Is the Analytics Revolution Coming to Football?

In the New Republic, Nate Cohn explores the small but growing role of advanced statistics in football. Projects like Football Freakonomics notwithstanding, the NFL isn't usually thought of as a realm where stats hold all that much sway, in part because the game is so much more of a complex-dynamic system than, say, baseball. Here's Cohn on one big change fans might notice if more coaches start relying on statistics:

The one place where fans could see analytics at work is in play calling, which also happens to be the place where analytics could impact the average fan’s experience of the game. The numbers suggest, for instance, that teams should be aggressive on fourth down, and that it’s better to go for first down with a lead in a game’s final minutes than to run the ball on third down to run out the clock. Yet even the teams with well-regarded analytics departments, including San Francisco and Baltimore, largely adhere to a conservative and traditional play calling approach: the coaches “just aren’t listening to them yet,” [Brian] Burke says. And the few coaches with a reputation for following the statistics, like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, aren’t even close to as aggressive as the numbers would advise.  

"Football Freakonomics": How Advantageous Is Home-Field Advantage? And Why?

The following is a cross-post from NFL.com, where we’ve recently launched a Football Freakonomics Project.

Do home teams really have an advantage?

Absolutely. In their book Scorecasting, Toby Moscowitz and Jon Wertheim helpfully compile the percentage of home games won by teams in all the major sports. Some data sets go back further than others (MLB figures are since 1903; NFL figures are “only” from 1966, and MLS since 2002), but they are all large enough to be conclusive:

League Home Games Won
MLB 53.9%
NHL 55.7%
NFL 57.3%
NBA 60.5%
MLS 69.1%

So it’s hard to argue against the home-field advantage. In fact my Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt once wrote an academic paper about the wisdom of betting (shh!) on home underdogs (more here).

But why does that advantage exist? There are a lot of theories to consider, including: “sleeping in your own bed” and “eating home cooking”, better familiarity with the home field/court, and crowd support.

N.F.L. Questions

For those of us who look forward to the N.F.L. season more than any other sport season, here are a few random questions perhaps worth pondering: 1. Now that players’ union head Gene Upshaw has died, is the N.F.L. inevitably headed toward a more contentious relationship between players and teams — and will fans suffer […]

How Clutch Was That?

Michael Lewis wrote a really good piece (almost all of his pieces are good, IMHO) in last week’s Play magazine about N.F.L. kickers and whether the great “clutch” kickers like Adam Vinatieri are actually much better than the average kicker. Lewis’s verdict: not really. It’s just that a few random kicks turn out to be […]