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Who benefits the most from the 17 game season?

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As part of the NFL’s 17-game format, the Seattle Seahawks — along with the rest of the NFC — will be playing 9 home games this year. The AFC had the honorary honors in 2021, but oh how the tables have turned. In spite of the fact that the Seahawks may have lost a bit of their ferocity at Lumen Field, this is still a prime position to be in for a team that is rebuilding its identity. While it is true that they will be making a trip to Germany, this counts as one of their “away” games, so they lucked out there, and will play all 9 of their Home games in Seattle. But just how lucky are they? Or, more precisely, how advantageous will this additional game be? The answer is a bit more complicated than it might seem superficially.

Looking back at the one and only year of data so far, the AFC performed better than their NFC counterparts and won 54.1% of their home games, going 78-65-1. The NFC actually posted a losing record of 62-66, good enough (bad enough?) for win percentage of 48.4%. Interestingly, these results were more or less flipped for the conferences in away games; the AFC didn’t fare well playing outside their home base(s) in 2021. Across the entire conference, only the New England Patriots put up more than 5 road wins, and the AFC at large finished with a 57-71 (44.5%) record. The NFC, on the other hand, put up a very respectable 74-69-1 road record (51.4%). This is even more impressive if we look at the data throughout the previous decade. Historically speaking, the home team is favored a bit more than half of the time. According to Today’s Top Totals:

Statistically speaking, home teams win 56.4% of NFL games.... In seasons spanning from 2010-2019, there have been 10 teams who have a 60% home win percentage or better (New England Patriots (87.0%), Green Bay Packers (76.8%), Seattle Seahawks (75.0%), Pittsburgh Steelers (70.2%), New Orleans Saints (68.7%), Baltimore Ravens (74.1%), Minnesota Vikings (64.6%), Denver Broncos (63.5%), Kansas City Chiefs (61.0%), Indianapolis Colts (61.0%)), while eight teams have failed to win at least 50% of their home games (LA Rams (49.4%), Tennessee Titans (48.7%), Oakland Raiders (48.6%), NY Giants (48.1%), Washington Redskins (41.2%), Jacksonville Jaguars (39.7%), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (39.0%), Cleveland Browns (37.7%).”

Of course, their data only covers up through 2019, so I went ahead and crunched the numbers from 2010 through 2021, as you can see in the table below.

Without delving into the specifics of what influences home/away game dynamics, prepare for a little bit of a digression; Based on the above data, we can make at least a few observations. Among these, that the NFC holds the overall advantage in regular season wins (coming in 22 ahead) and wins on the road (60 ahead of the AFC). In the latter of these scenarios, there is an imbalance of games to compare between the conferences; this is obviously because of the extra 16 total games in the 2021 season. However, the win% column clearly shows that the NFC holds a nearly 4% advantage on the road. And where do our Seattle Seahawks fall on these metrics? In a pretty good spot, unsurprisingly. They have generally outperformed the mean; they won nearly 62% of all of their games since 2010, and nearly 70% of their home games in that time span — one more win at home would put them over that threshold. For comparison, only four teams have been better in that time span.

  1. New England Patriots — 78 - 19 - 0 (80.41%)
  2. Green Bay Packers — 76 - 18 - 2 (80.21%)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers — 70 - 27 - 0 (72.16%)
  4. Baltimore Ravens — 69 - 27 - 1 (71.65%)
  5. Seattle Seahawks — 67- 29 - 0 (69.79%)

Getting back to 2021 specifically, each AFC team played 5 non-conference (NFC) opponents; of these, three were home games and two were away. In these games:

  • Eight of sixteen AFC teams put up a winning record (3 or more wins).
  • Only 7 put up winning records on the road against the NFC.
  • Only 4 posted winning road records within their own conference.
  • Conversely, 11 AFC teams put up winning records in their six home games.

Is it possible that the biggest benefit of the abbreviated road schedule is a resultant bump at home? Possibly, but the AFC has actually posted a better winning percentage at home historically than they did in ‘21 (56.57% from 2010-21 relative to 54.1% in 2021), though the difference was not statistically significant by my remedial statistical calculations. However, the NFC’s road win% — 51.4% — was at least a standard deviation above the mean for the NFL over the last twelve years. This could simply be an anomaly, but I still think it is noteworthy.

So what does this all mean? Not much, yet, because we simply don’t have enough data to work with. This article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the limitations of this research; with only one season to work with, the comparison between 2021 and the eleven seasons that preceded it isn’t exactly apples to oranges... but it also isn’t strictly apples to apples, either. Furthermore, I didn’t touch on things such as injuries, strength of schedule, or a plethora of other factors, which all deserve in-depth analysis as well. Essentially, these preliminary findings only point towards more research, but they do provide a couple narratives to monitor in the upcoming season, such as:

  1. Will the beneficiaries extra home game (the NFC, this season) continue to stay true to history and win this game more than half of the time? This may not seem like a huge deal, but consider the gravity of giving half of the league a matchup that they are generally expected to win, which obviously means giving the other half of the league an extra tilt that they are expected to lose. Seems like this might matter. A lot.
  2. Will the AFC mirror the NFC and outperform their historic win% on the road? Keeping in mind that the American Conference has traditionally struggled on the road in recent history, this will be interesting to follow up on in a year’s time.
  3. Conversely, will the NFC display a concurrent dip in their road records? They outperformed in 2021, how much of this was simply related to other factors though?
  4. Will the Seattle Seahawks use whatever little bit of leverage this 9th date at Lumen gives them and get back to being a dominant home team? Only time will tell. But I certainly hope so.

But that is all just my take. What do you think?

Unless otherwise specified, all data in this article was sourced from Pro Football Reference and StatHead.com