True home-field edge in football

By Steve Makinen  (VSiN.com) 

October 26, 2021 07:34 PM
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(To view the charts associated with this report, subscribe to Point Spread Weekly.)

With all that has gone on over the last season and a half in football, a lot has been made about home-field advantage. What is it worth? Has it changed since the pandemic began? Have oddsmakers adjusted appropriately for any changes? These are extremely important questions that football bettors have probably been asking and researching for answers. 

In my own history of oddsmaking and in doing the strength ratings for VSiN, I have found that one of the most important factors in analyzing teams’ strengths is determining how much home-field advantage to assign. I know some handicappers use a general sense, issuing a standard three to four points. Others develop team-specific home-field edges, assuming that some environments are naturally tougher than others across the football landscape. For that latter group, I am here to help in your quest for determining which teams deserve the most home-field advantage points in college and pro football.

Let’s face it: We almost have to use the team-specific method as bettors because many reasons could explain why certain teams have clearer home-field advantages than others. Among these are weather, field surface as it fits the roster, crowd capacity and enthusiasm, confidence level and perhaps even distractions available to visiting teams. One thing is certain, though: No way is every team’s advantage the same. Judging home-field edges as equal across the board can lead to mistakes and missed or lost betting opportunities.

To determine which teams hold the best true home-field advantage in college and pro football, I have taken the teams’ game logs at home since the start of the 2018 season, or essentially the last 3 1/2 seasons. I compared their average power ratings in those games to their opponents’ average power ratings, using my actual logged numbers for every game. This margin would be considered the amount they should have won or lost by on a neutral field, or the expected margin. I then compared this amount with the actual point differential in those games. Obviously, teams that had a greater actual than expected differential played the “best” at home. For college teams with at least 10 home games in that span, the margins ranged from + 8.3 for Kent State to -6.1 for Duke. In the NFL, the top home-field edge belonged to Baltimore and Dallas, tied at + 4.6, while the worst rating went to the Chargers at -2.7.

Of course, no one would ever assign a home-field edge of 8.3 points to Kent State. That would be a reach. However, the Golden Flashes might be worthy of your betting consideration when oddsmakers don’t give them the respect they perhaps deserve when playing at home, such as in their last big home win a couple of weeks ago against Buffalo. Kent State will host Northern Illinois on Nov. 3. Similarly, there is no way that those setting the lines could penalize Duke when it plays at home, but to give the full credit of three or more points would also be too much.

I believe most bookmakers will assign an average of about 3.5 points to a home team in college football and 2.5 points in the NFL. In this study, I have found that the true college football number is closer to 2.61 for the last 3 1/2 seasons, and that is about what I assign to the average-performing college home team in my ratings. For the NFL the average has been only 1.04. This number, as well as the college figure, takes into account the fanless 2020 season. It cannot be overstated, however, just how little home-field advantage has meant in the NFL recently as compared with history and assumption. When I do my ratings you see in Point Spread Weekly, the average I assign for NFL teams is about 1.6 points, as I am assuming the low recent number should trend back upward over the next couple of seasons.

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