The Bills cold advantage

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It’s supposed to be cold out Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit Buffalo. 

The expected high of 38 degrees isn’t cold for Buffalo in December, but anything below 40 degrees is the “Mendoza” line for what’s considered cold in the NFL. 

There is a noticeable effect. Over the last two decades, every team that plays in a dome except Houston is worse when they play a game with a temperature below 40 degrees. 

All those indoor teams have a worse win percentage in games below 40 degrees when compared to the same team’s win percentage for all regular season games since 1998. 

The three Florida teams are also worse in the cold. 

The difference is usually not very large. Most teams are less than three games worse. Some have relatively tiny sample sizes (The Falcons have played 7 cold weather games since 1998. The Saints have played 8).

All but the Texans lose more in the cold than elsewhere. The Bills do notice an advantage playing in the cold, especially safety Rafael Bush. He’s spent the last six seasons with dome teams in New Orleans and Detroit. 

“The handling of the ball is different. The game plan is a little bit different,” Bush said. “Real football is played in December. It can be difficult for teams that play inside all the time.” 

“You’d like to think them flying in here on a Saturday and seeing all the snow on the ground, how cold it is, might play some tricks with them,” Jordan Poyer said. 

Jordan Phillips played his first three seasons in Miami and understands the cold advantage from the other side. He says it “aches” to play in the cold, but the problems aren’t mostly physical. 

“It’s more of a mindset than anything because you have all the stuff now. The coats, the heaters, the heated benches,” Phillips said. “It’s just how you adapt and how quickly you can adapt to it.”

“It takes a little while to get warmed up and things sting a little more,” Eddie Yarbrough said. “Being a cold weather team, it’s an advantage.”

The Bills don’t get the opportunity to host a dome team in cold often. Sunday’s game against the Lions will be the 14th such game since 1979. The trend does hold: Buffalo is 9-4 over the last 40 years playing dome teams at home under 40 degrees. 

While most players don’t like playing cold weather games, the defensive players do seem to acclimate better because cold games tend to be less finesse and more fight. 

“Put your warm skin on. Put your long sleeves on and go out there and try to find a win because it’s going to be brutal,” Micah Hyde said. 

“People like to run the ball more. Kickoffs are not touchbacks more because it’s cold. The ball doesn’t travel as far. It’s a more physical brand of football,” Bush said. “It’s a tough man’s mentality. It’s a man’s game. I welcome playing in the cold.”

Outdoor teams have mixed results in cold weather games. The Steelers are the best team relative to their overall record the last 20 years at nearly six wins better in the cold. The Patriots are almost five games better.

The Jets began 2018 at 5.7 games worse under 40 degrees, which is the most total games below their expected cold wins rate. 

The formula used to calculate the difference is fairly straightforward: take a teams’s regular season winning percentage over the last 20 years and project it over the number of cold weather games played in that same span. 

If a team was exactly at .500 over the last 20 years (160-160) and played 20 cold weather games, that team would be expected to go 10-10 in the cold. If the actual cold weather record is 12-8, then the team is considered two games better. 

The Bills are the league’s most neutral team. Based on their overall winning percentage since 1998, Buffalo should have won 22.8 of their 52 cold weather games. The Bills are actually 23-29. 

The Pegulas recently announced an initiative to study whether the Bills should have a new stadium and keeping the building open air to retain that advantage is a factor.

Players News 8 talked with all said they would prefer an open air stadium, but not only for more wins and less losses. Eddie Yarbrough said he loves the possibility of a crazy weather game like the snow game against the Colts last year. 

“Those are the games you dream about playing in as a kid,” he said. 

Yarbrough won’t get to realize his dream again this Sunday, but his team should have an advantage the moment they walk outside. 

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