I found this to be a tough card. There were several underdogs that caught my eye, but in all cases I found the price too short for the risk assumed.
I am sure I'm not the only handicapper who worries about taking an underdog late in the regular season, only to see that underdog fall behind and never, ever get into the game.
Happy holidays to you and yours. May your favorites be well-oiled machines and your underdogs feisty, skilled and lucky.
On to the picks:
Oakland (+2½) at Kansas City
Let us not recap how the Chiefs got to this point. I tried to do it in one sentence, but now my head hurts, primarily because of all of the commas, and I'm sure I missed a twist or turn in the plot.
Instead, let's state the obvious: This is a completely different team with Kyle Orton at quarterback. The Chiefs gained a season-high 438 yards with Orton under center in Week 15. Also, it's clear the Chiefs responded well to interim head coach Romeo Crennel.
Conditions are favorable for the Chiefs to win a second straight game. They are at home, and they defeated the Raiders 28-0 in the first meeting between the clubs in October. Oakland has lost three consecutive games. The Raiders can be playoff-caliber, but they can also be maddening, and I wouldn't count on them to bounce back at this price against this opponent at this time.
Wilkening's pick: Kansas City
Cleveland (+12½) at Baltimore
The Ravens had little trouble against Cleveland in the first meeting between the clubs, and Baltimore is likely to win this meeting, too. But the Browns should give the Ravens a tougher game this time. The Browns' offense, which so often lacks any sort of spark, had some good moments last week at Arizona. QB Seneca Wallace threw a long TD pass to WR Greg Little, and RB Peyton Hillis rushed for a season-high 99 yards.
The Ravens will be missing WR Anquan Boldin, who has given Cleveland trouble in a couple of recent matchups. Lee Evans, who will get more playing time in Boldin's absence, has just four catches on the season. If the Browns are more sound vs. the run than they were in the Dec. 4 matchup, when the Ravens rolled for 290 yards, they can hang around in this one.
Wilkening's pick: Cleveland
San Francisco (-2½) at Seattle
I don't pick against the 49ers lightly. They are very, very good. But isn't this a tough spot for them? The Seahawks have won three in a row, all by 17 points or more. They are strong at home. They are a better club than the one San Francisco didn't put away until late in Week One, when Ted Ginn returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns.
The 49ers long ago proved they were legitimate — a tough, physical, sound club that is impressive on defense and special teams and sneakily good on offense. They are more than capable of defeating Seattle a second time. However, I'm taking the points. I believe it's a tall order for the 49ers to put together another top effort — and on the road, no less — just five days after a big win over Pittsburgh.
Wilkening's pick: Seattle
Denver at Buffalo (O/U 41)
With the Bills struggling to stop the run and the Broncos ranking in the lower half of the NFL in pass defense, I will take the Over in this one. For the record, light winds and roughly a one-in-three chance of snow are in the forecast for Saturday's game at Orchard Park, N.Y. Were stronger winds expected, I might pass, but I will take my chances — and will be peeking in to see if we get a snow game on Christmas Eve.
Wilkening's pick: Over 41
Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 31-29