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Week 14 handicapping column

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Posted Dec. 08, 2011 @ 6:51 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

In this week's column, I pick against Tim Tebow and the Broncos, which has been a good way for a handicapper to end up with a bad beat story in recent weeks.

Don't think I don't realize this.

(Crossing my fingers.)

On to the picks:

Kansas City (+10) at N.Y. Jets

The Jets opened as favorites of as few as 8½ points, but that number has disappeared, and one prominent offshore sportsbook even has the Jets as 10½-point favorites as of this writing. If this line were to move further, I would guess it would go up, not down.

Still, even at the current price, I believe the Jets are a better value than the Chiefs. Kansas City's lone TD in QB Tyler Palko's three starts was on a Hail Mary heave. While the Chiefs' defense has played very well the past two weeks and hung in early against a powerful New England attack, I am inclined to play against Kansas City keeping this one close. The Jets' defense should be able to slow the Chiefs' offense whether Palko or Kyle Orton (finger, check status) plays, and the Jets' offense, for its flaws, has racked up 62 points in the past two games.  

Wilkening's pick: N.Y. Jets

Chicago (+3½) at Denver

I've been backing the Broncos as underdogs with success in recent weeks in this column, but alas, I will play against them this week. The Broncos have been undervalued since QB Tim Tebow entered the starting lineup, which I chalk up to something I call the "He Can't Possibly Keep Doing This Effect."

However, the Broncos now might be a little overvalued. Yes, the Bears have struggled since QB Jay Cutler left the lineup, and losing Matt Forte hurts the offense, but their defense and special teams are strong, and I will gamble on Cutler's replacement, Caleb Hanie, picking up his play in his third start of the season.

Considering how well they are playing, I don't exactly relish picking against the Broncos. However, half of their six wins with Tebow under center have been by a field goal. I believe the Bears, even with their recent personnel losses, are the better club.

Therefore … (cringing) … I'll take the points.

Wilkening's pick: Chicago

Atlanta (-3) at Carolina

In the first meeting between the teams in Atlanta in Week Six, the Panthers outgained the Falcons and even held a 17-14 lead after three quarters. However, Atlanta scored the final 17 points of the game and kept Carolina off the scoreboard.

The Falcons' defense has made strides this season. Only nine clubs are allowing more yards per game. While Atlanta is just 16th in yards per play allowed, that's an improvement compared to last season, when the Falcons were 27th in this category.

I don't expect the Falcons' defense to shut down the Panthers' offense, but I do anticipate Atlanta having more success getting stops than Carolina will. I like the favorite. 

Wilkening's pick: Atlanta

New Orleans (-3½) at Tennessee

I'm usually not one to take a road favorite laying more than a field goal, but I will in this instance. The Saints are in wonderful form and have played well against top competition all season. Although road losses to St. Louis and Tampa Bay gave me some slight pause about taking the Saints, I would be more leery of backing the Titans.

While Tennessee has a wonderful win against top-class Baltimore to its credit, only one of the Titans' five losses was by less than a field goal, and an inability to stay close with Pittsburgh and Houston — clubs of New Orleans' caliber, in my view — suggests that the favorite is the side here.  

Wilkening's pick: New Orleans

Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 25-27

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