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Week Two handicapping column

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Posted Sept. 13, 2012 @ 4:55 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The 791 points in Week One were the second-most scored in any week in NFL history. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that only Sunday’s Browns-Bengals and Raiders-Dolphins tilts have Over-Unders of less than 40 points.

Do I suspect a few totals could be inflated this week? I do. However, I am generally leery of playing Unders unless I’m convinced I have isolated an element that likely will lead to less scoring than expected. I have begun to prefer Overs in recent years, as I’ve had better luck in finding value on that side of the ledger.

However, I’m inclined to pass on totals this week, focusing instead on four sides I particularly like. The Week Two column also gives me a chance to welcome back an old acquaintance — the home underdog.

On to the picks:

Cleveland (+7) at Cincinnati

On Saturday, I’ll watch some college football, perhaps a good deal of Alabama at Arkansas, but I can assure you I also will watch the races at Belmont Park, Arlington Park and Kentucky Downs. I love horse racing, and handicapping the races is my major non-football hobby.

I mention this because I can’t help but draw a parallel between the Bengals’ performance Monday night and a favorite angle of some thoroughbred handicappers — the “middle move.” A middle move is when a horse gains ground before the stretch but doesn’t sustain it when the real running begins. While the horse has lost, some handicappers will see the mid-race progress as a positive — and a chance to make some money in the horse’s next race.

Let’s look back to Monday night. The Bengals trailed 17-3 early in the second quarter, but they cut that deficit in half with a BenJarvus Green-Ellis six-yard TD turn to cap a 13-play, 81-yards drive near the end of the quarter. Then, to begin the second half, the Bengals put together a 12-play, 79-yard drive that ended in a 19-yard field goal, reducing Baltimore’s lead to 17-13. The Bengals didn’t score again, and the Ravens rolled to a 44-13 win.

However, I liked what I saw from Cincinnati before the game got out of hand. Anything close to the Bengals’ best form from Week One will be too much for Cleveland, which has a limited offense and a banged-up defense. The Browns got a bushel of opportunities to beat the Eagles in Week One and couldn’t win the game. The Bengals don’t figure to be as giving.

Wilkening’s pick: Cincinnati

Houston (-7) at Jacksonville

The Jaguars’ offense is a work in progress, certainly, but it’s improving, as it showed in Week One at Minnesota, when it racked up 355 yards and converted 9-of-18 third downs. Yes, this is an attack that doesn’t have a lot of punch — Jacksonville gained only 4.7 yards per play Sunday — and QB Blaine Gabbert still doesn’t inspire great confidence.

Nevertheless, I believe the Jaguars can be pesky, if nothing else, in their home opener against Houston. The Texans really weren’t challenged in Week One, with Miami falling apart late in the first half. What’s more, Houston’s offense was solid but not spectacular.

The Jaguars are a stronger foe than Miami, and they are a divisional foe. This could be more of a grinder than expected. The Jaguars’ defense is better than it showed in Week One, and Jacksonville can get enough stops to keep this close. 

Wilkening’s pick: Jacksonville

Tennessee (+6) at San Diego

The Titans have not defeated the Chargers since Sept. 27, 1992, when the then-Houston Oilers won 27-0 at the Astrodome. Oilers QB Warren Moon threw for a touchdown and rushed for another, and backup Cody Carlson even played in the blowout win. For the record, the Oilers were 11-point favorites. The No. 1 song at the time? “End of the Road,” by Boyz II Men. Also, Hi-Five was No. 9 on the charts with “She’s Playing Hard To Get." Man, that song is great. 

Forgive me — I loved eighth grade. I also love the Chargers in Week Two, and not just because they have won eight in a row in the series. I believe the Chargers can improve off their Week One win at Oakland, when they gained just 258 yards on offense. I also liked what I saw from the Chargers’ defense in Week One; San Diego surrendered only 4.7 yards per play and just one touchdown (in the final minute of play).

The Titans are surely better than they showed in Week One, but I worry about their ability to compete against good teams away from Nashville. There will be a time to side with Tennessee, but it’s not this week.

Wilkening’s pick: San Diego  

Minnesota (-1) at Indianapolis

I’m not going to hold the Colts’ Week One loss at Chicago against them. The Bears have an outstanding offense, and the Colts are rebuilding. However, Indianapolis showed a little promise in defeat. On offense, the Colts gained 5.7 yards per play. The defense, though overmatched, scored the game’s first touchdown.

The Colts are improved, and I expect a better effort in their home opener. The Vikings are no pushovers — their offense played quite well in the 26-23 OT win over Jacksonville, and their defense can generate a strong pass rush — but they hardly have the look of reliable road favorites. They could not put away the Jaguars in Week One, and it almost cost them dearly. I’m more inclined to play Indianapolis to take a step forward than to take Minnesota to run its record to 2-0.

Wilkening’s pick: Indianapolis

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

To see PFW's consensus selections for Week Two, click here.

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