As you’re looking through this week’s schedule and you’re trying to decide on which teams to bet on, it’s always a good idea to look at the home dogs first.
When you take the dog, there are three results that can occur in a game: the dog can win, the favorite can win, or the dog can lose but cover. Two of those outcomes are good, only one is bad! Take the Week 1 game between Atlanta at San Francisco. San Francisco was down 21-13 and came back with a late touchdown that really didn’t affect the outcome of the game (Atlanta won 21-19), but all of a sudden your +3.5 looks pretty good. Then in Week 2 it was the New York Giants (+3) over Washington with some impressive looking defense from what I could tell.
In total, the home dogs are only 3-5 in the first two weeks of the season. So much for the power of the home dog so far, as a sample size I would say this is way too small to find a pattern. But not so fast, there are two home dogs worth watching in Week 3. Detroit is 2-0 and in tough against a very impressive looking Philadelphia team while the Cincinnati Bengals are up against the Baltimore Ravens.
So what is it that powers the home dog? If you’re playing well as an underdog against a strong opponent, you just get that much more emotion out of the crowd and you get that much more fired up game. This is something that 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.
Here are a few other sources of power:
- 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 on it (think Joe Montana, Tiger Woods) and others get buried by it (any FSU kicker against Miami, the Boston Red Sox!I know, I know!maybe this is their year). 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.
Why do bettors love road favorites so much? I think it is simply a case of not taking home field advantage into consideration enough. Travel takes its toll. Players maybe aren’t getting a good night’s sleep prior to the game because they’re not sleeping in their own beds. I say maybe because coaches sometimes actually put players up in hotels before important home games because they can sleep better without having to worry about wives, kids or pets. Weather and field conditions are sometimes a factor. It’s the little details and home quirks that give those home teams an advantage.
With college football it’s a little different. Because the teams control most of their schedule, you won’t find many 40-point road favorites. Teams don’t want to get embarrassed at home. The teams that aren’t as good will play more competitive teams at home, and will play the better teams on the road.
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.
And speaking of value, here’s a scenario to consider: Baltimore at Cleveland in Week 1. That was one of the most lopsided games I’ve ever seen bet (and some were calling it a trap, but I’ll get into that in a bit). Would Baltimore really have been a 10.5-11 point favorite at home against a team like Cleveland? If you get 3.5 points for your home team and that means if you flip flop locations, it’s really a 7-point swing.
People lay extra points because they look at the line and think, It’s only three points, they can cover that. But it’s not three; it’s more like seven in a neutral site and 11 at home. If you put it in those terms people look at it and think, Wow, that’s a pretty high spread. So you look at -3 and it seems like a low price. I compare it to prices in department stores; $49.95 is not $50.00, but it’s pretty close and can get some people to buy because they think there is value in being less than $50.
Which brings to mind the point I want to cover 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. When the road favorite wins (Tennessee in week one), people think our line was weak. When the home dog wins (like Cleveland), people think our line was a trap. We just put out the best line possible and let the players on the field figure it out!
Now that we have a simple starting point with betting on Home Dogs, we can move onto the wonderful world of moneylines next week.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino