Ride Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch through the cold
If you’re paying close attention to the never-ending NFL news cycle, you’ve probably seen weather forecasts for this Sunday’s frigid Vikings-Seahawks matchup.
Twitter feeds are full of speculation about what the frigid conditions mean: How will the teams adjust to the weather? Which team has the advantage in the cold? Which players are likely to score more — or relatively fewer — fantasy points?
In a game that features top fantasy options like Adrian Peterson, Russell Wilson, and Marshawn Lynch, it’s of paramount importance to gain a better understanding of how weather conditions affect scoring. More broadly, we can see how weather affects player performance in warm and cold weather, thereby building knowledge to use this Sunday and beyond.
First, we need to step back and look at how weather is related to actual scoring — the foundation of fantasy scoring.
*Games from 2000-2014, excludes domes and closed roof stadiums.
As most would expect, the Vegas handicappers adjust their scoring predictions down with colder weather. But, the downward slope isn’t very steep, as less than two points separate the expected over-under at 0 degrees (F) versus an ideal 60 degrees. In fact, warm weather (above 80 degrees) appears to have a greater negative effect on scoring than the cold. Although, that could be because some of the worst teams in the NFL (over the past 15 years) play in warm weather cities. I’m looking at you, Jaguars and Buccaneers.
When you investigate a little further into how conditions affect scoring, you’ll find that wind speed has more pronounced and particularly linear effect on scoring.
There is no direct relationship between temperature and wind speed, but both pressure and wind speed are co-dependent on temperature. This is a more complicated way of saying that temperature affects pressure, and pressure affects wind speed; however, there isn’t a linear relationship. You can have lots or little wind in colder temperatures, meaning you should try to account for both in any specific weather analysis.
More important for fantasy footballers than handicappers is how fantasy scoring for each position responds to the weather and wind. I chose to split fanatsy scoring results by position to focus on exactly how each position’s expected scoring changes with temperature. I also added another set of data from games with similar wind conditions to the forecasted wind speed in Minneapolis this Sunday. The wind forecast for the MIN-SEA game is 8-13 miles-per-hour.
The plot above visualizes the relationship between temperature and fanatsy scoring (over seasonal average) for every game from 2000-2014. The two sets of data (wind speed 8-13 and all) are split into the four relevant fantasy positions for further insight.
It matches intuition that quarterbacks and wide receivers take a hit in the cold. Tight ends also see a decrease in scoring, but not as much as wide receivers. Running backs provide the safest production in colder temperatures, capturing a larger piece of the shrinking scoring pie.
It’s important to note that while the declines in scoring for quarterbacks and wide receivers are noticeable, even at 0 degrees their expected scoring declines by only one fantasy point, and even less when wind speeds are in the 8-13 mph range. For tight ends, on the other hand, scoring isn’t affected at all by the cold weather when wind speeds are relatively mild, like we’ll see in Minneapolis.
The broad lesson the historical data provide is that colder weather, in and of itself, shouldn’t dramatically alter your player forecasts. On average, there just isn’t that big of an effect on fantasy production. That said, there is truly no reason to avoid running backs on weather concerns. Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch should thrive through the cold this Sunday, and you might gain a competitive advantage by adding them to your lineups while other are scared away by frosty forecasts.