Pro Football Weekly Picks Week 7

Pro Football Weekly Picks Week 7

Week Seven handicapping column
By Mike Wilkening 
Oct. 16, 2008

Let's start this week's column with a few words on Super Bowl futures.

To me, this NFL season is shaping up to be like a 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby where the post-time favorite is 5-1 or so and any one of 10 horses have a legitimate shot to win it.  I don't know about you, but I construct "they-can-win-the-Super Bowl-if…" arguments that I could actually try and sell, with feeling, for more than half of the teams in the league.

Perhaps you see this differently. If so, you're getting a good price on the "public" teams to win the Super Bowl. An example: At the MGM Mirage family of casinos, the Cowboys are lukewarm 4-1 favorites to win Super Bowl XLIII. They were 3-1 last week. Other teams usually popular with the betting public who are attractive prices are the Colts (6-1), Chargers (8-1) and Steelers (8-1).

Are all of these teams flawed? Certainly. But if you are convinced one of these teams is ready to put it all together, you're getting better odds than you will if they roll to a playoff berth and a high seed. On the other hand, if you think this is a year for a long shot, you can still find value. How about the Saints at 30-1? Or the Falcons at 75-1?

Any way you look at it, it's a different scenario than last year, when the Patriots were less than even-money to win the Super Bowl for much of the of the season.

The Chiefs are 999-1 on the board at the Mirage, but that hadn't scared me off from originally picking them to cover the eight-point spread vs. Tennessee this week. However, hours after submitting the column came news that the Chiefs were going to sit RB Larry Johnson this week because of a violation of team rules. Because Johnson was one of the major reasons I could construct a case for the Chiefs, we made the decision to pull the pick. This is something that never has happened before in this space, and it's not something I like doing, but I would like trying to defend the Chiefs, given Johnson's absence, even less.

On to the picks:

Dallas (-7) at St. Louis

The Cowboys have a host of injury issues, the biggest being QB Tony Romo's broken right pinky finger. Still, here they are, laying a touchdown on the road — and the number likely would go up if Romo could play. As of this writing, that's still undetermined, although it appears Romo likely will be the backup on Sunday.

The fall-off from Romo to Brad Johnson is significant, but would it be enough to prevent the Cowboys from winning comfortably? I have my doubts. Even if the Cowboys aren't what they thought they were, aren't they too much for the Rams to handle?

If you are picking St. Louis, you are banking on the Rams building off of their Week Six win at Washington. And you better hope that it is the case, because the Rams were outgained 368-200 last week.

The Cowboys are 4-2, but they're being perceived like they are 2-4. They're worth a shot at this price. Motivation won't be a problem, not after this tumultuous week. In the end, Dallas' considerable talent edge will be too much.

Wilkening’s pick: Dallas

Detroit (+8½) at Houston

I do not lay more than a touchdown very often in this column. In fact, the last time I did it was before Super Bowl XLII, when I was convinced the Patriots could not lose. (Oops.) That is the thing with big favorites; sometimes they lose, and you are left to figure out how you failed to handicap the game from a spread and money-line perspective.

But sometimes, the big favorite is the right play. And so it is with the Texans, a club whom readers of this column know I’ve followed all season. I have a 4-1 ATS mark picking Houston’s games, but that’s not the reason I’m going back to the well one more time. No, I just think this is an ideal setup for the Texans, who are playing their third consecutive home game and have been downright impressive on offense of late — if you can get past their turnovers.

Well, this week the Texans draw a Lions defense that has forced only five turnovers this season. Also, Detroit is surrendering 421.6 yards per game, and is playing the second of back-to-back road games.

I was hoping for a shorter price than this, but if the Texans had a better record — and weren’t so bumbling the past two weeks — this spread would be double digits. If the Texans don’t play their best game of the season on Sunday, I will be very surprised.

Wilkening’s pick: Houston

Minnesota at Chicago (O/U 38)

No one knows quite what to think of the Vikings’ offense. At times, it is explosive. Other times it is so bad their fans are chanting for the head coach to box up his belongings. We have a slightly better idea about the Bears’ offense. It is not as terrible as many thought it might be, and it actually can be quite good.

And it’s probably going to have to be at its best for the Bears to win Sunday, considering how Chicago’s injury-plagued secondary struggled last week. I’m banking on the Vikings, who averaged 27 points vs. Chicago last season, to improve significantly after last week’s no-show. With good weather in the forecast, the Over is the play.

Wilkening’s pick: Over 38

Denver at New England (O/U 48)

This is the highest Over/Under on the board this week, likely on account of several factors. The Broncos have a potent offense, and their games have gone ‘Over’ the total in 20 of Jay Cutler’s 27 career starts. And there’s something else at play, I’m guessing: the propensity for this season’s “Monday Night Football” games to be wild, high-scoring affairs. All seven “MNF” affairs have gone “Over.”

But I’m standing against this trend. The Broncos have multiple injuries on offense, and they have scored less than 20 points in their past three games. The Patriots have cleared 20 points once in five games.

The Patriots have held the ball, on average, for 32:03 per game, but they are only scoring 17.8 points per contest. That’s just what you like to see from a team if you’re playing the ‘Under.’ And that’s exactly what I will do in this case. My concerns about Denver’s defense aside, this just seems like a few too many points to me.

Wilkening’s pick: Under 48

Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 14-9-1

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