As coach John Harbaugh finally turned his attention toward home after three straight games on the road, he realized something. Yes, the Ravens will finally be back in M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in October — but they’re hosting a resurgent Detroit team that has inspired its fans to travel widely.
“I know the Lions have been traveling really well. I think they’ve been filling up stadiums — so I’m hopeful they don’t fill up our stadium,” Harbaugh quipped.
Harbaugh followed by saying he knows Ravens fans will be loud and enthusiastic and that the players will be excited to be back in front of them, but there was more truth to his joke than Harbaugh knew.
After Detroit steamrolled the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, beating them 20-6, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he feels like they haven’t played a game on the road yet. As someone who worked for the Dallas Cowboys, Campbell knows about big fan bases, but he said he hasn’t seen anything like how the Lions fans are traveling this year.
According to Campbell, fans are a big reason the team is off to its first 3-0 start on the road since 2011. They Lions have dropped only one game, a 37-31 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks at home, and are 5-1 this season, their best start in over a decade.
Maybe there’s truth to Campbell’s assertion, or maybe it’s just a coach saying nice things about the fans who pay to watch his team. What the numbers tell us, though, is that home-field advantage for NFL teams has been less advantageous in recent seasons.
The dip started pre-pandemic. The 52% win rate at home in 2019 was the lowest since 1972. In 2021, it dropped to 51%, and while it jumped to 56.7% in 2022, it is back down this year. Home teams are 46-44, a 51.1% win rate.
The trend has been significant enough that Vegas oddsmakers now award just 1.5 points in the home team’s favor as opposed to three. Harbaugh thought it was still three and was surprised to hear it had halved.
“Oh, that’s what it is now, 1.5?” he responded.
It’s not something coach or players have felt. To Harbaugh, it still feels like the Ravens do well at home.
He’s right that they’re still winning more than 50% of their home games. The difference is exposed in tough matchups.
For the first 12 years of Harbaugh’s tenure, the Ravens defended their fortress well, no matter the opponent. They were 20-18 at home against teams with winning records.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Ravens have gone 16-11 at home but 5-10 against teams with winning records.
Perhaps it’s not about what the home team and the home fans are doing but about how well visiting teams are preparing for hostile environments.
Ravens offensive lineman John Simpson said teams have improved their road-game routines since he reached the NFL in the 2020 season. Players take curfews more seriously and use technology to track their sleep. He wouldn’t pinpoint one specific cause for the trend, though.
So, should Ravens players expect to see more blue shirts than expected this weekend?
It’s impossible to tell who’s buying the tickets, but they’re certainly going fast. As of Wednesday evening, TicketSmarter had just 565 tickets left compared to the normal 4,000-6,000 it saw available before the Ravens’ other home games this season, a representative said. One month ago, the cheapest ticket was $84 and the average price was $281. The cheapest is now $126, and the average is $304.
It could be that local Lions fans are excited to have their team back in the area for the first time since 2017, or that Lions fans farther afield want to see a different city. Or maybe Ravens fans are interested in seeing a different team, not the same old Browns, Bengals and Steelers who visit all the time.
Or maybe Ravens fans, Lions fans and general football fans alike are just curious to see what a really, really good Lions team looks like. Because it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this.