The Factors will be my third weekly column and will be focused on the conditions surrounding games, such as weather, rest, and travel. This week, I’ll start by looking at the impact of playing in domes. Since Atlanta replaced their home venue from the last quarter century, the Georgia Dome, with another indoor facility, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the league held steady this offseason with eight domed home arenas. The similarly branded Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans has been around since 1975, while the rest have all been built in the 2000s.
It’s no secret that having a home in a domed stadium is a big boost for passing production, but I was surprised to learn how that manifested itself. I ran a series of weighted average calculations to compare passing and rushing attempts for teams at home and on the road both in domed stadiums and outside. No matter the combination, teams saw a subtle increase in their passing attempts when they went on the road and a slightly bigger decrease in their rushing attempts when they went on the road.
|When Home||Travels To||Pass Att Gained||Ru Att Gained|
I believe that uniformity points to game script driving the trend of changing passing and rushing attempts rather than the venue. When teams are on the road, they are less likely to win games, and when teams face lower win probabilities, they skew more heavily toward passing versus rushing.
But while the changes in passing and rushing attempts are similar for every combination, the average total of attempts is very different for teams whose home stadiums are domed versus those who play outside. The former teams average about 37-38 pass attempts per contest, and the latter teams average more like 33-34 pass attempts per game. Correspondingly, the former teams average between 25-26 rush attempts per game, and the latter teams average 27-28 rush attempts per game.
I take that to mean that, like in baseball, football GMs construct their teams with their home venues in mind. If a team plays its home games in a dome, then it’s more likely to have a passing-focused offensive roster. If not, then it’ll rely more heavily on the run game. Then, once a team’s roster is in place, it will play true to itself whether it plays at home, on the road in a dome, or on the road outside.
All of that is not to say that domes have negligible impact on a weekly basis. Far from it. Because while teams may not change their stripes when they hit the road, they do see significant changes in their effectiveness depending on the venue.
|When Home||Travels To||Yards / Pass Gained||TD / Pass Gained|
Outdoor teams are able to maintain their standard production when they travel to a dome, passing for the same yards per attempt and seeing a minor 0.002 decrease in touchdowns per attempt. However, outdoor teams who travel to other outdoor stadiums, and dome teams that travel anywhere see substantial decreases in their yards and touchdowns per attempt on the road. A loss of 0.5 yards per attempt may seem minor, but multiplied by an average 36 pass attempts in a game adds up to 18 yards. Couple that with a loss of about a quarter of a touchdown, and that’s a total loss of 1.6 standard fantasy points, or nearly 10 percent of the projected fantasy production of the most productive quarterbacks.
|When Home||Travels To||Yards / Run Gained||TD / Run Gained|
Running backs have the most to fear when they travel outdoors. Whether or not they play their home games in a dome, they see their yards per attempt and touchdowns per attempt decrease by 0.1 and 0.006, respectively. That creates a loss of about 3.7 fantasy points per game, which is split among all of a team’s backs.
No quarterback who threw a pass in eight or more games last season changed teams this offseason (other than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who isn’t exactly relevant in 2017), so there are no wholesale changes to expect in terms of dome and outdoor game totals for passers. However, there are a few players who will see significant schedule-related changes in venue frequency.
|Change in Venue Frequency, QB, 2016 to 2017|
Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford can expect the biggest change in their frequency of dome games in 2017 if they stay healthy all season. Roethlisberger missed a pair of home games in 2016, Week 7 versus the Patriots with a knee injury and Week 17 versus the Browns due to a clinched playoff seed. So he should add a pair of outdoor home games this season. More compelling is his addition of two road dome games, which will come in Weeks 8 and 10 at the Lions and at the Colts on either side of the team’s Week 9 bye.
Philip Rivers changes home cities this season but remains outdoors, so he should not see a difference at home. On the road is another story as he trades three road dome games — at the Colts, at the Falcons, and at the Texans — for just one — at the Cowboys — this season.
Stafford will drop three road dome games. Last season, he traveled to a dome in Week 1 versus the Colts, in Week 8 versus the Texans, in Week 13 versus the Saints, and in Week 16 versus the Cowboys. He averaged 370 passing yards in those contests, 100 more than he did for the season in full. He’ll have that benefit just once this season, in Week 6 at the Saints.
Tom Brady gains three of his four additional games at home outside since three of his four suspension games in 2016 were home games. His lone road dome game comes this week at the Saints, but that is still one more dome game than he saw all of last season. The Patriots play the Raiders in Mexico City in Week 11, but the Raiders are considered the home team for that contest, and its venue, Estadio Azteca, is outdoors.
I’ve assumed that Andrew Luck will miss the first two games this season, which costs him one outdoor road game at the Rams in Week 1 and one indoor home game versus the Cardinals this week. That leaves with the same number of home dome games as he had last season since he missed the Week 12 game against the Steelers with a concussion. He does lose a dome road game because of the 2016 game in U.S. Bank Stadium versus the Vikings. He’ll also lose an indoor home game if he misses Week 3.
There are six quarterbacks playing in domes this week, but Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers are no-brainer starters every week and Jacoby Brissett/Scott Tolzien is a deepest-league-only option. That leaves Carson Palmer as the one venue-start recommendation for this week as he travels to Indianapolis.