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Home Field Advantage & Road Travel in the NFL
by Bryan Leonard - 11/02/2011
It’s probably not discussed as much as home court in basketball and even college football, but teams in the NFL often have significant edges at home and liabilities on the road. A key part of sports is emotion. Even though NFL players are professional athletes getting paid to do a job to the best of their abilities, playing well before the home fans really is more important than playing as well on the road.
The hometown fans are the ones who, in essence, are paying their salaries. No player wants to give 50% and lose a game badly in front of the home crowd. In addition, other factors can influence a team’s performance at home or on the road. The Chiefs had great home fans and for years, until recently, and oddsmakers factored in a bit greater edge to the Chiefs at home with respect to the line.
That home field edge in Kansas came back in 2010 as the young team played surprisingly well at home, upsetting the Chargers and 49ers already at home on the way to the playoffs. I recall talking to a Midwest football fan one time who had been to both the Rams and Chiefs stadiums many teams. He pointed out that the St. Louis fans were far milder compared to the Kansas City football fans, and it showed in the stadium.
The Broncos can enjoy a unique edge at home, not only from great fans but the thin air in the Colorado mountains. Denver players are used to practicing and playing in the thin, cooler air, while some opponents aren’t. That can carry over into basketball, as well.
Another factor is playing surface. Dick Vermeil built the Rams in the late 1990s with an eye for speed at WR and RB. His spread attack, along with then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz, was predicated on speed which performed better on the artificial playing surface in the St. Louis dome. Notice that in 2004, when things were going well, the Rams were 6-2 SU at home, but 3-7 SU/ATS on the road. The Greatest Show on Turf was far less so on grass. That is unlikely with the current Rams, however, as new coach Steve Spagnuola is a propend of a balanced offense. When they got ahead of the Chargers in 2010, the Rams didn’t go for the jugular, but played conservative football.
I recall the start of the 2006 NFL season, in the NFC East, no team had a winning record on the road, yet the Redskins, Giants and Eagles were a combined 9-0 at home. In the AFC East that year, the Patriots had a 2-2 road record, while the other teams were a combined 0-9 on the road. Long travel can play a roll, as well. That same season the Buffalo Bills had a long road trip to Oakland, and had their worst game in a 38-17 loss. In fact, Buffalo was 3-1 SU/ATS at home at the time, 0-3 SU/ATS on the road.
Lovie Smith’s Bears really seem to get fired up in front of the Chicago fans, but less so on the road. Notice the geographical location of a team like the Seahawks, playing way up in the Northwest corner of the U.S. in Seattle. A team in a city like that has a longer way to travel to away games. One recent season they made long trips to the East coast in Jacksonville and Washington, as well as St. Louis. The Seahawks started 1-2 Su/ATS on the road, and 4-0 at home!
This season, the Jets had a brutal 3-game road trip at Oakland, Baltimore and New England. Guess what? They lost ‘em all, sending off alarm bells in the Big Apple. The Jets ended that skid with a win, and cover, against the Dolphins. Yes, that game was at home. The Jets have been hit hard by injuries this season, too, another factor that can help wear a team down, lacking depth, which can hurt on long road trips.