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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Finding home field advantage: kickoffs

Teams kickoff just over 5 times per game on average, once to start the game and 4 more after scores. No other play in football is more dynamic in terms of the average speed of players on the field, the force of collisions, and the range of likely outcomes (i.e., the standard deviation of play point impact).

With that in mind, kickoffs seem like a leading candidate for finding home field advantage. Good kick coverage and returns require a level of insanity brought on by emotion and adrenaline, and no other play consistently gets fans on their feet and loud in the first quarter.

Turning to the numbers, home teams are .728 yards closer to the opponent's end zone after kickoffs on average (70.727 to 71.4555). With an average of just over 5 kickoffs per team per game that works out to about 3.74 yards per game. Road teams are slightly more likely to turn the ball over on kickoffs and less likely to take a kick back for a touchdown.

All together, home teams are .0327 points better per kickoff on average and .175 points better per game. Adding that to the advantage in penalties (.16) and field goals (.12), we have accounted for .455 of the 3.15 point advantage of home teams.