Banking on the Jekyll & Hyde dichotomy

October 30, 2007 1:20 AM
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The home/road disparity in sports is often remarkable. Look at the Seattle Seahawks, who come off their bye week. The Seahawks are 3-1 SU/2-2 ATS at home where the offense averages over 23 points, but 1-2 SU/ATS on the road as the offense averages just 14 points.

This is nothing new. Last season the Seahawks had a winning home record (6-3), but a losing road mark in which they were 3-6 ATS. Part of the reason is that the team is located in the Northwest, many times a long road trip for visitors.

It’s also an excellent home field edge with their outstanding fan base known as the "12th man."

Seattle is 19-4 SU, 14-8-1 ATS in its last 23 home games. After beating St. Louis 33-6 at home the last game, coach Mike Holmgren still said the Seahawks have been inconsistent the first seven games.

"You look at the film, any one game, you’ll see some really good things and some things that you scratch your head on," he said, an indirect reference to their up and down home/road play.

Naturally, teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Part of it is pride and part of it is that the fans are paying good money for entertainment. No team wants to send the locals home unhappy, like Jacksonville Jaguar fans last week on Monday night in that 29-7 loss to the rival Colts.

Another part of the equation is travel. Visiting teams have to spend time in airports, sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms, and 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, and driving to the stadium on a route they’re familiar with. Being home in familiar surroundings means being comfortable, 24-hours a day.

Road play is one way to get a sense of how good a head coach is. Any coach can get his players to give it their all in front of 60,000 screaming fans, but the really good coaches can get their players to perform just as effectively on the road.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick is one such team that plays well no matter where the venue. New England is 12-2 SU/ATS in its last 14 road games!

On the other side of the equation, the heat is on Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville as many felt he had a talented playoff-caliber team last year, yet they went 8-8 and missed the postseason.

Why? They were a dominant home team (6-2 SU/ATS), but a poor 2-6 SU/ATS on the road, which makes one wonder about the coaching staff, although they have had a good road start this season.

It’s important from a handicapping angle to carefully break down home and road stats. The Rams and Colts, for example, play their home games indoors, in facilities better suited for speed and offense. Even in this terrible season, the Rams are giving up almost the same number of points both home and away, but the offense is averaging two TDs more per game at home. The Rams are 4-0 under the total on the road.

Like last season, the Colts are deadly at home, averaging over 30 points. If you like to play totals, things like this are significant: The Colts started 2-1 over at home, but 2-1 under on the road.

Many of us saw the Cowboys/Bills Monday night game a few weeks ago, which featured a colossal late collapse by the Bills. Despite the collapse, the Bills did get the cover as a double-digit home dog.

Think they would have played such inspired ball on the road? Maybe, but that was the first Monday night game in several years. The fans and players were really fired up. Also notice that Buffalo is 3-0 ATS at home this season, but started 0-2 SU/ATS on the road.

Even 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 were a sizzling 6-1 SU, 4-1-1 ATS at home last season, but 2-3 SU/1-4 ATS on the road.

As noted before, 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? Missouri 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. They also have long road trips to the mainland. Since 2003, Hawaii is 20-6 SU, 16-9 ATS at home, but they’re only 10-13 SU/9-9 ATS on the road.

You can see why NFL teams play hard to secure home-field edge for the playoffs. Sometimes, whom you’re playing is not as important as where you’re playing