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Week 15 handicapping column

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Posted Dec. 15, 2011 @ 12:36 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

After siding with Tim Tebow and the Broncos three consecutive weeks, then doing an about face and picking against them last week — and winning each time — I am taking my blue and orange chips to the cashier's window. Nope, I'm staying away from Patriots-Broncos.

Though Denver is getting nearly a touchdown.

Hmmm …

On to the picks:

Jacksonville (+12) at Atlanta

This is an undesirable spot for the Jaguars to find themselves. They are playing their third game in 10 days. The odds of the Falcons overlooking the Jaguars are slim. Atlanta needs the game, and Jacksonville comes off a 27-point win over NFC South-rival Tampa Bay.

The Jaguars' 41 points against the Buccaneers were more than twice as many points as they scored in any of their previous 12 games. Tampa Bay committed seven turnovers, and Jacksonville had a defensive TD and a special-teams score. A lot of good things had to happen for the Jaguars to score 41 points, and they did.

Forgive me if I'm not buying Jacksonville's six-TD output as a sign of real progress. The Jaguars gained just 4.9 yards per play on offense, and QB Blaine Gabbert threw two interceptions.

This line was as low as Atlanta minus-11 earlier in the week. I was surprised to see that, but alas, it's gone now. Nevertheless, I believe Atlanta has many edges in this matchup, and I'll lay the 12.

Wilkening's pick: Atlanta

Dallas (-7) at Tampa Bay

If I'm not exactly impressed by the Jaguars' rout of the Buccaneers, then I must not like Tampa Bay on Saturday night, correct?

Not exactly.

The Buccaneers are in terrible form. They have lost seven in a row, and they have covered only once in that span. They clearly have regressed from a season ago.

However, they have put together some surprisingly good games against top competition. They have beaten Atlanta and New Orleans, and they played Green Bay to within nine points at Lambeau Field.

It's a gut feeling, but I believe they will put forth a spirited effort in this game. They were embarrassed at Jacksonville. Perhaps the bright lights of prime time will perk them up.

It sounds like I'm grasping at straws here, but I believe it. And anyway, the Cowboys are no bargain at this price as is. They are 2-4 on the road, with their only two victories by a field goal apiece. Their defense faltered late vs. the Giants on Sunday, and their offense isn't as strong without rookie RB DeMarco Murray.

I will take the points.

Wilkening's pick: Tampa Bay

New Orleans (-6½) at Minnesota

The Vikings' problems stopping the pass make them tough to take at this price. Can they move the ball on New Orleans? Sure. But enough to cover this number? It's not a gamble I want to take.

For some reason, I hesitate less before taking a road favorite in the final weeks of the season, and particularly in the postseason. We have 13 weeks of data on each of these clubs, and the results pretty clearly point to New Orleans having a special offense and Minnesota having a porous pass defense. I simply believe the Saints' strengths give them a tremendous advantage here.

Wilkening's pick: New Orleans

Baltimore (-2½) at San Diego

The Chargers have romped in consecutive weeks, no doubt raising hopes that they can, albeit with some help from Denver and Oakland, make one last, desperate rally in the AFC West race.

However, I believe their comeback will be short-lived. The Ravens' résumé is loaded with big-time wins: Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, Houston, and the N.Y. Jets. Something close to their best performance wins this game. Sure, they have had some road flops, but far more often than not, they have delivered. I will take my chances with their collective form rather than hopes of San Diego recapturing former glory.

Wilkening's pick: Baltimore

Last week: 4-0
Season to date: 29-27

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