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Week Five handicapping column

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By Mike Wilkening

It has been a tough season for favorites players to date. According to data, pointspread favorites are just 23-38-2 against the number entering Week Five.

I always try to make myself aware of such season-long trends, but they rarely, if ever, steer me in a particular direction on an individual game. Though underdogs comprise three of my four spread picks for Week Five, I'm also quite fond of an undervalued favorite. 

My Week Five selections:

Miami (+3½) at Cincinnati

This is the most interesting pointspread of the Week Five slate. For starters, it speaks volumes about the respect the Dolphins have earned. They have covered three consecutive games, beating the Raiders with ease and narrowly losing to the Jets and Cardinals. Through four games, Miami is outgaining opponents by an impressive 42.5 yards per game.

The Dolphins are much better than I thought they were going to be. Clearly, I’m not alone, given this number. Were this game played in, say, Week Two, the Dolphins likely would have been a bigger underdog. After all, Miami was an underdog at home vs. Oakland just three short weeks ago.

While I respect the Dolphins, the value is with the Bengals, who are in the midst of a three-game winning streak. The Bengals don’t look like they have peaked. Their secondary is starting to get healthy. Their running game can improve.

The Bengals’ potent passing game poses a problem for Miami, as does their pass rush. I wasn’t looking to play against the Dolphins, but I believe the Bengals are better than they are perceived to be.

Wilkening’s pick: Cincinnati

Seattle (+3) at Carolina

I’m eager to play the Seahawks in this spot. They have a clear defensive edge, for one. Seattle is allowing 118 yards per game less than Carolina. The Seahawks’ strong defense alone gives them a chance to be competitive against the vast majority of teams.

While the Panthers have the stronger offense, they have scored only 80 points in four games. Can they muster the necessary consistency to outperform such a stout defense? I’m not completely convinced.

The Panthers, who are allowing 4.9 yards per carry, could struggle stopping Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. Also, it’s too early to write off Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, who comes off a three-interception game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were quite a bit sharper this week. I’ll take the points.

Wilkening’s pick: Seattle

Denver (+6½) at New England

Both teams come off convincing wins after dropping in class, with the Patriots handling the Bills and the Broncos routing the Raiders. Now, they each face a team that's a little more their caliber.

I continue to remain convinced the Broncos can compete at the AFC’s highest level. They are gaining more yards per play than they did a season ago, and they are allowing fewer yards per play. These metrics matter to me. It’s plainly obvious that the Broncos are more equipped to hang around in a high-scoring game than a season ago because of QB Peyton Manning and a much-improved passing game, but don’t overlook their ability to get a few more stops, too.

The Patriots should be favored, but I would be leery of laying this many points with them against solid competition. They have lost to the two best teams they have played this season (Arizona, Baltimore). The same can be said for Denver, which fell to unbeaten Atlanta and Houston. However, the Broncos rallied belatedly in those defeats. It’s one of the reasons that leads me to believe they can hang around against the Patriots. 

Wilkening’s pick: Denver

Houston (-8) at N.Y. Jets

Do I relish standing firm against the Texans?

No way.

However, I believe I am being compensated fairly for the risk. The Jets are no powerhouse, but I believe they are better — and prouder — than they showed a week ago against the 49ers.

I have picked worse underdogs than the Jets. I have a soft spot for teams like the Jets — clubs in bad form who are suddenly getting more points than we ever could have expected. The Jets did enough in the first three games to convince me they can at least be competitive here. And, yes, I am well aware of the losses of CB Darrelle Revis and WR Santonio Holmes.

No matter: If the Jets are to make a stand, they will make it here. The price is right to take a shot with Rex Ryan’s club, especially when I expect a stronger performance than that Week Four debacle.

Wilkening’s pick: N.Y. Jets

Last week: 2-2

Season to date: 10-5-1

To see PFW's Week Five consensus selections for all games, click here.

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