Home field advantage will have less impact on NFL point spreads in 2020
Among the many different things to expect in the 2020 NFL season is no true home team to focus your attention or handicapping skills.
Oh, there will be one team designated and likely put in bold letters somewhere within each wagering list we gaze upon. Obviously, there will be games played in home cities for teams headquartered there. But, in our COVID-19 asterisk laden NFL season, with either no home fans or perhaps 25% at best capacity in stadiums, the possible effects of any home field advantage will be negligible and in fact, almost non-existent.
What is the Home Team Advantage?
It used to be playing at home in the NFL was a great advantage for certain football teams. During their glory days, the Cowboys at Texas Stadium were a major force. The Packers at legendary Lambeau Stadium were intimidating for any team visiting. Perhaps playing the Eagles in Philadelphia was a great challenge for anyone, mostly due to a roaring group of hostile fans.
Isolating the reason had little to do with the environment but more with the specific home team that year that was playing. The point spreads were generously padded, mostly due to those teams were great during the specific years the games occurred. Today, although there are still a huge percentage of Cowboys fans present, games at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX are national events with visitors from all over the U.S.
Flash forward to this 2020 season and all NFL teams have not even finalized their plans to allow fans for their entire schedule. At least for the first two weeks here is a representative sample:
Arizona Cardinals – no fans first two home games
Atlanta Falcons – no fans in September. Possible in Oct, Nov, and Dec. but limit 10,000 to 20,000
Carolina Panthers – no fans for opener. Possible for all other home games
Chicago Bears – same policy as Panthers
Dallas Cowboys – will have fans for opener "using a pod system"
Kansas City Chiefs – will allow fans capped at 22% of capacity
New York Giants and New York Jets- due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s order in July, the Giants and Jets announced that there would be no fans at MetLife Stadium until further notice.
The Three Point Myth
Hopefully, our Coronavirus season will finally be the appropriate time for all handicappers to bury what has been too long known as a very worn out myth. One that the home team is worth an extra three-point valuation. That is not only true in opinion, but has long been proven false in fact.
The average home field advantage by most scientific estimates is only 2.2 points, indicating approximately 75% of what might have been given as a traditional standard.
In the NFL, several factors appear to be contributing to a steady shift in the competition since the 1990s, when home teams won 59.8 percent of games, including nearly three-quarters of their postseason games. For example, in 1999, the NFL added a check on referee influence by instituting instant replay and coaches' challenges. The next season, the home winning percentage dropped from 59.6 percent to 55.6.
Many other reasons are at work contributing to this trend. Some point to how coaches have better simulated environments during practice to negate any home bias. Others credit luxury travel arrangements. There are those that throw in better medication for players and sports psychology, allowing athletes to prepare for the game conditions they will face.
No matter what you choose to believe, the reality is this: The 'sharps' seriously take into consideration when there is an opportunity to isolate visiting NFL teams that are receiving a beneficial edge. Even if it a point or perhaps a half a point it could and has made the difference in tilting the spread number results over the past fifteen to twenty years.
By the Numbers
Just last season the home teams covered the spread at a 43.56% number. Considering the vig, that was more than a great opportunity for a bettor to capitalize strictly wagering on away teams. Looking at the remarkably close scoring margins prevalent in the NFL, perhaps an even better chance targeting multi-team teasers.
Going by the Book
Don't assume because there will be either limited crowds or perhaps no fans in attendance at NFL games in September that major sportsbooks will not be paying strict attention. They will know that designated home teams will have an even lesser potential impact upon results and subsequently upon point spread and totals evaluations. Remember, their ultimate goal is to create numbers to achieve balanced wagering action.
For this reason, and I have said it a million times, it is more crucial than ever to shop and join more than one preferred sportsbook. Due to the mysteries involving this unusual NFL season, it is likely the lines will be bouncing around more than ever. It is to every player's huge advantage to obtain the greatest value possible for every NFL bet they make.
You can still root, root, root for your home team. If they don't COVER, it's a shame. But what truly is a shame is you did not understand that often being at home in the NFL isn't really what it used to be.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.