Cowboys, Chiefs now among NFL teams gaining most from playing with fans

On Wednesday, we noted that the Kansas City Chiefs were among four NFL teams that intend to play their 2020 games with at least some fans in their stadiums.

Since then, the Indianapolis Colts have announced that they will play their home games with Lucas Oil Stadium capped at 25% of its capacity — joining the Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. All of these teams (except the Cowboys) will play with fans occupying 25% (or less) of their stadium seating; the Cowboys have said only they will be at less than 50% capacity.

Three other teams have not yet made a final announcement about how their home seasons will begin: the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. The Arizona Cardinals were also among these teams, but announced on Friday they will begin their season without fans.

We told you on Wednesday than none of the other AFC West’s teams will start the season with fans, which will give the Chiefs an advantage in their division games. But what about the rest of the league?

As it turns out, all of the teams that will begin the season with fans — again, except the Cowboys — are in the AFC. Assuming that things stay as they are, here’s how homefield advantage shakes out across the league’s schedule of games:

Div Team Home Away Diff
NFCE Cowboys 8 0 8
AFCE Dolphins 8 1 7
AFCS Colts 8 1 7
AFCS Jaguars 8 1 7
AFCW Chiefs 8 1 7
NFCS Buccaneers 0 0 0
NFCS Saints 0 0 0
NFCE Washington 0 1 -1
AFCE Bills 0 1 -1
AFCN Ravens 0 1 -1
AFCW Broncos 0 1 -1
AFCW Raiders 0 1 -1
NFCE Eagles 0 1 -1
NFCE Giants 0 1 -1
NFCN Bears 0 1 -1
NFCN Lions 0 1 -1
NFCN Packers 0 1 -1
NFCN Vikings 0 1 -1
NFCS Panthers 0 1 -1
NFCW 49ers 0 1 -1
NFCW Cardinals 0 1 -1
NFCW Rams 0 1 -1
NFCW Seahawks 0 1 -1
AFCE Patriots 0 2 -2
AFCN Bengals 0 2 -2
AFCN Browns 0 2 -2
AFCN Steelers 0 2 -2
AFCS Titans 0 2 -2
AFCW Chargers 0 2 -2
NFCS Falcons 0 2 -2
AFCE Jets 0 3 -3
AFCS Texans 0 3 -3

The last column — by which the table is sorted — is the number of home games with fans, minus the number of away games with fans. This gives us a measure of how much relative advantage each team will receive from the circumstances of this unique season.

Of course, the teams playing their home games with fans are at the lop of the list; each will play eight games with something at least resembling homefield advantage. The Cowboys occupy the top spot not only because no other NFC teams are planning to play with fans, but also because none of their AFC opponents are, either.

But this could all change quickly. Just to give an easy example… suppose that in the next few days, the Browns, Buccaneers and Panthers all announce they will begin their seasons with fans? Then it looks like this:

Div Team Home Away Diff
NFCE Cowboys 8 0 8
AFCE Dolphins 8 1 7
AFCS Jaguars 8 1 7
NFCS Buccaneers 8 1 7
AFCS Colts 8 2 6
AFCW Chiefs 8 2 6
NFCS Panthers 8 2 6
AFCN Browns 8 2 6
AFCE Bills 0 1 -1
NFCE Giants 0 1 -1
NFCW 49ers 0 1 -1
NFCW Seahawks 0 1 -1
NFCS Saints 0 2 -2
NFCE Washington 0 2 -2
AFCN Ravens 0 2 -2
AFCW Broncos 0 2 -2
NFCE Eagles 0 2 -2
NFCN Bears 0 2 -2
NFCN Lions 0 2 -2
NFCN Packers 0 2 -2
NFCN Vikings 0 2 -2
NFCW Cardinals 0 2 -2
NFCW Rams 0 2 -2
AFCE Patriots 0 2 -2
AFCS Titans 0 2 -2
AFCW Raiders 0 3 -3
AFCN Bengals 0 3 -3
AFCN Steelers 0 3 -3
AFCW Chargers 0 3 -3
AFCE Jets 0 3 -3
NFCS Falcons 0 4 -4
AFCS Texans 0 4 -4

But that’s not the only way the situation could change. Teams that begin the season with fans could be forced to empty their stadiums before their home schedules end. We know that other teams are hoping to start allowing fans sometime after the season begins; on Wednesday, Chiefs president Mark Donovan said he was aware of “six to 10 [teams that] are contemplating it after Week 2 or 3.”

So the potential perturbations of a 256-game NFL schedule probably number in the millions; it’s impossible to predict how the season will play out — or for that matter, whether a quarter-filled stadium adds much advantage to the home team.

But for the moment, the Chiefs are in a position to derive whatever advantage that might exist. It’s something we’ll continue to monitor — and update — as the most bizarre season in NFL history gets underway.

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