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The Golden Rules Of Wagering On NFL Games Against The Spread


“What the gold rush did was to give people permission to take risks, to gamble on life, in a way that they hadn't been willing to gamble before.” ~ H. W. Brands

In December 1949, the All-America Football Conference merged with the National Football League (NFL). This merger helped change the landscape of professional football in the United States and is a direct link to what we see Sundays every autumn. The merger would not have had the national impact if it wasn’t for the introduction of the first west coast teams in American professional sports – the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. 

Do you know what else changed the landscape of professional sports? It didn’t happen in 1949. It was all about uprooting and heading west, but it had nothing to do with Cleveland packing up the Rams and heading to L.A. or with Brooklyn remorsefully waving goodbye to their beloved Dodgers. It had everything to do with 49ers, but had nothing to do with the cherry and gold heroes lining the sideline at Candlestick Park. Decades and decades before its impact on football was felt, it was the California Gold Rush that can be linked to America’s love for wagering on sports.

Capitalism has long been the backbone of North American culture and was not a new concept in 1849. However, the American dream was far more puritan prior to the California Gold Rush. 1849 fed Americans with their first hunger for riches. Some looked for the quick buck. Others tirelessly worked in perilous situations for an opportunity at wealth. And yet others fell unsuccessful – victim to misinformation, the proliferation of panners and, worst of all, fool’s gold. 

The spirit of the Gold Rush is what eventually brought Americans to Las Vegas in the 1940’s. The passion for taking on risk paved the Strip, built the hotels and filled the casinos. Soon after, America was back from the war and booming. Industry was alive, capitalism was in effect and professional sports were country wide. In 1949, one hundred years from the height of the California Gold Rush, the State of Nevada first started to take bets on professional sports. And so it began.

THE STATISTICS

In order to follow The Golden Rules, you will need the following data at your fingertips for each team:

THE GOLDEN RULES 

There is never going to be a fool-proof system that will guarantee success when wagering on NFL games against the spread. Any system or set of rules comes with the risk of turning up fool’s gold. Just ask Midas what he thought about having the ability to turn everything you touch into gold. But what if your risks can be reduced? What if there were trends from the past that could help you increase the probability of predicting future events?

These questions led me to develop The Golden Rules – unbiased rules to follow when making your ATS picks. The rules are intended to cover all regular season NFL games and may not apply if wagering on select games. The key is to apply the rules in order from 1 through 21. If Rule 1 doesn’t apply, move on and refer to Rule 2, and so on, and so on. 

1. Bet on teams with a straight-up winning percentage of .750 or better when playing on less than 6 days’ rest against a team with a worse record. Note that this excludes teams coming off bye weeks and only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 66.7%

2. Bet against teams with less than a .350 straight-up winning percentage when playing on less than 7 days’ rest against a team with a better record. Note that this excludes teams coming off bye weeks and only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 61.2%

3. Bet on visitors with less than a .250 straight-up winning percentage against a team with a straight-up winning percentage that is at least .100 basis points higher.Note that this only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 56.3%

4. Bet on teams based on their 16-game ATS winning percentage, as follows: 10-year Success Rate: 58.5%

    • bet on teams with a 16-game ATS winning percentage of less than .250 when playing against teams with a 16-game ATS winning percentage that was at least 300 percentage points higher
    • bet on teams with a 16-game ATS winning percentage of .850 or better when playing against a team with a worse 16-game ATS winning percentage
    • bet on teams with a 16-game ATS winning percentage of .750 or better when playing against a team with a 16-game ATS winning percentage between .450-.749

5. Bet on underdogs when the point spread is at or above 10. 10-year Success Rate: 56.1%

6. Bet on favorites on Thursdays. 10-year Success Rate: 58.5%

7. Bet on visitors on Saturdays. 10-year Success Rate: 58.5%

8. Bet on teams with a straight-up winning percentage of .550 or better when playing on less than 7 days’ rest against a team with a worse record. Note that this excludes teams coming off bye weeks and only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 53.4%

9. Bet on visitors on 6 days’ rest. 10-year Success Rate: 55.0% 

10. Bet on favorites with less than a .350 straight-up winning percentage against a team with an equal or better record. Note that this only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 57.9%

11. Bet on underdogs with a straight-up winning percentage between .350-.649 against a team with a record within the same range. Note that this only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 52.2% 

12. Bet on teams based on their 16-game straight-up winning percentage, as follows: 10-year Success Rate: 54.1% 

    • bet on teams with a 16-game straight-up winning percentage below .250 when playing against a team with a better 16-game straight-up winning percentage
    • bet on teams with a 16-game straight-up winning percentage of .850 or better when playing against a team with a worse 16-game straight-up winning percentage

13. Bet on home teams with a straight-up winning percentage of .650 or better against a team with a straight-up winning percentage between .250-.649. Note that this only applies following Week 4. 10-year Success Rate: 52.9% 

14. Bet on a team coming off a bye week against a team not coming off a bye week. 10-year Success Rate: 54.6%

15. Bet on underdogs in September. 10-year Success Rate: 50.3%

16. Bet on favorites on Mondays. 10-year Success Rate: 54.4%

17. Bet on home teams when the spread is more than a touchdown (i.e., 7 points) regardless of whether the home team is a favorite or an underdog. 10-year Success Rate: 51.2%

18. Bet on visitors in November. 10-year Success Rate: 53.3%

19. Bet on visitors in divisional games. 10-year Success Rate: 52.2% 

20. Bet on teams in certain divisional matchups. 10-year Success Rate: 61.3%

    • AFC North over NFC East
    • AFC West over NFC East
    • AFC South over AFC North
    • NFC North over AFC West

21. Bet on visitors. 10-year Success Rate: 49.8%

THE RESULTS

These rules, if followed without added judgment, would have performed 1,409-1,080-71 against the spread in regular season games between 2003 and 2012. The chart below breaks down the results over the full ten year period.

Spreadpt 7img1


It is one thing to be successful over ten years, but how consistent are the rules season-by-season? The graph below charts the ATS winning percentage under The Golden Rules for each season. The blue line represents the percentage of games won versus the spread; whereas, the red line considers the impact of pushes.

Spreadpt 7img2


As you can see, the ATS winning percentage never drops below .500 for an entire season when considering pushes. In fact, The Golden Rules were successful fewer than 50% of their games only once – ten years ago during the 2003 regular season.

Winning percentage helps out gamblers in pick ‘em pools where you make a one-time payment and make selections against the spread on every game. However, some bettors make dollar wagers on each game. Can The Golden Rules help you choose how to allocate your bets?

The following chart shows the profits over the past ten seasons from following The Golden Rules. The first three bars represent the profits from making either $25, $50 or $75 bets on each game. Essentially, the second and third bars are 2x and 3x the profits of the first bar.

Spreadpt 7img3


The red bar considers applying different size wagers to different rules. For the graph above, I evenly distributed the bets over all 21 of The Golden Rules – $75 bets on the first seven rules, $50 bets on the next seven and $25 bets on the rest. The result of this graded bet is shown as the red bar above. By applying different bets on different rules, one can minimize their downside risk and increase their return on investment (ROI). The table below summarizes the profits and ROI of each betting scenario.

 

Results from Applying Golden Rules Since 2003
Based on the Following ATS Betting Scenarios

Bet

Amount Waged

Profits

10-Year ROI

$25/Game

$70,400

$5,348

7.6%

$25/Game

$140,800

$10,695

7.6%

$25/Game

$211,200

$16,043

7.6%

$25/$50/$75 Graded Bets

$137,855

$12,785

9.3%


It is up to you to choose from among the unlimited scenarios for wagering against the spread. For example, your 10-year profits and ROI would have been $7,538 and 13.0% if you chose to wager $75 on the games for which the first seven of The Golden Rules applied and nothing on the rest.

LOOKING FOR MORE

You can access more in-depth analysis of The Golden Rules with the following links:

Part 1: Team by Team Comparison Over the Past 5 Seasons
Part 2: Predicting Results Based on a Team’s Recent Performance
Part 3: Comparing Results Between Home Teams and Visitors
Part 4: Comparing Results Between Favorites and Underdogs
Part 5: Impact From a Team not Playing Every Sunday
Part 6: A Look at Games Played Inside and Outside the Division 

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

NOTES:

The data on NFL regular season spreads was accessed via Sunshine Forecast whose current source is scoresandodds.com. Spreads are collected by Sunshine Forecast as close as practicable to game time.

 



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