- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

While the Baltimore Ravens were getting healthier during their bye week, the Houston Texans were ravaged even more by injury. When the Texans head into Baltimore on Sunday, their two best players almost certainly won’t be with them.

Hardly the formula for an upset.

The Texans lost star receiver Andre Johnson before last week’s game against Oakland with a right hamstring injury. Then Mario Williams, the outstanding defensive end making an encouraging adjustment to linebacker in Wade Phillips’ system, damaged a chest muscle in the loss to the Raiders and is gone for the season.

Suddenly, the heavy favorite in the AFC South no longer seems such a cinch to win that division. And Houston is a 7 1/2-point underdog at Baltimore, where the Ravens are rested and super confident following two straight decisive victories.

Baltimore (3-1) is uncertain if first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith will be back from a high left ankle sprain, but is hopeful guard Ben Grubbs (right toe) and receiver Lee Evans (left ankle) can go.

Shell-shocked Houston (3-2) just wants the injury trend to go in the other direction.

Coach Gary Kubiak and his bosses have discussed their options, and the Texans traded with the Jets for veteran Derrick Mason, a former Ravens receiver who should help at some point, if not this week.

“We’ve got a lot of things to look at right now,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got some challenges from a management standpoint … as we sit here and have to juggle some things as we move forward with these injuries and some of the things going on.”

Look for Houston to turn to the running game, it’s most reliable weapon with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The problem there: hardly anybody runs successfully against Baltimore.


Buffalo (plus 3 1/2) at N.Y. Giants

New York’s team _ that would be the Bills _ visits the Meadowlands with more impressive credentials than the hosts.


Dallas (plus 7) at New England

Usual formula says go with team coming off bye against one coming off emotional rivalry game. Not here.


Jacksonville (plus 12) at Pittsburgh

Mismatch No. 1.


St. Louis (plus 15) at Green Bay

Mismatch No. 2 _ only much bigger. Aaron Rodgers gets to rest by fourth quarter.


Philadelphia (minus 1 1/2) at Washington

At some point, Pro Picks will abandon the Eagles the way the Philly fans already have. Not quite yet.

EAGLES, 23-20

San Francisco (plus 5) at Detroit

One of these teams’ impressive strings gets snapped. Lions will test 49ers’ defense.

LIONS, 27-17

Carolina (plus 4 1/2) at Atlanta

Time for the Falcons to get going. But Cam Newton keeps every game close.

FALCONS, 24-20

Indianapolis (plus 7) at Cincinnati

Always enticing when Peyton and Carson face off.



Cleveland (plus 6) at Oakland

Emotional times for Raiders. They’ll hang on, but barely.

RAIDERS, 24-23

New Orleans (minus 5) at Tampa Bay

Bucs need to forget last week’s debacle right away, or another one will happen.

SAINTS, 27-23

Miami (plus 7) at N.Y. Jets (Monday night)

Sure seems like a small line. Jets are struggling, but Dolphins are falling apart.

JETS, 20-9

Minnesota (plus 3) at Chicago

Sure seems like a small line, too. Vikings’ win over Cardinals doesn’t impress us much.

BEARS, 19-10



Against spread: 7-6 (overall 43-29-2); straight up 8-5 (overall 52-25).

Best Bet: 1-4 against spread, 3-2 straight up.

Upset Special: 4-1 against spread, 3-2 straight up.

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