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Handicapping 101: High Winds
Tulane Stadium set the stage for Superbowl 4 on January 11, 1970, as the 12-2 Minnesota Vikings looked to “Kapper” their season with a rout of the Chiefs. But high winds and a tornado watch during the game would play their part in the outcome. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come, a pre-match ball run ended in disaster, as high winds forced the Vikings ball onto a collision course with the stadium. During the game, the Vikings also crashed and burned, as Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud battled against the winds and hit three FGs while Len Dawson, the Chiefs’ QB who was renowned for his accurate passing (and play ), tamed the elements by completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a TD. Vikings QB Joe Kapp wasn’t so used to the winds and couldn’t synchronize with the weather, throwing three INTs and never getting his team into the game.
It sounds like a simple statement, but in truth, the best weapon a team can have in windy conditions is a QB who can throw into the wind. Sometimes the answer is so simple that we tend to overthink it. Like playing in cold weather, playing effectively in the wind takes some practice. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that teams that play in high winds more often tend to do better on windy days. It is such a simple and obvious truth that I find it hard to believe that I have just included it in this writing, as if to tell you something that you did not already know, but in fact, sometimes we do not see not the forest for the trees.
The first thing we need to figure out is which stadiums, which teams and which quarterbacks are used to playing in the wind, and what kind of success they’ve had. To illustrate this, we’ve isolated the “windiest” games in the NFL – when the winds were blowing at a minimum of 13 miles per hour – which is 40 games. (Note that we are using the 1998 season as a guinea pig).
The windiest stadium in the NFL is Pro Player Stadium where the Miami Dolphins play. In fact, of just eight regular season games at Pro Player Stadium in 1998, seven of them had winds over 13 mph during the game. Of those seven games, Miami was 7-0, with a 6-1 ATS mark. In fact, their only loss to the ATS in a windy game was a six-point win over Buffalo as -7 favorites. In fact, throughout the season, Dan Marino completed 128 of 221 downwind passes, for 1,482 yards, 13 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. To put that into perspective, Dan Marino had a higher downwind completion percentage than Chris Chandler throughout the season, and Chandler played in a dome that year.
In fact, Dan Marino has better numbers in the wind than he does playing without the wind, having a higher completion percentage with less INT and more TD. Despite all the accolades bestowed on Dan Marino, perhaps his greatest strength has been overlooked. Dan Marino is the best QB in the game to throw into the wind, and nowhere is that a bigger asset than at Pro Player Stadium. The chart below shows the windiest stadiums in the NFL, ranked by the number of games played there during the regular season with winds clocking in at 13 mph or greater, along with the home team, home teams win directly and the ATS record in these games winds. (Research compiled by Brian Gabrielle using 1998 NFL season)
Venue Home Team NO.
Professional Player Stadium Miami Dolphins 7 7-0 6-1
Soldier Field Chicago Bears 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
Philadelphia Eagles Veterans Stadium 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 power play for home teams who have the advantage of playing in windy venues. Regardless of the home team’s status as underdogs or favourites, they simply win and cover far more often than not. The more a club plays under those conditions, the better that club generally performs under those conditions. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and perhaps the best windy team in all of football isn’t listed above at all, like 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 and Kansas City on the road in the wind. Another notable on the road is the Buffalo Bills who, in addition to a stellar 3-1 home record in the wind, also went a perfect 2-0 ATS record on the road in the wind . Tampa Bay was another team that excelled in windy games, going 2-1 on the road in both SU and ATS in 1998.
In the case of the Jets, it is important to note that they share the same field as the Giants, which is a location that is listed above. So while they may not have endured windy home games in 1998, it’s safe to assume they encountered a good deal of wind during practice throughout the year and facilities. Jets practice at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
So while it is logical to assume that teams used to playing in the wind do better in the wind, it must also be true that teams not used to playing in the wind struggle poorly in this environment. Our research suggests that this is absolutely correct. You see, teams that call home a domed stadium only got 1-8 when playing in winds of 13 mph or more. In fact, in those nine games, teams in the dome that were on the road to an outdoor stadium and playing in winds of 13 mph or more had an ATS mark of 0-8-1. These 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 puts a team at a disadvantage, as much as it gives an advantage to teams that are used to playing in a windy stadium.
The QB leading every Wind Blessed team is as important, if not more important, than the location, and a quick look at the top Wind teams and the men who led them can give us a better understanding of this Len Dawson. precise point-like precision it takes to land a QB in a windy environment. Below is a chart of the 10 quarterbacks who took the most shots in the wind in 1998 and how they fared;
Team QB GP SU ATS comp att yds TD’S INT %
Miami Marin 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 those listed above. Guys like Steve Young, who on November 30, 1998, on Monday Night Football, led his team to a 31-7 total demolition of the New York Giants in 55-degree temperatures, downpours and 20 mph winds . So don’t consider the absence or presence of a QB as some type of conclusion about a certain QB’s abilities or inabilities. The chart above lists the QBs who have the most experience playing upwind just for comparison. Some things that come to mind when I go through the list of winds above are:
Erik Kramer is a terrific QB wind that really suited the Chicago Bears. As bad as the Bears are, Kramer was 3-0 ATS and 2-1 SU, completing 65% of his passes when the wind was blowing, as is often the case at Soldier Field. When Kramer was out, the Bears’ QB tandem of Stenstrom & Moreno were 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 downwind on the road to fierce competition with wins over Buffalo, New England @ Kansas City. The Jets outscored opponents 61-41 in those three games and Testeverde was nearly perfect, throwing six touchdowns with just one INT and a 63% completion rate.
Rich Gannon led the Chiefs to a howling 4-0 mark, 3-1 ATS, completed 64% of his passes, threw four TDs 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 down the wind, completing less than 48% of his passes, and threw four INTs. In the 2 wind starts of Grbac, the Chiefs were destroyed 60-27.
Brett Farvre was the most proficient passer in the wind, completing 67% of his passes and going 2-0. Is there anything he’s not the best at?
Rodney Peete showed some mastery of the elements, guiding Philadelphia to a respectable 1-1 record in the wind, 2-0 ATS.
Trent Green, was started by the Redskins, but did pretty well. In five starts with the wind also bothering him, Green went 3-2 in both SU and ATS. It’s a talent that may have been buried under the Dome of Saint-Louis where the 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 the wind generally favors home teams, does that hold up in high winds of 20 mph or more? Well, our research would indicate that it is. There were seven games that were played in winds of 20 mph or more. The home sides have dominated, winning and covering five of those seven games, but for those who have read this far it should come as no surprise that the two times the visiting team have won in the wind it was the New The York Jets did the damage both times. The Jets beat Buffalo 17-10 in a hotly contested game where the Bills were walking down the field for the tying TD with minutes left in the game when the Jets got a freebie call, as replays show a Jets INT clearly jumped off the turf, but the Jets received the football and the game was pretty much over.
Now, there’s no suggestion that Buffalo would have actually tied it or won the game, but the Jets were 3-point underdogs anyway, so don’t take anything away from New York. Besides the Jets’ two wins, the other five games combined saw the teams on the road scrambling, never scoring more than 16 points. In fact, in the five games combined, the visiting teams scored a total of 52 points, an average of 10.5 points per game. Unsurprisingly, UNDER THE TOTAL was once again prevalent in these extreme cases of Mother Nature, as five of the seven matches went Under the Total.
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