Week Three handicapping column

Posted Sept. 23, 2010 @ 4:44 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

After reviewing the tape and studying the lines and trends, I like three favorites this week, including two trying to score back-to-back wins away from home. I also like an underdog that's generating quite the pass rush these days.

On to the picks:

Cleveland (+10½) at Baltimore (37)

Yes, this is a big spread, but not as big as it could have been, and to me, the value is with the favorite, not the underdog. I strongly believe the Ravens will improve off their first two games and that the Browns are going to struggle to keep up with them.

The Browns don't match up well with Baltimore. They have a better offense this season, but they are likely to struggle to run the ball, and they lack difference makers in the receiving corps. While Cleveland's offense has been effective in the first half of its first two games, it has failed to score after halftime this season.

I believe the Ravens will lean on their running game, which has the edge against Cleveland's run defense. QB Joe Flacco should be able to exploit the middle of the Browns' pass defense, too.

The Ravens opened with road games against the Jets and Bengals in a six-day span, and a return home to face softer competition will serve them well. With a win at Cincinnati, this spread would have been two TDs, I suspect. The Ravens, who are 6-1 against the spread as a double-digit favorite the past two seasons (including both games against Cleveland last season), should win comfortably.

Wilkening's pick: Baltimore

Pittsburgh (-2½) at Tampa Bay (33½) 

I have had a good read on the Steelers this season, and I'm going to pick them for a third consecutive week. I do this not because I am dismissing the Buccaneers, whom I admittedly underestimated this season. They will give the Steelers, now starting their fourth (!) quarterback in a preseason or regular-season game since August, a battle.

Were the line a field goal, I might back off. But at 2½, and with my belief that the Steelers are likely to win, Pittsburgh is the play. Charlie Batch, who gets the call at quarterback, will benefit from a week of practice with the Steelers' first team. The Steelers' offense, which hasn't scored a TD in regulation this season, will do just enough to allow its defense to close out the game.

Wilkening's pick: Pittsburgh

Detroit (+11) at Minnesota (42)

Another game, another double-digit spread, and this time, the underdog entices. Here's why: the Lions have a robust pass rush, and the Vikings have a lack of weapons in the passing game.

Now, given time, Vikings QB Brett Favre will light up the Lions' below-average —  er, generally awful — secondary. This is going to happen. How often it happens will tell the tale with regard to the spread, but I like Detroit's chances to hang around in this game.

After watching both teams' games last week, I came away with one feeling stronger than any other: the Lions will be happy to not be facing Michael Vick again. Favre moves well, but not that well, and he doesn't have Vick's receivers.

I have a feeling this number is a tad inflated because many believe the Vikings can't start 0-3, that it's a must-win game for Minnesota or what-not. Sure, fine, whatever, give me the underdog with 10 sacks in two games and a 4-1-1 ATS mark as a double-digit underdog in this series since 2001.

Wilkening's pick: Detroit

Philadelphia (-3) at Jacksonville (44)

The Jaguars' problems stopping the pass, coupled with Vick's impressive play as the Eagles' quarterback, point to Philadelphia as the play in this game. I don't know if the Eagles have hit their stride yet on either side of the ball, but the Jaguars' lack of explosiveness on offense or defense puts them in a tough spot against a team with as much talent as Philadelphia, which has covered in 20 of its last 32 road games, including playoffs.

Wilkening's pick: Philadelphia

Last week: 1-3
Season to date: 3-4-1