Cowboys, Eagles, Lions top NFL tweets midway through season

David Ruth


Midway through the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions have been tweeted most by football fans during game action.

Using millions of Twitter subscribers as living “sensors,” engineers from Rice University and Motorola Mobility announced in October that they found a way to monitor fans’ levels of excitement and to keep track of the action in NFL games via Twitter. SportSense is a computer program the engineers created to analyze NFL fan tweets in real time. The program can tell within seconds when touchdowns, interceptions and other big plays occur, and it can show how excited fans are about every game being played.

The Cowboys are the most tweeted NFL team during game action with an average of 12 tweets per second (TPS) or 1.1 million for the first half of the season. The Eagles were a close second at 11 TPS. The Lions, with their surprise 6-2 start, and the New Orleans Saints average nine TPS, with the Lions squeaking out third place with a higher total number of tweets. The following are each team’s rank according to TPS.

  1. Cowboys
  2. Eagles
  3. Lions
  4. Saints
  5. Colts
  6. Steelers
  7. Jets
  8. Ravens
  9. Bears
  10. Giants
  11. Redskins
  12. Packers
  13. Patriots
  14. Raiders
  15. Dolphins
  16. Falcons
  17. Bills
  18. Rams
  19. Texans
  20. Vikings
  21. Broncos
  22. Panthers
  23. Chiefs
  24. Chargers
  25. 49ers
  26. Browns
  27. Cardinals
  28. Titans
  29. Bengals
  30. Seahawks
  31. Jaguars
  32. Buccaneers

Although the Cincinnati Bengals are in first place in the AFC North, the team ranks near the bottom of the Twitter list with the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at two TPS.

“People don’t often think of themselves as being sensors, but each of us constantly senses and reacts to our environment,” said SportSense co-creator Lin Zhong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science at Rice. “Thanks to social media sites like Twitter, it is now possible to capture those reactions — for millions of people — in real time. That’s what SportSense does.”

In collaboration with engineers from the Betaworks group at the Motorola Mobility Applied Research Center, Zhong and his students began creating software to monitor and analyze tweets in 2010.

“We chose football because touchdowns, interceptions and other events in the game cause a lot of excitement and lead a lot of people to tweet,” Zhong said. “We found that a careful examination of the tweets could tell us what was happening in the game. The program can usually tell within 20 seconds when a big play like a touchdown occurs. Often, we see that even before it appears on the scrolling banners on ESPN and other sites.”

NFL fans’ emotions and their team loyalties come through loud and clear in their tweets as well, so the software can also determine which team benefited from a big play.

SportSense will be analyzing games in realtime throughout the NFL season. To see it in action, visit while games are being played. Recaps of past games, including the 2010-2011 season, are also available.

Zhong said the research team is interested in using the software to sense other things that are happening in the world.

“Anything with a sufficiently large audience has a similar potential,” he said. “Things that are televised, like reality shows and political debates, are certainly possibilities.

“We’re also interested in sensing things on a local scale. For example, when a storm hits and the power goes out in my neighborhood, I would like to know when it comes back on — even if I happen to be at work. People tweet about those types of events, so the signal is there in the data; it’s just a matter of finding it.”


Related materials:

A video about SportSense is available by clicking on the image or at


SportSense on Twitter:

About Rice News Staff

The Rice News is produced weekly by the Office of Public Affairs at Rice University.