Let’s Talk About Home-Field Advantage

By way of disclaimer, I am pessimistic. I am biased. I am not in any way shape or form a scholar. Nor am I a mathematician. You could say I am an average Joe. No really you could say that, my name is in fact Joe. Perhaps my most damning characteristic is that I am a diehard Cardinals fan. Feel free to call my sanity into question, I frequently do myself. With those qualifications in mind read on!

Home Field Advantage (HFA) is something that has fascinated me for years and yet I have never found a convincing way to quantify it. I have seen all types of statistics that show that home teams win > 51% of the time across all sports. But who cares about MLB or NHL, let’s talk about America’s sweetheart; Let’s talk about the National Football League. In their 2011 book Scorecasting, economist Toby Moscowitz and Sports Illustrated journalist Jon Wertheim looked at NFL wins from 1966 through 2010 and concluded that home teams win 57.3% of the time. That seems quantitative enough does it not? Perhaps it is for some.Let us look at why this does not help us.

  • Rule Changes! In an NFL.com article the NFL outlines, by my count, 100+ MAJOR rule changes in that time period.
  • This deals with the league as a whole. Who cares about hyper-generalizations? Its averaged out and doesn’t reflect any teams in particular.

For the purposes of this research I wanted to breakdown HFA by team. I mean who wants to know what’s going on at the NFL-as-a-whole level. You’ve got ESPN for that. We want to know exactly who has the BEST HFA and even more particularly who holds the best advantage in the west.

Dynasties and Debacles. Think Pats and Browns. They are only separated by 1/2 a degree of Latitude. Their average temperature from Sept-Dec is nearly identical. Barometric Pressure is only separated by .35 mB annually. And I doubt you could argue that Pat fans are more intimidating. The Browns fans are known for THROWING BATTERIES at opponents. Basically just looking at total HF-Winning % does not factor in horrible owners, coaches, scouts, and general unluckiness or vice versa. Are the Pats the Pats without LUCKING out on Brady? I mean good teams are good teams and should win more home games whereas bad teams are bad teams and should win less. The talent of your team should not overly affect the rating of the ADVANTAGE the team’s home field gives them over playing an away game.

I feel a POWER RANKING coming!

Those of you who know me know I love power rankings and Excel with a passion that is usually reserved for sociopaths. Those of you who don’t know me are about to find out. I tediously have worked to bring you this ranking. But first let’s outline the chosen data because, of course, a power ranking is only as good as its data.
1st) I had to determine a frame of reference for the data. Too much has changed in the NFL landscape since 1966. I chose the year 2002 to start collecting data as that was the year the NFL went to an 8 division format. Also that frame of reference marginalizes any rule changes, new teams being added, and location changes.
2nd) I had to determine how to characterize HFA so that you could unify good teams and bad teams. Look at the Pats, for the last 11 years they have won 82.95% of their home games. Conversely the Raiders have won only 38.64%. That is a huge discrepancy. Does that mean that the Pats have almost a 50% higher HFA than the Raiders. That is much too drastic to be true. Rather it simply shows that the Raiders have straight up sucked and the Pats have been otherworldly.
3rd) To get a clearer picture, I compared each team’s home game win %, to their away games win % , and their win % overall. This gives us a better sense of home field advantage as we can take into consideration the win rate of the team overall. This helps equalize and unify both the good and the bad teams.
4th) I put it all in an Excel sheet and share my results with you!

Here is a link to the Full NFL HFA rankings! Hope you enjoy!

What do we get from this? First that playing at home really does make a difference at the league level. Teams are 14.49% more likely to win games at home as they are on the road. That is a remarkable difference.

  • The Ravens have the top HFA winning 34.09% more home games than away games.
  • The Giants had the worst HFA winning 1.14% LESS home games than away games. (Only team in the League to NOT have a HFA)
  • The NFC West has 3 of the top 5 best HFA’s!
  • Perhaps the ranking that subverts most fans expectations, and surely will cause a firestorm of criticism, is the Broncos pedestrian ranking of #19.

And now for the Moment you have all been waiting for the AFC & NFC West HFA Power Rankings

T-1st) Cardinals
Initial reaction: WTF! I’m going to get slaughtered having the Card’s tied for #1…. Oh crap. I need to recheck the data. Which I did and was completely justified. The Cards have been historically bad, true. That makes each win that much more valuable, rare, and beautiful to us. This data shows that we are appreciably better at home than anywhere else. Likely due to a consistently sold out stadium, an oft maligned fan base, and the distance opponents have to travel to play here.
T-1st) Seahawks
Touching on the travel statement earlier. No team has to travel farther in the NFL than the Seahawks (That is until the Jag’s become the London Bulldogs.) The Seahawks play much better at home and they should. They have the most consistently boisterous fan base in professional sports and they are unfailing loyal. I am not a Seahawks fan but I respect them like I do few other fan bases. Great atmosphere, I mean scientists have recorded seismic activity emanating from Century Link before. THAT is raucous my friends.
3rd) 49ers
Candlestick Park. Beautiful place that every sports fan should visit at least once. The history of the place speaks for itself. Bay area fans are known for being menacing and passionate. The stadium is older and far from any out of conference teams. It will be interesting to see how the 9ers do when moved to a new stadium. Studies have shown that teams often immediately have a decrease in HFA in new stadiums and it takes time for the familiarity to build.
4th) Chiefs
Arrowhead is a massive stadium. 5th largest in the NFL. The Chiefs officially hold the record for being the nosiest crowd in the NFL. A mark they set earlier this month by reaching 137.5 decibels. The team they bested? The Seattle Seahawks of course. Could this mark become some new and strange rivalry between the two teams? I hope so.
5th) Rams
Edward Jones Dome is only the 2nd dome on the list. The prevailing belief of fans is that domes increase the noise levels thus giving a great HFA. Yet the top two teams in terms of fan noise play in open air stadiums. This is fascinating and I might delve further into if domes or open air stadiums fair better with HFA. I remember watching this dome shake during the Kurt “Best Show on Turf” Warner era.
6th) Chargers
The Chargers likely won’t even be in San Diego much longer thus rendering this ranking irrelevant. Wait it is irrelevant already? Perfect! Who wants to live in beautiful sunny San Diego anyway? Not Eli Manning, that’s who. Of the Qualcomm Stadium experience, Prosportswest.com’s founder had this to say, “Well, it’s not very good. The stadium is a dilapidated piece of junk. As you often hear, there are just too many other options in San Diego for fans to be inclined to pay to go to a game in a decrepit venue on a regular basis. The Chargers are on ‘blackout watch’ for nearly every home game and if the visitors are a Divison opponent or popular team the stadium is only about 50% Bolt fans. Frankly, I’m surprised San Diego has any HFA at all.”
7th) Broncos
Here is where the hate mail starts. This is where my power rankings get eviscerated by every Tom, Hank, and Jim out there. I say bring it! Face the facts. The Broncos have just been good over the past 11 years. Good at home and good away. There is not a largely discernible difference between their performance at home or anywhere else. They win only 12.5% more home games than away games making them our 19th ranked team in total HFA. That is not a knock on them. The cardinals would gladly trade the last 11 years of success for the #1 spot on this list. Front Runners Denver fans need to accept the numbers and realize they have a very mediocre HFA!
8th) Raiders
What can I say about the Raiders that has not already been said about Al Davis. I don’t know what to make of the franchise now that Davis is gone. I feel like they are a few years away from righting the ship. However, this was an exercise in the past and it shows that Raiders players are probably as afraid of their fans as the competition is.

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