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Football Home/Road Handicapping Factors

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/24/2007

That offensive juggernaut of the Indianapolis Colts crushed the Saints in Week 1 of the NFL season, 41-10. In Week 2, the Colts were favored over Tennessee, but barely escaped in a 22-20 squeaker. Why the big difference? Home field is one key handicapping factor.

The Colts are a speed-oriented offense and defense, one built for their home artificial turf. They crushed the Saints at home, but the natural grass in Tennessee negated somewhat that speed element and the Titans were able to cover and nearly win as a TD dog.

Home field is very important in pro and college basketball, where almost all teams play significantly better at home. It can also be an important factor with some football teams. The Ravens are another team that happens to be one of those clubs in recent years that easily play their best ball at home. In 2005, the Ravens were 6-2 SU, 5-3 ATS at home, but 0-8 SU, 2-6 ATS on the road. Last season: 4-4 ATS on the road, a dominating 7-2 SU, 6-3 ATS at home. In fact, Baltimore is now 27-8 SU, 20-13-2 ATS its last 35 home games.

It's not like this for all pro football teams, but it is a handicapping factor that needs to be examined carefully and taken into account. Seattle is another one. The Seahawks in 2005 went to the Super Bowl, but it wasn't a result of their road play: Seattle was just 5-3 SU, 3-4-1 ATS on the road in 2005. But at home they were 10-0 SU, 8-2 ATS.

In 2006, Seattle was 6-3 at home, but just 4-5 SU, 3-6 ATS on the road. And what happened the first two games this season? Seattle crushed the Bucs at home, 20-6, then went to Arizona and lost as a favorite. Part of the reason is that Seattle is in the Northwest and it can be a long road trip for many opponents. They also have a terrific home crowd that supports them. Many opposing players have said it can be difficult to hear the QB counts, especially near the end zones.

Domed stadiums often provide a key advantage for home teams, as well. A few years ago when the Rams and Vikings had some strong teams, they were very difficult to beat at home, but far less imposing on the road. From 1999-2001 the Vikings were 20-6 SU at home, but 8-18 SU, 7-18-1 ATS on the road. The Vikings just topped Carolina at home last week which makes them 10-3 SU, 8-4-1 ATS their last 13 at home.

Rowdy fans can provide that extra motivational spark that can get athletes to perform at a higher level than when they are away from home. Notice that in college football, Texas A&M is 16-6 SU, 13-5-1 ATS its last 22 home games, while Ohio State is 36-2 SU, 23-12-2 ATS its last 38 at the Horseshoe.

Last season I used this handicapping tool when I released a play on the Seattle Seahawks hosting the Arizona Cardinals. Home/road was a clear edge, as the Cardinals have been a weak road team the last few years while the Seahawks have a significant home field advantage. The Cardinals were 5-29 straight up on the road heading into the game. Arizona allowed an average of 28.7 points over 15 road games while playing mostly weak offenses like San Francisco (3 times), Houston, Detroit (twice) and Buffalo in those 15 games.

Meanwhile, Seattle averaged 29.8 points per game over their previous 11 at home. Seattle jumped to a 14-0 first quarter lead on the way to another home win and cover. They had the edge in rushing yards 146-65. It should have been even more one-sided, as Seattle had five dropped passes, a blocked field goal, and a 14-yard punt.

Some other teams to keep an eye on: The Browns are 7-26 SU, 11-21-1 ATS their last 33 road games, the Eagles are 33-18 Su, 31-19-1 ATS their last 51 road games, the Patriots are 32-6 SU and 23-14-1 ATS at home, the Rams are 15-27 SU, 15-27 ATS their last 42 road games, the Cardinals are 19-15 ATS their last 34 home games, but 11-23 ATS their last 34 road games. Some teams are built for their home park, while other teams can only get up to play in front of the home fans and often lay down on the road.

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