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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 5
By Bob Cunningham
October 2, 2003
 
STRAIGHT-UP
Last Week -- 7-7 (50%)
Overall -- 31-29 (51.7%)
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Last Week -- 6-7-1 (46%)
Overall -- 23-34-3 (40.4%)
PREMIUM PICKS*
Last Week -- 0-1
Overall -- 1-3 (25%)

OK, I know when I'm licked. Don't get me wrong, here... I'm not giving up. I will continue to put out my predictions week after week, and get my teeth metaphorically kicked in for my trouble. I will stick with my methods that have worked for me more often than not prior to this season... I mean, I hit 64% against the spread FOR THE SEASON in 1994 and eclipsed 60% two other times since then. Only once, in 2001, have I ever finished a season under break-even.

So this stretch I'm in is tough to accept. Still, I will see it through to the end.

But I've decided to recruit some help along the way.

Let's make my anemic prognosticating performance of 2003 to date more interesting. For those of you who believe (know) that you can do better, I ask that you submit your predicted final scores for NEXT WEEK's games... I'm talking Week 6, Oct. 12-13... and I will use the consensus of your picks as my predictions. You need to e-mail them to me, to bobcunnin@aol.com, no later than Wed., Oct. 8, 9 a.m. PST. To those who submit, I will go with the majority selection on each and every game using average predicted score.

I'm having trouble getting this thing turned around on my own, so I ask for your aid. It'll be fun.

In the meantime, away we go with Week 5:

PREVIEW - WEEK 5 (Oct. 5-6)

TENNESSEE at NEW ENGLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 1 1/2

Records: Titans 3-1 (3-1 ATS); Patriots 2-2 (2-1-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Titans prevailed last season at home, 24-7.

Game Summary: Tennessee QB Steve McNair is playing at his highest level ever. He may be football's most complete QB and the Titans defense is also playing well. The Patriots, as home 'dogs, are tempting. But QB Tom Brady is still battling a bum elbow and the team's running game is anemic.

Prediction: TITANS, 23-16

Titans:
WR DMason was an afterthought last week, so expect him to rebound with a strong game, at the expense of other targets.

Patriots:
None of the Pats are especially good plays, except K AVinatieri, but QB TBrady worth a shot in larger leagues.

Titans:
TE Frank Wycheck (prob)

Patriots:
RB Kevin Faulk (ques)
WR David Patten (ques)
TE Daniel Graham (ques)
LB Ted Johnson (out)
DL Roosevelt Colvin (out)
DB Ty Law (ques)

CINCINNATI at BUFFALO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bills favored by 8

Records: Bengals 1-3 (2-2 ATS), Bills 2-2 (2-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Bills whipped the Bengals in last year's regular season finale, 27-9.

Game Summary: It's been my observation that low-level teams have a hard time follow-ing strong efforts with a similar one. Buffalo, on the other hand, has endured back-to-back pathetic offensive performances. If RB Travis Henry returns, as expected, I like the Bills to pull away early. If Henry sits, well, I like Buffalo anyway.

Prediction: BILLS, 35-13

Bengals:
QB JKitna is fast becoming a reliable fantasy alternative. WR CJohnson is the go-to guy and the big-play man. Ignore RBs BBennett and RJohnson in CDillon's absence.

Bills:
Last week, I said QB DBledsoe likely to rebound, so maybe this week he actually will. WR EMoulds a must, and WR BShaw a reasonable play in deep leagues. Go with the defense as well.

Bengals:
RB Corey Dillon (doubt)

Bills:
RB Travis Henry (ques)
RB Sammy Morris (out)

MIAMI at NEW YORK GIANTS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Even

Records: Dolphins 2-1 (2-1 ATS), Giants 2-1(2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: A quality clash of titans (no pun intended), with defense the key for both sides. It's the running of RB Ricky Williams against the downfield passing game of QB Kerry Collins and WR Amani Toomer. At home, the Giants get it done.

Prediction: GIANTS, 20-14

Dolphins:
RB RWilliams will be used heavily again, with WR CChambers the only other legit option offensively. Miami D usually worth a play.

Giants:
Don't figure on big numbers for the Giants, but it's tough to overlook QB KCollins, RB TBarber or WR AToomer. Play the Giants D/ST.

Dolphins:
none

Giants:
WR Ike Hilliard (prob)
DT Keith Hamilton (ques)

DENVER at KANSAS CITY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 3 1/2

Records: Broncos 4-0 (3-1 ATS); Chiefs 4-0 (4-0 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Chiefs have won 8 of the last 12 meetings at KC, but are 6-6 ATS in that span. At Denver, the Broncos have won three straight.

Game Summary: Something has to give between two unbeaten teams. The status of RB Clinton Portis is big, but not as big as KC's ability to force QB Jake Plummer into just enough mistakes. Host Chiefs keep it goin'.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 27-20

Broncos:
Denver's offense has been so solid, you have to keep the principals in your lineup, but skip the D.

Chiefs:
Play everyone who's had a big role in their 4-0 start, because if it ain't broke you should not try to fix it.

Broncos:
RB Clinton Portis (ques)

Chiefs:
none

OAKLAND at CHICAGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Raiders favored by 4

Records: Raiders 2-2 (0-4 ATS), Bears 0-3 (0-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: See above -- both teams combined are 0 for 7 ATS.

Game Summary: The Oakland offense got its act together just in time against San Diego, and the feast should continue against the woe-ful Bears, who simply can't muster enough offense to keep up. The short week won't do Chicago any good, either.

Prediction: RAIDERS, 30-17

Raiders:
QB RGannon and WRs JRice and TBrown as musts. TE DJolley also a good option. RBs situation more cloudy. Go with CGarner only if you need to.

Bears:
RB AThomas and WR MBooker are it.

Raiders:
WR Jerry Porter (doubt)
LB Bill Romanowski (doubt)

Bears:
none

ARIZONA at DALLAS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Cowboys favored by 7 1/2

Records: Cardinals 1-3 (1-3 ATS); Cowboys 2-1 (2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has dominated this former division rivalry in recent years, winning four in a row ATS and straight-up.

Game Summary: With all due respect to Cowboys fans, I'm not convinced. The win over the Giants was impressive, but falls under the blind squirrel theorem. And the Jets? Puh-lease. The Cardinals aren't any good, either, but they're well-coached, RB Emmitt Smith will be motivated to have a big day, and the young Cowboys might look ahead to rival Philly next week. Expect a close one.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 20-17

Cardinals:
Sure, go ahead and give RB ESmith a whirl. QB JBlake and WR ABoldin also.

Cowboys:
This is the week to play RB THambrick, and the improved passing game's WR trio of JGalloway, TGlenn and ABryant are also good plays. Ditto the Dallas D.

Cardinals:
WR Jason McAddley (out)

Cowboys:
none

MINNESOTA at ATLANTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 4

Records: Vikings 4-0 (4-0 ATS), Falcons 1-3 (1-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Falcons have won the last two meetings in this series, including the 1998 NFC Title Game.

Game Summary: This is a dangerous stop for the Vikes, because Atlanta should be considered dangerous. Remember, the Falcons were a playoff team last year. Even without QB Michael Vick... nah, forget it. I've fallen into that trap before. This game is in a dome, so it's home away from home for the Vikes.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 38-24

Vikings:
QB DCulpepper is expected back, but I'd stick with GFrerotte if I were the Vikes, and let the franchise guy get fully healthy. Play just about any Viking you can get your keyboard on.

Falcons:
RBs WDunn and TJDuckett are worthy, as is WR PPrice and TE ACrumpler. Price has to break out at some point.

Vikings:
QB Daunte Culpepper (ques)
RB Michael Bennett (out)
WR D'Wayne Bates (ques)

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

SEATTLE at GREEN BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 2 1/2

Records: Seahawks 3-0 (2-1 ATS), Packers 2-2 (2-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none

Game Summary: A special game for Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, undoubtedly. The Packers are scary in their erratic play, but it's usually a safe play to take them at home. Coming off a strong performance at Chicago, Green Bay is the play.

Prediction: PACKERS, 24-20

Seahawks:
Expect a ton of RB Shaun Alexander, with QB MHasselbeck and WRs KRobinson and DJackson also solid choices. The defense/ special teams risky.

Packers:
RB AGreen the only certain play, but I also like QB BFavre and WR DDriver. TE BFranks good in big leagues. Skip the rest.

Seahawks:
DL Chad Eaton (out)
DB Shawn Springs (out)

Packers:
DB Bryant Westbrook (injured reserve)

NEW ORLEANS at CAROLINA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 7

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

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team is 3-1 ATS and straight-up since 2000.

Game Summary: Although these teams appear headed in opposite directions, it was so recent that they were flip-flopped, that I'm going with this one as my upset special... mainly because I don't believe Carolina is capable of exploiting the Saints' main weaknesses. And New Orleans' offensive personnel is arguably better than any the Panthers have faced to date. There's at least one shocker every week... and this is the one.

Prediction: SAINTS, 23-20

Saints:
Despite the tough site, QB ABrooks, RB DMcAlister and WR JHorn are reasonable plays. I also like the Saints D to rebound from the pathetic effort against Indy.

Panthers:
Defense and a good running game can take you far. Fantasy-wise, though, RB SDavis and the D are it as far as Carolina goes.

Saints:
DB Dale Carter (out)
KR Michael Lewis (out)

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

SAN DIEGO at JACKSONVILLE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jaguars favored by 3

Records: Chargers 0-4 (1-3 ATS), Jaguars 0-4 (1-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none.

Game Summary: Like the Broncos-Chiefs game, something has to give (in reverse, of course). On paper, the Chargers are the superior team. Jacksonville's D is unlikely to have an answer for RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and WR David Boston returns, perhaps a more focused receiver. Jax WR Jimmy Smith returns after a 4-game suspension. It remains to be seen what his impact will be.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 17-14

Chargers:
In larger leagues, WR DBoston is a good upside play. RB LTomlinson the only no-brainer.

Jaguars:
Doesn't matter which QB starts, because you should avoid either for now. RB FTaylor and WR JSmith should be good to go.

Chargers:
WR Reche Caldwell (out)
TE Stephen Alexander (out)

Jaguars:
QB Mark Brunell (ques)
WR/KR Jermaine Lewis (injured reserve)

WASHINGTON at PHILADELPHIA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 5

Records: Redskins 3-1 (1-2-1 ATS), Eagles 1-2 (1-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Eagles have won the last three meetings each by two TDs or more, but Washington won at Philly two years ago, 13-3.

Game Summary: The spread strikes me a high, which means the Skins' aren't getting any more love from bettors than they have from me. Truth is, I don't consider the Eagles as cured of their early-season woes just because they managed to win at Buffalo. Their defense is still short-handed. And they're 0-2 at home. Tough call, so I'll split the difference.

Prediction: EAGLES, 24-20

Redskins:
Only WR LColes is worth a play across the board. WR RGardner an option in larger leagues, as is the Redskins teams.

Eagles:
QB DMcNabb is still on the fence fantasy-wise, although for the first time in my life, I disagree with Rush Limbaugh. RB DStaley and the defense are OK, but I don't recom-mend the receivers.

Redskins:
TE Zeron Flemister (prob)
DL Brandon Noble (out)

Eagles:
LB Jerome McDougle (doubt)
DB Bobby Taylor (ques)
DB Troy Vincent (ques)
DB Brian Dawkins (out)

DETROIT at SAN FRANCISCO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: 49ers favored by 7

Records: Lions 1-3 (2-2 ATS), 49ers 1-3 (1-2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The 49ers have owned this series in recent years, winning the last five meetings both straight-up and ATS.

Game Summary: This is the second straight tough road stop for the Lions, who haven't won away from Michigan since 2000. The Niners will be highly motivated to turn it around. Expect a blowout in Mariucci Bowl I.

Prediction: 49ERS, 31-10

Lions:
Fuhgetabout it.

49ers:
This much I know -- WR TOwens will get 15 balls thrown his direction. He and QB JGarcia will get it going. Look for more RB KBarlow and a little less RB GHearst. The defense will also rebound.

Lions:
RB James Stewart (out)
WR Shawn Jefferson (ques)

49ers:
TE Eric Johnson (out)

CLEVELAND at PITTSBURGH Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Steelers favored by 7

Records: Browns 1-3 (1-3 ATS), Steelers 2-2 (2-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Four of the last five meetings have been decided by a field goal, including the last two at Pittsburgh (both last season).

Game Summary: More often than not, you can throw out the records when these two get together - bigtime rivalry. Both are coming off deeply disappointing losses. Health of QB KHolcomb may be the key for Cleveland. Because of his uncertain status, Pittsburgh is the play here, at home.

Prediction: STEELERS, 27-14

Browns:
The latest report at this writing is that QB TCouch will start. I'd pass (pun intended), except for the largest leagues. WRs still risky because too many of them. RB WGreen not a good play.

Steelers:
Both RBs, AZereoue and JBettis, are OK starts to go with QB TMaddox and WR HWard. WR PBurress also a go if you can confirm he's playing. I like the Steelers teams this week, too.

Browns:
QB Kelly Holcomb(doubt)
WR Dennis Northcutt (prob)

Steelers:
WR Plaxico Burress (ques)
TE Jay Riemersma (ques)

INDIANAPOLIS at TAMPA BAY (Monday) Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Buccaneers favored by 4 1/2

Records: Colts 4-0 (4-0 ATS), Bucs 2-1 (2-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none.

Game Summary: A lot hinges on Colts RB Edgerrin James, without whom I don't believe Indy can win. The dynamic passing attack will be slowed significant by the Bucs, but the Colts' D might forge the upset if the running game can maintain possession... Ah, but I don't think so. Indy's impressive run ends here in the first Dungy Bowl.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 24-17

Colts:
RB EJames, if he starts, should put up decent numbers. QB PManning and WR MHarrison should never be benched (except for injury).

Buccaneers:
Except for the defense and K MGramatica, there are no auto plays. But QB BJohnson, WR KJohnson and RB MPittman are worthy of consideration.

Colts:
RB Edgerrin James (ques)

Buccaneers:
WR Joe Jurevicius (out)
LB Shelton Quarles (out)