11/27/2001 12:00AM

Home field advantage losing its edge


What has happened to home-field advantage in the NFL?

A record-tying 12 road teams won this past weekend while only three home teams (Chiefs, Browns, and Patriots) gave their fans a victory. Only two other home teams covered the spread, both on Thanksgiving Day (Lions, Cowboys). Two games ended in pushes with the road favorite winning by three points (Ravens over Jaguars, 24-21, and Falcons over Panthers, 10-7).

Oddsmakers and handicappers who do power ratings have traditionally said that the home field is worth about three points in the NFL, but perhaps it is time to change that way of thinking. Today's athletes are used to flying all the time and are able to perform like "D. Wayne off the plane." And today's stadiums are built with fans farther from the action. I don't believe that NFL teams were ever "initimidated" by playing on the road, but it's even less likely to happen nowadays.

For the season, home teams are only 81-77 straight-up (51.3 percent) and 78-72 against the spread (52 percent) with eight pushes.

This weekend, home teams are favored in every game except for the bookend contests: Eagles (-3) at Chiefs on Thursday night and Packers (-3) at Jaguars on Monday night.

Road dogs might be barking all day Sunday.

Other NFL trends

The Rams' 24-17 loss to the Buccaneers Monday night dropped their record to 8-2, which still is tied for best in the NFL with the Steelers, Raiders, Bears, and 49ers. The Lions are still the only winless team at 0-10. When you take the point spread into effect, the Steelers are the top team at 7-2-1. The next highest winning percentage is the Browns, who are 6-2 (.750) with two pushes, followed by the Bears and Dolphins at 7-3 (.700). The Titans, who lost to the Steelers Sunday, have the worst spread record at 2-7-1. The Bills and the Vikings are both 3-7.

* Underdogs were 8-5-2 against the spread in Week 11 and are 78-72 (52 percent) with eight pushes.

* Overs and unders remain nearly even, the unders holding a 79-77-2 edge after going 8-7 last weekend. Inclement conditions contributed to some of the games staying under the total. Check weather reports or you might be left out in the cold.

* The AFC went 3-2 in interleague games last weekend, but the NFC was 3-2 against the spread. The Raiders and Patriots won and covered for the AFC, while the 49ers and Cardinals won and covered for the NFC. The Broncos beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but failed to cover the 7-point spread in a 26-24 victory. For the year, the AFC is 20-16 straight-up, but the NFC holds a 19-6-1 edge against the spread.

Season-long contest updates

Bob Donahue went 5-1, including a best-bet winner on Pitt, to extend his lead in the Sunset Station All-Star Handicappers Invitational. The field of 12 handicappers make six selections a week with each win counting for two points, a best-bet win is worth three points and any push is worth one. Donahue has 98 points. Brent Crow, who was 6-0 on his plays, is a distant second with 83 points, followed by Bryan Leonard and Rob Veno with 81. The top leaders after Week 14 advance to the semifinals and head-to-head competition.

* Donahue has already excelled at head-to-head competition in the Stardust Invitational. He was 6-1 in his first-round matchup Oct. 26 and returns for a quarterfinal match at 9 p.m. Friday against author Mike Orkin in the race book (broadcast live on the West Coast on KDWN AM-720). Defending champion Dave Cokin advanced to the semifinals despite a 3-3-1 record as he defeated Las Vegas Sports Consultants operations manager Pete Korner (2-5) last weekend.

* The leaders in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest had rough weeks that allowed other handicappers to close the gap. James Pronovich moved into first place, despite a 2-3 record, because The Bud Man, who had shared the lead with Pronovich, went 1-4. Pronovich now has 37.5 points in the $1,500 buy-in contest in which 226 contestants make five NFL selections a week, with wins counting as one point and pushes as half. The Bud Man falls into a tie with legendary handicapper Tony Salinas, who went 3-0-2. Both have 36.5 points and are only 1.5 points ahead of a contestant going by the name SJM.

Bankroll seesaw continues

Like clockwork, one of my bankrolls went down while the other went up. In the colleges, I went 2-4 on six 11-unit plays over the holiday weekend. I won with Arizona and Pittsburgh, but lost with Nebraska, LSU, Washington, and Michigan. The bankroll, which had rallied back to even for the season at 1,000 units, lost a net 24 units to stand at 976.

In the NFL, the bankroll stood at 890 heading into Sunday, but I rebounded with a 4-1 record. The 49ers and Redskins came through in the early games. The Raiders (a double-play at 22 units) won in the afternoon and the Chargers lost. The Bears capped off the winning day with a Sunday night upset of the Vikings. The net profit of 39 units brings my NFL bankroll up to 929 heading into Thursday night's game.

Eagles (-3) at Chiefs

The Eagles are coming off a loss to the Redskins, while the Chiefs beat the Seahawks for their first home win of the year. But these are not two teams heading in opposite directions. While I think the Chiefs are truly improving, the Eagles have the clear edge in talent and should bounce back playing away from the boo-birds in Philly.

The Eagles' defense, despite playing the Rams and Raiders, has not allowed more than 21 points in a game all year. (The most points allowed was in that 21-20 fluke loss to the Cardinals on Oct. 7.) They should be able to shut down the Chiefs as well. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs had trouble containing the Steelers' Kordell Stewart back in Week 5, and Donovan McNabb's style of play is similar to Stewart's (and McNabb is a better passer). He should be able to jump-start the offense in this near-must-win situation.

Play: Eagles for 11 units.