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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 14
By Bob Cunningham
December 4, 2003
 

STRAIGHT-UP
Last Week -- 11-5 (69%)
Overall -- 110-82 (57%)

AGAINST THE SPREAD
Last Week -- 12-4 (75%)
Overall -- 95-89-8 (52%)

PREMIUM PICKS*
Last Week -- 1-0
Overall -- 12-8 (60%)

Hooray... the kid finally gets his ATS record over break-even. Call CNN.

Okay, on to this week. We're now in December. This is when winter's cruel cold begins to topple pretenders and those teams with legitimate chances for championship success really begin to strut their stuff.

Two games in particular this week will reveal a lot: Miami at New England -- will the Patriots continue their roll at the expense of the perennially winter-challenged Dolphins, or will Miami finally snap that eternity-long, late-season funk and win a meaningful game away from sunny Florida after Thanksgiving?

And, Indianapolis-Tennessee. Both were beaten last week. It's one thing to whip the Titans at home in September, as the Colts did to the tune of 33-7 at the RCA Dome early this year. But can Indy get over the hump of being considered soft by beating a true smashmouth team on its home turf to seize a division lead?

Some other games will also tell stories -- like Seattle going to Minnesota trying to prove it really can win outside the state of Washington; or (Super Bowl contending?) Dallas traveling to Philadelphia to meet the blazing-hot Eagles in a game that will decide NFC East surpremacy; or Cincinnati getting its much anticipated showdown game with the suddenly offensively mighty Baltimore Ravens for top AFC North honors; and 11-1 Kansas City getting the chance to dispell any remaining doubters by beating the Broncos in Denver.

This week promises to be the best of a fascinating regular season to date.

PREVIEW - WEEK 14 (Dec. 7-8)

CINCINNATI at BALTIMORE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 3 1/2

Records: Bengals 7-5 (9-3 ATS); Ravens 7-5(7-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Baltimore is 6-1 in its last seven at home against Cincinnati, both SU and ATS.

Game Summary: The Bengals spanked the Ravens at home earlier this season, 34-26, and despite the defensive prowess of both these teams, they tend score a lot of points when they get together (so take the over's). As for who will win... it's a tough call. Cincinnati is better balanced, but the Ravens seem to enjoy a substantial homefield edge. Turnovers will decide it (as is often the case), and that means Cincy is the pick because Jon Kitna is less error-prone than Anthony Wright

Prediction: BENGALS, 27-20

Bengals:
Despite the difficult matchup, don't be afraid to stick with the hot pass combo of Kitna and WR Chad Johnson. I'd probably sit RB Corey Dillon, however, and consider other Bengals only in larger leagues.

Ravens:
Wright is playing well. If you need him, you could do worse. RB Jamal Lewis and the defense are always worthy, and taking a shot with WR Marcus Robinson is a solid risk play. TE Todd Heap is worthy.

Bengals:
none

Ravens:
QB Kyle Boller (doubt)

OAKLAND at PITTSBURGH Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Steelers favored by 5 1/2

Records: Raiders 3-9 (2-9-1 ATS); Steelers 4-8 (5-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Pittsburgh has won three of the last four meetings dating back a decade, but Oakland won the most recent, 30-17 at Pittsburgh last season.

Game Summary: Both teams are fighting the temptation to simply cash it in for 2003. Neither has even an outside chance of rallying for a playoff berth, but at least the Steelers have a few promising younger players and some reason for optimism. Oakland is dead in the water. At home, and with a run defense capable of slowing the Raiders' only real threat at the moment, RB Tyrone Wheatley, the Steelers get a victory.

Prediction: STEELERS, 20-13

Raiders:
Wheatley and dinged veteran Charlie Garner will each get work, but Oakland's offense will struggle... again. WRs Jerry Rice or Jerry Porter worth a shot in larger leagues only.

Steelers:
Expect roughly the same level of production from everyone, and make lineup decisions accordingly. To me, that means WR Hines Ward is the only easy start on offense, with QB Tommy Maddox (pending health) and the Steelers defense/special teams also probably a go.

Raiders:
QB Rich Gannon (injured reserve)
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (injured reserve)
RB Justin Fargas (injured reserve)
DL Trace Armstrong (injured reserve)
DL Dana Stubblefield (ques)
LB Bill Romanowski (injured reserve)
DB Rod Woodson (injured reserve)

Steelers:
QB Tommy Maddox (ques)
WR Hines Ward (prob)
DB Chad Scott (injured reserve)

INDIANAPOLIS at TENNESSEE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 3 1/2

Records: Colts 9-3 (7-4-1 ATS); Titans 9-3 (8-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee had won and covered each of the three meetings prior to Indy's 33-7 romp earlier this season.

Game Summary: A great showdown game, with the Titans have a decided edge because, a) they're at home, and b) the revenge factor. Indy laid such a whuppin' on the Titans in Week 2 that Tennessee has had this game circled on its calendar long before it became clear of what might be on the line. As long as QB Steve McNair is close to healthy, the Titans will find a way.

Prediction: TITANS, 25-17

Colts:
QB Peyton Manning and his stable of receivers are solid plays as usual, but don't expect huge numbers from RB Edgerrin James, and stay away from the D this week.

Titans:
This is the stage on which we've become accustomed to McNair heroics. But I have a hunch that RB Eddie George will be a big factor, too. WR's Derrick Mason and Justin McCareins are musts, as is the D.

Colts:
RB James Mungro (injured reserve)
TE Dallas Clark (injured reserve)

Titans:
WR Drew Bennett (ques)
LB Rocky Calmus (injured reserve)
DB Samari Rolle (ques)

HOUSTON at JACKSONVILLE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jaguars favored by 6

Records: Texans 5-7 (7-5 ATS); Jaguars 3-9 (6-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Houston has won two of the three previous meetings, including the only one at Jacksonville, with none of the games being decided by more than four points and all with scores by each team of between 19 and 24 points.

Game Summary: First off, that line is way too big... unless the Texans don't have a QB. Tony Banks got hurt last week and David Carr is dinged. If neither can go, the report is that Houston hero Dan Pastorini is available. You know, even with the Texans' QB dilemma, I like this one to stay with the trend -- tight.

Prediction: JAGUARS, 23-20

Texans:
Only RB Domanick Davis is an auto play this week. With any others, you're rollin' 'dem bones.

Jaguars:
Rookie QB Byron Leftwich impressed me against Tampa Bay Sunday night. He has a great future, and he's a decent play this week, along with WR Jimmy Smith and RB Fred Taylor. I also like the Jaguars' fast-improving defense.

Texans:
QB David Carr (prob)
QB Tony Banks (injured reserve)
RB Stacey Mack (injured reserve)

Jaguars:
QB Mark Brunell (doubt)
DB James Trapp (injured reserve)

SAN DIEGO at DETROIT Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Lions favored by 3

Records: Chargers 2-10 (4-8 ATS); Lions 4-8 (7-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Detroit is 2-0 ATS this season against the AFC West.

Game Summary: This is one offense that San Diego's defense can probably keep in check, and with RB LaDainian Tomlinson doing his thing, I like the very mild upset pick here. If Detroit sported any legitimate downfield receiving threats, it'd be a different story. But they don't, so it won't. And if you're thinking that the Lions will be tough following their big Turkey Day victory over Green Bay, consider their last 10 week-after-Thanksgiving efforts -- 2-8 ATS.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 27-19

Chargers:
Finally, WR David Boston appears to have returned to the ranks of the elite. Of course, Tomlinson is a no-brainer but Flutie is a borderline play... in fact, Drew Brees might get the call again given the lost season for the Bolts.

Lions:
QB Joey Harrington is a nice sleeper pick, because of the matchup. His primary target for big plays figures to be Az Hakim. The running game isn't worthwhile.

Chargers:
WR Eric Parker (out)
WR Tim Dwight (injured reserve)

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

DALLAS at PHILADELPHIA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 5 1/2

Records: Cowboys 8-4 (7-4-1 ATS); Eagles 9-3 (8-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Prior to dropping this year's first meeting at Dallas, 23-21, the Eagles had won five straight in this series, all but one in dominating fashion.

Game Summary: Unfortunately for Dallas, this one stacks up similarly to the Cowboys' trips to Tampa Bay and New England this season. When pitted against quality D's on the road, the Cowboys are ill-prepared. Same thing here. Motivated by all that is on the line in the NFC East as well as a measure of revenge, the Eagles dominate this one in the trenches.

Prediction: EAGLES, 17-6

Cowboys:
Play the defense, and maybe K Billy Cundiff. Avoid everyone else, except in larger leagues where QB Quincy Carter or any of the big three WRs (Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Antonio Bryant) are risky but legit.

Eagles:
QB Donovan McNabb is on a roll, but don't expect gaudy stats from anybody except the defense. This game is a fantasy league's wasteland.

Cowboys:
none

Eagles:
none

WASHINGTON at NEW YORK GIANTS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Giants favored by 2 1/2

Records: Redskins 4-8 (5-6-1 ATS); Giants 4-8 (3-9 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Giants have won 5 of the last 6 meetings, including a 24-21 decision at Laurel, Md. earlier this season.

Game Summary: Two teams going nowhere at an alarming pace. Take the Giants at home, because they're due and because the report is that most of the players want to save head coach Jim Fassel's job. Not sure about the Skins and Steve Spurrier, though. Hmm.

Prediction: GIANTS, 24-16

Redskins:
No obvious plays. Even productive WR Laveranues Coles has been absent the last two weeks. How 'bout K John Hall?

Giants:
Sticking with QB Kerry Collins and WR Amani Toomer results in yards and the occasional big strike TD. I like RB Tiki Barber to enjoy a decent day. Check the status of TE Jeremy Shockey beforehand.

Redskins:
QB Patrick Ramsey (ques)
RB Rock Cartwright (ques)
WR Darnerian McCants (ques)
DL Brandon Noble (injured reserve)

Giants:
WR Ron Dixon (out)
TE Jeremy Shockey (ques)
DL Kenny Holmes (injured reserve)
DB Will Allen (injured reserve)
DB Shaun Williams (injured reserve)

CHICAGO at GREEN BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 7

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

Stats Worth Noting: Green Bay has won seven straight in this rivalry, all but one by at least eight points.

Game Summary: This is Brett Favre in December at Lambeau Field with a chance to guide his team to the playoffs. I learned long ago not to buck that long-term trend. Sure, the Bears have been solid of late - winners of three in a row and 6-1 ATS in their last seven. I like the Packers anyway. Law of averages.

Prediction: PACKERS, 31-14

Bears:
It's true that QB Kordell Stewart played well last week, but that was against... uh... Arizona. 'Nuff said. With RB Anthony Thomas fighting illness, WR Marty Booker becomes a sleeper play. RB Brock Forsey not bad if he gets another start.

Packers:
RB Ahman Green is money. Favre always a play at home. Good sleeper play is WR Robert Ferguson, with big-play Javon Walker also worthwhile.

Bears:
QB Chris Chandler (ques)
RB Anthony Thomas (ques)
RB Adrian Peterson (injured reserve)

Packers:
DL Joe Johnson (injured reserve)

SEATTLE at MINNESOTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 1 1/2

Records: Seahawks 8-4 (5-7 ATS); Vikings 7-5 (6-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Seattle rolled at home last season, 48-23, but is 1-4 on the road this year while the Vikings are 4-2.

Game Summary: Sure, the Seahawks have trouble with quality foes on the road... but do the Vikings qualify, based on their performance over the last month? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. The home dome is everything to the Vikings, whether they admit it or not. And Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren never had much luck there while skippering Green Bay. In what can't help but be a high-scoring affair, the Vikes get back on track.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 38-28 (premium pick)

PLAY EVERYONE FOR BOTH TEAMS WHO IS LIKELY TO TOUCH THE BALL MORE THAN THREE TIMES (EXCEPT FOR THE CENTERS, WISE GUY). BENCH BOTH DEFENSES.

Seahawks:
DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)

Vikings:
KR John Avery (out)

TAMPA BAY at NEW ORLEANS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Saints favored by 1 1/2

Records: Buccaneers 5-7 (5-7 ATS); Saints 6-6 (6-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Saints have won the last three meetings, including a 17-14 upset at Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Game Summary: New Orleans has owned this series, Tampa Bay is struggling... so the Saints should roll, right? I don't think so. Tampa Bay's brand of defense is still pretty good, and the Saints have personnel issues on defense that the Bucs can exploit. Ah, I'm probably guilty of overlooking the obvious... it's happened before... but I still believe the Bucs are the superior team in this clash, and vengence will be a priority.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 26-21

Buccaneers:
QB Brad Johnson and WRs Charles Lee and Keenan McCardell are good to go, and RB Michael Pittman is still productive as a rusher and receiver, even though he's losing time every week to Thomas Jones. I'd leave the rest alone.

Saints:
RB Deuce McAlister is a star... play him. But be wary of QB Aaron Brooks and WR Joe Horn. They're risk plays this week. TE Boo Williams a good sleeper choice.

Buccaneers:
RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)
WR Keyshawn Johnson (de-activated)
WR Joe Jurevicius (injured reserve)
DB Tim Wansley (injured reserve)
DB Brian Kelly (injured reserve)

Saints:
WR Donte' Stallworth (ques)
TE Ernie Conwell (out)

ARIZONA at SAN FRANCISCO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: 49ers favored by 10

Records: Cardinals 3-9 (4-8 ATS); 49ers 5-7 (5-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has covered ATS in each of the last six meetings, and the Cardinals are 0-6 SU and ATS on the road this year. Arizona beat the 49ers at home earlier this season, however, 16-13 in overtime.

Game Summary: Call it a hunch supported by the statistics -- San Francisco will play this one with a bigtime chip on its shoulder, and the Cardinals won't be able to slow the onslaught.

Prediction: 49ERS, 31-7 (premium pick)

Cardinals:
With the confusion at RB between Marcel Shipp and Emmitt Smith... just ignore 'em both this week. WR Anquan Boldin is worthwhile, and beware that QB Jeff Blake may get displaced by young Josh McCown.

49ers:
I like QB Jeff Garcia to rebound from last week's debacle and play well, with RB Kevan Barlow coming up big as the solo back. Play WR Terrell Owens and the D.

Cardinals:
WR Jason McAddley (injured reserve)
K Bill Gramatica (injured reserve)

49ers:
RB Garrison Hearst (out)
TE Eric Johnson (ques)

MIAMI at NEW ENGLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 3

Records: Dolphins 8-4 (6-6 ATS); Patriots 10-2 (10-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has won and covered 5 of the last 6 meetings, and New England won at Miami in OT earlier this season.

Game Summary: Perhaps the NFL's most resilient team, hosting its least among winning clubs. Everyone knows Miami can't win on the road in December, right? Especially against quality teams, right? Well... right. I can't help but think that will be the difference here. Both teams are strong defensively, so it could come down to running of Ricky Williams against the passing of Tom Brady. Nah, it's a home team thing. Expect a game fairly similar to the first meeting -- tight and relatively low-scoring.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-14

Dolphins:
QB Jay Fiedler has looked good sincer re-taking the starting job, but don't expect a high level of success in this one. WR Chris Chambers, on a roll, is worth playing. And TE Randy McMichael ias solid. But other than Williams and the defense, that's it.

Patriots:
The defense is primarily expected to win it, but Brady should still put up decent numbers, especially if WR Troy Brown plays. The running game is to be avoided.

Dolphins:
none

Patriots:
WR Troy Brown (ques)
WR David Patten (injured reserve)
LB Roosevelt Colvin (injured reserve)

NEW YORK JETS at BUFFALO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bills favored by 3

Records: Jets 5-7 (3-7-2 ATS); Bills 5-7 (4-6-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Jets have won 5 of the last 6 meetings, including the last two at Buffalo as well as the first meeting this year, a 30-3 romp at the Meadowlands.

Game Summary: Buffalo's win over the Giants last week was nice but, well, someone had to win that game. The Bills are slightly less pathetic, apparently. The Jets, meanwhile, are 3-2 since Chad Pennington returned as QB including a quality win over Tennessee Monday night. The slightly less prep time won't matter -- the Jets continue their recent dominance of this series.

Prediction: JETS, 24-13 (premium pick)

Jets:
Pennington to Santana Moss is as reliable a hook-up as there is, but the running game remains ineffective. The defense is a sound play this week.

Bills:
RB Travis Henry is a nice play, because that's what the Bills will have to do to win - run the ball a lot. The passing game just isn't there now, and the Jets' rush will make that observation even more acute.

Jets:
WR Wayne Chrebet (out)
DL John Abraham (ques)
KR Michael Bates (injured reserve)

Bills:
QB Drew Bledsoe (ques)
RB Willis McGahee (doubt)
WR Eric Moulds (prob)
TE Dave Moore (ques)

KANSAS CITY at DENVER Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Broncos favored by 2

Records: Chiefs 11-1 (8-4 ATS); Broncos 7-5 (6-6 ATS);

Stats Worth Noting: Denver is 4-1-1 ATS in the last six vs. Kansas City.

Game Summary: I figure KC will lose one of its last two road games this season, win the rest at home, and pace the league with a 14-2 final record. The Chiefs' other road game is at Minnesota in two weeks. Coach Dick Vermeil undoubtedly has been harping on his team that it needs to prevail at hated Denver in order to truly prove its merit atop the standings. Because bums like myself have questioned them periodically all year. Denver is good, but not great. QB Jake Plummer is inconsistent. On a hunch, essentially, I like the Chiefs to break through in their usual house of horrors.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 30-27

Chiefs:
Only way the primaries (QB Trent Green, RB Priest Holmes and TE Tony Gonzalez) won't be productive if it snows heavily both before and during the contest. Even with KR Dante Hall a steady threat, leave the D/ST on the pine.

Broncos:
RB Clinton Portis will shine again, and I imagine Plummer will hook-up with TE Shannon Sharpe and WR Rod Smith enough to be useful. But it's not a bounty.

Chiefs:
none.

Broncos:
RB Mike Anderson (out, suspended)
WR Ed McCaffrey (ques)
DL Daryl Gardener (out, suspended)
LB Ian Gold (injured reserve)
LB John Mobley (injured reserve)

CAROLINA at ATLANTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 1

Records: Panthers 8-4 (5-7 ATS); Falcons 2-10 (3-9 ATS);

Stats Worth Noting: Atlanta has outscored Carolina a combined 71-0 in the two games QB Michael Vick has started for the Falcons, both last season. Without Vick, the Falcons lost 23-3 at Carolina earlier this season.

Game Summary: One of the least known strategies of pro handicappers (of which I'm definitely not) is based on the belief that the majority of people who bet are suckers. The line on this game started at 2 1/2 and has plunged to 1... that translates to Vick action -- the public thinks Vick will rescue the flailing Falcons. Not me. Otherwise, it would've happened with a rally at Houston last week. RB Stephen Davis jams it down Atlanta's collective throats for a 200-yard day, and Vick will be understandably rusty and a bit eager.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 27-17

Panthers:
Davis will consider Carolina's two-game skid as his responsibility and run like a maniac. QB Jake Delhomme and WRs Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad are okay plays. Ride that defense, bay-bee.

Falcons:
Vick's numbers will be respectable, so playing him is fine as long as expectations are tempered. WR Peerless Price and RB T.J. Duckett are fine, too.

Panthers:
WR Kevin Dyson (ques)
TE Mike Seidman (injured reserve)

Falcons:
RB Warrick Dunn (injured reserve)

ST. LOUIS at CLEVELAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 4

Records: Rams 9-3 (7-4-1 ATS); Browns 4-8 (4-8 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Weather will be a major factor in this game. Home 'dogs on Monday night are always tempting, but I like the Browns only if it's bitter cold, rainy, etc. If the conditions are passable, the Rams offense will get enough done because Cleveland's currently confused unit won't. A little running, a little passing for the Browns... but not a lot of either one and no consistency. St. Louis' defense is playing well. It won't be a track meet, but the Rams are unlikely to stumble badly at this stage unless, as already indicated, football weather intervenes.

Prediction: RAMS, 24-14

Rams:
This slot rarely changes from week to week, because all the Rams' primary weapons are first-tier fantasy studs.

Browns:
QB Kelly Holcomb, WRs Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt, and RB James Jackson all qualify as sleeper plays. Monitor the status of WR Quincy Morgan -- Davis and Northcutt are both more valuable if he sits.

Rams:
none

Browns:
QB Tim Couch (ques)
RB William Green (out, suspended)
RB Lee Suggs (doubt)
WR Quincy Morgan (ques)
TE Aaron Shea (out)