11/27/2008 12:00AM

Home field failing to offer much advantage this year


LAS VEGAS - We're entering the home stretch of the NFL season and a lot of talk will be about teams trying to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs or improving their position so they get at least one home game.

I'm beginning to wonder what all the fuss is about. Home-field advantage in the NFL is looking more overrated every week (and the lack of such didn't hinder the Giants on their road to the Super Bowl last year).

Last weekend, road teams won 11 of the 15 games and were 10-5-1 against the spread. But that was far from an isolated case, especially for bettors. Going backward the previous four weeks, the ATS records for road teams were 11-5, 11-3, 9-4-1, and 7-6. For the season, including the Tennessee Titans' road win and cover vs. the Lions in the first game on Thanksgiving Day, road teams are 98-72-5 (57.6 percent after ignoring pushes) on the season.

It might be time to rethink the conventional wisdom that home field is worth 3 points in the NFL. For years, home underdogs in the NFL have been gold, but with the Lions' loss Thursday, that subset dropped to 15-34-1, an unbelievably low 30.6 percent on the season.

One pet bet of mine, double-digit underdogs, has excelled this year. Entering last weekend, big dogs were 17-1 against the spread using the closing numbers at the Las Vegas Hilton. The Bengals failed in that spot on Nov. 20 vs. the Steelers. Technically, the 49ers closed at +9.5 vs. the Cowboys last Sunday so double-digit dogs remain 17-2 in my official records. It's silly to think that just because a team dips from +10 to +9.5 that it becomes a less-live dog, but that's how it's worked so far this year. Teams that closed at +9.5 are 1-5 ATS. Still, combined with the double-digit dogs that's still 18-8, or 69.2 percent, after the Lions' non-cover in the early game Thursday.

* Despite the Titans' rout of the Lions, the NFC is 24-18-1 in interleague play. In the generic Super Bowl prop at the Hilton, the NFC is -3 1/ 2 vs. the AFC on the strength of the Giants taking over as the Super Bowl favorite at 8-5. The Titans were a distant second choice at 7-1 entering this week.

* Speaking of the Titans and Giants, they're also atop the NFL ATS standings. The Titans improved to 10-1-1 against the spread with Thursday's victory, while the Giants are 9-2. The Ravens are third at 8-3, with the quintet of the Jets, Buccaneers, Falcons, Cardinals, and Saints at 7-4. At the bottom of the league are the Jaguars and Rams at 3-8 ATS, with the Broncos at 3-7-1 and the Lions dropping to 4-8.

* In totals wagering, the over went 11-5 last week when a record 837 points were scored in the 16 games. For the year, overs are 90-78-1 (again through Thursday's Titans-Lions game), but look for unders to start prevailing with more cold-weather games on the horizon. The Texans played in one of the rare under games last weekend in their 16-6 win over the Browns, but they're still 9-2 with the over. The Giants and Packers are both 7-3-1 with the over. The top under team is the Redskins at 8-2-1. No other team is hitting at 70 percent or better with the under.

* I went 1-2 with my plays in this space last week, and 2-3 in my Leroy's Pro Challenge and Hilton SuperContest plays to drop to third place at Leroy's and tied for 14th at the Hilton. Here are my top three plays for Sunday:

Panthers +3 vs. Packers

One of my losses last week was with the Panthers vs. the Falcons, but I'm wheeling right back with them here. We saw last Monday night how the Saints ran through the Packers' weak run defense, and I think Carolina's Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams will get back on track in this game. That should also open things up for Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. Plus, the Packers' offense will get more of a challenge from the Panthers' pass rush and force Aaron Rodgers into more mistakes.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Rams +8 vs. Dolphins

I'm going against a few prevailing trends here. As I stated above, home underdogs have struggled all season, and the Rams are tied for the worst spread record in the league. But this is more of a bet against the Dolphins. I've been fading them in recent week because I felt they were overvalued vs. similar weak teams in the Seahawks and the Raiders, and they failed to cover in both those victories. And then last week they should have never been installed as favorites over the Patriots. I think they're getting too much respect here from oddsmakers and bettors and I have to take the inflated price.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Falcons +5 vs. Chargers

The Falcons continue to impress, and I'm getting on the bandwagon here, although this is more a bet against the Chargers. If not for the famous touchdown taken away from the Steelers' Troy Polamalu, this underachieving team would have five straight spread losses. I also expect a big game from Michael Turner, the longtime backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, who is now starring for the Falcons. There's really no reason why this game should be anything more than pick-em.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season DRF record: 16-10-2, including 1-2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 3.8 units.