Heading into Week 4 of the NFL season, the haves and have-nots are starting to sort themselves out. The Dolphins, Bills, Falcons, Rams and Saints are sporting bagels in the win column and have virtually thrown their seasons away.
The Green Bay Packers are the early surprise at 3-0, and other 2-1 teams heading in the right direction include Tennessee, San Francisco, Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.
With a 1-2 record, the Oakland Raiders have shown marked improvement from the circus act that was their 2006 season. They are 4-point road underdogs today against the winless Dolphins, with Daunte Culpepper making his first Raiders start against his former team.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Ken White said the Raiders could be the most improved team in the league at the outset of the season. Through three weeks, his opinion has not changed.
“They’ll be better with Culpepper, and having learned how to win a close game last week should help their confidence,” White said. “At the moment, having such a young head coach (Lane Kiffin) could be considered their biggest weakness.”
LaMont Jordan’s 350 yards rushing is second best in the league, a remarkable early season feat considering last year the Raiders’ offensive line couldn’t budge a blocking sled.
A unique sidebar to this week’s menu of games is the number of home underdogs posted at sports books around town. Nine home ‘dogs will seek an upset or, at the very least, aim to cover the spread for their supporters. This is a rare set of circumstances that warrants enhanced analysis.
On only four occasions in the past 11 years have there been at least nine road favorites during an NFL week. In Week 4 of the 2004 season, there were 10 home underdogs.
On a weekly basis, there are an average of four road favorites. Over the past 11 years, 2,742 NFL games have been played, with the home team favored in 1,859 of those contests (68 percent).
In this decade, there have been 546 home underdogs, who have gone 270-256-20 against the spread, covering at a 51 percent clip. The ‘dog won 198 of those games (36 percent). Since 2000, a home underdog of 31/2 points or more covers at a higher rate (52 percent) but wins outright at a significantly lower rate (29 percent). I promise there won’t be a quiz later, but these numbers are telling.
LVSC odds director Tony Sinisi said the lesson here is simple. “The facts bear out that a home underdog getting three or fewer points has to be considered very live for the victory, while the leap of faith becomes substantial once the dreaded hook (half-point) is introduced,” he said.
Oddsmakers try to keep tabs on any trends that could have significant impact across the board and for individual games.
One such trend: Over the past six seasons in Week 4, the average closing total per game on the betting board was 40.8, with 41.2 the actual average points scored per game. Visiting teams averaged 19.5 points per game, while home teams scored 21.7 points per game.
As for this week, the 14 games listed on the betting board feature an average total of 41.7, ranging from a low of 37 for the Jets-Bills game to a high of 531/2 on Monday night, when the Bengals host the Patriots.
Through three weeks, underdogs are 26-17-5 against the spread, and 25 of 48 games have gone under the total.
Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear the LVSC oddsmakers on Sportsbook Radio, weekdays at 4 p.m. on KENO-AM (1460).