NFL: How the Buffalo Bills Prove Winning Gets Attention and Popularity
It’s easy to overreact to the first game of the NFL season. That’s especially the case if you’re a fan of the Buffalo Bills, who crushed the defending champion Los Angeles Rams 31-10 in front of a national television audience on Thursday night.
And unlike any season this writer remembers, the Bills are — by many estimates — one of the favorites to win it all. Last night’s performance was so dominating that Buffalo may have increased its Super Bowl odds by more than 50%.
Still, we need to be clear what ‘favoured’ means at this early stage of the season: winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year isn’t too likely – much to my chagrin. But even if the Bills don’t win the ultimate prize in the end, it’s obvious they’re getting fans with their newfound success.
Take a look at FiveThirtyEight Elo Rating, for example, to understand odds. The Bills entered the night with a 10% chance of winning the Super Bowl; they left the evening with a 16% chance of winning.
Before the game against the Rams, the Bills were very close to who was most likely to win the Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Rams round out the top with between 7% and 9% chances each.
The combined chance of the teams with the second- and third-best odds to win it all was nearly twice (18%) the Bills’ chance of entering the season. The day after their blowout win, the Bills’ odds of winning are nearly equal to those of the two closest teams.
Simply put, the Bills were the weakest preseason favorites of any FiveThirtyEight favorite since they started making predictions in 2015. Now the Bills are stronger favorites than any favorite. pre-season – except the 2017 The New England Patriots, who ended up losing the Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-33.
That said, 16% is only 16%. There’s an 84% chance that a team other than the Bills will win the Lombardi Trophy – the betting lines coming from Las Vegas agree with the Bills’ odds.
Based on those stats, it would be far more surprising if the Bills won the Super Bowl than if they didn’t. The Bills have about the same chance of rolling a 6 when they roll a six-sided die. It can happen – we’ve all seen it – but it’s unlikely.
My pessimism here for the Bills’ chances may come as a surprise given that those who know me know I’m a Bills fan. I just might not believe they’re going to win. Maybe it’s that I’ve been hurt too many times.
After all, this is a Bills team that lost after starting with 13 seconds left and had a lead in last year’s AFC Divisional game against the Chiefs. It was only the second time a team had started with a lead of 20 seconds or less on the clock and lost a playoff game in more than 300 games since 1994. The other team? The Buffalo Bills of 1999-2000, which allowed so-called Music City Miracle.
Again, things are different from what they have been in the past for bills. Maybe they’re as good as they’ve ever been in their entire franchise history.
Win or lose this year, there will be a lot more fans for the ride. A look at Google searches during the month of August reveals the Bills were the 12th most searched team in the nation.
They attracted just under half of the interest-seeking team from the top team: the Dallas Cowboys. The bills were the most wanted team only in their home state, New York.
This placement may not seem like a good result for the Bills. Remember though that Buffalo is the smallest media market for any NFL franchise (while Green Bay is smaller, you count Milwaukee as part of the Packers’ home market). The Bills don’t start with a big natural base like the so-called “Team USA.”
Additionally, the Bills have made progress from where they were five years ago before the 2017 season. The Bills hadn’t made the playoffs since the 1999/00 season at that time. The old joke I used to make – which turned out to be true at the time – is that the Bills hadn’t made the playoffs since before my bar mitzvah.
At the time, the Bills ranked 23rd out of 32 teams for Google searches and had less than one-fifth the number of searches than the Cowboys.
The move the Bills made is a sign that winning you gets more attention from the fans; we also see it with other teams. The Chiefs, who reached at least the conference championship the last four seasons, had the biggest move. Likewise, the 49ers went from one of the worst teams to one of the best and have seen a surge in search interest.
We also see it in other measures. During the season 2017the Bills only had one regular season game that was seen by all or most of the country. This season, at least seven Bills games will be seen by all or most of the country. You don’t put a team on national television if you don’t think people will be interested in watching.
Perhaps the big question is what will happen if the bills go all the way this year?
Maybe – just maybe – the team from the smallest media market in the United States will become the new American team… and I can live with that.