The true home-field advantage in football

November 5, 2022 04:54 PM
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One of the most important and debated factors in handicapping football is determining how much weight to give to home-field advantage. It’s been tough to figure in the last few seasons, especially with COVID-19 leading to empty or partially filled stadiums. Now, with the football world having essentially returned to normal, it’s a good time to revisit the subject of home-field advantage and what it’s worth from a quantitative perspective. 

A few of the things I set out to find when breaking down my data from the last three and a half seasons:

1. Has home field advantage picked up over the last one and a half seasons since COVID stopped wreaking havoc on football?

2. Have oddsmakers adjusted appropriately for any changes? 

3. Have any specific teams set themselves apart in terms of home-field performance? 

In my own experience of oddsmaking and doing the strength ratings for VSiN, I have found that one of the most important factors in analyzing a team’s strengths in football, or any sport, is determining how much home-field advantage to assign. Some handicappers assign it from a general sense, issuing a standard 2 to 3 points depending on how much they value it. Others, such as myself, develop team-specific home-field edges, realizing some environments are tougher than others. For those in the latter group, I am here to help.

Let’s face it, using the team-specific method is almost a must for bettors. There are reasons why certain teams have a more definitive home-field advantage than others. Among those are weather, a roster that fits the field surface, crowd capacity/enthusiasm, confidence level of a team at home and perhaps even site-specific distractions for the visiting team. 

I am 100% positive in this next statement: There is no way that every team’s home-field advantage is the same. 

To determine which teams hold the best TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE in both college football and the NFL, I have taken every team’s game logs at home since the start of the 2019 season. I compared each team’s average power rating in those games with the opponent’s average power rating, using my actual logged numbers for every game. This margin equals the amount a team should win or lose by when meeting on a neutral field, or the expected margin. I then compared the expected margin per game with the actual point differential per game for each team’s home games in the span. Obviously, the teams that had a greater actual differential than expected differential played the “best” at home. 

In college (since 2019), the margins go as high as +9.7 for James Madison and as low as -4.8 for Georgia Tech. 

In the NFL (since 2019), the top home-field edge belongs to Buffalo at +4.8, while the worst rating goes to the Chargers at -3.7.

Of course, no one would ever assign a home-field edge of 9.7 points to James Madison. However, the Dukes might be worthy of your consideration when oddsmakers don’t give them enough respect at home (they did lose to Marshall at home two weeks ago, for the record). JMU’s next home game is set for Nov. 19 versus Georgia State. 

Alternatively, there is no way that those setting the lines would penalize Georgia Tech when it plays at home, but to give them the full credit of 3 points would be too much. Savvy bettors have known about the Yellow Jackets’ home struggles for years, and hopefully this study can sway your thinking as well.

In general, I believe most bookmakers assign an average home edge of about 3.0 points in college football and 2.0 points in the NFL. 

In this study, I have found that the TRUE college football number is closer to 2.3 since 2019, with that number actually trending back up toward 2.5 this season. In fact, at this point, I have adjusted my own home-field ratings in college football so they average 2.5 points. 

Since 2019, I have found that the TRUE NFL number is only 1.04! Obviously, this number (as well as the 2.3 in college) includes the fan-less 2020 season. That said, in 2022, the TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE in the NFL is actually 1.95 points so far. With home teams owning a SU record of 65-52 (55.6%) through eight weeks, I have made the determination to use the number 1.8 as my average home-field rating in the NFL. 

One important note: I don’t assign my home-field ratings exactly in accordance with the TRUE home-field ratings, as I also give strong consideration to SU and ATS records, as well as the perceived difficulty of playing at a particular stadium. Otherwise, single games where a team won or lost big can falsely impact the overall ratings. With those other factors included, Ohio State (+8.8 TRUE) and the Buffalo Bills (+4.8 TRUE) are my top-rated teams for college and the NFL. 

Here are some highlights from the study. Stay tuned next week as I’ll do the exact same exercise for performance in road games.

College football home-field highlights

Since the start of the 2019 season  

— Collectively, the conference with the best overall TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE is American, with a rating of +3.05. That edges the Big 12 (+2.94) and Sun Belt (+2.93).

— Two conferences have collective TRUE home-field ratings of less than 2.0 points. They are the ACC (+1.67) and Mountain West (+1.74)

— Three teams are undefeated at home since the start of the 2019 season. They are Clemson (23-0), Cincinnati (23-0) and Oregon (20-0). Of those, only the Bearcats are at home this week (versus Navy). Five teams have only one home loss since 2019 (after Kent State fell out of that group Tuesday night). Of those five teams, Alabama has the best mark at 23-1. 

— The worst SU record at home belongs to Akron at 3-16. UMass also has just three wins (with 13 losses). The Zips’ next home game is Tuesday versus Eastern Michigan. Of the Power 5 programs, Vanderbilt is the worst at 5-17.

— Three teams are better than 75% ATS over the last three and a half seasons at home. They are James Madison (19-5 ATS), Tulane (17-5) and Wake Forest (16-5). Oregon State, Buffalo and Kentucky are the three others over 70%. Amazingly, none of those six teams are at home this week. Kansas State is the best ATS home team this week. The Wildcats welcome Texas to town after a massive effort last week against Oklahoma State.

— Five teams are under 30% ATS over the last three and half seasons at home. They are Vanderbilt (5-17 ATS), Marshall (6-18), Akron (5-14), Georgia Tech (6-17) and Stanford (5-13). Vandy hosts South Carolina and Stanford hosts Washington State on Saturday.

— The four teams averaging the biggest point spreads at home are no surprise. That list is topped by Alabama (-32.8) and followed by Clemson (-29.2), Georgia (-26.6) and Ohio State (-26.4).

— The three teams averaging double-digit point spreads as home underdogs are UMass (+14.4), UConn (+13.7) and Akron (+10.2).

— Ten teams are scoring more than 40 PPG in home games over the last three and a half seasons: Ohio State, 48.7 PPG; Alabama, 48.0; Oklahoma, 43.8; James Madison, 43.2; SMU, 42.2; Clemson, 41.4; Kent State, 40.8; Oregon, 40.8; North Carolina, 40.7; Appalachian State, 40.4.

— Seven teams are allowing fewer than 15 PPG in home games since the start of the 2019 season: Georgia, 11.0 PPG; James Madison, 13.3; Iowa, 13.3; Wisconsin, 14.2; Alabama, 14.3; Clemson, 14.3; Cincinnati, 14.6.

— The only two teams that have outscored opponents by more than 30 PPG at home are Alabama (+33.7 PPG) and Ohio State (+32.3).

Using my formula comparing how much teams have won by at home with how much they were supposed to win by (based on their average power ratings), the top teams for TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE over the last three and a half seasons are:

1. James Madison +9.7

2. Tulane +9.1

3. Ohio State +8.8

4. Louisville +7.8

5. Wake Forest +7.5

Of those five teams, only Louisville is at home this week (hosting, coincidentally, James Madison).

The teams with the worst TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE over the last three and a half seasons are:

1. Georgia Tech -4.8

2. Vanderbilt -4.4

3. Akron -3.7

4. Eastern Michigan -2.8

5. Miami -2.4

Concerning games this week, Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina and Miami hosts Florida State.

You will find the entire list of all 131 FBS teams and their home-field performance here.

 

NFL home-field highlights

Since the start of the 2019 season  

— Collectively, the division with the best overall TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE is the AFC East, with a rating of +2.25. That edges the AFC North (+1.88).

— The division with the worst collective TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE is the AFC West, with three of the four teams in negative territory. The four teams in that division combine for a -0.53 TRUE home-field rating. No other division is negative, although the NFC West (+0.1) is close.

— Three teams are better than 70% SU over the last three and a half seasons at home. They are Green Bay (26-5), Kansas City (27-8) and Buffalo (23-8). The Packers lost their most recent home game, to the Jets, and return to Lambeau Field on Nov. 13 versus Dallas. The Chiefs host the Titans on Sunday. The Bills are on the road this week but return for back-to-back home games after that.

— Three teams are worse than 30% SU at home since the start of the 2019 season. The Jets are the worst at 6-19 (that includes a 1-3 start this season, despite an overall record of 5-3). Detroit is next at 7-21 (the Lions host the Packers on Sunday), and Carolina is 8-21.

— Only two teams are better than 60% ATS at home, and strangely, they have completely different environments in terms of weather and fan engagement. They are Green Bay (20-11 ATS) and Miami (18-11). Buffalo and Dallas are the others over 57%. None of those four teams are home this week, so we’ll have to wait to take advantage. 

— Seven teams are under 40% ATS over the last three and a half seasons at home. They are Carolina (8-20 ATS), Atlanta (9-17), Jacksonville (10-17), Chicago (10-17), Arizona (11-17), the N.Y. Giants (11-17) and the L.A. Chargers (11-17). Atlanta, Jacksonville, Chicago and Arizona are at home this week.

— The three teams averaging the biggest point spreads at home are no surprise. That list is topped by Green Bay (-6.9) and followed by Kansas City (-6.8) and Buffalo (-5.8). The top spot on this list is about to change with the Chiefs listed as 12.5-point favorites over the Titans on Sunday night.

— The three teams at the bottom of the point-spread averages since the start of the 2019 season are the Jets (+6.2), Detroit (+4.4) and Washington (+4.1). All three are at home this week and all are underdogs (Jets +12.5 vs. Buffalo, Lions +3.5 vs. Green Bay and Commanders +3.5 vs. Minnesota).

— Four teams are scoring more than 27 PPG in home games over the last three and half seasons: Dallas, 30.7 PPG; Kansas City, 28.7; Tampa Bay, 28.0; Green Bay, 27.8.

— Six teams are allowing fewer than 20 PPG in home games since the start of the 2019 season: Buffalo, 17.5 PPG; Green Bay, 19.1; New England, 19.1; Chicago, 19.1; Pittsburgh, 19.7; L.A. Rams, 19.8.

— The only two teams that have outscored opponents by more than 8.0 PPG at home are Buffalo (+9.3) and Green Bay (+8.7).

Using my formula comparing how much teams have won by at home with how much they were supposed to win by (based on their average power ratings), the top teams for TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE over the last three and a half seasons are:

1. Buffalo +4.8

2. Dallas +4.5

3. Baltimore +3.7

4. Green Bay +3.1

5. New England +3.1

Of those five teams, only New England is at home this week (hosting Indianapolis).

The teams with the worst TRUE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE over the last three and a half seasons are:

1. L.A. Chargers -3.7

2. Arizona -2.9

3. Carolina -1.8

4. N.Y. Jets -1.1

5. Jacksonville -1.0

Concerning games this week, Arizona hosts Seattle, the Jets host Buffalo and Jacksonville hosts Las Vegas.

You will find the entire list of all 32 NFL teams and their home-field performance here.

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