Handicapping 101: High Winds
Tulane Stadium set the stage for Superbowl 4 on January 11, 1970, as the 12-2 Minnesota Vikings looked to “Kapp” their season with a rout of the Chiefs. But high winds and a game time tornado watch would play its hand in the outcome. Perhaps an omen of things to come, a pre-game balloon race ended in disaster, as high winds forced the Vikings balloon on a collision course with the stadium. During the game, the Vikings crashed and burned in addition, as Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud battled the winds and nailed three FG’s while Len Dawson, the Chiefs’ QB who was renowned for his pin-point passes, (and his gambling), tamed the elements in completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a TD. Vikings QB Joe Kapp was not so accustomed to the winds, and could not get in sync with the weather, throwing three INT’s and never getting his team in the game.
It does seem a simple statement, but in truth, the best weapon a team can have in windy conditions is a QB who can throw in the wind. Sometimes the answer is so simple, we tend to over-think it. Like playing in cold weather, playing effectively in wind takes a certain amount of practice. We should not be surprised to find out that teams who play in high winds more often tend to do better on windy days. That is such a simple and self apparent truth, that I hardly believe I just included it in this writing, as if to tell you something you didn’t already know, but in fact, sometimes we do not see the forest for the trees.
The first thing we must determine is which stadiums, which teams, and which quarterbacks are accustomed to playing in the wind, and what kind of success they have had. To illustrate this, we have secluded the “windiest” games in the NFL — when winds were gusting a minimum 13 miles per hour — which number 40 games. (observe that we are using the 1998 season as our guinea pig).
The windiest stadium in the NFL is Pro Player Stadium where The Miami Dolphins play. In fact, out of just eight regular season games at Pro Player Stadium in 1998, seven of them registered wind speeds of over 13 mph during game time. Of those seven games, Miami was 7-0, with an ATS mark of 6-1. In fact, their only ATS loss during a windy game was a six-point win over Buffalo as -7 favorites. In fact, by the season, Dan Marino completed 128 of 221 passes in the wind, for 1,482 yards, 13 TD’s and just 7 INT’s. To put that in perspective, Dan Marino had a higher completion percentage in the wind than Chris Chandler had all season long, and Chandler played in a dome that year.
In fact, Dan Marino has better numbers in the wind than he does playing in no wind, having a higher completion percentage with fewer INT’s and more TD’s. For all the accolades heaped on Dan Marino, perhaps his greatest strength has been overlooked. Dan Marino is the best QB in the game throwing into the wind, and nowhere is that a bigger asset than at Pro Player Stadium. The below chart shows the windiest stadiums in the NFL, ranked by how many games were played there during the regular season with winds clocked at 13 mph or higher, along with the home team, the home teams straight up wins and ATS record in those wind games. (Research compiled by Brian Gabrielle using the 1998 NFL season)
Venue Home Team NO.
Pro Player Stadium Miami Dolphins 7 7-0 6-1
Soldier Field Chicago produces 5 2-3 4-1
Arrowhead Kansas City Chiefs 4 3-1 3-1
Ralph Wilson Stadium Buffalo Bills 4 3-1 3-1
Jack Kent Coke Washington Redskins 3 2-1 2-1
Foxborough NE Patriots 3 2-1 2-1
3 Rivers Stadium Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2-0 2-0
3 Comm Park SF 49ers 2 2-0 1-1
Veterans Stadium Philadelphia Eagles 2 1-1 2-0
Giants Stadium NY Giants 2 1-1 1-1
Synergy Field Cincinnati Bengals 2 0-2 0-2
Mile High Stadium Denver Bronco’s 1 1-0 1-0
Texas Stadium Dallas Cowboys 1 1-0 1-0
Sun Devil Stadium Arizona Cardinals 1 1-0 1-0
Alameda Coliseum Oakland Raiders 1 0-1 0-1
Total 40 29-11 28-12
As you can see, there is a fantastic numerical advantage to home teams who have the advantage of playing in windy venues. in spite of of the home team’s position as an underdog or a favorite, they simply win and cover way more often than not. The more a club plays in those conditions, the better that club generally performs in those conditions. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and perhaps the best wind team in all football is not in the above list at all, as Vinny Testeverde and the New York Jets, who were a perfect 3-0 SU and 3-0 ATS in wind games in 1998, and all three games came on the road to good wind teams, as the Jets beat Buffalo, New England & Kansas City on the road in the wind. Another road notable is the Buffalo Bills who in addition to a stellar 3-1 record at home in the wind, also went a perfect 2-0 ATS on the road in the wind. Tampa Bay was another team who excelled in windy games, going 2-1 on the road, both SU & ATS in 1998.
In the case of the Jets, it is important to observe that they proportion the same home field as the Giants, which is a venue that is on the above list. So, while they may not have endured any windy home games in 1998, it is reasonable to assume that they encountered a fair proportion of wind during practice throughout the year, and the Jets training facilities at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
So, if it is logical to assume teams accustomed to playing in the wind perform better in the wind, then it must also be true that teams who are not accustomed to playing in the wind, struggle badly in that ecosystem. Our research indicates that is exactly correct. You see, teams who make their home in a domed stadium went just 1-8 when playing in a wind of 13 mph or greater. In fact, in those nine games, dome teams who were on the road to an open air stadium and playing in winds of 13 mph or greater had an ATS mark of 0-8-1. Those games were;
Week 4 – Minnesota 31 @ Chicago 28 – Wind 14 mph
Week 10 – Indianapolis 14 @ Miami 27 – Wind 14 mph
Week 12 – Indianapolis 11 @ Buffalo 34 – Wind 17 mph
Week 5 – Detroit 27 @ Chicago 30 – Wind 17 mph
Week 13 – New Orleans 10 @ Miami 30 – Wind 13 mph
Week 4 – Seattle 10 @ Pittsburgh 13 – Wind 14 mph
Week 5 – Seattle 6 @ Kansas City 17 – Wind 14 mph
Week 12 – Seattle 22 @ Dallas 30 – Wind 15 mph
Week 7 – St. Louis 0 @ Miami 14 – Wind 15 mph
So, you see, not having the luxury of the experience of playing in a windy venue really does put a team at a disadvantage, as much as it gives teams an advantage who are used to playing in a windy stadium.
As important, or probably already more important than the venue is the QB at the helm of each wind-blessed team, and a quick run down of the top wind teams and the men who led them may give us a greater understanding of this Len Dawson pin-point kind accuracy that it takes to be a successful QB in a windy ecosystem. Below is a chart of the 10 Quarterbacks who took the most snaps in the wind in 1998, and how they fared;
Team QB GP SU ATS att comp yds TD’S INT %
Miami Marino 8 7-1 6-1 221 128 1482 13 7 58%
NY Jets Testeverde 3 3-0 3-0 89 56 738 6 1 63%
Chicago Kramer 3 2-1 3-0 106 69 880 4 3 65%
Buffalo Flutie 5 4-1 4-1 161 84 1175 8 7 52%
KC Gannon 4 4-0 3-1 84 54 674 4 1 64%
G. Bay Farvre 2 2-0 1-1 55 37 420 3 2 67%
Phil Peete 2 1-1 2-0 64 36 381 2 2 56%
T.Bay Dilfer 3 2-1 2-1 72 37 364 6 4 51%
N.Eng Bledsoe 5 2-3 1-3 174 88 1275 7 4 51%
Wash. Green 5 3-2 3-2 147 71 792 6 3 49%
Now, there are more quarterbacks not listed above than are listed above. Guys like Steve Young, who on November 30, 1998, on Monday Night Football, led his team to a total 31-7 demolition of the New York Giants in 55 degree temperature, a complete downpour and winds gusting to 20 mph. So, don’t take the absence or presence of any QB as any kind of conclusion about a certain QB’s abilities or inabilities. The above table lists the QB’s who had the most experience playing in the wind simply for the purposes of comparison. Some things that jump to mind when I peruse the above wind list, are:
Erik Kramer is a terrific wind QB who really suited the Chicago produces. As bad as the produces were, Kramer was 3-0 ATS and 2-1 SU, completing 65% of his passes when the wind was blowing, as it often is at Soldier Field. When Kramer was out, the produces’ QB tandem of Stenstrom & Moreno was 0-2 in the same situation.
Vinne Testeverde is the next best thing to Superman in the wind. He was an underdog every time, but he guided the Jets to a 3-0 mark in the wind, on the road to some stiff competition with wins over Buffalo, New England @ Kansas City. The Jets outscored its opponents 61-41 in those three games and Testeverde was near perfect, throwing for six TD’s with just one INT and a 63% completion rate.
high Gannon led the Chiefs to a 4-0 mark with the wind howling, 3-1 ATS, completed 64% of his passes, threw four TD’s and just one INT. Gannon’s tandem partner that year, Elvis Grbac is supposed to have the passing game between the two, but Grbac was 0-2 in the wind, completing less than 48% of his passes, and threw four INT’S. In Grbac’s 2 wind starts, the Chiefs were annihilated 60-27.
Brett Farvre was the most proficient passer in the wind, completing 67% of his passes and carrying a 2-0 record. Is there anything he is not the best at?
Rodney Peete showed a certain command of the elements, guiding Philadelphia to a respectable 1-1 record in the wind, 2-0 ATS.
Trent Green, was thrown in by for the Redskins, but handled himself pretty well. In five starts with the wind bothering him in addition, Green managed a 3-2 record both SU & ATS. That is a talent which may have been buried under the Dome in St. Louis where wind is not a factor.
So, our wind research probably raises as many questions as it answers. One of the questions, of course, is — if wind generally favors home teams, does that keep up up in harsh winds of 20 mph or higher? Well, our research would indicate that it does. There were seven games which were played in 20 mph winds or higher. Home teams did rule, winning and covering five of those seven games, but for those who have read this far, it should come as no surprise whatsoever, that on the two occasions when the visiting team did win in the wind, it was the New York Jets doing the damage both times. The Jets beat Buffalo 17-10 in a very controversial game where the Bills were marching down field for the tying TD with minutes to go in the game when the Jets received a gift call, as replays show a Jets INT clearly skipped off the turf, but the Jets were awarded the football and the game was virtually over.
Now, there is nothing to suggest that Buffalo indeed would have tied it up, or gone on to win the game, but the Jets were 3 point underdogs in any event, so, take nothing away from New York. Besides the two Jets wins, the other five games combined saw the road teams struggle badly, never scoring more than 16 points. In fact, in the combined five games, the visiting teams scored a total of 52 points, 10.5 ppg average. Not surprisingly, UNDER THE TOTAL was common again in these extreme situations of Mother character, as five of the seven games played out Under the Total.