Does home-field advantage really matter? Does momentum actually exist?
Does icing the kicker work?
These are just a few of the questions raised by “Football Freakonomics,” a new video series featured on www.NFL.com. “Football Freakonomics,” a spin-off of the wildly successful book “Freakonomics,” follows the same route to success as the novel, challenging conventional wisdom and turning it on its head.
In “Freakonomics,” an array of unassuming topics were analyzed, and unconventional answers were drawn from data. For example, the unprecedented drop in crime rate during the 1990s is usually attributed to innovative police strategies, increases in imprisonment rates or a strong economy. “Freakonomics,” however, controversially theorizes that the crime drop was largely due to the legalization of abortion 20 years early, and backs this hypothesis with mounds of data.
“Football Freakonomics” applies the same enthusiasm to busting football myths.
Take for example, the habit of “icing” the kicker. The practice, which involves calling a timeout just before the opposing team kicks a field goal, is now widespread across the NFL. The tactic was popularized by coach Mike Shanahan in 2007, and has since become part of nearly every coach’s game plan.
The logic behind icing the kicker comes from the mental aspect of football. By stopping the play, the opposing coach is forcing the kicker to think, to realize the gravity of the situation, to realize that the pressure is on. By overthinking the play, a kicker can literally psych himself out, which will disrupt his kicking fundamentals.
But does icing the kicker actually work?
According to the data, it doesn’t. After running the numbers, it was determined that kickers make an average of 76 percent of field goals, whether they are iced or not. In essence, icing the kicker is equivalent to wasting a timeout.
So why do coaches do it then? Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics” and host of “Football Freakonomics,” theorizes that the most likely reason is job security.
“They are doing it because if they don’t ice the kicker, and the guy makes the kick, the first question they are going to be asked in the media room after the game, ‘Well why didn’t you ice the kicker?’” said Chris Russo, a sports talk show host on SiriusXM radio.
So if icing the kicker is only a myth, are other football principles false as well?
How about home-field advantage?
Researchers have split home-field advantage into four distinct categories: crowd effects, travel effects, territoriality and official bias.
Travel is perhaps the most influential of all factors.
“Since 2007, West Coast teams are 6-30 when forced to play on the East Coast at a 1 p.m. eastern starting time,” said Aaron Schatz, creator of the website www.Footballoutsiders.com. “Now, obviously some of this is because the West Coast teams have simply not been very good over the last couple of years. But clearly there is some kind of effect where teams from the west are tired having to play at 10 a.m. their own time.”
Their conclusion? Home-field advantage does indeed influence performance. However, it’s a much smaller effect than most people think.
“Home-field advantage shows up strongest in the first quarter, fades over the course of the game, and by the fourth quarter, is pretty much gone,” Dubner said.
As for momentum?
“I would be willing to say the following,” said Tobias Moskowitz, professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “There’s much stronger belief in momentum than is warranted by what we see in the data. There’s much stronger belief in momentum than is warranted by what we see in the data.”
Moskowitz, along with co-author L. Jon Wertheim, published the book “Scorecasting in 2011,” offering a unique analysis of conventional sports wisdom.
Does player controversy off the field affect performance? How much do injuries impact a team’s success? Does firing the head coach actually fix anything?
All of these topics are discussed in “Football Freakonomics.” If you truly want to learn more about the hidden side of football, check out the series online.