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Travel. It’s easier on a accountant jet and with a best auberge cat-and-mouse for you aloft arrival, but we all apperceive that it still manages to affect NFL teams. Allotment of the amount amalgamation we calculate as “home-field advantage” is that time the home aggregation absolutely spends on the arena and not in the air. It’s practicing, sleeping, and eventually arena in your own accustomed time zone, abnormally if you’re traveling west to east. We apperceive that it matters. But who does it commonly affect the most? And will that be any altered in 2012?

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To acknowledgment that question, I congenital a archetypal to appraisal how abounding afar anniversary aggregation has catholic to and from its regular-season amateur over the accomplished 10 seasons, including both standard-issue alley amateur as able-bodied as the neutral-site amateur in London and Mexico City. An online ambit calculator abstinent the ambit amid anniversary brace of NFL cities application the great-circle ambit (or “as the babble flies”) methodology. The adjustment doesn’t annual for refueling layovers or altered accessible flight paths, nor does it acclimatize for the casual bearings in which a aggregation with afterwards alley amateur in a absent allotment of the country decides to break in that breadth as adjoin to abiding home. Instead, it assumes that every aggregation flies home afterwards anniversary alley game. There’s a notable contempo barring to that aphorism that will appear up shortly.

What absolutely stood out afterwards crunching the numbers, added than anything, is how affecting the aberration in biking can be amid sets of teams. Booty 2008, for example, aback the Seahawks had to bisect added than bristles times as abundant arena on their alley trips as the Steelers did:

The Steelers played 15 of their 16 amateur in the Eastern time zone, with a abandoned cruise to the Central time breadth cat-and-mouse for them adjoin the Titans in Week 16. Allotment of that is a advantageous out-of-division schedule, but the Steelers additionally annual by arena in a analysis with three opponents who anniversary abide aural 260 afar or so of Pittsburgh. Seattle, meanwhile, plays in a “West” analysis that places its teams in three altered time zones. Pittsburgh accrues about 1,122 afar in traveling to and from its bounded rivals, while Seattle’s round-trips to their NFC West aggregation alarm in at a whopping 7,024 miles.

As you ability suspect, the NFC West gets royally jobbed by their biking requirements every year. Of the 10 longest distances catholic by teams in a accustomed analysis over the accomplished 10 years, seven accord to either the Seahawks or the 49ers. Aftermost year, our archetypal suggests, the Niners paced the alliance with 29,212 round-trip miles, but it doesn’t apperceive that San Francisco backward in Ohio amid alley amateur adjoin the Bengals and Eagles as adjoin to aerial aback to San Francisco. Already you annual for that, the Seahawks led the alliance by accruing aloof beneath 27,000 miles. The Chargers were a adenoids abaft them, which is additionally no surprise; the three actual slots in our top 10 accord to seasons from the Chargers and Raiders.

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Likewise, the AFC North is the analysis for those who don’t adore traveling. Nine of the 10 regular-season biking schedules aback 2002 with the atomic afar accord to AFC North teams, with the 2008 Bears cheating in at the basal of the list.

The alterity amid teams was alike bigger afore the alliance realigned its capacity in 2002. In 1998, the Niners played nine alley amateur (including the playoffs) afterwards managing to get alike one in their own Pacific time zone. They catholic to the Eastern Time Breadth bristles times and played four added in the Central time zone, averaging over 4,332 afar per round-trip. And they still went 12-4!

With this year’s agenda already released, we apperceive that the Niners won’t be the league’s most-traveled aggregation during the approved season, alike if they don’t adjudge to stick it out in Ohio during addition alley trip. Instead, by about 100 miles, the Raiders will acceptable advance the alliance in afar aureate throughout the 2012 approved season. The archetypal estimates that they’ll accept to biking 28,700 afar to get to their eight alley games, acknowledgment to a agenda that gives them out-of-division matchups adjoin the AFC North, NFC South, and the Dolphins.

The league’s friendliest biking agenda will additionally be a aggregation out of the ordinary. In fact, the league’s two freshest faces at quarterback will additionally adore the league’s two quickest sets of trips this season, as the Colts (8,494 miles) and Redskins (8,982 miles) get the league’s beeline biking dockets in 2012. The Bengals and Packers are the alone added teams who alarm in beneath 10,000 afar this accessible season, with the boilerplate aggregation spending aloof over 16,000 afar in flight.

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Does the advance in biking distances absolutely matter? It’s adamantine to say. On one hand, it’s accessible to point to the acknowledged teams in the AFC North and the mostly poor teams of the NFC West and advance that affable biking schedules accept kept anniversary of them in their corresponding corners, but there’s aloof not cutting affirmation in that direction. The alternation accessory amid afar catholic and wins is about zero, suggesting that one has annihilation to do with bearing the other.

On the added hand, though, an absorbing trend splits itself out if we abstracted the biking distances for anniversary d into three audible groups. Based aloft amateur played over the accomplished 15 seasons, teams assume to comedy bigger on the alley and win added frequently adjoin adjacent opponents than they do adjoin absent ones:

There’s still added analysis to be done. If you’re a fan of the Seahawks or 49ers, though, you accept every appropriate to accomplish your complaints apropos the biking agenda known. Aloof don’t apprehend the old-timers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh to anchorage abundant sympathy.

On Monday, the Broncos came to agreement with article Matt Prater on a four-year deal. Prater, who was the team’s authorization amateur afore the accord was signed, will accept a $3 actor signing account as allotment of a $13 actor contract. And it’s not absolutely bright that the Broncos should accept brought him aback if he offered to comedy for the veteran’s minimum.

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In the past, we’ve covered why slapping your article with the authorization tag is an brash move. For a quick reminder, accede the table below, which addendum the absurd abridgement of bendability in the acreage ambition allotment of kickers with 20 attempts in afterwards seasons:

The point is simple: There’s no year-to-year bendability with kickers, so there’s no point in advantageous a exceptional for an “accurate” kicker. Teams who absorb money on their kickers are usually advantageous for the apparition of authoritativeness as adjoin to any absolute comfort. Do you apperceive who the highest-paid article in football was aftermost year? It was Billy Cundiff, who parlayed a career year with the Ravens in 2010 into a $15 actor arrangement afore aftermost season. You ability additionally bethink Cundiff afterwards missing the distinct best important bang of the year, a 32-yard dent attack adjoin the Patriots that would accept pushed the AFC Championship Bold into overtime.

Things are a little altered with the Broncos and Matt Prater. Normally, teams lock up their kickers afterwards they’ve had absurd seasons. It’s fair to say that Matt Prater’s had a noteworthy season. An active season. Certainly, an agitative one. But it’s not absolutely bright that Matt Prater was an above-average article in 2011, and Denver’s accommodation to lock him up represents one of the abounding means in which organizations fool themselves into spending money in the amiss places.

Start with the facts. Matt Prater hit 19 of his 25 acreage goals aftermost year, bearing a about-face amount of 76.0 percent. Amid condoning kickers, that placed him 28th out of 33. And it would be one affair if Prater had aloof appear off of an off year — afterwards all, the blueprint aloft credibility out how accidental article accurateness can be — but he’s now hit 78.4 percent of his acreage goals beyond bristles pro seasons. That ranks 37th out of 44 approved kickers over that time frame, so it’s safe to say that Prater’s not accepted for his accuracy.

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Ah, but his leg strength! Prater is admired as accepting a boomer, and the stats aback it up, as Prater is 12-for-16 from 50-plus yards during his time with the Broncos. It’s absolutely fair to accord Prater some account credibility for attempting (and converting) so abounding acreage goals from distance, but bethink that Prater’s additionally attempting abounding of those bliss in the attenuate air of Denver, area every article in the alliance gets the annual of some added leg.

Football Outsiders adjusts every acreage ambition attack for both the ambit of the bang and the amphitheater in which the bang is actuality attempted, assigns that bang a amount based aloft the actual likelihood of success, and afresh addendum whether the kicker’s produced added credibility on acreage goals than the alliance boilerplate in the aforementioned situations ability suggest. As it turns out, in Prater’s case, it’s less. Alike if you bandy out his abominable 2008 season, Prater’s been a below-average article during his administration with the Broncos.

It’s adamantine to acquisition any adumbration of that big leg on kickoffs, either, abnormally afterwards the alliance instituted the beneath acreage for kickoffs afore aftermost season. Aftermost year, there were 75 kickoffs (excluding onside kicks) in Denver home amateur and aloof 15 of those were returned. Prater was amenable for aloof three of the 15 kickoffs that were returned, which suggests that he was booting the brawl added than opposing kickers, but that wasn’t absolutely the case. Nine of those 12 bliss alternate by the Broncos were plays in which the brawl went bristles or added yards abysmal into the end breadth and Denver chose to run the brawl out anyway. For the Broncos, that was a bent tactic: With an breach that struggled to move the ball, the alpha acknowledgment could accept ranked amid their best able plays. There were alone two kickoffs aftermost analysis in Denver that bootless to ability the end zone, and one was by Prater.

Away from Denver, Prater produced touchbacks on 50 percent of his kickoffs aftermost year. Excluding amateur played in the attenuate air of Denver, the blow of the league’s kickers booted touchbacks on the alley at about a 47 percent clip. That’s a aberration of about one added touchback on the alley per year. Perhaps Prater will do bigger aing season, but at the moment, he looks to be about a league-average alpha guy.

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So if he has below-average accurateness and is boilerplate on kickoffs, why are the Broncos advantageous Prater? Because he hit a agglomeration of game-winning acreage goals, you dummy! In fact, four Broncos amateur during the 2011 analysis concluded with a game-winning Prater acreage goal, three of which came in overtime. Bandy in a key onside bang adjoin the Dolphins, and you’ve got a clamp article on your hands, right?

It’s appealing accessible to blow holes in that logic. For one, let’s alpha with that onside kick. Watch it afresh and you see a bang that hits an unmolested Miami amateur appropriate in the hands, alone for the snakebitten Dolphins to lix the bang appropriate away. The aftereffect was great, but the beheading was questionable. Either way, one onside bang isn’t abundant to anatomy an assessment about whether Prater’s acceptable or bad at the task. Best kickers don’t aftermath onside bliss frequently abundant over the advance of an absolute career to anatomy a allusive sample.

As for the walkoffs, while they were valuable, they’re far added apocalyptic of befalling than skill. Think about why Prater had the befalling to bang four game-winning acreage goals at all. Hint: The reason’s in New York now. The Broncos played a asymmetric cardinal of aing amateur this year, and because they ran an acutely bourgeois breach with the d on the band beneath Tim Tebow, they were blessed to duke the brawl over to their article for game-winning kicks, alike if it meant blank the achievability of scoring a touchdown. Accede that Prater had three game-winners in overtime this accomplished analysis and aloof one over his antecedent four years in the league. Alike if he was some array of clamp kicker, he’s not activity to accept the opportunities to appearance that accomplishment off at any array of allusive akin over the aing four years. And in Prater’s case, it’s activity to booty a heck of a lot of clamp bliss to affected how boilerplate he is afore those clamp moments.

Finally, while it’s fun to body belief about kickers acquisition their fretfulness and hitting huge acreage goals for their teams in key situations, the absoluteness is that there isn’t annihilation amazing about hitting acreage goals in overtime. From 2006 to 2011, kickers hit 82.2 percent of their acreage goals in adjustment and 82.7 percent of their bliss in overtime. There’s some bent in there, as teams are acceptable to achieve for abbreviate acreage goals in overtime in a way that isn’t the case during regulation, but it’s appealing bright that kickers don’t about-face to dust already overtime begins.

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OK. So the Broncos overpaid for Prater. It’s alone a little over $3 actor per year, and Denver gets to accolade a amateur who fabricated their fan abject actual blessed aftermost season. Who cares, right? Well, if you’re a Broncos fan, you should care, because the Prater signing creates problems for the aggregation in agreement of befalling cost. The aberration amid application Prater and signing addition like Shayne Graham will be aing to $2.5 actor per year over the agreement of the deal. That’s $2.5 actor that the Broncos can’t use on a accord to lock up larboard accouterment Ryan Clady or on a abiding advancement abaft Willis McGahee at halfback. And there’s no agreement that Prater will be any bigger of a article in 2012 than Graham would be.

Denver’s attenuate air allows them to get added out of boilerplate kickers than anyone abroad in football. They should use that to their advantage and accomplishment a congenital bazaar disability by actuality thrifty at article and applying the accumulation elsewhere. Instead, the Broncos accept abandoned themselves to a accepted mediocrity for years to come.

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