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Week 4 NFL picks using the Golden Rules

Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 4 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 October 4, 2015 – St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-7.5)

45 points doesn’t sound like a whole lot in this modern pass happy era of the NFL. But it is. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can try their hardest, but only 2.6% of teams have scored 45+ points in a regular season game since 2010. This rate is up 0.5% from the previous five-year period, but the feat is still quite impressive.

During Week 3, the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals continued to make a statement by racking up 51 and 47 points, respectively. The Patriots have the luxury of a resting up on a bye following an exhausting Sunday of crossing one goal line after another. But the Cardinals head straight into a division battle for the second week in a row. So, how does their 47-7 annihilation of San Francisco in Week 3 affect their performance against the spread this Sunday versus St. Louis?

I analyzed the ATS results from all the regular season games since 2005 and charted the results by points scored in the previous game to see if any trends emerged. As you see in the chart below, the range of teams scoring between 45-49 points in their previous game is the only group to sit above a .600 winning percentage against the spread. And this result is such a stark contrast to the ATS performance of the subgroups before (40-44) and after (50+).


I know what you’re thinking: It’s only about 2% of teams that score 45+ points in a game. How can we rely on such a small sample size? However, since 2005, there have been 79 teams putting up between 45 and 49 points in a regular season game (excluding the last week of the season) and they have combined to record a 48-29-2 mark against the spread the following week. These are some overwhelming results that bode well for those hoping the Cardinals cover the spread against the Rams.

Golden Rules say to take Arizona


Sunday October 4, 2015 – New York Jets (-1.5) vs. Miami Dolphins, O/U 41.0
Sunday October 4, 2015 – Carolina Panthers (-3.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, O/U 40.0

After analyzing high scoring teams, I turned my attention to the teams that are more defensive minded or, some would say, offensively challenged. Oddsmakers have set the over/under below 42 for two Week 4 divisional games. The Jets/Dolphins AFC East matchup is coming to us all the way from London and the over/under is set at 41 while there is little hope for action as the Panthers/Buccaneers NFC South rivalry renews with an over/under of 40 points.

My initial reaction was that underdogs have a greater opportunity to remain competitive as long the scoring is kept to a minimum. It seemed intuitive that the margin of victory in low scoring contests would be narrow in comparison to the margin in shootouts. Consequently, I studied the ATS success of underdogs since 1995 based on the expected point total, i.e., the over/under.

To perform the analysis, I chose to smooth the results to avoid generalizing about one particular data point, for example, an over/under of exactly 40.5. By smoothing the results, I can say that the results at a 40.5 over/under is represented by the surrounding data points from 39.5-41.5. I achieve this by simply determining the ATS winning percentage of all games with an over/under within a range of 39.5-41.5 and applying that to the 40.5 data point. Likewise, I look at the range from 40.0-42.0 for the 41.0 data point, and so on, and so on.


The chart above identifies a high-point (see red oval) that isn’t at the lowest over/unders, such as the mid-30’s, but among the low 40’s. There appears to be this sweet spot in which the Jets/Dolphins and Panthers/Buccaneers games fall in which the underdogs have a higher likelihood of success in comparison to games with a higher or lower over/under.

Golden Rules say to take Miami and Tampa Bay


Monday October 5, 2015 – Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (-9.5)

Every season, some pundit always talks about the difficulties western teams have when travelling east. Their internal clock is just waking up when they kick-off at 1 pm ET on a Sunday afternoon. But what about eastern squads jetting out to the Pacific? Maybe a 1 pm PT kick-of doesn’t affect those from the east since it’s 4 pm ET, but a prime time matchup might elicit ill-effects.

This Monday, the Seahawks are set to host the Detroit Lions with kick-off expected near 5 pm PT. This game time is quite a bit closer to Seattle’s normal routine than it would be for Detroit who must face the three hour time difference in prime time at 8 pm ET. After all, the Lions didn’t handle the 8 pm Sunday-night Week 3 kick-off well and that game was played at Ford Field.

The chart below shows just how much difficulty teams from the Eastern Time zone encounter when travelling cross-country to face teams for evening games in the Pacific Time zone. You may notice that none of the results exceed .500. This is because I have excluded pushes from the determination of a team’s ATS winning percentage or, in other words, a win only reflects profitable outcomes.


You can observe that there is very little effect for the typical Sunday afternoon matchup. Sure, some of the data since 1995 would include Sunday Night Football, but that sample is dwarfed in comparison to the typical schedule of afternoon games. Regardless, it is indisputable that the ATS performance of eastern teams in west coast locales on a Sunday is too even to affect decision-making. The other days of the week is another story all-together.

The “Other” bar represents Thursday night games which are relevant, but could also include the occasional full slate of Saturday afternoon games known to occur every once in a while around the holiday season. Thursday? Saturday? It doesn’t matter. There is a significant drop off in ATS performance if the game is played outside the typical Sunday. And there is even a further drop if the east versus west battle takes place on a Monday night. In fact, the last time an Eastern Time zone team beat a Pacific Time zone team straight-up on Monday Night Football was Week 5 of the 2005 season when Pittsburgh squeaked by San Diego 24-22 on a last second Jeff Reed field goal.

Golden Rules say to take Seattle

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

The Golden Rules were 3-1 during Week 3 and are 9-5 for 2015

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

- Week 3 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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