Sports bettors have long put their faith in different “systems” that supposedly can guide their choices. Some are complex, like betting a 6-11 NFL team (or worse) from the previous season as the road underdog in a game during September, November or December (not October) with a total under 50 and a point spread of less than seven points.

Others are far simpler, like putting faith in NFL home underdogs. That was the focus of one reader’s question. (Have a question of your own? Submit it here.)

A long time ago I learned about an NFL betting strategy called “The Dog At Home.” Its name describes the simple approach: If the home team is the underdog, take the points and bet the home team. Your thoughts?

— Reader submitted question

I can understand why betting a home underdog has appeal. Your team gets all the creature comforts of its home stadium, no travel, a familiarity with the venue and the support of the crowd — in addition to bonus points from the oddsmakers. What’s not to like?

Yet if coming up with a winning system was this simple, gambling operators wouldn’t be able to build billion-dollar pyramids in the desert. In fact, trusting home underdogs isn’t a viable strategy at all — and hasn’t been for some time.

Going back to 2002, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams, home underdogs have an overall cover rate of 49.7 percent and would only be profitable on traditional -110 wagers — requiring a $110 bet to win $100 — in four out of the past 20 full seasons.

NFL best bets for Week 4: Baker Mayfield and the Panthers can do it again

This basic strategy would, however, be profitable so far this season with a 61 percent cover rate, leading to a profit of almost four units through three weeks, although that’s far too small of a sample size to be valuable. The system is break-even over the past two decades if you limit home dogs to those getting seven points or more.

Putting aside the more basic unlikelihood of finding any successful “system,” here’s why you are unlikely to find much success with this particular strategy long term: Home-field advantage in the NFL has dwindled in recent years.

Home teams went 148-107-1 during the 2002 regular season, for an impressive .580 win rate. That winning percentage stayed north of .550 in 14 of the next 16 seasons, never dipping below .531. Then, the bottom fell out. Home teams went 424-404-4 from 2019 to the present, winning just 51 percent of the time. Home teams were even below .500 in 2020, and while that season was impacted by the pandemic, it seemed to be a signal that home-field advantage might never be the same.

The trend, not surprisingly, led oddsmakers to adjust what had once been thought of as a standard home-field edge. In 2002, the average home team was favored by 2.1 points. But in five of the past six seasons, the home team has been favored by two points or less. This season, home teams have been favored by about a half a point through three weeks.

Following any strategy blindly is not likely to result in much success. Instead, consider each team — whether home or away, favorite or underdog — and matchup on their own merits.

If you are set on finding a home underdog to bet on in Week 4, consider the Houston Texans catching five points or more against the Los Angeles Chargers, whose roster is riddled with key injuries.

Quarterback Justin Herbert is playing with fractured rib cartilage. Former defensive player of the year Joey Bosa will be sidelined indefinitely because of a groin injury. Center Corey Linsley exited the game in Week 2 because of a knee injury and was inactive in a blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater tore his left biceps tendon in the Jacksonville game and will miss the remainder of the season. Cornerback J.C. Jackson required ankle surgery in August and was inactive in Week 3.

Please keep your questions about sports betting coming, and we will answer more in future pieces.

Here are this week’s games, with my picks. Picks were made against the consensus point spreads as of Tuesday afternoon; odds that have since changed have been updated in bold type, but picks are locked in at the earlier odds.

New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings (-3), in London

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Sunday, 9:30 a.m. | NFL Network

Pick: Minnesota Vikings -2½ (This number has since moved up)

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-3½)

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Pick: Tennessee Titans +3 (This number has since moved up.)

Chicago Bears at New York Giants (-3)

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Pick: Chicago Bears +3½ (This number has since moved down.)

Buffalo Bills (-3) at Baltimore Ravens

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Pick: Baltimore Ravens +3½ (This number has since moved down)

Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions (-4)

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Pick: Detroit Lions -4½ (This number has since moved down)

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3½)

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Pick: New York Jets +3½(This number has since moved down)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles (-6½)

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Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -6½

Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys (-3½)

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Pick: Dallas Cowboys -3½

Cleveland Browns (-1) at Atlanta Falcons

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Pick: Atlanta Falcons +1½ (This number has since moved down)

New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers (-9½)

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Pick: New England +10½, but it’s not a best bet. (This number has since moved down.)

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (-2½)

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Pick: Las Vegas Raiders -2 (This number has since moved up.)

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-1)

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Pick: Carolina Panthers -1½, playable to -2½ (This line has since moved down)

Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-½)

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Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -2½ (This number has since moved down.)

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-1½)

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Monday, 8:15 p.m. | ESPN, ESPN2

Pick: San Francisco 49ers -2½ (This number has since moved down.)

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