Week Nine handicapping column

Posted Nov. 01, 2012 @ 3:23 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

Underdogs — what can we say? They covered in 8-of-14 games in Week Eight, and they are 71-44-3 against the spread on the season, according to Covers.com records. 

As someone who plays underdogs and favorites, this trend excites me. Here's why: Anytime there's an anomaly like this, the possibility for an overreaction exists. 

Yes, favorites haven't exactly done well to this point. I'm hoping this leads to some depressed prices on good teams. I believe I saw an instance of that in Week Eight with the Patriots, who were seven-point favorites on a neutral field against the Rams in London. 

I saw tremendous value in the Patriots, who were facing a club with a limited offense that rarely has to deal with New England. This gave the Pats a significant advantage. What's more, New England was making its second London trip in four years, while a young, revamped St. Louis team was making its first trip overseas. 

Here's the thing: if the Patriots would have romped against the Seahawks or Jets in previous weeks instead of losing at Seattle and barely escaping vs. New York, there's no way the Pats would have been favored by a mere seven points. 

A couple of subpar performances created doubt. If you were willing to stand in with New England once again, you got the best of it last week. The Patriots rolled, 45-7. 

Such situations don't often occur, but when they pop up, they are to be relished. 

I don't see any situation in Week Nine as tailor-made as that one, but I do like a few undervalued favorites all the same. 

My Week Nine picks: 

Denver (-3½) at Cincinnati

This line opened at a field goal. That wasn't going to hold up, considering the Broncos' strong recent form and the Bengals' three-game losing streak. While I don't look to lay more than a field goal on the road — I value my health — I will do so in the right circumstances. 

These are the right circumstances. 

The Bengals never had an answer for the Peyton Manning-led Colts. He won all seven starts against the Bengals, throwing 17 TD passes and just three interceptions. Only once did Cincinnati play Indianapolis to within seven points in those games — a 23-17 loss in 2010, when Manning easily played his worst game in the seven-game span and the Colts feasted on a diet of Bengals turnovers. 

With Manning playing at an MVP-level of late, the Broncos are the clear play here, even at a little more than a field goal. I have liked what I have seen from the Broncos all season, and I still have to wonder if they are a little undervalued. This is a very, very dangerous team right now. 

Wilkening's pick: Denver

Kansas City (+7½) at San Diego

The Chargers are a bad favorite at this price. They might win, and they might cover, but they are no value whatsoever. 

To take the Chargers at more than a TD, you are paying a "stink tax." The Chiefs might be the NFL's worst team, and there isn't exactly a line of handicapppers eager to back them, so if you want the relative security of the Chargers, you are going to pay for the privilege. 

Well, the Chargers aren't exactly in wonderful form, either. They have scored six points in the past six quarters, and they have lost three consecutive games. While they have a 17-point win at Kansas City already to their credit, the Chiefs committed six turnovers in defeat. Twenty-four of the Chargers' 37 points came off of turnovers, including an interception-return score. In defeat, the Chiefs outgained the Chargers and had three drives of more than 70 yards (all resulting in TDs) — though one of those drives came with the Chiefs down 20 in the fourth quarter, so take it with a grain of salt. 

Are the Chiefs a great underdog? Not at all. The operative question is this: How much difference is there between San Diego and Kansas City? I think there's less than the Chargers would like to believe. 

Wilkening's pick: Kansas City

Tampa Bay (+1½) at Oakland

In their first three games after their Week Five bye, the Raiders have looked like an improved team. They were oh-so-close to beating the Falcons in Atlanta in Week Six. Then, after a slow start against Jacksonville, they were able to wear down the Jaguars and scratch out an OT win. Finally, they delivered a businesslike victory at Kansas City on Sunday. 

The Raiders have their limitations. They are 24th in the NFL in points scored and 30th in both rushing offense and third-down conversions. In short, they are capable of stringing together some fruitless drives. The Raiders' defense isn't particularly strong vs. the pass, and the Raiders are tied for 24th in points allowed. 

In some ways, this is a challenging matchup for Oakland. The Buccaneers' passing game has significantly improved in recent weeks. None of the Bucs' four losses have been by more than seven points. Clearly, they are better than they were a season ago. 

The Raiders, though, are also on the rise. It strikes me that new head coach Dennis Allen knows what he's doing. His team's play tells me so. 

At home, and facing an opponent with a shaky pass defense, the Raiders are the play. 

Wilkening's pick: Oakland 

Chicago (-3½) at Tennessee

The Titans' defense has been a major problem all season, and a sputtering Bears offense could get well on Sunday. While Tennessee held Indianapolis to just 19 points last week, the Colts racked up 6.2 yards per play, and the Titans could not stop them on the first possession of OT, which ended in the game-winning touchdown for Indy. 

If the Titans keep this close, it will be on the passing of QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has played well against Chicago in the past and will know where to go with the ball. Look for a solid game from Hasselbeck. However, look for the Bears' pass rush to cause the Titans some problems, too. The Bears' stout run defense also must be acknowledged. 

The Titans can be competitive with Chicago if they play their very best, but if their defense remains a sieve, the Bears should be able to eventually pull away for the victory. 

Wilkening's pick: Chicago 

Last week: 4-0
Season to date: 18-13-1

Click here to see PFW's consensus selections for Week Nine.