NFL Week 13 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 8-4 (67%)
Units: 25-18.5 (57%)
All Bets: 17-15 (53%)

Week 12 Recap:

1.5 units (Best Bet): Miami (+9) OVER INDIANAPOLIS

After two consecutive losing best bets, we rebounded with authority, as Miami easily covered the 9-point spread in Indy. Consistent with what we predicted, Ryan Tannehill looked more competent than the spread gave him credit for, and the Dolphins looked like a drastically different team after utilizing its bye week to regroup. While Miami fans are rightfully upset that the Fins held a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and lost the game straight up, we, the bettors, loved that the +9 was never in doubt.

1 unit: CINCINATTI (-3) OVER Cleveland

Despite the warning signs Cincinatti has shown in recent weeks, we expected a bounce-back effort from a team coming into the game at a respectable 5-5.

We were wrong.

I’ll admit it: This one was about as bad a whiff as we’ve had all season. The Bengals continued to trot out a defense similar to those Baker Mayfield saw in the Big 12, and the Browns were able to capitalize with the team’s first road win since I was in college.

1 unit: CAROLINA (-3) OVER Seattle

It may have been under-the-radar, but this was one of the unluckiest beats we have taken all year. The Panthers missed a 4th down in the redzone by a fingernail, threw an interception in the endzone, and outgained Seattle by 1.9 yards per play. Conversely, Seattle converted each of its two fourth downs, had no turnovers, and had the blessing of a final possession. I believe we had the right side in this one, but that’s why they call it ‘sports gambling’.

As we enter into the Week 13 picks portion of our column, it’s important to note that we’re entering a new phase of the season. While we’ll always utilize year-to-date statistics and situational edges to handicap our picks, a simple little factor called motivation can sometimes outweigh everything else during this time of year.

So what does that mean for us bettors? Well, if a team has nothing to play for, we should be extra careful to evaluate whether we believe said team has locker room turmoil or has quit on its coach. Conversely, we may want to play ON teams who suddenly have hope, despite no playoffs to compete for (a hidden advantage often not accounted for within Vegas spreads). Remember the run Jimmy G led the 49ers on last season? That team really stepped up because they finally had a QB they could believe in collectively. They had nothing to lose!

Utilizing our key factor of the week, we’ve identified three juicy bets in Week 13. Let’s get to the picks! (HOME teams in all caps).

BEST BET

JACKSONVILLE (+4.5) OVER Indianapolis – 2 units

On one side, we have a red-hot team with a big name quarterback. This team has won five in a row, and the quarterback has thrown for 3 touchdowns in each of the five games.

On the other side, we have a team who had Super Bowl aspirations, but somehow stands at 3-8 after a 3-1 start to the season. This team just benched its quarterback for a guy who is 0-8 career as a starter.

Sounds like an easy bet for Indianapolis, right?

Incorrect.

First, let’s talk motivation, because that is the theme of this week’s post, after all.

Imagine you’re the Vice President of a company. You have big plans you want to implement, but your boss, who is stuck in the mid-1980’s, wants to keep the status quo. “Why take risks when we’re a stable company,” he says.

His mindset continues to grind your gears. You begin to lose your drive to improve the business, because “it won’t matter anyway,” you believe.

But – just one year later, the company crashes and burns, as a competitor comes in and wipes out your company’s market space. Eventually, your boss is fired, and your team brings in a new boss who is open to your ideas.

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Blake Bortles was Jacksonville’s boss. He was holding them hostage. As good as the Jaguars’ roster was, it was always going to be held back by a quarterback it couldn’t trust. Deep down, the Jaguars knew this, and the team wasn’t living up to its potential all year as result. Defense is often about belief, and the Jags D did not believe in its QB.

I’m not saying Cody Kessler is the next Tom Brady, but he’s a fresh face, and he has played reasonably well in his 8 career starts. Remember, you may see the ugly 0-8 record he possesses, but that was on a 1-15 Browns team, and he was a rookie. It’s not like he was the reason the team lost those games.

With new blood behind center, the Jaguars are finally liberated, and I finally expect them to showcase that talent that got them to the AFC Championship Game last season. But in addition to the motivation factor, there are some strong reasons to love the Jacksonville side here:

• Low Point v. High Point: One of my favorite betting idioms goes something like this – always play ON the team at its low point OVER the team at its high point. Just three weeks ago, Indy was 3-point home favorites against Jacksonville, meaning Vegas considered the Colts and Jags to be even teams on a neutral field. Suddenly, Jacksonville is a 4.5-point ‘dog at home, meaning Vegas thinks Indy is 7.5 points better. I say overreaction.
• Indy’s Deceiving Schedule: I mentioned it in last week’s column, but whom have the Colts beaten in this hot stretch? That’s right – Derek Anderson, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, a mixture of Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Tannehill. Not exactly a murderer’s row.
• A Flat Spot for the Colts: You absolutely have to love fading a team in this situation. Off a four-game winning streak, Indy came out flat against the Dolphins, and barely squeaked by with a win. However, the result is key. A win is validating. “If I do what I did last week, we’ll win again,” is the mindset I believe the Colts will have. Just look at Pittsburgh. Two weeks ago, the Steelers had a five-game win streak heading into Jacksonville. The team found itself down 16-0, but came back to win in the last minute. And what happened last week in Denver? Another flat spot – except this time, they couldn’t overcome it.

There are so many reasons to love this spot. Give me an ultra-motivated and talented Jacksonville team over an Indy team ready for a letdown. Screw the 4.5 points – Jacksonville wins this one outright.

OTHER BET I’LL DABBLE WITH

ATLANTA (-1) OVER BALTIMORE – 1 unit

Let’s start with some perception vs. reality:

• You think Atlanta’s redzone offense is terrible. I see a team that is 11th in the league in redzone TD percentage, and 2nd in the league at home in that category.
• You see a team who got trampled by the Saints last week. I see a team who outgained the Saints 366 yards to 312, but had 3 unrepeatable fumbles while in the redzone.

Now, let’s try the same game, except on the Baltimore side:

• You see a team that is 2-0 with its first year rookie QB. I see an inaccurate quarterback with a QBR under 40 in each of his two games – against the Bengals and Raiders (both at home).
• You see a quarterback setting NFL rushing records at the QB position. I see a quarterback who has been getting advice from mentors that he’ll only last in this league if he uses his arm over his legs. I see you Michael Vick, but Lamar Jackson isn’t polished enough to win NFL games with his arm. This advice may mean that he’ll try, though.

After having 10 days to think about its embarrassing performance on national TV on Thanksgiving, I’d expect Atlanta to rebound in this one. Give me a well-rested and motivated Falcons team over a QB who is in way over his head.

BONUS PICK??

Check back on Friday/Saturday for a potential bonus pick on the New York Giants v. Chicago Bears game. With the uncertain status of QB Mitchell Trubisky, the Giants +4.5 line is not readily available at most books, so we will re-evaluate this one later in the week. Let’s just say if Chase Daniel is in and the spread is +3.5 or higher, you all will be able to read another handicap come this weekend.

*Note: Subsequent to our post Thursday, November 29th, Mitchell Trubisky was ruled OUT for Sunday’s game in New York, and Chase Daniel was announced as the starter. As a result, we have a bonus pick!

NEW YORK GIANTS (+4) OVER Chicago – 1.5 units

We alluded to it on Thursday, but this really is a perfect spot here. On the bright lights of Thanksgiving with the whole world watching, Chase Daniel put together a competent statistical performance, and led Chicago to a 23-16 win. However, there are some reasons to believe he won’t be able to repeat his efforts this week:

• Deceptive Win for Chicago: The NFL is about wins, and there is no doubt Daniel accomplished that mission in Detroit. But – if you watch the tape (or even the broadcast) closely, you’ll notice that he missed open receivers all game long, and was highly conservative. He also got the benefit of a pick-six from his defense. Some of these factors aren’t repeatable, so we shouldn’t allow the game’s result to cloud our opinion of his performance.
• The Spark is Missing: If you told the Bears and their coaching staff two weeks ago that the team would have Daniel in at QB for two road games, they would’ve been thrilled with a 1-1 record. With Trubisky likely coming back for the team’s showdown with the Rams next week, this is a clear look-ahead spot for Chicago. The motivation will not be at a 10/10 like it has been for the past couple of weeks.
• New York Giants – the Trap Game: The Bears best be careful, because the 3-8 Giants are not to be taken lightly. We often worry about motivation with losing teams, but the Giants started 1-7 and have nearly won 3 in a row since. This is a team playing for Eli’s legacy, as the players seem to like him, and have a desire to send out the legendary QB with a strong ending to his season.
• Statistics Not Telling the Story: The Giants may be 3-8, but they are actually 17th in the league in net yards per play (i.e. yards per play on offense minus yards per play allowed on defense). They have been even better than that in the past few weeks. This signals that the record may be slightly undervaluing the Giants, which gives us a couple extra points on the spread.

This is the perfect blend of undervalued team versus overvalued team. Give us the Giants at home and the four points.

And with that, our Week 13 column is in the books. We only have a few weeks left in the regular season, so let’s make them count! Good luck to us all.

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