This is the year the dog at home lost its bite -- for a while, at least.
For several seasons the best approach to beating the point spread on National Football League games has been absurdly easy: take the points, the underdog, when the "dog" is playing on its home field. But that approach started off poorly this fall and was 3-8 after the first three weeks. After seven weeks the record still was on the down side, at 14-15.
Through last weekend, however, employing the early week spread that has appeared in this column, the dog was on top again, 23-19. Monday night's 44-23 thrashing of San Diego by Seattle was a classic example. Seattle, playing at home, opened as a five-point underdog. Nationally, the game went out to six.
There is no reason why this simplistic approach should continue to turn a profit, but it does. Until the favorites playing on the road start to overwhelm their lesser rivals, no one should be faulted for taking the easy method to success. Of course, there's no guarantee the league's balance will continue to maintain this trend.
The early week figures show home teams enjoying an 81-70 advantage in the point spread, the favorites standing at 70-75 (ties excluded).
Only two home teams are underdogs this week, Chicago getting two points against Detroit and Baltimore getting two against St. Louis. Proceed at your own risk. I wouldn't touch either contest.
Instead, I'll be going with Los Angeles, Oakland and the New York Jets, if Richard Todd can play, for an imaginary $750 each, and with Cincinnati and Atlanta for $250 each.
Los Angeles has had more than its share of injuries this season, and quarterbacks have been a problem. But the defense has been solid most of the time. Certainly, a month ago in San Francisco, the Rams were unlucky to have lost to the 49ers, 20-17. They dominated the action through the last quarter. I'll look for them to rally behind Pat Haden Sunday in the return match. San Francisco may have to go without Fred Dean, the heart of its pass rush. Los Angeles is favored by 2 1/2.
Oakland's defense has been strong all season. The offense, behind young Marc Wilson, gradually is beginning to jell, so the Raiders are going to be very tough the rest of the way. At 5-6, the defending Super Bowl champions are not out of the playoff picture. San Diego, meanwhile, has more headaches on defense than even Jack Pardee can remedy. Oakland is favored by 2 1/2.
The Jets always seemed able to handle Miami when the Dolphins were clearly the superior club. Now, New York has an edge in the line matchups. If Todd can play (he hurt his ribs last Sunday), I'll give the three points. If he can't, pass the game. Check the papers Friday and Sunday for Todd's condition.
Cincinnati continues to be slightly underrated. The Bengals' young defensive front is becoming downright nasty. Denver's defense also is excellent. Edge here, however, goes to Ken Anderson over Craig Morton or Steve DeBerg. Anderson will stand up better to the pressure that both defensive units are certain to apply to the passers. Cincinnati is favored by 3 1/2.
Atlanta, once 3-0, now is 5-6. The offense is going to have to carry the defense. What's been missing lately is the solid running game, led by William Andrews. Minnesota will move the ball with Tommy Kramer passing, but the Falcons should be able to outlast the NFC Central leader in a high-scoring contest Monday night. Atlanta is favored by four.
In other games, Dallas is a seven-point favorite over Washington, Philadelphia 9 1/2 over the New York Giants (Phil Simms is out for the year), Tampa Bay three over Green Bay, Buffalo 7 1/2 over New England, Houston 5 1/2 over New Orleans, Cleveland 2 1/2 over Pittsburgh and Kansas City 7 1/2 over Seattle.