The Dallas Cowboys have long been considered "America’s Team," but a debate about that title has been raging for the last few years. The NFL is changing, and the Cowboys may (or may not) have handed off the title to another team.
Maybe the St. Louis Rams are "America’s Team"...only kidding (sorry, Rams fans). However, the case could certainly be made for a handful of teams depending on what factors are considered. I’m sure you could even make a (weak) case for the Rams, if you were so inclined.
In reality, the argument comes down to six teams: the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Only one of these teams can be "America’s Team," and a compelling argument can be made for any of them.
Which team is "America's Team" in the Modern NFL?
The struggle is how to determine which deserves the title without inserting too much personal bias. To truly determine which squad deserves the title, we need to establish a set of criteria.
We are trying to determine which squad is "America’s Team" in the "modern" NFL, so throw history out the window. The Oakland Raiders might have a great history and claim to be the only "nation" of fans, but they haven’t been good since...well...a long time. The Raiders are also easy to hate if you aren’t a Raiders fan.
This is also about America, so if your team is playing games in Canada or marketing in Europe, it probably isn’t going to qualify. The Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars probably weren’t going to be at the top of anyone’s list anyway.
To help me sort through the mess of teams at the top, I had to create a rating system. No teams—even the aforementioned few—were disqualified to start. Each method of determining "America’s Team" is going to have its flaws, and the hope here is by combining them and weighting them equally, we will come to a reasonably unbiased conclusion.
Rating teams like this is fundamentally flawed because there is really no such thing as "America’s Team." American football has been played in only a few countries other than the United States and doesn't resemble anything close to the Olympics, but it’s still a fun exercise in futility until training camps arrive at the end of July.
Each team was ranked in the six following categories from 1-32, and then each rank was totaled. The lowest total value is the "winner" and deserves the right to be "America’s Team."
Facebook Fan 'Likes'
Last January, the the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective determined that "America’s Team" was still the Dallas Cowboys by studying Facebook data from July 2012. The Pittsburgh Steelers were a close second, and the New England Patriots were a distant third. The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints rounded out the top five.
The problem with Facebook data is that it doesn’t tell us what kinds of fans are "liking" team Facebook pages. For all we know, half of the Cowboys fans don’t even watch on Sunday. There is just no way to determine fan quality from something as simple as Facebook fans.
Several teams were particularly low on Facebook fan likes, and others were notably high. The Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans were notably higher in the Facebook rankings than my final rankings. Some teams may just be better with social media than other teams, so Facebook shouldn’t be used as the only measurement.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 1.94 (1 of 6)
Home Attendance Percentage
How can a team be "America’s Team" if it isn’t filling up its stadium in its home market? To be "America’s Team," the team should be able to draw capacity crowds at home. This is not the same as sellouts, but actual people filling seats at the stadium.
This category has some serious flaws. Some teams have an unfair advantage because they can go above 100 percent capacity, and other teams may have stadiums that are not the optimum size for their market. Ticket prices also may not be optimized for the demographics of the fanbase, which discounts lower socioeconomic groups.
Still, home attendance is just one factor. Teams such as the Steelers, Packers and Washington Redskins were hurt by this category because they didn’t consistently fill their stadiums. Teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks were helped by filling their stadiums above capacity.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 3.34 (6 of 6)
Road Attendance Percentage
How well a team draws on the road can tell us a lot about its popularity. This data basically measures both the fans who may not live in the same geographic location of their favorite team and how popular the team is with opposing fans.
Of course, we can’t judge fans' motives for attending a game, and not every team plays every other team every year, so there are some flaws to this category. Some teams may be unfairly punished because they play teams that struggle to fill their stadiums.
Teams such as the Cowboys were actually hurt by their 98.6 percent road attendance, while the Steelers and Bears were helped as opponents filled their stadiums over capacity.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 2.75 (5 of 6)
Capitalism is still very much alive in America, and Forbes ranks NFL teams by value every year. The teams that generate the most revenue are typically worth more money. Teams can’t generate that revenue without a healthy market of loyal, paying customers—aka fans.
As with the other categories, rating teams this way is flawed in some ways. Forbes factors in team debt, which is totally irrelevant to being "America’s Team." You could make a case that teams in more debt are closer to being like Americans and the American government than teams that have been financially responsible!
Forbes is also going to discount the little guy. Some fans work on Sundays to make ends meet and can’t afford to go to games or buy gear, but they are still fans. Forbes is going to artificially give an advantage to the teams with big corporate sponsorships that sometimes have more to do with ego than economics.
Teams such as the Redskins and New York Jets are significantly helped by the Forbes rankings, but teams in the South such as the Atlanta Falcons and Saints are significantly hurt by it. The Cowboys dominate this category, as they were worth more than $465 million than the next team last year.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 2.28 (3 of 6)
Prime-time games are all about eyeballs. The NFL and its broadcast partners want to optimize the number of people watching so they can maximize advertising revenue. The number of prime-time games given to teams is usually a reflection of which teams the league thinks will be popular.
Games are divvied up between ESPN’s Monday Night Football, NBC’s Sunday Night Football and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football games. Perhaps more importantly, some teams get the added benefit of playing their prime-time games at home.
For this category, more weight was given to home games, followed by NBC games, ESPN games and NFL Network games to give the rankings some separation. The Denver Broncos topped the list, followed closely by the Redskins.
More than any of the other categories, prime-time games are a reflection of the game today. The teams with good quarterbacks on good teams are going to get more prime-time opportunities than bad teams with bad quarterbacks.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 2.48 (4 of 6)
Five-Year Win Total
"America’s Team" can’t be a loser because Americans aren’t losers. Even an average team probably doesn’t deserve such a distinguished title as "America’s Team."
The NFL game is quite a bit different than it was just 10 years ago, and using the five-year win total assures we are only measuring the "modern" NFL. The league also started tweaking rules in the name of player safety about five years ago—rules that have drastically favored the offense and the passing game.
Five years should also be a good balance of not taking too much of the past into consideration and not punishing a team for one isolated down year. Eight teams had a winning percentage of .600 or higher, with teams such as the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers and Packers at the top of the list.
Teams such as the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles were hurt by this category because they haven’t consistently won games over the past five years.
Average Ranking Deviation from the Final Rankings: 2.05 (2 of 6)
Although the Cowboys sat atop three of the six categories, they were knocked out of the top spot by the Patriots. I guess it makes sense that the "Patriots" would be "America’s Team" because it is the Fourth of July and America’s Independence Day.
Personally, I’m still inclined to give the title to the Cowboys for nostalgic purposes. The Cowboys could easily reclaim their title if they just started winning again. Unfortunately, the Cowboys seem to be going in the wrong direction as owner Jerry Jones follows in the footsteps of Al Davis.
Funny enough, Davis was born July 4, 1929, in Brockton, Mass., just 30 minutes from where the Patriots play their home games.
Happy Fourth of July!