By: Jacob Miller
There are numerous forms of entertainment that inspire love, devotion and heated conversations from their fans, perhaps none more so than the lauded book series turned epic TV show, Game of Thrones. Indeed, one can hardly go on social media without seeing mention of Jon Snow’s origin story.
If there is a rival for world’s most obsessive fan base, it very well may be those of the National Football League. Crazed fanatics engage in heated debates on everything from blitz packages to Tom Brady’s personal cookbook.
On Sunday evenings, Game of Thrones fans tune in to watch a handful of noble families vie for the same prize. For glory, for honor, for The Iron Throne. Similarly, in the NFL a handful of successful teams all vie for their own throne. For glory, for honor, for The Super Bowl. The comparison are fun, fruitful, and of course, up for constant debate.
And so, let the Game of Thrones/NFL Team comparisons begin.
SPOILER ALERT: If you are not up to date on Game of Thrones, be warned, there are spoilers in the comparisons.
The Big Four Teams/Families
The Lannisters: Of all the families in the Seven Kingdoms, the Lannisters are the most despised. And yet, despite being hated, and in total disregard of all the forces working against them, they continue to thrive. King after king, hand after hand, the Lannisters are always there, quietly determining the fate of the Seven Kingdoms with an iron fist. How do they do it? Simply put, they perpetually stay ahead of the curve to outsmart their opponents. Led by the fearless and devious Tywin, the Lannisters are unafraid to break cultural rules, sever ties with those once considered allies, and engage in acts that are avoided by the other houses. Sound familiar at all?
The New England Patriots: Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, the Patriots have dominated the NFL. The Patriots have been to the AFC Championship game 10 times in 15 seasons, the Super Bowl six times, and won four championships in the process. What is the secret to their success? Just as with the Lannisters, it is tactics. Bill Belichick frequently exhibits the traits of Tywin Lannister - he simply does not care about what other people think. For example, in their 2014 Super Bowl run the Pats infamously broke what some considered to be an “unspoken rule.” In desperate need of a first down, the Patriots had a running back check in as an ineligible receiver in order to create confusion on The Baltimore Ravens defensive line. Tom Brady then threw a perfectly timed ball to the tight end who the Ravens thought was acting as an offensive lineman. The play resulted in a game-changing first down. Was it against the rules? No, not technically. Did it tick off most of the NFL and result in a new rule being made? Absolutely. Did Belichick care? Not at all.
A near emotionless leader, Belichick is unafraid to cut loyal and high-performing players in lieu of better options (just ask Wes Welker or Logan Mankins). Rigid and devious, he knows exactly when to be ruthless and when to exercise caution. Just as Tywin has a dashing, fearless, and fantastic swordsman of a son in Ser Jamie, Belichick has Tom Brady, the GQ cover boy, who has become one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. What will happen when Tywin and Jamie begin to fade in old age or from injuries? (Let’s hope Bill’s son doesn’t murder him in the bathroom, and that Tom Terrific doesn’t actually lose a hand). Well, Cersei Lannister now relies on a behemoth of a man, known simply as The Mountain, to destroy her enemies with impunity and maintain her grip on the Seven Kingdoms. Similarly, the Patriots will long rely on the prowess of their own mountainous football player, Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski. Standing at 6’6 and weighing 265 pounds, the freakishly athletic tight end will long give the Pats the ability to wreak havoc on the football field. Whatever the case, there is little reason to believe that the Lannisters are going to let go of their status without one heck of a fight. The same can indeed be said of the Patriots.
The Starks: If there is a family in the Seven Kingdoms that simply does not care about being politically correct, it is the Starks. They are noble, proud, beloved by their people, and imbued with an absolute hatred for politics and bureaucracy. In other words, the Starks are old school. They don’t believe in frills and bobbles, they don’t indulge in unnecessary discussion. They are blunt, concise and bold. While they have had a rough go of it as of late, the Starks are definitely one of the dominant houses vying for the Iron Throne. How have they done it? Simply put, the Starks' success is rooted in fearlessness, bold maneuvering and total trust in their leaders. Whether we are talking about Ned, Rob, or the newly anointed White Wolf (Jon Snow), the Northerners follow the Starks with a fierce passion. There are few things as fearsome as an army that is truly united under one banner. It almost reminds me of….
The Arizona Cardinals: If there is a team in the NFL that mirrors the Starks, it is the Cardinals. Head Coach Bruce Arians epitomizes the Starks' attitude. He is a politically incorrect leader that is also adored by his team. And, excuse my Game of Thrones super nerd moment, like Jon Snow (who is part Targaryen and Part Baratheon), Arians is of mixed blood from two other houses! Part Steelers and Part Colts! How perfectly lined up is that coincidence? Similar to how the Starks expect and often receive loyalty from their banner men, Coach Arians and GM Steve Keim do the same. Over and over again you hear Cardinals players talk about how they would do anything for their beloved head coach. What are the results of such loyalty? In the last few years they have unseated the Seahawks as the dominant force in the NFC West, and made it to the playoffs multiple times. But, just as winter can be brutal for the Starks, so has the hand that's been dealt to the Cards. In multiple seasons the Cardinals have suffered grievous injuries to key players (Carson Palmer, Tyan Mathieu, Drew Stanton, etc.) during the ever important winter months. But they always seem to come back stronger.
Like the Starks, the Cardinals are unconcerned with appearances. They don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what your history is. As long as you toe the line and can contribute, the Cardinals will bring you in like family. It is no wonder that players from all around the country flock to Arizona like banner men being called to arms. And like I said, there are few things as dangerous as an army that is truly united under one banner. To top it off, The Bird Gang is absolutely fearless. They blitz like maniacs and pull the trigger on deep throws more than almost anyone else in the league. Just like the Starks, this all go, no quit approach may not always be the most intelligent, and can sometimes get them into trouble (I’m talking to you Jon Snow), but man, it certainly makes for good TV viewing.
The Targaryens: An ancient house known for their once ruthless reign over the Seven Kingdoms. Humiliated and forced from the throne. But never truly gone. Quietly… Patiently... Waiting… to strike with a vicious aerial attack!!! Is there really anyone that people are rooting for more than Daenerys Stormborn? I mean come on. She is totally freaking awesome! She started out as an innocent, yet gutsy girl, and has blossomed into one of the greater minds in the Game of Thrones world. She carefully gathered her massive army and has begun her march towards Westeros, ready to unleash her three dragons. In moments of need she has a fantastic counselor in the longtime grizzled veteran of war and politics, Jorah Mormont (son of the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch). Will she succeed in regaining her family’s heritage and once again sit on the Iron Throne? There is a darn good chance.
The Pittsburgh Steelers: Just as the Targaryens are an ancient and noble house that once held the Throne with a throttling grip, so are The Pittsburgh Steelers, a long and storied franchise that once held the Lombardi Trophy with a Steel grip (Steel Curtain pun anyone?). Like the Targaryens, the Steelers have lost hold of their dominant ways. It has now been over 7 years since the Steelers held the NFL throne. But they have a true leader and one of the best in the game in Big Ben, aided by a dominant and ruthless aerial attack offense that can torch opposing defenses, led by a wise counselor/coach who is well-versed in the way of football.
Ok so bear with me. I know that Roethlisberger is not nearly as hot as Emilia Clarke (and not the same gender) but still, the comparisons are there. Daenerys started out as a gutsy loudmouth and has, over time, developed a brilliant mind for the great game. Now she is more cerebral and dominant than ever. Her development is incredibly similar to the path Roethlisberger has taken in the NFL. He was once a guts and glory QB, and has now morphed into one of the most cerebral pre-snap QB’s we have today, leading an incredible aerial attack of his own! Big Ben has 3 dragons of his own, named Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le’veon Bell. Just like Daenery’s dragons, Bell and Bryant have the habit of engaging in behavior that gets them taken out of the game for months at a time. Regardless, even playing with a dragon out for the year, the big three still lead an absolutely terrifying offense that seems to obliterate the best defenses in the league.
Daenerys is counseled by a grizzled war vet from a noble family, Jorah Mormont. Mormont is the son of a great leader who was well respected in Westeros but went north and joined the Night’s Watch. Similarly, Big Ben often relies on the counsel of Mike Tomlin. One of the best coaches is the game, Tomlin also comes from a noble football family. His dad was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, and then, get this, left and went north! To play for the Canadian Football League! Man the comparison points just keep on coming. Whether Daenerys or the Steelers, they are can’t miss TV.
The Baratheons: You wouldn’t guess it from watching the show, but Robert Baratheon was once the most fearsome and dominating fighter in the Seven Kingdoms. In addition to his skill on the battlefield, he was a legendary war master. Legends are often told of his intelligence in battle strategies. Through a blend of brute force and skillful maneuvering, the Baratheons had a dominant run on the Iron Throne. But then, after getting sloppy in his older years, King Robert died and the rest of the family tore itself apart. But don’t lose hope Baratheon supporters, there is an unknown commodity waiting in the shadows that may emerge to bring his family glory.
The Denver Broncos: The Baratheons had Robert and the Broncos had Peyton Manning. What can you say? The dude was a freakin wizard running an offense. 5 MVP’s, two Super Bowls, and lord knows how many pro bowls. As good a QB as the league has ever seen. But then, in his final years, Peyton, like Robert Baratheon, seemed to get sloppy. The ball came out wobbly. He looked much slower and frailer than we were used to. With a dominant support cast, the Broncos managed to win it all last year. But then Peyton retired, and just as with the Baratheons, the team seemed to suddenly fall into disarray. Just like when Stannis and Renly couldn’t stop all of the in-fighting that eventually destroyed the family’s chances of continuing to sit on the throne, it seems that in-fighting may be the undoing of the mighty Denver Broncos.
John Elway lowballed the crap out of Peyton’s heir apparent, Brock Oswelier, so he split for Texas. Then there was a protracted standoff with Von Miller that ended up demolishing the Broncos salary cap. The front office of the Broncos literally seems to keep shooting themselves in the foot. What will happen next? Who knows? But wait. Just like the Baratheons, there is a specter hanging over this team, waiting for his chance to reignite the Broncos with football glory. In Game of Thrones many pundits are waiting for the emergence of Gendry to bring the family back from the abyss. Do the Broncos have their own dark horse waiting in the shadows? Many believe so. Paxton Lynch was fantastic in college. He has all you could want in size and in the cannon attached to his shoulder. Will Paxton Lynch emerge as the Broncos starter at QB and prove that they will continue to be one of the NFL’s powerhouses? Will Gendry find his way onto the Iron Throne? Time will tell my friends. Time will tell.
The "Don’t Underestimate Us Because You Will Regret It If You Do" Teams/Families
The Tyrells: There is a family in the Seven Kingdoms that is led by an aging but deviously brilliant matriarch, and had a young generation that seemed poised to lead the family to new heights. Yes, I am talking about the Tyrells. For a while the Tyrells seemed to be on the brink of taking it all. The Iron Throne was almost in their grasp, and they had a young and incredibly beautiful (and surprisingly devious) Queen Margaery, and her brother the dashing Prince Loras. Then it all came crashing down. A future that looked so bright is now dim. What will happen with Tyrells? Will the matriarch, Olenna Tyrell, bring them back from the brink? Will they once again challenge for the Iron Throne? We shall see.
The Carolina Panthers: If there is a team in the NFL that, like the Tyrells, seemed to be poised for a spectacular finale last year, it was the Panthers. Man, they went on a ridiculous run. 15-1 in the regular season on the way to the Super Bowl. Like the Tyrells, they are coached by a brilliant individual who has gobs of experience in vying for the throne, Ron Rivera. Then there is Luke Keuchley! What a dominating force on the field. Best linebacker in the league hands down. Keuchley, just like Ser Loras, seems to have it all. A great team, lots of money, and the skills to back it up. On top of all of that, the Panthers even had their own beautiful drama queen in Cam Newton. Similar to Queen Margaery, he has impeccable fashion sense, a winning smile and incredible wit! Just as Margaery seemed to glow every time she was in the show, Newton seemed like he could do no wrong last season.
There have been some ignominious collapses in the NFL and in Game of Thrones. But when it comes to the Tyrells and Panthers, somehow it felt worse. Maybe it was Queen Margaery collapsing on the floor and wailing like a child when the Broncos scored during the Super Bowl. Oh wait, sorry, I meant Queen Cam not Queen Marjorie.
Or maybe it was the fact that the Panthers seemed to go from doing the dab to dabbing tears from their eyes (forgive the pun). Either way it seems to have been a rough way for Carolina to end a truly amazing season. The same can be said of the Tyrells. I was all in. I thought Margaery and Olenna had it all worked out and were gonna take it to the house. But just like the Panthers, when the game was on the line they got absolutely demolished by one of the other houses. Will they bounce back? Can Super (Queen) Cam lead the charge once again? Will Olenna restore glory to the Tyrells? 2017 will undoubtedly hold the answers.
The White Walkers: Knowledge about the White Walkers is sparse. Here is what we do know. Thousands of years ago the children of the forest created the White Walkers to ward off evil men. It didn’t exactly work the way that they wanted it to. Now the White Walkers live in a barren, tundra-filled waste land, have an icy king who seems to have a transcendent ability to destroy his opponents, and are determined to venture south for the war against men. While they don’t have many fans, the White Walkers do have a massive army, a stone cold killer leading them, and a legit chance at the Iron Throne.
The Green Bay Packers: Is there really any place in the country that better reflects north of the wall better than playing on the frigid Lambeau field? I don’t think so! Playing a winter game against the Pack in their territory is a massive advantage for the cheeseheads. Just as much as invading the north would probably play right into the hands of the White Walkers. Is there anyone in the NFL that is scarier to face on the field than Aaron Rodgers? Definitely not. That dude is a straight-up killer. No matter what you do, the guy seems to find a way to pull off spectacular plays. You leave him in the pocket and he eats you alive. You force him out and the dude scrambles till your defensive lineman are collapsing on the ground. Simply put, Rodgers is as unstoppable as the Night King. While there may not be a ton of White Walker fans out there (no offense Rooster), they are certainly making everyone in the Seven Kingdoms very, very nervous. Will they win it all? Will the North take back what they believe to be theirs? Whether we are talking about the Packers or the White Walkers, the conclusion will undoubtedly keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Greyjoys: A once great house that seems to perpetually get the crap kicked out of them by the other houses. The Greyjoys are not always sexy and not always great at defending themselves from attacks. Nonetheless, the Greyjoys refuse to go away. Once led by the indomitable Balon, the Greyjoys are in a state of rebuilding. They have a new dynamic young leader in Yara who has the chance to lead them back to glory and honor. Who does this sound like?
The Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were once considered to be one of the dominant teams in the NFL. Recently, eh… not so much. They seem to have a habit of making it to the playoffs only to get spanked by more dominant teams like the Patriots. Sounds a lot like the Greyjoys getting bullied by the more dominant families in Game of Thrones. But also like the Greyjoys, the Colts have a dynamic young leader who seems to have all of the skills you could ask for. Yara is smart, decisive, proven in battle, and loved by her men. I would not be surprised if she ends up being greater than Balon ever was. The Colts have Andrew Luck. His beard may fool you into believing he is a goober, but the dude can straight- up ball. He has a rocket of an arm, can read opposing defenses, and is adored by Colts fans. The 2015 Colts were a sexy pre-season pick for Super Bowl champs. Now they are being looked at as underdogs to win back their own division. Just like the Greyjoys, I have a feeling that underestimating them will be a problem for other teams.
Well, there you have it people. Who will win the Iron throne? Will Cersei and the Mountain prevail? Or will Daenerys take back her birthright? Two more seasons to go. And now, thanks to HBO, we have to wait even longer. Who will win the Super Bowl? Luckily, the wait for football season is over because a new Game of Thrones season is still many months away! Will the Patriots continue their dominant ways and prove that Tom Brady is the best QB of all time? Will the Colts re-establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with? Will the Cardinals take the next step toward the Super Bowl? Who knows. Just like Game of Thrones, the NFL are the kings of entertainment. So, regardless of the outcome of the 2016 season, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. No matter which team/family you root for!