NFL home teams and favorites are off to their worst start against the point spread in many seasons.

Through the first two weeks of play, the home teams have covered eight times and failed to do so 19 times, with one push (tie). Favorites are 9-18-1 versus the numbers.

What does it all mean?


These things are cyclical. Factors such as a team's "popular" appeal and the home-field advantage are built into the betting line every week. Oddsmakers are acutely aware of all sorts of trends. What happened last week, or the last two weeks, doesn't mean much in terms of this week's probabilities. Each Sunday's schedule represents a new one-week season.

A few observations are in order, however, based on what has been seen during the early going.

Nothing, for example, was more impressive than the manner in which new Coach John Robinson had the Los Angeles Rams ready for their opener in New Jersey against the New York Giants. The Rams organization appeared to represent the height of disorganization under owner Georgia Frontiere and Coach Ray Malavasi. Enter Robinson and, overnight, order is restored to what for decades had been one of the league's best franchises.

I thought New Orleans would edge San Francisco for the NFC West title when the season opened. Now, thanks to Robinson, the Rams have an excellent chance of making the playoffs. All it takes, sometimes, is the right man in the right place. Robinson fits that description, as does Chuck Knox, the new head coach in Seattle. I suggest caution this year when contemplating action against either squad.

The Rams are a 3-point underdog Sunday in Milwaukee against Green Bay. Seattle is cast in an identical role at home to San Diego. Detroit is favored by 3 over Atlanta, Buffalo by 5 over Baltimore, New Orleans by 3 over Chicago, Washington by 7 over Kansas City, Minnesota by 1 at Tampa Bay, Dallas by 8 over the New York Giants, the New York Jets by 6 1/2 at New England, Denver by 2 1/2 over Philadelphia, Pittsburgh by 5 1/2 at Houston and San Francisco by 3 at St. Louis.

The Los Angeles Raiders are rated 2 points over Miami Monday night in the Coliseum. No line was posted Tuesday on Thursday night's Cincinnati-Cleveland contest because of Ken Anderson's questionable physical condition.

I'm going to pick several teams with outstanding defenses this week and hope they can get their offenses functioning better. Tampa Bay attracts an imaginary $250 at home, getting 1 point, against Minnesota. Buffalo is worth $250 giving 5 at home against Baltimore. Denver draws $250 at home giving 2 1/2 to Philadelphia, while the risk on the Raiders will be $500 giving 2 at home to Miami.

Defense is not what it used to be in the NFL. There were instances in the past, before the help-the-offense rules changes of 1978, when it was almost possible to predict a Pittsburgh or a Dallas shutout. No more. But Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Denver and the Raiders still play solid defense and their offenses should start to improve.

The teams they are paired against this weekend are not high-scoring machines to begin with. The spreads are not large. All four of the picks are playing at home. I like that. And I particularly like selecting against Dolphin quarterback David Woodley when he is confronted with a strong secondary.

Good defenses, playing at home, in important, if not critical, contests. That's what Playing Football is all about. So what if favorites playing at home have been falling on their collective face thus far. As I said earlier, this is the third week, a new season. Just as the fourth week will be.