I wrote a column on home dogs in the NFL just before Christmas last year (after week 16 of the NFL season). In that column I had discussed how good a play home dogs had been for the 2002 season and then home dogs went 4-2 against-the-spread (ATS) in week 17. Needless to say, our book managers were not impressed with my writing that week! I planned to do a follow up column earlier in the season but something strange happened; road favorites covered in 13 of 17 games in September. My premise was squashed. However, in all 17 of those games, bettors were in heavier on those very road favorites. So there is still definitely a trend to talk about!
This week’s Sunday Night football game (Giants/Saints) was over by Halftime so I decided to go through the rest of this year’s data (it was that or finish writing out all my Christmas cards). It seems like things have turned around a little but let me first recap what I saw last year that had me looking at the trend.
There were 256 regular season games in 2002 and 92 of them had the home team as the Underdog (there were none in the playoffs). This is not really remarkable at all. However, we booked more action on the Road Favorite in 87 of those 92 games! That means bettors have gone against the home dog in an incredible 95% of these situations. That is definitely remarkable and the main reason I wrote the column. Any time bettors play a trend 95% of the time, there is going to be value on the other side; it is a simple byproduct of supply-and-demand.
The 92 home dogs were a decent 42-50 straight up (SU) and betting these teams blindly on the moneyline would have returned better than 15% for the year, a decent profit by any standard. Against-the-spread the home dogs went 53-37-2 for the year last season for roughly a 58% win percentage. I don’t know about you but I’d be happy to win 58% of my straight wagers!
Needless to say, I was excited about what I had found. But was this really a trend or was it a fluke? I needed to be able to explain it and I thought of a few reasons that would explain why home dogs cover more than half of the time. My first thought was that a team playing in front of their home fans should always be extremely motivated, but we take that into account when we set the line so that doesn’t really account for a 58% winning rate, so that doesn’t really cut it. I did come up with a few others.
One is a feeling of disrespect. When you see a reporter interview a player and ask a question like You guys are 6-point underdogs. Do you really have a chance on Sunday? the player is likely to get fired up. Players may not be betting on games but they know when they are not being given a chance to win (whether it be from the media, fans, bettors or bookmakers) and everyone loves to prove people wrong.
Another is a lack of pressure. Pressure does funny things to people. Some thrive in it (think Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods) and others get buried by it (any FSU kicker against Miami, Phil Mickelson, the Boston Red Sox). When a team is not expected to win, sometimes they are able to enjoy the game and play their very best. Another possibility is that the road favorite is simply over confident. Expecting to win sometimes means teams and/or players do not practice as hard as they need to.
But! History tells us that dogs in general do not cover 58% of the time so these last three factors cannot be the only reason; perhaps the combination of all these factors produces a slight edge. It is my opinion that the most important factor may simply be that the betting public likes betting the road favorites so much that the spreads move an extra point (or more) in favor of the home dog and this accounts for the higher win percentage.
Now, lets look at what has happened through the first 15 weeks of 2003. So far, there have been 224 games played this season and there have been 67 games where the road team has been the favorite (about a dozen fewer than at the same point last season). In those games the home dog has gone 27-40 straight up or 40.3% (down from 45.6% in 2002) and betting every one on the moneyline would have returned about 2%. Not as good as 2002, but still better than losing money.
Against-the-spread, home dogs for the year are a very average 32-31-4, so betting these blindly on the spread would have actually lost money when the vig is factored in. So much for my magic theory; but there is still some confirmation of my theory in one other stat: of the 67 home dogs this year, we have had more money risked on the road favorite 66 times (the Vikings +1 at home to Seattle in week 14 was the lone exception, and not by much). That means that we have taken more money on the road favorite in an incredible 98.5% of the cases this season! Combined with the 2002 stats, that is an amazing 153 of 159 road faves that got the money (96%). That is most definitely a trend.
So, while I cannot say that betting home dogs will give you winning plays with statistical certainty, I can say with certainty it will ensure you are betting against the bulk of bettors and that is usually a key to getting value.
The title of this column is The Power of the Home Dog and although it doesn’t mean the powerful betting system I had originally hoped for, home dogs do still carry a lot of power and that shows on the bottom line. Books were complaining about how tough the NFL season was through October, and if you want a reason, look no further.
In September, home dogs were 4-13 ATS!
In October, they were 6-11 ATS.
In November, the home dogs rallied to an amazing 17-4-4 ATS record!!
In December to date, they are 5-3 ATS
Considering that we have been cheering for the home team in 96% of these games, we have essentially erased a horrible 10-24 start to the year with a 22-7-4 rally. Suddenly the complaints from book managers have eased a little.
Bettors like the road favorites so much that our 3 biggest losses and 3 biggest wins on games this year have all involved home dogs. Green Bay at Chicago in week 4, Kansas City at Oakland in week 7 and Miami at San Diego in week 8 (all Monday Night football games) were our three worst games of the year. The Packers/Bears game was so bad for the industry that at least one publicly traded sportsbook had to issue a notice to stockholders! On the flip side, Tampa Bay at Jacksonville on Sunday Night and Tennessee at the NY Jets on Monday Night in week 13 were our two biggest wins of the year. The other big home dog win for us was Oakland at Detroit in week 9 (that game was the official nail in the coffin for the Raiders this year I think).
Now for the ultimate question: why do bettors love road favorites so much? I think it is simply a case of not taking home field advantage into consideration enough. Lets look at the week 7 Kansas City-Oakland game, which was our worst game this year. The bulk of the action came with Kansas City -4.5. The same two teams played in Kansas City in week 12 and the spread was Kansas City -11, and we took only a little more Chiefs action than we did on the Raiders. When you consider that the average home team has a 2.93-point advantage (lets call it 3, which is typically what bookmakers give the home side) over the road team based on statistics for 1998-2003, the Chiefs -4.5 in Oakland would be -7.5 on a neutral field and would be -10.5 in Kansas City, pretty darned close to the -11 line bettors didn’t like nearly as much.
This may be a bad example because bettors were right to play on Kansas City in Oakland and right to shy away from them ATS in the rematch, but the fact that the two lines were about the same serves to illustrate why many bettors don’t like the home dog. My advice is simple, if you are going to play a road favorite, ask yourself if you would make that play with the city reversed and a spread 6-points higher. If yes, you have a good play, if not, you may want to give it a second look.
I want to make one last point on home dogs and I will let you get back to the chaos of the last week before Christmas. It is these games that are often referred to as traps by players after the home dog wins or covers. There is no such thing as a trap. We simply put out the line we feel is right (we hope to balance action but that isn’t always possible) and in many cases, the perceived low line on the road favorite makes it attractive and one of two things happens: a) Kansas City beats Oakland and bettors make fun of how silly bookmakers are, or b) Jacksonville beats Tampa Bay and bettors call it a trap. Therein lies the true power of the home dog!
Anyways, enough of my ranting; thanks for reading and have a very Merry Christmas (this is my first Christmas as a Dad and I couldn’t be more excited). Maybe I better get to those Christmas cards now!
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