NFL Week 14 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 9-4 (69%)
Units: 28.5-19.5 (59%)
All Bets: 19-16 (54%)

Week 13 Recap:

2 units (Best Bet): JACKSONVILLE (+4.5) OVER Indianapolis

For the second consecutive week, we had some success fading Andrew Luck and the Colts. We predicted the Jaguars defensive talent would show out after being liberated from the Blake Bortles experience, and we were dead on in our assessment. In fact, Andrew Luck set an NFL record for most passes (52) in a game without scoring a point.

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

At last – we had some success shorting the Bears’ stock. We predicted a flat spot for a Chicago team that likely was looking forward to its hometown showdown against the Rams this week, and our handicap came into fruition. QB Chase Daniel was unable to match his fortunate stat line in Detroit from the prior week, and the sluggish Bears fell right into the trap spot.

1 unit: ATLANTA (-1) OVER Baltimore

Unfortunately, the Falcons prevented us from another perfect week. We clearly overestimated Atlanta’s motivation – and at 4-8, the Falcons’ season is now likely over. While Lamar Jackson didn’t have great numbers throwing the ball, he didn’t need to in this one.

Now it’s time for Week 14. As we mentioned in last week’s column, at this time of year, we can’t afford to handicap any games without considering the all-important motivation factor. But it’s also important to note that motivation isn’t always derived from pushing for a playoff spot. We discuss this concept in more detail later on.

Without further ado, let’s get to the picks! (HOME teams in all caps).

BEST BET

CHICAGO (+3) OVER Los Angeles Rams – 2 units

We absolutely love this spot for Chicago, a team coming off a loss in New York last weekend. After ‘stealing’ a game on Thanksgiving Day with Chase Daniel behind center, the Bears decided to roll the dice with Daniel again for two reasons:

• The Shrug of the Shoulders: “What’s the worst that can happen – we go 1-1 with our backup QB?”
• Trubisky’s Health: While he likely could have played last Saturday, the Bears decided it wants its QB as close to 100% as possible against the juggernaut L.A. Rams.

It’s clear – the mindset wasn’t there for Chicago to play its best football game of the season.

However, many of the same reasons we hated Chicago in Week 13 actually lead us to love the Bears in Week 14.

First, let’s start with the quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky is back, and he says he is close to 100%. While many (including myself) have questioned the Bears young QB this year, he indisputably ranks top 5-10 in all passing metrics (statistically), and possesses a running element that Chase Daniel quite simply cannot match.

While the QB upgrade is huge in a vacuum, I’d also expect the rest of the Bears’ roster to come in confident and motivated behind its returning QB.

Furthermore, there are some reasons to fade LA:

• Cold Weather: This is a warm weather team coming in for a night game in the freezing Chicago cold. One of these teams is used to the icy chill; the other is not. Advantage – Bears.
• Rams Tailing Off: It hasn’t being calculated into the spread since L.A. has still been winning games straight up, but did you know the Rams are 1-7 against the spread in their last 8? Even in this game, there is a steep Rams tax.

Give me the focused Bears team over an overvalued Rams squad.

OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH

GREEN BAY (-5) OVER Atlanta – 1.5 units

Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Throughout the McCarthy-Rodgers tenure and especially in the past year, stories have circulated that Mr. Rodgers wasn’t exactly thrilled with his former head coach.

And he had good reason.

While Rodgers’ brilliance often masked a lot of McCarthy’s flaws, the former head coach left so much output on the table. For instance, Rodgers led the league by a mile in percentage of throws outside the numbers. This is a direct result of the lack of creativity within the Pack’s play calling, and is the number one reason Rodgers is completing just 61% of his passes in 2018 (28th among 34 qualifying QBs). The new NFL is designed to make easy throws!

Consequently, at a certain point, it became clear Mr. Rodgers and the rest of his team did not want its head coach around anymore. Last week’s home loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals all but proved that.

So similar to Jacksonville last week, we expect Rodgers to come in with extra motivation, as he has finally been liberated from his ultra-conservative head coach. I’m not saying interim head coach Joe Philbin will be any more inventive on offense, but for just one week, I’d expect Rodgers and the Packers to positively respond to change.

In fact, this situation reminds me of the NBA’s Cavaliers last season, a team with extreme turmoil that was 8-14 in the 22 games before the trade deadline. Then, once Isaiah Thomas and others were traded away, LeBron James was re-invigorated, and the Cavs went 21-10 the rest of the way. We ultimately saw the talent difference hadn’t changed materially from before and after the deadline; however, when the best player in the league is re-engaged, that addition is often better than anything else a team can get.

Given that the look-ahead line before the Green Bay loss to Arizona was GB -7.5, it is clear the Packers are being evaluated more upon season-to-date stats and last week’s brutal loss than on an expected motivational boost in Week 14. And as we saw last week, the 4-8 Falcons’ motivation doesn’t appear to be high, so give us the Packers and we’ll swallow the 5 points.

OAKLAND (+11.5) OVER Pittsburgh – 1 unit

Pittsburgh is coming off back-to-back losses, so many will assume the team is primed for a bounce-back performance.

With most teams in this exact situation, these prognosticators would be right.

However, Pittsburgh is not most teams. The Steelers have been there; done that, and are almost too confident in their ability. Pittsburgh is the type of team who will be looking more towards its Week 15 date with the rival Patriots, and come into Week 14 believing it can just roll out of bed and win.

And to be honest, the Steelers are probably right.

But winning and covering an 11.5-point spread are two different things, and I’m going to explain just how large that 11.5-point spread really is.

Teams receive three points for home field advantage. Therefore, Vegas is inherently in saying that Pittsburgh would be a 14.5-point favorite on a neutral field, and a 17.5-point favorite in the Steel City. In the past 10 years, only three games have had spreads larger than 17.5.

We all know there is a strong disparity between these two teams, but it is historically strong?

Though Oakland has been eliminated from the playoffs for weeks now, the one thing pundits cannot question is the team’s effort. The Raiders have certainly been playing hard. Given the motivation factor probably points towards Oakland, we’ll gladly look towards the 11.5 points and the home team.

And there we have it – the Week 14 picks are in. Good luck to us, and let’s finish the season strong!

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.