If you’re an avid NFL fan, you probably have a fantasy football team, and are no stranger to doing plenty of research to assemble the best possible team. But have you ever thought of how a large carbon footprint could be an ominous sign for one of your key draft picks?

NFL players aren’t impervious to the fatigue of long flights, and unfortunately the NFL has an uneven distribution of teams based on time zones: 17 teams play in the Eastern Time Zone, nine in the Central, two Mountain and four Pacific. By nature of this alignment, some teams have to travel more than others- these are the ones with the largest carbon footprint. The Seattle Seahawks are about 800 miles from their nearest opponents (San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders), but none of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ AFC North rivals are more than 300 miles away. The teams that routinely face the most annual travel are all in the west, including San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, Arizona and Denver.

What are the implications for my fantasy team?

Between 2007 and 2011, the home team won more than 56% of the time. However, teams from the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones posted significantly lower winning percentages in away games than their Eastern and Central counterparts. Eastern teams won a staggering 72.3% of games against the western teams. The Miami Dolphins are 7-0 against those teams since 2008, and 31-42 against everyone else. The western teams only won 3% more often during later game starts (4 p.m. or 8 p.m. EST), showing that playing in a different time zone has a strong correlation with their struggles.

Taking a closer look at the performances of individuals after particularly long travel periods also supports the trend. Here's a short list of how these lengthy travel distances have affected specific players in the past six seasons:

  • In four of the six seasons between 2006 and 2012 during which San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore played at least 14 games, his worst game by standard fantasy scoring was after 2,000+ miles of one-way travel: 2006 at New Orleans, 2007 at Pittsburgh, 2009 at Miami, and 2011 at St. Louis.

 

  • In 2011 and 2012, his two seasons as a starting running back for the Seattle Seahawks, Marshawn Lynch’s two worst games were against the Dolphins in Miami, a 3,300 mile flight from home.

 

  • Peyton Manning’s four worst games of his comeback 2012 season with the Denver Broncos were at Atlanta, Carolina, Oakland, and Baltimore - his four longest commutes of the season.

 

  • Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer’s worst game of 2012 was at Cincinnati, a 2,300 mile flight.

Every mile saved benefits the environment, and perhaps the chances of the road team and your fantasy team’s victory. Between 1998 and 2012, road teams that had one-way travel distances of more than 2,000 miles only won 39.8% of the time, compared to 43% if that travel distance was less than 1,000 miles.

The impact of travel

Not only does all this travel hurt player performance, it leaves a large carbon footprint. Teams fly a private plane to most of their games, and then take chartered buses from their hotels to the stadium. According to the World Land Trust carbon-offset calculator, a round trip coast-to-coast flight produces about 2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per passenger. NFL teams are comprised of 53 players, along with numerous coaches and staff members. The estimated travel distance of all teams in 2012 was 506,054 miles.

Looking at a player’s season schedule is a savvy last resort when choosing between two players. This may also help you decide when to sit a player in favor of another. Remember, no player is going to play well every game of the year. As with any other prediction, there will be outliers, and there’s no guarantee of a perfect result.

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