In the first round of the playoffs, two teams will take their home field as decided underdogs. Much debate in recent years has centered around whether division winners should get automatic home games or not. Those who believe that division winners should get the home game regardless of record cite to the devaluing of winning a division.
My position on that is division winners get a big enough advantage from getting automatic qualification into the tournament, regardless of how well they fared against the rest of the league. I’m not sure we want to confer an extra advantage over other conference teams. Make no mistake–it is an advantage. Certainly not determinative of a game’s outcome alone, but a subtle advantage that we can see over thousands of games.
It even says so right in the name-home field ADVANTAGE. Not only is it an advantage, but it is at its strongest when teams are closer in talent, and particularly when the home team is slightly worse than the visitor. How much of an advantage? Well, the teams that have been home underdogs in the playoffs have fared pretty well. I find it amusing when people cite to the 2008 Arizona Cardinals as evidence that division winners deserve home games, because they were able to advance despite a poor regular season record. It is a rather circular argument, as they advanced, in part, because they had a new stadium and were able to play two home games (plus one Jake Delhomme special) against teams that had a superior record in the conference.
I was able to piece together point spread data from recent sources and then fill in with newspaper archives from the 1980’s, and I have found 26 occasions since 1980 where a team playing at home in the playoffs was an underdog per the point spread. Those teams are 17-9 straight up in winning the playoff contest, and 18-7-1 against the spread. In recent years, it hasn’t been quite as strong (3-5 straight up, 4-4 ATS since 2004), but I’m not ready to declare that the home dog is dead.
You’ve been warned, Baltimore and New Orleans.
Here is the complete list of home dogs since 1980 (w=wildcard round, d=division round, c=conf. championship):
|2000||w||NEW ORLEANS||+6.5||St. Louis||31||28|
|1997||c||SAN FRAN||+2.5||Green Bay||10||23|
|1985||w||NY GIANTS||+3||San Francisco||17||3|
|1984||w||SEATTLE||+1.5||Los Angeles Raiders||13||7|
[photo via Getty]