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Football's Home/Road Disparity

   by Jim Feist - 11/05/2012

How about those Baltimore Ravens? During their four game win streak they looked like world beaters, topping the Pats (31-30), Browns (23-16), Chiefs (9-6) and Cowboys (31-29), winning with defense and offense whenever they needed it. That put them at 4-0 Su/1-3 ATS at home this season, including that opening day shellacking of the Bengals, 44-13.
Then, a different Baltimore team can show up on the road, as we saw in a showdown at Houston, getting flogged by the Texans, 43-13. This is nothing new. A year ago the Ravens got off to a similar ho start, then as a 10-point road favorite at Jacksonville they lost 12-7. That’s common with some pro and college football teams as the home/road disparity in sports is often remarkable.
Look at the surprising Seattle Seahawks. Seattle started this season 3-0 at home, upsetting the Patriots, Cowboys and Packers while allowing 23, 12 and 7 points. But their road play has been less than spectacular, losing at St. Louis and Arizona as chalk, a 16-12 win at Carolina and scoring 6 points in a loss at San Francisco.
Part of it is that Seattle is situated in the northwest, so their road trips can be long affairs, as when they went to play at Carolina. The reverse is true, of course, when Seattle is at home and many opponents have to travel a long way.
November is kind to Seattle, with a pair of home games and a bye week to start the month, before playing three of four away, which could cement or break any playoff hopes. And those three road games are long distance - at Buffalo, Miami and Chicago.
When they were a playoff team, the Seahawks went 9-3 SU/8-4 ATS at home covering two seasons, but 3-10 SU/4-9 ATS on the road during that same stretch. The offense on the road has been particularly pitiful that season, scoring 16, 13, 16 and 6 points. Historically it's had an excellent home field edge with their outstanding fan base known as the "12th man." Seattle had a four-year run going 25-6 SU, 20-10-1 ATS at home games.
Naturally teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Part of it is pride and part of it is that the fans are paying good money for entertainment. No team wants to send the locals home unhappy, like the Vikings on Thursday night against the Bucs.
Looking at this season you find a lot of teams playing well at home but stumbling on the road, like the Titans, Raiders, Vikings, Seahawks, Cardinals and rebuilding Colts.
Even the Steelers fall into that mix. They have been an outstanding road team for the last decade, but injuries and old age have crept in and the Steelers have been great at home, whipping the Jets and shutting down the Eagles, but a different team has shown up on the road.
Pittsburgh gave up 31 points in a loss at Denver, 34 in a loss at Oakland and 26 in a loss at Tennessee. All three went over the total, while their first three home games all went under the total.
Another part of the equation is travel. Visiting teams have to spend time in airports, sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms, have their sleeping patterns disrupted. Home teams get to spend the week working at their own practice facilities, sleeping in their own bed, eating home-cooked meals, driving to the stadium on the route they're familiar with. Being home in familiar surroundings means being comfortable, 24-hours a day.
Road play is one way to get a sense of how good a head coach is. Any coach can get his players to give it their all in front of 60,000 screaming fans, but the really good coaches can get their players to perform just as effectively on the road. The Patriots under Bill Belichick are one such team that has a history of playing well no matter where the venue, a sizzling 50-26 against the spread on the road run.
Many times young teams or ones with new coaches will play their best football at home, but look like a very different team on the road. The Raiders have a first-year coach and won two of their first three road games, but winless on the road. And those road games have been ugly, losing 35-13 at Miami and 37-6 at Denver.
It's important from a handicapping angle to carefully break down home and road stats.
Remember the Cowboys/Bills Monday night game back in 2007 that ended in a colossal late collapse by the Bills? Despite the collapse, the Bills did get the cover as a double-digit home dog. Think they would have played such inspired ball on the road? Maybe, but that was the first Monday night game in several years. The fans and players were really fired up.
Home field combined with other incentives (rivalry, revenge, national TV, coaching changes) can make a team even more fired up. Some teams are built for their playing surface at home, like the Saints and Colts in the pros, and Missouri, Hawaii, Houston and Oklahoma State in the colleges. You can see why NFL teams play hard to secure home-field edge for the playoffs. Sometimes who you're playing is not as important as where you're playing.

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