Sunday, December 12, 2010

NFL Home Field Advantage

So much is always made about home field advantage, including in the National Football League.  Is home field really THAT much of an advantage?  Let's start by looking this years regular season thus far.  Home teams this year are 107-85 (.557).  That indicates there is some sort of advantage to playing at home obviously, but at the same point it is not as if all teams are evenly matched.  Only 2003 has seen home teams win 60 percent or more of its games this decade.  The question is whether this a decline in home field advantage or an increase in parody.

A Case for the Decline in Home Field Advantage
What we need to keep in mind is we are talking about professional football not collegiate football.  This is their job to play football and win games.  Fan bases tend to be more evenly split at any game as there are only 32 NFL teams compared to 120 Division I teams.  Most of these professional football players don't call the town they play in "home".  After all, who would want to live in Buffalo???  So the argument that away teams are away from home and will not perform as well is pretty weak. 

The stadiums today are not the stadiums they used to be.  That may seem backward but when you think about the path that franchises are going, the stadiums are drifting toward a similar norm directed at entertaining corporate outings rather than providing a home field advantage.  Three of the toughest places to play (Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Astrodome in Houston and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia) are no longer.  Although some of these new stadiums have provided a better home winning percentage than the league average, it needs to be taken into account that many of these teams are good football teams.

The idea of home field advantage is also largely centered around the playoffs.  It is believed that home field advantage is one of the first steps toward a Super Bowl, but is that the case?  Yes, the home team playoff records have been significantly better during the regular season but it has been proven that it may not be "all that".  The Giants in '08 and the Steelers in '06 won a Super Bowl without playing a single home game.  This suggests maybe home field isn't as important as one might think.

Some have claimed that home field advantage changes throughout the year.  I tend to agree with this wholeheartedly.  Here are some examples.  Miami is known to get off to a fast start and then fizzle.  Could this be because away teams are not used to the oppressive heat in September?  Maybe.  It is tough to argue against the fact that one of the best home field advantages in the NFL, Lambeau Field, may actually improve as the year goes on and the temperatures drop.  Some teams may have a home field disadvantage by the end of the year, because a poor record has turned fans against them, caused players to quit and forced coaching changes.  It is thought that a team playing games in a dome may have a significant advantage, but what about when they are playing other dome teams? 

Betting Significance
It is a well known fact that home teams get on average three to three and a half points at home.  But is this necessarily the case?  Many odds makers have said this is not necessarily the case.  They do not add in an extra three points to horrible teams when they do not feel there is a home field advantage.  This year home teams ATS are 88-99 (.471).  The public may me inflating these home team lines and the sharps are taking advantage of that.

My Two "Sense"
The truth of the matter is that there is a slight advantage to playing at home.  No one can argue that.  There are obviously more factors and variables to the signficance of the advantage than one might have first thought.  My bold prediction is that we will continue to see home field advantage decrease as more teams move to synthetic turf and large stadiums that are only a ringmaster short of a circus.  As ticket prices continue to rise, the "rowdy" fans will continue to watch from home as CEO's and corporate big wigs eat their caviar and drink their Patron from their luxury boxes.  Playing on the road will soon be no more than playing in the same stadium in a different city.  I think teams in the north will benefit greatly from this as they will soon be the only ones playing in significantly different conditions than the rest of the league.  Teams will continue to move toward a norm and predicting the outcome of games may become more like flipping a coin.  Whether this is good for the NFL is a completely different story.


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