Written by: Alexander Amir & Robert Robinson
Amidst fierce rivalries, lost seasons, and scorching winning streaks, every NFL team should take a step back and be thankful. Whether it’s a surprise free agent pickup, a rock solid head coach, or an outstanding NFL draft, even the worst teams entrenched in the bottom of the standings have at least something to be grateful for. Let’s take a look at one thing that teams 1-32 should be appreciating over their Thanksgiving turkeys.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback Josh Allen
I firmly believe that Allen is the future of the Bills, and I think they do too. He has been injured since week 6, but he has shown flashes of greatness, most notably in the team’s 27-6 thrashing of the talented Vikings in week 3. There is really nobody around him on offense, and there is still lots of roster turnover that must happen. But once it does, Josh Allen will be developed enough to lead this team to success.
Miami Dolphins: Veteran Contracts
Who would have expected the Dolphins to have a .500 record this far into the season? They can thank veterans Brock Osweiler and Frank Gore for that. While they have lost the past few games, Osweiler put up a beautiful 380 yard, 3 touchdown game to beat the now 7-3 Bears. Meanwhile, Gore is averaging 4.5 yards per carry in his 14th season in the league. The best part is, the Dolphins are paying two of their most productive players veteran minimum contracts.
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
I know that Patriots fans are eternally grateful for this duo that has been holding it down since 2003. Every single year, the Patriots roster seems to be turned upside down, but the results are always the same: double digit wins, an AFC Championship series appearance, and often a trip to the Super Bowl. These two simply turned around an entire franchise, and they have sustained arguably the greatest dynasty in sports history for almost 20 years.
New York Jets: New York City
Despite atrocious play on the field, the Jets have been amongst the top 5 in ticket sales since 2004. With such play in a smaller market, the Jets would likely struggle financially and suffer a large amount of internal turmoil. Due to the fandom and size of New York City, Woody Johnson and family have happily run the team even amongst countless bad seasons on the field. There’s nothing worse than having dysfunctional management (just ask the Browns), and the Jets happily avoid that designation.
Dallas Cowboys: 1st Round Draft Picks
Dallas’ season is hinging on the success of its recent first round draft picks, and those players are turning it around. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has had two monster games in the past two weeks, and the offense runs entirely through him. Offensive linemen Zack Martin and Tyron Smith have improved their play as well, and they are mainstays on the offensive line, which is the strength of this team. 2018 first rounder Leighton Vander Esch is 3rd in the league in tackles and is the defensive leader. And Dallas’ 2019 first rounder turned into Amari Cooper, who has raised Dak Prescott’s passer rating by 9 points.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley
It’s simple — Saquon is both the future of the Giants and the future of the league. He seems to already be the most complete back in the league, combining Ezekiel Elliott’s power, Le’Veon Bell’s hands, and Barry Sanders’ shiftiness to just destroy defensive game plans. He’s on pace for 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards, a feat accomplished just twice in NFL history (behind a swiss cheese offensive line, no less). We also got a glimpse this Sunday of how lethal New York’s play action attack can be simply because of how dangerous Barkley is. Add on the fact that Sam Darnold has not looked good this season, and the Giants are grateful they pulled the trigger on Barkley at #2 overall in the 2018 Draft.
Philadelphia Eagles: The NFC East Division
As much as Philadelphia has struggled this season, they are still right in the thick of the NFC East division race. No team has repeated as division champion in the NFC East since 2004. However, the division leading Redskins just lost Alex Smith to a gruesome season-ending injury, the Giants have not nearly met expectations, and the Cowboys have had a tumultuous year. If Philly can figure out issues in the secondary and running game, then they could definitely overtake Washington and Dallas in the race.
Washington Redskins: Old School Football
Who cares that the NFL is a passing league? Despite ranking 25th in the league in passing yards, the Redskins have won 6 games thanks to a good ole’ running game and defense. Adrian Peterson has found the fountain of youth, ranking 7th in rushing yards, and the defense ranks 5th in points allowed per game, 4th in fumbles, and 4th in interceptions. Even though they lost Alex Smith for the season, the team’s strengths will allow them to still be competitive with Colt McCoy at QB. Smashmouth offense still has its place!
Baltimore Ravens: Coaching Stability
The Ravens always seems to be a borderline playoff team, and indeed they have only won two Super Bowls in their existence. But since the year 2000, Baltimore has won the 5th most games of any NFL team, despite lacking a true, dominant franchise QB. The Ravens have only had two head coaches since 2000, Brian Billick and John Harbaugh, and I suspect that this continuity is the primary reason for Baltimore’s success. They both come from the Bill Walsh coaching tree, and Harbaugh likes to hire coordinators and position coaches who are already familiar with the organization. The Ravens should be very thankful for such stability and the success that has stemmed from it.
Cleveland Browns: John Dorsey
On September 20th, 2018, the Browns won their first game in 635 days. Thanksgiving came early that day, as Browns fans around the country rejoiced as if their team just won the Super Bowl. While they still have a ways to go before actually being competitive, new GM John Dorsey has completely flipped the fortunes of the franchise. #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield has been the best rookie QB, #4 overall pick Denzel Ward has been a shutdown corner, and 2nd round rookie Nick Chubb has become a bona fide workhorse. Dorsey has brought in free agent talent and fired cancerous head coach Hue Jackson. Thanks to him, Cleveland’s future is very bright.
Cincinnati Bengals: The State of Ohio Sports
The Bengals are the definition of mediocre- they consistently finish with a middling record, 2nd or 3rd in their division, and have lost 6 wild card playoff games in 9 years. Andy Dalton is an average QB and Marvin Lewis is an average head coach. Luckily for them, the state of Ohio doesn’t care about mediocrity! Indeed, aside from recent Cavaliers NBA Championships and an Indians World Series appearance in 2016, the Bengals have been one of the best professional Ohio teams across all sports. They should be thankful that their mediocrity is accepted by the state of Ohio.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
Always overshadowed by the success of Brady, the talent of Rodgers, and the accomplishments of Brees, Big Ben has been the rock for this Steelers team since 2004. As good as their defense has been at times, the team rides and dies with their QB. In his age 36 season, Ben is on track for over 5,000 yards and 36 touchdowns, both easily career highs. The Steelers have to be grateful that he fell to them in the ‘04 Draft — they have a legitimate chance to beat any team in the league if he continues to play at this level.
Chicago Bears: Linebackers
The Bears franchise has 6 linebackers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, more than any other team. Their legacy has always been ferocious defense, with the likes of Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus leading the defense from the linebacker position. Now, in 2018, the Bears have their next star linebacker, Khalil Mack. Their defense has been absolutely dominant across the board and very well may carry them deep into the playoffs, and it all starts with Mack. He has been a one man wrecking crew, and will carry on the legacy of past Chicago greats for years to come.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford
Stafford inherited a Lions team in 2009 that was coming off an 0-16 season, becoming the first team in NFL history to go winless in a single year. Since 2011, his first full season, he has brought the Lions to the playoffs three times despite playing in a division dominated by the Packers and Vikings. The team around him has simply been terrible for the most part, yet he still puts up 4,000 yards and 20-30 touchdowns per season. Stafford always gives Detroit a fighting chance, and if the front office can build up the defense, the Lions could be a legitimate NFL team.
Green Bay Packers: Franchise History
Of course the cheeseheads should be grateful for Aaron Rodgers, but what has the team really accomplished recently? Despite having two of the greatest QBs of all time in Rodgers and Brett Favre, they’ve only won two Super Bowls since 1967! Yet Green Bay is still considered one of the greatest NFL franchises, and that is because of their rich, early history in the days of Vince Lombardi and the presence of two all-time great QBs. They will always attract free agents, prized coaches, and top GMs because of their franchise pedigree, something the team should be extremely thankful for.
Minnesota Vikings: Rob Brzezinski
Kirk Cousins. Stefon Diggs. Adam Thielen. Everson Griffen. Danielle Hunter. Xavier Rhodes. Kyle Rudolph. Harrison Smith. How can so much talent be on one team? Well, salary cap Rob Brzezinski is the secret sauce to Minnesota’s ridiculously talented roster. His genius was on display when he engineered the “poison pill” clause in offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson’s contract in 2006, and he has time and time again finagled the salary cap to accommodate star players for extended periods of time. While the team may not be performing up to their capabilities, their roster remains one of the most talented in the league, and most of their core players are locked up. Brzezinski deserves all the credit in the world.
Houston Texans: Clemson
Houston has always had a talented defense, but it’s never truly been dominant, whether due to injuries or underperformance. This means the driving force behind Houston’s success is and will be it’s offense, and their offense is led by Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins, two Clemson kids. This dynamic duo can put up points at will, even when the team is missing an offensive line and other surrounding receivers. Clemson groomed them well, and Houston is the beneficiary.
Indianapolis Colts: Offensive Line
Nobody is more thankful for Indy’s offensive line than Andrew Luck is. The Colts offensive line is ranked 3rd in Adjusted Sack Rate by Football Outsiders, and they have not allowed a sack in 5 straight games. Andrew Luck is also barely being touched, having been hit just 3 times in the past 4 games. As a result, their offense is scorching hot, and Luck is easily putting up his best statistical season as a pro. Add a couple pieces on defense and another wide receiver, and this team can become a dominant force in the AFC, anchored by its offensive line.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Shahid Khan
Pretty soon we may have been calling this team the London Jaguars, and fans would have had to fly to Wembley Stadium to see them. Owner Shahid Khan, who has been instrumental in extending the NFL to England, had submitted a bid to purchase Wembley Stadium. However, he withdrew the submission about a month ago, meaning the Jaguars likely will not be London’s first NFL team. Fans should be extremely thankful for Khan’s withdrawal — who wants to see their team leave the city, much less the country!
Tennessee Titans: 2019 NFL Draft Location
The Titans have kind of been a sad franchise since their birth in 1999. Aside from a few playoff appearances, Titans fans have had little to rejoice over. Luckily, the NFL Draft is coming to Nashville, and a media storm will come with it. The city and team will get some fun national exposure for those few days in April, which should boost the organization’s spirits.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Stability
Few teams in the NFL have had the consistency at the QB position that the Falcons have. Matt Ryan has missed just 2 games in his entire career and has made the Falcons perennial playoff threats. Say what you will about their lack of Super Bowl rings, but that should really be attributed to poor defenses and coaching. Ryan has a 65% career completion and is completing over 70% of his throws this year. He’s also nearly on pace to match his career high in touchdowns and career low in interceptions. It’s such a luxury to consistently have a great player at the most important position in sports.
Carolina Panthers: Riverboat Ron
Everyone knows head coach Ron Rivera is an ultra-aggressive decision maker, and sometimes those calls can lose his team some games (like last week against the Lions). However, Rivera really should take a lot of the credit for Carolina’s pretty recent success. Since joining the team in 2011, Rivera has led the Panthers to the 7th most wins in the NFL. He’s made the playoffs 4 times in 7 years in an incredibly difficult division, and he’s managed a diva QB, lack of skill position players, and a stifling defense. Ron deserves thanks from all Panthers fans.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees and Sean Peyton
While this duo doesn’t have the same amount of rings as does Brady and Belichick, Brees and Peyton have brought unbelievable stability to a previously mediocre and tumultuous organization. Peyton’s coaching genius has allowed the team to thrive in 2018 and adapt to an offensive style that employs gadget plays and misdirection. Brees, in his age 39 season, is putting up a 77% completion percentage and is leading a historically good offense. This duo has always let the Saints remain competitive, and are the reason that the team is my Super Bowl favorite right now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Controversy
This might seem counterintuitive, but I think the fact that the Bucs have exchanged Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick numerous times as their starting QB sheds more light on their situation at the position. A veteran like Fitzpatrick doesn’t seem to be a great fit, as they need someone more dynamic and explosive. But Winston doesn’t seem to be the answer, as he is far too turnover-prone to trust. If Winston or Fitzpatrick were to start this entire season and be average, it would be hard to decide whether to keep the guy or not. But their wild inconsistency should provide clarity to the Bucs that they have to start fresh with a new QB altogether.
Denver Broncos: 2018 Rookies
While Denver’s win column may not be too pretty, this year’s rookies do. Bradley Chubb has 7 sacks in the past 5 games, Courtland Sutton has filled the place of Demaryius Thomas admirably, and Royce Freeman has shown flashes of being a strong running back. The biggest pleasant surprise, however, is Phillip Lindsay, an undrafted rookie from Colorado. He’s on pace for a 1,000 yard rushing season and 8 touchdowns with a massive 5.5 yards per carry. Denver’s season might be lost now, but the future is exceedingly bright.
Kansas City Chiefs: Homegrown Talent
14 out of 22 total starters have been drafted by the Chiefs. Some of their most explosive weapons, including Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford were all selected by the team to play for the organization. As good as the Chiefs are right now, they are even scarier if you look to the future, because they are so young and good already. By building a team around rookie contracts, the team can now afford to supplement their already talented roster with star free agents.
Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Badgley
Oh, the kicking woes of the LA Chargers! Caleb Sturgis, who was pretty successful with the Eagles and Dolphins, entered the season as LA’s kicker. He made just 9/13 field goals, a 69% success rate, and missed a whopping 6 extra points! Thankfully, he was cut early in November, and since then replacement Mike Badgley has made 8/8 field goals and 10/11 extra points. With Badgley, the Chargers might finally be past the problem that has plagued them for so long.
Oakland Raiders: NFL Draft Picks
After trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears, the Oakland Raiders now have three 1st round picks in 2019 and two 1st rounders and 3rd rounders in 2020. When a team enters rebuild mode the draft is obviously the most important aspect by a long shot. With so much potential to hit on young, future stars, the Raiders could get back to being competitive far sooner than one would think.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
I know Larry is having a down season, but this is more about being thankful and appreciative of him before he’s gone. Fitz hasn’t announced his future plans but it certainly feels like this is the last chapter in his illustrious career. He has been a great player and even better man over his 15 years in the desert. This is one of the rare players who seems to have no enemies even amongst fans — you just have to love him. This organization, city, and league will miss Larry Fitzgerald when he’s gone. Let us all be thankful and enjoy it while we can.
Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay
Rams fans are now entering their second year of giving thanks for Sean McVay. Last season they were thankful to be rid of Jeff Fisher, finally, and to have a team definitely trending upwards. This season they are thankful because they are actual contenders for the first time since the mid 2000’s. Just 2 seasons ago this team was 4-12 and in search of an identity. Now we sit at 10-1 with an eye on February's big game, and McVay has created one of the league’s most dynamic offenses by turning around Jared Goff’s career and by maximizing the potential of every single player on the field. He will be a gift that keeps on giving for a long, long time.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Shanahan & John Lynch
The 49ers have to be thankful for Mike Shanahan and John Lynch. This tandem has shown signs of future greatness. Lynch has put together a strong base to build on going forward with shrewd moves and cap spending, and Shanahan has shown that even with a third string QB, his system can put up points. The Niners are in a position to one day, sooner rather than later, recapture the luster of the glory days. Don’t let their record fool you — I think that is more injury than an indication of where this team is in the rebuilding process. These guys know what they are doing.
Seattle Seahawks: The 12th Man
The Seahawks are somewhat of a surprise this season after some key losses to the Legion of Boom defense, but what isn’t a surprise is the 12th man continuing to play a major factor in their home games. It may be a little corny to say a team is thankful for their fans, but let’s be honest here — this group is one of the few who probably mean it for more than financial reasons. As long as the 12th man shows up, Centurylink Field is always going to be a difficult place for opposing team to go snatch a win.