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Dogs Bark in September

   by Al McMordie - 09/18/2011

We all like dogs, especially puppies. But let’s face it: the best puppies of all are the ones catching points and straight up wins, as football dogs can provide excellent value for your betting dollar. Dogs are unique in that you’re not asking them to win the game, just hang in there around the number. And if you have a big dog that’s winning the game, like the Bills last week (up 20-7 at the half) you’re feeling extra confident about your selection.

The Bills were a road dog at Kansas City in the opener. A close look at the matchup found a KC team that overachieved last season, was handicapped significantly last season (all they could do on offense was run the football , for the most part) and their first round pick (WR Jon Baldwin) is already a bust, not practicing with the team because he fought with his own teammates! Furthermore, the Chiefs were a joke in preseason, not winning a game and having no offense.

They were facing a Buffalo team that had a bad first half last year, but once they inserted QB Ryan Fitzpatrick he jumpstarted the offense, playing great under him. When a below average team has a competent quarterback, especially a young one (like Tampa Bay, Arizona, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit) they can offer value as a dog, especially at home.

The Bills didn’t even need the points in a 41-7 pasting of the lifeless Chiefs. Now everyone realizes the Chiefs have a lot of problems and that preseason was not a mirage. "We're not there yet," Bills coach Chan Gailey warned. No kidding! Oh, and that kid Fitzpatrick was 17 of 25 passing with 4 TDs and no picks.

The Bears, Rams and Redskins were also home dogs, with two winning straight up. A year ago in the NFL Week 1 we saw a string of home dogs play extremely well, and several (Steelers, Texans, Seahawks, Redskins, Chiefs) won outright. In Week 2 we saw a young, hungry Tennessee Titan team with a new coach as a home dog…and the upset the Ravens. Watch out for underdogs that have above average quarterbacks, like the Bills and Titans with newcomer Matt Hasselbeck.

Many times home dogs can be worth a serious look, especially in college football where emotion, tradition and fan support are such key components. For example, a year ago this week Kansas was a home dog against No. 15 Georgia Tech and won 28-25.

The Jayhawks were off that embarrassing home loss to North Dakota State, 6-3, and wanted badly to get a win for a first-year Coach, Turner Gill. It was a marquee game, too, against the 15th ranked team in the country, a team that was the defending ACC champion, so it was no ordinary game.

"There was a big sense of urgency," said Kansas wide receiver Daymond Patterson.

“They came out mad," said Yellow Jacket quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. "You could tell that they came out mad from losing their last game and they came out hungry."

Emotion plays an important role in college football. Many times, like Kansas, a home dog has more motivation because of what happened the previous week, introducing a new coach, or homecoming. I recall a few years ago when East Carolina was a home dog to Army, despite the fact that Army had a poor defense. Army had a better known head coach at the time, Bobby Ross, but they should have been favored, coming off an 0-13 season the previous year.

Army was TD favorite despite recently ending a 19-game losing streak! Yes, Army was improved, but they were still eons away from being an average football team and here they were a favorite – on the road, no less. That alone made whoever Army was playing worth a peak.

At the time, East Carolina was a bad road team, like Army, but they were far more competitive in front of the home crowd. In that game, East Carolina ended up with 38 points and 426 total yards as their QB carved up the Cadet secondary (26-of-36 for 285 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions). Winning the turnover battle 3-0, which is the most difficult thing to try and predict, was the final piece of the puzzle as home dog EC not only covered getting points but won the game, 38-28. This was not a great shock, either, as the Pirates were 3-0 SU/ATS the previous three meetings with Army, winning 38-32, 59-24 and 49-26.

It’s important to examine how teams perform at home as to on the road. A year ago Nevada walked (or ran) all over California, 52-31. Colin Kaepernick ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolf Pack lead the nation averaging 588 yards of total offense.

"They'd be competitive in the Pac-10," said Cal Coach Jeff Tedford. And as a home dog. For bettors, getting points with dogs is great especially when you’ve identified a dog that you think has a chance to be competitive or even win the game. Good handicappers don’t need miracles to pull out ATS covers, just sound judgment and analysis before the kickoff.

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