If you woke up on Monday morning and turned your TV to ESPN’s “First Take” or FOX Sports’ “Undisputed,” I’m sure you heard one (or more) of the hosts with the following takes:
• Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts might not have what it takes to lead an NFL team, after all.
• Patriots quarterback Mac Jones may not be New England’s second coming of Tom Brady.
• The Cowboys — despite all of their talent on both sides of the ball — kinda stink.
I’m sure I got at least 75% of those guesses right, despite me having not listened to or watched a single sports talk show on Monday.
How, you might ask?
Because all of these takes stem from one of the biggest problems sports fans, analysts and bettors suffer from on a daily basis: recency bias.
Recency bias is the idea that one formulates an opinion by overweighting recent trends and ignoring long-term evidence.
And it’s affected all of us at some point in our sports-loving lives.
An Oct. 2021 study — titled “Patience is a Virtue: Exploiting Behavior Bias in Gambling Markets” — authored by Kevin Krieger, Justin Davis and James Strode and published in the Journal of Economics and Finance, found that sports bettors’ decision-making is widely influenced by a team or player’s recent performances rather than their body of work as a whole.
Essentially, if a team does poorly one week, then bettors will often bet against that team accordingly the following week. And vice versa.
It’s a concept that can not only cost you money — and even sometimes affect the lines that oddsmakers publish — but can also make you look … a little ridiculous.
The NFL, in my opinion, is the absolute worst sports league for recency bias.
It really is a week-to-week league. When a team stumbles for a week or two — which is inevitably going to happen over an 18-week season — many people write that team off, at least for a little while.
When a team gets hot for a game or two, it’s typically the same way.
Take the Buffalo Bills this season, for example.
Heading into their Week 9 matchup with the then-1-6 Jaguars, the Bills were 5-2, sitting atop the AFC East and looked to be a Super Bowl favorite, especially with the defending AFC Champion Chiefs, another early-season victim of recency bias, seemingly on the ropes.
But then, the Bills lost a 9-6 snoozer to the Jaguars in an uncharacteristically poor performance, followed by three more losses in the next five games to the Colts, Patriots and Buccaneers, all of which were among the league’s hottest teams.
It was at that point that the Bills became an afterthought. When talking about the contenders in the AFC, many people left them off of the list, despite their talent and how polished they looked early in the year.
Fast forward to the end of the season, when the Bills rattled off four straight wins, including one against the Patriots that effectively helped them lock up the division for the second season in a row before ultimately thrashing them again in the Wild Card round this past weekend, 47-17.
In short, the Bills had never lost their footing in the AFC (nor did the Chiefs). But because they weren’t always perfect, people were quick to write them off. And now, as I mentioned earlier, those same people look ridiculous.
Recency bias was on full display this past weekend during a less-than-stellar Super Wild Card Weekend. And it wasn’t just the Bills.
A little over a week ago, people around the sports world were praising Hurts for leading the Eagles — a team that, realistically, shouldn’t be playing in mid-January — into the postseason.
Then, Hurts went 12-of-26 for 115 yards, a TD and an interception in a 31-15 playoff loss to Brady’s Buccaneers (in Hurts’ first-ever playoff start, mind you) and those same people were tweeting that he “can’t throw” during Saturday’s game.
The same could be said for Jones, who led his Patriots squad to the postseason as a rookie and is the very possible Offensive Rookie of the Year (though Bengals’ wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase likely, and deservedly, wins it).
In the 47-17 loss to the Bills, he was 24-of-38 for 232 yards, 2 TDs and 2 picks. And he didn’t look great.
So, naturally, despite him being a rookie with no prior playoff experience, he was roasted for the way he played, with many people already forgetting the impressive regular season he had in his first year as an NFL quarterback.
The issue I have with these takes is not that they exist — I, personally, have had my own doubts about both Hurts and Jones well before their playoff stinkers — but that they’re mostly coming out as a direct result of one bad game.
That’s not only unfair, it’s absurd.
By the time next season rolls around, fans will likely choose to remember Jalen Hurts’ and Mac Jones’ poor playoff performances and set expectations accordingly, rather than remember all of the positives from 2021.
Then, if next year’s anything like this year was, they’ll be proven wrong and biting their tongues by the end of the season.
It’s a tale as old as time. We’ve seen recency bias negatively (and positively) affect star quarterbacks, rookies, injured players and teams as a whole over and over and over again over the years. Hurts and Jones won’t be the last.
Next time, let’s try and judge players (and teams) with a telescope, not a microscope.
Or else you might end up looking a little … ridiculous.
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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