The NFL season is upon us, and let's face it: Your team probably won't win the Super Bowl. This is because every team probably won't win the Super Bowl. There are 32 teams in the NFL and, by my calculations, only three will win the Super Bowl. I might be off by two.
Your season is bound to end in disappointment, unless your fantasy team wins a championship, but the most important lesson we can learn in life is that nobody cares about your fantasy team.
So what do you do? You could try cheering for another team, but that is un-American. The morally righteous thing to do is to cheer against other teams.
On that note, and purely for our own amusement, we are going to determine how hateable every team in the NFL is. Let's face it: Some teams make you want to buy a first-class plane ticket so you can fly across the country and watch them suffer. Other teams almost make you feel bad when you cheer against them. I did say "almost."
Let's go through every team in the NFL and decide: How easy are they to hate? We will give them a Hateability Factor on a scale of 2 to 10. Why 2 to 10? Well, everybody gets at least a 2 on general principle. This is sports. If you can't root against a team, you aren't trying.
OK, here we go.
Buffalo Bills: Four straight Super Bowl losses turned the Bills from lovable losers into annoying losers, and they haven't quite recovered. You can do a lot of things to Americans. You can insult them, make them deal with a ridiculously complicated tax system, charge them $5 for a latte and put them on hold for 16 hours in the name of "customer service." But if you mess with their Super Bowl, they will never forget.
On the other hand, the Bills are sort of endearing. They have a long history of losing, they play in a cold-weather town that cares about football, and -- we cannot overstate the importance of this -- they are my mom's favorite team. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 3
Miami Dolphins: Is there any more annoying sight than members of the 1972 Dolphins toasting after the last undefeated team of the season goes down? We get it, fellas. You were unbeaten. You don't want anybody else to go unbeaten. Do you realize it's been 40 years? Do you understand that if you could enter today's NFL with the body you had in your prime, today's mammoth linemen would snap you in two, dip you in ketchup, and eat you?
Other than that, not much to hate about the Dolphins. I still feel bad for Dan Marino. He never won a Super Bowl, he is generally left out of discussions about the best quarterback ever, his records are getting obliterated by this pass-happy era, and he was at his best before people played fantasy football, which he would have dominated. Also, he missed out on a well-deserved Oscar for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Then again, should a guy who lived in Miami have done so many commercials for winter gloves? HATEABILITY FACTOR: 4
New England Patriots: Hmm. Can we possibly come up with any reason to hate the Patriots? If only they had been involved in some sort of scandal, like CHEATING TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL.
Bill Belichick shows no interest in the public nature of his job; no warms, no fuzzies, no nothing from the brilliant coach. When he got caught filming opponents' defensive signals, it was just about the only thing we knew about him. How much did the spying scandal help the Patriots? Who cares? We might not have enough evidence to fully convict, but we have enough to hate. We should also point out here that there is absolutely nothing about Tom Brady that you can fairly hate. Don't you hate that about him? HATEABILITY FACTOR: 10
New York Jets: The Jets have spent most of their existence stinking, which is fine. They're entitled to stink. But it's annoying that they elevate Joe Namath to superhuman levels -- part Joe Montana, part John Wayne -- for winning one game. (Namath's career numbers: 50.1 completion percentage, 173 touchdowns, 220 interceptions, 7.4 yards per attempt. He played in one playoff game other than the year he won Super Bowl III.)
And now the Jets are acting like the bullies on the block when they haven't even made a Super Bowl. Rex Ryan talks more trash than almost any coach in history, except maybe his father. He seems to encourage his players to do the same. Say this for the Jets: They seem like they want to be hated. And they are. Congrats! HATEABILITY FACTOR: 9
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore stole Cleveland's team. I suppose we could try to understand that if Los Angeles or Sacramento did it. Those cities could claim they didn't know better. But Baltimore? After all those years of crying because the Colts left town, how could Baltimore steal another iconic team from a city that loved it desperately? This is like Elin Nordegren cheating on her next husband with a waiter from Perkins.
Also: Ray Lewis. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 10
Cleveland Browns: They suffered for years. They lost their team because they wouldn't build a taxpayer-funded stadium. They got so angry, they were promised they could keep the team's name and (empirically speaking) ugly uniforms. They built a new stadium. They watched their old team win a Super Bowl in a new city. The new team has mostly sucked. Their archrivals have won six Super Bowls. You can't hate the Browns unless you cheer for another AFC North team or are a jerk. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 2
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have an unusual approach to building a team. Instead of acquiring "good players," they have focused on players that nobody really likes, ideally those with a criminal background, though selfish players who are past their prime also fit the mold. The Bengals have also chosen to alienate their starting quarterback, save every possible dime and demand loyalty from their players instead of inspiring it. Astonishingly, this has not worked. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 4
Pittsburgh Steelers: Your instinct is probably that you should love the Steelers. They are supposed to stand for old-time football. Does any team match its town better than the Pittsburgh Steelers? They are named after an industry. They are all about toughness and passion and doing things the hard way. They have had three coaches in the last 50 years.
But they also employ a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times; a running back, Rashard Mendenhall, who questioned whether the 9/11 attacks happened the way America believes they happened; and a star defensive player, James Harrison, who should probably avoid speaking in public, and also in private. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 9, mostly because of Roethlisberger.
Indianapolis Colts: They stole their team from Baltimore in the middle of the night. Literally! That is unforgivable, even if Baltimore turned out to be a thief, too. Then the Colts didn't even have the decency to change their name and enter the uniform witness protection program. That's not fair. Nicknames and uniforms should belong to a city, not an owner.
The Colts just don't give you the feeling that they understand football is supposed to be hard. They swiped a team. They have played in two domes. They stunk until they lucked into one of the top five quarterbacks ever, Peyton Manning, with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Now all they do is win, win, win. There is nothing that makes you hate a team more than that. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 9
Houston Texans: Let me get this straight. Houston had the Oilers, lost them, built a stadium to get another team and got another team ... and then named that team after three teams that either folded or moved ... and two of those other Texans team played in Houston's rival city of Dallas. Huh?
What was wrong with Oilers? Houston could have shown it was a real old-school football town like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Cincinnati, its old AFC Central rivals. It could have revived one of the classic, if totally dated, fight songs. Instead, we get a team with a bland name in marketing-department-inspired uniforms finishing 7-9 and 8-8 all the time. HATEABILITY FACTOR: A boring old 5, just as they deserve.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Their uniforms are teal and their city never should have gotten an NFL team. As the Jaguars enter their 17th year, I refuse to acknowledge they exist. HATEABILITY FACTOR: N/A
Tennessee Titans: They have ugly uniforms. They stole a team. (Have you noticed a trend here? I don't like that.) Owner Bud Adams once flipped the bird to Bills fans. I can't figure out if that makes him more or less hateable. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 5
Oakland Raiders: It takes some serious gumption to leave a city that loved you madly, sue the league so you're allowed to do it ... and then, barely a decade later, move back. Only Al Davis would even try that Oakland-to-Los Angeles-to-Oakland gambit. Only he could pull it off. In the process, he toyed with several municipalities (and their budgets) and ruined a baseball stadium in Oakland that actually had some charm once upon a time. Now his team doesn't even sell out.
Plus, the Raiders are the team that tried to make excess a virtue. That pirate on the helmet is probably the most accurate logo in all of sports -- the epitome of how the Raiders see themselves. It would be like if Harvard decorated its helmet with a drawing of the nation's highest tax bracket. You always get the feeling that if a Raiders star was caught mixing recreational and performance-enhancing drugs while breaking curfew so he can sleep with the opposing quarterback's wife, Al would slip him a bonus in violation of the salary cap.
You know that deep down, Davis wants this rating to be an 11. I mean, I doubt he is reading my column. He is busy traveling from one track meet to another, tying down sprinters so he can put football pads on them against their will. But generally speaking, he wants the whole world to hate the Raiders and their "greatness" and Commitment to Excellence, because that's how it was back in the glory days. Sorry, Al. You're too incompetent to fully hate these days. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 8
Denver Broncos: Some fan sentiments are lost to history, so people don't talk about this much anymore, but for a long time, many NFL fans hated John Elway. He forced a draft-day trade from the Baltimore Colts. He got blown away in his first three Super Bowls. He fought with his coach, Dan Reeves. He seemed aloof. His numbers never stacked up against Marino or Montana, but he was always compared to them. Then he won the Super Bowl in his last two years, with diminished skills, and retired as a beloved icon. That is probably for the best -- Elway was an all-time great who elevated mediocre teams, and he didn't deserve the hate he got in the first place.
Since Elway retired, the Broncos have been too good to mock but not good enough to hate. Then they drafted Tim Tebow, and while Tebow himself is almost impossible to hate, Tebowmania is easy to hate. Anybody who watched Tebow at Florida had to think, "Great college player, but can he make it in the pros?" Maybe you said yes and maybe, like me, you said no. But reasonable people had to ask. And let's face it: A lot of Tebow fans refuse to ask.
Now the Broncos seem to have zero interest in making Tebow their long-term quarterback, which means a) Tebow fans can hate the organization for not giving their man a shot, and b) people who are tired of Tebowmania can hate the Broncos because he is still on the team. See? Plenty of hate to go around -- all because the Broncos drafted such a likable guy. Isn't this fun? HATEABILITY FACTOR: 8
Kansas City Chiefs: Wholesome Midwestern city ... one of the best game-day atmospheres in the NFL, both in and out of the stadium ... a team that has not won a Super Bowl since before the NFL and AFL completed their merger. The Chiefs' uniforms are dated but they have stuck with them, and you have to respect that. Maybe if the Chiefs keep improving, this number will rise. In the meantime, Kansas City, we can't hate you. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 2
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers is supposed to be a terrific human being, a good family man and a great teammate. Also, he looks whiny on the field sometimes, which makes him easy to dislike. But overall, the Chargers are the team you always wanted to have a fling with. From Don Coryell and Dan Fouts to Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson, they are often fun to watch but rarely so good that you want to fully commit. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 4
New York Giants: The New York Football Giants, as they prefer to be called, may be the most likable team in all of New York. Faint praise, I know. But this is an exceedingly competent, old-school football franchise. They employed Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick before the nation got tired of them.
Alas, they are still from New York, and while I am a native New Yorker, I can't kid myself. People hate New York teams. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 8
Dallas Cowboys: This needs no explanation. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 10
Washington Redskins: OK, first of all: Redskins? That makes "Cleveland Indians" sound politically correct. For years, the franchise didn't just have a racist name and logo; it had a racist philosophy. The Redskins had an all-white roster, leading to legendary Washington Post writer Shirley Povich's famous line: "Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday."
These days the Redskins remain exceedingly hateable for two reasons. Their 1980s greatness is still seared in the memories of anybody who is 30 or older, and their owner, Daniel Snyder, still seems like a spoiled rich kid who thinks he is better than you because he can afford more toys. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 10
Philadelphia Eagles: I have a confession to make: I love Philadelphia. I love the city, I love its history, I love the outsized passion for the sports teams, I love the location, I love all of it. But as I am reminded on a daily basis, I am not a normal human being. Most sports fans do not like Philadelphia. They think of it as the city that booed Santa Claus, harassed native son Kobe Bryant for an entire All-Star game, and is stuck between New York and Washington, D.C. on the map and envious of both.
And yet ... the Eagles are not all that hateable, for two reasons. One is that they have never won a Super Bowl. And the other is that everybody else in the NFC East is easier to hate. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 7
Chicago Bears: I have a theory that, all things being equal, more people like to see the Bears win than any other team. I don't mean they have the most fans. I mean that their overall approval rating is highest. People like when the Bears are good. When you think of the NFL, you think of the Monsters of the Midway. The '85 Bears are probably the most beloved great team in American sports history. It is hard to be dominant and lovable, but that team was. And I think Chicago may have the highest approval rating of any American city. Chicago doesn't turn a lot of people off like L.A. and New York do. Bears games on the lakefront are special.
And yet: You hate Jay Cutler. I certainly don't. But you do, right? Of course you do. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 4
Detroit Lions: In truth, the people who hate the Lions the most are Lions fans. Every Sunday, they wake up, stretch and think, "I can't believe I married this clown." But they're stuck. Abandoning their team would mean all their suffering was for naught. So they hang in there and hope the team they married will lose 60 pounds, stop drinking and get a job.
The rest of America hates the Lions for playing on Thanksgiving every year, robbing Americans of their favorite activity: Watching football while ignoring their families. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 3
Green Bay Packers: You love Green Bay, Lambeau, and praising "real fans" who sit outside in subzero temperatures while you sit on your couch in your shorts. But the Packers have stumbled into back-to-back All-Pro quarterbacks. And both won Super Bowls. That is annoying. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 5
Minnesota Vikings: Something happened to the Vikings in the last dozen years. They went renegade on us. They used to be known for losing Super Bowls in the 1970s and having some of the coolest uniforms in the NFL. It's hard to wear purple and still have great football uniforms, but the Vikings did it.
Then they drafted Randy Moss. They had that whole Love Boat incident. The final straw, for the public, was when they coaxed Brett Favre out of retirement. It just seemed like a desperate, soul-selling gesture -- Vikings fans had cheered against Favre for years, and now they were willing to love him if it meant going to the Super Bowl. Would Browns fans have embraced an aging Terry Bradshaw like that? I don't think so. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 8
Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta was a four-pro-sport town until recently, when the Thrashers left. FYI, Atlantans: The Thrashers were a hockey team, the second one that ditched you. Leagues keep waiting for Atlanta to be a great sports town, and it hasn't happened yet -- at least, not for pro sports.
For better or worse, the teams seem to reflect the city's limited passion. Dominique Wilkins was content to score a bunch. The Braves made the playoffs every year but only won one World Series. These Falcons seem different -- Matt Ryan seems like the kind of quarterback who will win the Super Bowl one day. But they aren't fully hateable yet. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 8, just to see if Atlanta fans care enough to protest.
Carolina Panthers: I hate their name. "Panthers" is fine, but "Carolina" is a reach -- like the team is desperate for everybody to know it represents two states, not just one. Also, the team owner just told Cam Newton not to get any tattoos or piercings. Dude, you pay men millions of dollars to hit other men. Get over yourself. HATEABILITY FACTOR: a surprising 7
New Orleans Saints: They stunk for years. They survived Hurricane Katrina. They won the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. They have all-around great human Drew Brees. Sorry. Can't really hate 'em. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They fired Tony Dungy, who won without a great quarterback. They fired Jon Gruden, giving us This Guy and That Guy on Monday Night Football. (I actually think Gruden is insightful when he isn't This Guying and That Guying us to death.) Their owner, Malcolm Glazer, made his money through the charming practice of corporate takeovers. He bought Manchester United, one of the most popular teams in the world, and alienated almost all their fans. Fun fact: The Bucs play in England this year. Soccer hooligan alert! HATEABILITY FACTOR: 7
Arizona Cardinals: They stole St. Louis' name and uniforms. Unacceptable. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 6
St. Louis Rams: They stole Los Angeles' name and uniform. Then they tweaked the uniforms by turning yellow into gold. That is worse, isn't it? Also, they totally lucked into Kurt Warner, but then Warner turned out to be extremely likable, and he ended up making the Super Bowl again with the Cardinals, which should have angered St. Louis fans, but if it did, I didn't hear about it. I'm so confused. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 6
San Francisco 49ers: We need to take a moment here to appreciate how awesome it is that Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll are in the same NFL division. The minute Harbaugh got to Stanford, he started tweaking Carroll, who was at USC. Harbaugh famously went for two points in a blowout win over USC, then when Carroll asked, "What's your deal?" on the field afterward, Harbaugh responded by saying, "What's YOUR deal?" Then Carroll went to Seattle. And Harbaugh went to San Francisco. And you know that has to drive Carroll nuts.
As for the 49ers: If Harbaugh wins, and I believe he will eventually, they can go back to being one of the league's glamour teams. And, of course, they can be hated again. Until then ... HATEABILITY FACTOR: 5
Seattle Seahawks: Isn't there something about Pete Carroll that just makes you want to drive on his lawn? He just seems a little too "hey there, buddy!" cool for his own good. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 6
Unnamed, nonexistent L.A. team that we keep hearing the NFL "needs" for some reason: Oh, shut up with this already. HATEABILITY FACTOR: 10