Protect this house!

Oct 31, 2006 12:09 AM

Home versus Road Jekyll and Hyde

There’s no place like home.

The home/road disparity in sports is often remarkable. Look at the Jacksonville Jaguars. After losing 36-30 at Washington as a favorite, the Jags came back home and played their best game of the season, a 41-0 whitewashing of the Jets. Next game — a 27-7 loss at Houston as a 9-point favorite.

After the Texans disappointment, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called it, "Another stinker on the road."

That made Jacksonville 3-0 SU/ATS at home, but 0-3 SU/ATS on the road. Not all teams are that extreme, but it’s a significant handicapping factor to examine each week. On the way to winning the NFC last season, the Seattle Seahawks used their home field "12th man" to great advantage. Seattle was 10-0 SU, 8-2 ATS at home, even whipping Carolina 34-14 at home in the NFC Championship game. On the road, however, the Seahawks were only 5-3 SU, 3-4-1 ATS.

A respectable road record, but a far cry from 10-0!

Naturally teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Part of it is pride and part the fans paying good money for entertainment. No team wants to send the locals home unhappy, like Dallas fans last week on Monday night in the sloppy 36-22 loss to the NY Giants. Everyone wants to play their best in front of the paying customers.

Another part of the equation is travel. Visiting teams have to spend time in airports, sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms, have their sleeping patterns disrupted. Home teams get to spend the week working at their own practice facilities, sleeping in their own bed, eating home-cooked meals, driving to the stadium on the route they’re familiar with. Being home in familiar surroundings means being comfortable, 24-hours a day.

It’s important from a handicapping angle to carefully break down home and road statistics. The Rams, for example, play their home games indoors, a facility better suited to help offense. On the road St. Louis averages a respectable 17 points per contest, but the Rams are 2-1 SU, 3-0 ATS at home with an offense tallying 29 a game.

That’s a significant difference! And, if you like to play totals, the Rams are 3-0 over the projected number at home.

Many of us saw the colossal Cardinals collapse in the Monday night game against Chicago a few weeks ago. The last few years Arizona has had a reputation of playing tough at home and poorly on the road. Despite the meltdown, the Cardinals did get the cover. Away from home, they dropped to 0-3 SU/ATS the next week after a 22-9 loss to Oakland in a dreadful performance. That made Arizona 3-27 SU, 7-21 ATS its last 30 road games!

Another reason for home/road extremes like that can be coaching. A good coach will have his players prepared to play at a high level, whether home, on the road, or at a neutral site. Many below-average coaches can get players to give it their all at home, but not necessarily in front of a hostile crowd.

This happens in college, too. From 2001-05, the Iowa Hawkeyes went 13-12 both SU and ATS on the road, yet were dominating at home going 29-3 SU, 25-5-1 ATS. Not every team is so distinct, of course, and performance doesn’t always carry over from season to season so clearly. However, professional and college athletes are more comfortable at home than on the road and this can be reflected in their play.

Sometimes the playing surface can have an effect. The Missouri Tigers play their home games on artificial turf, which is why the team likes to recruit speed. The Tigers had a winning home mark last season, but were 1-3 SU/ATS on the road. This season Missouri started 5-0 SU/4-0 ATS at home averaging a touchdown more per game than on the road.

This is nothing new. In 2003 the Tigers averaged 41 points at home and 19 on the road. In 2004 they averaged 29 at home and just 17 on the road. Why is this important? Mizzu was 4-0 "under" the total on the road that season, 3-2 "over" at home.

Like Missouri, Hawaii’s passing offense is in a unique situation playing at home on artificial turf. The Rainbow Warriors also have long road trips to the mainland. Since 2003, Hawaii is 21-5 SU / 15-9 ATS at home, but 6-13 SU and 7-8 ATS on the road.

Arizona State is 29-14 SU /24-15-1 ATS at home since 2000, but 12-21 SU/ATS on the road. In addition, NFL teams play hard to secure home-field edge for the playoffs for a reason. It can be a big factor between advancing to the Super Bowl or going home and wondering what might have been.