True road-field advantage in football

By Steve Makinen  (VSiN.com) 

November 2, 2021 07:05 PM
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In last week’s Point Spread Weekly, I introduced the method I use to calculate teams’ true home-field advantage in college and pro football. This week’s piece deals with the opposite side of the ledger — performance on the road.

Reiterating what I said last week, anyone who still assigns the base 3 to 3.5 points for home field for every game at either level is making a gargantuan mistake. This not only leads to errors in handicapping games but also compounds itself in building team power ratings, which take into account schedule strength and where teams have played their games. Because of this risk, my experience on both sides of the counter has led me to build and maintain team-specific home- and road-field ratings. These are built into the formulas I use to calculate the Power, Effective Strength and Bettors Ratings in PSW and on VSiN.com.

I believe that coaching and preparation level are the leading factors for teams that play best on the road. These teams typically have solid defenses and reliable quarterback play. Another factor I think is relevant is that a lot of teams that don’t enjoy massive home-field edges in atmosphere tend to play better on the road as their performance level is more consistent across the board and not as influenced by game location.

To determine which teams hold the best true road-field advantage in college and pro football, I have taken the teams’ logs in true road games since the start of the 2018 season, or essentially the last 3 1/2 seasons. I compared their average power ratings in those games with their opponents’ average power ratings, using my actual logged numbers during that span for every game. This margin would be considered the amount they should have won or lost by on a neutral field, or the expected margin. I then compared this number to the actual point differential the team accumulated in those games. Obviously, teams that had a greater actual differential than expected played the “best” on the road. For college teams with at least 10 road games in that span, the margins went as high as + 4.8 for Iowa to as low as -11.8 for UMass. In the NFL, the top road-field edge belonged to the Ravens at + 4.1, while the worst rating went to the Jets at -6.1.

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