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Week One handicapping column

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By Mike Wilkening

Welcome to another season of ProFootballWeekly.com’s weekly handicapping column. Here’s how it works: I pick four games (either against the spread or Over-Unders), and I keep track of the results over the full season.

Since I began handicapping games on ProFootballWeekly.com 10 years ago, I’ve picked pointspread winners at about a 55 percent clip, according to records I've kept. By my count, I’ve taken a position on nearly 600 games in that span. I have seen results bland and unforgettable. I have won games I didn’t deserve and lost ones that looked to be all but in permanent marker. I have received emails of criticism and of praise — sometimes from the same person.

I am not a pro football bettor, but I am a handicapper, and I take this very seriously. And I will tell you this much: I know whether I’m beating the standard bookmaker’s takeout at all times.

Win or lose, I love this stuff. If you do, too, or if you want to learn more about handicapping, welcome aboard. Let’s have some fun.

On to the picks:  

Washington (+7) at New Orleans

By now, everyone has said their piece on the Saints and the expected fall-out from the bounty scandal. In fact, many of us have said it many, many times since news of the NFL’s investigation broke more than six months ago. I believe the absence of head coach Sean Payton will hurt New Orleans at some point, and I like Atlanta to win the NFC South.

However, I love the Saints in this spot.

The Redskins will be without their two starting safeties (Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather). They don’t have nearly the offensive might that New Orleans does. Yes, Robert Griffin III helps the Redskins’ offense, but he’s a rookie quarterback making his regular-season debut in a difficult place to play. He could play well, and the Redskins still could be in trouble in the opener.

I would be very surprised if the Saints weren’t sharp in their first regular-season game. Surely, they will be motivated, given the events of the offseason. Moreover, I’m not worried about their preparation with so much prep time for this game. Though they have some injury concerns, those appear manageable.

At this price, it’s hard not to like the Saints, who had a 9-0 record straight-up and against the spread at the Superdome a season ago. If I’m going to take a stand against Drew Brees and Co., I need more than just a flimsy touchdown, and I’m not going to do it when I suspect they will deliver a top effort right off the bat.

Wilkening’s pick: New Orleans

Cincinnati (+6) at Baltimore

This does not look like a favorable matchup for the Bengals. They have lost two projected OL starters (OLG Travelle Wharton, C Kyle Cook) to significant injuries, their secondary looks like something of a work in progress and RB Bernard Scott (hand) is unlikely to play, reducing their quickness in the backfield.

The Ravens have captured the past three meetings between these teams, with each victory by at least six points. The Bengals struggled to deal with RB Ray Rice a season ago (295 rushing yards, four rushing TDs), and the Ravens’ up-tempo passing game appears to be improved.

The Bengals are capable of giving Baltimore a tough game at their best, but they don’t look to be in top form entering the season. The Ravens thrive at home, and they are poised to start fast in 2012.

Wilkening’s pick: Baltimore

Jacksonville at Minnesota (39½)

This total was as low as 38 a couple days ago, and oh, how I wish I could still take that number. Nevertheless, I’m still going to take the Over here. For starters, neither club looks to be all that strong vs. the pass. What’s more, I believe both passing games will be improved from a season ago. Even if Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (knee) and Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew (return from holdout) are limited, I’m still expecting both clubs to score more points than expected. This is a more-interesting-than-it-appears game.

Wilkening’s pick: Over 39½

Indianapolis at Chicago (43½)

With the total perched just below 44, the Over appeals to me. I’m expecting both offenses to be able to move the ball. Moreover, the Bears’ playmaking defense and special teams — and the Colts’ usual weakness in the kicking game — opens the door for a couple of field-tilting, score-padding events. If both offenses can deal reasonably well with the pass rush, the passing games will shine.

Wilkening’s pick: Over 43½

2011 ATS record: 43-36

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