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Week 3 NFL picks using the Golden Rules

Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 3 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 September 27, 2015 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Houston Texans (-6.5)
Sunday September 27, 2015 – Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans
Sunday September 27, 2015 – Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Sunday September 27, 2015 – Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks (-14.5)

Every NFL team wants to burst out of the gate with an unblemished record. But some stumble. The franchises finding themselves behind the eight-ball early may even be among the preseason favorites to be playing football come January. And despite 0-2 starts, oddsmakers and the betting public still see them as the confident and dominating teams we all thought they would be. This is why you will often find one or two 0-2 favorites against the spread every season.

But this season is somewhat unique. Perennial powerhouses like Indianapolis, Baltimore and Seattle have all dropped a pair. They are among five 0-2 franchises sitting as favorites against their Week 3 opponents. Since 1978, there have only been two other weeks in which this many 0-2 favorites took the field (2000 & 2007).

There have been 98 games involving an 0-2 favorite since 1978 if you include Thursday night’s NFC East battle between the favored 0-2 New York Giants and Washington. With the Giants 32-21 win, 0-2 favorites have complied a 49-47-2 record against the spread. Coincidentally, this ATS mark works out to be a .500 winning percentage. So, I have no choice but to dig deeper to try and identify trends to determine which 0-2 favorites are the correct picks this week.

1. Home or Visitors?

If you think an 0-2 favorite is rare, imagine how infrequent an 0-2 road favorite is. This week, Indianapolis takes their subpar 2015 performance into Nashville against a team that has only won twice in their previous 16 regular season games. And let me remind you, those wins were against Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, no less. Since 1978, only 17 of the 98 games featuring an 0-2 favorite have seen the favorite play away from home.

The chart below shows the ATS winning percentage for 0-2 favorites based on the location of the game. The results remain undecided as both home and away 0-2 favorites hover near the .500 mark. Note that I have excluded pushes from the determination of a team’s ATS winning percentage or, in other words, a win only reflects profitable outcomes. This is why the two bars do not add up to 100%.


At this point I’m left with no differentiating factors dependent on where the battle ensues. Could trends be found elsewhere?

2. The Point Spread?

Favorites take on many forms. I think we all can agree that an 0-2 favorite like Seattle is in a different class than an 0-2 favorite like Houston. But, remember, the point spread is the equalizer. Just because the winless Seahawks are likely to defeat Jimmy Clausen and the Chicago Bears doesn’t mean oddsmakers haven’t overrated them with a two touchdown spread. I wondered if the size of the spread could identify some ATS trends.

This week, one game’s spread is below a field goal while another is just above. Of the other two remaining matchups, one spread is between 6.5-9.5 points and the other is in the double digits. The chart below shows the ATS winning percentages since 1978 based on each one of these point spread groupings. Finally, we begin to see some trends emerge.


Specifically, 0-2 teams that are only slight favorites (such as Baltimore) have success against the spread in less than 25% of their games since 1978. Conversely, teams (such as Houston) with spreads between 6.5-9.5 have seen much better ATS results. The double-digit 0-2 favorites are less clear, but a 57% ATS success rate could be a deciding factor in choosing Seattle over Chicago.

3. Divisional, Intraconference or Interconference?

Could we have predicted that the 0-2 New York Giants would have covered Thursday night over Washington? The three-point favorites did have something else going for them other than Odell Beckham Jr.’s big hands and flashy dance moves – the Giants were playing a divisional opponent. New York isn’t the only 0-2 favorite playing within the division during Week 3. Indianapolis and Tennessee renew their AFC South rivalry and Baltimore faces Cincinnati in a battle of AFC North powers.

The chart below displays graphically the advantage the Giants held as an 0-2 favorite against a divisional foe. Including Thursday’s game, 0-2 favorites have beaten the spread in 60% of divisional games since 1978 which spells good news for both the Colts and Ravens.


A different result can be observed by staying within the conference, but focusing on games outside the division, i.e., non-divisional intraconference. An example of this would be the Seahawks versus the Bears. In this case, 0-2 favorites like Seattle are less likely to cover the spread when meeting up against another team within the NFC, but outside of the NFC West.

The historical ATS results for 0-2 favorites facing off versus teams from the other conference remain close enough to the .500 mark (.519) that I wouldn’t lean one way or another. Therefore, there’s not much from this particular analysis that can be used to assess the Texans/Buccaneers matchup.

4. Opponent’s Record?

There’s an important question to ask before dismissing any 0-2 favorite as overrated. What is the record of their opponent? It’s far more shocking to see the Ravens as an 0-2 favorite versus the undefeated Bengals than last season’s Super Bowl finalists as winless two-touchdown favorites over the 0-2 Bears.

Since 1978, an 0-2 favorite has taken on a 2-0 underdog 13 times. The most recent example was last season when the 0-2 Giants hosted and defeated the 2-0 Texans 30-17. These 13 games don’t reflect an extremely large sample size, but the results showed enough of a trend in the following chart that provided me comfort in accepting the results.


When facing another winless franchise, 0-2 favorites have responded with an ATS record of 25-18-1 since 1978. Over that same period, 0-2 favorites are only 5-8 against the spread versus undefeated teams. These historical results favor Seattle, but not Baltimore.

5. Prior Two Opponents?

Observing a team’s previous opponents can often identify instances where oddsmakers have over or underrated certain teams in the current week. Losing two straight never looks good on paper, but may not signal that a team has hit a slide if those previous two games were hard fought battles versus familiar divisional rivals. Or can the opposite be true? The additional pounding taken from intense divisional games could provide a disadvantage into the next game.

This week, three 0-2 favorites (Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore) have yet to even play within the division. Could they too be overrated after suffering tough losses to non-divisional opponents in which they are none-too-familiar? The following chart compares the ATS winning percentage since 1978 of 0-2 favorites coming off of two divisional games to 0-2 favorites who previously played two outside the division.


It is certainly clear that 0-2 favorites are at a disadvantage versus the spread and clearly worn out following back-to-back divisional battles. But, unfortunately there are no such cases this season to exploit.

The ATS results of 0-2 favorites are less indisputable, but still have plenty of merit. Since 1978, 0-2 favorites are 17-11-1 (.586 winning percentage) against the spread after facing two consecutive opponents from outside their division. Results that one cannot overlook when evaluating whether Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore will cover this week.


There were plenty of historical trends to analyze with respect to 0-2 favorites. Therefore, I put together the following report card to summarize each analysis and determine which favorites are worth playing in Week 3. A checkmark supports the 0-2 favorite, an ‘x’ does not and a dash indicates that the analysis was either not applicable or inconclusive. For the Ravens/Bengals game, for example, the final grade would only support the favorite if there was more favorable results than unfavorable.



Point Spread

Division/ Conference Game

Opponent’s Record

Previous Two Games

Final Grade


















Golden Rules say to take Houston, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Seattle

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

The Golden Rules were 2-2 during Week 2 and are 6-4 for 2015


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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