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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 8
By Bob Cunningham
October 23, 2003
 
STRAIGHT-UP
Last Week -- 8-6 (57%)
Overall -- 56-46 (55%)
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Last Week -- 8-6 (57%)
Overall -- 43-55-4 (44%)
PREMIUM PICKS*
Last Week -- 1-1
O verall -- 5-6 (45%)

OK, a winning week is a winning week. The way this season has gone, I'll take what I can get.

Damn Ravens.

This is typically about the time of year where results become a bit more predictable, but some things can always be counted on... namely, that the NFL has become so freakin' volatile that it's a miracle anyone can make heads or tails of anything beyond the coin toss.

Onward, we go...

PREVIEW - WEEK 8 (Oct. 26-27)

CLEVELAND at NEW ENGLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 5 1/2

Records: Browns 3-4 (3-4 ATS), Patriots 5-2 (6-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Pats' upset win at Miami increased their ATS winning streak to six. Patriots won the last meeting at Foxboro, 27-16, in 2001.

Game Summary: Right out of the gate, we have my weekly upset special. Why? Because the Browns have been road warriors under coach Butch Davis, because the Patriots are due for a letdown after the big win at Miami, because QB Kelly Holcomb is expected to reclaim his starting job, and because of the law of averages. Every week, there's a fairly significant shocker... and it's my job to unearth that gem for you (yeah, right).

Prediction: BROWNS, 20-17

Browns:
The defense won't have a big-game RB to deal with, so expect a decent effort. Holcomb a sleeper choice but take your pick among the WRs. RB William Green should be sat, because of his ques-tionable health status.

Patriots:
If you can determine which RB will get the most carries, he's worth a shot. Good luck. QB Tom Brady and WR Troy Brown are good to go.

Browns:
RB William Green (ques)
TE Aaron Shea (injured reserve)

Patriots:
RB Antowain Smith (ques)
LB Roosevelt Colvin (injured reserve)
LB Ted Johnson (out)

DENVER at BALTIMORE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 1 1/2

Records: Broncos 5-2 (4-3 ATS), Ravens 3-3 (3-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Ravens have won 3 straight meetings, including a 34-23 victory at home last season.

Game Summary: If QB Jake Plummer were healthy, I'd like the Broncos' chances a lot better. But Danny Kanell? I just don't see him doing much with a ticked-off Ravens defense, and RB Clinton Portis can't do it alone. On the other hand, RB Jamal Lewis may have to do it alone for Baltimore. Actually, QB Kyle Boller will be fine because he'll rebound and limit his mistakes, which were plentiful at Cincinnati last week.

Prediction: RAVENS, 24-14

Broncos:
Portis is an elite player who, in my opinion, should never be pined regardless of the matchup. But much of the Denver attack is a big risk. TE Shannon Sharpe is a decent play, because Kanell is likely to throw a lot of dump-offs.

Ravens:
RB Jamal Lewis and the defense are obvious, and WR Travis Taylor is a good sleeper coming off a career day. I'd avoid Boller if I were you, with TE Todd Heap the only other real option.

Broncos:
QB Jake Plummer (out)
QB Steve Beuerlein (injured reserve)
WR Ed McCaffrey (ques)
LB Ian Gold (injured reserve)

Ravens:
none

ST. LOUIS at PITTSBURGH Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Steelers favored by 1 1/2

Records: Rams 4-2 (4-1-1 ATS), Steelers 2-4(3-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Pittsburgh has dominated this series at home, but the teams haven't met since a 1998 Steelers rout on Monday Night Football.

Game Summary: This is the Rams' first road game in more than a month, and it's away from home where they've struggled. The Steelers have had an extra week to prepare and need the game desperately, although they have lost their last two home games and three in a row overall.

Prediction: STEELERS, 24-20

Rams:
If neither of RBs Marshall Faulk or Lamar Gordon can go, rookie Arlen Harris gets the call -- avoid at any cost. The passing game might do fine, though. Stick with the hot hands of QB Mark Bulger and WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Steelers:
RB Jerome Bettis has regained a starting role -- he should get plenty of work trying to offset the Rams' speedy D. QB Tommy Maddox and WRs Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress are definite plays, but the Steelers defense and special teams might be better off sidelined.

Rams:
RB Marshall Faulk (ques)
RB Lamar Gordon (ques)

Steelers:
TE Jay Riemersma (doubt)

SEATTLE at CINCINNATI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Seahawks favored by 1 1/2

Records: Seahawks 5-1 (2-4 ATS), Bengals 2-4 (4-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none.

Game Summary: Admittedly, I have a hard time accepting that the Bengals might actually be a decent team. Something embedded in my brain that prevents such an acknowledgement, sort of like knowing that the Cubs weren't going to make it to the World Series... This is a close call, but Seattle is the better team because it has a much more diversified attack than Baltimore posed last week.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 27-17

Seahawks:
Play all the primary offensive players, and the defense as well in larger leagues.

Bengals:
QB Jon Kitna has quietly become an effective fantasy guy, as RB Corey Dillon has always been. WR Chad Johnson the only auto-play among receivers. The defense is a pass.

Seahawks:
DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)

Bengals:
none

TENNESSEE at JACKSONVILLE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 3 1/2

Records: Titans 5-2 (5-2 ATS); Jaguars 1-5 (2-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Titans have won the last three meetings, including a 28-10 romp at Jacksonville last season.

Game Summary: Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher is an excellent motivator -- his team rarely plays down to the level of the competition. After a huge road win at Carolina last week, the potential for a letdown is there. But this is a divisional game, and Tennessee is playing at virtually full throttle. A rookie QB like Jax's Byron Leftwich is overmatched.

Prediction: TITANS, 31-14 (premium pick)

Titans:
All the offensive principles are plays, including RB Eddie George. WRs Drew Bennett, Tyrone Calico and Justin McCareins are worth a look in bigger leagues.

Jaguars:
RB Fred Taylor and WR Jimmy Smith are it. Don't even remotely consider anyone... or anything... else.

Titans:
DB Samari Rolle (out)

Jaguars:
QB Mark Brunell (out)
WR Jermaine Lewis (injured reserve)

NEW YORK GIANTS at MINNESOTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 6

Records: Giants 2-4 (2-4 ATS), Vikings 6-0 (6-0 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: These teams have met at Minnesota in each of the last two seasons, splitting those games. The Giants won last year, 27-20.

Game Summary: The Giants are going so badly right now, it's difficult to envision them getting well in this match-up. But if need factors into the equation, well, the G-Men need this game a whole lot more than the Vikes. Giants coach Jim Fassel is pretty good at repeating previous successes, and the Vikes can be had by solid defensive play. What has really plagued NY is turnovers -- and that can be halted on any given week. They won at Minnesota last year, and they repeat the feat. Upset special II.

Prediction: GIANTS, 24-21

Giants:
RB Tiki Barber will get a big workload, his fantasy owners will likely be satisfied. QB Kerry Collins and WR Amani Toomer are risk/reward plays. TE Jeremy Shockey is a definite in leagues with separate TE category.

Vikings:
Play the obvious guys, and also consider less obvious ones like WRs Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson, but only if D'Wayne Bates sits again.

Giants:
none

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

DALLAS at TAMPA BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Buccaneers favored by 6 1/2

Records: Cowboys 5-1 (5-1 ATS), Buccaneers 3-3 (3-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Bucs won the last meeting at Dallas, 10-6, in 2001. They haven't faced off at Tampa Bay since 1996.

Game Summary: I could cite a bunch of reasons why Dallas has a chance to win this game, and of course they do, but I'm playing a hunch on this one. Last week, my instincts said that the Bucs would lose at SF. But, having the crappy season picking games that I am, I relied on the numbers instead of my gut and got burned. No such mistake this time -- The Champs are likely to be in a highly foul mood and their defense is exactly the kind that improved QB Quincy Carter may not yet be able to handle. Established winner rolls over the up-and-comers.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-7

Cowboys:
In larger leagues, RB Troy Hambrick is a sleeper play, because the Bucs have had trouble with power running games. I strongly suggest ignoring all other offensive players. The red-hot Dallas D is worth a shot.

Buccaneers:
There are no obvious plays other than the defense, although QB Brad Johnson is having a solid fantasy year. RB Michael Pittman and WR Keenan McCardell are the best bets.

Cowboys:
none

Buccaneers:
RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)
WR Joe Jurevicius (out)
DB Brian Kelly (injured reserve)

DETROIT at CHICAGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bears favored by 3

Records: Lions 1-5 (3-3 ATS), Bears 1-5 (2-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Three of the last four games have been decided by exactly three points, and the Bears have won three of the last four meetings (but not the same three).

Game Summary: I'm taking a simplified version of this one -- the Bears are at home and their defense is playing better than Detroit's these days. Both teams have major QB issues, but Chicago's situation is ultra-murky because it's my opinion that veteran Chris Chandler gives them a better chance to win than does Kordell Stewart... but head coach Dick Jauron doesn't necessarily see it that way. The Bears have injuries, but so do the Lions.

Prediction: BEARS, 23-13

Lions:
Man, if you need to play any of these guys, you're in a world of hurt. Want one? OK, kicker Jason Hanson. Ah, or maybe TE Mikael Ricks. Whew.

Bears:
If healthy, RB Anthony Thomas and WR Marty Booker are great plays. Booker is even better if Chandler starts. If Booker sits, WR Dez White becomes a solid play as the team's top target.

Lions:
RB James Stewart (injured reserve)
WR Charles Rogers (out)

Bears:
QB Kordell Stewart (ques)
RB Anthony Thomas (ques)
RB Adrian Peterson (ques)
WR Marty Booker (ques)
TE Desmond Clark (ques)

CAROLINA at NEW ORLEANS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Saints favored by 2

Records: Panthers 5-1 (3-3 ATS), Saints 3-4 (4-3 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The first in-season rematch of 2003 -- the Panthers defeated the Saints at Carolina, 19-13, just three weeks ago. Carolina also won the last meeting at New Orleans, 10-6, in last year's regular season finale.

Game Summary: Boy, talk about no love. The 5-1 Panthers are underdogs against the 3-4 Saints in a divisional game. Do people really like playing the Saints that much? It all boils down to defense, ladies and gentlemen, and I'll take Carolina's any day of the week... and, yes, twice on Sunday.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 20-10

Panthers:
Expect a return to prominence by RB Stephen Davis, and WR Steve Smith has enjoyed consecutive big games -- get him while he's hot. The defense/special teams are a certain play.

Saints:
QB Aaron Brooks looked great against Atlanta last week, but he'll be facing a much better D. Play at your own risk. That goes for RB Deuce McAlister and WR Joe Horn as well -- each of whom rank as borderline plays.

Panthers:
WR Muhsin Muhammad (ques)
WR Kevin Dyson (doubt)
DE Kavika Pittman (injured reserve)

Saints:
WR Donte' Stallworth (doubt)

SAN FRANCISCO at ARIZONA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: 49ers favored by 7

Records: 49ers 3-4 (3-3-1 ATS), Cardinals 1-5 (1-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The 49ers won but didn't cover in last year's meeting in the desert, 17-14.

Game Summary: Before this season, I had fairly steady success going with home underdogs in the 7-10 point range. Fact is, I'm not that convinced of the 49ers' immediate future, last week's impressive result not withstanding. The Niners might get caught looking ahead a bit to next week's home clash with the rival St. Louis Rams, too. In the end, I see a game that's strikingly similar to last year -- the Cardinals play tough but manage to blow it down the stretch.

Prediction: 49ERS, 28-23

49ers:
QB Jeff Garcia and WR Terrell Owens have to be played, but RBs Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow continue to cancel each other out most weeks.

Cardinals:
In deeper leagues, you can give RB Marcel Shipp a shot, and perhaps QB Jeff Blake and WR Antuan Boldin as well. There's been a sighting of TE Freddie Jones, too.

49ers:
TE Eric Johnson (out)

Texans:
RB Emmitt Smith (out)
WR Bryant Johnson (prob)
WR Jason McAddley (ques)

NEW YORK JETS at PHILADELPHIA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 3

Records: Jets 2-4 (2-3-1 ATS), Eagles 3-3 (2-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: none

Game Summary: The Jets have won two straight after an 0-4 start, while the Eagles are up and down amidst offensive struggles and defensive injury woes. Still, I can't picture the Jets winning at Philadelphia in a game the Eagles need a great deal. QB Vinny Testaverde gets one more start for the Jets, and that plays into the hands of the aggressive Eagles secondary. QB Chad Pennington is also expected to see some action for the first time since breaking his wrist in the preseason.

Prediction: EAGLES, 19-10 (premium pick)

Jets:
I'd avoid the whole fare, except in the very largest of leagues.

Eagles:
I keep waiting for QB Donovan McNabb to have a slump-snapping breakout game... with-out any WRs to throw to, it's not likely to happen. RB Brian Westbrook is the best option on the ground. The D and K David Akers are the plays.

Jets:
QB Chad Pennington (prob)
WR Wayne Chrebet (ques)
CB Donnie Abraham (out)

Eagles:
WR Todd Pinkston (ques)

HOUSTON at INDIANAPOLIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 13

Records: Texans 2-4 (2-4 ATS), Colts 5-1 (5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Colts swept the inaugural season series a year ago, allowing just a field goal to Houston in each meeting.

Game Summary: Hmmm... the Colts are rested off a bye and have been stewing over their first defeat of the season, against Carolina at home. Houston came from ahead to lose to the Jets at home last week. Last year's defense, not as good as this year's version, dominated in both meetings a year ago. If it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. But the Texans will get it in the end zone this time.

Prediction: COLTS, 34-13

Texans:
Skip 'em all, including streaking RB Domanick Davis.

Colts:
QB Peyton Manning, WR Marvin Harrison, and the other main receivers are obvious choices. Beware the RB situation. Edgerrin James is expected to play, but playing him is risky, even with the favorable matchup. His backup is Dominic Rhodes.

Texans:
none

Colts:
RB Edgerrin James (ques)
RB Ricky Williams (out)
RB James Mungro (out)

BUFFALO at KANSAS CITY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 6 1/2

Records: Bills 4-3 (3-4 ATS), Chiefs 7-0 (6-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The only recent meeting was a 17-16 Chiefs victory last November.

Game Summary: KC has to stumble sometime, but when? The Chiefs beat the Raiders by a yard last week, and to be honest were fairly lucky to get a gift muffed punt from the Raiders in the fourth quarter. On the short week, can they maintain the momentum and thump unpredictable Buffalo? Probably, but I suspect the game will be close.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 23-20

Bills:
WR Eric Moulds' on-going health concerns are key for the offense. RB Travis Henry a good play either way, but QB Drew Bledsoe depends on Moulds, as do the other receivers.

Chiefs:
Look for the offense to rebound, meaning QB Trent Green and TE Tony Gonzalez join RB Priest Holmes as firm plays. I like the KC defense, too, and of course, the special teams.

Bills:
WR Eric Moulds (ques)

Chiefs:
none

MIAMI at SAN DIEGO (Monday) Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Dolphins favored by 3 1/2

Records: Dolphins 4-2 (4-2 ATS), Chargers 1-5 (2-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: There are no recent meetings at San Diego, but the Dolphins romped at home last season, 30-3.

Game Summary: I'm looking for Miami to rebound from its home OT loss to New England last week. Oddly enough, the Dolphins are unbeaten on the road this season. San Diego got its first win last week, but it's unlikely the offense will have much success -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson will get his yards, but there will be little complement from the passing game. Dolphins grind out a workmanlike win on the road.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 24-16

Dolphins:
RB Ricky Williams might get 40 carries again, because the status of their QBs is uncertain. That means WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMich-ael are risky plays.

Chargers:
Other than Tomlinson, there are no obvious picks. WR David Boston doesn't rank as an elite receiver at this point, so he's no auto-play and the Dolphins' secondary is as good as anybody's.

Dolphins:
QB Jay Fiedler (prob)
WR Oronde Gadsden (injured reserve)

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