Tennessee Titans players and the stats agree that the team may have the NFL’s best home-field advantage in 2018.
On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans will face the Baltimore Ravens in their third home game of the year. Their first two games in Nashville this season, against the Texans and Eagles, respectively, were highly successful efforts.
Against Houston, the Titans managed to steal a victory with backup Blaine Gabbert at quarterback and an otherwise injury-riddled roster. Against Philadelphia, QB Marcus Mariota returned to his 2016 form, thanks in part to a breakout performance from receiver Corey Davis.
Despite two strong performances at Nissan Stadium to start the season, Vegas still does not buy the Titans at home. They will be three-point underdogs in Sunday’s game. That just does not make sense.
For over two years, the Titans have done more than consistently perform well in games played at their home stadium. Since Week 8 of the 2016 season, the Titans have the best winning percentage at home in the entire NFL.
In their last fourteen games at Nissan Stadium, the Titans are 12-2, and one of those losses came against last year’s superpowered Los Angeles Rams team.
The most impressive wins, to name a few, have been a defeat of the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos (2016), an utter dismantling of the Packers (also in 2016), and last year’s must-win Week 17 game against Jacksonville that propelled the Titans into the postseason.
Very loud and very happy scene as fans exit Nissan Stadium. pic.twitter.com/UwkTW72WON
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 16, 2018
Yet, the Titans organization is continuously ridiculed for having a poor home-field advantage. Titans fans are criticized for not showing up to games and allowing the fans of opponents to fill up the stadium. Nissan Stadium is criticized for not being a state-of-the-art facility.
Linebacker Derrick Morgan was quick to take responsibility for the frequently observed lack of attendance from Titans fans at the team’s home games. “That’s our fault,” he said. “If we’re not performing well, giving something the fans to look forward to, that’s on us. The better we do, the better our fans are going to look.”
The lack of attendance clearly does not phase the team, as seen in their marvelous record at home. Linebacker Brian Orakpo defended Titans fans when asked about the perceived lack of support, saying they do a “great job” on gamedays. “No matter how many fans are there, they do a great job. It’s a tough place to play now. They come loud, ready to block out all the noise and give us some good celebrations.”
Titans players may feel that fans provide them with a home-field advantage on game days, but there is a reason that Nissan Stadium is not in the same conversation as Seattle’s CenturyLink Field or Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.
There are, however, three major factors unrelated to attendance that have aided the Titans in their immense success at home.
First, comfort level is an underrated aspect of the home-field experience for every team, and the Titans are no exception. There is something to be said about being able to sleep in the town that you live in before a game, drive your own car to the stadium, and not having to spend 3-6 hours stuffed into an airplane before and after the game.
Safety Kevin Byard says that there definitely is a difference in being able to drive across town to Nissan Stadium versus having to fly somewhere days in advance. “I think there’s always a comfort level. Talking about your preparation, not having to travel, things like that. You should always be comfortable with your home fans, your home stadium. You probably have more family in the stands, things like that. So, it should be an advantage, always, when you’re playing at home.”
The difference in this regard between the Titans and other teams that do not succeed at home is that the Titans take advantage of the comfort level. They recognize their strength in playing at Nissan Stadium, and they make it a priority to perform well in Nashville.
That recognition leads to the second factor: culture and identity.
Culture and Identity
When the Titans hired Mike Mularkey as their head coach prior to the 2016 season, the team was an absolute wreck. Particularly, they were an absolute wreck at home.
From 2014-2015 the Titans won an astoundingly pathetic two games at Nissan Stadium, both against the then-struggling Jacksonville Jaguars. Going 2-14 in the place where you are supposed to be comfortable is not exactly a recipe for success in general, much less support from fans.
Mularkey made an effort to change this, emphasizing to his locker room the importance of playing well at home. That’s when, according to Brian Orakpo, the team made a “pact” to get things turned around.
“When people came to Nashville,” Orakpo said, “it used to be that it was an easy win. Now, we want to make it one of the hardest places to play in the NFL. We made a pact to ourselves to change the perception.”
Derrick Morgan, who lines up opposite of Orakpo at edge rusher, echoed his sentiment. “That was something that Mularkey stressed a lot when he was here, and anybody’s who’s been in the league long enough knows that you have to win a majority of your home games if you want to be relevant when it comes playoff time. It’s always been stressed here, and it’s still stressed.”
Recognizing the specific importance of home games and turning around the ship has allowed the Titans to not just have a comfort level, but to take advantage of it on the field.
Fans Make an Impact
Amazed by the end in #HOUvsTEN
4th & 4 for the Texans, driving to win, under 2:00, HOU goes:
-convert 4th & 19
-INT into the end zone
-give up a 75 yard 3rd down TD AND the (-7) cover.
24-13 Titans. Horrifying. pic.twitter.com/Z2mKCJ38eH
— Nate Scott (@natescott817) December 5, 2017
It is an indisputable fact that Nissan Stadium has not been completely full during a Titans game in quite some time. It is also an indisputable fact that, often times, fans of the visiting team outnumber those in the stands wearing two-tone blue.
Titans players feel, however, that fans are still able to make an impact during games. That’s because the Titans fans that do show up on Sundays, however small the attendance number might be, make a legitimate impact.
“Yeah [opponents’ fans] do travel well,” said Orakpo. “Teams with great tradition travel well and you can’t do anything about it when they’re buying up tickets, whatever the case may be. All we ask is that the people who come are ready to block out the noise.
It seems evident that the Titans do indeed get just that from their fans.
Kevin Byard, when asked by A to Z Sports about this issue, pointed to last season’s victory over the Houston Texans. As the Texans were attempting to take the lead near the end of the game just after the two-minute warning, offensive lineman Jeff Allen was flagged three plays in a row for false starts, turning a 4th & 4 into a 4th & 19.
“I remember last year we played Houston at home,” said Byard, “and got three false starts in a row. I guarantee that was directly from crowd noise. When we have big games, the crowd can definitely get rowdy a little bit.”
Nissan Stadium will never be considered one of the NFL’s nicest or loudest stadiums. It should, however, be considered to have one of the league’s most powerful home-field advantages, because it does. This is one area where statistics cannot lie.
Cover image AP Photo/Donn Jones.