Which NFL stadiums are the best and worst to kick in?

I was watching my Washington Redskins take on the St. Louis Rams three years ago, and while the 'Skins eventually took themselves completely out of the game, they were surprisingly hanging on for a while. This was all due to the terrible kicking performance by Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein, who managed to miss two of three field goals and one of two extra points. After witnessing such a poor kicking performance, and thinking back to other kickers who have struggled at FedEx Field, I started to wonder whether kicking on the spray-painted sand that Dan Snyder calls grass was a sizable disadvantage in this kicking game.

There are other stadiums or features that are often thought to be helpful or harmful to kickers. People think that domes are better for kicking and that kicking on grass rather than turf is harmful. People also believe that kicking in the thin air of Denver is the best kicking advantage in the league and that kicking in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland are tough tasks to take on. But what do the numbers say?

For this analysis, I looked at each kick over the last three seasons, comparing the number of field goals made for a stadium to what its expected number would be if there was no effect. To do this I looked at kickers' performances and compared their accuracy at a given stadium to their career average over the same three year period.

For example: in one game, Matt Bryant of the Atlanta Falcons made 4/6 kicks at home. His average over three seasons was 86.8%, so we would expect him to make 5.2 field goals, creating a difference of -1.206 for this kicker and this particular stadium for this particular game. This difference was summed for all the games of all the kickers in a stadium and then controlled for the total number of field goals attempted.

The worst field's in the league were:

  1. Oakland Raiders

  2. Green Bay Packers

  3. Houston Texans

  4. Arizona Cardinals

  5. Chicago Bears

  6. Washington Redskins

  7. Baltimore Ravens

  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers


The best fields in the league were:

  1. Atlanta Falcons

  2. Seattle Seahawks

  3. New York Giants

  4. Carolina Panthers

  5. New Orleans Saints

  6. Denver Broncos

  7. San Francisco 49ers

  8. Tennessee Titans

So do we see any patterns? The answer is kinda-sort-of-but-not-really. In the group of worst fields in the league, we do see fields like Washington and Chicago, but are missing other fields such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Maybe a field like Oakland, which is dirt for a good portion of the season, makes sense, or maybe a field like Green Bay that is often cold and icy makes sense as well.


However, if bad weather is an issue, then why are is Seattle's field so high on the good field list? We do see Denver on the list as well several dome stadiums like Atlanta and New Orleans, but other domes such as Detroit and St. Louis are missing. So again I ask, are there any real patterns?

The answer is probably no. There are probably some factors affecting this analysis. Although the sample size is pretty good, there could be underlying variables coming into play. Maybe teams with better defenses force teams to kick from longer distances and thus the difficulty of the attempt is harder. Also, let's look at the Giants and Jets, who play in the same stadium. When treated separately the Giants are the 3rd best Jets are the 14th best. This may be random luck, but regardless, it is certainly odd. Lastly, someone has to come in first and last. These are rankings, which means that someone wins and someone loses. It'll be interesting to see how these rankings stand up after the 2015 season. Maybe then, we can draw some firm conclusions, but for now, we still have just theories. Still, for the time being at least, I can take some solace in every kick the Redskins miss at at home.

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