Finding the saltiest NFL fanbase by analyzing 5 years of Reddit posts

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Can the positive or negative tone of post-game Reddit posts helps us find the saltiest NFL fanbases after wins, losses and more?

We can learn a lot by looking at how people handle success and hardship.

What NFL fans take joy in their teams’ wins and keep their chins up after losses? Alternatively, what fans are miserable, through and through?

To answer these questions, I collected and analyzed message-board data from Reddit — the popular discussion platform, which houses an online community, or “subreddit,” for every NFL team. These communities discuss each game in “Post Game” threads (except for the Vikings, who do not).

My analyses focused on whether word usage within these threads, from 2017-2021, was positive or negative. The average level of positivity vs. negativity — often referred to as the “valence” — was scored using VADER, a language processing tool designed for online settings. Valence was averaged separately for wins and losses, then averaged again to generate a team’s overall valence score; this procedure controls for a team’s loss rate, and thus low scores do not simply reflect that a team frequently loses.

Which NFL teams have the most positive and negative fanbases?

Now for the results. The fanbases you think of as sour sacks of vitriol and/or hopelessness are indeed sour sacks of vitriol and/or hopelessness. Philly emerged as the clear frontrunner in negativity. Although Philly fans may take this with pride, I don’t suspect Cowboys fans will like seeing that they were the second most negative fanbase.

Interestingly, the Chargers came in at third in negativity. I guess Herbert hasn’t yet made up for Spanos ripping the Chargers out from San Diego.

Finally, the Bears were the fourth-most negative. This is a perfectly rational reaction. Four years of Matt Nagy will simply do that to you. Although note that if we solely look at 2018, Nagy’s brief Coach of the Year offensive genius era, the Bears were middle of the pack in terms of valence, even slightly above average.

Nonetheless, there is also plenty of joy in the NFL. The Rams emerged as the happiest all around. This was somewhat surprising to me, as I never think of people from Los Angeles as being particularly happy (see my analysis on the Lakers). Nonetheless, maybe the old murmurs that Los Angeles wouldn’t appreciate a professional football team were wrong?

Buffalo too was quite happy and for good reason. After 17 years of not making the playoffs, the past five have been stellar for them.

The Colts were also a merry bunch. This was also initially surprising to me for Wentz-related reasons. However, analyzing valence on a year-by-year basis shows that the Colts’ valence score was driven by marked positivity in 2017 and 2018 – years where the team was either waiting for Andrew Luck’s return or subsequently enjoying his return and expecting further success.

The 49ers similarly showed high positivity. This is also sensible when we consider that the analyzed 2017-2021 span followed the 49er’s pitiful 7-33 record preceding the 2017 Garoppolo trade.

Taken together, these results make it clear that hope is what makes a fanbase happy. This is clearly evident for the Rams. In 2016, the city of Los Angeles finally got its team. Adding to this, in 2017, the Rams also hired a professed wunderkind coach after Jeff Fisher’s middling tenure. That year, Aaron Donald also became a household name, leaving fans confident that the Rams will be a defensive powerhouse for years to come. Likewise, in 2017, Buffalo and San Francisco began recovering from some of the worst spells in their franchise history, with further prospects for growth. For the Colts, their 2017 and 2018 seasons are a clear tale of hope in Luck.

Today, Detroit is the NFL’s beacon of hope. If we look at only the 2021 data, Detroit, powered by head coach Dan Campbell is the clear frontrunner in positivity. Although their sample size is quite small for 2021 wins, Detroit was, incredibly, the happiest team in the NFL after both wins and losses. The New York Jets are second in positivity. In my personal opinion, their hope is a bit unwarranted, but I’m just glad they’re having fun. Finally, and somewhat annoyingly, it must also be noted that New England also ranks highly in 2021 valence, showing clear hope in their 15th-overall draft pick, Mac Jones.

Overall, I’m happy to see all these hopeful franchises, but I can’t help but be sad for Chargers fans. As a team, they are in an incredible position for success, but even when we just look at the 2020 and 2021 data, the Chargers are still in the lower middle of the pack in terms of valence. Perhaps nothing can fully make up for the crushing move from San Diego, but I have no doubt that Justin Herbert will try, and I don’t think there is anyone better in the NFL to be in that role.

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