Last week’s discussion about the surprising disappearance of home field advantage in the NFL proved to be well-timed. Road teams continued to dominate straight up and against the spread.
▪ You probably watched the New Orleans Saints (+4) bully the Chicago Bears 36-25 in the Windy City to move to 6-1 on the season. The Saints won total yardage 424-252, yards-per-play 5.7 to 4.0, third down conversions 47-17%, and rushing yards 151-17. This as a “dome” team with its backup quarterback playing outdoors against a fresh host that just enjoyed a bye!
▪ At the same time, Baltimore (+3) was upsetting Seattle 30-17 on what is supposed to be the toughest home field in the league. The Ravens won yards-per-play 6.1 to 5.1 and rushing yardage 199-106. They also scored two defensive touchdowns, when it’s supposed to be the visitor that self-destructs with turnovers at tough sites.
▪ The week began with Kansas City (-3) dumping Denver 30-6 in the Mile High City, and ended with New England (-9.5) ghosting the New York Jets 33-0 in Gotham. Road teams would go 9-5 straight up in 14 games, with seven victories coming by double digits. It probably would have been eight of nine if San Francisco didn’t have to play in the mud in a 9-0 win at lowly Washington.
Through seven weeks of the regular season, and more than 100 games featuring a host (throwing out the two games in England), “home field advantage” has been worth negative two points (!) whether you use average or median results.
Now, it’s obviously crazy that home field would become a universal negative in any sport. There’s always been some mathematical edge for the host in all major sports through time. In recent years, that’s settled around three points in both football and basketball (college and pro, slightly more when altitude is involved), and anywhere from 15 cents to 25 cents in money line impact in hockey and baseball.
Bettors should expect a regression toward norms through the rest of the season. But, they should open to the possibility that home field advantage isn’t what it used to be. Maybe the standardization of stadiums and strategies has created a virtually even playing field. Maybe travel is so convenient these days that visitors come in fresh. Maybe referees are no longer intimidated by crowd noise or otherwise subconsciously prone to favor hosts.
And, for fans of the New Orleans Saints, maybe the Superdome won’t provide a home boost any more. That’s important this week with the Saints laying a whopping 9.5 points to the Arizona Cardinals (CBS, noon).
▪ Arizona just won at the New York Giants 27-21 as a 4-point underdog. Earlier this season, the Cards upset Cincinnati 26-23 as a 3-point dog, and hung with Baltimore getting 13 in a 23-17 loss. Arizona is 2-1 straight up, 3-0 ATS on the road.
▪ New Orleans is 3-0 straight up and 2-1 ATS at home, but its victory margins have been 2, 2, and 7. Teddy Bridgewater is untested as a big favorite wearing the fleur-de-lis, but Drew Brees knows the feeling well.
If you’re looking to attack the full NFL board, be aware that road teams are 65-39-2 against the spread this season according to covers.com. That breaks down as follows: road underdogs 45-23-2 ATS, road favorites 20-16 ATS.
▪ Elsewhere in the NFC South, Tampa Bay (2-4) and Carolina (4-2) are both back after bye weeks that followed their head-to-head meeting in England. Tampa Bay will likely close as a short underdog (under a field goal) at Tennessee. Carolina will be getting +5.5 or +6 on the road against still-undefeated San Francisco. Atlanta (1-6) has to consider tanking out a lost season. The Falcons host Seattle, with the status of injured quarterback Matt Ryan to determine the game-day spread.
▪ Baseball markets continue to be influenced by the impact of “Mattress Mack,” the Houston furniture magnate who placed big bets on the Astros to win the World Series (including a $3.5 million dollar ticket at the Scarlet Pearl Casino in Biloxi a few weeks ago).
Houston’s initial 2/1 World Series price against the Washington Nationals was inflated. Both teams ended the regular season 74-38 their last 112 games prior to winning their playoff rounds. Sports books needed action on the dog to help limit exposure. And, they wanted Mack to know he’d have to pay a premium to put more money on his hometown team.
Pricing this weekend in games four and five (Saturday and Sunday, FOX, 7:07 p.m.) should also reflect “defense” against additional hedging as developments create drama on and off the field.
▪ In the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans face their toughest test of the young season Saturday night in Houston against James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Rockets. The Pellies (+6.5) beat market expectations in regulation of their season opener at Toronto earlier this week, but lost in overtime 130-122. That result speaks well of their chances to compete during Zion Williamson’s absence.
Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors visit New Orleans Monday night.