NFL Betting Strategies: Is It Possible to Profit Off Home Underdogs?

Jason Lake

Thursday, July 9, 2015 6:00 PM GMT

Some bettors only put underdogs in their NFL picks. And some of those bettors prefer to stick with the home team. Is there still any merit to this betting strategy?

If you've been making NFL picks for a while, you're probably aware of the power of the underdog. These are the teams who are most likely to be undervalued by the marketplace, and are therefore more likely to cash in at the end of the day. Some betting pros will stick exclusively with underdogs when they make their football picks. And within that community, you'll find people who lean heavily on the home dogs.

The stats back them up. Or at least they have in the past; with the NFL becoming increasingly pass-happy and scoring on the rise, it's fair to expect the favorites to cover a little more often than they used to. Let's take a look at the numbers and see if this popular football betting strategy still holds water.

 

We're off to See the Wizard
First, we go to the fine folks at Wizard of Odds, who crunched the results from every regular season between 1983 and 2008. They found that underdogs as a group cashed in at 50.05 percent, with home dogs doing a little better at 50.70 percent. Obviously, this isn't enough to break even when you factor in the standard –110 vigorish. You need 52.38 percent for that. But if you start the betting process by narrowing your selections to home dogs, you're already nearly a third of the way there.

In theory. Now we have to fill in the results from the past six seasons. Thankfully, the stat gurus at Team Rankings have saved us some of the math by breaking down each team's record as a home dog since 2008. We just need to add them up... let's see, carry the one... I'm getting 285-305-17 ATS, or 48.31 percent. Oh dear.

 

Double Deuce
Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised. We've been hearing about shrinking home-field advantages for some time now. Visiting teams don't encounter the same degrees of difficulty they once did; the rigors of travel aren't quite as bad, the atmosphere at many stadiums has grown increasingly corporate and sterile, and the increased focus on everything from analytics to nutrition and sleep science has minimized the gap between all teams, regardless of location. You can add instant replay and increased player movement to the pile, too.

Once you add all that up, you can see why home-field advantage has been on the decline across all sports. Even two years ago, Business Insider was on the case with the relevant NFL numbers, showing the advantage dropping from three points between 1996 and 2005, to 2.2 points between 2006 and 2012.

 

Cardinal Fang
Having said that, some teams have better home field advantages than others. Konstantin Medvedoksy ran the numbers last year for each of the 32 teams (except the San Francisco 49ers) in their current stadiums, and found – surprise surprise – that the Seattle Seahawks were on top of the league, outscoring opponents by 10.82 points at The Clink. The Baltimore Ravens were next at 9.63 points, followed by the Arizona Cardinals at 8.91 points.

Of course, you also have to take into account how good those teams are on the road, the quality of opposition they face home and away, and a whole ton of other stuff. In the end, when handicappers set the NFL odds these days, they typically give the Seahawks a four-point advantage at home, while the Ravens might get the now-standard 2.5 points and the Cardinals only 1.5 points. Interesting. Note that Arizona went 3-1 ATS as a home dog last year. In fact, they're 20-13 ATS since moving to The U in 2006. The Seahawks? 13-16 ATS since moving into their new home in 2002. Looks like some teams are getting more or fewer points than they should.