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Oh where, oh where has my little homefield advantage gone?

Qwest-Clink-Lumen used to be a proper fortress. But now...

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still loud when the Seattle Seahawks are hosting a hated foe, on a roll, or really really need a stop on defense. But the hosts are not winning at Lumen Field like they did a decade or two ago in Qwest and at the CLink. As tempting as it is to blame the name change, surely something more meaningful is (ahem) loomin’ under the surface. Get it? Loomin’? Get it!?

The Seahawks’ recent uptick in home losses does send me wondering if their long-vaunted home field advantage has been neutered somewhat, and if so, in what specific ways? Or is that just a persistent myth, buttressed by confirmation bias, which a good look at the numbers will refute?

Not a myth: the HFA in Seattle definitely was game-changing way back when

Bill Barnwell of ESPN calculated some stuff in 2013. This was the good stuff, before it became less good stuff.

Five points of HFA. Miss those days. Also, feel free to notice the presence of all four NFC West teams in the top eight. Barnwell’s follow-up analysis after the 2016 season yielded an almost identical result, with Seattle on top again at +5.1 points.

This unmatched level of dominance supercharged a 34-6 run at home from 2012 through 2016, mainly blemished by the Cardinals in December, may their souls rot in the sixth circle of hell, amen. Oh, but then, the Seahawks’ home record since 2018 suffers a sad downgrade, all the way to a very pedestrian 25-16. Including a positively putrid 8-9 mark in the last two years. Since fans returned to the stands post-COVID precautions, the home crowd here has watched more defeats than victories, yikes.

Various recent analyses have therefore placed Seattle in the second division of homefields. Occasionally you’ll even see us near the bottom, like so:

Though NFL Team Rankings is a little kinder to the Seahawks than the 29th place Patton calculates, you hate to see them in 17th place, coupled with zero wins in 2022 against above average teams. Has our palace become just a place?

Methodology vs. Mythology

The point of this post isn’t to compare the last few Seahawks seasons to the LOB years. All that would demonstrate is that the roster’s current defensive talent is lower. Which, no duh, right? Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril aren’t on the 2023 team. And we do love Wagz, but realistically, today’s version of him is an entire decade older. The Quandre Diggs-Jamal Adams duo is a lot of things but it isn’t Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Tariq Woolen isn’t an All-Pro. (Yet.)

The point of this post is to see if the recent Seahawks have still played somewhat better at home; and if so, has that advantage approached the five-point boost they enjoyed back in the heyday of regular division crowns and conference titles? So we’ll examine seven stats for the 2018-2022 teams:

  • Home defensive EPA vs. road performance
  • Home point differential vs. road (same method as Barnwell)
  • Home sacks vs. road
  • Home defensive points per play vs. road
  • Home offensive points per play vs. road
  • Times opponents exceeded their annual scoring average in Seattle
  • Percent of season’s losses that came at home. In the end, a true home field advantage exists only if you ride it to home victories.

Therefore, six charts, six takeaways, and a final conclusion await. Might want another cup of [insert beverage] for the ramblin’ road ahead.

(Final note: I excluded both neutral site games, London in 2019 and Munich in 2022, as well as playoff games, in which the Seahawks went 1-3 on the road and 0-1 at home.)


Expected points added by the defense, home/road splits

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Home EPA / game 2.09 -8.18 -4.29 -6.17 -2.31
Road EPA / game -8.39 -0.11 -6.89 -5.35 -7.35
Difference / game 10.3 -8.07 2.6 -0.82 5.04
Any HFA? A lot The opposite Some Slight negative Some

In what will be come a theme, 2019 was a horrendous year for the defense at home. 2021 ends up basically a wash, and in the other three years of our sample, you do see the Seahawks outperform their road selves at home. EPA shows an overall small advantage to playing at home over the whole five-year period — it’s worth about 12 expected points every season on average. But it’s clear there is no consistent lasting advantage carrying over from season to season.

Verdict: Slight HFA exists.


Actual point differentials. Not theoretical points

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Home point diff. 55 -24 73 27 21
Road point diff. 2 31 15 2 -10
Home PD / game 6.9 -3 9.1 3.5 2.3
Road PD / game 0.3 3.9 1.9 0.3 1.4
Gap / 2 3.3 -3.4 3.6 1.6 1.9
So, HFA? yep oh god no yep a little some

It was stunning to be reminded that a) the 2021 team had a positive point differential, and b) that it was superior to the 2022 squad’s.

So here sit the Seahawks, better at home again in every year except an appalling 2019. Minus -24 at home means they were 55 points better on the road that season, or roughly a touchdown and extra point per game.

Definitely definitely gone are the salad days of five points a game Barnwell discovered using this same method. If you combine all five years you get 1.4 points’ worth of home field. Not even Vegas’ traditional three points. Blame 2019 again if you want, but it’s not like that year didn’t happen.

Verdict: Light HFA.


Sack-re’ Bleu (and action green)

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Avg. home sacks 3.1 1.5 2.9 1.8 3.2
Avg. road sacks 1.7 2 2.9 2.2 2.3
Any HFA? huge ugh no even steven small penalty plenty

Cutting to the chase, you’ve got 2.5 sacks every home game and 2.2 on the road overall. The low point? That cursed 2019 campaign, where the Seahawks averaged a paltry 1.5 sacks per home game.

There’s a boost in the pass rush at home, and it’s a relatively strong one too, ONCE YOU EXCLUDE 2019. Which may or may not be fair, of course, but it’s amazing how well sacks correlate to home wins. In seasons the Seahawks averaged above 2 sacks per game at home, they were 18-7. In seasons they averaged less, they ended up 7-9. (Jeff Fisher smiles from the USFL or XFL, or wherever.)

So far, I’m impressed at how well the home field advantage holds up on the stat sheet every year except that one.

Verdict: Slight HFA.


Points per play, sorted by unit & location

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Off. pts / play HOME . 443 . 386 . 452 . 448 . 353
Off. pts / plsy ROAD . 404 . 380 . 434 . 383 . 425
Difference . 039 . 006 . 018 . 065 minus . 072
Any HFA? Y N Y Y N
Def. Pts / play HOME . 366 . 473 . 315 . 323 . 302
Def. Pts / play ROAD . 360 . 317 . 364 . 289 . 446
Difference minus . 006 minus . 156 . 049 minus . 035 . 144
Any HFA? N N Y N Y

The offense plays better at home four out of five years, with a weird exception for 2022. Something to monitor.

The defense ends up with a home boost in two seasons (2020, 2022), a home penalty in two others (2019, 2021), and one season of even performance (2018). Nobody should be surprised to find out that the .473 number in 2019 was second worst in the entire NFL. Every snap, the opponent scored half a point.

(I said I wasn’t going to do this, but for reference, the 2013 Seahawks gave up under a quarter of a point per snap, .235, so by this metric they were twice as good as the 2019 debacle.)

Verdict: HFA exists for offense, not for defense.


How often visitors exceeded their scoring average in Seattle

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
times foes > their scoring avg 4 / 8 6 / 8 3 / 8 3 / 8 3 / 9
HFA working? nah not at all a little a little somewhat

OK, here is a lot more of the same, including that dip exactly when you guessed. It’s apparent that teams had little trouble matching their scoring average when traveling here. Roughly half the time they exceeded it, roughly half the time they fell short. But I’m going to massage a small narrative out of the data and cheat the tiniest amount, for effect. Take out the final three games of 2022, and you’ve got a 32-game stretch where exactly 16 times, the visitors outplayed their average.

Traveling to Seattle from September 2018 through December 2022? As often as not, you’ll play well. That’s not what fans want to be saying about their home field. Might as well be a neutral location at that point.

Part of the problem was an egregious series of home performances mid-sample, during which the Seahawks gave up 26 or more points 11 times in a row at the CLink. Yes, eleven straight times. They. Were. Not. Stopping. Anyone.

Verdict: No HFA.


Percent of total losses suffered at home

Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Performance 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Home losses 2 4 1 5 4
As % of season losses 40 80 25 50 57
So, HFA? some yet again :( yes but covid no no

As befits a team who allows opposing offenses to behave normally, the 2018-2022 Seahawks lost more games in Seattle (16) than on the road (15). I guess we should’ve foreseen the home “upset” to the Rams in the 2020 playoffs after all.

In fact, since 2018 the Seahawks are a .610 home team and .615 on the road.

Verdict: No HFA when fans are present.

Assorted parting thoughts and summaries

A mixed bag above, to be sure. One summary: In four of seven categories chosen, the Seahawks did benefit from playing at home, in three others they did not. Most telling of course is the fact that wins and losses are in the second group. Whatever statistical advantage they earned didn’t show up in the standings.

As a season ticket holder, I’m at almost every game and can report that noise isn’t appreciably different now than fifteen or five years ago. Not enough to swing results, in my opinion. Exciting games are exciting games; opposing fans aren’t a bigger percentage of the crowd; we still hate the division rivals with a righteous fire.

Second summation: “Slight advantage since 2018 overall, pulled down by an almost inexplicably bad series of home starts in 2019.”

How bad? The Seahawks led at halftime only once all year at home. They led going into the fourth quarter only once. That’s one way to go about splitting your home games, because no matter how much you preach the importance of finishing, you can only dig yourself out of a hole so many times.

Really nuts that on the morning of December 3, 2019, the Seahawks woke up 10-2, fresh off a huge MNF win. They had just prevailed in a Week 13 shootout with the Vikings, a thrilling 37-30 come-from behind home victory. They had the chance to be special. Three division losses later, the dream was all but over, waiting to officially die in the divisional round at Lambeau Field.

A little bit of home field advantage would’ve come in handy that season. Which brings up a bigger question, namely, have NFL teams in general lost any boost from playing in their own digs? As always, the answer is more complicated than one paragraph. Maybe it’ll take two and a set of bullet points.

In the last 20 years, home teams have won 56 percent or more of their games 16 times. That’s the usual order of things. But three out of those instances they’ve failed to do so came consecutively, in 2019 through 2021. Witness:

  • Pre-pandemic: .520
  • the COVID year: .504
  • and then again post-pandemic: .511, the second-worst performance ever.

Which would suggest a trend, until the league bounced right back in 2022 with a much more traditional-looking .556 home win percentage. Common theories of better offensive game plans to neutralize pass rush, more modern mental preparation, and even decreased fan fervor are all on hold now. Are we in an era of road teams learning how to neutralize the travel factor? Or has the pendulum swung back to home teams again? Which direction the next couple seasons lead us will be very instructive indeed — on a macro level for the NFL, and a maddening micro level for our Seahawks.