The Buzzworthy NFL

AP Photo/Derek Gee

The beginning of the NFL season is an exciting time for mediocre franchises because they can envision success without actually having to achieve it. They can dream of a first-round playoff appearance like it is “their Super Bowl” without having to think about the questions they will have to answer when their team is eliminated.

These are the buzzworthy NFL franchises. Buzzworthy franchises are branded as “unknown” “surprises” that we didn’t expect to do so well.

We celebrate buzzworthy teams for what they can be, solely based on a few random regular-season games. As one of the world’s leading experts on forecasting the authenticity of buzz behind emerging bands, I am familiar with the best ways to analyze and enjoy the buzz behind “what’s next.” Kings of Leon, Coldplay, and the Strokes used to be buzzbands, and the quality and context of their product was easier to enjoy before they achieved status as ubiquitous brands that people think they are supposed to like. We want to jump on board the spirit of buzz before a band or a team builds a successful franchise model that they recycle until it becomes irrelevant.

These are the buzzworthiest NFL franchises thru three weeks of action (before they actually become what they are).

Franchises That Used to Suck, But Now We Are Overexcited to Be Excited About Them

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills took down a perceived NFL juggernaut this weekend and have officially become the most buzzworthy team in the NFL. We’re only just beginning to find out if they can hang with the Patriots or the Jets, or if they will just be that team that finished ahead of the Dolphins. Whenever an unlikely team pulls off some dramatic comeback wins, their fan base is given a reason to “believe” … until later in the season where they just go down 20+ points and can’t come back.

Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow morphed into a formidable NFL quarterback. Did you hear he went to Harvard? Learning that someone attended an Ivy League school is always a “fun fact” that instantly overhauls your perception of them. Blame a national inferiority complex because the majority of people were forced to attend in-state schools or mediocre regional private universities. It reminds me of when Vampire Weekend perfected the white Ivy League rock’n’roller model that Rivers Cuomo and Tom Morello once introduced but were unable to commodify as effectively.

Buzz Factor: 10 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Vampire Weekend. Remember when those fresh-faced Columbia University graduates rode authentic blog buzz before becoming one of the most popular bands in the world? Their Ivy League appeal endeared them to the coveted high-end tween girl market who want their rock star infatuations to also be “smart enough to introduce to their parents.”

Detroit Lions
There’s something about the Great Depression of Modern Detroit that makes the general public root for any team from Detroit to do well. It is just really sad when you hear that a Detroit team is in shambles, playing in empty stadiums. But then you read that you can buy a mansion there for $1,000, and contemplate moving there to buy hella cheap season tickets. Now the Lions are 3-0, but they haven’t had a “signature” win like the Bills. They just beat up on Daunte Culpepper Donovan McNabb and Matt Cassel. Big deal.

But the spirit of buzz allows us to say “Good for Detroit!” … until Matthew Stafford gets injured and then you get really depressed for Detroit again. They probably should rebrand their uniforms to increase their buzz-multiplier, because whenever I see their uniforms, I still think I am about to watch Joey Harrington “try to figure it out” for one last season. Every Lions season helped us to understand why Barry Sanders prematurely retired.

Buzz Factor: 10 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Everyone wanted Ariel Pink to “make the leap” to become a top-tier indie band instead of just a lo-fi junkie accidentally recording brilliant songs that no one heard.

Oakland Raiders
Our expectations of the Oakland Raiders are irrationally low. Our expectations for the Jets are irrationally high. Therefore, “OMG can u believe that the Raiders beat the Jets? This team is ready to make some noise.”

Even though they choked against the buzzworthier Bills in their second game, they still played well enough to offer us “redeeming” qualities of their team. It’s always difficult to take the Raiders seriously. Their owner is basically an evil cartoon character who hires unqualified coaches, as if he is not interested in winning, but instead getting to fire a coach every year in a public showdown that leaves us wondering, “What is beneath Al Davis’ Band-Aid?” The Raiders are probably going to end up failing, but right now they’ve got a shot because Kansas City and Denver are in their division. It also probably helps that JaMarcus “Fat Tarvaris Jackson” Russell used to be their quarterback. Even if they win only seven games, they will be pretty buzzworthy.

Buzz Factor: 7 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Ryan Adams’ later career. There are still some authentic fans who think he is the greatest musician ever, but the majority of people have already made up their minds on how they feel about his existence and/or art.

There’s Not That Much Hope for This Year, But We Are Excited About Their Future

Carolina Panthers
Did y’all hear that “Cam Newton is the real deal”? It always comes with the disclaimer that the Carolina Panthers will not be a contender this year, but that they will be “really exciting.” In order to be buzzworthy, a team usually has to have an up-and-coming quarterback. He’s allowed to throw ≈2 interceptions per game, as long as he has some sort of redeeming series of plays that show why he is “the future.” As long as Cam Newton completes one pass to Steve Smith that is over 40 yards every game, this team will be drowning in buzz. We want to be able to say, “they are taking their lumps” and they are “not that far off.”

Cam Newton perfectly embodies the unstable, volatile nature of a buzzworthy franchise. He is so fun to watch, but he might be even more exciting when the train comes off the tracks. Do we even care that he got his first NFL win, or is it more exciting to hear that he had 400+ yards of total offense? When we start caring about the individual stats of your young, hot quarterback over the wins and losses of your team, that’s when you know you’ve achieved peak buzzworthiness. In the NBA, this is called the Durant-in-Seattle effect.

Buzz Factor: 9 out of 10
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Foster the People. They have one song that is so catchy that you sort of resent it, but they have a strong foundation. Either it works well and they are able to build around their main commodity, or they totally ruin everything and no one knows who they are in six months.

Cincinnati Bengals
Similarly, the Cincinnati Bengals are getting a lot of “respect” as a “franchise heading in the right direction” based on the adequacy of Andy Dalton. He was probably the most buzzworthy “under-the-radar QB draft prospect” that wasn’t actually under the radar, so it makes sense that his buzz carried over to the franchise level. Cincinnati can use all the buzz it can get. I wonder if the majority of America would even know that Cincinnati existed if they didn’t have the Bengals and the Reds. And if that WKRP TV show hadn’t been syndicated. It will be interesting to see if they can actually “get good”; then we will find out if the ugly brown and tiger stripes can overcome their ugliness to catch on as a bandwagon-based fashion trend.

Carson Palmer’s decision to tailgate at USC football games this season as opposed to playing in the NFL was also very important for their buzz. Almost as important as deciding not to hand over the keys to their franchise to Jordan Palmer. Non-Samoan USC players are buzz killers.

Miss u Akili Smith.

Buzz Factor: 6 out of 10
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Twin Shadow. He wrote one of the most complete albums of 2010, and will be around for a while creating premium content. Tons of bands that you really like will never become the next Coldplay. They make you scratch your head, wondering how they “make the leap” to the next step of mainstream musical fame.

Buzzteams of Yesteryear Fighting to Stay Relevant

Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons put together a buzzworthy stretch as Matt Ryan matured into a more-than-adequate quarterback. His nickname “Matty Light” also helped endear him to bro markets (like suburban Chicago) that thrive on hyping buzzworthy teams. Now they are at the phase where they are plateauing, and it isn’t as heartwarming to think about how the Falcons are “resurrected” after Michael Vick derailed their former identity.

Buzz Factor: 5 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: The Rapture. They had a new album come out this year, and no one can tell how excited they are supposed to be about it. It is pretty good, but then you sort of just want to support a “fresher” band because you already had a buzz ride with them almost a decade ago.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman is known as the comeback-winniest quarterback in the NFL. Comeback wins get you plenty of buzz, because it means that you have the intangible skill of “knowing how to win in the National Football League.” Even though they just missed the playoffs last year, it probably worked out better for them, because we didn’t have to see how far away they are from actually competing with a legitimate NFL team. They just had a “savvy” win over the Falcons, which probably means that we can give up on the Falcons and pencil the Bucs in as the “non-Saints NFC South playoff team.”

The Bucs also have the “Lawrence Frank/Brad Stevens/Shaka Smart of the NFL” as their coach so that their youth can be branded as “innovative” as opposed to “inexperienced.” To rebrand your franchise as a buzz team, your coach should be young and/or loud.

Buzz Factor: 7 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Neon Indian. Everyone loved the charm associated with his first album, Psychic Chasms, but everyone had trouble interpreting the second album now that it was no longer a “charming bedroom project” that successfully played a chillwave joke on everyone.

Teams That Should Be Buzzworthy But People Are Tired of Their S@#$

Washington Redskins
It is really difficult for your team to get authentic buzz when you have a quarterback who has already proven himself as an overachieving failure with other teams. Unknown, young quarterbacks like Mike Kafka are better suited to help your franchise build buzz. Rex Grossman might be “adequate,” but putting him out there is like announcing that your buzzband has just hired Meg White to play the drums. Everyone knows the name, but nobody is excited.

Buzz Factor: 1 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Any new band or project that Jack White is associated with. You just keep wondering, “How many chances is he going to get to have major label marketing dollars attempt to convince us that he was ever cool?”

Houston Texans
The Texans have been overbuzzed and underachieved for the majority of their short history. Right now they have two wins that came against the Dolphins and the Kerry Collins-led Colts, which means they basically had two “free wins where we learned nothing about their team.” We’re just tired of their seasonal arc of underachievement. Every year they are a popular preseason pick of a “team that underachieved last year that is finally ready to make some noise.” Then they just barely miss the playoffs and make enough offseason noise to remind us that they exist. They are kind of like Weezer in this way, except Schaub doesn’t have a highly regarded early discography that enables us to forgive his current performances.

Buzz Factor: 3 out of 10.
Historical Buzzband Comparison: Weezer. Some “buzzbands” never die, and you always give them a sympathy listen, then you wonder why they still exist. It’s kinda like the pre-iTunes era, before the CD died and we had to purchase a mediocre alt rock band’s entire CD just to hear one song.

It’s still a young season. So many teams, so much hope, so much buzz. As fleeting as buzz may be, sometimes it’s the only joy a franchise will experience for decades. MGMT “went mainstream” with hits like “Kids” and “Electric Feel,” then wrote a sophomore album that no one really liked as much. It’s hard to turn the spirit of buzz into a competitive, long-lasting solution because “buzz” is just the foundation of generating authentic interest in your product.

Enjoy the ride as your buzz team overachieves, makes the playoffs, gets killed in the playoffs, and then completely falls apart next season. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Filed Under: Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins