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NFL Weekly Picks
By Bob Cunningham
September 4, 2003
 

PREVIEW - WEEK 1 (Sept 4, 7-8)

Welcome back, friends. I hope you enjoy my weekly breakdown, which is designed to give you a quick but informative overview of all the games scheduled. We'll undertake a general examination of the match-ups, add in some statistics to help both you and me forecast the results, and summarize what we might expect from a fantasy standpoint. As always it should be great fun, and I'm determined to give you my best effort week in, and week out, to enhance your NFL season.

Always the most difficult week to prognosticate, the NFL season openers are also unique because of the intrigue associated with everyone being tied in the standings. The pointspreads assigned to Week 1 games are always more subjective, even random, that at any other time during the season. Without going into details, I utilize a system for making my predictions that gives certain statistics more weight than others, and I try to allow for intangibles as well.

As for the format, readers of my work from previous seasons will notice that the changes are subtle. A note to remember -- players not mentioned in fantasy categories are players who are neither great plays, nor obvious liabilities. Their prognosis depends on the size of your league and quality of your roster.

No reason to delay any further, so let's get it going:

NEW YORK JETS at WASHINGTON (Thur.)

Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Redskins favored by 3

Records: Jets 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Redskins 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Jets were 4-4 ATS on the road last season, the Redskins 4-4 at home. The Redskins have won the last two meetings.

Game Summary: Prior to Chad Pennington's injury, the Jets were a bona fide contender. Now they're my pick to finish last in the AFC East. The Redskins will have their troubles defensively, but at home before a national TV audience, I like them here.

Prediction: REDSKINS, 23-17

Jets:
QB Chad Pennington (out)

Redskins:
WR Taylor Jacobs (out)

Jets:
Veteran QB Testaverde is capable, but only Jet no-brain play is RB CMartin.

Redskins:
I recommend shying away from any Skins, except WR LColes, until after the first week of play.

NEW ENGLAND at BUFFALO Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Bills favored by 2

Records: Patriots 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Bills 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Patriots have won the last four meetings, holding the Bills to 17 points or less each time, including a 38-7 rout at Orchard Park last season.

Game Summary: Buffalo's offense is formidable, but the defense is unproven, even with the addition of Takeo Spikes. The Pats made several changes, and are expected to be much stronger defensively.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-14

Patriots:
none

Bills:
none

Patriots:
Passing game is good to go, but better wait until RB situation sorts itself out. K AVinatieri and def-ense are good plays.

Bills:
The big 3 of QB DBledsoe, WR EMoulds and RB THenry are a go. Hold off on WR JReed.

HOUSTON at MIAMI Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Dolphins favored by 12 1/2

Records: Texans 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Dolphins 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Dolphins are 7-1 ATS at home in 2002, despite usually being a solid favorite. This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Game Summary: Miami's defense shows its domination from the get-go.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 27-7

Texans:
none

Dolphins:
WR Oronde Gadsden (out).

Texans:
I'd avoid any and all Houston players this week.

Dolphins:
Fish will try to grind it out with lots of RB RWilliams. WR CChambers an OK play. Defense might post a shutout.

BALTIMORE at PITTSBURGH Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Steelers favored by 6

Records: Ravens 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Steelers 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Ravens were 6-2 ATS on the road last year, the Steelers 2-5-1 at home. The Steelers won at home last year, 34-31, with the Ravens covering the number.

Game Summary: What a way for a rookie QB to begin his career... at Pittsburgh in a key divisional game. Pittsburgh is historically nasty at home within the division, though not last year.

Prediction: STEELERS, 27-24

Ravens:
none

Steelers:
none

Ravens:
Too tough a matchup to put QB KBoller in your lineup. RB JLewis, TE THeap and defense/ST OK.

Steelers:
Is RB AZereoue ready? We'll find out. In yardage leagues, play him along with the passing attack, and the defense.

INDIANAPOLIS at CLEVELAND Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Browns favored by 1

Records: Colts 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Browns 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Colts won at Cleveland, 28-23, last December and have captured 4 of the last 5 in this series.

Game Summary: A tough opener for the Colts, but I doubt the Browns have enough defense to slow Indy down much.

Prediction: COLTS, 31-21

Colts:
none

Browns:
none

Colts:
Go with the Big 3 of PManning, EJames and MHarrison and also consider TE MPollard. K MVand-erjagt also solid. Avoid the defense/ST.

Browns:
QB KHolcomb and RB WGreen are sound plays, but which of the four WRs do we like? QMorgan and KJohnson are safer plays.

DENVER at CINCINNATI Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Broncos favored by 6

Records: Broncos 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Bengals 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Bengals were just 1-7 ATS at home last year. The last time these teams played, in 1999, Bengals RB Corey Dillon set a single-game rushing mark.

Game Summary: Every week, there's at least one shocker. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has his team ready to play, and Dillon has another good day (though not like in '99). Denver QB Jake Plummer struggles amidst the hype.

Prediction: BENGALS, 24-20 (upset special)

Broncos:
none

Bengals:
none

Broncos:
I have a hunch QB JPlummer will try too hard, and get mixed results. All the prime Broncos weapons are worthy plays, but I'd stay away from the defense.

Bengals:
RB CDillon will get extra work, and the Bengals tandem of QB JKitna and WR CJohnson make good sleeper picks.

JACKSONVILLE at CAROLINA Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Panthers favored by 4

Records: Jaguars 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Panthers 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The NFL's two newbies of 1995 haven't faced each other since '98. Jax has won both the previous meetings.

Game Summary: Defense and Stephen Davis. That's coach John Fox's simple success formula for Carolina and it works in the opener.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 20-13

Jaguars:
none

Panthers:
none

Jaguars:
Who will QB Mark Brunell throw to? With WR JSmith suspended, RB FTaylor is the lone good play.

Panthers:
RB SDavis is an easy choice, but the only other Panther worth considering is WR MMuhammad. And of course, the defense and special teams.

SAN DIEGO at KANSAS CITY Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Chiefs favored by 5 1/2

Records: Chargers 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Chiefs 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Chiefs have won 9 of the last 11 meetings, including 6 in a row at home. The last four meetings have been decided by less than a touchdown.

Game Summary: Some are picking the Chiefs to win the AFC West (I'm not among them). San Diego's unproven defense is going to have a hard time here. For a change, this one isn't as close as usual.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 30-16

Chargers:
none

Chiefs:
none

Chargers:
RB LTomlinson and WR DBoston are no-brainers. I'd stay away from others, including QB DBrees.

Chiefs:
RB PHolmes looks fine, so go with him until he doesn't. QB TGreen and TE TGonzalez are also easy picks. I advise staying clear of WRs.

ST. LOUIS at NEW YORK GIANTS Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Giants favored by 1

Records: Rams 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Giants 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team has covered ATS in 4 of the last 5 in this series.

Game Summary: I'm among those who believe the Rams are ready to roll. Plus, the trend mentioned above. Plus II - the Rams tend to be fast starters, the Giants fast finishers (which are required because of slow starts).

Prediction: RAMS, 23-20

Rams:
none

Giants:
K Mike Hollis (out for the year).

Rams:
Although not an ideal matchup, the main Rams weapons - Warner, Faulk, Holt, Bruce -- gotta be in there. K JWilkins, also. But not the D.

Giants:
QB KCollins is unpredictable, but he can go off without warning. RB TBarber, TE JShockey and WR AToomer should be in. Skip the rest.

MINNESOTA at GREEN BAY Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Packers favored by 5 1/2

Records: Vikings 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Packers 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Vikings have covered five in a row in this series, but lost both at Green Bay straight-up during that time.

Game Summary: I'm having a hard time understanding the small line. The Pack's superior defense will be the difference.

Prediction: PACKERS, 31-17

Vikings:
RB Michael Bennett (out)

Packers:
none

Vikings:
QB DCulpepper and WR RMoss are obvious choices, but RB MWilliams is an interesting consideration. WR DBates also a sleeper.

Packers:
I like all of Green Bay's primary skill players -- Favre, Green, Driver, Fergu-son, Franks,Longwell.

ARIZONA at DETROIT Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Lions favored by 4

Records: Cardinals 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Lions 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: Arizona has won 4 of the last 5 meetings, including 2 of the last 3 at Detroit.

Game Summary: Many consider the Cardinals the worst team in the league, but consider veterans Jeff Blake and Emmitt Smith on offense with a decent offensive line. Detroit will be improved this season, but I like the mild upset out of the gate.

Prediction: CARDINALS, 19-16

Cardinals:
none

Lion:
RB James Stewart (out for the season)

Cardinals:
QB JBlake might be a fair sleeper pick, along with WR BGilmore. RBs ESmith and MShipp will both get carries.

Lions:
Expect RBs SBryson and newly-acquired OGary to split duty. QB JHarrington has many targets to pick from, but none are impressive... yet.

ATLANTA at DALLAS Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Cowboys favored by 2

Records: Falcons 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Cowboys 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: The Falcons beat Dallas last year at home, 20-13. The home team has won the last five in this series.

Game Summary: All streaks must end, and so shall the home teams' run. I like the Falcons because of better balance on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: FALCONS, 17-10

Falcons:
QB Michael Vick (out)

Cowboys:
WR Antonio Bryant (out)

Falcons:
Defense will rule the day. RB WDunn and WR PPrice are iffy plays. Avoid others.

Cowboys:
RB THambrick is a play only in deeper leagues. WR JGalloway deserves a shot, but WR TGlenn risky at best. The Dallas defense is OK.

CHICAGO at SAN FRANCISCO Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: 49ers favored by 7

Records: Bears 0-0 (0-0 ATS), 49ers 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: Chicago won the last meeting, in 2001 at Chicago, 37-31. But SF hasn't lost at home to the Bears since 1984.

Game Summary: Looking to get Coach Dennis Erickson's regime off on the right foot, the Niners roll over an outmanned foe.

Prediction: 49ERS, 27-17

Bears:
none

49ers:
none

Bears:
QB KStewart and WR MBooker are decent choices, but the RB scenario is too iffy.

49ers:
QB JGarcia appears healthy, and should hook up with WRs TOwens and TStreets often. If you must use a Niners' RB, go with GHearst.

NEW ORLEANS at SEATTLE Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Seahawks favored by 3

Records: Saints 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Seahawks 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: New Orleans was 5-3 ATS on the road last year, Seattle 3-5 at home.

Game Summary: Good matchup between teams with similar strengths and weaknesses. Key turnover decides it, and I like the host Seahawks.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 31-24

Saints:
none

Seahawks:
none

Saints:
QB ABrooks, RB DMcAlister, WR JHorn all excellent plays. WRs JPathon and DStallworth good in larger leagues.

Seahawks:
I like all of Seattle's main skill guys, but stay away from the defense.

OAKLAND at TENNESSEE Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Titans favored by 3

Records: Raiders 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Titans 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: Rematch of AFC Title Game won by Raiders, who also won a regular season game over the Titans while scoring more than 40 points both times. Both those contests were at Oakland, however.

Game Summary: The host Titans will be ultra-motivated, and the Raiders did not look like their potent selves in the preseason.

Prediction: TITANS, 34-20 *Pick of the Week

Raiders:
none

Titans:
none

Raiders:
Although the team has struggled, QB RGannon, RB CGarner, and three big WRs all should be in fantasy lineups.

Titans:
Beyond the obvious plays of QB SMcNair, RB EGeorge and WR DMason, TE FWycheck, K JNedney and WR DBennett are decent as well.

TAMPA BAY at PHILADELPHIA (Mon.) Key Injuries Fantasy Take

Line: Eagles favored by 2 1/2

Records: Bucs 0-0 (0-0 ATS), Eagles 0-0 (0-0 ATS).

Stats Worth Noting: Prior to last year's NFC Title Game, won by the eventual Super Bowl champion Bucs, 27-10, Philly had dominated this season, both home and away.

Game Summary: Similar to the Sunday night matchup, I like home team revenge to be a major factor.

Prediction: EAGLES, 17-12

Bucs:
none

Eagles:
none

Bucs:
None of the Bucs' offensive players, including WR KJohnson, are automatic plays. I do like K MGramatica and, of course, the Bucs D.

Eagles:
Even against the NFL's best defense, you have to play QB DMcNabb. RB CBuckhalter is a decent sleeper, and I like WR TPinkston as well as K DAkers and the Eagles D/ST.