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Pro Football Weekly Picks

Pro Football Weekly Picks

Week Four Handicapping Column
Pro Football Weekly
By Mike Wilkening
Sept. 25, 2008

Of my four picks in this week’s column, two are winless. The other is ranked 29th in offense, and its ability to protect its franchise quarterback is in serious question. 

For my final selection, I’m taking the Over in a game featuring the 30th and 32nd-ranked offenses in the NFL.

Sometimes when you pick these games, you land on teams you never would have expected.

On to the picks:

Houston (+7½) at Jacksonville

I have picked against the Texans twice this season and won both times, but I’m changing my tune this week. In a strange way, I liked what I saw from the Texans in their 31-12 loss to Tennessee last week. The defense wasn’t great, but its play did pick up in the second half. And the offense left plenty of points on the field. WR Andre Johnson, a blue-chip talent, had one of his worst games as a pro. QB Matt Schaub again struggled with pressure, throwing three interceptions, but he made some nice throws. And RB Steve Slaton is the first game-breaker the Texans have ever had at the position.

The Texans match up relatively well with the Jaguars and have won three of the last four in the series. Houston isn’t the playoff sleeper it was made out to be, but it isn’t lacking in redeeming qualities, and this is a club that looks like it’s ready to play its best game of the young season after its uneven effort following that unexpected Week Two bye. I’ll take the points. 

Wilkening’s pick: Houston

Denver (-9½) at Kansas City

The Chiefs have lost 12 straight games dating back to last season, and two of those defeats have been at the hands of the Broncos. Neither game was close.

So why am I backing the Chiefs? Consider this a vote against the Broncos’ defense, which is surrendering 421.7 yards per game. The Chiefs will start QB Damon Huard, who makes fewer mistakes than young Tyler Thigpen. They’ll move the ball on the Denver defense, and the Arrowhead Stadium crowd, which hasn’t had much to be excited about in a while, will get into the game.

That’s my theory, at least.

Wilkening’s pick: Kansas City

Baltimore (+6) at Pittsburgh

The early money has been on the Ravens, and why not? The Steelers were humbled at Philadelphia last week. QB Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times and left the game with a right hand injury — his third injury in as many weeks of the season. Roethlisberger will play on Monday night, but RB Willie Parker won’t. He’s week-to-week with a sprained knee.

So there isn’t much to like about the Steelers’ offense, the league’s fourth-worst entering Week Four. But this is far from a hopeless bunch, even with Parker out. It’s not as if Parker had a lot of success vs. Baltimore lately; he had been held to 93 yards on 46 carries in his last three games against the Ravens. His replacement, Rashard Mendenhall, is inexperienced but fast and strong. If he holds on to the ball — something that has no doubt been stressed to him after sloppy preseason play — he’ll be fine.

So will the Steelers’ offense, I’m thinking. Given eight days to prepare for the Ravens’ pressure, I expect better protection for Roethlisberger.

I also expect Ravens QB Joe Flacco to struggle in his first road start against far-and-away the best defense he has faced. The Steelers will slow the Ravens’ running game, force the Ravens into obvious passing situations and blitz away. The Ravens are tough and well-coached, but they are stepping up in class, and a little regression is to be expected this week.

Wilkening’s pick: Pittsburgh

Cleveland at Cincinnati (O/U 44)

The Browns are last in offense. No surprise, then, that the call for Brady Quinn to replace Derek Anderson has commenced. But consider the opponents the Browns have faced in their first three games. The Cowboys have a very good secondary, while the Steelers and Ravens stuff the run and have exotic blitzes on top of exotic blitzes.

Now the Browns draw the Bengals, who have sacked the quarterback once this season and are allowing 174.3 rushing yards per game.

And look at it from the Bengals’ perspective, too. They also have played the Ravens. They also have faced the Titans, the NFL’s third-stingiest defense, in a windstorm. But their offense played rather well vs. the Giants, putting up 23 points. QB Carson Palmer looked the best he had all season.

Now Palmer gets a crack at the Browns’ defense. So does RB Chris Perry, who has run hard and looks ready for a breakout game.

These are two desperate, winless clubs who probably can’t wait to see the other’s defense after weeks of preparing for tougher competition. The “Over” is worth a shot here.

Wilkening’s pick: Over 44

Last week: 2-2

Season-to-date: 8-4

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