Does Playing in a Dome Give the Home Team a Distinct Advantage?

As the NFL regular season is set to begin some teams already bring some expectations. For some, they won’t have to battle the second half of the season weather challenges (see Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears) as they’re protected under a dome. They may consider themselves lucky but does playing in this type of environment gave them an advantage or disadvantage?

Recently this question had been posed regarding whether or not the Saints could win the Super Bowl this year (they sit with 18/1 odds). This has been asked independently of they’ve done it once so why not again?

There was once a time that many believed dome teams competed on a different level than those who played in the outdoors, challenged by the elements. A number of questions could be asked including do their win-loss records differ? How do they fare in the postseason?

Recently Reddit took a look at this dilemma beginning with 1968–the year that the Houston Oilers started and played in a dome. It also included teams that played one game outside of their home stadium (i.e. the Buffalo Bills who play a home game in Toronto’s Rogers Centre with its retractable roof).

First, here’s your dome teams for this study:

  •  Atlanta Falcons (1992-2012)
  •  Detroit Lions (1975-2012)
  •  Houston Oilers (1968-1996)
  •  Indianapolis Colts (1984-2007)
  •  Minnesota Vikings (1982-2012)
  •  New Orleans Saints2 (1975-2012)
  •  Saint Louis Rams (1995-2012)
  •  Seattle Seahawks3 (1976-1999)

And those with retractable roofs:

  •  Arizona Cardinals (2006-2012)
  •  Dallas Cowboys (2009-2012)
  •  Houston Texans (2002-2012)
  •  Indianapolis Colts (2008-2012)

And now here’s where the analysis begins.

Overall Records

Since the beginning of the 1968 season, there have been 1305 team-seasons with 249 (19%) of them played by teams whose home games either took place in a dome stadium or a retractable-roof dome.

For the regular season, outdoor teams went 8183-7925-113 (.508) versus dome/RR teams at 1821-2079-7 (.467).

Advantage: Outdoor teams

Does a dome equal an improved home field advantage?

  • Outside teams: 4694-3356-57 (.583)
  • Dome/RR teams: 1065-888-3 (.545)

Advantage: Outdoor teams

How do teams fare on the road?

  • Outside teams: 3489-4569-56 (.433)
  • Dome/RR teams: 756-1191-4 (.388)

Advantage: A larger difference but again the outside team

What about the playoffs?

Does being a dome team make a difference come playoff time?

For now the answer may be trending toward yes since outdoor teams appear to be winning the battle. As noted by Reddit, dome teams have played in less playoff games. From 872 opportunities to play in one, dome teams have participated in 136; this is 15%, lower than the 19% of team-seasons.

  • Outdoor teams: 380-356 (.516)
  • Dome/RR teams: 56-80 (.412)

Advantage: Again, outdoor teams

What about a home game in the playoffs?

  • Outdoor teams: 228-110 (.675)
  • Dome/RR teams: 36-18 (.667)

Advantage: A slim nod to outdoor teams

Does it make a difference playing on the road for playoffs?

  • Outdoor teams are 152-246 (.382)
  • Dome/RR teams are 20-62 (.244)

Advantage: Outdoor teams by a larger discrepancy

And the now the big question: What about Super Bowls?

Historically, it’s been unlikely for dome teams to make the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. This comes to seven appearances from a possible 90 (8%) and they have gone gone 3-4 (3-2 dome teams, 0-2 retractible roof teams). Here’s more minutiae: Only two times have dome teams played in Super Bowls at a dome stadium. For these two instances, it was the Rams and they went 1-1.

What did we learn? 

It appears that dome teams are disadvantaged; they don’t play well outdoors. For the competitive dome teams such as the Saints and its NFC South foe, the Falcons, they not only try to first get to the playoffs but also attempt to secure a home field advantage to help their “disadvantage.”




Debbie Baratz

Deb has been writing about the NFL and NCAA football for the last few years. She is a full-time writer and an avid sports fan. Follow her on twitter @ldbar.

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