Jan 19, 2022 - Sports

Small-market NFL teams dominate AFC playoffs

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Will Chase/Axios
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The four AFC teams still alive in the playoffs represent a victory for sports' universal underdog: the small-market team.

The intrigue: The Bills, Bengals, Chiefs and Titans form the smallest average media market size of any conference's final four since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

  • Buffalo (32nd-biggest media market of 32 NFL teams, per Nielsen)
  • Cincinnati (27th)
  • Kansas City (26th)
  • Nashville (25th)

Of note: Their franchise valuations are similarly low: Bengals (32nd), Bills (30th), Titans (28th), Chiefs (20th).

The big picture: The AFC is the "small-market conference," with just four of the top 17 NFL teams by media market size: Jets (t-1st), Chargers (t-3rd), Texans (10th) and Patriots (12th). The other 13 are all NFC teams, including the entire NFC East and NFC West.

What to watch: If the Buccaneers (15th) and Packers* (28th) beat the Rams (t-3rd) and 49ers (8th), respectively, they'll join the AFC in forming an all-small-market final four.

Go deeper: The NFL has an extraordinary grip on America’s media diet

*Milwaukee is considered the Packers' home market for ratings purposes. Green Bay would rank last behind Buffalo.

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