In this week's column, I fade the "Dream Team," and I back a club with an offense that really prefers not to pass unless it has to against a Rex Ryan-coached defense.
Oh, the things you just don't anticipate at the beginning of the season …
On to the picks:
N.Y. Jets (-6) at Denver
The Jets will have no shortage of supporters in this game. I respect that. But I would have a hard time laying close to a TD with most clubs having to travel from the Eastern to the Mountain Time Zone with just four days between games, much less a team that just lost by 21 points and will be without a couple of key offensive players in RB LaDainian Tomlinson and WR Jeremy Kerley.
Am I really making a case for an underdog whose quarterback completed only two passes last week?
I sure am.
If you want to pick against the Broncos on the basis of their, um, run-heavy offense, I have no problem with that. If this were a case where Denver would be laying six points, I might be right there with you.
However, they're getting two field goals at home, and against an opponent with hardly a reliable offense. The Broncos' defense allowed just 4.2 yards per play in the win at Kansas City on Sunday and recorded four QB sacks. I don't see the Jets marching up and down the field against Denver.
This is a tricky game for the Jets. Their run defense, while better of late, will be tested by the Broncos' unique attack. Moreover, this is a quick turnaround for a club that played worse than expected against New England on Sunday. I will take the points.
Wilkening's pick: Denver
Jacksonville (PK) at Cleveland
Lost in the Browns' disastrous finish vs. St. Louis a week ago was this: their offense actually perked up a little bit. Cleveland gained 335 yards, its second highest total of the season, and racked up 5.7 yards per play, its highest average of the year.
I have been very critical of head coach Pat Shurmur for the way the Browns seemingly settled for a field-goal attempt when trailing by one point late in the game, but overall, this was a promising performance, relatively speaking, for the Cleveland attack. RB Chris Ogbonnaya and WR Greg Little showed significant improvement over previous weeks. What's more, the Browns haven't yet ruled out RB Montario Hardesty (calf) for Sunday's game, and his return would further help the offense.
I didn't like the Browns laying a field goal against St. Louis a week ago. While the Rams won and covered, the Browns looked better than I thought they would, and the Jaguars, in my view, are a better matchup for Cleveland, considering their utter lack of offensive punch. I look for the Browns to earn their fourth victory on Sunday.
Wilkening's pick: Cleveland
San Diego (+3½) at Chicago
The more I have studied this game, the more I am convinced the favorite looks to be the right side. The Chargers are dealing with a host of injuries, particularly along the offensive line. Moreover, their defense has been gashed for 7.8 and 6.6 yards per play in their last two games.
The Chargers will represent value at some point — they have enough talent to be a nice play as a bigger underdog or as a slight favorite if they continue to struggle and more and more bettors play against them. But I don't believe they are in the Bears' class right now, and I would have a hard time taking them to cover this number against a club playing as well as Chicago is right now.
Wilkening's pick: Chicago
Philadelphia (+3½) at N.Y. Giants
As I write up this game, Eagles QB Michael Vick (ribs) has missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and there is some doubt as to whether he will play. Even if he plays, I am skeptical of Philadelphia's ability to cover this number, which was available at 10 MGM Resorts International sportsbooks in Nevada as well as Wynn and Encore as of Thursday afternoon, according to VegasInsider.com. I mention this because Giants -4 is a widely available line in Nevada as of this writing, but since -3½ was reasonably available, in my view, I took it.
The Eagles, who lost 29-16 to New York in the first meeting between the clubs, have only briefly looked like the NFC power so many expected them to be, and with the playoffs a real long shot for them and injuries becoming a real concern, they do not hold much appeal as an underdog at a relatively short price.
Wilkening's pick: N.Y. Giants
Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 16-24