Playing in your home city, in front of your fans, in your timezone is an advantage in any sport; however, homefield in the NFL is arguably the most advantageous of any of the big North American sports.
What is it that makes us believe the Cleveland Browns will be competitive against a top-tier team if the game is at FirstEnergy Stadium? Why doesn’t anyone bet against Seattle at CenturyLink?
There are multiple factors that contribute to NFL teams possessing an edge at home: crowd noise, weather, playing surface, etc. Obviously, some of these are a lot more pronounced at certain fields than others. (No one minds playing in a temperature-controlled dome, but the weather at, say, Lambeau takes getting used to.)
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence thrown around about which stadiums are the toughest to play in for visitors. If only there was something more objective, some sort of grading system we could use to rank the toughest places to play in the NFL.
What’s that? A ranking system, you need?! Do not fear, the Football Yards men are here!
In order to create this list, I weighed a few different things: each team’s home/road record since 1985, their home/road record while in their current stadium, and the differential between their home and road winning-percentages. Using the help of my trusty-sidekick, Team Rankings, and a lot of Google searches, I was able to come up with a fool-proof rating system.
Please, hold the applause.
At the end of the day, it made sense to group teams into four tiers (and then get down to the nitty-gritty):
- Commanding homefield advantage
- Moderate homefield advantage
- Slight homefield advantage, and
- No advantage
Let’s start with the toughest of the tough.
Commanding Homefield Advantages:
1. Denver Broncos, Sports Authority Field at Mile High – Since 1985, the Broncos have won an incredible 73-percent of the games played in Denver. What makes this even more impressive is their +24.6-percent differential between home winning percentage and road winning percentage. The greatest factor has to be elevation (the city is a mile above sea level) and how the altitude affects your ability to exercise. Training and playing at altitude reduces those effects. Advantage Broncos!
Elevation isn’t the whole story. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the passion of Broncos Country, the team’s loyal fan base. This city is so obsessed with their team that, in the midst of another stadium name-change, they tried to pass a bill to ensure “Mile High” would be included in the new moniker regardless of who possessed the naming rights. It’s safe to say these fans get loud.
2. Seattle Seahawks, CenturyLink Field – For a stadium that only seats 67,000, the “CLink” sure can get loud; they set a Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar in 2013 by reaching a booming 136.6 decibels. (It technically resulted in an earthquake.) The team has been able to put the noise, as well as timezone shift, to use by winning more than 71-percent of their games in Seattle, and possess a 28.8-percent difference between home and road winning percentage. Although Seahawks fans weren’t the first ones to coin themselves the “12th Man” (see Texas A&M), the team’s success at home certainly validates the thievery of the title.
3. Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium – The move to M&T Bank Stadium in 1998 provided the franchise a swift kick in the rear. (No, AP, it was not with a switch.) The Ravens have won just over 70-percent of their games at M&T, and have a 26.7-percent differential between home and away winning-percentages. This past season was the first time the Ravens posted a losing record at M&T stadium.
4. Kansas City Chiefs, Arrowhead Stadium – The Chiefs moved into Arrowhead Stadium in 1972 and are batting almost 63-percent since. Kansas City is known for getting brutally cold in the winter; in fact, the third-coldest game in NFL history was played at Arrowhead Stadium in January 1996. (Temperatures were as low as -6°F.) Although they broke Seattle’s Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar one year later – with the help of 12,000 more fans – it was not enough to surpass CenturyLink Field on this list.
5. Minnesota Vikings, U.S. Bank Stadium – I know, the Vikings have yet to even play a single game at their new stadium; however, the Vikings are historically very tough at home. Minnesota has won more than 65-percent home games since 1985 and boast a 25.6-percent differential between home and road winning-percentages. Vikings fans were already known as one of the loudest crowds in the league, and the new stadium will now seat an extra 2,000 people dressed in purple. Had they not moved to a new stadium, they may have been a little higher on this list. We’ll see how they fare at U.S. Bank.
6. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium – I’m sure I am going to hear criticism from Patriots’ fans for the team being outside of the top-five on this list. Although New England has won more than 86-percent of its games at Gillette Stadium, the team has simply been too good to give homefield too much credit. Just look at their record away from home: since 2002, when they moved into their current digs, that Pats have won more than 67-percent of their road games.
Don’t get me wrong, the Patriots clearly possess a very strong homefield advantage; but they also possess a very strong “we’re better than you at football” advantage (chalk it up to Belichick or Brady or cheating; whichever floats your boat).
7. Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field – Green Bay’s historic stadium is home to the “Lambeau Leap,” “Cheese-Heads,” “The Ice Bowl,” and a lot of Packer Ws. Green Bay has won just under 68-percent of their games at Lambeau since 1985. On top of being one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL, Lambeau is one of eight stadiums that hasn’t sold naming rights to a corporation. You’ve gotta love the little guy, especially when said little guy isn’t so little on the field.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field – The Steelers moved to Heinz field in 2001 and have been very dominant at home since then. However, they fall in the same category as the Patriots; they’re downright good whether at home or on the road, which makes the notion of homefield advantage lose some of its lustre. That said, a 72-percent home winning percentage will still get you in the top tier.
Moderate Homefield Advantages:
9. Arizona Cardinals, University of Phoenix Stadium – Who knew moving out of Sun Devil Stadium would be the best thing for the Arizona Cardinals? Since moving into their new and very luxurious stadium, the Cardinals have won just under 67-percent of their home games. That stat becomes even more striking when you consider that, since 2006 move, they have only won 39.3-percent of their games on the road, good for a 27.4-percent differential. Wheeling that turf out into the natural sunlight must be the trick.
10. San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s Stadium – This ranking is based more off of their successes at Candlestick Park. Since the move to Levi’s stadium, the 49ers have not been a very good team (13-29 overall record). Yet, they have still found a way to win at home, posting an 8-8 record in their new stadium over the last two seasons. Going back to the Candlestick days, the Niners have won almost 68-percent of home games.
11. Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson Stadium – This was a tough one to leave out of the top tier, since the winds that rip through the stadium, along with the cold, pose much difficulty for the visiting team. Unfortunately, it also seems to provide nearly the same level of trouble for the home team. It’s no wonder Buffalo hasn’t had a legitimate quarterback since Jim Kelly, who deserves more praise for his ability to deal with those dreadful conditions. Nonetheless, the Bills have still won more than 60-percent of games played at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
12. Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium – Ahh, “the house that Manning built” … and was then abruptly evicted from. The Colts have continued the winning in his absence, coming away with a victory in almost 70-percent of games played at Lucas Oil. They also find themselves in the company of New England and Pittsburgh, though: generally good since the move in 2008.
13. Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium(?) – With Sun Life Financial’s naming-rights deal coming to an end this past January, I don’t know what to call the Dolphins’ homefield. However, I doubt the winning ways will conclude, regardless of the new name.
14. Chicago Bears, Soldier Field – Regardless of how iconic the stadium may be, the Bears don’t have that much of an advantage playing in Chicago. The Bears have won just under 60-percent of their games at Soldier Field, and that number may continue to fall under Jay Cutler.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field – Hear me out before you discredit this ranking; for starters, Jacksonville has won more than 55-percent of its home games. That may not seem overly impressive, but you need to consider the fact that they have not had a winning season since 2007. That sad stretch includes 14 total wins over the last four seasons and a home winning-percentage of 39.3-percent. Given that the franchise is a youthful 21 years old, it’s remarkable that their winning-percentage at home has remained above 50-percent. When the Jags finally put a respectable team on the field, you’ll see this homefield (and temperature) advantage come to fruition once again.
16. New York Jets, MetLife Stadium – Since moving into MetLife Stadium, the Jets have seen their franchise winning-percentage at home increase by more than six-percent. The shared stadium has provided the J-E-T-S with a very noticeable advantage, as their differential between home and road winning-percentage is 17.5-percent. Prior to the Rams moving back to LA, the Jets (and Giants) had the biggest potential crowds.
Slight Homefield Advantages:
17. Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Dome – Although the Falcons do hold an 18.8-percent differential between home and road winning-percentage, it is more indicative of their poor play on the road. Dome teams can’t play away from home.
18. San Diego Chargers, Qualcomm Stadium – Despite it being one of the older stadiums still around, the Chargers just do not enjoy much of an advantage. And it’s getting worse as the constant threat of relocation disenfranchises fans.
19. Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium – Throughout their 21 seasons in the league, the Panthers have struggled to sustain any sort of success. Their play at home is a microcosm of that reality.
20. Washington, FedEx Field – The 82,000 fans that show up to cheer on one of the more iconic franchises in the league deserve to see more wins.
21. New Orleans Saints, The Superdome – It is very rare to see a dome team without a significant difference between their home and road winning-percentages. Just for the record, I refuse to call it the “Mercedes-Benz Superdome.”
22. Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium – The franchise did not enjoy much success at home in Houston, and not much has changed since the move to Tennessee.
23. New York Giants, MetLife Stadium – The G-Men have not enjoyed the same success at home as their roommates.
24. Cincinnati Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium – Although the Bengals do own a differential of 17.9-percent between home and road winning-percentages, it is more expressive of their horrible play on the road. Their home winning-percentage is only 52.6-percent. That’s at least trending up, though.
25. Los Angeles Rams, Memorial Coliseum – I scrapped everything the Rams did in St. Louis. Instead, I analyzed the last 12 years the Rams played in LA (1983-1994). I think their 24th-place ranking says enough about what I found. Seeing 93,000-plus show up (for at least one game) should be fun though.
26. Houston Texans, NRG Stadium – They are 58-57 at home. I suppose we should cut them a little slack as they are the NFL’s youngest franchise.
27. Oakland Raiders, Oakland Coliseum – For a team with arguably the most passionate fans (are any other fan-bases dressing like this?), the Raiders have not awarded them with many victories since the glory days.
28. Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium – Since moving into Jerry’s new masterpiece in 2009, the Cowboys have won more games on the road than at home. That Jumbotron is pretty sweet though, right?
29. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field – See above, minus the Jumbotron.
30. Detroit Lions, Ford Field – The Lions have lost more than they’ve won at home. You don’t even want to know their winning-percentage on the road. I now see what Barry Sanders was talking about.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium – The only Florida-based team who can’t take advantage of that heat.
32. Cleveland Browns, FirstEnergy Stadium – Are you shocked?