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NFL Conference Championship picks using the Golden Rules


Wagering against the spread (ATS) on NFL games often leads to tough decisions and requires you to research all the intangibles. My weekly "Golden Rules"  examines historical ATS betting trends relevant to specific games. Consider these Golden Rules to be the tie-breakers, the game-changers and the intangible factors you are looking for.

WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN AGAINST THE SPREAD WHEN PEYTON MANNING FACES TOM BRADY?

Sunday January 24, 2016 – New England Patriots (-3.0) at Denver Broncos 

Everyone loves to compare and contrast the careers of Tom and Peyton. Tom Brady had the early Super Bowl success and the 16-0 regular season. Brady has been the model of consistency. And just when you thought his career was crumbling before your eyes on a late-September Monday night last season in Kansas City, Brady put the Patriots on his shoulders and carried them to a fourth Super Bowl.

And then there is Peyton Manning – the records, the accolades, the consecutive games, the one and only Super Bowl. Without warning, the iron man is challenged by a seemingly unrecoverable neck injury. Discarded from Indianapolis, Manning lands in Denver and within a couple of years leads the Broncos to heights not seen since John Elway, Terrell Davis and their late 90’s Super Bowls. But adversity has struck Peyton this season. This year the Broncos claimed the one-seed in the AFC in spite of uncharacteristic Manning performances. But here he is, one win from the game’s biggest stage.

These two decorated quarterbacks remain among the most successful of the current crop of arms in the NFL. The chart below shows the top ten current starting quarterbacks ranked by career regular season and playoff straight-up winning percentage. A line representing their ATS winning percentage has been added to assess how well they perform against the spread despite their straight-up success. Note that I have excluded any quarterbacks who have started less than 16 games.

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Among current starters, Brady has the highest straight-up winning percentage (.767) and has the seventh highest ATS winning percentage (.569). Peyton is the third most successful straight-up (.683), but has an obvious dip comparing results against the spread (.524). Could this be attributed to Peyton’s overall performance or do oddsmakers inflate the lines because they know bettors will gravitate towards the superstar?

This year marks the 5th playoff battle between the two future hall-of-famers, or 17th if you include the regular season. During the 2013 playoffs, SportingCharts analyzed The Complete History of Brady vs. Manning. This link only references straight-up results; below you will find a summary of their ATS head-to-head history with playoff games indicated in bold.

Head-to-Head Games between Peyton Manning & Tom Brady
Regular Season & Playoffs

Date

Winner

Loser

Spread

Home Team

S/U Winner

ATS Winner

Sep 30/01

Patriots - 44

Colts - 13

IND -11.5

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Oct 21/01

Patriots - 38

Colts - 17

IND -10.5

Colts

Patriots

Patriots

Nov 30/03

Patriots - 38

Colts - 34

IND -3.5

Colts

Patriots

Patriots

Jan 18/04

Patriots - 24

Colts - 14

NE -3.5

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Sep 9/04

Patriots - 27

Colts - 24

NE -3

Patriots

Patriots

Push

Jan 16/05

Patriots - 20

Colts - 3

NE -1

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Nov 7/05

Colts - 40

Patriots - 21

IND -3

Patriots

Colts

Colts

Nov 5/06

Colts - 27

Patriots - 20

NE -2.5

Patriots

Colts

Colts

Jan 21/07

Colts - 38

Patriots - 34

IND -3

Colts

Colts

Colts

Nov 4/07

Patriots - 24

Colts - 20

NE -5

Colts

Patriots

Colts

Nov 15/09

Colts - 35

Patriots - 34

IND -1.5

Colts

Colts

Patriots

Nov 21/10

Patriots - 31

Colts - 28

NE -4.5

Patriots

Patriots

Colts

Oct 7/12

Patriots - 31

Broncos - 21

NE -6

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Nov 24/13

Patriots - 34

Broncos - 31

DEN -2.5

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Jan 19/14

Broncos - 26

Patriots - 16

DEN -5

Broncos

Broncos

Broncos

Nov 2/14

Patriots - 43

Broncos - 21

DEN -3

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Brady currently holds the edge straight-up by beating Manning in nine of their 12 regular season matchups and the four playoff games were split two apiece. This decisive edge was established early as Brady outdueled Manning in their first six meetings, and then reaffirmed his dominance as the Patriots have won four of the last five. Against the spread, Brady also holds an edge with a 7-4-1 regular season ATS record versus Manning and again the playoff games were split.

Golden Rules say to take New England

WHO PERFORMS THE BEST AGAINST THE SPREAD WHEN TWO TEAMS WITH AN .800+ REGULAR SEASON WINNING PERCENTAGE MEET IN THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?

Sunday January 24, 2016 – Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3.0)

During the 2015 regular season, the Carolina Panthers drove through opponents with a ferocity that few teams have done before. In their 15 wins, Carolina averaged 32 points per game and only gave up an average of 19. Yet, last week, we were all stunned when the Panthers cruised to a 31-0 halftime lead over the reigning NFC champion Seahawks.

Most teams will shudder in the presence of a 15-1 (.938 winning percentage) juggernaut like the Panthers, but the powerful 13-3 (.813 winning percentage) Cardinals have no reason to fold this Sunday in Charlotte. Carson Palmer’s high-flying offense led the NFL in offensive yards from scrimmage this season and has every ability to counter the vaunted Carolina defense. And as great as the Panthers defense was this year, the 5th ranked Cardinals defense gave up 20 fewer yards the Carolina’s 6th ranked D.

To analyze this week’s NFC Championship Game, I wanted to understand whether a team’s regular season winning percentage affects how they perform against the spread. Surely, teams who produced a winning percentage above .850 would have a distinct advantage over their competition. The chart below depicts the ATS winning percentage since 1978 in conference championship games based on their regular season winning percentage. For this example, I have divided the regular season winning percentages into four groups: .550-.649, .650-.749, .750-.849 and .850+.

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Based on the results above, the Panthers look to have the advantage against the spread. Teams who have won 85% or more of their regular season games have beaten the spread in conference championships at a rate of 61.9%. The Cardinals fall into the next group (.750-.849); however, their ATS winning percentage is 9% lower at .529. But what if I readjust the groupings? Could some slight modifications to my chart change the picture?

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I segmented the regular season winning percentages differently. This time I used three groups .500-.649, .650-.799 and an .800+ grouping that encompassed both the Cardinals and the Panthers 2015 season. In this instance, the projected outcome for Carolina remains unchanged, but Arizona is now also expected to cover in approximately 61% of games.

Unfortunately, I have backed myself into a corner with my own analysis. How does the Golden Rules narrow down an ATS winner when both teams finished the regular season with a winning percentage above .800? The only solution was to examine all six of the conference championships since 1978 involving two teams with .800+ regular season records. As per playoff rules, the visiting team always sported the lower regular season mark; however, the 1998 game between Green Bay and San Francisco featured two teams with identical 13-3 records. The following table lists each game and the straight-up and ATS winner:

NFL – Conference Championship Games
Opponents with Regular Season Winning Percentages of .800 or Better
(since 1978)

Date

Visitor (Win Pctg.)

Home Team (Win Pctg.)

Spread

Straight-Up

ATS Winner

Jan 20/91

Giants - 15 (0.813)

49ers - 13 (0.875)

SF -8

Giants

Giants

Jan 17/93

Cowboys - 30 (0.813)

49ers - 20 (0.875)

SF -4

Cowboys

Cowboys

Jan 11/98

Packers - 23 (0.813)

49ers - 10 (0.813)

GB -1.5

Packers

Packers

Jan 17/99

Falcons - 30 (0.875)

Vikings - 27 (0.938)

MIN -11

Falcons

Falcons

Jan 23/00

Titans - 33 (0.813)

Jaguars - 14 (0.875)

JAX -7

Titans

Titans

Jan 23/05

Patriots - 41 (0.875)

Steelers - 27 (0.938)

NE -3

Patriots

Patriots

By focusing on these six games, a clear historical trend emerged. In all six contests, the visiting team not only won outright, but also won against the spread. Twice, in fact, the visiting team was the favorite and they still covered. In other words, since 1978, a team in Carolina’s position (i.e., with an .800+ regular season winning percentage) has never won a conference championship game at home against an opponent who also had an .800+ season.

Golden Rules say to take Arizona

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.

The Golden Rules were 2-5-1 during the Wild Card Weekend

You can access last week’s 2015 Weekly Golden Rules Analysis below.

NFL Divisional Round Playoff picks using the Golden Rules
- NFC Wild Card Playoffs picks using the Golden Rules
- AFC Wild Card Playoffs picks using the Golden Rules

NOTES:

Historical data on NFL spreads was accessed via Sunshine Forecast, whose latest source was scoresandodds.com, or accessed from scoresandodds.com directly. Spreads were collected by Sunshine Forecast as close as practicable to game time.



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