This NFL season was always going to be different with empty stadiums or barely-filled stadiums due to COVID-19. We have still seen record levels of scoring and offense, but what is the impact of a lack of a crowd on home-field advantage?
In the NFL, the home team usually wins 57-58% of the time. This is built into the Vegas point spreads too, giving a team about 3 points just for being at home. But when you think about this year, it doesn’t seem like it has mattered much with offenses converting on third down at historic rates and referees not doing much to call offensive holding or offensive pass interference. If referee bias– caving to the noisy crowd to make impactful calls — doesn’t exist because of the pandemic, then home-field advantage isn’t even worth a field goal anymore.
When the Chiefs traveled to Baltimore for a huge game in Week 3, it ended up being more lopsided than the two meetings Kansas City won in Arrowhead the last two seasons. When the Saints traveled to Tampa Bay last Sunday night, the 38-3 massacre was the biggest rout of Tom Brady’s 21-year career. But maybe those are just matchups where one team owns the other.
Here are the numbers through Week 9 for the home team’s winning percentage. 2020 is included without the first game from Week 10, the latest example of no home-field advantage with the Colts wiping out the Titans 34-17 on Thursday night. It was Indianapolis’ most complete game of the season.
For the first time in the last 20 years, the home team has a losing record through Week 9 (65-67-1).
However, that’s not the most interesting development. It appears home-field advantage has been trending downwards for a couple of years now, or before the pandemic started. The 2017 season was the lowest from 2001-2017 at 53.0%. Then we had that 2018 season go high up to 59.7%, a season with a lot of good teams playing high-scoring games with the home team usually winning — another reason that 13-3 Super Bowl was a horrible way to end 2018. Then it dropped to 50.7% in 2019, which was the lowest start to a season since 2001 before this year.
There is no guarantee we see regression the rest of the year. In 2019, home teams finished by winning 51.8% of games, the lowest since 1972 (50.8%), and down from 60.2% in 2018 and 56.6% in 2017.
So that means 2020 could be the first season since the 1970 NFL merger where home teams have a losing record in the regular season. We still have almost half the season to complete, and that’s assuming things won’t be derailed by COVID-19, which is surging near 200,000 cases a day now. Positive tests in the NFL are up too. In fact, you could even see instances of a road team traveling, getting COVID, then having to sit players for a home game the following week, possibly hurting their performance in that game. It’s just another thing to keep an eye on this season.
Week 10 Home Splits
I don’t have a lot to say about the Week 10 slate, but there are two games that catch my attention in regards to home-road splits in division games.
One of my favorite stats: Ben Roethlisberger is 67-4 as a home starter when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses are to the Bengals. These were all games in the 2009-2015 era, but Roethlisberger has a fascinating home/road split against the Bengals in his career.
We also have Russell Wilson taking on the Rams in a big game for Seattle this week. Wilson is 7-9 against the Rams and has been sacked 61 times in those games. He’s never taken more than 51 sacks in any of his 16-game regular seasons to this point, so the Rams often get after him (thanks, Aaron Donald). Two of the three games where Wilson has taken a career-high 7 sacks came against the Rams. He’s lost four of the last six meetings since Sean McVay took over as coach, and it would be five in a row if Greg Zuerlein did not miss a game-winning field goal last year in Seattle.
Wilson is 2-6 on the road against the Rams, and the Rams are a 2-point favorite at home this week. I have to say I like the Rams in this matchup based on past meetings, though Jared Goff and McVay worry me these days. This is a game where you obviously need to attack the secondary with your wideouts like most offenses have against Seattle’s historically-bad pass defense this year, but why do I feel like Darrell Henderson will have 10 carries in the first quarter? If Goff is on for this matchup, I think the Rams take it and make the NFC West race even more interesting.
NFL Week 10 Predictions
Fooled again by a Thursday game, I underestimated just how bad the special teams are for Tennessee.
A few upsets I like include Washington and Chicago. I know, the Bears playing in prime time again is terrible, but even worse is the fact that it’s Minnesota. Since Kirk Cousins went to Minnesota, he is 0-3 against Chicago and hasn’t broke 6.5 YPA in any of those games. The Vikings average 12 points in those games.
But it would be another nice road win in 2020 for the Vikings to pull that one out.
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