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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 12
By Bob Cunningham
November 20, 2003

Last Week -- 10-6 (63%)
Overall -- 87-73 (54%)

Last Week -- 11-5 (69%)
Overall -- 75-78-7 (49%)

Last Week -- 1-0
Overall -- 10-7 (59%)

My college "BCS" column, with its weekly top 10 rankings, has become a fairly popular fixture on TheHuddle... if you don't mind me saying so.

So I thought I'd bring the controversy of my ratings to the "big screen," i.e., the pros. For your examination, I submit my NFL top 10 power poll with associated comments:

  1. KANSAS CITY (9-1) -- The stumble at Cincinnati aside, Chiefs have been league's most dominant team.
  2. TENNESSEE (8-2) -- With MVP candidate Steve McNair having his finest year, Titans can beat anyone.
  3. NEW ENGLAND (8-2) -- Great overall balance, and good coaching. Will be a force in the playoffs.
  4. CAROLINA (8-2) -- Great defense and a top rushing attack -- a proven formula for success.
  5. INDIANAPOLIS (8-2) -- Explosive offense and an improving D -- polar opposite to the Panthers.
  6. PHILADELPHIA (7-3) -- McNabb coming around. Defense never really left. Playoff-tested.
  7. SEATTLE (7-3) -- Occasionally plays down to weaker foes, but talented on both sides of the ball.
  8. ST. LOUIS (7-3) -- The potential to be a great team, but high-profile offense is inconsistent.
  9. DALLAS (7-3) -- Excellent defense, and Parcells, but this is a team that has been blanked twice.
  10. DENVER (6-4) -- Hey, let's not forget that Mike Shanahan is a pretty fair head coach as well.

Also considered: MIAMI (6-4)*.

* -- Tough to leave my Super Bowl pick out, but the Broncos get the #10 nod for a much better offense and a defense that isn't that far below the Dolphins'.

PREVIEW - WEEK 12 (Nov. 23-24)

NEW ENGLAND at HOUSTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 6

Records: Patriots 8-2 (9-1 ATS), Texans 4-6 (5-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: New England is 5-0 ATS as a favorite, but this is the first time in 2003 that the Patriots will be favored on the road.

Game Summary: As Elmer Fudd likes to warn, the Pats should be "vewy, vewy caweful" because it will be tempting to look ahead to next weekend's clash with Indianapolis. The Texans are a respectable 4-6, and while they don't figure to stack up well against the Patriots on paper, they didn't seem a logical pick at Buffalo last week, either. Actually, Houston probably blew its cover with its season-opening upset at Miami, in terms of teams taking the Texans lightly. And if not, last week's victory at Buffalo certainly did the trick. Tough call, but I gotta go with the home 'dogs to cover.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 24-19

The receiving corps is banged up, so QB Tom Brady is only a moderately decent play. RB Antowain Smith is the best of a mediocre bunch. Odd that there aren't a lot of good fantasy options on a first-place team.

Tony Banks gets the start at QB, but if you play him you have more guts than I do. Of course, others would simply label it "dumb." RB Domanick Davis continues to be a decent option, and WR Andre Johnson is coming off a strong game... but I'd sit him.

WR David Patten (injured reserve)
LB Roosevelt Colvin (injured reserve)

QB David Carr (out)
RB Stacy Mack (prob)

INDIANAPOLIS at BUFFALO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 3

Records: Colts 8-2 (7-3 ATS); Bills 4-6 (3-6-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Bills have lost three in a row, and have scored more than 13 points in a game only twice in the last eight weeks.

Game Summary: Like New England, Indy has to be aware of falling into the trap of overlooking the Bills in anticipation of next week's clash. Buffalo as a home 'dog is tempting, but the Bills simply can't score, especially if Travis Henry and Eric Moulds are ailing... and we know the Colts sure can. An upset is possible, though, because Buffalo's defense is playing well. And two-thirds of the way through November in Buffalo, NY? I'm shivering at the very thought of it. Let's see what Colts coach Tony Dungy gets from his troops in this one.

Prediction: COLTS, 20-13

Despite my modest-scoring pick, I'm a believer that you never bench elite players, so QB Peyton Manning and RB Edgerrin James are go's. And you start WR Marvin Harrison is the Colts do. I like the Indy defense, too.

With Moulds still ailing, the passing game has been grounded. And now with Henry down, uh, are we going to get our first pro look at RB Willis McGahee? Not likely. Only the Bills defense is playable.

WR Marvin Harrison (ques)
WR Troy Walters (ques)
TE Marcus Pollard (out)

RB Travis Henry (doubt)
WR Eric Moulds (ques)

JACKSONVILLE at NEW YORK JETS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jets favored by 4

Records: Jaguars 2-8 (4-6 ATS); Jets 3-7 (2-6-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Jaguars are 2-1 ATS as road underdogs, the Jets 0-1 as home favorites... but the Jets have won and covered two of three previous meetings.

Game Summary: I look at this as a straight-forward choice. The Jets are only 3-7, but they've played better in recent weeks (in conjunction with the return of QB Chad Pennington). Jacksonville's defense played an excellent game at Tennessee last week, but a second consecutive road contest can wear a losing squad down. Jets' pass rush could cause havoc for rookie QB Byron Leftwich.

Prediction: JETS, 24-14 (premium pick)

The running game may be in trouble, depending on the health of RB Fred Taylor. If he's out, veteran Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and rookie LaBrandon Toefield will share honors. That's too much pressure to put on Leftwich. Only WR Jimmy Smith is worth playing.

Pennington-to-Santana Moss continues to be a hot hook-up, so stick with them. WR Curtis Conway is a decent sleeper. Also a good gamble is the Jets' D.

QB Mark Brunell (out)
RB Fred Taylor (ques)
WR Jermaine Lewis (injured reserve)

WR Wayne Chrebet (out)
CB Donnie Abraham (ques)

PITTSBURGH at CLEVELAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Browns favored by 3

Records: Steelers 3-7 (4-6 ATS); Browns 4-6 (4-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Each of the last five meetings has been close, with the underdog covering ATS four times but only winning once outright.

Game Summary: This is a tough matchup for the Steelers, remaining on the road after going to the Left Coast Monday night and getting roundly thumped at San Francisco. So, it's a short week as well. The Browns are feeling good about themselves after a home rout of Arizona. Talk about teams going opposite directions... but Pittsburgh finds a way to get it done in this rivalry, more often than not. So I'm going with the mild upset pick... if for no other reason than because I can't picture the Steelers at 3-8.

Prediction: STEELERS, 23-20

If he gets enough protection, QB Tommy Maddox can put up numbers. WRs Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress are plays. Go with RB Jerome Bettis only if you're truly hard up for a back.

The Steelers' run defense was shredded by SF, so RB James Jackson is a decent play this week along with QB Kelly Holcomb. I still avoid the WRs because there's too many to choose from.

TE Jay Riemersma (ques)

RB William Green (out, suspended)
TE Aaron Shea (out)

SEATTLE at BALTIMORE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 2 1/2

Records: Seahawks 7-3 (4-6 ATS); Ravens 5-5 (5-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Seattle is 1-3 S/U on the road, Baltimore 3-1 at home.

Game Summary: Seattle has yet to prove it's capable of beating a quality opponent on the road, and until the Seahawks do I'll continue to pick against them. The Ravens tend to come up huge defensively when they need it most. The AFC North is still there to be seized, but it needs to start now.

Prediction: RAVENS, 20-10 (premium pick)

If you have reasonable alternatives, consider benching all components of the passing game. RB Shaun Alexander, however, remains too good to sit. The D/ST remains a solid play.

RB Jamal Lewis will likely get at least 30 carries, but he's the only sure play other than the defense.

DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)

QB Kyle Boller (out)
WR Frank Sanders (ques)

NEW ORLEANS at PHILADELPHIA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 5 1/2

Records: Saints 5-5 (5-5 ATS); Eagles 7-3 (6-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Philadelphia has won its last five at home against the Saints, including 4-1 ATS.

Game Summary: The Eagles are feeling it now, playing championship-caliber football as their MVP quarterback, Donovan McNabb, gets back into a groove. The defense is again first-rate, and I doubt there will be much the Saints can do with it. With all due respect to their comeback win over Atlanta last week, New Orleans isn't in the same class at the moment.

Prediction: EAGLES, 27-12

RB Deuce McAlister qualifies as an elite player, so he starts... but WR Joe Horn (check health status), TE Boo Williams and K John Carney are the only other Saints I'd even consider.

McNabb is now back to every-week status, with the hot RB hand being Brian Westbrook, who had three TDs last week. WR Todd Pinkston a solid play as well as K David Akers and the defense.

WR Joe Horn (prob)
WR Donte' Stallworth (ques)
TE Ernie Conwell (out)

DL Hollis Thomas (out)
DB Brian Dawkins (ques)
DB Bobby Taylor (ques)

CAROLINA at DALLAS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Cowboys favored by 3

Records: Panthers 8-2 (5-5 ATS); Cowboys 7-3 (6-3-1 ATS),

Stats Worth Noting: Dallas has won three of five meetings all-time, but is just 1-3-1 ATS. Carolina 4-0 ATS as a road underdog this season, Dallas 3-1 ATS as a home favorite.

Game Summary: Let's see... both teams have top-flight defenses. Both have quality head coaches (albeit one is a lot more renowned than the other). Both sport over-achieving quarterbacks. Both boast strong, game-dominating running backs? Oops. The Panthers have Stephen Davis. The Cowboys? Adrian Troy Murrell Hambrick. Ugh.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 16-14

Only Davis and the defense are certain plays. The fantasy world was knocked for a loop last week when Muhsin Muhammad had a big game while Steve Smith was held quiet. Gosh, who knows now? QB Jake Delhomme? Not recommended.

Other than the defense, none strike my fancy. QB Quincy Carter has plenty of quality guys to throw to, but this is a bad matchup.

WR Kevin Dyson (prob)


DETROIT at MINNESOTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 10 1/2

Records: Lions 3-7 (5-5 ATS); Vikings 6-4 (6-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Vikings are 9-2 in their last 11 vs. Detroit, 6-5 ATS.

Game Summary: This one is going to get ugly very quickly, because WR Randy Moss will get to rome about a Lions secondary decimated with injuries and inexperience. It will be a Vikings team looking to take out some big-time frustrations, against a Lions squad which hasn't won a road game since, I dunno, when Barry Sanders was still playing?

Prediction: VIKINGS, 45-21

QB Joey Harrington would be a tempting play, except who is he going to throw to? The running game has a good matchup, but... Shawn Bryson? Olandis Gary? If you're relying on either of these guys, you've seriously erred in the construction of your roster.

Anything less than 150 yards and two TDs for Moss will be a downer. QB Daunte Culpepper will be huge again. Be aware of multiple bodies for the other roles.

RB James Stewart (injured reserve)
RB Shawn Bryson (prob)
WR Charles Rogers (doubt)
WR Shawn Jefferson (ques)
WR Scott Anderson (injured reserve)


SAN FRANCISCO at GREEN BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 4

Records: 49ers 5-5 (5-4-1 ATS); Packers 5-5 (5-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: A crucial game for both teams, and both are coming off impressive victories, but bottom line -- Brett Favre doesn't lose at home when it's cold. I'm not from Wisconsin, but I'm assuming it will be cold Sunday. The key is that Green Bay's defense has been better of late. It looks like the Packers can still steal the NFC Central Division title.

Prediction: PACKERS, 24-17

RB Garrison Hearst is worth playing, because Kevan Barlow is dinged. After last week's big game, WR Terrell Owens might string several such efforts together. QB Tim Rattay is more of a risk, with Jeff Garcia's return nearing. Pass on the 49ers defense this week.

Favre continues to get by with the bad thumb, so long as RB Ahman Green is toting the rock. No Packers receivers are worthy at this point, though one will probably step up.

QB Jeff Garcia (ques)
RB Kevan Barlow (ques)
WR Tai Streets (prob)
TE Eric Johnson (doubt)


CHICAGO at DENVER Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Broncos favored by 10

Records: Bears 3-7 (5-4-1 ATS); Broncos 6-4 (5-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Chicago is 2-0 against the AFC West this season, straight-up and ATS. Denver is 0-2 against the NFC Central.

Game Summary: After last week's destruction of San Diego, you know that the Broncos already have KC on their minds, even though that rematch isn't for two more weeks. The Bears tend to play tough when least expected to. If Anthony Thomas and company can crack the Denver run defense, the game will be competitive, especially considering the Bears' improved defense of late.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 28-20

The passing game is struggling, but if the Bears fall behind early, QB Chris Chandler and WR Marty Booker might pad their numbers. Still, Thomas is the one solid play.

RB Clinton Portis should do fine, but the passing game is really where Denver might excel. QB Jake Plummer, TE Shannon Sharpe and WR Rod Smith all are in line for good days statistically.


RB Mike Anderson (out, suspended)
WR Ed McCaffrey (ques)
LB Ian Gold (out)
LB John Mobley (out)
K Jason Elam (ques)

ST. LOUIS at ARIZONA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 8

Records: Rams 7-3 (6-3-1 ATS); Cardinals 3-7 (3-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: St. Louis is 0-3 ATS this year as a road favorite. Arizona is 3-2 as a home 'dog.

Game Summary: On paper, this figures to be a drubbing -- the Cardinals have been torched the last two weeks, but both were on the road. At home, this team has been quite competitive. Turnovers are preventing the Rams from scoring 40 points every week -- they certainly outclass the Arizona defense, but in the desert, I say it stays close.

Prediction: RAMS, 30-23

Play 'em all -- that means QB Mark Bulger, RB Marshall Faulk, WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins and the Rams defense. Good time for Bulger to solidify his position as the starter.

RB Marcel Shipp (check health) and WR Anquan Boldin are good upside plays. QB Jeff Blake, too, if you think the Rams will get out to a big lead early.

RB Lamar Gordon (ques)
WR Torry Holt (prob)
DL Leonard Little (ques)

RB Marcel Shipp (ques)
RB Emmitt Smith (ques)
K Bill Gramatica (injured reserve)

CINCINNATI at SAN DIEGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bengals favored by 3

Records: Bengals 5-5 (7-3 ATS); Chargers 2-8 (3-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: San Diego has won and covered four straight home games against the Bengals.

Game Summary: I realize that after last week's debacle at Denver, the following lacks logic. But bear with me: I believe QB Doug Flutie and RB LaDainian Tomlinson are the keys to a San Diego turnaround. I also like the Bengals to be a little flat after bouncing Kansas City from the ranks of the unbeaten last week. Yeah, I know I tend to get stuck in the past... but I'm not ready for the Bengals as road favorites just yet. Look what happened at Arizona earlier this month...

Prediction: CHARGERS, 20-17

Unless you're counting on either heavily, you should let the Rudi Johnson/Corey Dillon dilemma play out. QB Jon Kitna and WRs Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick are strong plays, as is the Cincy defense.

Flutie isn't much of a fantasy player, he's just a winner. Tomlinson, however, should do fine. He rarely (if ever) endures consecutive poor games. WR David Boston still a play.


WR Eric Parker (out)
WR Tim Dwight (out)

OAKLAND at KANSAS CITY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 11 1/2

Records: Raiders 3-7 (1-8-1 ATS); Chiefs 9-1 (8-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Kansas City is 5-3 in its last eight against Oakland, 5-2-1 ATS.

Game Summary: This clash will show us a little more about the make-up of the Chiefs. Will they be fighting mad after losing their bid for history? It's a rivalry game, but with not as much fire being that the Raiders are down this year. When was the last time the pointspread on this matchup was double-figures? If the Raiders were healthy, I'd give them a chance to keep up. But with Rick Mirer and Tyrone Wheatley leading the way, it just ain't gonna happen for them.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 34-13

The only legit Raiders play? WR Jerry Rice, because you know he's not going to go a whole season without a TD, as he has to date this year. Okay, WR Jerry Porter is worth a shot as well.

Expect the offense to return to its normalcy of the first nine weeks. Everybody of note plays, including the defense and, of course, the Dante Hall-led special teams.

QB Rich Gannon (out)
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (out)
RB Charlie Garner (doubt)
RB Justin Fargas (out)
DL Dana Stubblefield (ques)
LB Bill Romanowski (out)


TENNESSEE at ATLANTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 6 1/2

Records: Titans 8-2 (7-3 ATS); Falcons 2-8 (3-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee's only game in a dome this season was a lopsided loss at Indianapolis. Atlanta is 0-4 ATS as a home underdog, and is winless at home overall.

Game Summary: Tennessee endured a little letdown, managing only 10 points against Jacksonville last week. I expect a rebound offensively, and the Falcons might be deflated after coming from ahead to lose at New Orleans last week. Titans turn the dome into their home.

Prediction: TITANS, 35-17

Expect the passing game to click again, with QB Steve McNair making three WRs worth playing. RB Eddie George remains a borderline play. The defense is a must, even with Jevon Kearse ailing.

Benching everyone is probably wise, but I'd consider continuing with streaking RB T.J. Duckett.

WR Drew Bennett (doubt)
DE Jevon Kearse (ques)

QB Michael Vick (ques)
WR Quentin McCord (released)

WASHINGTON at MIAMI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Dolphins favored by 6

Records: Redskins 4-6 (4-5-1 ATS); Dolphins 6-4 (5-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Washington is 3-2 ATS as a road underdog, Miami 1-4 as a home favorite.

Game Summary: It wasn't exceptionally pretty, but the Dolphins snapped their skid and figure to be in a good position to challenge for an AFC wild-card berth. At home in primetime, Miami's record of success is impressive... Redskins coach Steve Spurrier returns to Florida... but a happy return, it won't be.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 24-10

WR Laveranues Coles is the only definite play. WR Darian McCants is fine for TD-only leagues. Ignore the injury-depleted running game.

RB Ricky Williams is due to break loose for a monster game -- he's too good a back to be held in check for as long as he has... the passing game is still a pass. The defense is a no-brainer play.

RB Ladell Betts (doubt)
RB Chad Morton (ques)
RB Rock Cartwright (ques)
DL Brandon Noble (injured reserve)

QB Jay Fiedler (ques)

NEW YORK GIANTS at TAMPA BAY (Monday) Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Buccaneers favored by 5

Records: Giants 4-6 (3-7 ATS); Buccaneers 4-6 (4-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tampa Bay entered the season 6-1 ATS in the second of back-to-back home games, but is 0-1 this year.

Game Summary: I've ridden that Buccaneers pony until its legs simply couldn't run anymore. Home field advantage, defending champs, yada yada yada... well, here goes again. The Giants are running on fumes, and the Bucs are eager to show the world they're not dead yet. I expect an inspired effort at home on national TV.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 31-14

RB Tiki Barber remains a good play, even with the fumbles, and QB Kerry Collins to WR Amani Toomer can still be dangerous. Nothing else is recommended.

It's really just a hunch, but I like QB Brad Johnson this week, and WR Keenan McCardell is the man and Joe Jurevicius becomes more valuable with Keyshawn Johnson de-activated. RB Michael Pittman remains fairly productive.

WR Ike Hilliard (ques)
WR Ron Dixon (out)
WR Tim Carter (ques)
TE Jeremy Shockey (doubt)

RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)
WR Keyshawn Johnson (de-activated)
DB Brian Kelly (injured reserve)