NFL betting: Home-field advantage hasn't been important again this season, will it ever return?

·3 min read

The Seattle Seahawks are known for their home-field advantage. The crowd is loud, and it's a tough place to play. 

Last week, Seattle had a 24-9 lead in the second half over a Tennessee Titans team that was awful in Week 1. And the Titans came all the way back to tie it in regulation. In overtime, when the crowd is supposed to take over, the Titans were never threatened and won on the road. 

Through two weeks this season, we're seeing the continuation of a trend. Home teams are just 16-16 straight up and 13-19 against the spread, according to Covers.com. Home favorites are a miserable 5-13 against the spread. 

It's not like this is new. And the return of fans hasn't turned it around. 

Last season, home teams were under .500

Last season, home teams went 127-128-1. It was the first time in NFL history that home teams had a losing record. 

And there was a good reason. There were few fans in the stands due to COVID-19, with most games being held without fans at all. But it wasn't like that was the first time we saw the erosion of home-field advantage. 

Teams went 132-123-1 straight up in 2019, with away teams having a plus-36 point differential. To blame empty stadiums for the lack of home-field advantage is ignoring a trend that started when there were full stadiums. 

If you thought home-field advantage would bounce back with fans returning after a season to let their vocal cords rest, it hasn't happened yet. 

Even in places like Seattle, home-field advantage seems to be disappearing. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Even in places like Seattle, home-field advantage seems to be disappearing. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Will home-field advantage ever return? 

For decades, it was part of the normal analysis to assign 3 points to a home team, give or take a half point for a great home field like New Orleans or Seattle, or take a bit away for a place like Miami. 

How do bettors get used to changing that habit? Do we not incorporate home field at all? For a game like Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, do we assume no home-field edge and the 3.5-point line is solely based on the 49ers being more than a field goal better than Green Bay? 

We'll need to figure it out as we go. Almost certainly, assigning 3 points for home-field advantage, which was the norm for years, seems foolish. Maybe it's 2 points, or 1. Maybe it's none at all. 

The reasons home-field is nearly gone could be numerous. Travel keeps getting better; it's not like teams are staying at cut-rate motels and riding buses. Though, it's not like 10 years ago teams were traveling by covered wagon. One universal truth about home-field advantage is that officials are more likely to give the home teams extra calls. Perhaps all the attention to that has changed officials' mindsets, so that's not an issue anymore. Also, NFL games are expensive. The fan who doesn't have a fortune to spend on tickets and everything else — and those are generally the loudest fans — may not be going to games has often. It's hard to pinpoint the right theory, but the lack of home-field advantage dating back to 2019 is hard to ignore. 

It has been just two weeks and there is always noise in small sample sizes like that. But it's not like the erosion of home-field advantage is new. We just have to figure out how to adjust to it. 

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