Week Five handicapping column

Posted Oct. 06, 2011 @ 5:03 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

With byes come fewer opportunities for pro football handicappers. These can be challenging weeks, but they all are in some form or fashion. Good opportunities still arise, though it some times takes a little more digging.

In the case of my first selection of the week, a little digging in the memory bank was key.  

On to the picks:

Oakland (+6) at Houston

The Las Vegas Hilton, which posts the first Sunday-night lines in Las Vegas, initially installed Houston as seven-point favorites. Now, the consensus line sits with Houston favored by two field goals.

Call it "The Andre Johnson Effect." The Texans' star wideout is expected to miss multiple games, including Sunday's matchup with Oakland, with a hamstring injury.

I would imagine Johnson's absence could be a tipping point for those deciding whether to lay or take the points in this matchup. Certainly, it doesn't hurt Oakland's chances in this game.

But here's the thing: these clubs are meeting for the sixth consecutive season, and Johnson is slated to miss his third game vs. Oakland in this span. In the three games that Johnson has played, he has caught a grand total of five passes. Throw out a 62-yard reception in 2009, when Johnson beat Raiders CB Chris Johnson, and the Texans' star wideout has four catches for 32 yards in his last three games vs. Oakland.

I suppose you could call this "The Nnamdi Asomugha Effect."

Asomugha, of course, is no longer in Oakland. The Raiders are 22nd vs. the pass, but their run defense is much worse. Opponents are racking up 5.91 yards per carry vs. Oakland, worst in the league.

Can the Texans cope without Andre Johnson? It seems to me that the more pressing question when handicapping this matchup is whether Oakland will have any answer for Texans RB Arian Foster. The Texans, for what it is worth, have twice defeated the Raiders without Johnson, and they are 5-1 all-time vs. Oakland. All of those victories would have covered this spread. Considering the Texans now have a formidable defense to go with their potent offense, I'll gladly lay the points here.

Wilkening's pick: Houston

San Diego (-4) at Denver

If you like the Broncos, here's to hoping you were able to bet them when this line was a little higher earlier in the week. The Broncos' record (1-3) is ugly, but their form is not bad. I'm hardly going to hold a blowout loss at defending Super Bowl-champion Green Bay against them. Denver's other two losses were by a combined six points, and its Week Two win over Cincinnati caught my eye, considering how injuries limited the Broncos' options on offense and they still managed to win.

The Chargers have largely had a favorable early schedule, with home wins vs. the Vikings, Chiefs and Dolphins. I credit San Diego for taking care of business against weaker foes and for a solid effort in defeat at New England, but I suspect Denver will give the Chargers a tougher game than many expect. Broncos CB Champ Bailey returns to the lineup, and Chargers TE Antonio Gates (foot) looks likely to miss another game.

Wilkening's pick: Denver

Cincinnati (+2½) at Jacksonville

I'll take the points. Only the Rams are gaining fewer yards per play than the Jaguars, who are averaging a mere 9.8 points. Also, the Bengals' defense has allowed fewer yards than any other, which is impressive, considering the Bengals are just 20th in time of possession.

If the Bengals play a sound game, they could be tough to beat. QB Andy Dalton's play will be key. Rain and wind could be factors Sunday, making accuracy and prudence essential. I would have loved three points here, but I still believe there's some value at 2½, considering that the Bengals are the better team, in my view.

Wilkening's pick: Cincinnati

Arizona at Minnesota (O/U 45)

Both defenses are shaky vs. the pass, with Minnesota allowing 7.44 yards per completion and Arizona allowing 7.49 yards per completion. While both play the run fairly well, I can't see the Cardinals shutting down Adrian Peterson, nor do I see the Vikings stopping Beanie Wells for an entire game.

The more I've looked at this game, the more I believe it has sneaky shootout potential. Each club desperately needs a win, and each offense gets a favorable matchup.

Wilkening's pick: Over 45

Last week: 1-3
Season to date: 7-9