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.