New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t care about homefield advantage. He’d line his players up in the parking lot and beat the other team if that’s what the league required. Just last season, Belichick scoffed at the benefits of homefield advantage in the playoffs by saying, “I don't know. Go ask Dallas and Kansas City.”
Both the Cowboys and the Chiefs lost in the divisional round despite having homefield advantage. When pressed about the value of fans at the stadium, Belichick continued, “Yeah, of course, but the game is won by the players on the field. That's who wins football games - the players.”
But just how important is homefield advantage- if at all? Las Vegas oddsmakers give the home team roughly 3-points of an advantage, while point differentials suggest a 2.5-point edge at home.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell looked at the past year of data, as well as the historical data, to see which teams have the best homefield advantage, and the Patriots have been pretty average at Gillette Stadium over the past decade.
Barnwell looked at team’s point differential on the road versus at home to generate the average homefield advantage for each team. He looked at the past decade of data and then looked at each team as they’ve performed in their latest stadium.
The Patriots have enjoyed a roughly league-average 2.8 points of homefield advantage over the past decade, implying they perform, on average, 5.6 points per game better at home than on the road. That’s not a surprise when Tom Brady enjoyed a 64-6 regular season record at home over the past decade, versus a 49-22 record while on the road.
Curiously, Brady’s production is negligibly different while at home or on the road (103.7 passer rating at home, 101.2 while on the road). It’s actually been the rushing game (4.28 yards per carry at home versus 3.96 YPC on the road) that’s hurt the offense, dropping from 31.2 points per game at home to 29.2 PPG on the road. The defense drops from 17.7 points allowed per game at home to 20.7 PAPG on the road.
This suggests a 2.5-point homefield advantage, so I’m not exactly sure where Barnwell’s figures come from (it doesn’t include playoffs, which drops the Patriots HFA to 2.4 points). Still, the Patriots rank 14th in the league in homefield advantage, which is fine.
But Barnwell also looked at the homefield advantages of teams based upon their stadiums and the Patriots drop down to 26th place with a homefield advantage of 1.9 points. This implies that the Patriots homefield advantage from 2002-06 was atrocious if it cuts the team from 2.8 to 1.9.
The numbers support that. The Patriots point differential was actually better on the road during that time than at Gillette Stadium, and the team’s homefield advantage was worth -0.06 points per game.
Barnwell questions if fans provide less of an advantage in new stadiums, which generally result in increased ticket prices and a different group of supporters. While Barnwell concludes that there isn’t a concrete relationship between new stadiums and homefield advantage, I compared the homefield advantage to each team’s market value as calculated by Forbes.
There’s a small relationship between expensive teams and weaker homefield advantage.
I’m curious to see if the Atlanta Falcons intentional decision to make the game day experience more affordable will work out and spark a change in the industry. Perhaps that will lead to more teams following the same model, allowing for a different range of fans to attend the game.
Of course, ticket prices don’t appear to have an impact on homefield advantage, either, so there might be no change at all.
I’d be curious to see the connection of homefield advantage and stadium construction. It seems like the best stadiums are either bowl-shaped or enclosed to retain noise, while Gillette Stadium allows the noise to escape out the open ends. Still, domes and bowls can be homes to weak teams; it might just come down to the culture created by the fanbase.
I wonder if Robert Kraft would ever try to close the open end of Gillette Stadium to add more seats, with a side effect of enhancing the noise retention. It would be interesting to see if there were a difference.
But this is all a hypothetical discussion. The Patriots will play where they play, homefield advantage or not.