Overall, I saw more value in favorites than underdogs this week, as evidenced by my selections. Of the three favorites I've selected, none is laying more than four points. My lone underdog selection is getting a little more than a TD.
On to the picks:
Buffalo (+3½) at N.Y. Giants
The Bills have been outstanding underdogs this season, covering and winning in all three games in this role. Nevertheless, I'm siding with the favorite.
The Bills have forced 16 turnovers in five games, which has helped them to a 4-1 start. However, they have allowed 421.8 yards per game, and they are surrendering more than a yard more per play than the Giants.
The Bills proved to be a wonderful value for bettors a week ago as underdogs to reeling Philadelphia. And surely, Buffalo's doubters are dwindling. Such sentiment, I believe, is reflected in this pointspread.
However, the Bills will have difficulty slowing the Giants' offense. I expect New York's struggling running game to perk up this week, making the Bills' task even more difficult. Buffalo is surrendering 5.5 yards per carry; only Chicago is allowing more yards per tote.
Wilkening's pick: N.Y. Giants
Houston (+8) at Baltimore
Once this pointspread exceeded seven points, I started giving the Texans strong consideration. And with no fewer than five sportsbooks and sportsbook chains installing the Ravens as eight-point favorites as of this writing, it became a clear play for me.
The Texans have lost two blue-chip players in recent weeks: WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) and pass rusher Mario Williams (pectoral). Were the Texans at full strength, they would not be such big underdogs.
So yes, there is some risk in taking Houston. However, even with the injuries, the Texans are better than the average underdog. Houston outgained Oakland 473-278 a week ago in defeat and racked up 489 yards (albeit on 86 plays) against Baltimore last season.
It is hard not to be impressed with the Ravens, whose three victories have all come by 17 points or more. They might be better than they were a season ago, when they defeated the Texans in overtime. However, I believe I'm getting some value with the underdog, a club I'm convinced is more suited to deal with Baltimore than it was a season ago.
Wilkening's pick: Houston
Carolina (+4) at Atlanta
The Falcons burst out to an early lead vs. Green Bay on Sunday night, then faltered, with mistakes on offense significantly hampering their chances to string together a couple more drives and increase their chances of upsetting a club they struggle to defend.
I look for the Falcons, who won and covered both meetings a season ago and are 4-2 SU and ATS vs. Carolina since 2008, to bounce back this week. The Falcons figure to emphasize the run against the Panthers, who are surrendering 135.2 yards per game on the ground. What's more, I liked what I saw from the Falcons' defense a week ago. Yes, Green Bay took control late, but Atlanta's stop unit showed some promise in defeat.
Wilkening's pick: Atlanta
Minnesota (+3) at Chicago
I referenced the Bears' below-average … er, struggling … OK, bad run defense earlier in this column. Chicago didn't have an answer for Detroit's running game on Monday. Now, Adrian Peterson, who has tormented the Bears, comes to town, as do DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
If you expect the Bears to continue to have major problems stuffing the run and protecting QB Jay Cutler, the Vikings hold significant appeal. But I have greater reservations about Minnesota than I do Chicago. The Vikings' passing game is very limited, and should the Bears slow Peterson — who rushed for just 51 yards on 17 carries in his lone game vs. Chicago a season ago — Minnesota really could struggle.
The Bears allowed just three sacks vs. Minnesota in 2010, and their defense has the capacity to improve, especially against this opponent.
Wilkening's pick: Chicago
Last week: 1-3
Season to date: 8-12