Sunday, December 12, 2010

NFL Home Field Advantage

So much is always made about home field advantage, including in the National Football League.  Is home field really THAT much of an advantage?  Let's start by looking this years regular season thus far.  Home teams this year are 107-85 (.557).  That indicates there is some sort of advantage to playing at home obviously, but at the same point it is not as if all teams are evenly matched.  Only 2003 has seen home teams win 60 percent or more of its games this decade.  The question is whether this a decline in home field advantage or an increase in parody.

A Case for the Decline in Home Field Advantage
What we need to keep in mind is we are talking about professional football not collegiate football.  This is their job to play football and win games.  Fan bases tend to be more evenly split at any game as there are only 32 NFL teams compared to 120 Division I teams.  Most of these professional football players don't call the town they play in "home".  After all, who would want to live in Buffalo???  So the argument that away teams are away from home and will not perform as well is pretty weak. 

The stadiums today are not the stadiums they used to be.  That may seem backward but when you think about the path that franchises are going, the stadiums are drifting toward a similar norm directed at entertaining corporate outings rather than providing a home field advantage.  Three of the toughest places to play (Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Astrodome in Houston and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia) are no longer.  Although some of these new stadiums have provided a better home winning percentage than the league average, it needs to be taken into account that many of these teams are good football teams.

The idea of home field advantage is also largely centered around the playoffs.  It is believed that home field advantage is one of the first steps toward a Super Bowl, but is that the case?  Yes, the home team playoff records have been significantly better during the regular season but it has been proven that it may not be "all that".  The Giants in '08 and the Steelers in '06 won a Super Bowl without playing a single home game.  This suggests maybe home field isn't as important as one might think.

Some have claimed that home field advantage changes throughout the year.  I tend to agree with this wholeheartedly.  Here are some examples.  Miami is known to get off to a fast start and then fizzle.  Could this be because away teams are not used to the oppressive heat in September?  Maybe.  It is tough to argue against the fact that one of the best home field advantages in the NFL, Lambeau Field, may actually improve as the year goes on and the temperatures drop.  Some teams may have a home field disadvantage by the end of the year, because a poor record has turned fans against them, caused players to quit and forced coaching changes.  It is thought that a team playing games in a dome may have a significant advantage, but what about when they are playing other dome teams? 

Betting Significance
It is a well known fact that home teams get on average three to three and a half points at home.  But is this necessarily the case?  Many odds makers have said this is not necessarily the case.  They do not add in an extra three points to horrible teams when they do not feel there is a home field advantage.  This year home teams ATS are 88-99 (.471).  The public may me inflating these home team lines and the sharps are taking advantage of that.

My Two "Sense"
The truth of the matter is that there is a slight advantage to playing at home.  No one can argue that.  There are obviously more factors and variables to the signficance of the advantage than one might have first thought.  My bold prediction is that we will continue to see home field advantage decrease as more teams move to synthetic turf and large stadiums that are only a ringmaster short of a circus.  As ticket prices continue to rise, the "rowdy" fans will continue to watch from home as CEO's and corporate big wigs eat their caviar and drink their Patron from their luxury boxes.  Playing on the road will soon be no more than playing in the same stadium in a different city.  I think teams in the north will benefit greatly from this as they will soon be the only ones playing in significantly different conditions than the rest of the league.  Teams will continue to move toward a norm and predicting the outcome of games may become more like flipping a coin.  Whether this is good for the NFL is a completely different story.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

ESPN 30 for 30 (Pony Excess)

I am a pretty big fan of this series.  I will admit that I have not seen many of them but all of them I have been very well done.  If you want to read about how this idea was originated you can here: Bill Simmons Essay.  They do a nice job of taking stories that have not been shoved down our throat recently and making them relevant again.  The part that is intriguing is taking some of the greatest stories from the past and relating them to the present.  SMU's journey from Southwest Conference doormat to powerhouse to the death penalty got me thinking about the possible second edition of the death penalty.

While watching I couldn't help but think of the parallels between this story and what I think might happen at USC.  It is easy to forget that although USC was a once dominant program they were just a mediocre 31-29 in the five season leading up to the Pete Carroll era.  When Ron Meyer arrived in 1976 at SMU the Mustangs were on an eight year bowl drought.  They were routinely getting handled by their Southwest Conference rivals including Texas, Texas A&M, Houston and Arkansas.  Meyer arrived from UNLV and success quickly followed.  Although they did not make a bowl game until 1980, they were certainly successful and could not participate in bowl games because of probation.  They were getting the best players every year and just like that were on the national stage of collegiate football.  Sound familiar?

This is the part that really gets me.  Meyer abruptly left a 10-1 SMU team (no bowl game because of probation), with returning starters including Eric Dickerson and Craig James to bolt for the NFL and the New England Patriots.  It was well know that SMU would be a front-runner for the National Championship coming off probation.  Why would he leave for a 2-14 team????  Sound familiar?  Pete Carroll left a program where he was 83-19 to take over the Seattle Seahawks franchise that was a combined 9-23 over the previous two years.  Both men had it made.  They chose to leave for poor NFL situations.

The third and final parallel I will make between these situations is with the replacement coaches.  When Bobby Collins took over the SMU program coming from Southern Miss he simply wanted to coach football.  He knew of payments and incentives being made, he just chose to look the other way.  He figured they had been getting away with it and the players kept coming, why not continue?  He took over a team coming off a 10-1 record, returning Eric Dickerson and Craig James and went undefeated (including a tie to Arkansas) in his first season.  Needless to say it finally caught up with HIM, while Meyer was enjoying life in the NFL.  Enter Lane Kiffin at USC.  They are currently in a probation year.  This may seem like no big deal and USC will keep rolling as long as the sun keeps shining in Southern California.  Lets keep in mind this is the same Lane Kiffin that had numerous "secondary" recruiting violations at Tennessee.  Do I think he is the one of the most honest human beings in college football?  HELL NO.  Would he be willing to let benefits continue to USC players?  That is the million dollar question.

Here is where this gets interesting.  The NCAA Death Penalty reads "The rule stipulates that if a second major violation occurs at any institution within five years of being on probation in the same sport or another sport, that institution can be barred from competing in the sport involved in the second violation for either one or two seasons.  Remember USC is on probation this year.  Am I the only one that thinks it is very possible to think that by 2015 USC could have another major violation?  This could very well be the next SMU.  The problem I have is the punishment.  Did Ron Meyer get punished?  If you would call getting an NFL gig punishment, then yes.  Will Pete Carroll get punished? Only with the scenery change, which yes I consider a punishment.  Note: this is punishment until the Vikings hire Carroll as head coach and ship their operation to Los Angeles.

I guess the moral of the story is that if history does indeed repeat itself there may be more than smoke here.  It is simply too similar.  Just like SMU got hit in 1986 while programs like Texas, Texas A&M, and Baylor were doing the exact same thing, will USC be the next victim of the death penalty while undoubtedly other programs (cough, cough Auburn) are doing the exact same thing?  That remains to be seen.  I don't know if I could honestly say there are ANY truly honest programs being run in Division I football. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cyclones MBB in Top 25!

Well, not exactly the AP Top 25, but the find themselves in Chad Millman's "Sweat Barometer" Top 25.  This system puts together the top college basketball teams to bet on based on their average "cover".  In ISU's games so far they have been averaging closing as 8.57 point favorite.  They have also averaged covering by 6.43 points per game.  This puts them at 16th in the nation at this point, although they are still a mediocre 4-3 against the spread.  Who is at the top you ask?  The Belmont Bruins covering by an average of over 16 points!!!  I think the most surprising part is that they are on average a 3.13 point favorite.  I want some of those cupcakes!!!!

Week 14 NFL Picks ATS

Season Record: 49-35 (.583)
Last Week: 4-2

Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee
As long as the Titans keep ignoring Chris Johnson and putting the game in the hands of Kerry Collins they will struggle.  The Titans to me seem like a team that is ready for their season to be over even though they are still alive in the AFC South.

Oakland (+4.5) @ Jacksonville
Yet another AFC South team that I am very unimpressed with.  I am somewhat concerned about the Raiders traveling all the way across the nation for this game but I don't see either team scoring enough points to put this game outside of a field goal game.

New York Giants (-2) @ Minnesota
While the Giants worry me because of their inconsistency, the Vikings quarterback situation is a mess and I think the Leslie Frazier effect will fade a bit this week.  I like the Giants winning by a field goal or more.

Detroit (+6.5) vs Green Bay
I typically don't like taking 6.5 points but I really think the Lions can keep this one close.  They haven't won a divisional game in a couple years.  I think the Lions make it interesting until the very end allowing them to stay within a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (-2) @ Washington
After last week I am becoming more of a believer in Tampa.  Josh Freeman is looking better every week, but I think this pick is more about the mess that is the Washington Redskins than Tampa Bay.  I love giving the two points here.

Cincinnati (+9) @ Pittsburgh
Divisional games typically stay close.  This one comes down to the fact that this is a NFL game and I hate giving more than seven points.  I'll take the points here and hope for a late cover field goal or touchdown by the Bengals.