The Muffed Punt: Why betting NFL home-field advantage is bullcrap

There are certain things in life we accept as fact, and never question them to be false. Take swallowing your gum for example.

We’ve always been told that if you swallow your gum it will stay inside your body for decades, growing with every cube of Double Bubble we inhale until it forms some soft-ball size blob in our stomach, collecting all the Lego blocks and nickels we ingested as toddlers.

Well, that gum thing is bullshit.

Your stomach acid can melt a soda can, so a stick of chewing gum has about as much chance inside your gut as Greg Hardy has of getting a Christmas card from Tom Brady.

In sports betting, there are also these implied “facts” and one of the greatest lies we ever told ourselves is that when handicapping football – at least the NFL brand – home field is worth three points.

And just like your mother, who pushed parenting propaganda on us like the gum crap, waiting an hour before swimming, and the whole “You’ll go blind!” thing, NFL oddsmakers have helped cultivate this home-field myth – mainly because we’ve let them.

“It’s what’s in the mind of the bettors,” Peter Korner, founder of Las-Vegas based odds service The Sports Club, says. “We’re the ones trying to guess what’s in the head of the bettors and if that’s the standard they look at (three points for home field). As long as that’s what they’re going to use, then that’s what we’ll use.”

Korner admits that not all home fields are created equal and, depending on the matchups and situations, the bump the home team deserves on the spread could be a lot less than the assumed three points.

“The standard three holds up pretty well for the purposes of doing my job of creating two-way action,” he says. “We have to add three because they (NFL bettors) are adding three.”

So far this season, home-field edge – to steal a quote from the great Ricky Bobby – “ain’t worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin’ it on.” At least not to NFL bettors.

Heading into Sunday’s Week 7 action, home teams overall are just 41-49-2 ATS (covering only 45.56 percent) and it’s been even worse when teams – getting that extra 3-point home cooking – have been the betting favorite, going 26-34-1 ATS on the season (just 43.33 percent). Those records include an 11-17-1 ATS record for home teams (39%) and a 6-12-1 ATS count for home chalk (33%) over the past two weeks.

Ted Sevranksy – AKA Teddy Covers – has been handicapping NFL action in Las Vegas since the early 2000’s and says there’s definitely a misconception when it comes to home-field advantage and it’s worth to the weekly spread.

“In my opinion, home-field advantage is much smaller than what the betting market is giving credit for,” says Sevransky. “I’m mean, how much is home field worth in Jacksonville? Or for the Bucs, or even for the Cowboys for that matter?”

Sevransky has been taking into account overvalued – or undervalued – home-field advantage when creating his weekly NFL power ratings for a while now and believes that across the board, home field is worth more like 2.5 to 2.75 points to the spread – of course, depending on the situation and matchup.

That value is not too far off from what the current trend in home-field betting advantage tells us. Looking at this season, as well as the previous 10 NFL regular seasons (2005-2014) there has been a steady decline in two major categories: Average home team spread and home team points allowed.

This year, heading into Week 7, home teams were facing an average spread of -2.26 points. If you follow each season going back to 2005, you get average home spreads of -2.31 (2014), -2.48 (2013), -2.37 (2012), -2.47 (2011), -2.41 (2010), -2.58 (2009), -2.67 (2008), -2.39 (2007), -2.87 (2006) and -2.74 (2005). So in the last 10 years, NFL home team spreads have roughly decreased from -2.75 to -2.25.

That half-point (-0.50) differential may not seem like a lot, but when you throw in that home teams are giving up 22.8 points per game in 2015 compared to only 18.7 average points in 2005 (while home team points for have only jumped from 22.4 in 2005 to 23.8 in 2015) – more than four points extra per home stand – it’s easy to understand why home-field advantage may not be worth what it used to be. Or, what we believed it was once worth.

Oh, and Mom, I still have 20/20 eyesight, so toss that “fact” in the garbage along with those three points.

For those curious types…

If you’re wondering how home teams have fared in that given time frame above (2005-2015), heading into Week 7 home teams were 1260-1321-70 ATS (48.8%) facing an average spread of -2.5 points.

The best home-field bet in that frame was Seattle with a 52-28-3 ATS record facing an average home spread of -4.83 points. The worst was Oakland at 30-52-1 ATS against an average spread of +2.65.

New England has the highest average spread at home at -8.75 points and is 43-28-1 ATS against that number. Other notables include Pittsburgh (-5.34), Green Bay (-5.50) and Denver (-5.16).

How much is that doggy at the window?

Talking with Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, this week, he mentioned a trend he’s noticed this NFL season, as it pertains to a certain type of underdog.

Rood said it’s been a very “have and have-not” season, with the elite covering the spread – teams with four or more SU wins are 38-11-2 ATS (covering at a 77.5 percent ATS clip) – and the rest of the league is just kind of running into each other.

“We haven’t had those mid-range underdogs come through with upset ATS wins like in past seasons,” Rood said.

And that’s true. The only NFL team with a losing SU record that’s still in the black for NFL bettors are the Cleveland Browns at 2-4 SU and 4-2 ATS.

Heading into Week 7, mid-range NFL underdogs – ones getting between +4 and +6.5 points – are just 10-11 ATS and 8-13 SU. And for shorter pups between +1 and +3.5, those teams have finished 25-23-2 ATS (22-28 SU).

It’s been the bigger dogs providing the most bite, with teams getting +7 to +9.5 points posting a 10-5 ATS record and 10-plus underdogs going 4-2 ATS, for a combined ATS winning clip of 67 percent for underdogs of seven points or more this season.

Pants pooping Trend of the Week

With Halloween on the way, the Indianapolis Colts have conjured comparisons to Friday the 13th baddy, Jason Voorhees. See, the Colts don’t stay dead. They always come back with more machete-wielding, camper-killing fury like the famed hockey-masked terror from Crystal Lake.

Going back to 2012, Indianapolis is 15-2 SU off a regular season loss and has covered in 14 of those games. The Colts are in this position once again in Week 7, coming off a loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football and have been bet down from -6 to 4-point home favorites against the Saints Sunday.

Bacon up that sausage! Now, butter up that bacon!

If you got that quote, you’re on some next level Simpsons $hit. Respect. And respect to Rob Cressy at for being patient with me Friday morning when my house was full of sick kids who didn’t let my wife and I sleep at all Thursday night (the struggle is real!). We talk shop about the NFL Week 7 odds and some fun undefeated props.

The Madden Project

If you haven’t been following along all season, here’s what’s up: using Madden NFL 16 on Xbox One to simulate the best games on the board that week, and seeing if there’s any validity when measured against the spread.

The machine went just 1-2 ATS last week, just missing on Carolina and New England but correctly calling San Diego to cover. I tried to sim Houston-Jacksonville game but my Xbox caught on fire. Even the computer didn’t want to sit through that one…

This week’s sims:

New Orleans at Indianapolis: 24-31/38-34/41-48 – Colts win 37.6-34.3
N.Y. Jets at New England: 21-17/10-35/13-24 – Patriots win 25.3-14.6
Philadelphia at Carolina: 30-22/37-17/21-30 – Eagles win 29.6-23

Last week: 1-2 ATS
Madden 16 season: 12-10 ATS (54.5%)

Footy anyone?

The NFL is back in the United Kingdom for the second London game this Sunday, with the Bills and Jaguars kicking off at 9:30 a.m. ET. An interesting trend forming in these UK games: Favorites have covered in eight of the last 10 trips in London and are 8-4 ATS all-time in England.

Oh, and if you are an NFL fan taking in the game Sunday, stay the hell out of Manchester. Manchester United is taking on Manchester City at 10:05 a.m. ET. If you thought Raiders fans were nuts, wait until you see these hooligans play a friendly game of “catch the chair with your face” before the match.

Biggest line move

Jets at Patriots. The Pats have been at the center of some crazy-ass line moves this season, starting with the Week 1 roller coaster also known as “Tom Brady’s suspension”. It seems every week, New England’s odds bounce around more than Charlotte McKinney playing Slamball and Week 7 is no exception. The Patriots opened -10 and have been bet down as low as -7.5 in this AFC East showdown with the Jets.

Wiseguys love…

The Cowboys. Matt Cassel takes over under center, which at least gives Dallas some passing threat beyond 10 yards. Dallas also returns rookie DE Randy Gregory from an ankle injury. This guys was all over Eli Manning before he twisted his ankle in Week 1. Gregory and fellow DE Greg Hardy are the things QB nightmares are made out of. The Cowboys have been bet down from +5 to +3.5.

Books are sweating…

Falcons at Titans. The money was already one-sided on this game with Atlanta moving from -3.5 to -5.5 before word got out that Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota would not play due to a sprained MCL. Now, this game has ballooned to a touchdown and will have a ton of parlay and teaser action riding on the Falcons.

Banker game

Ravens at Cardinals. It would seem fitting that the Week 7 finale would hold a lot of the chips. While the Falcons-Titans game will decide a lot of parlays Sunday, those still alive will roll over into what has been a very one-sided market so far. Arizona has jumped from as low as -6.5 to as high as -10, which means a ton of public money on the Cards and what should be some sizable buy back on Baltimore if that -10 sticks around. That could put the books in a rough spot with that liability on the middle.

Daily fantasy Player of the Week

My streak of terrible DFS picks continued last Sunday when Giants TE Larry Donnell could muster up just 4.4 points in a sloppy loss to the Eagles. I’m trying to think of a joke to make light of this dire situation but there’s not much I can say (or least can’t think of any jokes that WON’T get me fired). However, this section isn’t going away anytime soon, so please fade accordingly…

DFS Player of the Week: Delaine Walker TE, Tennessee Titans ($5,500)

With no Mariota, Zach Mettenberger gets the call at QB for the Titans. I always like tight ends when there’s a backup QB involved, simply because they’re the bail-out on most plays. And backups find themselves bailing out more often than following the playbook. Walker isn’t cheap but he’s averaged 10.35 DFS points over the past four weeks.

Injury you should know

Brice McCain, CB Miami Dolphins

McCain is the Fins’ starting corner and looks to be out with a sprained right knee suffered last week. Not only is this injury the first time Miami is down a starting defender but it also forces them to shift around the secondary and their coverage of Houston superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins, who will likely be assigned to rookie CB Bobby McCain.

We know how to pick’em

We normally settle any pick’em spreads by voting on which team has the hottest cheerleaders, but Week 7 is void of anything close to a pick – as of Friday afternoon. The one game that seems to be trending that way, however, is the Vikings at Lions. Minnesota has drawn sharp money early in the week and it has moved the line to as low as Detroit +2. Since the Lions don’t have an official cheerleader squad (but rather a volunteer group of gals outside the stadium), they don’t deserve to cover in this close one. Enjoy of a double shot of Minnesota’s finest…

Sunday’s menu

Remember the pulled pork sandos I made a couple week’s back? Well, I still have a honkin’ piece of pork butt left over from that, so I’m going to slow-cook that bad boy in the crockpot. If you don’t have a slow cooker – get one. Now! Go!

Song for Sunday

For the sake of my Cowboys and everything that’s good, let’s hope Matt Cassel is made of something a little sturdier than sand. Take it away Jimi…

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches Week 7.


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