In a recent post I theorized that the sudden importance of run defense in the playoffs might be due to cold weather. This post will continue that line of analysis and look at the effect of cold weather on scoring.
The past weekend's conference championship games were played in frigid weather. It seemed that expert after expert remarked that cold weather would keep the scoring down. Certainly it makes sense to anyone who's played sports in extremely cold weather. It definitely makes it harder to throw, catch, and even kick. But it's just as cold for defenses as for offenses. So does cold weather really keep NFL scores lower?
Here are the average home and visitor scores for various circumstances. The first column is for all regular season games in the 2002-2006 seasons (n=1280), and the second column is for those games played in cold climates (n=114), as defined here. Since many playoff games are played in cold weather, the third column is for all playoff games (n=50+5). (Super Bowl scores are not included because there is no home advantage.)
The second table looks at scores from the same sets of games differently. The average scores of the winning and losing teams are listed. (Super Bowl scores are included as playoff games here.)
Cold weather doesn't appear to have a large effect on scoring. It seems to slightly enhance the spread between winner and loser by depressing the score of the loser. This is likely due to the "dome at cold" effect discussed in previous posts.
Playoff scores are generally higher, both in terms of winner and loser, and for the home and visiting teams.
It doesn't appear that cold weather reduces scoring.
I can understand where the perception might come from. Because dome teams are at a disadvantage playing outdoors in cold weather, it follows that they would score less. Many competitive dome teams in recent years have been ones with fast-scoring offenses. The Vikings, Rams, and Colts of recent memories all featured very strong offenses. When these teams were competitive late in the season (and when people were paying attention to them), they would be expected to score less when playing outdoors. But this effect on dome teams would be limited to these specific circumstances and not affect teams in general.
When the Giants played in Green Bay or the Chargers played in Foxboro yesterday, we should not have expected low scores due to the cold temps. Although the frigid sub-zero temperatures yesterday were extreme, even for Green Bay standards, the point is that the weather affects both offense and defense.