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Week 12 handicapping column

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Posted Nov. 21, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Thank goodness for Over-Unders; without them, I would have been in real trouble the past two weeks. In that span, I was 5-0 on totals — and 0-for-3 on sides.

As much as I'd like to go back to the Over-Under well in Week 12, I believe the value is with sides, not totals. And so, it's back to hoping to grind out some wins vs. the spread.

My Week 12 picks:

Houston (-3) at Detroit

The Lions are quite capable of snapping their nine-season Thanksgiving Day losing streak on Thursday. A strong effort could give Houston, which struggled vs. Jacksonville on Sunday, some major problems.

But I have a bad feeling about Detroit.

Less than two weeks ago, the Lions were 4-4 and with a shot to get back into the NFC North race. Now, they are 4-6, three games behind Chicago and Green Bay and essentially three games back of 6-4 Minnesota, which swept the season series with Detroit.

The Lions got an ideal setup on Sunday and still couldn’t beat Green Bay. Their defense was stout, and the Packers’ offense and special teams underwhelmed for most of the game. Nevertheless, the Packers pulled it out late.

I’m not convinced the Lions’ defense can hold the Texans’ balanced offense in check. The Lions struggled to stop Vikings RB Adrian Peterson in Week 10 and are not strong vs. the pass.

I’m giving the Texans a pass for their near-miss vs. the Jaguars four days ago —handicapper’s prerogative, if you will. Houston’s overall form is much, much stronger than Detroit’s.

Lord willing, I will side with the Lions in many Thanksgivings to come, but not this one.

Wilkening’s pick: Houston

Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville

Me: Everyone knows a handicapper who likes the Jaguars a little too much.

You: Um, I don’t know anyone like that.

Me: (shuffles uncomfortably in chair)

You: I don’t know anyone who’s even thought of taking Jacksonville this season.

Me: (shuffles uncomfortably in chair)

You: Gosh, you’re not picking the Jaguars this week, are you? They haven’t won a game at home all season, and they haven’t covered at home, either.

Me: (straightens up) I am taking the Jaguars on Sunday, and here’s why: the Titans are a very weak road favorite. They are 30thin yards allowed and 31stin points surrendered. Why would I have any interest in taking Tennessee laying any points against anyone, even Jacksonville?

You: Well, these are the Jaguars, are after all.

Me:  Their offense showed some life in the Week 11 loss at Houston, and the defense should perk up against Tennessee’s 25th-ranked offense. I would agree that there have been better home underdogs to back. Nevertheless, I believe the Jaguars will keep this close.

You: Who says “Nevertheless?”

Wilkening’s pick: Jacksonville

Green Bay (+3) at N.Y. Giants

At their best, the Giants are capable of beating anyone.

So why are they such a bad bet at home?

The Giants are 1-4 vs. the spread at MetLife Stadium in 2012. Since the beginning of the ’09 season, they are just 10-19-1 ATS as hosts. By contrast, the Giants are 19-12-1 vs. the number in road games in this same span.

It’s possible the Giants could be refreshed after their Week 11 bye. It’s also possible that the Giants’ 37-20 divisional-round win at Green Bay in January could be a preview of Sunday’s rematch.

However, I’m siding with the Packers, who didn’t play anywhere near their best in Week 11 and still pulled out a victory. They will need to improve to stay close in this game, but they are capable of more than they showed.

There’s also the matter of the Packers being outstanding underdogs. Since the beginning of the ’09 campaign, they are 9-2 ATS when getting points. They don’t often play this role, but when they do, they play it well. Count me in.

Wilkening’s pick: Green Bay

Pittsburgh (-1) at Cleveland

These teams have played 27 times since the Browns returned to NFL play in 1999. In 25 of those games, the Steelers were favored by at least a field goal. Only once have the Steelers been an underdog in this series. If this line holds, it will be the narrowest spread ever between the clubs.

The Steelers aren’t at full strength, and they could be vulnerable if the Browns produce a top effort. However, the Steelers have dominated this series over the years, winning 23-of-27 games. Even with third-string QB Charlie Batch in the lineup, the Steelers look like the better team. I say their talent and experience pulls them through as it often has when Ben Roethlisberger has been out of the lineup. Note that Pittsburgh is 9-4-1 ATS without Roethlisberger since 2004.

Wilkening’s pick: Pittsburgh

Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 25-18-1

To see the PFW editors' consensus selection for each game, click here.

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