Along with the Buffalo Bills (5-3) — who are tied for the AFC East lead — the three are among the surprises at the midway point of the NFL season.
To be sure, there are still plenty of familiar teams in contention at the halfway mark, including a dominant first half by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers (8-0) in the NFC. Perennial favorites, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) and New York Jets (5-3), are in the mix in a more wide open AFC.
Still, it’s the teams that have had surprising success catching the attention of fans and boosting the ticket sales of former doormats.
“Demand continues to be strong for the larger market teams,” StubHub public relations manager Joellen Ferrer told TicketNews. “However, we’ve seen an incredible spike for surprise teams. In fact, the top-selling upcoming games are the Packers at Lions, as well as the Steelers at Niners.”
Ferrer added, “Based on ticket activity, fans have been invigorated by turnaround seasons, and the Lions and Niners are prime examples.”
Each of the upstarts faces key tests this Sunday, November 13. The Lions visit the Chicago Bears, and the 49ers host the Giants. The Bills are in Dallas, and the Cincinnati Bengals, another surprise team, hosts the Steelers.
The other marquee game Sunday is a renewal of the Patriots-Jets rivalry, as New England (5-3) visits MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
A strong defense and a healthy season from quarterback Matthew Stafford have helped the Lions go from an 0-16 NFL punchline three years ago to a potential playoff team.
Their success has been a windfall for Detroit-area ticket brokers, including Joel Schwartz, owner of Big Time World Wide Ticket Agency in Southfield, MI. “They’re doing great, and we’re doing great,” Schwartz said.
Asked if fans are buying into the resurgence for the long haul, Schwartz answered, “It’s too soon to tell. They’ve let us down before.”
Ticket search site TiqIQ has the Lions-Bears match-up at Soldier Field in Chicago as its highest-priced NFL game this week with an average resale price of $406. The Lions’ next home game, November 20 against the Carolina Panthers, has an average secondary market ticket price of $101, according to ticket search engine SeatGeek.com.
Under new coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have won six in a row to surpass last season’s win total and vault to the top of the NFC West. Like the Niners’ legendary Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Walsh, Harbaugh has parlayed his success at nearby Stanford into an NFL turnaround in San Francisco.
Ticket resellers have taken notice. The average resale price of a ticket to the 49ers showdown with the Giants this Sunday at Candlestick Park has jumped from $124 to $191 in the past month, according to ticket search engine FanSnap.com.
Not all of the surprise teams are seeing a surge in ticket sales. In Cincinnati, the Bengals are turning heads with their on-field play, but that has not yet led to big gains at the gate. The team began the season trying to rebound from last year’s 4-12 finish, and at 6-2 so far this season, they’re now one of the top teams in the AFC.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has led the Bengals to a share of first place in the AFC North, but the team hadn’t sold out their past seven games at Paul Brown Stadium. For example, Cincinnati’s October 2 home game against the Bills drew 41,142 attendees, the smallest regular-season crowd in the 65,000-seat stadium’s 12-year history.
That will end this Sunday.
The Steelers game is a sellout, and the local TV blackout will be lifted for the first time since last season. Average ticket prices for Bengals home games on the secondary market have jumped from a low of $82 to $135 for the Steelers game, according to SeatGeek.
Jeff McDonald, owner of Riverfront Tickets in Cincinnati, told TicketNews that he is not surprised that the Steelers game is popular on the resale market. “Remember, the Steelers’ games always do well because the place is packed with Steelers fans and it’s within driving distance [of Pittsburgh],” he noted.
A win over the Steelers still might not be enough to convince some fans in Cincinnati that the Bengals are for real. “Bengals fans are always waiting for that next loss,” McDonald added. “We’re guardedly optimistic.”