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Week 5 NFL picks using the Golden Rules 2015

Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 5 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 11, 2015 – New England Patriots (-8.5) at Dallas Cowboys

Many had this Sunday’s tilt between the Super Bowl champions and America’s Team circled on their NFL calendars for quite some time. But Tony Romo and Dez Bryant find themselves on the shelf and now this matchup becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Tom Brady has been firing on all cylinders and the Patriots have been unstoppable. For this reason, and the fact they are coming off a bye week, oddsmakers have set the point spread for the road favorites at over a touchdown.

This week there are five road favorites (out of 14 games) which is pretty much the league average since 2005 (33.5%). But this week’s battle at AT&T Stadium is a slight bit rarer than that. Since 2005, only 7.4% of regular season games feature a road favorite with a spread of a touchdown or more. Of those 193 games, one-third of these visitors were led by either Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers.

But does all this matter? Should you be concerned about the size of the point spread? The chart below examines the ATS performance of road favorites over the past 20 seasons, i.e., since 1995. I have divided the results into three groups: spreads under a field goal, spreads as high as a touchdown and, finally, anything in between. 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.


The results clearly indicate that there is no significant trend when the spread is below a touchdown, but a cliff in the ATS success of road favorites exists once the line reaches seven points. Since 1995, road favorites based on a 7+ spread have posted a mark of 147-201-10. The general public is to blame for this discrepancy because we tend to overvalue perennial powerhouses like the Patriots, even when they are on the road. Sure, Tom Brady is facing the former first-round pick Brandon Weeden, but you can’t deny the numbers.

Golden Rules say to take Dallas


Sunday October 11, 2015 – Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-6.5)
Sunday October 11, 2015 – Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5)
Sunday October 11, 2015 – Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)

Week 5 features three highly anticipated (sarcasm, intended) contests between franchises with 1-3 records. Prior to this year, 37 seasons passed dating all the way back to 1978. So if there are three 1-3 vs. 1-3 battles every season, we would have witnessed 111 such occurrences since 1978. But that’s not been the case. There have been, in fact, only 22 games falling under this scenario proving just how unlikely it is that three happen to take place in the same season.

Could a historical trend be found within such a small sample size? Once again, I grouped the results based on the size of the point spread. The chart below encapsulates the ATS results of the 1-3 favorites since 1978 and I have included the ATS win/loss record for further clarity.


Who recalls an October 11, 1992 NFC East showdown between the 1-3 New York Giants and the 1-3 Phoenix Cardinals? As hard to believe as it was that Phoenix was in the “East” (and called “Phoenix” at one point, for that matter), it’s just as hard to imagine that this is the only game since 1978 that a 1-3 favorite has beaten a 1-3 underdog against a 7+ point spread.

An ATS loss for the favorite has been almost as infrequent when the spread dipped below a field goal. There is evidently quite the disparity in ATS winning percentage between the lower and higher ranges. Consequently, Kansas City may be overvalued for when the Chicago Bears visit Arrowhead this week with their one-game winning streak in tow. Of course, many would be comfortable with this since the Chiefs are amid a three-game skid.

The other two games fall in the middle grouping – the spread is greater than a field goal, but less than a converted touchdown. In this case, I am forced to abstain. There is simply too few data points to dig any deeper than the inconclusive 3-3-1 record uncovered during the initial analysis above.

Golden Rules say to take Chicago will pass on the other games


Sunday October 11, 2015 – Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) at Detroit Lions

Sunday October 11, 2015 – St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers (-9.5)

You can compile all the wins you want, but one remarkable loss to Seattle in last season’s playoffs is all that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers take away from last season. But if you focus on the regular season, fans must be thrilled that their beloved Packers have won 11 of their past 12 regular season matchups straight-up and are 17-5 over the last 24. They are not only on a six game regular season winning streak, but the same streak extends to ATS results, as well. In fact, over the past 16 regular season games, Green Bay has maintained an impressive 12-4 ATS mark.

Over the same period, the Arizona Cardinals have been playing some pretty good pigskin themselves. The NFC West leaders are also 12-4 against the spread over their last 16 regular season games. But how does their recent ATS performances relate to their Week 5 matchups? The graph below summarizes three separate analyses used to evaluate whether or not to take these consistent covers.


The first chart considers the likelihood of beating the spread based on the team’s straight-up success over the same prior 16 regular season games. The Cardinals have been less prosperous than the Packers. Arizona has amassed an 11-5 record (.688 winning percentage) over their past 16 regular season games compared to Green Bay’s 14-2 mark (.875). But, instead, it is this recent performance that provides Arizona the edge when betting against the spread. The subgroup of straight-up winning percentages between .650-.749 is the only group to exceed an ATS winning percentage of .500. Whereas, teams with exceptional records like the Packers fall short.

Arizona visits Ford Field this week to take on the Lions, but Green Bay stays home to face off against the Rams. As such, I was able to add the team’s location into my analysis above. Once again, the Cardinals are more likely than the Packers to win versus the spread this week because road teams have been 5% more successful against the spread than home teams.

Lastly, I looked at the size of the point spread – a common analysis this week. One of the reasons size of spread has been extensively analyzed is because five of the 14 games during Week 5 have a spread of a touchdown or more. This time around, teams in the Packers situation – with a 7+ point spread – are 54-51-2 since 1995. As favorable a trend as we’ve seen for Green Bay, but not spectacular enough to sway a decision. Once again, this result is below the scenario when the spread falls below a field goal.

The interpretation of the three separate analyses is summarized in the table below. A dash represents results at or about .500, whereas a checkmark and ‘x’ are used if the results are significantly above or below a .500 ATS winning percentage.

ATS Win % .750+ 
Prior 16


Point Spread

Winning %
Prior 16


Size of Spread

Final Grade












Golden Rules say to take Arizona and St. Louis

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

The Golden Rules were 0-4 during Week 4 and are 9-9 for 2015

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

- Week 4 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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