Week 15 handicapping column

Posted Dec. 13, 2012 @ 7:25 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is looking for support for postseason expansion, I know a place where the plan would be welcomed with open arms. 

Las Vegas. 

OK, so that's not the support Goodell would care to have. But it's there if he needs it, like an ATM right next to a bank of slot machines. 

The "more games the better," said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sportsbook operations at LVH Las Vegas Hotel and Casino’s SuperBook.  

Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of public relations for oddsmaking firm William Hill U.S., shared similar sentiments. It didn't take him long to envision two games on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the opening round of a 16-team playoff. 

Let's suppose such a 16-team tourney began today, based on standings through Week 14. Here's how it would look, and here are pointspreads for each game courtesy of Vaccaro, a linemaker with 37 years of experience: 

AFC 

No. 8 Jets at No. 1 Texans — Vaccaro's line: Houston -10

No. 7 Bengals at No. 2 Patriots — New England -8

No. 6 Steelers at No. 3 Broncos — Denver -4½

No. 5 Colts at No. 4 Ravens — Baltimore -6 

NFC 

No. 8 Cowboys at No. 1 Falcons — Atlanta -6 

No. 7 Redskins at No. 2 49ers — San Francisco -7 (-120) or -7½

No. 6 Bears at No. 3 Packers — Green Bay -6½

No. 5 Seahawks at No. 4 Giants — N.Y. Giants -4 

My Week 15 picks:

• I'm taking a shot with the Falcons (-1½) over the Giants. The price appeals, and I would not be surprised in the least if Atlanta delivered one of its best games of the season, even if WR Roddy White (knee) is limited or out. For all of the flak the Falcons have taken, they have won 11-of-13 this season, and they are 33-7 at home since 2008. The Giants are to be respected, but they are 27th in yards per rush allowed and tied for 29th in yards per pass allowed, and the Falcons' offense won't be easy for them to stop.  

• The Lions haven't been a road favorite of more than a field goal very often over the years, and you have to go back to the Barry Sanders era (1996, at Tampa Bay) to find the last time they covered a spread of more than 3½ points away from home. They are tough to take laying 6½ points at Arizona on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals are in awful, awful form, but surely they are embaraassed after the 58-0 shellacking at Seattle in Week 14. Arizona isn't that bad. Well, that's my theory, anyway. I'll take Arizona plus the points

• The Panthers' offense is rolling. Not only did Carolina score 30 points in an upset of Atlanta on Sunday, but the Panthers gained a healthy 7.0 yards per play (they gained 7.5 yards per play in a loss to Kansas City the previous week). The Chargers' offense is more plodding than Carolina's — San Diego hasn't reached 300 yards in the past four games — but its ability to move the chains in the surprising win vs. Pittsburgh caught my eye. Recall how well the Chargers' offense started to play late last season. I like Panthers-Chargers to go Over the total of 45 points.  

• Finally, I'm siding with the Patriots (-5½) against San Francisco. I'm not convinced the 49ers' offense will be able to score enough to keep this within the number. The Patriots' offense will be challenged by San Francisco's strong defense, but New England's balance is a major asset in its favor. The Patriots will have the edge if they can get out to any lead that forces San Francisco to take a more pass-first approach.  

Mike Wilkening's Week 15 Picks

Atlanta (-1½) vs. N.Y. Giants

Arizona (+6½) vs. Detroit 

Carolina at San Diego OVER 45 

New England (-5½vs. San Francisco

Last week: 3-1

Season to date: 31-23-2

Click here to see the PFW editors' consensus selections for Week 15.