In 2019, the upstart 8-3 Buffalo Bills, led by the fiery and polarizing Josh Allen, headed into Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Bills led a 26-15 rout of America’s team, offering the audience receivers throwing touchdowns and underestimated youngsters showing out on heroic one-yard fourth down conversions. Needless to say, Buffalo put on a show and drew 32+ million viewers in what would be the most watched television event since the Super Bowl earlier that year. It was the most watched regular season game since Dallas played Washington in 2016, also on Thanksgiving day. The next week, the Bills would march into Pittsburgh playing on Sunday Night Football for the first time in 12 years. This time, the Bills would deliver the most watched primetime event of the week as they quieted a rowdy Pittsburgh crowd during their own beloved ‘Renegade’ tradition. After these two performances, Buffalo would travel to New England in a kind of primetime but not-so primetime slot on Saturday at 4:30. As Josh Allen dazzled and Smoke Brown smoked, the Bills would give NFL Network their most watched exclusive game since 2016 as they came up just inches short of another impressive victory. Two weeks after this, #BillsMafia would stand up again as the Bills had a chance to secure their first playoff victory in 24 years. While they didn’t come away with the victory, Buffalo delivered yet another thriller that would result in the highest-rated Saturday Wild Card game since 2014 and ESPN’s most viewed Wild Card game ever.
This offseason, the Bills lost no starters and just two impact players. Brandon Beane went out and traded the team’s first round pick to acquire star receiver Stefon Diggs, as well as coming to a low-risk deal with former star cornerback Josh Norman. A hopeful first round talent in AJ Epenesa would fall to the Buffalo Bills and join the second-ranked scoring defense in the NFL.
What say you, #BillsMafia? Are you ready to see more of the Bills under the lights? If recent trends have any future indication, the schedule makers certainly should be.
Remember last year when the Cleveland Browns were crowned offseason champions for adding a certified star receiver in Odell Beckham to pair with their budding quarterback in Baker Mayfield? The results didn’t play out too well for the Browns, as they only won six games, but they saw a jump from two primetime games in 2018 to four in 2019. How about the 2018 Chicago Bears, the team that went all-in adding Khalil Mack to an already star-studded defense? At the time, Mitchell Trubisky was expected to continue his development and become a common name in the NFL. This Chicago team was rewarded with the same jump from two primetime games the previous year to four in 2018. And then you have the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. One year after going 7-9, the front office added Alshon Jeffery to Carson Wentz’s arsenal. The jump isn’t quite as significant because the Eagles come from the beloved NFC East, but the TV networks again rewarded the Eagles by moving them from four primetime games the previous year to five in 2017.
Jared Goff and the 2018 Los Angeles Rams are eerily similar to the circumstances that the Buffalo Bills have in 2020. Third-year quarterback Jared Goff was just starting to hit the limelight after being hotly debated in the draft. In his rookie year, Goff got the start after the season had already been underway and his team would be put nowhere near a primetime game. After winning just four games in Goff’s rookie year, the TV networks would essentially ignore the Rams, only giving them one primetime game the next year. After the next year, in which the Rams would shock everyone and go on to win 11 games, the front office went out and added a star receiver in Brandin Cooks. Jared Goff and his new star receiver would go on to get five primetime games in the following year. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Josh Allen, the third-year quarterback, only secured six wins for his team in his rookie year. The networks would only give Buffalo one primetime game on Thanksgiving, as Buffalo went on to win ten games and take a first-round playoff exit. Then, in the off-season Brandon Beane would trade to add star receiver Stefon Diggs. Do these two stories sound familiar?
In all four of the cases above, we have a team led by a young quarterback on his rookie contract and being expected to take a step forward. In all four of these cases, we also have a front office that went out and made an aggressive trade or signing for their team expecting an impressive season. In three of the four cases, the trade/signing was for a receiver specifically. Lastly, in all four of these cases, the team would see a jump in primetime games in the upcoming year.
In two more similar scenarios, we see another two young quarterbacks on their rookie contracts that outperformed expectations and in turn saw a jump in primetime games the following year. The 2017 Oakland Raiders were hot off of a 12-win season after having a seven-win season in the year prior. Derek Carr had legitimate MVP talk after going 12-4 with the Raiders and would be rewarded with a jump from three primetime games to five. The 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars found themselves in a similar position after Blake Bortles had surprisingly turned the team around from a three-win bottom dweller to being one win away from the Super Bowl. The Jaguars would go on to see a jump in primetime games from zero to one.
Not only do the Bills have past trends and data on their side, but they also have an enticing slate of opponents in 2020. Five of their opponents have had ten or more primetime games over the past two years, and another two of their opponents had nine primetime games. The Rams had 11 primetime games, while the Chiefs, Steelers, and Patriots had ten. The Seahawks and 49ers each have had nine over their past two years. In addition to this, even the teams with few primetime appearances offer something to the networks this year. Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals boast their new star receiver in Deandre Hopkins and offer a team that is similar to the trends above. The Tennessee Titans, albeit being 9-7, are coming off of an AFC Conference Championship run. The Las Vegas Raiders are going to be playing out their first year in Vegas, and who knows how many Bills fans would make that trip. And finally, aside from just being division rivals, Miami is coming off of a draft class with three first round picks and an active free agency, while the Jets offer what could be a young quarterback rivalry between Josh Allen and Sam Darnold.
The data doesn’t offer enough information to predict an exact number, but I would certainly expect a jump from the one official primetime game the Bills were flexed into last year, and maybe even a jump from three if you count the Thanksgiving game and Saturday afternoon Patriots game. The ratings, the expectations, and the trends from previous years are on our side.
My personal favorite? I want to see the Kansas City Chiefs come to Buffalo in week two on Sunday Night for our home opener. Alas, we’ll find out Thursday.