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So far, T is for Tenn-tative away from home

Sep 30, 2003 4:02 AM

The first month of the NFL season is behind us, and some things never change. That is, in the words of Dorothy, there’s no place like home.

The home/road disparity in sports is remarkable and, for the most part, constant. A team like the Tennessee Titans looks so good in Week 1 at home, beating the defending AFC champion Raiders 25-20. The next week, Tennessee travels to Indianapolis to take on the division rival Colts, and were a completely different team. In fact, the Titans looked like they couldn’t beat a division 1-AA team in a 33-7 loss to Indy.

Following that game, the Titans came back home and ”” voila ”” they rip the Saints, 27-12. It seems as if they had sent out all rookies the week before, but then the real veterans were all in uniform in front of the adoring home fans. So Tennessee began the season 2-0 SU/ATS at home, but 0-1 SU/ATS on the road.

What gives? It’s been going on for decades in all sports ”” home versus road performance. Naturally teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Part of it is pride and the fact fans are the ones paying the salaries. Naturally, players and coaches want to send the fandom home happy.

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 at night, eating home-cooked meals, and driving to the stadium on the route they’re familiar with.

Being home in familiar surroundings means being comfortable, 24-hours a day. Professional athletes are human, and we’re all more capable of performing our jobs well when we’re content and relaxed, than if we’re disoriented or uncomfortable.

Why did the talented Miami Dolphins fail to make the playoffs last season? There’s no simpler answer than "They couldn’t win on the road." In 2002, Miami was sensational at home, going 7-1 SU and ATS, outscoring opponents by a 27-12 average. On the road Dave Wannstedt’s team looked like a circus act, going 2-6 SU/ATS, getting outscored by a 25-19 average.

What’s remarkable is that it’s the exact same team ”” the same players and coaches ”” at home and on the road. Yet, what a very different performance both SU and ATS!.

Other teams that are known for a particularly strong home field edge are Green Bay, Denver and Kansas City. Over the last 10 years, the Chiefs have had only one season without a winning record at home, but have had only two seasons with a winning road record.

Not all teams have this kind of disparity, of course. Coaching is a large factor. Good coaches can get their teams to play at a high level, regardless of whether they’re home or away. Weak coaches can often get the troops to only play well at home.

A good example of this was former Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg, who along with his staff were clearly in over their heads. In his two seasons in Detroit (2001-02), the Lions played were a strong 10-6 ATS at home, but on the road were 0-16 SU and 5-10-1 ATS.

Few teams like to travel to Denver. Not just because the Broncos usually field highly competitive teams (a great start this season, Super Bowl champions in 1998 and ”˜99), but also because of the thin Rocky Mountain air. Despite missing the playoffs the last two seasons, Coach Mike Shanahan’s Broncos were 11-5 SU at home (10-6 ATS). However, the Broncos were 5-10-1 SU and 4-11-1 ATS on the road.

Good coaches have a reputation of being able to get teams to play at a high level all the time, not just when the 50,000 fans are screaming for them to play well. Notice that when Bill Parcells took over Dallas this season, the young Cowboys stumbled at home in the opener (27-13 loss to Atlanta), then went on the road and stunned the heavily favored Giants, 35-32 as a +7½ dog.

Dallas didn’t roll over on the road, something they did with regularity the previous two years under Dave Campo. From 2001-02, the Cowboys were 8-8 at home (4-4 each season), but a miserable 2-14 on the road (1-7 both seasons).

Teams play hard to get the 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. Just ask Dave Wannstedt.