The nature of the human brain is to categorize; to identify. I always keep this in mind as I analyze football teams or players. It’s a simple question: Who are you? Or perhaps more accurately, what are you? On the most basic, fundamental levels. Your genus, species, family. The answers to those questions, more frequently than not, are the defining factor when I’m analyzing winners and losers, draft status, matchup favorability, you name it.
In that vein, and with only the Super Bowl left, I thought it would be a fun exercise to stuff each of the 32 NFL teams down into a vastly oversimplified box based on my observations from this season. So, NFL teams, here is what you are, at this moment, as far as I’m concerned:
ARIZONA CARDINALS: The perfect cautionary tale for teams that don’t plan ahead for the loss of a franchise quarterback.
ATLANTA FALCONS: A Julio Jones or Jonathan Baldwin away from being a LOT more explosive.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: At a crossroads. Ray is my age. Ed is close. It’s coming sometime. This is a fascinating team to watch the next few years, if only to see if they’re as stable as we think they are. I think they are.
BUFFALO BILLS: More competitive than people think, but a long way from mattering in that division with the Patriots and Jets. And that other team.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Starting WAY over. Good luck. Faith test: Would you rather start your franchise over behind Jimmy Clausen or Cam Newton? Either one’s a project. And you aren’t exactly flush with pass-catchers. Or running backs, anymore. O-Line’s a little shaky. Just sayin’.
CHICAGO BEARS: Better than I thought they were. But if they don’t draft five new offensive linemen I’m killing them in post-draft analysis.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: The most consistent team in the NFL. But in this case, that’s not a compliment. It’s a punchline.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Still maddeningly devoid of playmakers at almost every position where you must have one to win.
DALLAS COWBOYS: An enigma wrapped in a riddle cloaked in a crossword puzzle disguised as a word problem. Or something like that. It’s gonna suck to watch the Super Bowl this week, ain’t it? 2011 is definitive in a lot of ways for this squad, as far as I’m concerned.
DENVER BRONCOS: Making a mistake by not going all-in with Tim Tebow. He’s not going to freak out and get complacent if you just hand it to him. You already did it. Stick to your guns. Beef up the OL a bit, focus on the defense, hope Brandon Lloyd is for real and bring all those young weapons like Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royal along together. Another fascinating “Sidecar GM” type of team to follow right now.
DETROIT LIONS: Still in need of A Few Like Suh.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: The anti-Cardinals. The perfect inspirational tale for teams wondering how to plan for life after a franchise quarterback. Oh, and also, I suspect this: Super Bowl Champions.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Testing my patience. Big time.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: In need of a defensive playmaker or two, and a reliable replacement for Joseph Addai.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: In deep, DEEP quicksand if that bone-on-bone MJD knee surgery story is as bad as it sounds to me. Draft accordingly. I like Karim and Jennings, but…
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The team most in danger of a regression in 2011 not because you will, but because everyone sees you coming a mile away. And they’re gunning for you.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Not instilling me with much confidence, considering I believe organizational stability and effectiveness starts at the top. That Sparano-Harbaugh fiasco was an absolute three-ring circus.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Making a shrewd move by nabbing Vince Young, if in fact that strong rumor comes to fruition. Look, the guy has won a lot more games in his career than he lost, and he can hand off to Adrian Peterson or dump to Harvin or throw lobs to Sidney Rice about as well as anybody they’re going to find on the open market, and when the play breaks down, he can go Vince Young on you. What, are you actually thinking about him stunting Joe Webb’s development? Stop it.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Going to need a more physical presence on both sides of the ball to get where you are so close to going.
NEW YORK GIANTS: In desperate need of some more pass protection, in my opinion.
NEW YORK JETS: In no need of my advice whatsoever. As you were.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: If I had to guess? Silently licking your wounds, stewing. In some cases, fuming. A sleeping giant for 2011.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: On my *$#@ list for dumping Tom Cable, but still, well-positioned for the next several years if you can just keep the Emperor from mucking it all up.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Going to have to do something with Kevin Kolb eventually. I think this is that time.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: The (Black and) Gold Standard for how to run a franchise in the National Football League. Year after year, and it’s no accident. Damn it.
ST. LOUIS RAMS: A year ahead of schedule. With any luck, 2 of those 4 promising young wideouts will be fantastic. I’d be looking at another Oregon State running back to pair with Steven Jackson and add a new dynamic to your offense, if I were you. Just a thought. McDaniels would know what to do with Jacquizz. This is a team on the come.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: The Same Old Super Chargers. At least until Norv is gone. Hey, did you see that Jeff Fisher is available?
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: In need of a quarterback. Still. Time for some real turnover there this time.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Speaking of turnover at the QB position, where will Matt Hasselbeck be this time next year (other than, obviously, on the receiving end of an Antonio Cromartie face-smashing)? I’m not sure it’s in Seattle. Minnesota, perhaps? Could the Seahawks possibly pass on Jake Locker if he were there in the late 1st round? He’s immensely popular up there. And super talented. And a strong character guy. You sure you can’t teach him to throw a bit more accurately?
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Another team ahead of schedule. Just keep building those lines.
TENNESSEE TITANS: 2011’s most unenviable franchise. Congratulations. You wrapped it up early!
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: A lead-pipe lock to pick a quarterback in the first round of the Draft. Better get it right. Cam Newton? Jake Locker, whom we know you loved last year? Blaine Gabbert, who people seem stuck on all of a sudden (not me)? Decisions, decisions.