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NFL Home/Road Handicapping Factors

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/22/2008

Those very young Atlanta Falcons pulled a surprise in the NFL opener, destroying the Lions 34-21 as a home dog. The player were fired up, as were the fans, for the new coach. A talented young team? Well, maybe not yet, as in Week 2 the Falcons were shut down in a 24-9 loss at Tampa Bay. That’s common early in the season or with young teams: They can overachieve at home, then lay an egg on the road.

I recall one year ago the great 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? Again, 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.

We saw this in the colleges, as well. West Virginia is a team predicated on speed with their artificial turf at home. Yet, in their first road game this season, the Mountaineers played on natural grass at East Carolina. The offense was shut down, scoring just 3 points.

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. In 2006: 4-4 ATS on the road, a dominating 7-2 SU, 6-3 ATS at home. In fact, Baltimore is now 31-11 SU, 23-17-2 ATS its last 42 home games (1-7 SU, 0-8 ATS its last 8 away).

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.

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 19-7 SU, 15-7-1 ATS its last 26 home games, while Ohio State is 42-3 SU, 26-15-2 ATS its last 45 at the Horseshoe.

Two seasons ago 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 10-31 SU, 16-24-1 ATS their last 41 road games, the Eagles are 38-21 Su, 37-21-1 ATS their last 59 road games, the Patriots are 42-6 SU and 28-19-1 ATS at home, the Rams are 17-30 SU, 18-32 ATS their last 47 road games, the Cardinals are 24-18 ATS their last 42 home games, but 14-27-1 ATS their last 42 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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