivable and puts them a clear notch below the rest of the fan bases in the division. If you really want to stir the passions of Bengals fans, all you need to do is tell them that Skyline Chili is bad (it is) and then sit back and watch the fireworks.
21. Tennessee Titans
If you think of their setup, Titans fans should be lower on this list. The Titans always play second fiddle to Tennessee football for most fans, and they haven’t had a track record of major success since moving from Houston. The 1999 Super Bowl appearance feels even further back in the past. Despite that Titans fans are usually OK enough, though there’s nothing that really separates them from the pack. They’re just kind of “there” but not necessarily in a bad way. If the team is really good, Titans fans will be out in force to support it. If the team is not good, chances are the fans won’t be either. That’s perfectly reasonable, by the way, but then again, “fan” is of course short for “fanatic.” So therefore we expect the best fans to be a little off-kilter. Tennessee fans seem too nondescript to place any higher here. Sorry, Titans fans — I think.
20. Buffalo Bills
Wrestling moves performed off vans and through flaming tables, copious amounts of alcohol being consumed, various other illicit activity occurring — and that’s just the parking lots! Bills fans are close to jumping the shark, assuming that shark is soaked with booze and about to be lit on fire. The team is mostly bad and the weather in Buffalo stinks for at least half of the season, so while loyalty in that kind of situation would normally be rewarded against that backdrop, I’m getting tired of all the videos of parking lot hijinks. When the game is actually going on, Bills fans are mostly just run-of-the-mill, though even as I type that, I seem to recall an incident where a rather salacious foreign object was thrown on the field by a fan. The craziest Buffalo fans are the ones drawing all of the headlines — so what about the rest of them? Do they exist? Are they rowdy? Do they care if the team someday moves to Toronto? The ability to drink heavily without turning boorish is nice and all, but it doesn’t make a fan base great.
19. San Francisco 49ers
This was a tough group to place. The 49ers play their games approximately 50 miles from downtown San Francisco, which makes attendance at Levi’s Stadium a hard thing to quibble about. The worst Niners fans get into parking lot altercations and conduct themselves like schoolyard bullies, or worse. The rest of the fans are pretty good though. They seem to genuinely care about the team, and the excitement for Jimmy Garoppolo still appears to be running high. It’s hard to say to what degree “real” fans have been priced out of 49ers games, but this strikes me as a group of people that will be out in force if this year’s team gets off to a good start through three or four games. Unlike their more laid-back counterparts in L.A., Bay Area sports fans seem to take their teams seriously. They actually get mad when they’re not doing well. That’s a plus, for our purposes.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars
I would put Jags fans lower on this list, but some of them are completely insane (in a harmless, “wow, you’re really devoted to this team” sort of way) on social media and would take umbrage with me. Just yell the word “Duval” at any tailgate outside of a Jacksonville game, and you should be in good shape. The team’s overall fan base isn’t particularly large or nearly as vocal as the die-hards, which is part of the reason that the team regularly sacrifices a home game to participate in an NFL London game. That could be a function of population or just a commentary on the fact that not nearly as many people care about the team as its staunchest supporters would have you think. Still, there’s something oddly charming about Jaguars fans. Something pure and unadulterated. There’s no pretense, and if there’s self-awareness it’s well hidden. The people that like the team really, really like it. At the very least, they’re much better fans than the ones in Carolina, so they’ll always have that over their expansion brethren.
5 Stocks for Building Wealth After 50
17. Washington Redskins
I think Washington fans care deeply about their team and also harbor lots of anger toward owner Daniel Snyder. He frustrates them, his meddling irks them and many of them just want to get back to the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Washington fans might lead the pack in terms of unreasonable, unfounded optimism about their team. They specialize in convincing themselves that a roster that screams 8-8 will somehow go on a magical run to the Super Bowl. That ship sailed when Robert Griffin III’s knee blew out several years ago, but now the next big hope is Dwayne Haskins. Fans in the DMV will embrace him as they did Griffin and convince themselves that a dynastic run is at hand. Being that out of touch with reality docks them just enough to put them in the top spot — of the bottom half of the rankings.
16. Denver Broncos
Their signature chant is “in-com-plete,” which isn’t so much a diss of the other team as it is a statement of fact about the play that just happened. That always irked me about Broncos fans; for a city as vibrant and creative as Denver, you’d think the partisans would come up with something better. Instead they said, “Here’s a three-syllable word that has a negative connotation for the other team when they’re on offense, so let’s just go with that.” Having said that, these are some hale and hardy fans who brave often unpredictable, frigid late-fall weather to watch their team play. One fan even famously did so wearing nothing more than a barrel, game in and game out. Denver is routinely ranked as one of the toughest road venues in the league, and it’s not just the mile-high altitude. The fans are a legitimate home-field advantage, and they start loud and stay loud.
15. Minnesota Vikings
Tough to put these fans above Denver’s, but here we are. Vikes fans tend to ditch the famed passive-aggressiveness of the Upper Midwest and are just flat-out aggressively hostile to opposing teams. The “Skol” chant is cool, and as new traditions go it has the feel of something much more well-worn. I’m still undecided if the Gjallarhorn tradition before the game is good or not, but it seems like one of those things that can go either way depending on who is sounding it. If, say, Hall of Famer John Randle is doing it? That’s pretty cool. If it’s just some random person — less cool. Still, when you’re done reading this, go watch a Vikings pregame hype video and tell me it’s not at least a little chill-inducing when the crowd gets going in unison while a war drum beats in the background. Now imagine how electric all of this would be if Minnesota actually had a good quarterback.
14. New England Patriots
Patriots fans are not great fans and, in fact, are not even good fans. I can’t put them any lower on this list because they do all of the things that fans are nominally supposed to do. But I want to. They cheer for their team, they dutifully yell when the other team has the ball and they log on to social media to make fools of themselves defending “their guys.” But make no mistake: This is a spoiled, delusional fan base that has somehow convinced itself that the league is out to get it. Yes, the fans that benefited from the Tuck Rule, from the protective aura the league mandated be placed around Tom Brady and from some particularly lenient officiating in the secondary whenever the team had to face Peyton Manning. Let’s say Scott Zolak and a bunch of other anonymous nobodies had quarterbacked the team for the last 20 years, and it had no Super Bowls. Would anyone in the New England region care about this team? I’ll answer that question for you: No. A 19-year-old second base prospect for the PawSox would get more attention. Patriots fans can whine all they want about this and scream about having six titles until they’re blue in the face, but that won’t change the truth: They’re phonies, and deep down they know it.
13. Seattle Seahawks
How does one properly rate fans who got so popular during the “Legion of Boom” heyday that they became wildly overrated? You have to take a step back. Seattle fans are collectively in love with their whole “12th man” persona, but they did kind of earn it. Anytime the roar of a crowd is loud enough to register as a small earthquake, respect is deserved. Seattle shares CenturyLink Field with the MLS Seattle Sounders, and there’s a certain soccer sensibility to the crowd. The fans are loud without being prompted continuously, they provide a definite home-field advantage — just ask any opposing offense that comes in and has to try to function without committing a false start — and it seems like many of them like to wear scarves. Again, a little too much self-indulgence for my liking, but there is no denying that Seahawks fans are solid.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Ravens fans are definitely good fans. They’ve been rabid for their team since they moved from Cleveland after the 1995 season, and they especially like great defense. Baltimore has been one of the league’s most consistent franchises for years now, and Ravens fans have gotten to celebrate two Super Bowls. That doubtless makes fandom in Baltimore an easier proposition, but even though their team has been consistently good, Ravens fans still score high marks for passion, making purple and black somehow look vaguely normal and for the slight air of menace they bring to the table. John Harbaugh’s time as head coach has been mostly good, and when the team has had down years the fans have stuck by it. They have a good blood feud with Steelers fans, and having a real rivalry with another fan base, a rivalry with some teeth, is the mark of a solid fan base.
11. New York Giants
I want to put them lower, I really do. Big Blue fans are just Yankees fans who remember that football exists. However, they are pretty loyal when you get right down to it, and though they are definitely the “snobs” of the New York football scene — which makes Jets fans the slobs, of course — their passion is real and their tolerance for bad football minimal. Giants fans expect the most out of their team, but they also have a good sense of when their guys just don’t have it. As much as any team can in the media cauldron that is New York City, the Giants stay out of the fray. Odell Beckham Jr. made headlines on a semi-regular basis, but even when things are bad, the G-Men never devolve into a sideshow. The only real complaint about this group is that sometimes, the fans could stand to be more rabid. I’ve met Giants fans who live and die with their team, but there’s always a little bit of dignity there. The next few fan bases will show why that isn’t necessarily a compliment.
10. Oakland Raiders
It’s a crying shame that the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas because they’re leaving behind in Oakland some of the best and most loyal fans in football. Everyone I know who has actually gone to a game in Oakland and sat near the Black Hole says they actually feared for their safety a bit, and yet those same people said that the atmosphere around the stadium was as welcoming and relaxed as anywhere in the country. Raiders fans are rabid for their team through thick and (mostly) thin, and they perfectly complement the franchise’s renegade image. They haven’t had much to cheer for in a long time, but unlike some of the other fan bases mentioned previously, it seems to gut them that this is the case. There’s no indifference here, only passion, and the fact that many have said they can’t root for a team that has been moved only scores them more points in my book.
9. Chicago Bears
What do you get when you combine Midwestern politeness with genuine big-city arrogance and sports-obsessiveness? You get Bears fans who keep thinking that 1985 is going to happen all over again and who also are desperately hoping that Mitch Trubisky is the answer at quarterback. Chicago is a great sports town, and while Cubs fans are obnoxious, every other fan base is mostly just passionate. Mash them all together under the Bears’ flag and they become a loud, rowdy bunch with sky-high expectations despite almost perpetual disappointment. Maybe the best thing about Bears fans is that they cheer for a team in the third-biggest media market in the country. Yet there’s none of the indifference that you find in Los Angeles, and none of the overwhelming, “look at us” arrogance you find in New York. It’s a refreshingly honest group.
8. New York Jets
Impressive finishing spot for the Jets, particularly when taking into account Fireman Ed’s existence. Thankfully, the worst celebrity fan in the NFL has hung up his goofy hat and complained his way into obscurity, where he should stay. The rest of the Jets fan base is a borderline-delirious group of people who boo virtually every first-round pick, tangle with a massive inferiority complex on an almost daily basis and yearn for the halcyon days of the franchise, which really amounts to one year: 1968. Most Jets fans also like the Mets, which is fitting because there might not be two more dysfunctional, poorly run franchises in American professional sports — or at least, none that happens to play in the biggest media market in the country. To be a Jets fan is to be waiting for next year before this year has even begun, to anticipate the other shoe dropping before the first one starts to fall and to come back day after day for an emotional beating. Oh, and it is to also live for a chant that involves screaming out the same four letters for hours every Sunday until your voice gives out. Call me crazy, but there’s an odd nobility to all of this.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
A fan base’s street cred immediately goes through the roof when stories abound about a jail inside the stadium. The Vet had that, and Lincoln Financial Field does too. And Eagles fans make great use of it when they’re not berating opposing fans, opposing players, or Eagles players or fellow fans. Really, they just like to boo and yell. It pains me to admit this, as a Penn State grad who had to tolerate Eagles fans for four straight years, but these are very good, very loyal, possibly insane and occasionally criminal fans. They are demanding, they are impatient, they are unreasonable, but they love the Eagles, and that’s obvious long before you walk into the stadium. Some of the things they do are legitimately ugly, but by and large this is a group that just loves its team and really hopes it beats yours. There was the thought that finally winning the big one and experiencing success would soften theses fans, but thankfully, they were right back to their usual ornery selves this past season.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
BIAS ALERT: I was born, raised and still reside in Pittsburgh. I work in Pittsburgh radio and talk about the teams that Pittsburgh fans care about, so I feel uniquely qualified to make this ranking. The Steelers are king. There isn’t a close second in town, and fan devotion is over the top to the point that it becomes humorous. Go to any church in the region on Sunday morning, and there’s a good chance that Steelers jerseys will outnumber polo shirts or suits. Also, if you’ve watched any Steelers road game on television, you’ve seen countless “Terrible Towels” waving in the crowd, usually followed by some spiel from the broadcast team about how well Steelers fans travel. Don’t believe them. Most of the fans in that stadium live in that city because they moved away from Pittsburgh 35 years ago. There are Steelers bars all over the country because Pittsburgh has so many expats. While the fans are largely great, a few quibbles: When the stadium game experience crew plays Styx’s "Renegade," it is meant to fire up the crowd and the defense. The defense tends to give up a huge play or two after this happens. Oh, and the song isn’t good. Also, it might anger black-and-gold fans, but it’s true: There are often plenty of empty seats at Heinz Field. Can’t call yourselves the best fans in football if you can’t put fannies in seats.
5. Dallas Cowboys
It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that Cowboys fans are more as advertised than they are a creation of Jerry Jones’ hype machine. Unlike Steelers fans, Cowboys fans reliably fill the stadium game after game. These same fans haven’t had nearly as much to cheer about for about two decades, but they still rabidly consume everything associated with the team. They are nearly as widespread as Steelers fans, but that’s more because they became a “national” team than any sort of population exodus from Big D. If I had a complaint with Cowboys fans, it would be that they’ve almost become too cosmopolitan and a little too content with the team’s failings. But every time I start to think that, I hop onto Twitter and see fans in a full-fledged meltdown about Jason Garrett or Dak Prescott or Sean Lee’s hamstrings, thus renewing my faith in the idea that though they might be glitzy and glamorous, Cowboys fans are just as nuts as the rest of us, if not more so.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium is probably the loudest outdoor venue in the league and is a truly brutal place for opposing teams. Chiefs fans, obviously, are a large part of that. Sometimes the simple ability to generate noise, and lots of it, gets lost in the shuffle when great fan bases are being discussed. No group of fans is more reliably loud than Chiefs fans. There is no real other defining characteristic that sticks out to me. Anything I could think of is drowned out by the noise level, which is palpable through the television. And they’re probably going to be loud for years to come because after struggling with Alex “checkdown” Smith for years, they got his polar opposite in Patrick Mahomes. It feels like the football gods are smiling on Kansas City, even with last year’s heartbreaking loss in the AFC championship game still fresh. If Mahomes’ career progresses as advertised, some of the best fans in the league might have a whole lot to cheer about for a long time.
3. Cleveland Browns
Much like the 2019 Browns themselves, I suspect this ranking will cause lots of controversy and get people talking. The truth of the matter is that Cleveland fans, despite having virtually nothing to cheer about since getting their team back in 1999, have never really gotten any less rabid. The “new” Browns have been mismanaged almost from the start, and there remains cause for worry that Jimmy Haslam will still find a way to screw things up for this year’s team. Through it all Browns fans have remained resolute. There hasn’t been a more consistently awful franchise over the past two decades, and lesser fans would have folded. The Browns went 0-16 three seasons ago. What did the fans do? They had a parade to commemorate the occasion. Talk about being handed lemons and making lemonade. If you gave the Browns New England’s level of success since the turn of the century, there might not be any fans left in Cleveland, as they’d all have died from sheer happiness. Browns fans are great, and loyal, and deserve good things for a change.
2. Green Bay Packers
I started humming the “Go Pack Go” song as I started typing this, which shows how much Green Bay’s fan culture permeates all football fans. Yes, they get to cheer for one of the league’s storied franchises, and yes, the quarterback is one of the all-time greatest to play the game. But Packers fans lived through decades of mediocrity before Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers brought them back to prominence. They deal with harsh weather, no real proximity to a major city, and still more harsh weather, and they simply readjust their cheese hats and come back for more. When you think about football in its purest form, you probably think about snow falling at Lambeau Field, with the green and gold popping and knowledgeable fans cheering like crazy for the home team. A handful of teams might have bigger fan bases, but there’s an endlessly appealing small-town charm about the Packers and their fans. In fact, they’d be No. 1 on this list except for one truly zealous group.
1. New Orleans Saints
The Big Easy has a well-deserved reputation as a party city without compare, and most of the other warm-weather tourist destination cities in this country don’t boast particularly rabid fan bases. That’s not true in the bayou. Saints fans are the most devoted I’ve ever seen up close. You see Saints jerseys around town, and if you’re ever in New Orleans on a home Sunday, all anyone is talking about is the Saints. There is food and music and culture everywhere in New Orleans, but the football team is just as much a part of the fabric of the city as anything. Moods rise and fall with the performance of the team, and the (understandably) apoplectic response of the partisans to an egregious missed call in the NFC championship game that cost them a trip to the Super Bowl was at once funny in its sheer scale but also appropriate, given the circumstances. The Superdome might be the loudest, toughest venue in the sport, and Saints fans somehow imbue it with an atmosphere that is equal parts party, rock concert and hostile sporting event. With apologies to the other 31 teams, this is the best fan base in the NFL.
Cowboys' Smith has not heard back from McCarthy .
Todd Fuhrman talks Super Bowl MVP