Pushoff 2010: Myth and reality of the Dome

We’re going on a myth-busting crusade this week. On Monday, we addressed the fallacy of prioritizing run defense over pass defense when approaching Minnesota’s offense. Today, I want to take a look at the Vikings’ purported home-field advantage at the Metrodome for Sunday’s divisional playoff game against Dallas.

Because it is small, enclosed and, shall we say, wired for sound, the Metrodome’s reputation precedes itself. Some opponents walk into the building believing it will be loud and disruptive, a mental battle the Vikings win even before the opening kickoff.

The Vikings, for their part, were 8-0 at home this season and are 14-2 there in the past two seasons.

But some of us who sit in the Metrodome’s open-air press box have noted long stretches of relative silence from the crowd, depending on the Vikings’ most recent set of plays. It can also be jarring to hear the volume drop off when stadium operators turn off the sound effects. (NFL rules prohibit artificial noise after the play clock starts.) Finally, the Vikings, without question, squandered some of their pregame hysteria when they stopped introducing players individually to the crowd.

So how big of a hurdle will the Cowboys face Sunday? With the help of my friends throughout the statistical world, I poked through the numbers Tuesday. Here’s what we found: Since the Metrodome opened in 1982, the Vikings have the NFL’s third-best home record during the regular season. In the playoffs, however, it’s been about a 50-50 proposition.

In the chart below, supplied by Vikings public relations guru Jeff Anderson, you see the Vikings have won about two-thirds of the 221 regular-season games at the Metrodome.

Most teams play better at home than on the road, but the Vikings have one of the more lopsided ratios in this regard over the past two decades. I reached out to NFC North friend Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders on this issue.

Bill looked at the 15-season period between 1994-2008 and determined the Vikings had an average point differential of 8.45 between home games and those on the road. In the Vikings’ case, they averaged 5.29 points more than their opponents during home games over that period. They had a losing record on the road over the same stretch, scoring an average of 3.16 points less per game than opponents.

According to Football Outsiders, the differential ranked No. 3 in the NFL:

St. Louis: 8.66

Kansas City: 8.49

Minnesota: 8.45

Arizona: 8.24

Denver: 8.19

Not unexpectedly, the postseason is a different story. Opponents are more skilled and battle-tested. The Cowboys, for example, advanced to the playoffs in part because they soundly defeated New Orleans at the Superdome last month.

The Vikings have lost four of their past seven home playoff games, dating back to 1992. Overall, their playoff record is 6-5 at the Metrodome. In other words, they’re about a .500 team since the stadium opened 27 years ago.

So what does all this mean? As usual, it puts us somewhere in the middle. We can’t minimize the impact of playing in the Metrodome over an extended period of time. And we can note that the Cowboys have two players -- offensive tackle Flozell Adams and tight end Jason Witten -- who have combined for 12 false start penalties this season. That would make them exceptionally susceptible to crowd noise.

But I also think we should be careful not to overestimate the value of this dynamic, especially in the postseason. Opponents are usually better equipped to handle such obstacles if they advance to the second round of the playoffs. This game will be won on the field, not in the stands.