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Home stadiums carry point value in NFL matchups

Aug 19, 2003 5:36 AM

Many NFL handicappers like to create predicted scores for the upcoming games. One issue is what sort of adjustment to make for the "home field advantage" effect.

Statistics can show that there is some edge for the home side in an NFL matchup. Whether it’s the lack of travel, knowing the stadium particulars, or the fans is unclear. What we do know is, the home team usually scores on average between 2-to-3 points more per game than the visitor. This represents a significant home edge.

The vast majority of people like to stick with a constant number to represent the home field advantage, regardless of the stage of the season, the opponent, and any recent events for the home side. At the other extreme there are folks advocating that you adjust home field advantages on the fly.

We’ll take a more disciplined approach and first examine whether there is any change to the general league-wide home field advantage based on what week of the season a game is being played. Our data comes from regular season games between 1983 and 2002, throwing out the 1987 "strike" year.

Analysis: There are some evident patterns emerging. Essentially the home field advantage is over-simplified when people claim it should be a generic 2.5 or 3 points, since there are clear distinctions between middle of the season games and end of the season games.

Home field advantage becomes more prominent in the late stages. Weeks 6-to-9 are strange in that the home edge is minimal during this span with the exception of Week 7 where it is as very strong.

Therefore we believe "smoothed" averages provide a cleaner look than the straight weekly average and are more trustworthy.

A case can be made that the NFL changes from year to year, sometimes dramatically. Using the numbers of the past four years, the HFA comes out as 0.4, 1.4, 1.6, 1.1, 2.3, 2.0, 1.5, 1.2, 1.8, 0.8, 1.6, 2.2, 3.9, 4.1, 5.3, 5.8, 4.6 on a "smoothed" basis from weeks 1 to 17.

This confirms that home "cooking" has of late been better in the final stages of the season. Coming up with a simple yet usable adjustment for making predicted scores and keeping in mind the recent history, we would suggest something as in the charts on this page.

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