32 NFL Fan Bases, 32 Fan Delusions
NFL Offseason - New Orleans Saints fans think the salary cap is a myth. Philadelphia Eagles fans think Howie Roseman is a moron. New York Giants fans think Saquon Barkley is still relevant. New England Patriots fans are waiting for the Second Coming.
Every fan base has its delusions. Some have more than one. And Walkthrough is here at the start of the offseason to puncture those delusions with well-placed reality checks.
As we all know, "fan bases" operate as hiveminds, and 100% of each team's fans believe exactly the same thing about their team, owner, coach, quarterback, stadium cuisine, and so forth. Therefore, it's fair and appropriate to lump them all together and assume they all agree with the five most prolific posters on Reddit.
Kidding! But in the vain hope of preempting any outrage about unfair stereotypes, the term fan base in this article refers to the vocal, vehement fans I interface with via Twitter/Reddit/email/DMs/everyday life on random Wednesdays in the offseason. Some of these folks are homers, some contrarians. Some are ginned up by local media personalities, some ARE local media personalities. All are passionate, often a little too passionate, and most can be counted upon to either support or criticize their teams in predictable ways. This is all part of the Browns' secret Moneyball plan. The Steelers will be great once they go back to their 1970s roots. You only talk about the Cowboys all the time because you are jealous of their magnificence.
Without further ado, here's yet another Walkthrough heel turn into pro wrasslin' villainy.
Delusion 1: The Ravens would be better off with a conventional pocket quarterback.
Delusion 2: There's no potential downside to handing Lamar Jackson a Josh Allen contract!
Reality: Most Ravens fans are just trying to get through the offseason without 12 devastating injuries. But others appear torn, largely along predictable demographic lines, about whether to cut bait on the Jackson "experiment" or to blithely pretend that Jackson and the offense are not in the midst of a two-year backslide while insisting that there's no risk whatsoever in shelling out $150 million on an undersized quarterback coming off an injury who runs 11 times per game.
Imagine if half the Bills roster gets injured in 2022. Do you think Bills fans will sour on the Josh Allen "experiment?" If Joe Burrow and the Bengals take a step back next year, will Bengals fans think, "eh, screw this, bring us Jimmy Garoppolo." Of course not. At the same time, some of us (I am including myself here) wanted so badly for Jackson to change the NFL that we're not ready to accept that Jackson is the one who will have to change.
Jackson is a unique, polarizing player who does everything a little bit differently, so it's not surprising that fans are a little divided (and perhaps a little radicalized) about the Ravens' future.
Delusion: The Bills would have won the Super Bowl if they won that coin toss.
Reality: In a multiverse of millions of possibilities, the Bills surely won the overtime coin toss in the playoffs, defeated the Chiefs, then went on to smoke the Bengals and Rams thousands of times. They probably also got the ball in overtime, committed back-to-back false start penalties, handed off on second-and-20, and ended up punting the ball right back to Patrick Mahomes in a few thousand other universes. And let's not pretend the team that lost to the Jaguars and got spanked by the Colts could breeze past the Bengals without self-destructing, Chiefs-style. You get the idea.
BillsMafia generally has an overcompensation complex these days. We're not worried at all that the Bills will never get over the playoff hump, or that the Patriots will sneak up and merc them from behind. Not at all! That's why we're leaping out of third-story windows onto picnic tables before wild-card games! Act like you belong, pezzonovante, and maybe your team will too!
Delusion: The Bengals front office and coaching staff is now a lyceum of geniuses.
Reality: The Bengals plucked two guys from a college championship team that a drunken mock drafter could have chosen (the sober mock drafters chose Penei Sewell, but that's another matter), then rode a soft schedule and a Chiefs meltdown into the Super Bowl. They're still a shoestring operation whose coach is the Ask Madden AI with peach fuzz. Let's see how they handle an offseason where they have to make actual decisions.
Delusion: Everything the Browns do is part of some Paul DePodesta galactic-brained plan that mere mortals cannot comprehend.
Reality: The Browns are caught completely off guard by every minor setback. Our quarterback is not developing smoothly along a logistical curve? What shall we do? Our wide receivers become frustrated when they don't get the ball? Why, didn't they read our guardrails? If we went from six wins in 2019 to 11 wins in 2020, then we were supposed to win 16 games last year! Darn it, that's how math works!
The Browns front office is no better or worse than any other, which is an upgrade over 2001-2020, when it was far, far worse than any other. But Browns fans—and some of our pals in the analytics community—keep waiting for the franchise to outsmart the universe. And derpy franchises like the Bengals keep blowing past them instead.
Delusion: The Aaron Rodgers trade is a slam dunk.
Reality: A Rodgers trade is possible, especially with Lord Surlyknickers turning his latest offseason of discontent into podcast content. But it's still not probable. And if it happens, it's gonna cost all the draft picks and cap space the Broncos can muster, plus a young starter or two (either to the Packers or a team like the Giants or Jets as first-round pick-brokers). It's a real reach goal. And the fact that the Broncos lack appealing alternatives doesn't make its chances of success any higher or backfire potential any lower.
Delusion: The Texans are a professionally run organization, and the whole Jack Easterby thing is just "narrative."
Reality: The Texans are the Manger Babies. Deal with it.
Delusion: Carson Wentz. That's it. That's the delusion.
Reality: As best I can tell, 75% of the Colts fan base has settled on, "yeah, we gotta get rid of this goofball ASAP," while 25% is still stuck on "Golly, why do people connected to two different organizations keep questioning this guy's coachability, leadership, and ability to cope with pressure? They must be HATERS." Recent history has taught us that it's impossible to convince America's final 25% of absolutely anything.
Delusion: Everything is fine now that Urban Meyer is gone and Doug Pederson is here.
Reality: Trent Baalke still lurks in the hallways of Jaguars headquarters like the wandering monster in a 1st Edition D&D campaign. Trevor Lawrence was cataclysmically bad in 2021. Most of the offensive line (many of whom can still play) and DJ Chark are currently free agents, because Baalke was too busy "lurking" to do anything constructive like extend a contract or two last season.
Oh, and Pederson is only as effective as his assistants. Offensive coordinator Press Taylor served under Pederson during Wentz's "I'm not gonna" era. Mike Freakin' McCoy (developer of Paxton Lynch and Josh Rosen) is the quarterbacks coach.
At least there's now a 0.0% chance of viral lap dance videos or aggravated assaults of kickers.
Kansas City Chiefs
Delusion: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will be around forever.
Reality: Chiefs fans aren't delusional. Their franchise has been very successful, they know it, and most fans have a pretty good sense of what it will take to sustain that success. Just don't remind them that Kelce is 32 and coming off his weakest season in four years, or that Hill is due for an extension and well aware that other teams can afford to pay him much more than the Chiefs can.
Las Vegas Raiders
Delusion: The Raiders just need a few tweaks and minor upgrades to become Super Bowl contenders.
Reality: The Raiders are Maxx Crosby, Kolton Miller, and a bunch of thirtysomething veterans and slot receivers. They need to either rebuild from the ground up or gingerbread the current roster in pursuit of more fluky wild-card berths. And Josh McDaniels didn't leave the comfort of the nest because he wanted to rebuild.
Los Angeles Chargers
Delusion: The Chargers just need a few tweaks and minor upgrades to become Super Bowl contenders.
Reality: The Chargers couldn't beat the Raiders when it mattered.
Oh, and I have my eye on the whole "Justin Herbert is already better than everyone else" meme making the early-adopter Twitter rounds. Herbert looked phenomenal for stretches last year. I'm excited about his future. But let's check back on his ascendance to Mount Olympus after he leads the Chargers to a playoff win. Or leads them to a win in a game that gets them to the playoffs. Or leads a comeback against the Texans. Or finishes ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo in DVOA. Or comes out the other side of his first significant slump. Or … you get the idea.
Delusion: The Dolphins just need a few tweaks and minor upgrades—mostly on the offensive line—to become Super Bowl contenders.
Reality: Dolphins fans are more traumatized by two decades of Patriots dominance than any other fan base. Bills Mafia has at least enjoyed recent success. Jets fans gave up for good circa 2011 and are now charming fatalists. But the Dolphins keep flirting with relevance, and many of their fans have retreated into a type of dream logic cobbled together from fleeting Ryan Tannehill/Andrew Van Ginkel moments and misinterpreted observations about how the Patriots do business.
When the Dolphins do something utterly mind-boggling—see nearly all of last offseason, when they went out of their way to avoid building on their 10-6 finish in 2020—Dolphins fans are quick to provide rationalizations in support of a franchise which has brought them nothing but frustration. It makes sense to shed veterans, shuffle assistant coaches, and draft for the far-flung future when we are well under the cap, on the precipice of the playoffs and finally in a Tom Brady-free division! Obviously, that's how successful franchises operate!
All of this is quarantining the Brian Flores allegations aside in their own separate category, of course. It sure sounds like Steven Ross is one bad day on the back nine away from making Cal McNair look like a paragon of competent, compassionate capitalism.
Under the circumstances, Dolphins fans should be satisfied this year if The Adorkable Mike McDaniel can get Tua Tagovailoa to complete some passes more than 10 yards downfield.
New England Patriots
Delusion: Tom Brady is coming back.
Reality: Times are tough for the "long-suffering" Patriots faithful. Mac Jones melted like a popsicle in the sun down the stretch. Bill Belichick's response to the post-Josh McDaniels brain drain has been to bring back drained brains such as Joe Judge and Matt Patricia. The Patriots are stuck in the AFC playoff also-ran bin with the Titans, and assertions that Belichick will strategize them out of this predicament sound more like a wish than a plan every year.
Ah, but there's a whisper bubbling forth from the bowels of Patriots fandom. Tom Brady was squabbling with Bruce Arians. He didn't REALLY retire; he was just unhappy in Tampa or (LOL) felt his hand was forced by the January retirement rumors. And if Brady does return, where else would he possibly go but home?
Do Patriots fans really believe as of late February that Brady might return to them? Probably not. Is all of New England one misinterpreted tipsy Julian Edelman remark from Churchill Downs away from holding mass candlelight vigils? Absolutely.
New York Jets
Delusion: Joe Douglas will save the franchise.
Reality: Douglas is a solid personnel evaluator. But his rock star reputation is due to lots of extra credit having been added to his ledger for: a) not being Howie Roseman (see the Eagles delusion); and b) not being Adam Gase. One look at the Jets roster after two-plus seasons with Douglas in the front office should convince you that he ain't Bobby Beathard circa 1980.
Delusion: It's still 1977 and the best way to win a Super Bowl is to chew glass and play defense.
Reality: The Steelers fan base just crawled out from under the "Big Ben's Still Got It" delusion of 2020 and 2021 and now must cope with its deeper issues:
- Siding with the organization over the player in nearly every contract squabble;
- Turning on skill position players as "divas" if they are too flamboyant on the field or Instagram; and
- Parroting the lunchpail wisdom of their Steel Curtain grandpappies, which is why they prefer the sacred franchise institution to those greedy, flashy, selfish divas. (Yes, we all hear the subtext and there is no need to comment on it).
Mason Rudolph won't really be the Steelers quarterback in 2022, but he may be the quarterback a segment of their fans—or at least some of their talk-radio personalities—deserve.
Delusion: Derrick Henry's gonna bounce right back to the 120-rushing-yards-per-game level.
Reality: Get ready for 22 carries for 76 yards in Titans losses by final scores like 22-16, all for $15 million in cap space.
Delusion: Other fan bases actually worry or care about the Cardinals.
Reality: Having never interacted with any Cardinals fans, I honestly have no idea what their delusions might be. But this is a franchise that can assemble Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, and Kliff Kingsbury, reach the playoffs, and still evaporate from the NFL's collective consciousness 30 seconds after they are eliminated. Even their quarterback-versus-franchise Instagram beefs are boring. Let's move on.
Delusion: Matt Ryan is a Hall of Famer who is still in his prime.
Reality: Look, 28-3 permanently damaged this franchise and its fans. All we can provide now is palliative care. Let's let them have this little fantasy, since it is all they have.
Delusion: Packaging the sixth overall pick with Christian McCaffrey, plus some gingerbread, will be enough to secure a top veteran quarterback.
Reality: Yeah, sure, Brian Gutekunst and John Schneider just cannot wait to trade for a running back with a huge contract coming off two injury-plagued years. Nick Caserio, on the other hand, may have to tackle Jack Easterby every time the phone rings.
Delusion 1: Matt Nagy would have been fine if not for Ryan Pace.
Delusion 2: Ryan Pace would have been fine if not for Matt Nagy.
Delusion 3: Mitch Trubisky would have been fine if not for Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace.
Reality: Bears fans appear to be realistic about the team's current situation. But it wasn't that way this time last year. Nagy had his hive: he led the team to the playoffs twice and had a winning record as a coach, after all. Trubisky, who could end up being the Panthers quarterback in exchange for a McCaffrey package, also had his stans right up to the bitter end: if only Nagy let him run more, or Pace provided more weapons, or whatever. Pace had the fewest supporters of all, but he surely had a few of them.
All of this is water under the bridge as Bears fans prepare to throw their support behind new general manager Other Ryan, new coach Other Matt, or Justin Fields, but not all three.
Delusion: The Cowboys are still a marquee franchise that lives rent-free in America's head.
Reality: The Cowboys play in a massive, sprawling media market and have a huge national/international fan base of ultra-casual fans, plus a vast, graying swatch of legacy haters in the most populated region in America, so talking about them generates lots of Internet engagement. They're not superheroes or supervillains. They're clickbait.
Delusion 1: The Lions won the Super Bowl because Matthew Stafford won the Super Bowl.
Reality: Yeah, that's pretty pathetic, though it's only 0.005% as pathetic as when Patriots fans tried this stunt in 2020.
Delusion 2: Everyone thinks Dan Campbell is a blockhead.
Reality: No, we all get that his caveman routine is (largely) an act and it's fun to play along, but the Lions still stink.
Green Bay Packers
Delusion: The Packers organization is run by idiots who refuse to spend money.
Reality: There was a kernel of truth to this delusion in the past. Mike McCarthy isn't quite an "idiot," but he's the kind of guy who takes out the five-year protection insurance when he purchases a blender. The late Ted Thompson's free-agent allergy, meanwhile, got a little ridiculous by the mid-2010s. But Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur, and the current Packers braintrust has done a brilliant job finding and developing talent while spending most of their available cash on Aaron Rodgers and his targets/protectors/confidantes.
Packers fandom suffers from a general delusion that the team is terrible or unsuccessful despite the fact that they win 13 games every single year. It's hard to comprehend how rooting for a perennial Super Bowl contender has become such a joyless exercise. Just kidding: it's easy to comprehend! Their quarterback's a bitterness and dissatisfaction superspreader! But the alternative would be rooting for the Vikings, which is too horrible to contemplate.
Los Angeles Rams
Delusion: There are lots of Rams fans. They just don't go downtown much.
Yes, some of the crowd shots that circulated from the Rams parade last week were a little misleading; crowds were at least extant at some points on the parade route. But Los Angeles football fans can be forgiven for not fully embracing a team full of mercenaries that just showed up on their doorstep six years ago after disappearing for two decades. They can also be forgiven for not trudging downtown. Los Angeles is like New York flattened out with a rolling pin, its rivers replaced by mountains, 99% of the rail lines ripped up and then baked at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, and its downtown is more like Cleveland in a heatwave than midtown Manhattan. I wouldn't leave the beach, the mountains, or the recreational dispensary to stand on a sweaty corner and wave at Cooper Kupp either. But I also wouldn't get upset if called out for it.
Delusion: Kirk Cousins Trutherism.
Reality: There's a small-but-vocal subset of Vikings fans that has gone full flat-earther on Cousins. He's phenomenal. If only the Vikings built him a proper supporting cast! Activating this hive is a reliable, successful content model: getting them to grab their pitchforks and march on an article can really move the needle engagement-wise. And it's easy! Let's hope it works this time.
New Orleans Saints
Delusion: The cap situation is great! Better than great! The Saints are gonna sign Chris Godwin and Tyrann Mathieu, then trade for Russell Wilson and extend him with all their leftover dough! Tra-la-la-la-la!
Reality: There was some spirited debate in the comment thread for Monday's mock draft, and I want to give the discussion the attention and seriousness it deserves. If I understand the "Saints cap situation isn't bad" argument correctly, it goes like this: The Saints may be over $75 million in cap debt right now, but that's no biggie because:
- They can extend the contracts of lots of second-tier veterans;
- And let key starters such as Terron Armstead and Marcus Williams (and Jameis Winston) walk via free agency;
- And cut aging starters such as Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins (plus Michael Thomas, their best player if he wanted to play for them);
- And gut through a year with Taysom Hill, Ian Book, and someone like Sam Howell at quarterback, throwing in the general direction of Marquez Calloway and Deonte Harris when not just running the veer behind a depleted offensive line;
- All the while cramming significant cap hits into 2023 instead of tidying up the team's ledger so they can be flexible in free agency when starting their rebuild;
- While doing it all under a promoted defensive coordinator, because the Super Bowl-winning, long-tenured head coach unexpectedly nope'd out for reasons which cannot possibly have anything to do with that $75 million in cap debt;
- Finally arriving in the year 2024 relatively debt-free and ready to start from scratch.
If that's the argument, then you win! By your definition, the Saints aren't in bad cap shape at all.
Also, as every financial planner will assure you, someone spending 75% of their paycheck on revolving debt is doing just swell as long as they can afford the electric bill and ramen.
New York Giants
Delusion: Now that the Giants have a real coaching staff and front office, the Daniel Jones-Saquon Barkley era can truly commence!
Reality: The impressive new Giants coaching staff and front office will move on from Jones and Barkley as soon as it's politically convenient.
While Jones is more of a John Mara delusion than a fan delusion, there's a fun little "the organization is already right" subsection of the Giants fan base that can be fun to poke. They're just like any other regional contrarians, but there are more of them because of New York, and I interact with them a lot because I'm technically kinda-sorta New York media. Anyway, if you are a Giants fan who worships the glory of the historic franchise or just likes being different, Jones is your guy.
As for Barkley, Giants fans cling to the belief that he's a superstar, even though the rest of us have accepted that he's barely relevant. Giants beat reporters have been forced to squander uncounted hours and column inches on "When will Saquon return?" and "What will Saquon's return mean?" content over the last two or three seasons because the only other things to talk about were Dave Gettleman's Uncle Wiseguy rants and Joe Judge's taxicab-confessional press conferences. Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are going to let Saquon run 12 times for 45 yards every week in 2022 before allowing his contract to quietly expire so they can move on.
Delusion: Howie Roseman sucks.
Reality: Several of these delusions can be traced back to local media members with sizable platforms, dedicated followings, and predictable agendas. In Roseman's case, one Philly talk-radio provocateur and tastemaker among the ED-medication advertising demographic needed a villain when the Eagles dropped from Super Bowl contention, so he chose a safe go-to: the wimpy, shrimpy, beancounting "non-football guy" of a general manager coming off a string of weak drafts.
The Eagles won a recent Super Bowl, missed the playoffs just once in the last five years, entangled and disentangled themselves from Carson Wentz (enjoying his lone stretch of high-end usefulness), and now have a winning record, a semi-viable franchise quarterback, and a stockpile of draft picks. They did it all in the time it took the Seahawks to set fire to their would-be empire, the Saints to collapse into financial purgatory, and the Browns to finalize the language of their mission statement. But Eagles fans still leap into my mentions or earhole me at the tavern with their "Howie sucks" mantra.
It's what being a Packers fan or writer must be like. Except for the recent Super Bowl win, of course.
San Francisco 49ers
Delusion: Kyle Shanahan sucks.
Reality: Niners fans surely climbed out of this hole in the second half of the season. Temporarily. Shanahan's iffy situational play calling and Trey Lance jitters are sure to bring the hecklers out at the first sign of trouble. Get ready for a Mike McDaniel was the real genius splinter sect to appear as well.
Delusion: It's still 2013.
Reality: Seahawks fans have a well-earned reputation for being the most knowledgeable (or at least the nerdiest) fans in the NFL. Other fan bases holler about firing the coach or trading the quarterback; Seahawks fans demand that the team stop using base defensive packages against 12 personnel on early downs. Also, some of them holler about firing the coach or trading the quarterback. But few believe that the Legion of Boom and Beast Mode are walking back through the door.
Seahawks fans, therefore, suffer from midlife anxiety rather than delusions. They look at Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson and think: is this all there is? Are we stuck experiencing diminishing returns with these people forever? If there's a run on red convertibles and eharmony registrations in Washington state over the next six months, you know what's going on.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Delusion: The Buccaneers can win without Tom Brady.
Reality: They really could win the NFC South with, say, Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, because the division is putrid and their overall roster is solid. But that assumes that the organization wants to spend money and assets to go 9-8 and get pummeled by the Rams in the playoffs, or that even a fraction of the team's big-name free agents are interested in sticking around for the post-Brady era when decent to excellent teams such as the Chargers and Bengals have money to spend.
No, real joy for Buccaneers fans should consist of remembering the boat parade, watching the team cannonball into a rebuilding cycle, and then heralding their return to relevance in a year or two, while the Saints are still extending David Onyemata's contract through eternity in the name of cap compliance.
Delusion 1: Dan Snyder will soon be forced to sell the franchise. After that, everything will be A-OK.
Reality: This is America. And this is the NFL. Rich, awful humans don't have to do anything they don't want to do, squared.
Delusion 2: How dare anyone demand that Snyder sell his own property? Dammit, we're still the Washington R******s, snowflake!
Reality: Don't pretend you haven't encountered this polar-opposite version of the delusional Washington fan, especially since they make it a point of letting you know just what they think. Rooting for an organization that's incompetent and objectionable in every significant way makes them feel like fringy-cool edgelords. And they're getting about what they deserve: a clueless franchise with a terrible stadium and a silly new name, no quarterback, and nothing to cheer about except receding memories of relevance.