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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 4
By Bob Cunningham
September 25, 2003
 
STRAIGHT-UP
Last Week -- 7-7 (50%)
Overall -- 24-22 (52.2%)
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Last Week -- 5-9 (40%)
Overall -- 17-27-2 (40%)
PREMIUM PICKS*
Last Week -- 0-2
Overall -- 1-2 (33%)

What it all boils down to, I have to admit, is that one of the things we most enjoy about the NFL is the same aspect that is playing havoc with my ability to pick games -- unpredictability.

Although the season is only three weeks old, I've already been forced to re-think some of my preseason musings. My belief that Green Bay's injury woes were minor, and that the Pack was the clear favorite in its division (not to mention my choice for the Super Bowl), was clearly misguided. I had two readers e-mail me before the openers to inform me that I was a bonehead for picking the Pack. So far, it looks like they're right. I'm also guilty of under-estimating Kansas City, over-rating St. Louis, and selling the Redskins short. I must again point out, however, that there's a ton of football still to be played. An NFL champion is never crowned in September.

Yes, I'm well aware of my three straight losing weeks ATS, and also quite perturbed by my 0-for-2 showing with last week's premium picks. But here's two things to consider: 1) I always get better as the season progresses, and 2) I'm so consistently bad right now that you can simply pick the opposite of me, right down the line, and be a regular winner.

So you see... my predictions do serve a purpose.

What's really plaguing me, though, is that I've gotten away from some of my old prognosticating "habits". For example, I never used to go against Miami at home early in the season. But they stumble in their opener and I'm quick to go against the grain of my own Super Bowl pick. The Dolphins at home on national TV last week, even against a then-unbeaten Buffalo team, should have been a no-brainer for me. I have to stick by what has worked for me predominantly over the years.

It's time to right the ship. Won't you come aboard? (geez, I can't believe I wrote that).

PREVIEW - WEEK 4 (Sept 28-29)

NEW ENGLAND at WASHINGTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Redskins favored by 3

Records: Patriots 2-1 (2-1 ATS); Redskins 2-1 (1-1-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: All three of Washington's games have been decided by a field goal or less.

Game Summary: The Redskins are obviously vastly improved, and have a legitimate shot at taking this one at home. But New England is rounding into form, and I still consider the Patriots the better team right now... as long as QB Tom Brady can get time to throw.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-16

Patriots:
No big numbers from this game, but QB TBrady still a play, along with WR TBrown. Also go with the Pats defense/ special teams.

Redskins:
QB PRamsey is getting it done, and WR LColes is an every-week player. WR RGardner and the Skins teams are fine in bigger leagues.

Patriots:
LB Ted Johnson (out)
DL Roosevelt Colvin (out)

Redskins:
none

PHILADELPHIA at BUFFALO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bills favored by 3

Records: Eagles 0-2 (0-2 ATS), Bills 2-1 (2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Buffalo has won the last three meetings.

Game Summary: Philly is in a world of hurt. Two lopsided home losses have the Eagles, a Super Bowl favorite of many, nearing a hole that they're unlikely to recover from. If points are awarded for desperation, give the Eagles the nod. Buffalo has to rebound from its relatively poor effort at Miami... but I can't help but think that QB Donovan McNabb is going to come to the rescue here, if only the injury-depleted Eagles D can amply support him and the offense. Upset time.

Prediction: EAGLES, 20-17

Eagles:
QB DMcNabb will come up big if my hunch is correct. WR TPinkston likely to be top target. RB DStaley in larger leagues, and the Philly D due for a big effort.

Bills:
QB DBledsoe likely to rebound from poor game at Miami, WR EMoulds an obvious choice, and WR BShaw a better option than WR JReed. Avoid the running game if RB THenry doesn't play.

Eagles:
DB Brian Dawkins (out)
DB Bobby Taylor (ques)

Bills:
RB Travis Henry (ques)

CINCINNATI at CLEVELAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Browns favored by 6

Records: Bengals 0-3 (1-2 ATS), Browns 1-2(1-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Cleveland has won the last three meetings outright, and is 7-1 in its last eight at home in this series.

Game Summary: The Browns put together an inspired effort in their upset at San Francisco, but they're clearly a highly unpredictable team. The Bengals have a long way to go before they can be taken seriously on a weekly basis.

Prediction: BROWNS, 27-13

Bengals:
RB Brandon Bennett is a decent choice in bigger leagues if CDillon sits out. QB JKitna an OK play because of lots of pass attempts.

Browns:
RB WGreen will get plenty of work, with QB KHolcomb hobbled. Skip either Holcomb or TCouch unless you're certain before kickoff who will get the nod. WRs a rotating mess, but DNorthcutt not a factor this week.

Bengals:
RB Corey Dillon (ques)
TE Matt Schobel (ques)

Browns:
QB Kelly Holcomb (ques)
WR Dennis Northcutt (ques)

TENNESSEE at PITTSBURGH Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Steelers favored by 3

Records: Titans 2-1 (2-1 ATS); Steelers 2-1 (2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Titans have won the last two meetings, but the home team has won four of the last five. Pittsburgh is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.

Game Summary: An even clash, with the Steelers' vaunted air attack up against a pretty fair pass defense. The game might be decided by Tennessee's offensive success against the Steelers... but I like Pittsburgh to prevail at home in a fairly high-scoring contest.

Prediction: STEELERS, 31-24

*(premium pick)

Titans:
QB SMcNair and the passing attack is a good bet to be pro-ductive. WR DMason still the top choice, with WR JMcCareins getting several balls thrown his way. RB EGeorge a lukewarm play. Bypass teams.

Steelers:
Play all the prime players involved in the passing game, bench the RBs. Defense a risky play.

Titans:
TE Frank Wycheck (out)

Steelers:
none

JACKSONVILLE at HOUSTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jaguars favored by 3

Records: Jaguars 0-3 (1-2 ATS), Texans 1-2 (1-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The teams split last year, both games decided by 3 points or less and won by the visitor.

Game Summary: The Texans have been pitted against two powerful offenses the last two weeks, so facing the Jaguars represents a break. Still, Jacksonville is better balanced despite being winless and has played relatively tough in all three of its defeats.

Prediction: JAGUARS, 21-13

Jaguars:
RB FTaylor should do well, with QB MBrunell and WR MHatchette worth consideration. The Jags defense is a good play in larger leagues, too.

Texans:
WR AJohnson had 2 TDs last week and remains a good option, as does WR CBrad-ford. QB DCarr still risky on a weekly basis. Skip the RBs.

Jaguars:
QB Mark Brunell (prob)
WR Jimmy Smith (out- susp.)
WR Jermaine Lewis (injured reserve)

Texans:
RB Domanick Davis (ques)

SAN FRANCISCO at MINNESOTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 3*

Records: 49ers 1-2 (1-1-1 ATS); Vikings 3-0 (3-0 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Vikings have covered in three straight at home against the 49ers, but the last meeting was 1998.

Game Summary: If QB Daunte Culpepper can't play, veteran Gus Frerotte is a capable fill-in. The Vikings are playing well on both sides of the ball, and the 49ers are coming off a sloppy performance at home. I'd like to go with SF, because the 49ers need the game a lot more than Minnesota does. But the con-fident Vikings are the pick at home.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 28-20

* Estimated spread. Official line unavailable.

49ers:
The offense will perform better - you should feel fine playing all the primary weapons, including either RB (KBarlow, GHearst).

Vikings:
If you own Culpepper, you should have already stashed Frerotte on your roster. RB MWilliams and WR RMoss are sure plays, regardless of who the QB is.

49ers:
TE Eric Johnson (out)

Vikings:
QB Daunte Culpepper (ques)
RB Michael Bennett (out)
RB Doug Chapman (ques)
WR Randy Moss (prob)
WR D'Wayne Bates (ques)
TE Byron Chamberlain (out, suspension)

ARIZONA at ST. LOUIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 10 1/2

Records: Cardinals 1-2 (1-2 ATS), Rams 1-2 (1-1-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team covered in both games last year, although the Rams swept straight-up. The Rams are 2-6 ATS in their last eight as double-digit home favorites.

Game Summary: On paper, the game should be fairly close. But I don't think it will be. Much-maligned, the Rams may come out a little annoyed and take it out on the Cardinals, who are outclassed in terms of personnel.

Prediction: RAMS, 35-17

Cardinals:
QB JBlake a sneaky good play, except I'm not sure who he'll be throwing to. Rookie WR ABoldin best of a bad/injured lot. RB ESmith just not fantasy-worthy so far.

Rams:
Play everyone, includ-ing RB Lamar Gordon, and watch the feathers fly.

Cardinals:
WR Kevin Kasper (ques)
WR Larry Foster (prob)
WR Bryan Gilmore (prob)
WR Jason McAddley (out)

Rams:
RB Marshall Faulk (out)

KANSAS CITY at BALTIMORE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 3

Records: Chiefs 3-0 (3-0 ATS), Ravens 2-1 (2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none

Game Summary: Classic clash of potent offense against stifling defense. The Chiefs are playing so well, it's tough to picture them losing to anyone, but the Ravens have a defense led by LB Ray Lewis that is likely to be up for the challenge. If Baltimore can run the ball behind red-hot RB Jamal Lewis and control the clock, they can win it.

Prediction: RAVENS, 23-20

Chiefs:
All the offensive principals are plays, because the team is hot. Go with the defense as well.

Ravens:
Only RB Jamal Lewis is an automatic play, but I still like the defense/ST and TE Todd Heap, too. Skip the rest.

Chiefs:
none

Ravens:
none

SAN DIEGO at OAKLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Raiders favored by 7

Records: Chargers 0-3 (0-3 ATS), Raiders 1-2 (0-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Chargers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 at Oakland, and upset the Raiders outright last season.

Game Summary: Both teams are playing poorly, but at least the Raiders have a victory and have shown some signs of success. For whatever reason, these two almost always play close games... no reason to believe this one will be any different.

Prediction: RAIDERS, 24-19

Chargers:
The passing game has been so bad, it should be ignored until it shows signs of a breakthrough. Even WR DBoston a risky play. RB LTomlinson is it.

Raiders:
QB RGannon and WRs JRice and TBrown are OK, but the running game is unreliable. Against this defense, however, go ahead and retain CGarner.

Chargers:
WR Reche Caldwell (out)

Raiders:
WR Jerry Porter (out)
DB Rod Woodson (ques)

DALLAS at NEW YORK JETS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jets favored by 3

Records: Cowboys 1-1 (1-1 ATS), Jets 0-3 (0-2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: A scheduling oddity has Dallas with two games at the New Jersey Meadowlands sandwiched around a bye. Jets are 4-15 ATS in last 19 Sept. home games.

Game Summary: The Jets are winless, but played well enough to win at New England except for some problems catching the ball. Dallas upset the Giants, then had a week to ponder it. Mentally, they'll be fresh. Still, the Jets appear to be rounding into form... this measures up as their first win.

Prediction: JETS, 27-16

Cowboys:
The offense perked up a week ago Monday but still isn't fantasy-worthy, save for WR JGalloway.

Jets:
QB VTestaverde has value in yardage leagues, but the run-ning game is still absent. WRs SMoss, CConway and WChre-bet are all fair plays, as is TE ABecht.

Cowboys:
WR Antonio Bryant (ques)
DB Roy Williams (prob)

Jets:
QB Chad Pennington (out)

DETROIT at DENVER Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Broncos favored by 13

Records: Lions 1-2 (1-2 ATS), Broncos 3-0 (3-0 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none

Game Summary: A lot will depend on the health of the RBs, because without a legit ground game Denver figures to struggle even against the likes of the Lions. Then again, the Broncos defense is playing so well these days it may not matter.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 27-10

Lions:
Don't expect much from anyone.

Broncos:
Just who will get the majority of carries remains to be seen. QB JPlummer not a great choice when asked to carry an offense. Individually, all the receivers are solid plays, as is the defense/ST.

Lions:
RB James Stewart (out)

Broncos:
RB Clinton Portis (prob)
RB Mike Anderson (ques)

ATLANTA at CAROLINA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 6

Records: Falcons 1-2 (1-2 ATS), Panthers 2-0 (1-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Falcons have won the last five meetings, and swept last season's series by a combined 71-0.

Game Summary: I'm guessing that this is a big revenge game for the Panthers, who were humiliated twice last season. Without QB Michael Vick, the Falcons simply aren't the same team that went to the playoffs a year ago.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 20-9

Falcons:
It's my opinion that every Falcon should be bypassed. If you must consider one, it's TE Alge Crumpler.

Panthers:
Expect another huge dose of RB SDavis. The Carolina passing game still isn't worth much. The defense/special teams are a definite play.

Falcons:
QB Michael Vick (out)
WR Brian Finneran (out)

Panthers:
WR Kevin Dyson (out)
DL Kavika Pittman (injured reserve)

INDIANAPOLIS at NEW ORLEANS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 2

Records: Colts 3-0 (3-0 ATS), Saints 1-2 (1-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Saints have beaten Indy in each of the last three meetings, including a 34-20 win at home in 2001.

Game Summary: Admittedly, I'm often partial to home underdogs on national TV. The Saints typically respond well to these types of matchups early in seasons, and the Colts don't... although that habit is changing under coach Tony Dungy.

Prediction: SAINTS, 24-21

Colts:
Play all the key personnel, including the much-improved defense.

Saints:
Look for RB DMcAlis-ter to rebound from an awful performance against the Titans last week. QB ABrooks and WRs JHorn and DStallworth are decent, with Horn overdue for a large effort.

Colts:
RB Edgerrin James (ques)
WR Brandon Stokley (ques)

Saints:
TE David Sloan (out)
DB Dale Carter (out)

GREEN BAY at CHICAGO (Monday) Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 4

Records: Packers 1-2 (1-2 ATS), Bears 0-2 (0-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Packers have dominated this rivalry in recent years, with nine straight wins at Chicago, including a 7-2 mark ATS.

Game Summary: Green Bay has been scary in its inconsistency, and simply looked awful at Arizona last week. But at least the Pack has one good week under its belt. The Bears were thrashed in their opener and beaten at Minnesota the week before the bye. The offense is a mess, the defense only slightly better. Look for QB Brett Favre and company to rebound for Green Bay

Prediction: PACKERS, 31-16

Packers:
The passing game will get well -- that means QB BFavre, but the WR/TE situation is cluttered. I suggest you give this another week to sort out. The defense has been poor, but isn't a bad play in this matchup.

Bears:
Unless you believe the home-on-Monday-Night thing will work for them, I'd leave all Bears on the bench with the exception of WR MBooker.

Packers:
WR Robert Ferguson (ques)
TE Wesley Walls (ques)

Bears:
QB Kordell Stewart (prob)