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The Home Field Advantage: Fact or Fiction?

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

Home field advantage in the NFL playoffs can make the difference between a team's glorious victory or bitter defeat. But just how much does playing at home impact the outcome of playoff games? With the roar of the crowd and familiarity with the stadium and weather, home field advantage gives teams a significant edge in the game. In this article, I will dive into the specific case of the Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills wildcard matchup at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo on Sunday.

On Sunday, Miami will face off against the Buffalo Bills, their division rivals, for the third time this season. In their first meeting at Hard Rock Stadium in Week 3, the Dolphins pulled off an impressive upset and won 21-19. In their snowy Week 15 showdown at Highmark Stadium, the Bills came away with the 32-29 victory. The Dolphins, who are accustomed to playing in the beautiful weather of Miami, will travel to the frigid Buffalo once again with their season on the line.

The Dolphins finished the season at a satisfactory 9-8, winning six games at home and barely scraping out three wins on the road, with each win being a one-score game. The Bills, on the other hand, finished the season at a dazzling 13-3, going 7-1 at home and 6-2 on the road. All of their losses, however, including their loss to the Dolphins, have been within a three point margin.

This article aims to analyze the performances of the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins in home and away games this season by comparing their offensive and defensive statistics. To do this, data was gathered and the averages were calculated for four different categories: points scored at home, points allowed at home, points scored on the road, and points allowed on the road.

Using these four values for each team, a radar graph was created to show how each of the statistics compared with each other. A radar graph is a graph that has a starting point in the middle, and tracks multiple values along the radii of the graph, mapping them in the appropriate place.

The Dolphins, through their nine road games, averaged a league worst 31 points allowed per game when playing on the road. On the contrary, they averaged below 16 points allowed per game when playing at home, the second highest in the league behind only the 49ers. Remarkably, however, the Dolphins on offense performed on average around three points better when playing an away game than they did when playing a home game. Note: PF is Points For, or points scored, and PA is Points Against, or points allowed.

The Dolphins’ defense has benefitted greatly from playing at home, but their offense has been able to produce slightly better when playing on the road. As proven by the many close games this season, however, even three points can be enough of a difference to win a game. Despite this, their average points allowed outweighs their average points scored, a dangerous sign for a team with their season on the line playing an away game.

The Bills managed to rank in the top five in the league for all four categories, and finished in the top two for points scored at home and points allowed on the road. Buffalo has averaged 32 points per game at home, the highest out of any playoff team, and has allowed 18 points per game in away games, tied with the 49ers for the highest among all playoff teams.

For both points scored and points allowed, the Bills fared better at home than on the road, but they have been a dominant force throughout the league all season. The Bills' superior nature as a team and their tendency to play better at home will certainly help them in their playoff run, where they will often have a home field advantage due to their high seeding.

So, does the home field advantage exist? Following the study of how the Bills and Dolphins perform at home and away, the game being played in Buffalo will give the Bills a significant competitive advantage. The Dolphins' defense has given up a league worst 31 points per game on the road, consistent with the Bills' average of 32 points at home. The Bills are likely to score early and often on Sunday, and their impressive track record at home will likely give them an edge in this game and beyond.

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