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Week Seven handicapping column

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Posted Oct. 18, 2012 @ 4:24 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Underdogs covered in 11-of-13 games in Week Six, and while Broncos-Chargers closed as a pick ‘em, Denver was available as an underdog leading up to the game.

In short, it was a bad week to be backing favorites.

(Coughs uncomfortably.)

Yes, I was one the wrong side of three games in which favorites couldn’t cover the number in Week Six. In fact, the Patriots and Browns lost outright.

It’s a humbling feeling when favorites fail. Then again, I don’t exactly find it noble to back try-hard underdogs that can’t quite cover the number, either

Losing is losing. And value is value. I like underdogs, and I like favorites. I will look for value on both sides of the line and try to end the season in the black.

The song remains the same for me, whether the dogs are barking or fast asleep.

My Week Seven picks:

Baltimore (+6½) at Houston

The Ravens’ injury list suggests they are vulnerable on Sunday. CB Lardarius Webb will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, and MLB Ray Lewis (triceps) is out until at least well into the second half of the campaign. DT Haloti Ngata (knee) and FS Ed Reed (shoulder) are trying to play through their injuries, plus OLB Terrell Suggs (Achilles) is trying to come back from his. Baltimore’s Week Eight bye invitingly looms. Rest, rest and more rest are what these Ravens need.

There will be handicappers who will excitedly play against the Ravens. Baltimore is as weakened as they have been in some time. The Texans are one of the NFL’s best teams, and they are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Green Bay. Surely, Houston will be sharp off such a humbling defeat. The Texans should be laying this many points, and their best effort could be just too much for the Ravens right now.

But if you’re looking for me to count out Baltimore, you will need to call upon someone else.

The Ravens are too proud — and still far too talented, even with all of their ailments — to be anybody’s pushover, and especially in this spot, when the national focus has been on how they will possibly clear all of the hurdles in front of them.

I say the Ravens stand in and fight on Sunday. I’ve watched them for too long to believe otherwise. The injuries are a worry, but let’s face it: this defense hasn’t been playing well all season. More than ever, the Ravens have had to lean on their offense. This story line was fresh in September, but not now. And it’s not as if the Ravens’ defense is hopeless. To wit: they have allowed one less than touchdown than Houston through six games.

Frankly, the prospect of getting this many points with a talented club that has every reason to have a chip on its shoulder is just impossible for me to pass up.

Wilkening’s pick: Baltimore

Tennessee (+3½) at Buffalo

This looks like a good time to side with the Bills. For starters, they are at home, and I would much rather take my chances with them at Ralph Wilson Stadium than elsewhere. Also, they have a significant edge on offense. The Bills have nearly twice as many offensive TDs as the Titans (17-9). In fact, one-quarter of Tennessee’s 12 TDs in six games have been on returns.

The obvious concern with backing the Bills is their defense, which is allowing 429.8 yards per game and 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. However, Buffalo’s defense has had stretches where it has played fairly well, with the operative words “stretches” and “fairly.”

One strength of the Bills’ "D," is its pass rush, and I believe it will be a key edge in this game. Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck could struggle in the face of Buffalo’s pressure.

While the Titans’ two wins (Detroit, Pittsburgh) are to be respected, both came at home. In their three road games, they have been overmatched, losing each by more than three TDs. This looks like a good spot for the Bills to win their second consecutive game and to move to 4-3 overall in the muddled AFC East.

Wilkening’s pick: Buffalo

New Orleans (-2½) at Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers didn’t exactly have a banner 2011 season, but they did hand the Saints one of their three regular-season losses. What’s more, they played New Orleans to within 11 points at the Superdome — which wasn’t a bad effort, considering the form of both teams a season ago.

We know the story about the 2012 Saints: they are not nearly as formidable as they were a season ago. While they are not to be written off by any stretch, they are nonetheless difficult to back as road favorites in this spot. They are, after all, surrendering 456 yards per game.

The Buccaneers are better than I thought. They have not been outclassed in any of their losses, and they took apart a struggling Kansas City club in impressive fashion in Week Six. Overall, their form is preferable to that of New Orleans. I will side with the underdog.

Wilkening’s pick: Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh (-1½) at Cincinnati

The Steelers are hard to pass at this price, given how they have handled the Bengals without much trouble in recent seasons. The Steelers have the better defense, and I continue to believe their offense is capable of more than it has shown thus far, especially in the running game. One Steelers positive: They are holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per contest. I would have been inclined to side with Pittsburgh even if Cincinnati weren’t in something of a slump, but the Bengals’ shaky recent play adds to the appeal.

Wilkening’s pick: Pittsburgh

Last week: 1-3

Season to date: 13-10-1

Click here to see PFW's consensus selections.

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