National Football League
National Football League

# NFL odds: How much is home-field advantage really worth on the spread?

Updated Sep. 22, 2021 8:28 p.m. ET

By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst

Las Vegas oddsmakers said that home-field advantage was generally worth around 2.8 points in the National Football League for decades.

So if two teams possessed similar power ratings and were essentially mathematical equals on a neutral field, a sportsbook would round up and make either team a 3-point betting favorite at home.

This method worked wonders for a long time, but advanced metrics and formulas eventually helped analytical sports bettors realize that too much weight was being placed on the home field.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, the advantage has severely depreciated.

"Home field varies team-to-team, but as a baseline, it's about 1.5 to 2 points," PointsBet trading director Jay Croucher told FOX Sports.

"I got into the habit of looking at lines, and if there were a three-point favorite at home, I would say those teams are dead even. But that's not the case anymore. Last week, the Chargers were a three-point home favorite over Dallas. That now means the market thinks the Chargers are slightly better Dallas on a neutral."

Go figure. The Cowboys beat the Chargers 20-17 as a three-point road underdog to validate Mike McCarthy's decision to let 30 seconds melt off the clock before sending his kicker out for a game-winning 56-yard field goal. (*Brain explodes*)

Through 31 true home games this NFL season, home teams are 15-16 (48%) straight up and 12-19 (39%) against the spread.

While you can't precisely draw accurate conclusions from a minuscule 31-game sample size, it's impossible to ignore how home field has become less important over the past five seasons when it comes to covering the spread.

NFL Home Teams ATS

2017: 134-122 (52.3%)
2018: 120-128-8 (48.3%)
2019: 108-140-8 (43.5%)
2020: 125-127-4 (49.6%)
2021: 12-19 (38.7%)

"Modern technology and modern science work against home-field advantage," Croucher said. "There have been so many studies done on home field. There's an interesting one where they took a soccer match in Turkey and measured the away players' heart rate in the tunnel against the home players.

"The away players had these jacked-up heart rates because they were going into a foreign environment. The home players were very much in their element. They slept on their own beds, and they knew what the ground looked like and where the light reflected off of certain places. All that stuff still matters, but it matters a lot less than it used to."

This NFL season, bookmakers are battling something they've never had to deal with before – they had to flip the home-field switch back to the "on" position after a 2020 campaign where some stadiums weren't allowed any fans while others were permitted percentages of capacity.

I'm cracking up just thinking about oddsmakers scratching their heads trying to calculate how much home field is worth at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium at 20% capacity. Good luck.

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"Last year was extremely difficult because it was an interesting test in a lab for what actually contributes to home field," Croucher explained. "How much of an element is travel? What effect does the crowd have on referees?

"Ultimately, the answer was that playing at home is an advantage, but it's clearly not the advantage that it will be this year. We're back to 2019 with the caveat that home-field advantage is progressively declining. Travel is so much easier now than it was 20 years ago.

"And it's challenging to price the switch being flipped from no fans last year to having fans this year. The energy and the noise are tough to ignore. It had to be a disadvantage for a team like the Minnesota Vikings. They played their first two games on the road this year. I would think this isn't the year you want that to happen. Right out of the gate, you're getting screamed at by angry fans after not having to deal with that for a full season."

It's also worth mentioning that no two home fields are created equal. Home-field advantages for the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos are immensely more significant than those for the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Seattle is the first one that comes to mind," Croucher replied when asked about the best home-field edges in the league. "The crowd is absolutely insane, but it's also because of the travel. You have to travel to a corner of the country, and that's not an easy trip. Seattle, Kansas City in those environments with all the noise, Denver with the altitude. Those are the best ones.

"When you get later in the season and weather becomes more of a factor, you're talking about New England, Green Bay, Buffalo. Those teams are more accustomed to playing in the cold and in the snow. And the advantage gets bigger when Green Bay hosts a dome team like Atlanta in late December."

Moving forward, Croucher expects to see more home teams favored by less than three points. These types of games would set up potentially fascinating scenarios where a significant fraction of sports bettors will be salivating to bet on Team X laying 2 or 2.5 at home. But then the house isn't protected on the 3 with a push.

What could go wrong?

"If most of the underdogs cover as they did in Week 1, that'll be good for us behind the counter," Croucher cracked. "But those (-2.5) lines are interesting. We've found out that the smaller the spread is, the less spread action we'll take on the underdog. Bettors will just back the dog on the moneyline. People don't want the +2.5 or the +2. The public will take the moneyline to get the bigger price. There's a drastic difference in +3 and +2.5 for the player.

"You wonder how far the home field slide can go. Will home-field advantage be worth only one point in six years? It's always going to account for something, but I wonder if we've reached the bottom point. We're probably in the zone now at 1.5 to 2 points, but it'll be interesting to see whether or not the decline continues."

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.

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