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West Coast bias and the Seahawks success in primetime

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson to Aaron Rodgers: “Pack your stuff up, go back to Wisconsin and eat some fried cheese curds, Central Timer.”
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Friday I looked at the success the Seattle Seahawks have had over the last eight and a half seasons in primetime, as the team sports the best winning percentage in the entire NFL in games played under the lights during that period of time. That of course led to one commenter asking what many were certainly asking in their head: Why?

Is there some magic sauce that allows the team to excel in primetime? Is it Pete’s motivational abilities? Are they vampires that have greater powers once the sun goes down? Odds are it’s nothing more complex than the time zone in which the Seahawks play their home games.

Seahawks fans have no issue holding a disdain for road games that start at 10 AM on the West Coast, so would it be that big of a stretch to imagine that late games might favor teams from out west? Well, let’s take a look at how NFL teams have fared in all their games, not just in primetime, over the same period of time that we looked at on Friday. So, here’s the primetime winning percentage and the overall winning percentage for every team.

Primetime and overall wining percentage for NFL teams since 2010

Rk Tm W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall
Rk Tm W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall
1 SEA 0.783 0.612
2 NWE 0.775 0.775
3 NOR 0.656 0.599
4 BAL 0.655 0.569
5 PIT 0.65 0.668
6 DEN 0.595 0.577
7 ATL 0.593 0.577
8 PHI 0.571 0.533
9 GNB 0.561 0.638
10 KAN 0.556 0.587
11 ARI 0.525 0.507
12 CHI 0.515 0.453
13 DAL 0.5 0.526
14 TEN 0.5 0.409
15 SFO 0.484 0.475
16 OAK 0.474 0.387
17 JAX 0.444 0.314
18 SDG / LAC 0.423 0.489
19 CAR 0.421 0.529
20 NYG 0.419 0.46
21 IND 0.419 0.504
22 NYJ 0.379 0.458
23 CLE 0.375 0.236
24 STL / LAR 0.357 0.438
25 MIN 0.346 0.504
26 HOU 0.333 0.489
27 DET 0.316 0.482
28 WAS 0.308 0.427
29 TAM 0.308 0.365
30 BUF 0.3 0.42
31 CIN 0.261 0.547
32 MIA 0.25 0.457

Now, that’s most certainly a whole lot of information to try and digest, so let’s break it down a little. If it’s true that teams that play further west, specifically in the Pacific Time Zone, have an advantage in primetime games, then there should be a noticeable opposite effect of teams that play in time zones further east. In particular, what we’d expect to see is that the teams that play in the Eastern Time Zone would be most likely to underperform relative to their overall record in primetime, with teams in the Central time zone showing less of an underperformance. Well, let’s break that table down by time zone, and we’ll start with teams that play their home games in the Eastern Time Zone.

Eastern Time Zone teams in primetime versus overall winning percentage

Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
NWE 0.775 0.79 -0.015
BAL 0.655 0.569 0.086
PIT 0.65 0.668 -0.018
ATL 0.593 0.577 0.016
PHI 0.571 0.533 0.038
JAX 0.444 0.314 0.13
CAR 0.421 0.529 -0.108
NYG 0.419 0.46 -0.041
IND 0.419 0.504 -0.085
NYJ 0.379 0.458 -0.079
DET 0.316 0.482 -0.166
WAS 0.308 0.427 -0.119
TAM 0.308 0.365 -0.057
BUF 0.3 0.42 -0.12
CIN 0.261 0.547 -0.286
MIA 0.25 0.457 -0.207

What we see there is that twelve of sixteen, or three quarters, of the teams that play their home games in the Eastern Time zone underperform in primetime relative to their overall record. Moving on to the Central Time zone, we’d expect to see a smaller effect, so let’s look at the nine teams that play there.

Central Time Zone teams in primetime versus their overall winning percentage

Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
NOR 0.656 0.599 0.057
GNB 0.561 0.638 -0.077
KAN 0.556 0.587 -0.031
CHI 0.515 0.453 0.062
DAL 0.5 0.526 -0.026
TEN 0.5 0.409 0.091
CLE 0.375 0.236 0.139
MIN 0.346 0.504 -0.158
HOU 0.333 0.489 -0.156

Here we see that five of nine teams that play in the Central Time Zone underperform relative to their overall winning percentage. That’s certainly what we would expect, so let’s keep moving on to the Mountain Time Zone.

The Denver Broncos are the only team that play all of their home games in the Mountain Time Zone. However, the Arizona Cardinals, who play in a state that doesn’t observe daylight savings time, play roughly half their home games while on Mountain Time and half on Pacific Time, so I’ve included them in this spreadsheet so the Broncos aren’t so lonely.

Mountain (and Arizona) Time zone teams in primetime versus overall winning percentage

Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
DEN 0.595 0.577 0.018
ARI 0.525 0.507 0.018

Both of those two teams perform better in primetime than one would expect them to do based on their overall record, so the trend is certainly holding. Thus, it becomes time to move on to the Pacific Time Zone.

Pacific Time Zone teams in primetime versus overall winning percentage

Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
Team W-L% Primetime W-L% Overall Difference
SEA 0.783 0.612 0.171
SFO 0.484 0.475 0.009
OAK 0.474 0.387 0.087
SDG / LAC 0.423 0.489 -0.066
STL / LAR 0.357 0.438 -0.081

Now, here the hypothesis runs into a bit of a hiccup, with two of the five teams that play their homes games not conforming to the pattern. However, one of those two teams also happened to play the first six seasons of the sample period in the central time zone. So, what happens if we remove the 2010 through 2015 seasons from the calculations for the then St. Louis, but now Los Angeles Rams?

Well, since moving back to L.A. in 2016, the Rams overall winning percentage is .571, while in primetime it is .600, which would hold with the hypothesis. However, the sample size in which they have accumulated that .600 winning percentage is a whopping total of five games heading into the Monday Night matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Thus, this is the very definition of a small sample size, and may or may not be indicative of an overall trend.

So, while it is far from definitive based on this extremely high level and crude analysis, there certainly seems to be some evidence to the fact that teams from a more westerly time zone may have an advantage when playing a primetime game relative to their eastern brethren. There may or may not be actual fire here, but there is at least enough smoke to dig a little bit deeper and see what we can figure out.

Hopefully there is indeed something to this, as the Hawks have two games remaining in primetime - the Week 14 showdown with the Minnesota Vikings that is likely to carry huge playoff ramifications and the Week 16 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Both the Vikings and the Chiefs play in the Central Time Zone, so hopefully there’s something to this, and it helps the Seahawks make their way into the playoffs in what many thought would be a rebuilding year.