There is something for everyone in this column. I make a case for a home underdog, a big favorite and an Over — in one of the week's weirdest games, no less.
And guess who's going Tebowing again?
On to the picks:
N.Y. Jets (-3) at Washington
"The Jets need this game." You're going to hear sentiments like this, and indeed, they are true. But they are not material to my handicapping of this contest.
While the Redskins, who are three games out of first place in the NFC East with five games to play, have just barely flickering playoff hopes, they have really picked up their play in the last two games. Their win at Seattle on Sunday caught my attention. The previous week, the Redskins suffered an OT loss to rival Dallas, and now they had to travel cross-country to play a gritty Seattle club. I expected Washington regress and to lose.
That didn't happen. Now the Redskins are getting points against the visiting Jets, who escaped against struggling Buffalo last week.
On offense, Washington gained 6.4 yards per play in Week 12, its best average of the season. In three starts since returning to the lineup, QB Rex Grossman, while throwing five picks, has completed 68.6 percent of his throws. WR Santana Moss returned to the lineup last week, bolstering Grossman's pass-catching corps. Also, RB Roy Helu has flashed playmaking ability. The Redskins' defense also has shown well of late, holding opponents to less than five yards per play in each of the last three games.
The Jets, who are 6-2 against opponents other than AFC powers Baltimore and New England, are surely capable of earning their seventh victory of the season. But I am not enamored of their recent play, and the Redskins have rebounded nicely after a prolonged slump. I will take the home underdog in this one.
Wilkening's pick: Washington
Denver (+1½) at Minnesota
The Broncos have won and covered four in a row, each time getting points. They travel well, as evidenced by their 5-1 against-the-spread mark as visitors. Cast in the role of underdogs once again, and drawing a Minnesota club that has lost three in a row, I am going to back them for the fourth time in five games.
John Fox-coached clubs usually finish well. Six of his nine Panthers teams posted winning ATS records in the final five games of the season. The Broncos are playing strong defense, and the offense, led by Tim Tebow, is doing just enough — and getting the best of defenses late in games. The Vikings are banged up, and they are hard to take laying points against improving Denver.
Wilkening's pick: Denver
St. Louis (+13) at San Francisco
The 49ers-Ravens Thanksgiving-night tilt left me feeling good about both clubs. I see both playing postseason football in January, and I expect both to be tough outs.
I admit — I have been skeptical of the Niners, but their performance at Baltimore caught my eye. While the Ravens pulled away late, that perhaps could have been expected, with San Francisco traveling cross-country. And it is not as if San Francisco disgraced itself in the least.
The 49ers have been in good form for so long. They have had no letdowns. They are sound and talented, and I believe they will overwhelm the struggling Rams, who have had problems putting up points all season.
Wilkening's pick: San Francisco
San Diego at Jacksonville (O/U 39)
I believe both offenses have elements that could give these defenses fits. The Jaguars are banged up in the secondary, which could spell trouble against the Chargers' passing game. The Chargers' defense, meanwhile, could struggle stopping RB Maurice Jones-Drew. San Diego's run defense is not a strength, and Jones-Drew does not figure to have the fumbling problems that plagued him on his last appearance on "Monday Night Football."
Perhaps the firing of head coach Jack Del Rio gives Jacksonville a jolt. It was clear Del Rio's time was up with the Jaguars; maybe they respond to interim head coach Mel Tucker.
As for the Chargers? Well, I've seemingly taken a position on them every game. I didn't dislike what I saw from their offense early on vs. Denver in Week 12. They have a knack for strong finishes to seasons.
The price is right to have a little confidence in both offenses, given the matchups.
Wilkening's pick: Over 39
Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 22-26