How Watson can help the Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl

By | 5 minute read | February 1, 2017


The Buffalo Bills? Yes, that’s right, you read it correctly. With the help of IBM Watson, the Bills might just win the Super Bowl.

While the Super Bowl is getting the headlines this week, that represents only two teams. Meanwhile, there are fans of 30 other teams who are left looking forward to the NFL Draft in April (also known as a Bills fan’s Super Bowl). As an avid fan for more than 30 years I’m what you might be classified as “suffering die-hard”, living through 4 consecutive Super Bowl losses and now in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought. So please, allow me to dream for a minute.

We’re now in an era where there is more data available to athletes, organizations, and fans than ever before. So much data, in fact, that we are just scratching the surface of how to explore it all and use it to its full potential. But imagine if a drown-trodden organization like, hmmm, let’s say…the Buffalo Bills for example… leveraged IBM’s cognitive solution Watson in every aspect of their football operations. Might it offer a competitive advantage to outsmart its way to a Super Bowl victory? Let’s take a quick look at the end-to-end journey from player acquisition, athlete training & performance, to game management to see how.

Player acquisition

Imagine being able to improve upon the current psychological testing teams use to evaluate prospective players. Watson Personality Insights would be able to understand and analyze the type of personality and predict the behaviors of each player, not only with a single test, but by pulling in countless data sources to dig deeper than ever before. This would allow the Bills to identify if certain players would be: good citizens, responsible, a good fit for team culture, handle stress, etc. 

Additionally, from a performance perspective, the Bills management team would be able to understand speed, strength, and agility metrics and project players’ future success based on predictive models compared to a large database of players. With Watson IoT for Sports, they could predict health and even identify players that might be injury prone (Sammy Watkins is an incredible talent, but if he’s not on the field can he help the Bills score points?) 

Finally, Watson Financial Services would be able to assist with the Financial investment that comes with acquiring players. Taking in data from myriad sources from the above, plus contractual information and other financial data, Watson could identify the players that would have the greatest impact for the most efficient cost. Thus, making the best investment for the team. Boom! (in a John Madden voice.) Optimized 53-man roster. 

Player training and athlete performance

So now we enter training camp. This is a great opportunity to leverage Watson’s capabilities to understand biometrics on how an athlete is performing and have it personalized precisely for each player’s individual needs. How are their oxygen levels and other vitals? Is their weight at an optimal state? How is their nutritional intake? Heart rate? Hydration? Is their diet right for their blood type? Equipment can achieve more than just external protection or fashion; it becomes a beacon for internal performance.

With Watson, one could begin to understand how players are executing the training and game-time performance, and how they recover from and – more importantly – prevent injuries. Leveraging the Watson IoT Platform, coaches and players alike could receive a 360 view pulling and analyzing data from a suite of connected gear, such as:

  • sensors in helmets, where the data could be transmitted on location and severity of impact
  • infrared cleats, tracking body temperatures in cold environments
  • shoulder pads with RFID chips, tracking speed, effort and movement’s impact on joints
  • chest wearables, to measure vital biological stats
  • performance sleeves, to look for efficiency, fatigue, and torque on ligaments
  • braces to monitor and help with recovery. 

Game management

So we have optimized the 53-man roster, and have calibrated each individual athlete to their peak. Now we move on to the X’s & O’s, where every detail, every second, and every decision counts.

Football is a game of variables, from the weather, to the clock, to offensive & defensive formations, and individual players. Sometimes you’re able to be proactive and at other times you have to react. What if you knew from your biometrics information that your top 5 players would have trouble when the temperature dipped below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (the norm in Buffalo, NY for many months of football season)? And because of Watson’s Weather API’s (IBM Weather Insights) you have precise targeting for the temperatures on the field. Now your training staff is able to proactively respond to the issue so your best players are in the game when you need them to be. 

Now enter Coach Watson, who can store and learn from not only the coaches from one individual experience (or that of their coaching staff) but from all of the best coaches around. Within a blink of an eye Coach Watson can predictively model the probabilities of every scenario. Watson has analytics abilities to pull in structured and unstructured data from sources such as Videos, Images, and Text Analytics in real time (see Watson Visual Recognition API and Watson Text to Speech API.) Coach Watson can analyze data coming in from countless films, playbooks, broadcast expertise, social media commentary to suggest instantly the plays across defense, offense, and special teams that have the highest probability to succeed. All leading to more efficient play calling, less confusion at the line of scrimmage, and more precise execution when it matters most. 

While it might be a stretch to put every aspect of this plan in place tomorrow, it’s all very much in the realm of possibility. Cognitive computing can be used to build a prolific offense, defense, and coaching staff that would continue to learn, becoming more intelligent over time. Watson could realistically allow the Bills to outthink each of their rivals, increasing their wins each season, and perhaps even… to win the Super Bowl.