Fans have returned to the stands, but home-field advantage still absent in the NFL

Chargers vs Dallas Cowboys in Inglewood, CA.
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Last year, for the first time in NFL history, home teams had a losing record: Of the 256 games in the 2020 regular season, home teams won 127, lost 128, and one was tied.

From some observers, there was a simple explanation: The COVID-19 pandemic led to teams playing in empty stadiums, and the lack of crowd support meant there was no advantage to playing at home.

But this year, fans are back in the stands, and home-field advantage hasn’t changed: Of the 32 games so far this season, home teams have won 16 and road teams have won 16.

And that counts the Saints’ 38-3 win over the Packers in Week One as a Saints home game, even though it was played on a neutral field in Jacksonville. It would really be more accurate to say home teams are 15-16 this season, with one game played on a neutral field. Road teams have also outscored home teams this year, if that Saints blowout win in Jacksonville is taken out.

The decline of home-field advantage began before that pandemic-affected 2020 season. In 2019, before the pandemic, when the crowds were as loud as ever, home teams went just 132-123-1, the worst cumulative record for home teams since the advent of the 16-game schedule.

As is so often the case, the gambling community was among the first to notice the decline in home-field advantage. For decades, the rule of thumb was that home-field was worth about three points on the Vegas line. In the last couple years, that shifted to two points. It’s now around one point.

Why has home-field advantage declined? It may simply be that NFL teams are getting better at silent counts to negate crowd noise, and better at finding ways to travel comfortably and achieve peak performance whether they’re at home or on the road. And that hasn’t changed just because the fans are back.

15 responses to “Fans have returned to the stands, but home-field advantage still absent in the NFL

  1. It’s the proliferation of travelling fans. A large number of DNA’s have travelled to see the visiting team. It’s a thing now. Not as partisan a crowd at home games

  2. Vegas was rocking 2 weeks ago. Just need them to get quiet when the their own team has the ball!

  3. Think back to when you were a kid and the most rabid fan you can remember. A guy who never missed a game and was hoarse every Monday from cheering. Odds are they weren’t upper management or living in the fanciest communities. But that’s what you predominantly see now at NFL games. The club levels and corporate suites that get prime seating locations are almost 100% those people. They’re at the game for the experience and while they might be favoring the home team they’re not all that broken up no matter what the outcome.

  4. The crowd at the Bills/Dolphins game was an embarrassment for Miami. And don’t give me they have other options. They’re just more apathetic.

  5. Another point to make about home field advantage or lack thereof these days is that the NFL and stadiums have implemented rules equalizing environments for the visiting teams and the fans that attend games.

  6. Also, in places like Washington, home field is really the advantage of the visiting team since their fans outnumber Washington’s paying ones.

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