The regular NFL season is over now. Twelve teams are preparing for the postseason while twenty more are going back to the drawing board.
For most of our teams, the season will not end well. For some of us, our teams will be merely disappointing. Some will go down in flames. Others may even inexplicably snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The NFL has a lot in common with the military. Like a battle, football requires discipline, endurance, and teamwork. Each team has its own culture, fan base, trials, and tribulations. To celebrate the crowning glory of what is the most American of sports, we decided to make sense of the 2015-2016 season's ups and downs by comparing the teams to military film and television characters.
Arizona Cardinals - Lt. Dan Taylor, Forrest Gump
The Cardinals are one of the NFL's longest continual franchises who still don't have a Super Bowl win. It's like Lt. Dan's family tradition of fighting in every major war: none of his ancestors lived long enough to see the big win. Maybe this time will be different?
Atlanta Falcons - Anthony "Swoff" Swofford, Jarhead
Everything started off so promising. A 5-0 start, the best since 2012. But it never really went anywhere. Like Swoff going through hell to become an elite Marine: When it came down to it, it was all for naught. Swoff never got to fire his rifle. The Falcons lost 8 of their last 11 games. Just... disappointing. But like the Marines returning to Iraq in 2003, there's always next year.
Baltimore Ravens - Sgt. Barnes, Platoon
This unit lost man after man until everyone watching was filled with dread and a sense of pathos soured their crab cakes. After so many player losses went down, everything else went downhill too. Unit cohesion became a disaster and no one outside of Maryland shed a tear when they died. The Ravens are also notoriously paranoid.
Buffalo Bills - Chief Casey Ryback, Under Siege
If a team were represented by their fans at home games, the Bills would be Jeff Portnoy from Tropic Thunder. Luckily (and surprisingly) the Bills 8-8 season was much better than anyone expected, thanks in no small part to ex-Flacco backup Tyrod Taylor. Taylor's performance can be likened to the ship's cook of the USS Missouri, who was actually a Navy SEAL.
Carolina Panthers - Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, We Were Soldiers
The Panthers had the second oldest average age of any team in the NFL, edged only by the Colts. Unlike the Colts' geriatric gameplay, the Panthers' translated into solid veteran status, going 15-1 and earning the #1 seed in the playoffs. No one is looking forward to running into Carolina in the postseason, nor should they be.
Chicago Bears - Pvt. Mellish, Saving Private Ryan
I'm only guessing here, but I bet this scene perfectly illustrates the experience of being a Bears fan and/or player throughout the 2015 season.
Cincinnati Bengals - Sgt. Nicholas Brody, Homeland
Are you really good? Is everything what it appears to be? It's been so long. Can we tell for certain? There's only one thing Cincinnati fans know for certain: No one trusts you. Also: Ginger. Also: Nice reg haircut.
Cleveland Browns - The Cast of Tropic Thunder, Tropic Thunder
Other teams have had worse records, other teams have their messes, but the Browns keep doing the same thing year after year: new coach, new QB, new outlook, same outcome. It's like the Browns aren't even an NFL team anymore. They're more of a parody of football, skewering the entire culture of the NFL and its fandom. Unlike Tropic Thunder, there's no happy ending.
Dallas Cowboys - PFC William Hudson, Aliens
A once-awesome team whose season started off with solid wins fell apart at the first sign of despair. And "despair" was the word of the season. Quarterback after quarterback would come to Dallas and meet their fate while the team struggled to keep it together long enough to pull in four total wins.
Denver Broncos - John Rambo, First Blood
The Broncos were quietly awesome in 2015. Not a lot of flair, the Broncos just went about their business trying to get to a Super Bowl. They weren't amazing on offense for much of the season but like Rambo taking on some know-nothing cops in the woods, the defense demolished offenses one-by-one, losing only four games with three of those by one score or less.
Detroit Lions - Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump
No one really dislikes the Lions. We don't really understand them either. For many of us, they're like a family member, in that we see them once in a while and they always show up to Thanksgiving. They definitely aren't stupid and they show us all the time the amazing things they're capable of doing. And just like Forrest Gump, they aren't winning a Super Bowl anytime soon.
Green Bay Packers - Capt. Jimmy Wilder, Independence Day
Jimmy had confident leadership with an obvious record of success. Unfortunately, he just didn't have what it takes to survive til the end. The Packers are much the same way. They have a chance to be Capt. Hiller if they can just keep their mask on, but they're looking at a formidable wall of alien spaceship shaped like a giant Carolina Panther.
Houston Texans - Jean Rasczak, Starship Troopers
Maybe it's just J.J. Watt, but the Texans always seem angry to me. Like if a Texan doesn't play hard enough, Watt will hurt them himself. This might explain all their QB injuries.
Indianapolis Colts - Pvt. James Ryan, the beginning & end of Saving Private Ryan
As of September's cut down day, the Indianapolis Colts were the oldest team in the NFL, meaning oldest average age of its players, (and it's not just because of Adam Vinatieri, age 43). And they played like it at times, going 8-8. Those eight wins were against teams with a losing record and within one score against teams with a winning record. Extra points awarded for never giving up.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Blame this on ownership. When owners change, the team should change a bit. Owner Shahid Khan has had years to get something going for the people of Jacksonville, who paid $63 million in upgrades for the stadium in 2013 only to receive a Jacksonville team with a record of 3-13. Everyone should be screaming about this.
Kansas City Chiefs - John Rambo, Rambo III
They seemed reluctant at first but around week seven the Chiefs decided they had enough. With the gusto of Rambo going to rescue Col. Trautman, they demolished the perennial favorites Broncos and Steelers and trounced a resurgent Bills. This team who started 1-5 very nearly won the conference championship.
Miami Dolphins - Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg
Because no one lives in the past like the Miami Dolphins.
Minnesota Vikings - Sgt. 1st Class Sanderson, Black Hawk Down
Just as skilled and capable as Norm "Hoot" Hooten, but not nearly as interesting. The Vikings were able to beat the Chiefs once this season, but really spent Sundays taking down Chargers, Lions, and Bears most of the time. Still a winner, but not a Hoot.
New England Patriots - Chris Kyle, American Sniper
Some people love you, some people hate you. None of that matters, because you're among the best there is whether they like you or not.
New Orleans Saints - The entire cast of The Alamo
It turns out defense is pretty important. No one proves that more than the Saints.
New York Giants - Col. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Watching the Giants' 2015 season was like watching a once-formidable force just begging to be put out of its misery.
New York Jets - Capt. Virgil Hilts, The Great Escape
Being the only team with a winning record to not make the playoffs is like escaping from a Nazi prison camp on a motorcycle, only to be captured on the Swiss border. They were so close, only to be sent back to the cooler.
Oakland Raiders - Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator
An old man dies and now once great team is surrounded by people rejected by the everyone else and all they can think about is moving to the Coliseum.
Philadelphia Eagles - Capt. Dave "Captain America" McGraw, Generation Kill
No team's on- and off-field behavior draws more head shaking than Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Animal Mother, Full Metal Jacket
Full of guts, but no ideals: The Steelers snuck into the playoffs after a lucky Jets loss gave them the edge. You have to respect Animal Mother, though. He's there because he knows how to do what he's been trained to do and he's good at it. Just like Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Rams - Nick, The Deer Hunter
St. Louis fans have seen seasons like this so often, they must be mentally broken by now. Every year, the talk of the Rams moving to LA has to wear on both the fans and the team. If they don't move this year, spin the barrel for another 7-9 season and see what happens when you pull the trigger.
San Diego Chargers - Capt. Herbert Sobel, Band of Brothers
It's not that the Chargers lack the will to succeed. It's just that they lack the skill to succeed. So they'll be moved somewhere which might be a better fit. Currahee!
San Francisco 49ers - Sgt. Elias, Platoon
The days of the 49ers being a "nice" team are over, and probably have been for a long time. Like the death of everything Sgt. Elias represented in Platoon, we can probably count on the 49ers becoming more and more desperate to do whatever it takes to win as time goes on.
Seattle Seahawks - Maverick, Top Gun
Seattle is eminently likable despite a few personality flaws, flaws which led the them through the team's ups and downs this season. Despite those few losses, the Seahawks are still among the best there is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Pvt. Timothy Upham, Saving Private Ryan
The ultimate letdown. Sure, they have a much-talked-about leader but they also have all the skills they don't need. When the time came to do or die, Upham didn't even have the nerve to die. There's always next year, but some of the guys on their roster won't be around for it. Whose fault is that?
Tennessee Titans- PFC Blackburn, Black Hawk Down
You fell out of a helicopter before the fighting even started and you stayed down the whole time. You brought a lot of people down with you. A new QB made everyone feel like the Titans were a new, fresh team. There was hope. Then it all became a mess. Also, all the football references in Black Hawk Down are great reminders of the Titans' most famous one yard line play.
Washington Redskins - The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Glory
No one expected much from Washington this year. Despite every bad thing said about them, the Voldemorts of the NFL showed up to play every game of the season, finishing 9-7 and winning the NFC East. In their next battle, they'll be mercilessly thrown at a formidable opponent and their leader will probably be taken down with them.