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Week 2 NFL picks using the Golden Rules


Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 2 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.

HOW DO TEAMS PERFORM IN WEEK 2 HOME OPENERS?

Sunday September 20, 2015 – Tennessee Titans (-1.5) at Cleveland Browns
Sunday September 20, 2015 – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants (-1.5)
Monday September 21, 2015 – New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-6.5)

Every year, 16 teams play their home opener during Week 1. But the other 16 do not necessarily play their home opener the following week. This season, a whopping total of five franchises – Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, Seattle and Tennessee – will have to wait to dazzle for their home crowd. But how about those 11 teams who are privileged to play this week in front of their faithful for the first time in 2015? The chart below examines success against the spread from the past ten seasons of home openers in an effort to establish some historical trends.

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Home teams have paid out in 48.2% of all the home openers since 2005, regardless of the week. But Week 2 results are significantly different. Isolating Week 2 home openers increases the likelihood of a win by exactly 4.4%. In other words, home teams will win against the spread in 45.3% of home openers outside of Week 2. During Week 2, the ATS winning percentage for hosts in home openers is 52.6%.

However, there are 11 such openers this week. Could I find a way to possibly narrow down which home teams should be leaned on? Divisional foes play in your backyard every year and are less intimidated by their opponent’s home field advantage. Consequently, there is a drop in the Week 2 ATS results. Home teams have far more success in Week 2 home openers against all other opponents, especially teams outside their division, but inside their conference.

The following five games fit this description:

Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts

Laying money down on all five games is a big commitment. Could I narrow my picks down to three of these home teams? After all, since 2005, 62.7% (approximately three out of five) of Week 2 home teams beat the spread in their home opener against non-division, in-conference teams. But which three?

I looked for ways to exclude overrated teams and then, likewise, include underrated teams. However, they key of seeking out underrated teams is to not put too much stock in an underperforming group of players. One way to do this is by grouping teams by their point production during the following week. Teams like the Titans, who posted 40+ points, will tend to be overrated by oddsmakers and teams like the Ravens, who could only muster 13 versus Denver, walk the fine line between underperforming and being underrated.

The chart below shows ATS results from the past ten seasons of Week 2 home openers. I wondered about those who may be overrated vs. underrated. There was actually a distinct advantage against the spread for teams who fall in between these two extremes. Since 2005, 57.1% of home teams beat the spread in Week 2 if they put up 14-20 points on the road in Week 1. But this result is dwarfed by the 65.8% of squads who won versus the spread after scoring 21-27 points.

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Looking back at last week, the five Week 2 home teams in question managed the following number of points on the road:

Cleveland Browns – 10
Indianapolis Colts – 14
New York Giants – 26
Green Bay Packers – 31
Cincinnati Bengals – 33

The New York Giants are the only franchise to fit the description. And doesn’t their inclusion seem so apropos? They are a team that performed quite nicely on the road versus a tough division opponent. But what do bettors take away from the game? Not the strong and opportunistic defense, but the game management and blown lead.

Golden Rules say to take New York Giants (and do further analysis to find two more home teams)

HOW DO QUARTERBACKS PERFORM AFTER WINNING THEIR FIRST NFL START?

Sunday September 20, 2015 – Tennessee Titans (-1.5) at Cleveland Browns

How did you fare on your first day on the job? My guess is that your day was nowhere near the level that the Tennessee Titans new pivot Marcus Mariota reached last Sunday in his regular season debut. The former Oregon Ducks star tossed four touchdown passes by the end of the first half as the Titans jumped out to a commanding 35-7 lead in Tampa. The final score was a 42-14 for the Titans over the Buccaneers – a 28 point margin of victory.

Since 2005, first-time starting QBs have a 28-68 mark in their debut. That result isn’t at all surprising considering unproven gunslingers rarely step behind center for top franchises. But how have they performed against the spread? Over the same period, first-time starters settle near .500 with a 47-45-4 ATS record. Their success against the spread has historically been even more impressive in Week 1. Mariota’s Week 1 cover contributed to a 13-8-2 ATS record during Week 1 action for first-time starting QBs since 2005.

However, Mariota and the Titans outing last Sunday was not your typical coming out party. Tennessee did manage to annihilate Tampa Bay in fairly unprecedented fashion. Over the past decade, only John Skelton (yes, “the” John Skelton) led a team to a larger margin of victory in his debut – a 43-13 December 2010 late season victory for Arizona over Denver. So, how will oddsmakers react? Mariota is still only a rookie with a single game to his credit. However, that one game left quite the impression.

I decided to analyze Tennessee’s matchup this week versus Cleveland by focusing on how quarterbacks performed against the spread following their pro debut. And the results showed a clear trend if their second start followed a convincing victory. Since 2005, teams have beaten the spread in only 40% of games in which the quarterback led his team to more than a touchdown victory in his debut the game before. This compares to an ATS success rate of 60.3% in all other scenarios, whether it was a win by a touchdown or less, or a loss.

Golden Rules say to take Cleveland

ARE TEAMS COMING OFF LOPSIDED LOSSES UNDERRATED THE FOLLOWING WEEK?

Sunday September 20, 2015 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-11.5)
Monday September 21, 2015 – New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-6.5)

Sometimes you’re really just that bad as Tampa Bay showed in the Week 1 head-to-head battle between the two top picks from the 2015 NFL Draft – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. And sometimes your opponent is just that good as Indianapolis found out when visiting the upstart Buffalo Bills.

Each team has one thing in common – they were outscored in Week 1 by their opponents by at least 20 points. Surely, the public’s eye will tend towards these performances. How often are these setbacks indicators of things to come? And how often are they red herrings? The lines are adjusted to accommodate for public perception. Since 2005, teams coming off 20+ defeats have an ATS record of 281-230-13 (for a winning percentage of .536) proving that the Week 2 line is likely a tad inflated in the case of Tampa Bay’s matchup versus New Orleans and slightly deflated for favored Indianapolis as they take on the New York Jets.

The Buccaneers and Colts fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Indianapolis has reached three consecutive playoffs since the Andrew Luck-era began. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has won four or fewer games during the past six seasons. I wondered whether each franchise’s recent track record could still support the argument that teams are underrated following lopsided losses. The chart below examines how each end of the spectrum cam be exploited based on the following week’s performance.

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The analysis confirms that ATS success can be had for each scenario. Teams with a paltry straight-up winning percentage below .150 over their last 16 regular season games have won 63.4% of games against the spread since 2005. Similarly, teams with the best straight-up records hover around a 60% ATS winning percentage.

Including last Sunday, the Buccaneers have stumbled to a 2-14 straight-up record (or a .125 winning percentage) over their last 16 regular season games. Thus, Tampa Bay is reflected in the pillar at the far left in the chart above.

The Colts have taken a more successful path over their last 16 regular season games. Indianapolis has an 11-5 (or .688) mark, straight-up, over the last 16 – and this includes last week’s stumble versus the Bills. This rate of success lands the Colts in the left of the two pillars displayed on the right hand side of the chart above.

Regardless of slotting in on the left or the right of the chart, the Buccaneers and Colts fall into a category where they have a significant increase in the likelihood of covering the spread in Week 2 despite losing by 20+ points the following Sunday.

Golden Rules say to take Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

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

Golden Rules are 4-2 in 2015

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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