Home edge lessened

Prior to the start of the season there were debates and discussions as how the absence of fans at NFL games — or a minimum percentage of capacity in attendance at best — would impact home field advantage.

In a normal season, the general thought is that the home field is worth three points to the host team. Most handicappers agree in general but also point to differences that vary by team. Better teams are considered to enjoy perhaps a four- or five-point edge while weaker teams may enjoy only one or two points at most.

There are several ways to attempt an objective measure of home field edges, but all are problematic given short seasons of just eight home and eight road games per team. My research indicates that playing at home has been less of an advantage in recent seasons than historically.

One thing is certainly true, and that is home field advantage does exist. In all sports, home teams generally win between 54% and 58% of their home games season after season. In the NFL, since 1982, home teams have won 57.70 percent of more than 9,000 games (excluding ties). Since Division realignment in 2002 the percentage has been nearly identical (57.16% of more than 4,500 games). From 2014 through 2018 the percentage was 57.28 over 1,257 games, reaching a high of just over 60% in 2018.

But things took a sharp decline in 2019 when home teams were just 130-120-1 SU (52%). Through 105 games this season, home teams are 53-51-1 SU (50.96%). Whether the past season and a half is just a short-term blip is uncertain but the fact that home teams performed relatively poorly in 2019 (when there was no coronavirus) could suggest this season’s follow up results may have little to do with the virus.

But there are other objective measures I’ll share next week that show sharp deviations from historical norms from 2019 have so far carried over to 2020. 

Sunday

Colts -3 at Lions: Indianapolis is off its Bye that following its two poorest defensive efforts of the season vs. Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Colts allowed 385 and 398 yards after holding each of their first four foes to under 270.  Detroit’s won back to back games and three of four with each win on the road. 

The Lions are 0-2 SU and ATS at home. The rest should benefit the Colts with new QB Philip Rivers and coach Frank Reich able to tinker with the offense. Despite the efforts in their last two games, the Indy defense is well balanced, ranking third vs. the run and second against the pass. 

Detroit’s offense has no special strength, ranking 18th via the run and No. 20 in passing.  Rest and matchups favor the visitors at a reasonable price. COLTS

Patriots +3.5 at Bills: Perhaps the Bills were looking ahead with their dull first half play against the Jets before their defense dominated the second half in their 18-10 win. 

Against the 49ers, New England suffered its worst home loss under Bill Belichick, dropping the Pats to 2-4 following a third straight defeat. 

If there’s ever there’s a favorable spot for Buffalo to snap its seven-game losing streak to the Pats, this is the time and place. Favored for only the third time in the series since 2003, the Bills seek to avoid a third straight upset to their longtime nemesis. Both teams have wins over the Dolphins and Raiders and losses to the Chiefs. I keep reminding myself “Buy low. Don’t overreact.” PATRIOTS

Titans -6 at Bengals: Cincinnati continues to show progress with rookie QB Joe Burrow but the defense is stil unable to protect leads. Tennessee suffered its first loss last week to unbeaten Pittsburgh. But even in defeat, the Titans rallied from down 27-7 and nearly forced overtime but for a missed FG in the final half-minute. 

That resiliency should serve them well with the potent running game powered by Derrick Henry and the capable passing game of QB Ryan Tannehill. The offense ranks second in losing just 0.5 turnovers per game. Tennessee drops in class after facing Pittsburgh’s top ranked defense last week. TITANS

Saints -4 at Bears: New Orleans has won five straight against Chicago since 2011 (4-1) with three of the wins in Chicago, including last season. 

New Orleans has the much better offense with Chicago having the stingier defense. The Bears win ugly and have been outscored, outgained in total yards and outperformed on a yards per play basis. Eventually that catches up with teams. 

New Orleans’ defense is league average vs. the pass but outstanding against the run.  The Bears rank last in running the football, gaining just 84 yards per game with a below- average pass attack. 

The versatility of the Saints’ all-purpose back Taysom Hill could be the difference in keeping Chicago’s defense off balance. SAINTS

49ers +3 at Seahawks: Seattle continues its pattern of close games decided late, entering this game off their OT loss at Arizona. San Francisco comes to town off a pair of impressive wins over the Rams and at New England, but still sits last in the tough NFC West where all four teams have winning records.

It’s a difficult spot for the 49ers with games against the Packers and Saints up next. A regression would not be surprising after their last two wins.

It’s a favorable spot for Seattle, which returns to the road for their next two games, making this their lone home game between Weeks 5 and 11. Oh, and they have QB Russell Wilson off a three-interception game, the last of which set up Arizona’s winning FG. He figures to be highly motivated to make amends. SEAHAWKS

Steelers +3.5 at Ravens: This is meeting No. 28 between the coaches with Baltimore’s John Harbaugh hired in 2008, one season after Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers.  Baltimore has a 14-13 edge SU and is 12-11-4 ATS.

Most of their early meetings were very close with 11 of their first 14 decided by 4 points or less. But eight of the last 13 have been decided by seven or more, six by double digits. 

The Ravens are rested and swept Pittsburgh last season when injured Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger missed both games. Against three common foes, each has defeated Cleveland, Houston and Philadelphia with very similar statistics. Pittsburgh remains unbeaten (5-1 ATS) and has held all foes to under 105 rushing yards. Baltimore’s had trouble stepping up in class the past few seasons. 

The lack of a large, raucous crowd could negatively impact Baltimore’s defense on key third down plays. STEELERS

Last week: 2-4

Season: 14-27-1