Week Nine handicapping column

Posted Nov. 03, 2011 @ 4:20 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

This week's coiumn is heavy on underdogs, with three of my four selections getting points. Revenge is a prevalent theme, as I back two clubs looking to make up for Week One losses to division rivals.

Me? I have a few defeats to make up for, too.

On to the picks:

Cincinnati (+3) at Tennessee

I believed the Bengals would be better than many expected. I didn't think they would be hopeless, and I didn't believe they would be contenders. The answer, I thought, was somewhere in between, maybe 5-6 wins.

Well, they have five wins already, and I like their chances of notching their sixth win on Sunday. This is a potentially tricky spot for a young team coming off a road win and now having to travel for a second consecutive week, but the Bengals get RB Cedric Benson back in the lineup, a material boost for an offense that played well a week ago without him.

The Bengals are getting better and better. They already have captured three road games, and they came close to beating the Broncos in Denver. Meanwhile, the Titans' recent form suggests they are regressing after a strong start. The Bengals, in my view, are the better club, and I am getting a field goal, so I might as well take the darn thing.

Wilkening's pick: Cincinnati

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh

By my count, I have made more than 500 picks in this space since beginning at Pro Football Weekly in 2002. I have liked some more than others, but the common thread running through all of those selections, is an underlying fear of the ways the selection could be the wrong one.

Take the Steelers this week. I really, really don't like the injuries they are battling at linebacker.

However, I believe the Steelers can overcome this. Their pass coverage, for instance, has been very good. And this could spell trouble for Baltimore, which has had some big-time problems when teams have covered its receivers tightly. Also, Pittsburgh's run defense, a weakness in the season-opening loss to Baltimore, has improved in recent weeks.

Finally, the Steelers have an important edge at quarterback. Before his turnover-riddled performance in Week One at Baltimore, QB Ben Roethlisberger had beaten the Ravens seven consecutive times. Even in a poor performance in the opener, he managed to throw for 280 yards.

Roethlisberger figures to cut down on his mistakes in the rematch, and I see the Steelers evening the season series.

Wilkening's pick: Pittsburgh

Green Bay (-5½) at San Diego

I haven't exactly been the biggest Chargers backer this season. I picked against them in Weeks Five and Seven in this space, and I also picked against them in the print edition of PFW in Week Eight.

But the time is right for me to get on the Chargers' bandwagon, if only for a week. They hold significant appeal as a home underdog. Their offense, while not quite as strong as in past seasons, leads the NFL in time of possession. While they lack the Packers' wealth of passing-game playmakers, they have enough skill-position talent to challenge a Green Bay defense surrendering 391.0 yards per game.

I respect the Packers immensely, and picking against them often would be rather uncomfortable, but nonetheless … hiding under my desk as I might be doing on Sunday … I will take the points.

Wilkening's pick: San Diego

Denver (+8) at Oakland

I like the Broncos, who feil 23-20 to Oakland in Week One, to be competitive in the rematch, and yes, I am aware of how terribly they fared against Detroit last week. That said, I would much prefer to take Denver getting this many points than to lay more than a touchdown with Oakland right now.

It is difficult to make a case for the Raiders at this price. Their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, has been with the club for a little more than two weeks after sitting out the first six weeks of the season; forgive me if I am skeptical about his ability to play a top-level game just yet. Also, Raiders RB Darren McFadden could miss the game with a foot injury.

The Broncos have had their struggles this season, and though the Raiders' defense figures to give Broncos QB Tim Tebow fits, the Broncos' defense should be ready for a nice bounce-back game against an offense that appears somewhat compromised.

Wilkening's pick: Denver

Last week: 0-4
Season to date: 12-20