I had planned on giving you all a preview of upcoming Bowl action in this column but upon fourther review that looked like it was going to be a really short and boring column. I normally start working on the column on Saturdays and this past Saturday was an odd day in that there were three NFL games. What was even more odd was that all three games featured home underdogs and that the betting action was all on the road favorites. Now I had an interesting premise for a column!
Before I get to the power of the home dog, let me give what brief recap of Bowl betting there has been. Action has been limited on the post-Christmas Bowl games so far and there have been only a couple of major line moves. Nebraska has moved from -4 to -7 (based on action and some injuries to Mississippi) for the Independence Bowl and Notre Dame has been bet from +1 to Pick for the Gator Bowl. Other than that, all the spreads are the same or within a half point of our opening numbers. The early Bowl games last week were a split for books. We did well when North Texas upset Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl on Tuesday but gave the profits back on Wednesday when Marshall thumped Louisville in the GMAC bowl.
After both home dogs covered in Saturday’s day games I decided to spend a couple of hours Saturday night digging through our line histories for this NFL season (it was more exciting than watching the Cowboys play) to see how home dogs have performed in 2002. I found the results very interesting.
Through Week 16 there have been 86 games (out of 240) where the home team was the Underdog. This is not remarkable at all. However, we booked more action on the Road Favorite in 82 of them! That means bettors have gone against the home dog in an incredible 95% of these situations. That is remarkable. (For the record, the four games that saw more action on the home dog were all in the first half of the season and were a split with both the bettors and the books winning two).
Now to the real meat-and-potatoes, the win/loss records. The 86 home dogs were a decent 39-47 straight up (SU), including some big upsets such as Houston over Dallas Week 1 and the Bengals over the Saints yesterday, and lots of others in between. Betting these 86 home dogs blindly on the moneyline would have returned better than 16% this year, a decent profit by any standard. Against the spread (ATS), the home dogs went 49-35-2 this season for a 58.3% winning average. I don’t know about you but I haven’t hit 58.3% on all my plays this year so this looks like a good trend to explore. Betting every one of these games would have produced a return of 12.5%, much better than my retirement plan over the last 12 months!
Before we can say any trend is a really a trend and not just a fluke we need to be able to explain it. Why would home dogs cover more than half of the time? 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 can’t be the key. Well, there are a few possible reasons. 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 bookmakers and the betting public are not giving them their due and they love to prove people wrong. Another is a lack of pressure. Pressure does funny things to people. Some thrive on it (Joe Montana) and others get buried by it (any FSU kicker against Miami). When a team is not expected to win, sometimes they are able to enjoy the game and play their very best. A third 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. Did the Saints really think they would lose to the Bengals yesterday? Absolutely not. However, 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 the four factors produces a slight edge but probably 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 in favor of the home dog and this accounts for the higher win percentage.
Okay, we now have some basis for why this could be a trend. Now we need to try and decide if winning 49 of 84 games (remember 2 games were a push for bettors) is statistically significant. Without boring you with the math, let me just skip to the answer; no it is not. This is really just 7 games above the .500 mark and could be explained by random variation. It is close enough to being significant that I will be looking through previous years’ data to see if a trend really exists. Perhaps if the Cowboys are on TV again next weekend I will have the time.
Now, here is the Book Manager’s dilemma. If players are betting the road favorite 95% of the time, perhaps books should shade their lines more in that direction to balance action better. However, if road dogs are hitting 58% why not shade that direction? That is something to think about anyways. I have one more little tidbit to share before I move on. Small home dogs (spreads of less than 2.5) were an impressive 14-6 SU and ATS. This sample size is way too small to say if it is significant but it bares watching in the future.
Before signing off to go finish my Christmas shopping (yes I know what day it is), here is Kent’s Line Move of the Week. Kent is Bodog’s top bookmaker and each week he discusses a game of note with us from his unique perspective. This week his thoughts are on the Miami/Minnesota game.
The game opened Miami -3 and we took some decent Miami money so after getting Dolphins action at -3 (-125) and still we decided to test the waters at -3.5. This slowed the torrent but did not stop it. Moving off 3 gives me nightmares, literally! The fear of getting middled or sided is one every book manager deals with every day. However, there is the occasional game where the dreaded move from -3 to -3.5 doesn’t produce the dog action you expect, such as the case was on this game. Had the Dolphins won by 3 (and that was certainly a very likely possibility with the game tied 17-17 late in the fourth quarter) the players laying 3.5 would have lost and we would have pushed the action at 3. Yes, teasers would have paid both ways but we still could have had a side in the House’s favor on a game that opened and landed 3 and that is not a common occurrence!
My thanks to Kent as always and my best to all of you this week. Have a very Merry Christmas. Drive safe and good luck on all your plays.
The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino