What if we ignored silly things like conferences and geography, and created NFL divisions based solely on mascots. Would any division stand out above the rest? Would some teams who were out of the running in their current division, make the playoffs under our new format? Let’s take a look.
You might have never really thought about just how many NFL mascots are bird-related, but there are quite a few.
At first glance, this division doesn’t seem like much. The Ravens have some ugly losses this year, as do the Falcons. The Eagles are having a complete letdown season this year, and the Cardinals and Seahawks are really just bad football teams. None of these birds are really soaring this season, but what about in the future?
You have to imagine that the Eagles will turn that ship around, once they have had some more time to gel and get used to playing as part of a team. The Ravens still have a good defense, but they are finding out that their offense with Flacco at the helm might not be as good as they had hoped. The Falcons really seem like a team that is coming into their own. They had a high flying year in 2010 and despite a few losses this year, they aren’t doing so bad. They have young talent in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, which will make them at least contenders for years to come. The Cardinals have some OK pieces, but they really need someone who can consistently get the ball to Fitzgerald. Until they do that, they will always be a middle/bottom of the pack team. The Seahawks are in a similar boat, except that their star player is a running back, which makes it easier to get him the ball. On the other hand, running backs are all but worthless when you are playing catch up, which is what the Seahawks tend to be doing most of the time. I think that this restructured division has some hope for the future, but mostly a lot of mediocrity.
Playoff Team: Atlanta Falcons – although that was likely going to happen anyways.
The Scratching Post
Our next restructured NFL division consists of the big, fluffy, and often aloof cats. While our previous division featured five teams, this litter box is home to only four.
If we could sum up this new division in one word, it would be young (or should we say “kittens”). The Panthers are sporting a rookie QB in Cam Newton who has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but just can’t seem to get over the hump. They are vastly improved from the 2010 team that won just two games, but they aren’t likely to win a whole lot more than that this year. The Bengals, behind rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green are playing well against the schedule they have been handed so far, but have yet to really beat one of the elite teams in the league. The Detroit Lions are the same way. They had a hot start, but have faltered of late, as their opponents get tougher and they lose some of the early-season mojo. The Jacksonville Jaguars are probably the biggest mystery of the bunch, and like any cat I’ve ever been around, it is hard to predict their actions.
This year, The Scratching Post is probably one of the worst divisions in football, but the future holds a lot of hope for these fickle felines. In a couple years, the division of the cats could be the home of the strongest teams in the NFL.
Playoff Teams: Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are on the bubble with the way things currently are, but would likely be a shoo-in under the new divisional format.
The next grouping in our restructured NFL divisions all has one thing in common – oxygen breathing lungs. While it may seem like a funky way to organize an NFL division, we have to admit that we were hard pressed to find any other way to sort these six teams.
|Mammals Land & Sea|
|St. Louis Rams|
The largest division of any we created, the Mouth Breathers contains a mixture of franchises at various stages of development. We have the Bears who are probably the team best prepared for an immediate playoff run, the Bills who are new to winning and still unsure how to handle it, the Broncos and Rams who have young QB’s and lots of potential, the Colts who are possibly witnessing the end of an era with the injuries to Manning, and the Dolphins who probably should have played for the number 1 overall draft pick, but instead decided to start winning.
Right now, there isn’t a whole lot of meat to this division (pun totally intended), but depending on how well some of the teams near the bottom are able to draft, this might turn out as a fairly formidable division. Tebow is developing into, at the very least, an adequate game manager for the Broncos, and Bradford’s upside is really high in St. Louis. The Bears have some really great pieces in place and if they are willing to spend the money, will be competitive for quite a few years. The Colts have the toughest decision to make of all, and that is “what do we do with Peyton Manning after the 2011 season?” Obviously if he wants to come back, everyone in Indy, except maybe his doctors, would be thrilled. But if he takes the smart and safe route and chooses to retire, the Colts will likely take a Quarterback number 1 overall (and they just might do that regardless of whether Manning comes back or not). The Bills are a team that is actually pretty talented, they just haven’t figured out how to deal with the pressure of everyone gunning for them. Once they figure that out, they will be a very good football team. They have a defense that loves to create turnovers, and solid talent at the QB, RB, and WR positions. The Dolphins…well, the more they win, the lower their chances become of getting a top draft pick and lifting themselves out of mediocrity.
Playoff Team: Chicago Bears – Another team on the bubble currently that should have no problem winning their new division.
The Wild, Wild West
Geographically speaking, this is one of the more accurately restructured divisions. The Redskins are the exception, although we have to wonder just how long this clearly racist mascot will continue to be the symbol of the team that plays in our Nation’s capital. Taking a look at the teams we moved into this new division, we have to say that we are impressed with the overall strength so far.
|Cowboys & Indigenous Inhabitants|
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|San Francisco 49ers|
While it may not be filled from top to bottom with winners, there are teams here that could have a chance to do some damage. The Texans and the 49ers are clearly the best teams in the division, while the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Redskins have all shown that they are capable of being great at some point in the season. This division is led by contending teams, and filled out with teams that could play spoiler any given week.
While we have two for-sure playoff teams in this division, it is the future that really has us excited. The Niners and Texans will likely be good for a few more years, barring any major injuries or holdouts. The Chiefs are having an average season, despite losing their top running back to injury. When he returns, they will likely be able to complement him with a shiny new, potentially high, draft choice. The Cowboys have an improved defense, and an offense that is quickly turning into one of the most explosive in the league. Romo hasn’t won a big game yet, but he has shown that he can consistently make big plays, and his receivers are stepping up in a big way. The Redskins are probably the worst team in the division, not only now, but in the future as well. Furthermore, they have a history of terrible drafts which likely means that they won’t be as wild as their division name implies. The Wild, Wild West as a whole, will likely be the strongest division now and for a few years to come.
Playoff Team: San Francisco 49ers – Great teams are great no matter where they play.
Come hither and let me tell you the tale of a division filled with heroes and creatures not of this world. Ok, so it’s not really that great, but here are a few teams that seemed to have the same mascot theme so we put them all together.
|Myth & Legend|
|New York Giants|
|San Diego Chargers|
Our smallest realigned division so far, The Storybooks hold a fascinating array of teams that, on the surface, conjure up images of greatness, but in reality are more human than god. Each of these teams holds pieces that at times looked great, and unstoppable, but often times fall prey to their weaknesses in the direst of moments. Year in and year out, the Giants and Chargers look like they could be Super Bowl contenders, but usually fall short of the playoffs or have a less than impressive showing in them (with the obvious exception being the 2007 Giants). The Titans have looked, at times, like they could make the playoffs, but can never seem to step up and win the big game. Furthermore, their big money guy Chris Johnson has been MIA for most of this season.
Looking ahead, as Eli continues to develop and the Wide Receivers get more experienced, they could likely have one of the top offenses in the league, making them a formidable team. The Chargers have all of the pieces, but have yet to really put them all together in the same game. Some days the offense looks great but the defense struggles, and when the defense plays well, the offense hits a bump. Our confidence is high that the Chargers will turn things around, perhaps not this season, but next. If the Titans can get Chris Johnson going to at least 80% of where he was in his prime, they will be an amazing football team. It is just unclear whether CJ2K has the motivation to be great, now that he got paid his money.
Playoff Team: New York Giants – In a division full of chokers, they are the least likely to do so.
The Time Clock
While this next group of teams might not all fit neatly into what we define as jobs (although being a Saint is harder work than you might think), we can all agree that the mascots in this next group of teams represent hard work, blue collar values, and airplanes (just because we could).
|Green Bay Packers|
|New England Patriots|
|New Orleans Saints|
|New York Jets|
If you are ever thinking about starting a new franchise, or renaming your current team, it might be in your best interests to choose a name that would fit in with our 9-5 division. This division is straight up loaded with high quality teams and if you closed your eyes and pointed, you would be sure to come up with a team that many would argue is a Super Bowl Contender.
The future looks bright for most of these teams as they all have one thing in common, an elite starting quarterback (well maybe not the Jets, but they were kind of a stretch to fit in this division anyways right?). While no great team is without its flaws (everyone in this division has some), they are all generally good enough to overcome them. Furthermore, every team in this division (through week 10 of the 2011 season) has a winning record. No other restructured division can say that.
Playoff Team: Green Bay Packers – although if this was a real division and they had to play each other twice a season, things could be totally different.
The Treasure Chest
Most team mascots in the NFL are limited by the boundaries of terra firma. Not our next group of football teams. When land became crowded and their pockets became empty, these marine marauders took to the sea and began pillaging and plundering until all was left in ruin. While their mascots might strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, these teams don’t exactly demand the same respect at the moment – although that is sure to change.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
While nobody could ever claim that these teams were soft, they haven’t been the dominating forces that they used to be, even a decade ago. In the early 2000’s, the Raiders, Bucs and Vikings were all among the elite teams in the NFL. Since then, none of them have been able to regain their elite status, and their ships drifted along in the sea of mediocrity that makes up three quarters of the NFL these days. This wouldn’t be the weakest division in the new alignment by any means, but you would be hard pressed to find a team that could go better than 8-8 more than a couple years in a row.
With all of that being said, each of these teams is just a couple of moves away from being a great franchise once more. The Vikings need consistency at quarterback and a quality wide receiver to complement what many think is the best running back in the league. The Buccaneers could be a great team with a better running back and maybe 1 pretty good receiver. The Raiders have decent quarterbacks at best and an average defense. Upgrades in either of those places would go nicely with the stable of receivers they have as well as the Bush/McFadden beast they roll out at running back. For now the shores are safe, but when these teams dock their ships, prepare for havoc to be wreaked across the land.
Playoff Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – probably the least bad team in this new division.
The Crayon Box
I thought it would be funnier if we just left it at this.
Playoff Team: Cleveland Browns – I can see Browns fans embracing this new format whole-heartedly since it is about the best chance they have of seeing the playoffs.