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Week 12 handicapping column

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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening

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Posted Nov. 23, 2011 @ 9:30 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

On Thanksgiving, I am siding with favorites, and I am vying to extend my against the spread winning streak in the holiday nightcap to three games. On Sunday, I'm siding with underdogs.

Yes, in Tebow I trust once again. 

On to the picks: 

Miami (+7) at Dallas

The Cowboys' recent success on Thanksgiving, coupled with their current sharp form, makes them a pick at this price.

The Dolphins' appeal is understandable. Why, I just did a double take looking at the scores of the routs they have authored the past three weeks: 31-3 (at Kansas City), 20-9 (vs. Washington) and 35-8 (vs. Buffalo).

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about the Cowboys. Their offense is more potent than Miami's, and their defense can create more havoc. Their edge at quarterback is significant.

Finally, they also have proven to be very reliable on Thanksgiving the past five years, covering every time and winning four of their games. While the Dolphins have improved, the Cowboys are the superior club.

Wilkening's pick: Dallas    

San Francisco (+3½) at Baltimore

Frankly, I haven't liked the 49ers' chances in this game since the schedule was announced. While the Niners have been excellent travelers this season, winning and covering in four — four! — trips to the Eastern Time Zone, this is their toughest test yet. The 49ers have faced some very good clubs, with then 5-0 Detroit at the top of the list, but they have not played an opponent this formidable.

The Ravens' defense presents a major challenge for the Niners' offense, which has rushed more than passed this season. Baltimore is allowing a league-low 3.34 yards per rush. The 49ers are likely to struggle to establish the run, which will force them to win with their passing game. Can they do it? Perhaps, but I believe it is more likely that the Ravens, with the benefit of the home field, strong defense and special teams and a quirky-but-promising offense, will prevail.

Wilkening's pick: Baltimore  

Cleveland (+7½) at Cincinnati

The Browns' offense has shown improvement of late. It isn't apparent in the point total (a grand total of 26 in the past two games). It isn't headline-making. And were it to be happening to a better team, I don't even know if I would give it much thought.

However, everything is relative, and so when I noticed the Browns gained a season-best 6.2 yards per play in Sunday's win at Jacksonville, my interest was piqued. After all, that was an improvement from the previous week — which was also a season-best (5.7 yards) at the time.

Look, it's a little thing. But I've watched the Browns all season, and their offense has been consistently plodding. In the past two weeks, however, they have made a few big plays in the passing game, and RB Chris Ogbonnaya has really stepped up his play. With Montario Hardesty (calf) potentially returning on Sunday, the Browns' ground game looks to be in the best shape it has been in weeks. Another positive sign: QB Colt McCoy's accuracy has been very good of late. He has completed 37-of-51 passes for 417 yards in the past two games.

While the Bengals prevailed in the first meeting between these clubs — and did so without QB Andy Dalton playing in the second half — the Browns led until less than five minutes left. McCoy, though completing just 19-of-40 throws, did connect on passes of 56 yards to WR Mohamed Massaquoi and 34 yards to TE Benjamin Watson.

The Bengals played the Steelers and Ravens tough the past two weeks and have nothing but two losses to show for their efforts. While the Browns aren't of the same class of Baltimore and Pittsburgh, they are playing well. I will take the points.

Wilkening's pick: Cleveland

Denver (+6) at San Diego

For the second consecutive week, I'll back the Broncos as underdogs. While the Chargers did defeat Denver in Week Five, they have not won since. Meanwhile, the Broncos have won four of five games with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

Tebow led Denver to two TD drives after relieving Kyle Orton in the first meeting vs. San Diego, passing for 79 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 38 yards and a score.

The Chargers have problems on multiple fronts. Their offense is to be respected, surely, but San Diego has scored 21 points or less in 4-of-5 games. QB Philip Rivers has been surprisingly turnover-prone. The defense has surrendered 1,236 yards in the past three games.

I acknowledge that the Broncos have their flaws, but the Chargers look so shaky, and this price seems just a little too high. I will take the points.

Wilkening's pick: Denver

Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 19-25

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