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Week 16 NFL picks using the Golden Rules

Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 16 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 24, 2015 – San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (-5.5)

Sure, Christmas is a joyous time when families get together to celebrate, we give selflessly to loved ones and kids dive head first into stockings filled to the brim. But we all know it can have its stressful moments too. Travelling at Christmas always has its challenges. And so does working right up until the last possible day. Well that’s what the San Diego Chargers face as they trek upstate to meet their AFC West rivals in Oakland on Christmas Eve.

Who do you think benefits when games are scheduled on December 24th? The first consideration is favorite versus underdog. This week, the Oakland Raiders are 5.5 point favorites over the Chargers. The Silver & Black haven’t been more than a field goal favorite at home to San Diego since 2003. Do games on the eve of Christmas favor the squad with all the pressure or, instead, the ones who have nothing to lose? Oakland has yet to cover as a favorite in three attempts during 2015 compared to San Diego who managed a 4-2 mark as a road underdog to this point in 2015.

The second consideration is home versus away. The road Chargers may be on a business trip, but they know they’ll be jetting home after the game in enough time to hit the sack before Santa descends down the chimney. Whereas, the Raiders are trying to rest at home during all the hustle and bustle that goes along with planning and preparing for the holiday. Despite enjoying their best campaign since 2011, the Raiders haven’t won at since beating the New York Jets handily on November 1st. But something has to give. The Chargers have only been victorious once on the road in 2015 – a Week 12 win in Jacksonville.

The chart below illustrates the historical ATS results behind each of these considerations. I have analyzed how teams have performed against the spread on Christmas Eve since 1995. The bars on the left compare favorites and underdogs; while, the bars on the right depict the results of home versus road teams.


The betting edge on Christmas Eve is clearly with the underdog. In this case, it’s San Diego garnering the advantage. Since 2005, underdogs are 36-26-1 against the spread on the 24th. For example, there were 13 matchups on Christmas Eve four seasons ago. On that day, underdogs dominated with a 9-4 record versus the spread.

It’s a good thing that the analysis of favorites vs. underdogs produced some significant results since nothing could be derived from comparing home teams and visitors. Both home and away have identical ATS results (31-31-1). Note that the ATS results of home teams and visitors do not add to 100% since pushes are not considered a win for either.

Golden Rules say to take San Diego


Saturday December 26, 2015 – Washington at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5)

Am I reading this right? Washington is in the driver’s seat of the NFC East. But they need a Week 16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles to make things official. Like everyone else, I saw how strong Washington looked in Week 15 when they claimed their first back-to-back W of the season against the Buffalo Bills. And, I know you also saw how atrocious the Eagles performed at home in prime time against the Cardinals. However, all those preconceived notions get tossed out the window when you throw the holiday season into the mix.

Similar to my Christmas Eve analysis, I have researched the impact on the spread of teams playing the day after Christmas. Again, I have compared both favorites/underdogs and home teams/visitors. Disrupting the Christmas routine can be a difficult challenge to overcome for any team when you must take the field the next day. But who is affected the most? The chart below shows the results over the past 20 seasons.


The time to prepare is naturally shortened as coaches and players do the best they can amid the chaos of Christmas. It is not surprising that underdogs are hardest hit by the brunt of the schedule as they are more often than not the team that benefits most from a few more hours of film study and a dozen more reps. Since 1995, underdogs have only beaten the spread in 17 of 39 games played on December 26th.

The results are not much different when comparing home teams and visitors. Visitors, like underdogs, have an ATS record below .500 at 17-21-2. Unlike road teams playing Christmas Eve, visitors tend to struggle more often on December 26th. This isn’t a good sign for Washington since they have only won once this season away from FedExField and are 2-4 against the spread.

Golden Rules say to take Philadelphia


Monday December 28, 2015 – Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-3.5)

It must not be that rare to have two young 25 year old quarterbacks face each other late in the season. I’m sure it happens all the time. But how often does it occur when both pivots are leading successful teams currently in playoff positions. You can picture this happening to two teams still finding their way with recent draft picks at the helm, but can you imagine the likelihood of a this happening to a pair of perennial playoff participants such as Cincinnati and Denver. In Week 16, Andy Dalton’s backup will look across the field towards Peyton Manning’s replacement. Or as we now know them as – A.J. McCarron vs. Brock Osweiler.Andy Dalton’s backup will look across the field towards Peyton Manning’s replacement. Or as we now know them as – A.J. McCarron vs. Brock Osweiler.

My starting quarterback age data goes back 20 years, so I started there. How often since 1995 have two starting quarterbacks under the age of 26 matched up in the regular season in December or January when their team has a winning percentage of .650 or better? A dozen, perhaps. At least five or six, right? The answer is actually zero! This McCarron/Osweiler duel is a first in at least two decades.

Based on a lack of historical data, I decided to expand the scope of my research to those quarterbacks under the age of 28. Since 1995, I found the ten occurrences summarized in the table below.

NFL Regular Season Games featuring Quarterbacks under 28 Years Old On Teams
with a .650+ Winning Percentage 
Following November – Since 1995


Home Score

Home QB

Visitor Score

Visiting QB

Home Team Line

Home Team

Jan 2/00

Bills - 31


Colts - 6


BUF +1.5


Dec 3/00

Eagles - 13


Titans - 15


PHI +3


Dec 7/03

Eagles - 36


Cowboys - 10


PHI -5.5


Dec 10/06

Cowboys - 17


Saints - 42


DAL -6.5


Dec 14/08

Ravens - 9


Steelers - 13


BAL -3


Dec 26/10

Bears - 38


Jets - 34


CHI -3


Jan 1/12

Packers - 45


Lions - 41


GB +6.5


Dec 8/13

49ers - 19


Seahawks - 17


SF -2


Dec 8/13

Bengals - 42


Colts - 28


CIN -7


Dec 21/14

Cardinals - 6


Seahawks - 35


ARI +9


The table of results above is outlined from the point of view of the home team. It turns out that the most able young gun is the one suiting up within the comforts of home. Under this scenario, home quarterbacks have led their teams to a 6-3-1 ATS mark. The chart below explains these results graphically. I have charted both the straight-up and against the spread margins of victory for the home team. The quarterbacks are listed underneath the chart with the home QB on top. 


You can read this chart as follows. Take the Rob Johnson versus Peyton Manning example on the far left. Johnson commanded Buffalo to a 31-6 destruction of Indianapolis at the end of the 1999 season – a 25 point margin of victory. Since the Bills were 1.5 point home underdogs, the ATS margin of victory was 26.5 points (depicted by the orange dot). Further, the three instances where the home team failed to cover the spread have been colored in a lighter shade of blue. Rob Johnson versus Peyton Manning example on the far left. Johnson commanded Buffalo to a 31-6 destruction of Indianapolis at the end of the 1999 season – a 25 point margin of victory. Since the Bills were 1.5 point home underdogs, the ATS margin of victory was 26.5 points (depicted by the orange dot). Further, the three instances where the home team failed to cover the spread have been colored in a lighter shade of blue. 

It is evident that home teams have beaten the spread more often, but there is not overwhelming comfort when examining the margins of victory closer. Home and away teams each had two convincing victories that effectively cancel each other out and the remaining matchups included many on the cusp of flipping to the visiting team’s advantage. 

I decided to analyze a couple more variables since I wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. The next factor I reviewed was the team’s straight-up winning percentage. This season, the Bengals at 11-3 have a slight edge over the Broncos and their 10-4 mark. Unfortunately, my sample size decreased from ten to six games as one was a push and three featured teams with identical records. The result was three ATS victories for the team with the better winning percentage and three for the team who trailed.

The final variable I studied was the quarterback’s age. The chart below is similar to the previous chart except that it is told from the perspective of the older quarterback. For Monday’s key AFC battle, McCarron will play the role of the wise old quarterback since he is Osweiler’s senior by slightly more than two months. Note that quarterbacks are again listed at the bottom of the chart, but this time with the older gunslinger on the top. 


In this case, the results become quite conclusive. The mature quarterback is 8-1-1 against the spread. The lone ATS loss is shown above in grey. But even this one loss is barely below an ATS margin of victory of zero. Among the eight covers, five games finished with ATS margins of victory above ten points and four of those were at least 20 or higher.

Golden Rules say to take Cincinnati

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

The Golden Rules were on a bye during Week 15 but went 2-1 during Week 14 and are 30-27 for 2015

You can access the previous 2015 Weekly Golden Rules Analysis below.

- Week 14 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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