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Competitive Climates in the NFL

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With today’s release of the official Super Bowl XLIV video and the beginning of the free agency period last Friday, the 2009 NFL season has come to a conclusion.  The news reports now are focused on which players will be wearing new uniforms in the coming year and how teams will be adjusting to the uncapped salary year.

Before we move on completely, however, it is important to note one particular side-story that has been overlooked from Super Bowl XLIV: this year’s Super Bowl  championship game was the first such match-up between two teams who play their home games in a dome or retractable-roof stadium.

However, in the NFL it isn’t as simple as teams that play indoors versus teams that play outdoors.  After all, of the four major American sporting leagues, only the NFL hosts outdoor games regardless of temperature or weather conditions and only the NFL hosts outdoor games during the fall and winter months.  The NFL has teams all over the country representing different climates, and temperatures change drastically from September to February.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLVIII (48), which will be played in 2014, the question of NFL climates has particular importance.  At this time, there are three bids to serve as host city for the game: the new Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida, and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida.  Obviously, one of these cities is not like the others: a championship game played at Meadowlands Stadium would be the first Super Bowl ever played outdoors in a city referred to as a “cold-weather city” for the NFL.  This is a tricky situation because Meadowlands Stadium is currently considered a front-runner to host the game; Sun Life Stadium just hosted Super Bowl XLIV, Raymond James Stadium hosted last year’s Super Bowl XLIII, and Meadowlands Stadium will be the newest facility of the three, opening for play this fall.  But many people involved in the NFL are not high on the idea of the Super Bowl being played in the harsh winter environment.

This research originally began as an evaluation of whether or not indoor teams in the NFL had an unfair advantage over their outdoors competitors, but through actually doing the research it became clear that climate—and obviously the quality of team personnel—plays a significant role in team success as well.

The first piece of this research involved defining the home-team environments of all 32 NFL franchises.  Using an admittedly-small sample size of each team’s 2009 schedule, I calculated the average game temperature of each team’s home games.  The average temperatures ranged from 79.25°F (Miami Dolphins) to 40.38°F (Cleveland Browns), for a high-low differential of 38.87°F and an average overall game temperature of 60.15°F.  With a spread of nearly 40°F, it was easy enough to decide how the groups would be divided into groups based on their climates.

 Group #1: Hot-Weather Teams – Average Game Temperature of 70°F or Higher

8 NFL Teams (25% of League) – 2 AFC, 6 NFC

  • Miami Dolphins – 79.25° F
  • San Diego Chargers – 73.63° F
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 71.75° F (including one game at Wembley Stadium, London, England)
  • Minnesota Vikings – 70° F (climate-controlled dome)
  • Atlanta Falcons – 70° F (climate-controlled dome)
  • New Orleans Saints – 70° F (climate-controlled dome)
  • Detroit Lions – 70° F (climate-controlled dome)
  • St. Louis Rams – 70° F (climate-controlled dome)

Group #2: Warm-Weather Teams – Average Game Temperature Between 60°F and 69°F

7 NFL Teams (22% of League) – 4 AFC, 3 NFC

  • Dallas Cowboys – 69.88° F (retractable-roof stadium)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars – 69.88° F
  • Arizona Cardinals – 68.50° F (retractable-roof stadium)
  • Houston Texans – 68.13° F (retractable-roof stadium)
  • Indianapolis Colts – 66.00° F (retractable-roof stadium)
  • Oakland Raiders – 62.00° F
  • San Francisco 49ers – 60.63° F

 Group #3: Cool-Weather Teams – Average Game Temperature Between 50°F and 59°F

11 NFL Teams (34% of League) – 6 AFC, 5 NFC

  • Carolina Panthers – 57.25° F
  • Philadelphia Eagles – 56.63° F
  • Cincinnati Bengals – 56.38° F
  • New York Giants – 56.38° F
  • Baltimore Ravens – 56.25° F
  • New England Patriots – 55.00° F
  • Tennessee Titans – 54.50° F
  • Washington Redskins – 53.50° F
  • Seattle Seahawks – 53.38° F
  • Denver Broncos – 52.88° F
  • Kansas City Chiefs – 50.25° F

 Group #4: Cold-Weather Teams – Average Game Temperature Between 40°F and 49°F

6 NFL Teams (19% of League) – 4 AFC, 2 NFC

  • New York Jets – 49.63° F
  • Chicago Bears – 49.50° F
  • Buffalo Bills – 49.13° F (including one game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
  • Green Bay Packers – 47.13° F
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – 47.00° F
  • Cleveland Browns – 40.38° F

Conveniently enough, Groups #1 and #2 comprise 15 NFL teams and Groups #3 and #4 comprise 17 NFL teams—making for a near-even split.  All 9 teams that could be classified as “indoor” teams—playing either in a dome or retractable-roof stadium—fit into either Group #1 or #2.

With the NFL franchises divided along these climate lines, the next task was to analyze the performance of teams over a set period of time.  Since I’ve been doing the majority of my research with the last decade of play—2000 through 2009—I decided to use that same sample.

The first numbers I wanted to look at concerned the teams that made the Super Bowl and had home-field advantage in the playoffs.  From 2000-2009, the teams that made the Super Bowl came from the following distribution of the 4 groups:

  • Group #1 – Hot-Weather: 2 Wins in 3 Appearances (Rams 2001, Bucs 2002, Saints 2009)
  • Group #2 – Warm-Weather: 1 Win in 4 Appearances (Raiders 2002, Colts 2006, Cardinals 2008, Colts 2009)
  • Group #3 – Cool-Weather: 5 Wins in 10 Appearances (Ravens/Giants 2000, Patriots 2001, Patriots/Panthers 2003, Patriots/Eagles 2004, Patriots/Giants 2007)
  • Group #4 – Cold-Weather: 2 Wins in 3 Appearances (Steelers 2005, Bears 2006, Steelers 2008)

From this early stage, the numbers were surprising: although Group #3 comprises the highest number of teams by this climate alignment, they had far-and-away the most Super Bowl appearances over the 2000’s.  Over half of the Super Bowl teams from the 2000’s had 50°-59°F game temperatures, and half of the Super Bowl winners came from Group #3 (although on 4 occasions, Group #3 teams were playing each other).

The next set of numbers concerned the home field for the AFC Championship Game and NFC Championship Game over the past decade:

  • Group #1 – Hot-Weather: 2 Wins in 2 Appearances (Rams 2001, Saints 2009)
  • Group #2 – Warm-Weather: 4 Wins in 5 Appearances (Raiders 2000, Raiders 2002, Colts 2006, Cardinals 2008, Colts 2009)
  • Group #3 – Cool-Weather: 5 Wins in 8 Appearances (Giants 2000, Eagles 2002, Patriots 2003, Eagles 2003, Eagles 2004, Broncos 2005, Seahawks 2005, Patriots 2007)
  • Group #4 – Cold-Weather: 2 Wins in 5 Appearances (Steelers 2001, Steelers 2004, Bears 2006, Packers 2007, Steelers 2008)

Similar numbers here, although Group #2 and Group #4 teams had more appearances as the home-field team for the Conference Championship Games.

The last playoff-related numbers I considered were the #1 and #2 seeds from 2000-2009 from the AFC and NFC:

  • Group #1 – Hot-Weather: 10 (3 as #1 Seed, 7 as #2 Seed)
  • Group #2 – Warm-Weather: 6 (4 as #1 Seed, 2 as #2 Seed)
  • Group #3 – Cool-Weather: 17 (10 as #1 Seed, 7 as #2 Seed)
  • Group #4 – Cold-Weather: 7 (3 as #1 Seed, 4 as #2 Seed)

Again, the colder weather teams have more appearances as #1 and #2 seeds from 2000-2009 than the warmer weather teams.  These numbers come as a particular surprise to me, as it has been a constantly-held belief that teams playing indoors or in warmer climates have an advantage over the cold-weather, outdoor teams.  The success of the Indianapolis Colts in particular has been looked at as evidence of this advantage, but teams like the Patriots and Steelers won half of the Super Bowls in the 2000’s as cool and cold-weather teams.

Given these numbers, it is interesting that the Super Bowl is an event that has been solely the domain of domed or retractable-roof stadiums in warm climates.  The below-freezing temperatures of early NFL Championship games at Lambeau Field have been an integral part of the league’s history, but the Super Bowl era has denied the fans the creation of new memories in that cold-weather vein.  Nobody wants to see the Super Bowl decided by adverse weather conditions, so I can understand why the league tries to control the conditions of the game as much as possible, but with over half the league playing home games in sub-60°F temperatures it seems only fair that the Super Bowl move on to Meadowlands Stadium and other cold-weather venues.

Of course, the research didn’t stop there; I also went through the season-by-season statistics from the past decade to see which teams had the most home game victories from 2000-2009.  Before getting into specifics, here are the rankings of the teams based on their overall home victories by climate group:

  • Group #1 – Hot-Weather: 5th, T10th, 14th, 15th, T17th, T24th, T27th, 32nd (Average: 18th)
  • Group #2 – Warm-Weather: 2nd, 13th, 16th, T17th, T24th, 29th, 30th (Average: 19th)
  • Group #3 – Cool-Weather: 1st, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th, T10th, T17th, T17th, 22nd, 23rd, T24th (Average: 13th)
  • Group #4 – Cold-Weather: 4th, 7th, T10th, T17th, T27th, 31st (Average: 16th)

Again, the colder-weather teams had better results; from the top 10 teams (which featured a 3-way tie at 10th) the numbers were split as follows:

  • Group #1 – Hot-Weather: 2 teams (5th and T10th)
  • Group #2 – Warm-Weather: 1 team (2nd)
  • Group #3 – Cool-Weather: 6 teams (1st, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th, T10th)
  • Group #4 – Cold-Weather: 3 teams (4th, 7th, T10th)

Through this research, one thing emerges clearly; despite the seemingly rational belief that teams playing in warm-weather climates or in climate-controlled indoor stadiums would have better home records, teams that play outdoors in colder climates are amongst the most successful home teams in the NFL.

Now that all of the analysis is out of the way, I leave you with the breakdown of team results based on home-field wins from 2000-2009:

  • 1st: New England Patriots – 61 Regular Season Home Wins (.763 %)
  • 2nd: Indianapolis Colts – 60 Regular Season Home Wins (.750 %)
  • 3rd: Baltimore Ravens – 58 Regular Season Home Wins (.725 %)
  • 4th: Pittsburgh Steelers – 57 Regular Season Home Wins (.713 %)
  • 5th: Minnesota Vikings – 55 Regular Season Home Wins (.688 %)
  • 6th: Denver Broncos – 54 Regular Season Home Wins (.675 %)
  • 7th: Green Bay Packers – 53 Regular Season Home Wins (.663 %)
  • 8th: Philadelphia Eagles – 52 Regular Season Home Wins (.650 %)
  • 9th: Seattle Seahawks – 51 Regular Season Home Wins (.638 %)
  • T 10th: San Diego Chargers – 49 Regular Season Home Wins (.613 %)
  • T 10th: Tennessee Titans – 49 Regular Season Home Wins (.613 %)
  • T 10th: Chicago Bears – 49 Regular Season Home Wins (.613 %)
  • 13th: Dallas Cowboys – 48 Regular Season Home Wins (.600 %)
  • 14th: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 46 Regular Season Home Wins (.575 %)
  • 15th: Miami Dolphins – 45 Regular Season Home Wins (.563 %)
  • 16th: Jacksonville Jaguars – 44 Regular Season Home Wins (.550 %)
  • T 17th: Atlanta Falcons – 43 Regular Season Home Wins (.538 %)
  • T 17th: New York Jets – 43 Regular Season Home Wins (.538 %)
  • T 17th: Kansas City Chiefs – 43 Regular Season Home Wins (.538 %)
  • T 17th: New York Giants – 43 Regular Season Home Wins (.538 %)
  • T 17th: San Francisco 49ers – 43 Regular Season Home Wins (.538 %)
  • 22nd: Carolina Panthers – 42 Regular Season Home Wins (.525 %)
  • 23rd: Cincinnati Bengals – 41 Regular Season Home Wins (.513 %)
  • T 24th: Arizona Cardinals – 40 Regular Season Home Wins (.500 %)
  • T 24th: Washington Redskins – 40 Regular Season Home Wins (.500 %)
  • T 24th: St. Louis Rams – 40 Regular Season Home Wins (.500 %)
  • T 27th: Buffalo Bills – 38 Regular Season Home Wins (.475 %)
  • T 27th: New Orleans Saints – 38 Regular Season Home Wins (.475 %)
  • 29th: Houston Texans – 30 Regular Season Home Wins in 8 Seasons (.469 %)
  • 30th: Oakland Raiders – 35 Regular Season Home Wins (.438 %)
  • 31st: Cleveland Browns – 31 Regular Season Home Wins (.388 %)
  • 32nd: Detroit Lions – 29 Regular Season Home Wins (.363 %)

Breakdown between AFC and NFC teams by conference here:

American Football Conference

  • 1st: New England Patriots
  • 2nd: Indianapolis Colts
  • 3rd: Baltimore Ravens
  • 4th: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 5th: Denver Broncos
  • 6th: San Diego Chargers
  • 7th: Tennessee Titans
  • 8th: Miami Dolphins
  • 9th: Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 10th: New York Jets
  • 11th: Kansas City Chiefs
  • 12th: Cincinnati Bengals
  • 13th: Buffalo Bills
  • 14th: Houston Texans
  • 15th: Oakland Raiders
  • 16th: Cleveland Browns

 Interesting to note that out of two AFC teams playing indoors, one was 2nd for the conference and the other was 14th, while cool- or cold-weather teams made up 4 of the Top 5.

National Football Conference

  • 1st: Minnesota Vikings
  • 2nd: Green Bay Packers
  • 3rd: Philadelphia Eagles
  • 4th: Seattle Seahawks
  • 5th: Chicago Bears
  • 6th: Dallas Cowboys
  • 7th: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 8th: Atlanta Falcons
  • 9th: New York Giants
  • 10th: San Francisco 49ers
  • 11th: Carolina Panthers
  • 12th: Arizona Cardinals
  • 13th: Washington Redskins
  • 14th: St. Louis Rams
  • 15th: New Orleans Saints
  • 16th: Detroit Lions

While the top NFC team was an indoor team, only two additional indoor teams (of the 7 total for the NFC) broke the top half of the conference.  The bottom three teams in the conference all play in domed environments.

And for one last tidbit of information, a list of teams with seasons of 8-0 home records over the past decade:

  • New England Patriots – 4 occurrences (2003, 2004, 2007, 2009)
  • Seattle Seahawks – 2 occurrences (2003, 2005)
  • Indianapolis Colts – 1 occurrence (2006)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – 1 occurrence (2004)
  • Minnesota Vikings – 1 occurrence (2009)
  • Denver Broncos – 1 occurrence (2005)
  • Green Bay Packers – 1 occurrence (2002)
  • San Diego Chargers – 1 occurrence (2006)
  • Kansas City Chiefs – 1 occurrence (2003)
  • Carolina Panthers – 1 occurrence (2008)
  • St. Louis Rams – 1 occurrence (2003)

As well as how those occurrences break down by the climate groups:

  • Hot-Weather Teams: 3 (Vikings, Chargers, Rams)
  • Warm-Weather Teams: 1 (Colts)
  • Cool-Weather Teams: 5 (Patriots, Seahawks, Broncos, Chiefs, Panthers)
  • Cold-Weather Teams: 2 (Steelers, Packers)

Though the numbers seem fairly straight-forward, I am interested in any reader opinions; do you agree that cooler-weather teams have an advantage in the NFL?  Are the poor results of indoor teams merely the result of the majority of those franchises having fewer quality players?  Do you think the NFL should consider holding the Super Bowl in cold-weather venues, or should it continue to be a climate-controlled contest?

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Written by Brian Parker

March 9, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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