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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 15
By Bob Cunningham
December 11, 2003

Last Week -- 10-6
Overall -- 120-88 (58%)

Last Week -- 9-7
Overall -- 104-96-8 (52%)

Last Week -- 2-1
Overall -- 14-9 (61%)

As expected, last week's plethora of divisional showdowns was a lot of fun. And I believe it says something that four of the five favorites in those games triumphed and covered the pointspread.

The trick for this week is to avoid a leaguewide letdown. There's one more divisional clash of importance -- St. Louis can clinch the NFC West with a victory over visiting Seattle -- but otherwise we may be in for a lull that will be buoyed only by fantasy league first-round playoffs across the country.

If your team made it in, congrats and good luck to you. If not, well... bummer.

PREVIEW - WEEK 15 (Dec. 14-15)

PITTSBURGH at NEW YORK JETS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jets favored by 3

Records: Steelers 5-8 (6-7 ATS); Jets 5-8 (3-8-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Pittsburgh has covered the last three meetings, but the teams have met only once since 1997 and that was at Pittsburgh (Steelers, 18-7).

Game Summary: The Steelers are coming off a victory, the Jets off a loss. But that doesn't mean Pittsburgh comes in with any real momentum. Both teams were division champs a year ago. This year, both are out of the running entirely. Neither will be feeling particularly good, so the lesser of evils is for the Jets to prevail at home against a Pittsburgh club that has yet to win consecutive games this season.

Prediction: JETS, 24-19

RB Jerome Bettis actually looked good last week -- he's a decent play against a Jets D better at defending against the pass. QB Tommy Maddox and WR Plaxico Burress are borderline plays, with WR Hines Ward the only easy call.

Pittsburgh is still challenged to defend the pass against anyone except Rick Mirer, so QB Chad Pennington and WR Santana Moss are good to go. WR Curtis Conway is a play in larger leagues.

DB Chad Scott (injured reserve)

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

JACKSONVILLE at NEW ENGLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 7

Records: Jaguars 4-9 (7-6 ATS); Patriots 11-2 (11-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Jaguars have yet to win on the road this season, but are 4-2 ATS in those six defeats. The Pats are a perfect 6-0 SU and ATS at home.

Game Summary: Classic letdown game for the Patriots after consecutive inspired wins against playoff contenders? Could be. Jacksonville's defense has been extraordinary the last three weeks. Oddly, both teams enter this contest off of shutout victories. I can't see the Patriots losing outright -- but I can see it ending up uncomfortably close for the favorites, especially if the weather is bad again.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 16-10

Play RB Fred Taylor, because you hafta, and leave every other Jag on the pine. I'd skip the D as well, unless you truly have no other options.

QB Tom Brady is again a regular play, although there's a lack of reliable fantasy targets on this club. WR Troy Brown's health remains a concern. RB Kevin Faulk a fair option. And of course, the defense is a must.

RB Chris Fuamatu-M'Afala (ques)
DB James Trapp (injured reserve)

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

BUFFALO at TENNESSEE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 6 1/2

Records: Bills 6-7 (5-6-2 ATS); Titans 9-4 (8-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee has covered in three of the last four meetings, not including the 1999 divisional playoff game won on the miraculous kickoff return by Kevin Dyson (remember the Frank Wycheck "lateral"?).

Game Summary: The Titans were beaten on their own turf by Indy last week -- that doesn't happen often and it certainly won't fly two weeks in a row, even with the status of hobbled QB Steve McNair a concern. Buffalo got a nice win at the New York Jets, but this is a season that is virtually lost anyway after starting with immense promise. I look for Tennessee to rebound from last week with a quality home triumph, whether it's McNair or backup QB Billy Volek.

Prediction: TITANS, 27-14

No obvious plays, although it's tough to look past RB Travis Henry and WR Eric Moulds.

McNair is hobbled but still a better play than most QBs, as long as you can confirm he'll start. RB Eddie George is an iffy play because of a sore ankle - rookie Chris Brown figures even more work than usual. WRs Derrick Mason and Justin McCareins are solid. Avoid the TEs -- three are getting receptions. The defense/ST are a play.

RB Willis McGahee (prob)
TE Dave Moore (ques)
DE Keith McKenzie (ques)

QB Steve McNair (ques)
RB Eddie George (prob)
WR Drew Bennett (ques)
LB Rocky Calmus (injured reserve)
DB Andre Woolfolk (ques)

SAN FRANCISCO at CINCINNATI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bengals favored by 3

Records: 49ers 6-7 (6-6-1 ATS); Bengals 7-6 (9-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The 49ers are 0-6 on the road, 1-4-1 ATS. Cincinnati is 4-2 both ways.

Game Summary: No team has been as dependent on the location of their games as the 49ers, who are 6-1 at home but 0-6 on the road. They scored 50 points against Arizona at home last week but that's irrelevant in this one. It's hard to get past the nagging feeling that the Bengals could collapse, because reality says they remain a solid wild-card contender despite their recent hsitory. Take the home team.

Prediction: BENGALS, 23-16 (premium pick)

QB Jeff Garcia, fresh off six TDs combined, will return to Earth this week. But I like RB Kevan Barlow, and of course you have to roll with WR Terrell Owens.

Corey Dillon is again the man on the ground, but his stats have been very ordinary. Play with caution. QB Jon Kitna and WRs Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick are solid starts. And I like the defense, too.

RB Garrison Hearst (doubt)
TE Eric Johnson (ques)


ATLANTA at INDIANAPOLIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 7 1/2

Records: Falcons 3-10 (4-9 ATS); Colts 10-3 (8-4-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Indianapolis won the last meeting at home, 41-27, two years ago.

Game Summary: Obviously, the Falcons are a different team with QB Michael Vick leading the offense. This also looks like a potential letdown game for the Colts, coming off their emotional win at Tennessee a week after a gut-wrenching loss to New England. Can they help but be a bit flat? I'm not sure the Falcons have enough defense to shock the planet with an outright upset, but I like them to keep this one fairly close throughout.

Prediction: COLTS, 30-27

Is Vick fun to watch or what? Yeah, especially if he's yours. Play him. RB T.J. Duckett and WR Peerless Price are OK as well. And TE Alge Crumpler has new life.

Look for a ton of RB Edgerrin James, and just enough production from QB Peyton Manning and WR Marvin Harrison to keep their owners satisfied. TE Marcus Pollard also a worthwhile play. Pass on the defense.

RB Warrick Dunn (injured reserve)

RB James Mungro (injured reserve)
TE Dallas Clark (injured reserve)
KR Terrence Wilkins (ques)

HOUSTON at TAMPA BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bucs favored by 7*

Records: Texans 5-8 (7-6 ATS); Buccaneers 6-7 (6-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Although the Bucs have been remarkably unreliable this season, I can't see banged up Houston being much of a threat in this one... and there's no way a 6-7 team can anyone lightly, right? (gulp). If the Texans had both QB David Carr and RB Domanick Davis healthy, this might be a game. But Dave Ragone and Tony Hollings? No, thanks.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-6

* Estimated spread. Official line unavailable.

Tough to recommend anyone here... Davis, if he starts, is decent. Hollings more of a risk play is Davis sits. WRs Corey Bradford or Andre Johnson just might hit on another big play. TE Billy Miller? Only if Carr plays.

QB Brad Johnson and WR Keenan McCardell are solid. The RB situation continues to perplex followers. The D is a sure thing (yeah, right).

QB David Carr (ques)
QB Tony Banks (injured reserve)
RB Stacey Mack (injured reserve)
RB Domanick Davis (ques)

RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)
WR Keyshawn Johnson (de-activated)
WR Joe Jurevicius (injured reserve)
DL Warren Sapp (prob)
DB Tim Wansley (injured reserve)
DB Brian Kelly (injured reserve)

DETROIT at KANSAS CITY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 14

Records: Lions 4-9 (7-6 ATS); Chiefs 11-2 (8-5 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Despite being at virtually opposite ends of the league in terms of success, you'll notice that their ATS marks are separated by only one game.

Game Summary: I suspect the Chiefs will be an angry bunch after their performance at Denver. The defense especially has a lot to prove. It's always tough to lay so many points, but KC should dominate this one throughout.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 42-10

You're kidding, right?

There's no such Chiefs player as a bad play this week... OK, OK... avoid RB Larry Johnson. Play everyone else. And make sure the special teams are in there, too, because this is the week KR Dante Hall sets a record.

RB James Stewart (injured reserve)
WR Charles Rogers (injured reserve)
WR Scott Anderson (injured reserve)
WR Shawn Jefferson (ques)
WR Az Hakim (ques)


MINNESOTA at CHICAGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 1 1/2

Records: Vikings 8-5 (7-6 ATS); Bears 5-8 (7-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Minnesota won the first meeting this year at home, 24-13, but the Bears are 5-1 ATS at home.

Game Summary: Chicago has played extremely well of late, although the Bears collapsed at Green Bay last week after seizing a 14-0 lead. Minnesota appears to have its groove back, dismantling Seattle at home. While the Bears' defense is a little better, Minnesota has so much more offensive talent, the Vikes can't help but win this one... somehow. Especially revealing is the strong possibility that the Bears will start rookie Rex Grossman at QB. In fact, I submit that if Minnesota loses this one just because it's away from the Metrodome, the Vikes don't deserve to go to the playoffs.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 24-20

Why they don't just throw a bomb to WR Randy Moss on every play is anyone's guess. He and QB Daunte Culpepper are fantasy money in the bank at home, but merely solid plays on the road. RB Micahel Bennett's health is again a concern, but he's likely to play.

WR Marty Booker is the biggest fantasy threat, although RB Anthony Thomas may find the Vikes much to his liking. Grossman is a non-start until we see what he's got. Then again, if you're feeling lucky...

RB Michael Bennett (prob)
KR John Avery (out)

QB Chris Chandler (prob)
RB Adrian Peterson (injured reserve)
TE Dustin Lyman (out)

SEATTLE at ST. LOUIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 7

Records: Seahawks 8-5 (5-8 ATS); Rams 10-3 (8-4-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has won each of the last three meetings, going 2-1 ATS. The last game at St. Louis was won by the Rams, 37-20.

Game Summary: Seattle can't win on the road, the Rams don't lose at home. Easy call, right? Well, should be. But the NFL has a funny way of surprising us. So I'm going with a hunch play here... and that means in a showdown for the NFC West title, the Seahawks create turnovers and pull off a major shocker that benefits the Philadelphia Eagles almost as much as themselves.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 31-27

Last week, I said everyone was a strong play at Minnesota and, well, it didn't go down that way. But I'm sticking to my guns, and so should you. QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander and WRs Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson all rebound to score well.

Same as usual when the Rams are home. Play everyone who's healthy... but be wary as you opt to play the defense/special teams.

WR Bobby Engram (ques)
DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)
DL Norman Hand (out)

WR Dane Looker (ques)

BALTIMORE at OAKLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 6

Records: Ravens 8-5 (8-5 ATS); Raiders 3-10 (2-10-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Even when Oakland was good, Baltimore has owned this series -- winning and covering in each of the last three meetings including the 2000 AFC Title Game at Oakland.

Game Summary: The Raiders as TD home 'dogs is tempting, but Oakland is the type of organization that tends to tank it when there's nothing left to gain by playing hard. Baltimore is on a roll and playing for a division title. The Ravens defense will be too much.

Prediction: RAVENS, 23-9

RB Jamal Lewis against the AFC's worst run defense. Hmmm... I wouldn't even worry about anyone else.

You can take a shot with RB Tyrone Wheatley or perhaps WR Jerry Rice, who is bound to score more than one TD this season. But remember that either Rick Mirer or Rob Johnson will be the QB.

QB Kyle Boller (doubt)

QB Rich Gannon (injured reserve)
QB Rick Mirer (ques)
RB Justin Fargas (injured reserve)
DL Trace Armstrong (injured reserve)
LB Bill Romanowski (injured reserve)
DB Rod Woodson (injured reserve)

CLEVELAND at DENVER Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Broncos favored by 10 1/2

Records: Browns 4-9 (4-9 ATS); Broncos 8-5 (7-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Denver has won and covered the last four meetings, but none since 1998.

Game Summary: It looks like playing the letdown card works again here. The Broncos are coming off a bigtime romp over division rival Kansas City and have to travel to Indianapolis next week. The Browns' record isn't indicative of their competitiveness -- they've been in all but two games, essentially. I'm all over that half a point in their favor. Cleveland keeps it tight, as long as the short week doesn't have an adverse effect (it might).

Prediction: BRONCOS, 27-20

QB Tim Couch (probably) and RB Jamel White will start, but don't expect big results. WR Quincy Morgan seems to fare better with Couch - he's worth a shot.

Can RB Clinton Portis come up with an encore to last week's 200+ yards and five TDs? Most likely. QB Jake Plummer and TE Shannon Sharpe a steady combo, and WR Rod Smith always a reasonable option.

RB William Green (out, suspended)
RB James Jackson (injured reserve)
TE Aaron Shea (out)
K Phil Dawson (injured reserve)

WR Ed McCaffrey (ques)
LB Ian Gold (injured reserve)
LB John Mobley (injured reserve)
KR Chris Cole (injured reserve)

GREEN BAY at SAN DIEGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 5

Records: Packers 7-6 (7-6 ATS); Chargers 3-10 (5-8 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Green Bay has won the last three meetings, including two at San Diego, but none since 1997.

Game Summary: Few would argue that the Packers are the superior team, but this is precisely the type of game Green Bay has stumbled in all season -- on the road, against supposedly inferior opposition. Oddly, I'd like the Packers better if San Diego had a winning record. Can the Chargers win two straight? With RB LaDainian Tomlinson running roughshod through the Packers' D, they certainly could. But the uncertainty at QB prevents an upset prediction outright.

Prediction: PACKERS, 27-24

The weather should be great -- bad conditions for QB Brett Favre, who seems to excel more when it's below freezing. RB Ahman Green will be a big stats man, and WR Javon Walker is becoming a weekly scoring threat.

I like the Bolts' big two in this one -- Tomlinson, and WR David Boston with either QB. Like Wayne and Garth in the presence of Aerosmith, the D still isn't worthy.

DL Joe Johnson (injured reserve)

WR Eric Parker (out)
WR Tim Dwight (injured reserve)
TE Stephen Alexander (prob)

DALLAS at WASHINGTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Even

Records: Cowboys 8-5 (7-5-1 ATS); Redskins 5-8 (6-6-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Dallas has won 11 of the last 12 in this series, going 9-2-1 ATS.

Game Summary: The Cowboys won the first meeting this season at Dallas, 21-14, and the rematch represents an interesting challenge, given the Cowboys are on the road a second straight week and are coming off back-to-back ugly defeats. In their last three road games, Dallas has been outscored a combined 64-10. But this is Washington, which has been owned by the Cowboys the last several years. Dallas figures to get that elusive ninth win that guarantees a winning season.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 20-13 (premium pick)

Look for QB Quincy Carter to have a decent game, and to make a point of finding his WRs, who combined caught one pass at Philly. RB Troy Hambrick is a fair play. The defense is a definite go.

Defense played well last week against a Giants team that has cashed it in. The Skins' teams are a reasonable play. Pick your favorite Redskins WR, and go with him. Ignore all others.

RB Aveion Cason (injured reserve)

QB Patrick Ramsey (injured reserve)
RB Trung Canidate (ques)
DL Brandon Noble (injured reserve)

CAROLINA at ARIZONA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 6 1/2

Records: Panthers 8-5 (5-8 ATS); Cardinals 3-10 (4-9 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Arizona has won the last two meetings, both at Carolina.

Game Summary: The Cardinals are a different team at home -- they play just about everyone tough. On the road, they'd probably have a hard time with Arizona State. And now the Cards will go with rookie QB Joshua McCown in place of veteran Jeff Blake. Carolina has dropped four straight ATS and three in a row overall. Tough call, but regardless of who wins I expect it to be close -- whomever QBs the Cardinals.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 19-16

RB Stephen Davis is still the top threat, with WRs Mushin Muhammad and Steve Smith also legit plays, but not QB Jake Delhomme. The D remains a solid option.

Rookie WR Anquan Boldin remains weekly money, although it's hard to say how he'll be affected by McCown. RB Marcel Shipp is pretty solid. Arizona's defense is a good risk/reward play.

TE Mike Seidman (injured reserve)

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

NEW YORK GIANTS at NEW ORLEANS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Saints favored by 7 1/2

Records: Giants 4-9 (3-10 ATS); Saints 6-7 (6-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Giants won the last meeting, at the Meadowlands two years ago, 21-13. They haven't played at New Orleans since 1999.

Game Summary: The Saints are notorious for under-achieving... uh, and that goes for the Giants as well. Thing is, New Orleans plays poorly when least expected. The Giants have look awful for a month, and they're so banged up, there's no logical reason to pick them to be tough here.

Prediction: SAINTS, 31-20

Fumble-prone RB Tiki Barber remains a play, and WR Amani Toomer can get open deep at a moment's notice. QB Kerry Collins a go if healthy, backup Jesse Palmer isn't.

RB Deuce McAlister and WR Joe Horn are definite plays, and you probably want to go with fumble-prone QB Aaron Brooks, too. As for anyone else... I like TE Boo Williams.

QB Kerry Collins (doubt)
WR Ike Hilliard (ques)
TE Jeremy Shockey (ques)
DL Kenny Holmes (injured reserve)
DB Will Allen (injured reserve)
DB Shaun Williams (injured reserve)

WR Donte' Stallworth (prob)
TE Ernie Conwell (out)

PHILADELPHIA at MIAMI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Dolphins favored by 2

Records: Eagles 10-3 (9-4 ATS); Dolphins 8-5 (6-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Philadelphia is 5-1 ATS on the road, Miami is 1-5 ATS at home.

Game Summary: The above stats be damned, I like the Dolphins on their stage. RB Ricky Williams has been in a two-month slumber, but I'm guessing he emerges from his hibernation with a big game on the national stage against a quality defense that, nevertheless, can be run against successfully. Miami's defense has the right mix to neutralize QB Donovan McNabb. But I qualify this pick -- Miami wins if QB Jay Fiedler plays, but the Eagles take it if Brian Griese get the start.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 17-13

Play the D, of course, but anyone else - including QB Donovan McNabb - is a risk play... as in, you risk getting next to nada. I'm not sure McNabb has returned to the ranks of elite player... yeah, he's a play unless you also own another top 5 guy.

I like Williams and the defense, and maybe WR Chris Chambers, if your standards/needs aren't too lofty.


QB Jay Fiedler (ques)