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Week 17 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 January 3, 2016 – New England Patriots (-10.5) at Miami Dolphins
Sunday January 3, 2016 – Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-9.5)
Sunday January 3, 2016 – Pittsburgh Steelers (-9.5) at Cleveland Browns
Sunday January 3, 2016 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-10.5)
Sunday January 3, 2016 – San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-9.5)

Week 17 offers a dynamic to betting against the spread unlike any other week of the season. Some teams have everything to play for and they are set out to destroy weaker, apathetic opponents to ensure a playoff position. Other teams would dress their water boy if it meant resting their stars for when it counts the most. And other teams are unpredictable because their in-game decisions hinge on the score of their own game and the figures flashing on the out of town scoreboard.

The most unreliable matchups tend to be those with the largest spreads since they involve the league’s top franchises as they jockey for playoff positioning. This season, there are five Week 17 battles with a spread of a touchdown or more. Logic would tell you that these favorites are the ones most likely to exert their will until there’s not a shadow of doubt remaining. However, last week, favorites were able to cover in only two of the six games with spreads of seven or higher (Detroit and Minnesota).

I want to know if Week 17 is any different than any other week. To prove my hypothesis, I developed the chart below that compares the ATS winning percentage, since 1995, of favorites during Week 17 versus every other week of the season.


There is definitely a trend to favorites covering the larger spreads in Week 17 that isn’t predominant during the rest of the season. Teams favored by a touchdown or more have produced a 68-56-1 record against the spread since 1995. This compares to a 699-791-44 mark prior to the final week. Does this mean that the Golden Rules should take all five favorites this week? To answer this question I also segmented the results by home and away; however, the pattern of favorites outperforming underdogs against large spreads remains.

Visually, the results of the analysis is striking, but your excitement to rush out and pick favorites should be tempered because the ATS winning percentage of all 7+ point favorites in Week 17 is still only .544. Therefore, it may be prudent to take the underdog in one or two of these matchups. The most obvious exclusion would be road favorites of a touchdown or more since they own a break even Week 17 ATS winning percentage.

To examine road favorites further, I prepared the chart below which adds historical ATS results since 1995 for double digit road favorites like the Patriots this week as they take on the Dolphins in Miami. The only other team favored by seven or more points on the road is Pittsburgh as they travel to Cleveland in an attempt to avenge their shocking Week 16 loss to Baltimore.


Based on the chart above, it is clear that 10+ point road favorites struggle against the spread. Since 1995, only one team (the 2013 Denver Broncos) overcame a touchdown or greater line. So, does that mean I can count on Bill Belichick to rest his guys enough after New England jumps out to an early lead that Miami will crawl back in the second half for a back door cover? Or can I simply count on them to mess up a coin toss, or Brady to kneel down instead of spiking the football or perhaps something new and obscure that we have never seen before?

Another option could be passing on Pittsburgh since they are travelling this week. However, road favorites with spreads between 7-9.5 points are 11-7 against the spread since 1995. My final hunch was to also avoid Carolina; however, the ATS results of double digit Week 17 home favorites exceeds that of home favorites between 7-9.5.

Golden Rules say to take Miami, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Denver


Sunday January 3, 2016 – Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3.5) 

Those poor, disadvantaged Dallas Cowboys. I’ll bet you never thought you would hear those words. But between 2011 and 2013, the Cowboys had three consecutive opportunities to make the playoffs by winning on the Week 17 Sunday Night Football flex game. Each season was a new NFC rival across the line of scrimmage and each season they failed to win the game. For three consecutive years they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys aren’t playing on Sunday night this week, so I am forced to look for another compelling historical trend. The table below summarizes the straight-up and against the spread results of the nine previous Week 17 flex games since the NFL introduced this concept for the 2006 season. All the results are from the perspective of the home team.

Week 17 – Sunday Night Flex Game 
ATS Results – Home Teams


Home - Score

Visitor - Score

Point Spread

Home Team
ATS Result

Dec. 31/2006

Bears - 7

Packers - 26

CHI -2.5


Dec. 30/2007

Colts - 10

Titans - 16

IND +4.5


Dec. 28/2008

Chargers - 52

Broncos - 21

SD -7


Jan. 3/2010

Jets - 37

Bengals - 0

NYJ -10


Jan. 2/2011

Seahawks - 16

Rams - 6

SEA +3


Jan. 1/2012

Giants - 31

Cowboys - 14

NYG -3


Dec. 30/2012

Redskins - 28

Cowboys - 18

WAS -3


Dec. 29/2013

Cowboys - 22

Eagles - 24

DAL +7


Dec. 28/2014

Steelers - 27

Bengals - 17

PIT -3


With the exception of the snoozer between Jim Sorgi’s Colts and the Tennessee Titans, only one other Week 17 Sunday Night matchup was decided by fewer than ten points. Kyle Orton failed to convert on a late-4th quarter two-point attempt as the Cowboys dropped a 24-22 decision to the Eagles to close out the season. Will we expect much of the same when Minnesota visits Green Bay and their expected sub-freezing Sunday night temperatures?

Could there be any notable ATS trends considering all these large straight-up margins of victory? Whether it be the degrees Fahrenheit or the home cooking, hosts have won six of the last seven Week 17 flex games and covered the spread in all seven contests. The chart below graphically shows just how dominant home teams have been. Note that home teams are listed first in the description below the chart.


You can read this chart as follows. Take last season’s Steelers 27-17 victory over the three-point underdog Bengals. The green bar represents the straight-up margin of victory (i.e., ten points) and the yellow dot represents the ATS margin of victory of seven points. Home teams covered the spread if the yellow dot is above zero. And those are a lot of yellow dots above zero. The purple bars are the same as the green bars except that these are the games in which the home team failed to win straight-up.

If the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field was ever a welcome advantage to the Packers, it’s the Week 17 Sunday Night flex game.

Golden Rules say to take Green Bay

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

The Golden Rules were 2-1 during Week 16 and are 32-28 for 2015

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

Week 16 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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