That most voracious of pro football betting's creatures, "the 'dog' at home," went on a barking binge again last Sunday.
Washington, getting 4 1/2 points against Houston, lost, 29-27.
Buffalo, a 5-point underdog against Miami, lost, 9-7.
St. Louis, rated 4 1/2 points inferior to Dallas, lost, 22-21.
Woof! Woof! Woof!
It took the champion Pittsburg Steelers to finally put the "dog" on a leash, at least temporarily, Monday night in New England -- and the Steelers needed overtime. Pittsburgh, a 2-point favorite, won, 16-13.
A team that can give points and regularly cover the spread away from home is a rarity. The hometeam underdog beat the points 51 times last season while losing on 21 occasions. That is almost 71 percent. A bettor could retire on such a statistic.
Balance is the byword in the NFL today. The league abounds in .500 or near .500 clubs. Only Pittsburgh , Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, New England and San Diego are perceptibly better than average.
The 16-game schedule is partly responsible for this. So is the scheduling format that pits strength against strength and weakness against weakness at every opportunity. With two or three exceptions, the team to beat the spread last week was in doubt until the final minutes.
Linemakers have become increasingly aware of the home-field advantage. San Diego, Denver and Philadelphia are probably cases in point this week. All three are favored, and all three games have been taken out one extra point in anticipation of the public's response.
Fine. I will tab all three, tokenly, an imaginary $100 apiece: Denver giving 3 Thursday night against Los Angeles, San Diego giving 3 1/2 against Oakland Sunday and Philadelphia giving 6 against Atlanta Monday night.
I went with Cincinnati against the Broncos' defense last week, and paid the price. Denver is 15 and 3 under Red Miller in Mile High Stadium against the spread. Miller's offense often makes life difficult for his super-quick defense, but there is a compensating factor: the crowd (Broncomania) often seems to intimidate the officials.
San Diego's offense and its incentive will be on display against Oakland. The Chargers will never forget how the Raiders pushed the ball into the end zone on the last play last season.
Philadelphia also has reason to remember, against Atlanta, how it lost in the first round of the 1978 layoffs.
Ordinarily, I play only two or three games a week. Occasionally, early in the season, I will try the shotgun approach even though last year it backfired.
Baltimore should be more than a 1 1/2-point favorite over Tampa Bay, with or without Bert Jones. Take the Colts at home for a mythical $250. Pittsburgh ( $250) is too heavy for Houston, giving 7 at home, what with Dan Pastorini still rusty after having missed most of the preseason.
I will also trust the Chicago defense ( $250) against Minnesota giving 5, now that Bob Avellini is less of a menace to his Bear teammates. Cleveland ( $100) has too much balance for Kansas City, giving 1. Washington ( $100), getting 1, should be able to defense a Detroit team without a quarterback.
Finally, there is Cincinnati's brash young defense coming on at Buffalo, giving 3, for a mythical $100. The Bills are 8-0-1 against the spread in their last nine home appearances. We all know about the "dog" at home. What the heck. Live dangerously.
In other games St. Louis is a 1 1/2-point favorite over the New York Giants, Green Bay 3 over New Orleans, Dallas 11 over San Francisco, New England 7 over the New York Jets and Miami 7 over Seattle.