Today marks the first NFL Sunday of the 2015 season, and NBA training camps tip off in a few weeks. What better way to honor this than by looking at the NBA franchises and matching them up with an NFL counterpart?
Atlanta Hawks: Cincinnati Bengals
Despite less than sterling reputations, these are two very solid franchises that consistently make the playoffs thanks to a solid group of core contributors. With that said, never, ever lay even a single dollar on them to win when it matters most.
Boston Celtics: Arizona Cardinals
Two expert coaches (Brad Stevens and Bruce Arians) who consistently make their teams appear as if they’re more talented than they actually are, putting them somewhat in no man’s land between contending and adding a superstar/quarterback in the draft.
Brooklyn Nets: Chicago Bears
Getting almost no contributions from drafted players, once these big-market teams were let down by going all-in on cores with questionable leadership (Deron Williams/Joe Johnson and Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall), things went downhill quickly.
Charlotte Hornets: Houston Texans
Neither has made much of a dent since entering the league over a decade ago. They often have just enough talent in an easy conference/division to sabotage their chances of a landing a franchise changer.
Chicago Bulls: San Diego Chargers
“This is the year they win it all!” – things said for approximately a decade about these franchises. Chicago is following in San Diego’s footsteps, firing a coach who failed to translate their regular-season dominance into the playoffs. As of now, these good-but-not-great teams have seen their title runs reduced to rogues gallery status for all-time greats (LeBron James and Tom Brady/Peyton Manning).
Cleveland Cavaliers: Denver Broncos
Speaking of LeBron and Peyton, while they’re at different points in their careers, the Broncos are the closest comp for the Cavs, seeing as each was gifted with a transcendent player, which required the respective front offices to assemble a superteam as quickly as possible. Top destinations for veteran ring-chasers.
Dallas Mavericks: New Orleans Saints
Horrendous drafting and spotty cap decisions have left these once-dominant teams resigned to last-ditch efforts at forming one final semi-contender around aging Hall of Famers.
Denver Nuggets: Tennessee Titans
I’m pretty sure these teams exist but I’m not entirely sure. (Obviously they exist, but they rarely matter.)
Detroit Pistons: Oakland Raiders
The former “Bad Boys” of their respective leagues, this decade (and Oakland’s drought extends beyond that) has not been kind to either, but things might be starting to turn around.
Golden State Warriors: Seattle Seahawks
Not a perfect match, but the only one that comes close, most notably because they became juggernauts by overlooking league norms and embracing speed over size. Draymond Green and Richard Sherman are the epitome of “you hate them unless they’re on your team” guys. Here’s hoping Stephen Curry never becomes a corporate brand-bot.
Houston Rockets: Philadelphia Eagles
A metric ton of roster moves have turned some fans away from these franchises, feeling that they’ve prioritized systems and philosophies over chemistry.
Indiana Pacers: Pittsburgh Steelers
Once defensive stalwarts, analysts and casual fans might be as slow to realize Indiana’s shift towards offense as they have been when the Steelers went that way a few years ago.
L.A. Clippers: Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions
The stars-and-scrubs approach of last year’s Clippers draws the comp of Atlanta, whose crew of studs couldn’t maintain a consistent contender because of the nonexistent depth behind them. The Ndamukong Suh-less Lions serve as the NFL-version of what the Clips could’ve been had the heart of their defense, DeAndre Jordan, left town as well.
L.A. Lakers: New York Giants
The weakest match on the list, as the Cowboys have a more apt appearance further down the list. Still, both are flagship franchises that have fallen behind since winning a pair of championships and are seemingly incapable of keeping their teams healthy.
Memphis Grizzlies: Kansas City Chiefs
Formidable teams no one wants to see on their schedule, with the caveat that their offenses are likely too limited to bring home the hardware.
Miami Heat: New England Patriots
Expecting Spurs-Patriots? This combination makes more sense because Bill Belichick is more Pat Riley than Gregg Popovich. Riles loves the spotlight in a way Belichick never has, but both are cold roster manipulators, always finding a way to reload, and the Heat with LeBron were a Patriots-esque villain in a way the Spurs never will be.
Milwaukee Bucks: New York Jets
Quickly and quietly built young, dominant defenses. Now they have to develop the offenses to complement them.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Downtrodden franchises that suddenly look promising due to brand new star duos…if their behind-the-times head coaches don’t hold them back.
New Orleans Pelicans: Indianapolis Colts
Generational future-of-the-sport type superstars obscure how poorly management built around their bargain rookie contracts. Rather than plan for the future and add true building blocks, both went for immediate splashes with mixed results.
New York Knicks: Dallas Cowboys
Finally prioritizing long-term stability over grabbing front page headlines, a decade-plus of futility for each appears to be ending.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Baltimore Ravens
Proficient at replacing departed talent, these well-run franchises have less-than-perfect reputations due to relocation and other controversies (OKC’s frugality, Baltimore’s handling of Ray Rice).
Orlando Magic: St. Louis Rams
Always a popular sleeper, always below .500.
Philadelphia 76ers: Jacksonville Jaguars
No NFL franchise will ever tank like the Sixers, but the Jaguars fully tore down the roster and have rebuilt. These two teams are matched up because they went through down times and grabbed high draft picks, yet might not come away from that period with a franchise changer.
Phoenix Suns: Miami Dolphins
A lot to like for both franchises, though it’s also hard to imagine either of them being serious contenders in the immediate future.
Portland Trail Blazers: San Francisco 49ers
The mass exodus of talent obscures that there’s some really likable young prospects still around, though the public’s reaction to them will likely hinge on how the polarizing star of each (Colin Kaepernick and Damian Lillard) steps into the leadership void.
Sacramento Kings: Washington R’s and Cleveland Browns
Vivek Ranadive and Daniel Snyder are perfecting the art of squandering a franchise player.
Throw in the Browns because it’s hard to not feel bad for their fans.
San Antonio Spurs: Green Bay Packers
The ultimate small-market franchises. Added bonus points for the unfair advantage of going right from one Hall of Famer (Robinson and Favre) to another (Duncan and Rodgers).
Toronto Raptors: Buffalo Bills
Extremely devoted fan bases who’ve waited two decades for something to truly get excited about, not to mention the Bills used to play one game a year in Toronto.
Utah Jazz: Minnesota Vikings
It’s too early to know, but these homegrown rosters might be headed for big things thanks to developing stars found outside the top picks of the draft.
Washington Wizards: Carolina Panthers
Imperfect No. 1 overall picks have lifted somewhat overrated supporting casts into playoff contention, only to be considered losers by sports analysts proficient at delivering “hot takes.”