The Seahawks and the NFL’s Best Home Field Advantage

by Andrew Mooney

A road game in the NFL can be a daunting proposition. Facing a sufficiently amped home crowd, a team has to worry about things they normally wouldn’t at home: snap counts, hearing play calls, and hey, what is that biker-looking gentleman doing with a blown-up picture of my family? Every NFL fan base would like to believe its savage passion is the most intense in the league, but there can’t be 32 best home field advantages. To that end, I set about finding which team’s home field gives them the largest boost.

First, I don’t think it makes sense to attribute the effects of a team’s home field advantage solely to the fans; you can’t separate the noise they make from the environment in which they make it, the stadium. It’s possible that fans in Seattle truly go bananas for the Seahawks, but the stadium’s architecture (or even its PA system) likely contributes at least some part to pumping up the volume at CenturyLink Field. Similarly, Boston fans exhibit plenty of passion and noise at Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox games. Why should they be so notoriously quiet for the Patriots, unless Gillette Stadium itself (or, I suppose, the commute there) muted them?

For that reason, I centered my analysis on which team’s stadium the combined effect of the building and the fans produces the greatest home field advantage. Instead of using home and away win-loss records, I looked up teams’ point differentials at home and on the road from the time they moved into their current stadium, using the ultra-handy Play Index at Pro Football Reference. (There is considerable evidence that point differentials provide a more reliable measure of team quality than do simple wins and losses.)

Next, I calculated the difference between each team’s point differential at home and on the road, then divided that by the number of seasons the team has occupied its stadium. This gave me the average number of additional points per season provided by a team’s home field advantage. The Chargers have played in what is now Qualcomm Stadium since 1967, but assuming the home field advantage effect it affords has been constant over that time, its per-season average should be as valid as that of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, which began hosting NFL play in 2003. Finally, in order to ensure that I had a sufficient sample of games, I omitted teams who moved into a new stadium within the last five seasons, which included the Colts, the Jets, the Giants, and the Cowboys. I also counted the major overhaul to Soldier Field in 2003 as a new stadium, given the way it drastically altered the building’s structure. My results are presented below.

stadiums2.png

This analysis bears out the conventional wisdom, at least at the extremes: Seattle enjoys the greatest home field advantage in the NFL, and Gillette Stadium ranks at the bottom of the league. Recently, the Ravens have borne out that M&T Bank Stadium is one of the hardest places to play in the country; they currently boast the NFL’s longest home winning streak at 13 games.

It’s surprising to see the Superdome so low, with its at least anecdotal status as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. The top ten features only three enclosed stadiums, and not necessarily the ones you expect Ford Field, the Edward Jones Dome, and the Metrodome. Again, team quality over this time should have nothing to do with the final outcome, since we’re comparing the same teams’ home and away results.

So what’s the deal with Gillette? As Chris Gasper noted a couple of years ago, the stadium itself is largely to blame: its open-ended architecture doesn’t hold sound well, its location forces everyone to rush for the exits to avoid traffic once the result is assured, and it’s one of the priciest stadiums in the NFL, especially when you factor in transportation costs to get there. Mr. Kraft may be happy with the money the place rakes in, but if he wanted to give an assist to his product on the field, he might consider phasing out the wine-and-cheese folks and drawing a slightly more populist crowd.

This post can also be seen on Boston.com here.

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32 Responses to The Seahawks and the NFL’s Best Home Field Advantage

  1. Dave says:

    I did a similar analysis a couple of years ago and had some similar findings (with Baltimore near the top and NE near the bottom, etc). Having said that, here is some food for thought:
    – Your analysis does not distinguish between a good home team and a bad road team
    – It could be the case that the distance traveled, or time zones crossed/time of day is a major cause of home field advantage (is Seattle’s HFA just as high against NFC/AFC West teams as it is for the rest of the league?)

  2. Jack says:

    Agreeing with Dave’s second point. 4 of the top 5 teams play in western divisions that require significantly more travel than other divisions. Seattle’s home field advantage has more to do with getting to and from Seattle than anything that occurs at the stadium itself.

    • Dan says:

      LOL. Youve obviously never been to Seahawks stadium. When you travel from the east, theres not much of a difference between flying to Seattle and SF, Oak, SD and AZ.

  3. Hamish says:

    I think Daves first point is also key. The Patriots are disadvantaged here because their away Pt diff is seriously high in their favor. This makes the end result very low because of the small differential between their home and away

  4. Micah says:

    The travel distance is certainly a factor in both directions (ie, raising the SEA home advantage and lowering the NE home advantage.) Other reasonable observations that should be included in the analysis include playing surface, team gameplay/style, and the overall team quality. There are several simple explanations as to why NE has such a low home-field advantage: they score a lot of points on the road, their late season home games frequently have adverse weather are among the most obvious. Another thing to consider is time; comparing NO for the last 37 years is not at all like comparing NE for the last 10.

    The simple analysis is good and interesting, but few reasonable conclusions can be drawn from it without also reviewing the other factors.

  5. TBK58 says:

    Just for the record …. CenturyLink Field does NOT pump in noise. It’s the real deal up here.

    • MS says:

      Absolutely TBK. The 12th man is no joke. Another stat that should suggest that we dominate is the fact that we have led the league in false start penalties since the inception of the stadium.

  6. ivotuk says:

    a lot has to do with the amount of travel a team has to do in a season. Seattle, San Fran and San Diego tend to travel the most miles each year. That and they have to start much earlier than they are used to on the east coast. Add Oakland to that group.

  7. Charles says:

    The pats have been equally dominant on the road as at home so it’s twisted logic to say that therefore their home field advantage is not as good as other places when their per game actual points scored at home is likely tops in the league for that stretch. The Pats are 77-16 at Gillette including the playoffs. I know all the statheads think point differential is more important than wins and losses but 77-16 counts for something. I think I saw somewhere that it is the best winning % through 90 games in NFL history at home. Seattle’s stadium opened in 2002 and over that time they have scored about 5 points more per game than their opponents at home. The pats are at ~9 points per game. This article is cherry-picking stats at its worst.

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  10. jay says:

    Style of play also factors. A balanced team that controls the clock and drives the field may not score as many points per minute but their % of scoring drives can still be substantial with a solid T.O.P. As such, a team could win in dominant fashion, but the final score could be 17-6, whereas another high-flying team could create bigger plays, winning a back and forth shootout 45-31. The point differential for defensive teams will be lower, despite possessing a greater % of scoring differential and not a high TOTAL differential in straight points.

  11. gary thompson says:

    If the point differential will be lower for predominantly defensive teams, then why are the Seahawks at the top of the list?

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  18. Volume12 says:

    Have you heard about the recent application to break the world record for sound at CenturyLink stadium?

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  24. jj says:

    New England has the highest home win % since 2002. Thats when Century Link and Gillette opened. Seattle has the 6th highest win % at home…6th. All other numbers are garbage. 85% win at home vs. 65%, thats all you need to look at.

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