10 ways COVID-19 protocols impact NFL game play: No home-field advantage, fewer turnovers and more

The game looks different. That thought has floated through my head throughout the NFL's wild and unprecedented attempt to play its full 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's not just the mostly empty stands and the newly audible chatter from the field, although that's been pretty weird. Coaches are coaching differently, players are playing differently and officials are officiating differently. Pandemic protocols introduced a new way to secure a competitive advantage. Playing at home doesn't mean the same thing as it used to. The list goes on.

So as the league moves into the final three weeks of its regular season, now is a good time to start drawing conclusions about the on-field impact of the NFL's pandemic protocols, based on ESPN's analysis and conversations with league sources. And guess what? Some of the protocols have wrought positive results. Here are 10 ways that COVID-19 has changed the on-field product in 2020.

Note: All statistics are through Week 13, representing 192 of the league's 256 scheduled games (75%), and are compared to the same time period of previous seasons whenever possible. The numbers are provided by ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.

1. Road teams have their highest win percentage in decades

Nineteen of the league's 32 teams have allowed paid attendance to at least one game, but they have been mostly under 16,000 for any one game. Only the Dallas Cowboys exceeded that figure; their home games have ranged from 20,000 to 31,000. In other words, no games had enough volume and energy to create the "12th man" that has historically given home teams an advantage.

Road teams have won 49.3% of games, their highest rate since at least 2001. According to the NFL, the top modern-day road winning percentage for an entire season is 48.4% in 1972.

It should be noted that road teams performed much better than average last season as well, winning 47.1% of their games. But from 2001 to '18, the average winning percentage for a road team was 42.9%. Players have noticed the difference in 2020.

"The no-fans thing sucks," Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro said after his team lost at home to the Washington Football Team, an 8.5-point underdog. "It felt dead out there a little bit. ... I mean, at the beginning of the season I think when there was no fans, it was a whole new atmosphere. I was like, 'OK, we can get through this,' and we still had that rush of the early season. And now it's like during December with no fans, it's like, 'What are we doing out here?' a little bit. I don't like to make excuses, because you're professional and stuff, but we're still humans. We have emotions, and not having the fans out there, it's tough."

2. Scoring totals are unprecedented, with a surprising explanation