Week Eight handicapping column

Posted Oct. 25, 2012 @ 3:41 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

It has been a challenging couple of weeks as a handicapper. I’ve completely misread some games (Baltimore at Houston, anyone?), and I’ve had some rotten luck in others.

The good news? It's a new week. And I like the card quite a bit.

My Week Eight picks:

Seattle (+2) at Detroit

At 2-4, the Lions are in some trouble in the NFC North, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet. My rationale is simple:

The Lions’ problem isn’t talent. It is execution.

In Monday night's loss at Chicago, the Lions committed three red-zone turnovers. They lost a fumble on a punt return, the latest special-teams blunder in a season already too full of such mistakes for Detroit.

In general, the Lions are too sloppy, too undisciplined for my taste. They waste more opportunities than they should. They should be better than they are.

The Seahawks are a tough foe for any team, but they are particularly tough for the Lions. The Seahawks have played to their potential. If current form holds, the Lions could make a key mistake or two that leaves them with too much work to do against a quality opponent with a strong defense.

However, I can’t pass on the Lions at this price. For all of their problems, the Lions rank fourthin yards gained and eighth in yards allowed entering Week Eight.

The Lions’ record is less than desirable. Their talent, however, is enviable. A turnaround is within their scope. So, too, is a continued slide, especially if they remain unsound. Nevertheless, they are the logical play in laying less than a field goal against a Seattle club with a limited offense.

Wilkening’s pick: Detroit

San Diego (-2½) at Cleveland

I don’t know if there’s much to separate these teams. Some will say the Chargers clearly have the better offense, but the Browns are gaining more yards per play (5.30, compared to 5.19). The Chargers are allowing slightly fewer yards per play (5.59, compared to 5.69), but the Browns’ defense comes off one of its better performances of the season, and it is a materially better group with CB Joe Haden back in the lineup.

I’m a little leery of going against the Chargers coming off a bye; there’s a chance the offense could take a step forward with the extra preparation and problem-solving time. I greatly respect Norv Turner as a game-planner and play-caller, and the Chargers’ offense surely has some ability to improve in the final 10 games.

However, I’m taking the points. The Chargers’ three wins are against the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs, none of whom played well in the least against San Diego. The Browns aren’t an AFC power in their own right, but they are improving, and if they play a reasonably sound game, they are quite capable of beating the Chargers, who are not in top form and are traveling from the Pacific to the Eastern time zone for a 1 p.m. game.

Wilkening’s pick: Cleveland

New England (-7) vs. St. Louis (at London)

At 6-1, the Texans are in the driver’s seat in the AFC, and they have a real shot of clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference. But it’s not a slam dunk, and here’s why: Starting on Nov. 11, the Texans play four of their next five games on the road. Visits to Chicago (Nov. 11) and Detroit (Nov. 22 on Thanksgiving Day) look especially challenging, but the biggest hurdle of them all comes Dec. 10, when the Texans play the Patriots in Foxborough.

In that same span leading up to Dec. 10, the Patriots face the Bills and Colts at home and the Jets and Dolphins on the road.

Yes, the Patriots have perhaps been a little underwhelming to this point. But it’s very possible they will be hosting Houston in Week 14 with the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The Patriots already have a win vs. Denver in-hand; that’s no small chip to have, in my view. A win vs. Houston would be another all-important tiebreaker.

If I could buy Patriots stock, I would. They are gaining more yards per game than any other team, and their defense, while flawed, is stout vs. the run. These edges figure to show up Sunday vs. the Rams, who are making their first regular-season overseas trip.

The Patriots, who beat Tampa Bay 35-7 in London three years ago, are the right play at this price. They have the potential to improve, and even a less-than-sparkling effort might be too much for the Rams, who have scored just 10 offensive TDs in seven games.

Wilkening’s pick: New England

New Orleans (+6) at Denver

I have believed the Broncos were a potential AFC power since the early stages of the season. Right off the bat, they were much better than I thought they were going to be on both sides of the ball.

Now, with a chance to rest and study over the Week Seven bye, I wonder if they won’t be even stronger in the final 10 games.

The Broncos’ defensive edge figures to be the difference against New Orleans. The Saints are allowing 465.5 yards per game. Will they have any answers for Peyton Manning and Co.? The first six games suggests if they do, it won’t be many.

If the Broncos can eliminate the slow starts that have dogged them this season, look out.

Wilkening’s pick: Denver

Last week: 1-3
Season to date: 14-13-1

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