aNewDomain — Our long national nightmare has returned. The NFL, our trusted and concussion-addled friend since last August, has entered its offseason.
When the Patriots closed out the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night, we saw the last pro football game until the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9. That’s a long time to wait. We need something to pass the time.
If you’re like me, you’ll spend the next few months watching soccer, Premier League style. I started checking out the top level of English soccer a couple of years ago as a Sunday morning substitute for the wretched NFL pregame shows that dominate TV. I’m now a big enough fan to watch Saturday mornings, Monday afternoons and any other time England’s best are playing.
First, though, you need to choose a team. There are 20 in the Premier League, all of whom are hoping to make the UEFA Champions League, a tournament featuring the best of every top-flight European League. Good teams that don’t finish in the top four still have a shot at the UEFA Europa League, a good enough consolation prize.
Just as important is choosing a team that doesn’t finish in the bottom three of the table (standings). Those clubs are relegated to the Championship League, tier two of English football. They then have to wind up in the top three of that league to get back to Premier play.
Got it? Good. It’s time to pick a side.
You like winners.
Arsenal: After winning the FA Cup last year, the Gunners are back near the top of the Premier League table. Check out the video below.
Chelsea: When your team’s manager is known as “The Special One,” what do you expect? Plus, Jose Mourinho’s side never loses at home in league play.
You like tradition.
Liverpool: Despite never winning a Premier League crown, Liverpool is an unqualified success with 18 English league titles.
Manchester United: The Red Devils have 20 league titles, the most of any English league club. They also do quite well in the financial department, valued at more than $3 billion.
You like the nouveau riche.
Manchester City: Good times have been the norm since the club was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group. City won the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League the following season.
You like surprises.
Southampton: After finishing eighth in the Premier League last season, the Saints are challenging for a Champions League spot. While it’s hard to imagine that happening, a Europa League spot isn’t out of the question.
You like anonymity.
You like teams that never win cups.
Stoke City: Stoke went 23 years without playing in the Premier League until earning promotion n 2008. The Potters played in an FA Cup final in 2011 but haven’t won a title since 1972.
You like London’s “other” teams
Crystal Palace: South London’s entry in the Premier League has spent substantial time flip-flopping between the top two leagues of English football. Like NFL teams, the Eagles have cheerleaders. Check them out below.
West Ham United: Maybe all this will change when the Hammers move into the former Olympic Stadium for the 2016-’17 season.
You like a rough crowd.
Newcastle United: Sunderland fans needed a police escort through the city centre before a match against Newcastle in December. It’s no coincidence that the team wears kits that look like prison uniforms.
You like a team that shouldn’t have sold its best player.
Tottenham: Prolific goal scorer Gareth Bale was transferred to Real Madrid for an undisclosed fee in 2013. A little more than halfway through this season, the Hotspur has only a five-goal scoring differential. Chelsea is on top at plus-32.
You like underachieving overachievers.
Everton: With American Tim Howard in goal, the Toffees finished fifth in the Premier League last season, qualifying for the Europa Cup. With Howard sidelined by injury and a lack of goal-scoring punch, Everton is only in the middle of the pack. To point, here’s a video worth watching.
Hull City: The Tigers surprisingly made the FA Cup final last May and gave Arsenal a tough match before losing 3-2. Now, they’re fighting off relegation in the Premier League.
You like teams located outside England.
Swansea: Wales’ only entry in the Premier League after Cardiff City was relegated after last season, the Swans made the Europa League field this year.
You like birds.
West Bromwich Albion: West Brom’s badge prominently features a throstle, aka song thrush. Someone has to carry the flag for bird lovers after the Norwich City Canaries were relegated after last season.
You like lost causes.
Aston Villa: The Villains stunned Arsenal on the road to start the 2013-’14 season. It’s pretty much been downhill since.
Burnley, Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers: These clubs finished at the top of the Championship League last season, earning promotion to the Premier League. It appears that all three could be one-year wonders and get relegated back to the Championship League after this season.
Have you chosen your team? Excellent. Make sure you have NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports Live Extra. Arsenal and Tottenham kick off at 7:45 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Be ready.
Cover image of Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home stadium: Rodney Campbell.