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Week 14 handicapping column

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Posted Dec. 06, 2012 @ 9:13 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Week 13 featured three bad beats that left handicappers griping.  

There was the ending to Cardinals-Jets, where New York’s Shonn Greene, with his club leading 7-6, smartly decided to fall down at the Arizona 1-yard-line rather than score a touchdown with a little more than a minute left. The play gave the Jets, favored by close to a TD, a first down. With the Cardinals out of timeouts, the game was effectively over. The Jets ran out the clock and secured victory.

Their backers, however, ended up losers.

Patriots supporters were also an unhappy group Sunday afternoon. The host Dolphins, trailing 23-13 in the final minute to New England, kicked a 42-yard field goal instead of pressing on for a TD try. The Patriots, favored by no fewer than seven points at most sportsbooks, recovered the subsequent onside kick. The final score: Patriots 23, Dolphins 16. At best, Pats bettors got their money back.

At worst, they double-downed on Dallas Sunday night.

Leading 38-27 with less than a minute left, the Cowboys, favorites of 10-to-10½ points, surrendered a 98-yard punt-return TD to Philadelphia.

While Dallas ultimately secured the 38-33 victory, its backers weren’t so happy.

You can say bad beats are the worst thing about being a handicapper, and no one’s going to disagree with you. Say that to a group of friends and anyone who has lost more than three dollars in their lives will furrow their brows and somberly nod. It is not enough to have gambled; we all must be hardened gamblers. “Lemme tell you about the time,” someone will begin, and soon, everyone’s chiming in with a story, some better than others, all absolute chestnuts to the teller of the tale.

I have a conflicted relationship with bad beats. I love a good gambling tale, and I consider the bad beats I’ve collected to be part of my ongoing education as a gambler. However, the older I get, the less I like to talk about tough losses. 

Take Week 13. I was on the wrong side of the Jets and Cowboys games. I’m not proud of either pick. I’m not mad about how the games ended — I’m mad that I left myself in a vulnerable position. I backed two flawed favorites and didn’t have enough of a cushion to win when they didn’t play as well as I believed they would.

Sometimes, bad beats are just a factor of bad luck.

Other times, though, it’s operator error.

I love listening to a good gambling story. That will never change. Lord willing, I’ll keep collecting some wild, winning tales of my own. But if they are all ramblings about the various injustices I’ve endured as a handicapper, Lord help me, because then I won’t have learned anything, not even when to keep my mouth shut.

My Week 14 picks:

• The Bengals (-3) look to be a challenging matchup for Dallas. The Cowboys’ offensive line is not a strength, and their defense isn’t nearly as formidable as it was earlier in the season. On the other hand, the Bengals’ defense is playing better than it has all season, with a strong pass rush (four sacks apiece in each of the last four weeks) a catalyst. The Cowboys could have trouble with the Bengals’ edge and interior pressure, with DT Geno Atkins (9½ sacks) and DE Carlos Dunlap (four sacks) two players to watch.  The Bengals are in top form, but I can’t say as much about Dallas, which needed to work hard to shake off fading Philadelphia on Sunday night.

• I’ll side with New England (-3½) over Houston. The Texans have struggled in their last two games against potent passing attacks (Green Bay, Detroit). The Patriots, even without TE Rob Gronkowski, could prove to be tough for Houston to stop. In the last three regular seasons, the Patriots have been lethal late in the year, and they also have been outstanding on Monday nights (4-0 SU, ATS).

• The Vikings appeal as three-point home underdogs vs. Chicago. The Bears are tough to take at this price, even with a recent win vs. Minnesota to their credit. The Bears are likely to be without key CB Tim Jennings (shoulder) in addition to MLB Brian Urlacher (hamstring), two tough losses for a defense that has allowed better than six yards per play in three of the last five games. Though the Vikings are hardly in ideal form, I’m inclined to side with them at home in a must-have game. The Bears have had their problems with RB Adrian Peterson over the years.

• In the other NFC North battle Sunday, I will take the Packers (-6½) over the Lions, who have lost four in a row. The Lions’ defense played well in the first meeting between the teams but couldn’t hold on late, and the trend has continued in losses to Houston and Indianapolis. The Lions have surrendered at least 17 points after halftime in each of the past four games and could have big problems with Green Bay’s passing game.

Mike Wilkening's Week 14 Picks

Cincinnati (-3) vs. Dallas

New England (-3½) vs. Houston

Minnesota (+3) vs. Chicago

Green Bay (-6½) vs. Detroit

Last week: 2-2

Season to date: 28-22-2

Click here to see PFW's editors' consensus picks against the spread for Week 14.

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