Laying down a few bucks in Vegas on the Week 6 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 WINLESS TEAMS BETWEEN WEEKS 5-7 PERFORM AGAINST THE SPREAD IN DIVISION GAMES?
Sunday October 18, 2015 – Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-2.5)
More than any other franchise, the Detroit Lions embody the concept of taking one step forward and two steps back. After an 0-5 start to the 2015 season, one can easily draw comparisons to 2008 when the Lions became the first NFL team to complete a regular season 0-16. But that comparison is far too easy. The anguish in Detroit is more about how success is followed by setbacks.
Three years after their 0-for season, Matthew Stafford had the Lions running on all cylinders. They exploded with a 10-win campaign in 2011 and their first playoff berth since the season following Barry Sanders’ retirement. But the team couldn’t live up to expectations in 2012 and sunk to 4-12. Last season, Detroit bounced back and looked far more like the 2011 squad that was expected to contend for years. Once again, they reached the playoffs but fell in a thrilling and controversial Wild Card affair in Dallas. So, what would be in store for 2015? After an 0-5 start, it appears to be the same ol’, same ol’ in The Motor City.
But what does all this Motor City misery have to do with this week’s spread? In Week 6, the winless Lions are actually favorites against their NFC North rivals from Chicago. Over the past decade, winless teams have been favorites in a grand total of seven games from Week 6 on. In fact, the winless streak was snapped in six of those seven games. However, a few of these matchups took place later in the season and only one was a divisional battle.
The chart below compares the straight-up and ATS winning percentages since 2005 of winless teams between Weeks 5-7. In my analysis below, 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.
Looking at the results, you can’t help but notice how poorly winless teams perform straight-up in divisional games. It’s quite glaring. The only straight-up victory by a winless team between Weeks 5-7 over the past decade was Cleveland’s well-deserved Week 6 takedown of Cincinnati in 2012.
The ATS results in all intra-conference games, whether divisional or non-divisional, hover in and around .400. But the differences straight-up are undeniable. The question becomes how this trend affects wagering against the spread. I would argue that your odds of covering increase if you can reduce the probability of the underdog winning outright. This scenario presents itself in Week 6 as the sole remaining winless team (Detroit) takes on a divisional opponent.
Golden Rules say to take Chicago
HOW DO TEAMS PERFORM IN THEIR FIRST GAME FOLLOWING THE MIDSEASON FIRING OF THEIR HEAD COACH?
Sunday October 18, 2015 – Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans (-1.5)
When you think of the Miami Dolphins, what`s the first thing that comes to your mind? Most, or at least most 40 years old or older, will say tradition. Don Shula. The Killer B’s. Marino. The undefeated season. The late Garo Yepremian. The Orange Bowl. Two Super Bowl Championships.
Super Bowls? Even those in their 40’s will have trouble remembering. It’s been over 41 years since the men in aqua and orange hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. And what about the legend of Don Shula? The iconic head coach paced the Miami sidelines for 26 seasons. But this now marks the 20th season without the hall of famer leading the troops.
The Dolphins have seen a few different men attempt to replicate Shula’s level of excellence in South Florida. Miami has brought in college coaches like Nick Saban and pro coaches like Dave Wannstedt. They tried Jimmy Johnson who was successful at both levels. Lately, management has sought out highly touted coordinators to fit the role including Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano and, most recently, Joe Philbin.
Following a Week 4 embarrassment at Wembley Stadium, Philbin was relieved of his duties and replaced on an interim basis by former NFL tight end Dan Campbell. This isn’t that uncommon. Most often coaches are let go after the season, but occasionally you`ll see the midseason firing and subsequent replacement with an interim coach. Similarly, following aWeek 4 London loss to Miami last season, the Raiders dismissed Dennis Allen and promoted Sparano. But how do teams react following a midseason firing of their head coach? Are players motivated? Are they disconsolate? Do they realize they’re fighting for their own jobs too?
The following table summarizes the straight-up and ATS records since 1995 of teams playing their first midseason game with an interim head coach on the sideline. There have been 26 such occurrences and I noticed that 19 of the 26 firings took place after Week 8. Consequently, I included a subset of the results for Week 8 and earlier since Philbin’s early season dismissal was relatively rare.
Successful teams rarely let their coach go, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise to see teams continue to perform poorly straight-up. But are the ATS results surprising? Why are players not overachieving when jobs are at stake and we all have the lowest expectations for success? Either Vegas has already built these factors in or there are more factors contributing to their problems than the head coach. Not only have teams playing their first game under an interim head coach only won 42% against the spread since 1995, but the ATS is record is only 2-4-1 when the firing has taken place during the first half of the season.
Golden Rules say to take Tennessee
DO UNDEFEATED TEAMS PERFORM ANY DIFFERENTLY AGAINST THE SPREAD BASED ON THEIR AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY?
Sunday October 18, 2015 – Denver Broncos (-4.5) at Cleveland Browns
Sunday October 18, 2015 – Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) at Buffalo Bills
Sunday October 18, 2015 – San Diego Chargers at Green Bay Packers (-10.5)
Sunday October 18, 2015 – New England Patriots (-7.5) at Indianapolis Colts
Entering Week 6, there were five undefeated teams: Atlanta, Denver, Cincinnati, San Diego and New England. The Patriots and Packers have thrived through firepower. The Broncos have excelled on defense. The Falcons and Bengals have gutted out performances to remain unbeaten, even using late game heroics and overtime to reach their goal.
The Falcons did enter Week 6 without a blemish but a Thursday night loss in New Orleans to their NFC South rivals dropped them to 5-1. Could this have been predicted? I can’t say they would have lost the game for certain, but there is a historical trend that shows they were less likely to cover the 3.5 point spread.
The table below summarizes the average margin of victory for the five teams entering Week 6 as unbeaten.
These figures show the level of comfort in which each team feels. The Patriots have not only remained unbeaten but the games have not even been close. New England has not won by less than a touchdown all season and they defeated Indianapolis by 38 points in their last meeting. The Broncos, on the other hand, have only captured one of their five victories by more than seven points.
The chart below examines historical ATS results grouped by a team’s average margin of victory at this point of the season. Specifically, I looked at results that occurred from Weeks 5 through 7 since 1978. As you can see, the results oscillate through each margin of victory grouping.
The only explanation I can give for this seesaw pattern is the self-correcting public reaction to the spreads. For example, the public are less likely to put money on teams with narrow margins of victory (i.e., 6 points and under) even if they are undefeated, so the spreads are set lower and the undefeated teams cover more often than not. As the margins of victory grow, the public is less likely to notice average margins and are more likely to focus on wins. Consequently, they are more likely to back teams like Atlanta even though the spread may be too high to warrant their money.
I have a similar hypothesis on the other tail of the chart above. Teams like the Patriots are just so good that the size of spread doesn’t matter until it nears a two touchdown range. But oddsmakers are still feeling out teams between Weeks 5-7 and are less likely to starting posting outrageously high lines. However, teams in the next grouping down are statistically unlikely to keep up such a torrid pace and will eventually regress toward the mean. In this case, the public still latches on to their big victories even though the eight and nine-point spreads are too high on average.
Golden Rules say to take Cleveland, Buffalo, Green Bay and New England
Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.
The Golden Rules were 2-2 during Week 5 and are 11-11 for 2015
You can access last week’s 2015 Weekly Golden Rules Analysis below.
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.