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Week 13 NFL picks using the Golden Rules

Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 13 lines? Or, maybe, it’s you and 49 other colleagues at the firm all staring curiously at the spreads wondering how to get a leg up in the office pool. Regardless of the reason, the Golden Rules are for you.

During the 2014 NFL season, I provided weekly insights for those betting NFL games against the spread (ATS). It’s what I like to call The Golden Rules. And I’m back for the 2015 regular season hoping to build on my 39-25 (61%) regular season record from a year ago.

There is no guarantee you can pick the winner by analyzing historical data from the past five, ten or 20 NFL seasons. But can you gain a competitive advantage? Sure you can. The Golden Rules are about asking the right questions, identifying differentiating factors and having faith that you are increasing the likelihood of success.


Sunday December 6, 2015 – Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)
Sunday December 6, 2015 – Carolina Panthers (-7.5) at New Orleans Saints

You never know what to expect within the NFC South from one season to the next. Heading into the 2013 season, the Falcons were counted upon to be Super Bowl favorites but fell flat on their face. The following season, everyone envisioned the Panthers and Saints to challenge in the NFC. Truth be told, the Panthers were crowned as division winners; however, their 7-8-1 season-ending record was a black mark to be worn by all four clubs.

This season, the unpredictability of the NFC South has continued. As soon as you are projecting the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons as a playoff team, they lose five of six. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are leading their New Orleans Saints to a 4-7 mark, a win behind a Buccaneers franchise that managed no more than a pair of victories in 2014. And finally, we knew the Panthers would be good, but not undefeated after 11 games good.

Carolina has five more games before concluding the regular season with 16 wins. Three of these matchups are on the road and four are within the division. The first of their four division battles occur in Week 13 when they head to New Orleans. Tampa Bay seems headed in the opposite direction of Atlanta. The Buccaneers have played .500 football since their Week 6 bye and host a Falcons team by which they’ve beaten against the spread in three of their previous four meetings in Tampa.

With a double dip of NFC South matchups in Week 13, I decided to analyze each team’s recent ATS history in divisional games to determine if any historical trends could sway the odds in my favor.


Both favorites, the Panthers and Buccaneers, have had the most success against the spread within divisional games since 2005. Carolina has the most impressive divisional ATS results with a 36-26 mark over the assessed time period. The Saints and Falcons have registered fairly even sub-.500 divisional ATS results by covering between 43%-45% of their regular season NFC South tilts since 2005. However, are these figures relevant based on the opponent each team faces in Week 13?

Perhaps Carolina’s ATS success is attributable to their performances versus Tampa Bay and Atlanta and have very little to do with New Orleans, their Week 13 opponent. In order to evaluate each specific NFC South clash, I have provided you with heat charts for each team’s ATS winning percentage against a divisional opponent. Green means greater ATS success. And red means less success. The shades of red and green dull the closer the results are to .500 (see scale below).


For example, referring to the chart below, the Saints and Falcons fall into the yellow boxes. The yellow boxes indicate scenarios that should be avoided since the historical results demonstrate only modest advantages to choosing one team over another. New Orleans has an ATS winning percentage of .524 when facing Atlanta since 2005; whereas the Falcons have produced a .476 mark versus the Saints. Therefore, despite demonstrating a consistent overall ATS performance within the division as a whole, the Saints do hold a modest edge over the Falcons head-to-head.


As mentioned, it is ideal to find darker shades of green and orange as identifiers for the most significant NFC South trends from the past ten seasons. Considering the results depicted in the bar chart, it is not surprising that the darkest orange boxes belong to the Falcons and Saints (.381). In fact, the opponents in which they are the most susceptible against the spread are their Week 13 adversaries, the Buccaneers and Panthers, respectively.

On the other side of the coin, the Panthers have a .619 ATS winning percentage (and a solid green colored box) versus the Saints. You may wonder why the Buccaneers don’t have a similar shade of green when their opponent is the Falcons. These winning percentages exclude pushes; therefore, the corresponding boxes do not always add to 100%. Regardless, Tampa Bay has still maintained a strong .571 ATS record over Atlanta within the past ten seasons. Consequently, the confidence in historical data is overwhelming in the anticipated NFC South Week 13 doubleheader.

Golden Rules say to take Tampa Bay and Carolina


Sunday December 6, 2015 – Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders
Sunday December 6, 2015 – Denver Broncos (-4.5) at San Diego Chargers

I’ve always held a small place in my football heart for the AFC West. As a kid growing up in the Mountain Time zone, there always seemed to be a weekly AFC West contest featured in the middle of the afternoon on NBC. When I think of the AFC West, I recall high scoring offenses led by John Elway, Dan Fouts and whatever Raiders quarterback was tossing long bombs at the time. I could never forget about effortless runners like Marcus Allen and punishing backs like Christian Okoye and Bo Jackson. I remember The Holy Roller, the Orange Crush, Charger Power and the Mad Stork. It’s sacrilegious, I know, but there’s even room in my heart for the “Los Angeles” Raiders. And what about Dave Krieg, Curt Warner (not that Kurt Warner) and Steve Largent? Yes, even the Seattle Seahawks were part of the AFC West.

Ignoring the displaced Seahawks, Week 13 headlines matchups between the remaining longtime AFC West rivals. Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos ride their shocking overtime victory over New England into Qualcomm to face the San Diego Chargers. After losing five straight, the Kansas City Chiefs have stormed back into the playoff picture by stringing together five consecutive wins. This week, the Chiefs visit an Oakland franchise who have already won more games than they had in each of the prior three seasons.

Similar to the NFC South analysis above, I studied each AFC West team’s recent ATS history in divisional games. Could I find trends within this division like I found when reviewing the NFC North. The chart below portrays the ATS winning percentage of all four AFC West teams in divisional games since 2005.


I couldn’t imagine any division having this level of parity within their divisional ATS results. Sure, the Raiders are the only team with a winning percentage north of .500. But the other teams do not trail far behind. For example, the Broncos have a .476 ATS winning percentage which would climb to .500 with a win this week in San Diego. The by-product of this initial analysis is how difficult it is to assess future performance against the spread when each franchise is within such close quarters.

The next step is to review, by opponent, each AFC West team’s ATS performance since 2005. As with the NFC South, I have provided you with heat charts to scan the results visually. As a reminder, I have included the scale for the heat chart below.


The close proximity of the overall results in the bat chart above has carried over to the opponent-specific results below. As you observe, there are fewer of the deeper colors in the AFC West heat chart as we saw with the NFC South.


The one box that does stand out is in respect of a matchup featured this week. Since 2005, the Broncos have only beaten the Chargers against the spread in 35% of their meetings. In fact, Denver is above .500 against the spread when facing the Raiders and Chiefs. This particular historical result cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, the encounter between Kansas City and Oakland doesn’t provide as glaring of a conclusion. 

In 20 regular season games since 2005, Oakland has covered the spread in 11 such games compared to nine for Kansas City. Each of these results – Raiders (.550) and Chiefs (.450) – are represented with muted tones of green and orange. Consequently, this one game swing in ATS results isn’t as significant as the Golden Rules had hoped in order to commit to picking one of these long-established AFL rivals over the other.

Golden Rules say to take San Diego and pass on the Kansas City/Oakland game

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

The Golden Rules were 2-1 during Week 12 and are 27-24 for 2015

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

- Week 12 NFL Picks Using the Golden Rules


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

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