Every week in the NFL is a new story. One of the things that makes the league so popular is the drama week in and week out, and one of the things that generates that drama is the time that narratives have to breathe in-between games. Sometimes it’s a full week, and other times it may be longer or shorter — but unlike other sports, when a game’s story can quickly get lost in the next game, football allows for each game to be a meaningful chapter in a season that is far shorter in terms of games played than that of other professional sports.
Because of this, weekly opponents in the NFL can be analyzed by a team’s fan base in much greater detail than the teams a hockey, basketball, or baseball team might face off against. It is for this reason that I propose an idea to members of Bills Mafia:
Minimizing opponents minimizes the accomplishment of defeating them.
Head coaches and coordinators who may speak with the media before a game rarely give any insight into their opponent that isn’t positive. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is famous for waxing poetic about the 1-12 team he’s about to face. They may have already fired their coach, and their fans may be sifting through mock drafts, but if you listen to Belichick talk, you’d think they were in the playoff hunt.
The reasoning for this has long been assumed to be simply a matter of bulletin-board material. If teams can get out of a press conference without giving their opponent any sound bites that could be used as motivation, it’s viewed as a positive. Given the small sample size in football, with a 17-game season and one-game playoffs, this behavior before the game seems wise. But not minimizing an opponent also provides value after the game has been played: it allows a team to avoid diminishing the achievement that is winning a game in the National Football League.
If the Miami Dolphins are a bad team with a bad quarterback and a bad coach, a win against that team would intrinsically have less predictive value than a win against a solid team with a quarterback playing well and a head coach who has ignited hope and a pulse into a franchise. In the standings, the “W” will be the same, but the sense of accomplishment amongst the team and the predictive value that can be acquired from winning that game has now been muted by a team’s own perception of its defeated opponent. If Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott wants to praise his team for a hard-fought and gritty victory where they overcame adversity, it means a lot less if he’s previously said to them that the team they worked so hard to beat is vastly inferior. The accomplishment has been minimized.
This is also true in fandom. If you wish to speak as highly of your team as possible, would it not stand to reason that the teams they’ve played, whether victorious or not, would be teams that are due respect? If your team is 5-0 headed into Week 6, spending your time talking about how bad your vanquished foes are while simultaneously propping up your own undefeated organization is counterproductive.
And if you think that what I’m outlining is bologna, and that what I’m describing lends itself to intellectual dishonesty because every team is not worthy of respect, I would question whether or not you watch the NFL on even a semi-regular basis. Incredible upsets happen with frequency in professional football. No team in the NFL, regardless of their record coming into the game, is bad enough not to warrant the respect as an opponent who can defeat you.
They all can beat you.
They all could have beaten you.
And as such, if you want to place your own team in the most positive of light, so must you also do for the opponents your team faces.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!