When I was developing Qoxhi Picks during the 1970’s, one thing was readily obvious … home team underdogs did very well in the National Football League. In those days, many articles in handicapping publications offered a lot of theories with varying degrees of logic and success, and many of them ended with the last criteria of taking a team when getting points at home.
After wins, after losses, off Monday night games, following a division contest, or when they were favored in their previous games were just some of the criteria used by so called handicappers to find NFL winners, and then the closing line, take them when they are getting points at home.
If you only did that, took a team when they were getting points at home during the decade of the 70’s, you would have transformed teams that won straight-up only 33% of the time into point spread winners in 56% of those games. I took that edge to heart, and when I opened Qoxhi Picks in 1981, our focus was finding live home underdogs. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1985 season, that we released our first pick on a road favorite, that being the San Francisco 49ers (-3½) over the Washington Redskins … they did win the game and easily cover with a 35-8 thrashing of the Redskins.
Now, whenever there is an obvious advantage that the bettors are cashing, the books will wrestle that edge away. In the most recent ten seasons, home team underdogs are winning straight-up 4% more often than they did during the 1970’s, 37% in recent years compared to 33% in the 70’s. But, from a point spread perspective, home dogs don’t win enough to cover the vig, 51% since 2010, and two games under .500 since 2015.
Tonight, we have a home team underdog with the Los Angeles Rams when they host the Baltimore Ravens. There was a time when we would have jumped on the Rams because they were getting points at home, but today, more influential criteria needs to be utilized to locate the percentage side of this proposition.
First, this may not be considered the Rams year. Often, teams that have lost the Super Bowl the prior season have trouble the following year, particularly against the point spread. In fact, the Rams have had trouble moving the ball in 2019, this following a year in which they scored the 12th highest point total in NFL history, 527.
The Ravens, conversely, score points like they are playing against Pop Warner teams. They opened this season with a 59 point outburst against the Miami Dolphins, and over the past two weeks scored a combined 90 points while downing the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans. Much of the credit goes to their dynamic young quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who seems capable of choosing either to exploit opposing defenses on the ground or through the air.
All this adds up to the defending National Football Conference Champions underdogs tonight at home.
One thing is for sure, after tonight’s game the Ravens will be in first place in the AFC North Division and the Rams will be in third place in the NFC West. The only question is, are the Ravens in a position to extend their lead over second place Pittsburgh and push the Rams down further in the standings, or are the Rams poised to close on the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks to keep their flickering Playoff hopes alive?
Perhaps few have noticed that this year, while the Rams have not been as dynamic on offense, they have been stout on the defensive side of the ball. They come into action tonight with both the superior stop unit and a better point spread record than Baltimore. While often the target of criticism, the Rams are 7-3 against the point spread this season, better than the Ravens’ 5-4-1 mark against the number.
Baltimore comes to town riding a six game winning streak, all victories that followed a home loss to the Cleveland Browns in fourth week action, 40-25.
Sure, the Rams are home underdogs, but that is not why we like them tonight. What matters most, which is more important in determining this winner, is Los Angeles brings to the party the better defense and in much more dire need of this win than the first place Ravens.
It may be that Baltimore comes to Los Angeles at their highest point of the season, and you know what happens on the other side of the pinnacle, a knock down to reality.
Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Rams (+3½) over Baltimore Ravens