In the NFL one of the primary feats of the regular season is to not only make the playoffs, but secure a home game in the process. Home field is considered an advantage in every sport, from crowd noise to known conditions.
This year however, it has become dome-field advantage. Seven of this year’s ten playoff games have been played within the confines of indoor stadiums. Within those games, the home team has come away victorious every single time. Beyond just winning games, the home teams within those dome games have won by double digit margins in five of the seven matches.
This is not to say home itself is a bar-none advantage. To provide a yin to the dome-centric yang, there have been three outdoor games played. The New York Jets against Cincinnati to lead the playoffs, as well as the Baltimore Ravens against the New England Patriots on that same wildcard weekend. Finishing the outdoor matches, New York once again played on the road in an outdoor stadium against the San Diego Chargers.
The combined record of home teams with outdoor stadiums—0-3. They were much closer on average than indoor games, with an average difference of 10.6 points separating winner from loser. The average point spread within the seven covered stadiums—17.3. The difference is nearly a full touchdown.
Now that the teams have been whittled down to a lone pair meeting in the Super Bowl, an irony comes to pass. Dolphins Stadium in Miami, site of the upcoming Super Bowl, is outdoors. How the two indoor teams react to the less controlled (albeit locationally tempered) environment could become a factor in the outcome.
With neither team playing "at home" the notion of road teams winning outdoor matches is guaranteed to hold true in the finale. Whether it translates to an advantage over the favored team for a fourth time remains to be seen. If trends hold true, it could grant the New Orleans Saints a win in the team’s first trip to the NFL’s championship game.
Regardless of the outcome, one thing is sure. With many owners clamoring for new stadiums, the number asking for those to be enclosed is sure to rise in the coming years.