How Much NFL Home Field Advantage Is Worth — and Which Playoff Teams Actually Have It
Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Lambeau Field
The impacts of COVID-19 rendered NFL home-field advantage (HFA) almost nonexistent in 2020.
Instead of selling high-priced tickets to fans on the 50-yard line, seats were repurposed as advertising real estate. Instead of rallying fans on critical downs, teams were piping the crowd noise in.
But according to our analysts, the limitation (or total absence) of fans didn’t kickstart the decline in value of HFA — it’s just been the tipping point.
Now with all four home teams expected to welcome fans for the Divisional Round, a panel of our top analysts is here to break down how HFA has evolved in the NFL, how much it is worth to each home playoff team and how they’re factoring it into their ratings this weekend.
Home-Field Advantage Ratings
The five analysts whose ratings power our NFL PRO Projections detail how much HFA is worth to the points spread for the remaining home playoff teams. You can sort the following table by their consensus of individual ratings: Chris Raybon (CR), Raheem Palmer (RP), Stuckey (S), Sean Koerner (SK) and Travis Reed (TR).
How Has HFA Evolved in the NFL?
Travis Reed: HFA was already trending down heading into the 2020 season. With no (or limited) fans, it has decreased even further.
After adjusting for team strength, I have calculated HFA to range from 0.1-1.2 points depending on the team. Given the variance from year to year, it likely falls in the middle of that range at half a point for HFA.
This is lower than the usual HFA that I estimate to be between 2.2-2.8 for a full stadium although that will vary much more by team.
Raheem Palmer: HFA has been decreasing year over year in the NFL for the past four seasons, but the 2019 and 2020 seasons have seen it decrease to almost nothing.
- 2016: 2.86 points
- 2017: 2.46 points
- 2018: 2.12 points
- 2019: 0.11 points
- 2020: 0.05 points
League trends over the past two seasons are telling — in 2020, road teams are 132-129-1 (50.4%) straight up and 133-29 (50.8%) against the spread. In 2019, they were 125-135-1 (48%) SU and 140-106-10 ATS.
Chris Raybon: HFA has historically been worth 2-3 points, but has trended toward non-existent over the past two seasons. This season is the toughest to peg, as there have been varying amounts of fans in the stands, with attendance this season drastically different than in previous seasons.
In order to best capture the trend while not overreacting to small samples — there are “only” 256 regular-season games per year — I use a rolling average of the past three seasons (weighted by recency) to determine the league average. This allows my baseline adjustment to be dynamic, constantly adjusting for new data.
I then adjust for individual teams using the same approach, with further adjustment for the varying attendance levels this season.
My formula currently sets league-average HFA at 0.55 for 2020, which essentially means all things being equal, I would expect the home team to win more often than not, or roughly 51% of the time. The worst home teams will have a home-field adjustment at or near 0.0, while the best are at or near 1.0.
NFL Playoff Fan Attendance
How Should HFA Be Factored Into the NFL Playoffs?
Stuckey: I’ve lowered my HFA across the board throughout the season and now have it on average worth approximately one point. The data suggests that it’s even lower this season, so I could still be a tad too high, but that’s only one season worth of results.
Also, my HFA numbers are not static — they can change depending on weather, matchups, travel and other factors.
As for the Divisional Round, I didn’t make many adjustments outside of Bucs-Saints — that’s the only matchup this weekend in which HFA is reduced since the road team has familiarity with playing in that venue.
The Bills and Chiefs do play outdoors in bad weather at times, but so do the Browns and Ravens. Therefore, I don’t think either game warrants any unique adjustment. Plus, heavy winds would actually benefit Baltimore from a matchup perspective.
The same can be said for the Packers, but I would much rather face their offense outdoors in cold weather than in a dome. I also expect the Rams to go with an extremely run-heavy attack. That said, Jared Goff did recently have surgery to implant pins into his thumb, which can’t be ideal for throwing in below-freezing temperatures, so I did adjust the Rams down slightly for that.
Lastly, there will be some fans at Lambeau, but not enough to make a difference in my opinion.
Raybon: The Packers and Chiefs are my top two teams for the Divisional Round, with both team’s adjustments at 0.95. The Packers have a slightly greater HFA than the Chiefs, all things being equal, but the Packers will allow only 6,000 fans while the Chiefs will allow 16,000.
I have the Bills (0.80) and Saints (0.70) raked above-average as well, with the Bills getting the edge due to playing outdoors in cold-weather Buffalo. They allowed 6,772 fans in last week’s game while the Saints allowed 3,000 — and those numbers are expected to be similar this week — so New Orleans is also at an attendance disadvantage relative to the other three home teams.
Palmer: I recently did some work to weigh HFA based on each team’s stadium and how well they’ve performed at home vs. on the road. For the last 10 seasons, I have the home field advantage for these Divisional Round Home teams tracked at:
- Packers: 4.45
- Bills: 2.86
- Saints: 2.16
- Chiefs: 1.45
Many might be shocked to see the Saints’ and Chiefs’ HFA ranked so low, however both teams have performed just as well on the road as they have at home over the last 10 seasons. This year, the Saints went 6-2 at home and on the road while the Chiefs actually went 6-2 at home and 8-0 on the road. The Packers and Bills have better records at home vs. the road.
I don’t particularly believe in blindly using these HFA numbers, especially in a season when there’s no fans (or very little in the case of Buffalo) to impact opposing offenses, but I adjust ratings based on opponent and style of play.
Looking at the Packers vs. Rams game specifically, the cold should have a major impact on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who is from California and has played only two NFL games in temperatures below 30 degrees. In those two games, he completed a combined 34-of-72 (47.5%) passes for 381 yards with zero touchdowns to five (!) interceptions with a passer rating of 34.5.
My pure power rating for that matchup actually isn’t as high as the market, but with the Packers’ HFA factored in, I’m sitting close to a market number.
Otherwise, for the most part, I’ll be using a standard one-point value for HFA.
I’ve been personally intrigued by how oddsmakers and the betting markets were adjusting for HFA given the huge swings in lines based on venue changes.
For example, when the Saints and Bucs met in Week 1, New Orleans closed as a 4-point home favorite. Then in Week 9, Tampa Bay closed as a 3-point home favorite. Now for this week’s playoff matchup, the Saints are currently listed as 3-point favorites (check real-time odds here).
We also saw the Ravens close as 6-point road favorites in their Week 11 matchup against the Titans, then as 3.5-point road favorites in last week’s rematch.
In many ways, it feels like the market isn’t properly pricing HFA — or that it’s unfairly making drastic changes to a team’s power rating this season.