Dan tossed me a challenge I am willing to take up. First a little background.
As a graphic design professional with 35 years of experience in major Chicago ad agencies, working with the NFL on behalf of our clients happened to me at least once annually going all the way back to 1976. I designed executed many marketing campaigns for clients that had exclusive NFL sponsorships.
As a fan my partiality to helmet, uniform and logo designs for NFL teams has always leaned toward bold colors, contrasts and tradition. That’s always been my personal style preferences. To me, simple design beats convoluted designs and those that work way too hard.
In today’s glut of merchandising, helmets and emblems often undergo modernization and design upgrades. We are now seeing ferocious images of cats and horses and birds on helmets all in the name of looking good enough to entice the sales of gadgets, posters, stickers and apparel etc. to fans.
All that being said, here are my opinions and rankings of NFL team helmet designs, in order of the above chart.
49‘ers. Traditional and clean. Simple traditional emblem and great color combination.
Vikings. The horn screams Viking. They have an icon of a fierce looking Viking warrior that works well on merchandise but that image does not belong on a helmet.
Titans. This is an expansion team that picked a peculiar name and an equally peculiar emblem. Their colors just scream “we are running out of color choices, please help!” Boring is a compliment.
Texans. The colors are good and bold but the bull icon looks a bit too contemporary and could go out of fashion easily. I give them credit for a clean design tho.
Steelers. Since this was #1 helmet in Dan’s ESPN link here’s the reason according to this site. Why change it? The only thing I would do is put another emblem on the other side of the helmet. The link also provides a reason for not doing so
Seahawks. A real seahawk is neither ferocious or intimidating since it is a scavenger. The uniform colors have been upgraded and that is a big improvement over what they once had. The helmet needs an upgrade as well.
Saints. It is what it is. Good colors. Leave it be.
Redskins. The use of a native American head I like a lot because it’s delightfully politically incorrect. That has to get under some whiteskins in D.C. Colors are unappealing to me.
Rams. One of the very best helmets. It bears a solid and easily identifiable icon. Great colors. The updated metallic gold was a great move. No way to challenge this one.
Ravens. See Seahawks above. A raven is a crow. Who likes crows? But I do like the colors.
Raiders. Another old AFL franchise that is in despirate need of upgrade. Is this a cartoon of Daryl Lamonica with swords sticking through his head or what? Please. This helmet begs for a redesign with a mean looking skull. Can’t go wrong with the colors.
Patriots. Good move on the upgrade. Without staring at it the human head is barely noticeable. All I see is red white and blue. But if I were to upgrade it further I would design a stylized American flag and ditch the head.
Panthers. The cat head takes on the shape of the Carolina’s as states. That’s good. The cat needs a bit more contrast definition. The colors kinda suck to me because I am not a big fan of teal.
Packers. This is a classic and enduring helmet that will never change. They own green and yellow. When you see these colors there is no denying what team it is.
Lions. Another traditional icon is plastered on this helmet. But I would not put it past this franchise to upgrade to something more ferocious looking. I have no idea why they would, other than to answer declining merchandise sales.
Jets. This could be one of the worst looking helmets. With a name like Jets one would think of something simple but a bit more sexy than a green football shape with a word on it.
Jaguars. If you look at the above chart their helmet could easily be mistaken for the Raven helmet. Yawn.
Giants. It was a smart move for the franchise to go back to the NY icon. Having a word on the side of a helmet is dumb, like Illini. The color shades have changed over the years, I would prefer the blue to be more in the navy blue range.
Falcons. Not a bad icon IMO. The problem with this helmet is lack of contrast between the helmet color and the icon. Maybe a red falcon on black?
Eagles. Wings. What’s not to like? It’s nice and simple and very recognizable. Don’t screw with it. Colors are solid.
Dolphins. Now here’s a leftover from the old AFL days, a cartoon fish wearing a helmet. An upgrade is in needed. The colors are wimpy too. Why not a profile of a jumping dolphin? Or something. Anything but this.
Cowboys. The only thing I would change is the blue color. At a glance it looks too much like the Lions. They have gone to a deeper blue but I suggest they go even deeper.
Colts. I like the reference to the horseshoe being ‘good luck’. Don’t mess with it.
Chiefs. I like the arrowhead but it could lose the KC. It’s simple and clean and bold.
Chargers. By far this one of my favorite helmets. It has great visual energy. Blue helmet or white, doesn’t matter much to me, it’s a classic.
Cardinals. Another bird head icon, but what would be the alternative? Wings? A cardinal is not very intimidating but they’re stuck with it.
Buccaneers. My design compliments to this franchise. Once a strange gay pirate was plastered on this helmet. Adding the skull and changing the team colors was very wise. I recall they once looked like Dreamsicles with legs.
Browns. What to do, what to say? What exactly is a brown? Simple but boring. Just like Cleveland.
Broncos. Similar to the Buccaneers the franchise made a smart move in the design upgrade. What was once a light blue and orange color scheme with the icon of a “D” with a snorting horse head, their helmet now looks respectable. Colors are good.
Bills. Not great but not bad either. It is a huge improvement from the old AFL icon that was a silhouette of a standing buffalo begging to be shot by evil invading white guys.
Bengals. Another one of my favorite helmets. The stripes say it better than another cat head and make this one of the most creative helmet design to me.
Bears. Like the Packers it’s one of the most recognizable and traditional helmets. Don’t change a thing with the C design. Please, no growling bear heads. Please. Leave it alone.
So there you have it, my snarky commentary as the models have completed their walk down the runway. Why do I feel slightly gay after this entry?
My helmet design rankings - best to worst