Thursday, April 24, 2014

That Time Zone Thing

After the NFL Schedule was released yesterday (Steelers schedule here), there was a lot of over-reaction to some of the quirks of the schedule. There was the predictable consternation from Ravens fans regarding the fact that Seattle got to open their season as defending Super Bowl Champions at home, unlike Baltimore did the year prior. Though in the NFL's defense, they didn't have to deal with a baseball team that was unwilling to play in the afternoon in scheduling Seattle's opener. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that one of my favorite stats to harp on about Mike Tomlin's tenure as coach is his record outside of the Eastern Time Zone. Recently, some bigger media folks have begun to take notice of this fact (it only took an 8-game losing streak outside of EST), but apparently some people also don't know where the time zone lines actually are located.

The only problem is, the Steelers have a Monday Night game at Tennessee who plays in Nashville, and........

UPDATE: In his defense, Trey did later post a correction:

Now, the age-old question (which I've had Steelers beat writers who get paid by newspapers to write about the Steelers ask me on Twitter): why does this matter? It matters because under Mike Tomlin the Steelers have inexplicably bad splits between their records in Eastern Time and outside of Eastern Time. Despite their 8-8 records the last two seasons, the Steelers have been the third best team in the league since 2007 with a 76-44 record (.633). Only New England (94-30, .758) and Green Bay (80-42-1, .654) have better records during this time span. Hidden in that, however, is just how bad the Steelers are when they have to travel outside of their time zone. For reference, I have included all regular season and playoff games in this analysis, so this is a reflection of the Steelers true overall record, playoffs included.

Under Tomlin, the Steelers are 70-28 (.714) in all games played in the Eastern Time Zone. Obviously, being that our home games are played in Eastern Time, this number is slightly inflated by our 45-16 (.738) home record, which is 5th best in the league over this span. When the Steelers leave home within the Eastern Time Zone, they are 25-12 (including their Super Bowl XLIII win in Tampa, which was a neutral location). This .676 winning percentage is the second best in the league in road/neutral EST games (behind only Philadelphia's .683). Given that the Steelers win more than 2/3 of their road/neutral EST games, it is utterly shocking that they have posted a mere 6-16 (.272) mark when they leave the Eastern Time Zone. Their win over Green Bay at the end of last season marked their first win outside of EST since November 2011 when they beat the Tyler Palko-led Chiefs on Monday Night Football. In between those wins was an 8-game losing streak where the Steelers lost games to teams led by Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Tony Romo, Matt Cassel, and Terrelle Pryor. 

Broken down by time zone, the splits start to look even worse. In all EST games (home, road, and neutral) the Steelers .714 winning percentage is second best in the league, trailing only New England's .781 (82-23) mark. However, the Steelers have won just a third of their games in both Central and Mountain time and are 0-3 when travelling to both the Pacific coast and 0-1 across the pond in London.

Now, the obvious question that follows relates to mileage. Is it really that the Steelers are bad when they have to adjust their watches or are they just bad the further away from home they have to play? Obviously their road trips to London and the West Coast would support this theory as they are 0-4 in those areas. However, when the Steelers record is split by distances from home, we don't see a tremendous drop-off in their performance until they get beyond 2000 miles.

All of the Steelers games in the Pacific and London time zones fell into the "2000+" category, and they were 0-4 in those contests. Therefore, I split out the Steelers results in both Eastern time and Central/Mountain time by distance from home to determine if distance was a contributing factor.

Based on these two charts, I feel comfortable saying that distance does not play a major role in the Steelers road splits. The biggest indicator is the team's performance in games 1000-1500 miles away. When the Steelers have travelled over 1000 miles but stayed within the Eastern Time Zone, they are undefeated - winning twice in Tampa (including the Super Bowl) and twice in Miami. However, when the Steelers travelled in the same distance range (1000-1500 miles) and changed time zones, their performance dropped off significantly. Their losses outside of EST in this travel range include 3 in Denver, 2 in Dallas (one in the Super Bowl to Green Bay), 1 in Houston and 1 in New Orleans. Their lone win came in 2009 in Denver. If you include all trips over 1000 miles where the time zone changed, the Steelers are just 2-8 (.200) given their split in Arizona (2136 miles away, Mountain Time). Additionally, the Steelers have performed relatively the same when traveling between 500 and 1000 miles. Given these numbers, I can not confidently say that distance travelled is the determining factor in the Steelers poor road splits.

This brings us back to time zones. Since the Steelers have won just a third of their games in Central and Mountain time, one would think that their performance would drop off even in Eastern Time the farther they traveled from home. As we have seen, this is simply untrue as the Steelers have yet to lose under Tomlin in the state of Florida. Therefore, the disparity in record can be drawn purely along the time zone lines and not by actual distance. The Steelers should be happy that they only have to travel outside of EST once this season, their fewest trips outside the time zone since 2008. The Steelers made 5 trips out of the time zone in 2011, 4 in 2012 and 3 in 2010 and 2013.

As an addendum, I took a look at the Steelers road splits under Bill Cowher to see if this was a trend that had been long-standing with the organization or a recent development under Mike Tomlin. Under Cowher, there was a dropoff when the Steelers left the Eastern Time Zone, but it was not nearly as pronounced. In the Cowher years, the Steelers had a 59.5% winning percentage in road/neutral EST games and a 42.9% winning percentage outside of EST. Particularly, Cowher's splits in Pacific Time (42.9%) and Central Time (44.8%) were much better than Tomlin's 0% and 33% respectively. Tomlin has done a slightly better job defending the home turf (73.8% to 70.3%) and has been better in EST road/neutral games (67.6% to 59.5%) but has been drastically worse outside of EST (27.2% to Cowher's 42.9%). On the whole, both coaches have been successful with Tomlin having a 63.3% overall winning percentage (3rd best in the league from 2007-2013) and Cowher having a 61.9% winning percentage (best in the league from 1992-2006).

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