The 2016 NFL season has, by and large, been a dreary mess. When there hasn’t been another domestic violence case mishandled by the league, there have been countless stories about dipping ratings and quality of play. It’s enough to make people further question why they watch the sport in the first place.
And that’s reasonable – fans certainly don’t owe the NFL any more loyalty than teams show markets they abandon or players they summarily cut, which is to say, none.
That doesn’t mean every single thing has been bad. There have been some downright enjoyable moments, games, teams, players. Things that make this seem just captivating enough to be worth watching, even if only for a little while. So let’s take a moment to appreciate those things before getting back to complaining about the rest.
The Patriots have really gone all-in on being the villains
It’s not like going against New England has been difficult in the last 15 or so years. The Pats really doubled down on being hateable in 2016, just when people were starting to feel a little sympathetic for Tom Brady based on how he was treated by the NFL during Deflategate. Not anymore. They’re still a lock for at least getting to the AFC Championship Game, if not the Super Bowl, but at least no one has to pretend like they’re the good guys. Okay, Gronk is still cool.
The Raiders return to glory
If you’re a fan of a team in the AFC West, you might be less than thrilled for Oakland to be good again for the first time in a while. Everyone else should feel good for this team, which is legitimately entertaining, even down to its coach, who somehow transformed from hapless in Jacksonville to risk-taking and savvy in Oakland.
Marquette King, likeable punter
Vamos a Raiders!!! pic.twitter.com/fyIcANzAX4
— Marquette King (@MarquetteKing) November 19, 2016
Sure, if you want to punters with personality, there’s Pat McAfee of the Colts, but I find him a little bit of a try-hard. King seems a little more effortlessly entertaining, and easily has better dance moves. He’s also, unlike McAfee, yet to get in trouble for drunkenly swimming in a canal, though I feel like he would do it in a more endearing way if he did.
Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan being on the same coaching staff hasn’t produced quite the madcap hilarity some of us were hoping that it would, and Rex has been a little harder to take on account of his vocal support of Donald Trump. But the fans in Buffalo have broken enough tables in tailgates to provide distraction.
Oh, and a few of them hurled dildos during the game against the Patriots. For that, they were banned for life from the stadium, though we appreciate the sacrifice for their brave deeds.
The Green Bay squirrel
The Packers’ season is nearing the point of being a total washout due to defensive injuries and Aaron Rodgers not playing up to his usual standard. That means the highlight of the year was a squirrel that got on the field in Lambeau and even stopped play for a bit by being in the end zone.
The NFL works too hard to have regimented control over everything so it’s nice when chaos intervenes, be it during a blackout at the Super Bowl, a fan flashing a green laser in the stands in Mexico, or even a squirrel on the field in Green Bay. Cheers to you, furry friend. Hopefully the grounds crew didn’t kill you.
The Browns misspelled banner
Nothing quite encapsulated Browns sadness this year like fans being unable to get GO DAWG POUND spelled right in the stands, especially when the other two pro franchises in the city got to the championship in their respective sport.
That’s right, NFL ties are fantastic. The only downside for them this year is they happened in close proximity, so the media reacted like there was some sort of tie epidemic in the NFL, instead of embracing them for the rare wonder they are. The ending of that Seattle-Arizona tie was pure magic and among the best games of the season. I could watch Pete Carroll’s dumbfounded face on loop all weekend, still.
Antonio Brown’s willingness to take fines for twerking
The Steelers receiver has some of the most elaborate and entertaining touchdown celebrations in the league over the last few years, and he doesn’t much care whether the NFL is going to fine him for them. He’s gonna keep shaking his ass, or diving crotch-first at the base of the uprights. And bless him for that.
Jeff Fisher’s pursuit of the all-time loss record
It may not be something he wants to talk about, but the Rams coach is rapidly closing in on being the losingest coach in NFL history. On Sunday, he tied Tom Landry for second on the all-time list with 162 career losses. Three more and he’ll tie Dan Reeves for the record at 165. A 3-3 finish would also get him to 7-9 on the season, a record he has made synonymous with himself through a catch phrase on “Hard Knocks” this summer.
The newly exciting Falcons
Matt Ryan may not give much of a quote, but he’s been balling out of control for most of this season. Like the Raiders, they may be limited by what they can get out of their defense in their pursuit of a championship, but they’ll be fun to watch until the end of the road comes.
Blake Bortles throwing interceptions off teammates’ feet
— Conrad Garcia (@ConradBuckets) November 13, 2016
Two weeks in a row. In general, we owe the Jaguars for continuing to be bad in spite of preseason hype. With so much madness in the world, the comforting familiarity of the Jaguars pitiful performance restores some minor measure of sanity to the world.
Odell Beckham and the kicking net
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) October 21, 2016
Beckham has continued to be a thrilling player willing to have fun, even if there were a few weeks there when the media was questioning whether he was too emotional to succeed in the NFL. The antics with the kicking net were also amusing, and he put a lid on it after enough time that it didn’t become tiresome. To me, at least. Your mileage may vary.
He and Ezekiel Elliott have emerged as the core of what may end up being a new dynasty in Dallas. Prescott, by all indications, is a good guy, and even picks up after himself on the sideline. He’s also played well enough that Tony Romo even recited a eulogy for his own career prior to Week 11. Pretty impressive for a guy drafted in the fourth round.
Steve Smith still being around and shit-talking
At the end of the 2015 season, Steve Smith has been planning on retiring and thank goodness he reconsidered. This way, we got one more season of Smith willing to trash everyone in his way. He’s probably the only person that I’ll permit to get away with millennial bashing, probably because he’d thrash me terribly.