All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To WatchabilityI really root for only one NFL team, and that NFL team plays 16 games in the regular season. I watch way more games than that, though, because I am an American, damn it, and football games are awesome. Unfortunately, not every game is equally watchable—for every wild Colts-Lions finish you have a Cardinals-Jets snoozefest. So what were the best games of the 2012 regular season, regardless of rooting interest?

To investigate, I put together a very simple model to measure "watchability." Feel free to quibble in the comments, but to me the best NFL games are close, high-scoring, meaningful, and have an unexpected result. Each game was scored (out of 25) in these four categories:

  • Closeness: Based on score differential entering the fourth quarter. Differentials greater than three possessions (24 points) netted a game zero points, a tie game entering the fourth was worth 25.
  • Scoring: Based on total number of points squared. The highest-scoring game of the year got a 25, the lowest scoring got a zero.
  • Meaningfulness: Based on the playoff chances of each team entering the game, courtesy of coolstandings.com. The closer the teams' odds were to 50 percent, the higher the score. No credit was given to clinched teams playing for byes.
  • Result: Based on the difference between the final result and the Vegas spread. True upsets got a significant bonus, while underdogs beating the spread received a small bonus.

These four scores were then combined into a Watchability Rating (out of 100 points). No games were strong in all four of these categories, so the highest Watchability Rating was a 70, and the average was a 42. For a list of these ratings for all 256 games, broken down by category, click here.

On to some superlatives!

Top/Bottom 5 Games:

All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To Watchability

The highest-scoring game this season had a four-point differential going into the fourth and ended in a minor upset. It also came early enough that the Lions and Titans (who finished a combined 19-13 in 2011) were still playoff relevant. Seriously, I'd completely forgotten about this game but it was fucking nuts. Also topping the list: the Eagles' 19-17 win over the Giants that ended with a missed field goal, the critical Week 15 matchup that dropped the Steelers to .500 and pushed the Cowboys (briefly) to the top of the NFC East, and two more early-season shootouts between teams with tough paths to the playoffs.*

At the bottom are a variety of meaningless late-season blowouts. Outside of determining AFC byes and sinking the Giants' sad, sad season, these games accomplished nothing and were decided well before the second half began.

Top/Bottom 5 Teams:

All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To Watchability

Poor Cowboys. During their late-season surge, the team recorded a dramatic victory against the Steelers in the third-most watchable game of the year. Unfortunately, back-to-back also-dramatic losses to the Saints and Redskins—the 10th- and 7th-most watchable games of the year—kept them out of the playoffs. Including that Week 17 clincher, the Redskins had their fair share of awesome games this year.

At the bottom of the pile, you have two terrible teams in a terrible division, and then second-, third-, and 5th-best defenses in the league. Sorry guys! The model likes points on the board.

Watchability By Week:

All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To Watchability

No surprises here. Watchability dropped as the season wore on, as teams either clinched or got bounced from playoff berths and the number of completely irrelevant games grew. Week 3 took most-watchable-week honors, highlighted by Lions-Titans, Bengals-Redskins, the notorious Packers-Seahawks, and Chiefs-Saints, the first-, fifth-, 12th-, and 22nd-most watchable games of the year, respectively.

Watchability By Network:

All 256 Regular-Season NFL Games, Ranked According To Watchability

Tough year for Monday Night Football. ESPN's most watchable game (Packers-Seahawks) was a publicity disaster for the NFL, and other than that the network got stuck with a bunch of high-profile blowouts. NBC got six top-50 games for its Sunday night slot, including the flexed Week 17 super-matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins, the seventh-most watchable game of the year.

The AFC sorted itself out a lot quicker than the NFC this year, meaning that Fox games were 7 percent more watchable than CBS games. Also not a great year for the NFL Network, which proved incapable of choosing good games and got stuck with just three in the top 100: Steelers-Titans (25th), Chiefs-Chargers (75th), and Buccaneers-Vikings (96th). Short-rest football: maybe a bad idea.

Here's the full slate, ranked by watchability (click here for a sortable version):

RnkWkWinnerLoserChCloseScoringMeaningResultSUM
13TitansLionsFOX212581670
24EaglesGiantsNBC228251267
315CowboysSteelersCBS2513141466
44PatriotsBillsCBS25239765
53BengalsRedskinsCBS251951564
64PackersSaintsFOX2215141364
717RedskinsCowboysNBC1811241063
82EaglesRavensCBS2512131262
96BrownsBengalsCBS241691362
1016SaintsCowboysFOX181891560
1117VikingsPackersFOX22209960
123SeahawksPackersESPN245161559
1313ColtsLionsCBS161951959
1414RedskinsRavensCBS241671158
157TitansBillsCBS191931658
162GiantsBuccaneersFOX1422101258
1710BuccaneersChargersCBS2216101057
188LionsSeahawksFOX2214111157
199ColtsDolphinsCBS2210111457
207GiantsRedskinsFOX251371257
212CardinalsPatriotsFOX21922557
223ChiefsSaintsCBS141392057
231RedskinsSaintsFOX122042057
247SteelersBengalsNBC2510111056
256TitansSteelersNFL191371856
261LionsRamsFOX1613131355
2711TexansJaguarsCBS182301455
286LionsEaglesFOX181391555
2912TexansLionsFOX251801255
3013SeahawksBearsFOX219101555
311VikingsJaguarsCBS231371255
328GiantsCowboysFOX241451154
3313CowboysEaglesNBC192021354
3413SteelersRavensCBS181071954
3517BearsLionsFOX231361254
366PackersTexansNBC141861654
376RedskinsVikingsFOX131891454
3814CowboysBengalsFOX169141554
3913BroncosBuccaneersFOX231451254
4010CowboysEaglesFOX25173954
416BillsCardinalsCBS22871753
4216BengalsSteelersCBS253101553
432RamsRedskinsFOX201621553
4417PanthersSaintsFOX22240753
459SeahawksVikingsFOX1813121053
463JetsDolphinsCBS1810131253
4715RedskinsBrownsFOX151661653
483RavensPatriotsNBC191751253
4914EaglesBuccaneersFOX221111953
5010PatriotsBillsCBS181921453
516RavensCowboysFOX211631253
521EaglesBrownsFOX23791453
537PatriotsJetsCBS151591452
5414ColtsTitansCBS241341252
5514GiantsSaintsFOX17236752
564FalconsPanthersFOX221621352
575ColtsPackersFOX23159552
5812FalconsBuccaneersFOX231261252
594CardinalsDolphinsCBS1911101252
606SeahawksPatriotsFOX151291652
615SteelersEaglesFOX226121252
6212DolphinsSeahawksFOX181181552
634BearsCowboysESPN1114121552
645SaintsChargersNBC221541152
652BengalsBrownsCBS181751251
669BroncosBengalsCBS211451151
673Vikings49ersFOX21831951
683RaidersSteelersCBS151831551
691CardinalsSeahawksFOX25861151
703JaguarsColtsCBS24931550
7114PackersLionsNBC251221150
725SeahawksPanthersFOX24571450
738PackersJaguarsCBS23951350
746BroncosChargersESPN151610950
759ChargersChiefsNFL21119950
769FalconsCowboysNBC25731650
776FalconsRaidersCBS251011350
78149ersPackersFOX914101749
7913BengalsChargersCBS227101049
801BroncosSteelersNBC24133949
819RavensBrownsCBS23961049
8211FalconsCardinalsFOX251001348
8311BroncosChargersCBS171461248
847SaintsBuccaneersFOX181721048
8512PanthersEaglesESPN241401048
862DolphinsRaidersCBS141291348
874RamsSeahawksFOX19781448
884BengalsJaguarsCBS18881348
8914ChargersSteelersCBS81651948
9013RedskinsGiantsESPN19771547
911CowboysGiantsNBC181051547
9211BuccaneersPanthersFOX211241047
931BuccaneersPanthersFOX19591547
9411PackersLionsFOX221131147
955GiantsBrownsCBS111971047
968BuccaneersVikingsNFL121441747
9712JaguarsTitansCBS201011546
9810SteelersChiefsESPN25621446
998BrownsChargersCBS24071546
10010VikingsLionsFOX111651546
1018ColtsTitansCBS21731546
1025DolphinsBengalsCBS146111546
10310Rams49ersFOX151201846
1042PanthersSaintsFOX101741546
1057PackersRamsFOX141381046
1061249ersSaintsFOX181441046
107749ersSeahawksNFL212101245
10810SaintsFalconsFOX141621445
10913PackersVikingsFOX19861145
1105FalconsRedskinsFOX221031145
1119BuccaneersRaidersFOX72131345
1129SteelersGiantsCBS151141545
11313Rams49ersFOX20601945
11410SeahawksJetsCBS18811845
11516PatriotsJaguarsCBS22901344
11611JetsRamsCBS19911544
11713ChiefsPanthersFOX151201744
118249ersLionsNBC171141144
1197RaidersJaguarsCBS181311244
1203BillsBrownsCBS22931044
12111CowboysBrownsCBS151061344
1224RedskinsBuccaneersFOX171111444
12316VikingsTexansFOX15641943
12416ColtsChiefsCBS25701143
12512RedskinsCowboysFOX01991543
1265RamsCardinalsNFL18291343
1274VikingsLionsFOX11791542
1283CowboysBuccaneersFOX22541242
12911PatriotsColtsCBS4248642
1302SeahawksCowboysFOX12781542
13115TexansColtsCBS191101142
13213BrownsRaidersCBS22801242
13317SeahawksRamsFOX22701342
1345PatriotsBroncosCBS81491141
1352ColtsVikingsFOX111051541
1361549ersPatriotsNBC42201641
1377VikingsCardinalsFOX118111241
13815BengalsEaglesNFL14127841
13914RamsBillsFOX20511541
1405TexansJetsESPN16931341
14116RedskinsEaglesFOX111271140
14216ChargersJetsCBS151101540
1439PanthersRedskinsFOX17711540
14415CardinalsLionsFOX111201740
1456DolphinsRamsFOX14681240
14617BengalsRavensCBS19901240
1473CardinalsEaglesFOX77111540
1483BearsRamsFOX2164940
14913FalconsSaintsNFL21811040
15012ColtsBillsCBS117111040
15113PatriotsDolphinsCBS18911240
15212RamsCardinalsFOX141201339
1533GiantsPanthersNFL61091439
15411RavensSteelersNBC22321239
1557ColtsBrownsCBS21611139
15615PackersBearsFOX14771039
1578FalconsEaglesFOX81251539
1587CowboysPanthersFOX19721139
15916FalconsLionsESPN17130939
16012BrownsSteelersCBS15741339
16112RavensChargersCBS18641139
1624ChargersChiefsCBS11154839
1636Giants49ersFOX5691939
1648BearsPanthersFOX131111339
16517TitansJaguarsCBS14160938
1662ChargersTitansCBS11129638
1679TexansBillsCBS20611138
16815TitansJetsESPN21411338
1691ChargersRaidersESPN15821338
1709PackersCardinalsFOX111241138
1718DolphinsJetsCBS19141337
1722SteelersJetsCBS1585937
17316RavensGiantsFOX51261437
1748BroncosSaintsNBC8128837
17512BroncosChiefsCBS20501237
1765BearsJaguarsFOX15117437
1772BillsChiefsCBS01415837
1781FalconsChiefsFOX8182836
1794RavensBrownsNFL12921336
18017BillsJetsCBS2080836
18110TexansBearsNBC21201336
18217ColtsTexansCBS20110536
18317SteelersBrownsCBS18701136
1842PackersBearsNFL15741036
1851BearsColtsCBS5175936
18613JetsCardinalsFOX22011336
1871749ersCardinalsFOX14901236
1882FalconsBroncosESPN51271135
1898RaidersChiefsCBS111011335
1901PatriotsTitansCBS7128835
19114VikingsBearsFOX11831334
19216RamsBuccaneersFOX101001534
1935RavensChiefsCBS19121234
1943TexansBroncosCBS51541134
19514JetsJaguarsCBS18501134
19612BengalsRaidersCBS11115733
19710TitansDolphinsCBS0961833
198449ersJetsFOX8713433
1991JetsBillsCBS0223833
20011BillsDolphinsNFL13721133
2013FalconsChargersFOX8641532
20215VikingsRamsFOX01621432
20317ChargersRaidersCBS81101332
2049SaintsEaglesESPN10104932
20514PanthersFalconsFOX91301032
20613BillsJaguarsCBS8140931
2077BearsLionsESPN12251231
20812BearsVikingsFOX796931
20917BuccaneersFalconsFOX1390931
21016BroncosBrownsCBS10110930
21110RavensRaidersCBS0224530
21210BroncosPanthersCBS8132730
2131RavensBengalsESPN4154629
2141TexansDolphinsCBS8921029
2158SteelersRedskinsFOX794929
21616PanthersRaidersCBS14301129
21713TexansTitansCBS11701028
21810BengalsGiantsFOX01121628
21914BrownsChiefsCBS1280828
2204TexansTitansCBS4142928
22110ColtsJaguarsNFL487828
22216BearsCardinalsFOX31061028
22312PatriotsJetsNBC2191628
2242TexansJaguarsCBS874828
22512GiantsPackersNBC0129627
2269BearsTitansFOX0201527
2279LionsJaguarsFOX4112927
2285VikingsTitansCBS289826
22911BengalsChiefsCBS1072726
23014BroncosRaidersNFL6901126
2316BuccaneersChiefsCBS7121626
23215DolphinsJaguarsCBS1250825
23314PatriotsTexansESPN4150625
2346JetsColtsCBS3115625
23515SeahawksBillsFOX0191525
23611SaintsRaidersFOX0152825
2371449ersDolphinsCBS4901125
23811RedskinsEaglesFOX782624
23915PanthersChargersFOX0901523
24015RaidersChiefsCBS1310923
241549ersBillsCBS4122422
2427TexansRavensCBS0151622
2431149ersBearsESPN592622
24415BroncosRavensCBS0130821
24516DolphinsBillsCBS470921
2464BroncosRaidersCBS0104621
247849ersCardinalsESPN453820
24816Seahawks49ersNBC0150520
24916PackersTitansCBS0170219
2508PatriotsRamsCBS0142419
25114SeahawksCardinalsFOX0164019
25217GiantsEaglesFOX0131518
25317BroncosChiefsCBS0100717
25417PatriotsDolphinsCBS450817
25515FalconsGiantsFOX075416
25615SaintsBuccaneersFOX0100212

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