The dog at home continues to have a strong influence on the point spread for NFL games.
Over the last two seasons the underdogs, playing on its home field, has compiled a fantastic record against the number -- over 65 percent. No other "system" or "approach" had been so blindly, simply successful. Of course, two years ago no one knew this statistic was about to be compiled, so the band-wagon formed fairly slowly. But, by now the Dog at Home Club must have as many members as the American Kennel Club.
This year the dog at home is 5-4, even though the line makers and the nation's bookmakers are painfully aware of the bite the underdog has had. Over-all this season, the home team has beaten the spread 15 times and failed to do so 27 times. The line makers have, in several instances, shaved the number in an attempt to attract more action on the favored visiting team.
This week's card offers several cases in point.
Philadelphia opened four over the Cardinals at St. Louis. Los Angeles is five at the New York Giants, San Diego six at Kansas City and Houston 3 1/2 at Cincinnati. Were it not for the high percentage success of the dog at home over the last two seasons plus, all four visiting teams would be favored a little stronger.
The home field advantage is factored into every line. Except that now, for many games, it is made a stronger factor than ever, in order to make the underdog (at home) less attractive. Other wise, this week, Los Angeles would be at least six, San Diego seven, Philadelphia five or six and Houston 4 1/2.
The line makers know that all four underdogs are going to get a strong play from the boys on the band-wagon, who by now have a right to believe they have found the path to easy riches. But anyone who plays these dogs this week is paying for the privilege, just as they have been for some time now, while still winning.
Sooner or later -- probably sooner -- the members of the Dog at Home Club are going to find themselves choked off on the end of the line maker's leash. Eventually, it has to happen. But nobody knows exactly when these dogs will turn on their masters. Even when they do, they will have been well fed.
I spent much of last season going against the dog at home, and I have the scars to prove it. It would not pick against an underdog solely because the line has been shaded a point or so. But when I like the stronger team, and I'm getting another point simply because I'm going against a popular statistic, well, that's all the more reason to make a selection.
So, the Eagles, Rams, Chargers and Oilers each attract a mythical $250 play on Sunday. I will also take Pittsburgh for $250, giving 13 at home against Chicago, and Baltimore for $250 giving four as host to the New York Jets.
St. Louis probably will score more points (17) than the Eagles have allowed all year. They may get 21 or 24, and that still should not be enough to cover. Los Angeles, meanwhile, cannot afford a letdown against anyone, not with San Francisso 3-0 in the NFC West. San Diego has to much firepower for K.C., and Houston (love that Stabler) should wear down Cincinnati even if Earl Campbell can't play.
The Steelers figure to be mean again, after having been embarrassed for the second straight season in Cincinnati. Baltimore must know by now it has a good chance to win the AFC East, what with young Mr. Dickey emerging as a top-class runner to complement Bert Jones' passing.
Las Vegas' line on other games has San Francisco three over Atlanta, Tampa Bay three over Cleveland, Dallas 10 at Green Bay, Detroit 6 1/2 over Minnesota, Miami seven over New Orleans, Buffalo 2 1/2 over Oakland, Washington four over Seattle and (Monday night) New England four over Denver.