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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 16
By Bob Cunningham
December 18, 2003
 

STRAIGHT-UP
Last Week -- 12-4
Overall -- 132-92 (59%)

AGAINST THE SPREAD
Last Week -- 8-7-1
Overall -- 112-103-9 (52%)

PREMIUM PICKS*
Last Week -- 1-0-1
Overall -- 15-9-1 (63%)

Ah, the second-to-last week... this is when NFL head coaches first start monkeying around with your chances to win a fantasy title.

Take Carolina coach John Fox for instance. He has announced that several key players may sit out this week's game against Detroit at home in order to get them healthy for the playoffs. The Panthers have clinched the NFC South, and the one huge name from among those aforementioned potential benchees is RB Stephen Davis. If you also have DeShaun Foster on your roster, you're OK. Otherwise, you're probably screwed.

If it's the latter, I can relate. Davis is my second back, in tandem with LaDainian Tomlinson. If Davis doesn't play, my alternatives are Michael Pittman (who's been inexplicably benched) or Chris Brown (a rookie who get maybe three or four carries a game).

My gosh, do I hate trade/transaction deadlines.

PREVIEW - WEEK 16 (Dec. 20-22)

ATLANTA at TAMPA BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Buccaneers favored by 7

Records: Falcons 3-11 (4-10 ATS); Buccaneers 7-7 (7-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tampa Bay has won the last three meetings, including two at Atlanta, by at least 14 points. And those include a 31-10 drubbing of the Falcons at Atlanta in Week 3.

Game Summary: Many folks gave up on the Bucs by Thanksgiving, but the defending Super Bowl champs are making a strong push to get into the playoffs. Their defense has returned to form, and the offense has been revitalized by the de-activation of Keyshawn Johnson and the promotion of Thomas Jones to regular duty. Although it looked initially like the return of QB Michael Vick would revive the Falcons, the subsequent firing of veteran coach Dan Reeves led to a lopsided loss at Indy last week. Tampa Bay definitely is the choice.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 27-10

Falcons:
RB TJ Duckett has scored a TD in four straight games, so that makes him worth a shot here. And Vick is always capable of great things. But generally, Falcons players need to be benched.

Buccaneers:
Jones responded to the start in high fashion against Houston, and he could find even more running room against the Falcons. QB Brad Johnson and WR Keenan McCardell are also worth a look. The defense/special teams are a no-brainer.

Falcons:
RB Warrick Dunn (injured reserve)

Buccaneers:
RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)
WR Joe Jurevicius (injured reserve)
TE Ken Dilger (ques)
DB Tim Wansley (injured reserve)
DB Brian Kelly (injured reserve)

KANSAS CITY at MINNESOTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 3

Records: Chiefs 12-2 (9-5 ATS); Vikings 8-6 (7-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Wow, can either team play any defense? Sure, the Vikes only yielded 13 points at Chicago... but that was the Bears, with a rookie QB, and Minnesota still lost. KC's offense is eye-popping, but its defense isn't really championship-caliber. In the two games at Minnesota this season that experts felt the Vikings might lose, they outscored their opponents a combined 69-7. The Vikings as home 'dogs with a playoff berth on the line... I gotta go with 'em.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 38-31

Chiefs:
All the primary offensive personnel are strong plays -- QB Trent Green, RB Priest Holmes, TE Tony Gonzalez and WRs Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton. If your league combines defense with special teams, sit 'em.

Vikings:
The Minnesota ground game is injury-depleted, so avoid the imminent RBBC scenario. Look for even more Daunte Culpepper-to-Randy Moss than usual.

Chiefs:
None.

Vikings:
RB Michael Bennett (ques)
RB Moe Williams (ques)
RB Onterrio Smith (ques)

NEW ENGLAND at NEW YORK JETS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 3

Records: Patriots 12-2 (12-2 ATS); Jets 6-8 (4-8-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team had won four straight in this series before New England's 23-16 win at Foxboro in Week 3, and the last meeting at The Meadowlands was a 44-7 Patriots rout last season.

Game Summary: You'd think a 12-2 team would be favored by more than a field goal over a 6-8 club... but oddsmakers are probably figuring in a rivalry factor and the expectation of bad weather, perhaps. Yeah, me too. These damn hunches of mine... I look for the Jets to make this game their Super Bowl -- coach Herman Edwards is a great motivator that way. And the Jets' pass rush can cause problems. Both KC and New England losing? A reach, I admit. But I'm sticking to my home 'dog roots.

Prediction: JETS, 20-17

Patriots:
QB Tom Brady, WR Troy Brown and TE Daniel Graham are plays, but not great plays. RB Antowain Smith is solid in TD-only leagues. Continue with the hot defense.

Jets:
I like QB Chad Pennington a lot, but this is a bad matchup. Only if you really don't have an alternative is he worth a play. Ditto WR Santana Moss. RB Curtis Martin was excellent last week against Pittsburgh -- he's probably the safest Jets play.

Patriots:
WR Deion Branch (ques)
WR Bethel Johnson (ques)
WR David Patten (injured reserve)
LB Roosevelt Colvin (injured reserve)

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

MIAMI at BUFFALO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Even

Records: Dolphins 8-6 (6-8 ATS); Bills 6-8 (6-6-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Miami won at home in the first meeting this season, 17-7, but the Bills rolled, 38-21, Dec. 1, 2002 - the last meeting at Buffalo.

Game Summary: The Dolphins' struggles on the road late in seasons have been covered thoroughly, but the problem with Miami right now is its defense - it was downright porous against Philadelphia Monday night and has failed to play well in the big games for much of the season. The Bills should be loose and poised to be spoilers.

Prediction: BILLS, 16-9 (premium pick)

Dolphins:
Only the defense and RB Ricky Williams are worth serious consideration... and ya gotta play such an elite back as Ricky regardless of the matchup or locale.

Bills:
The defense and RB Travis Henry, plus maybe WR Eric Moulds. QB Drew Bledsoe is not a solid play.

Bills:
TE Dave Moore (ques)
DE Keith McKenzie (ques)

Dolphins:
none

BALTIMORE at CLEVELAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 3

Records: Ravens 8-6 (8-6 ATS); Browns 4-10 (5-9 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Baltimore is 3-1, SU and ATS, in its last four trips to Cleveland. Also, the Ravens beat the Browns, 33-13, in their first meeting this season at Baltimore.

Game Summary: The Ravens were remarkably flat at Oakland last week, but I'd be surprised if it happened again. Cleveland has played most everyone tough, and this game probably will be more of the same, but the Ravens' record of success at Cleveland plus their dominance of the first meeting (remember Jamal Lewis' record-setting day?)gives them the edge.

Prediction: RAVENS, 22-13

Ravens:
Here's a bold prediction -- Lewis won't rush for 300 yards. But he might get half that. I advise against the Baltimore passing game (Anthony Wright is still the QB), except for TE Todd Heap. Play the D, of course.

Browns:
Rookie RB Lee Suggs might split time with Jamel White. Ignore both. QB Tim Couch is a sleeper-type play, but the which-WR-to-play dilemma continues.

Ravens:
QB Kyle Boller (prob)

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

CINCINNATI at ST. LOUIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 6 1/2

Records: Bengals 8-6 (9-4-1 ATS); Rams 11-3 (8-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: The Rams have been unbeatable at home, but the Bengals have been very solid on the road. Both teams need the game, but the Bengals need it more -- their very survival for this season may depend on it. Still, there's just no beating the Rams on their home turf. We predicted a Seattle upset last week and got sort of close, but that's not enough. Rams keep rolling.

Prediction: RAMS, 30-19

Bengals:
The Rams can be run on, but Corey Dillon should be back from the flu. He and Rudi Johnson may nullify each other. QB Jon Kitna and WRs Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick are worthy.

Rams:
WR Isaac Bruce might not be at full speed, so if you want a sleeper consider either of WRs Dane Looker or Will Furrey. The other weapons are good to go again, as usual.

Bengals:
RB Corey Dillon (prob)

Rams:
WR Isaac Bruce (ques)
LB Robert Thomas (ques)

TENNESSEE at HOUSTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 7*

Records: Titans 10-4 (8-6 ATS); Texans 5-9 (7-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee won the only previous meeting at Houston, 13-3, last season. The Titans won at home this season, 38-17, in Week 6.

Game Summary: With QB Billy Volek out for the season, it looks as if Steve McNair has little choice but to return to action. Look for the Titans to control the game on defense against a Houston attack that gets QB David Carr back. Still, I like divisional home 'dogs in this category, and Tennessee still isn't at full strength.

Prediction: TITANS, 16-10

* Estimated spread. Official line unavailable.

Titans:
McNair will be protected by a fairly conservative strategy, meaning the RBs will get the bulk of the work if possible. The defense might get a shutout.

Texans:
If Carr does return, Houston will be much better off. But he would not be a recommended play. Your best bet on this club might be big-play WR Cory Bradford or TE Billy Miller.

Titans:
QB Steve McNair (ques)
QB Billy Volek (out)
LB Rocky Calmus (injured reserve)
DB Andre Woolfolk (ques)

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

NEW ORLEANS at JACKSONVILLE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Jaguars favored by 1

Records: Saints 7-7 (7-7 ATS); Jaguars 4-10 (7-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Coming off a 45-7 rout of the New York Giants, the Saints are on a playoff push of their own. Their odds aren't good, but they're in the hunt. Although Jacksonville's defense has been very good for most of the last month, I like the Saints' balanced offense to get it done on the road.

Prediction: SAINTS, 24-17 (premium pick)

Saints:
Don't expect another 5-TD game from QB Aaron Brooks or four by WR Joe Horn anytime soon, but you can ride the hot hands. RB Deuce McAlister continues to be an automatic play.

Jaguars:
RB Fred Taylor remains the only easy choice, with WR Jimmy Smith another decent option. The defense is a risk play.

Saints:
TE Ernie Conwell (injured reserve)

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

NEW YORK GIANTS at DALLAS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Cowboys favored by 10 1/2

Records: Giants 4-10 (3-11 ATS); Cowboys 9-5 (8-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Dallas won the first meeting this season, 35-32 in OT at the Meadowlands, but the Giants triumphed, 21-17, the last time these teams clashed at Dallas.

Game Summary: I know, I know... the Giants have quit. They (not so) secretly wanted coach Jim Fassel out, so they're mailing it in. Well, despite the pathetic results of the last several weeks, I have a hard time buying that completely. Perhaps invigorated that Fassel will be history after the season, take the Giants to keep this one competitive, especially if QB Kerry Collins returns but even if he doesn't.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 17-13

Giants:
Tough to recommend anyone, but go with WR Amani Toomer if Collins plays, and RB Tiki Barber either way.

Cowboys:
Despite the occasional big games, Dallas is still not an offense associated with big fantasy numbers. Any that you play comes with the risk of attaining nothing. Only the Cowboys defense ranks as an automatic start.

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

Cowboys:
RB Aveion Cason (injured reserve)

WASHINGTON at CHICAGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bears favored by 4 1/2

Records: Redskins 5-9 (6-7-1 ATS); Bears 6-8 (8-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Chicago won the last meeting, 20-15 at Washington in 2001.

Game Summary: One of my two primary upset picks of the week. Washington has been a solid road team ATS, and I'm fickle on the Bears. I believe the Redskins' secondary against a rookie QB is a mismatch in Washington's favor. If the Skins can balance their attack, they'll surprise the favored hosts.

Prediction: REDSKINS, 19-13 (premium pick)

Redskins:
Don't expect much from either offense. QB Tim Hasselbeck shouldn't be in any fantasy lineup. WRs Laveranues Coles, Rod Gardner and Darian McCants are all risk plays. Rock Cartwright is the best RB, but isn't a start.

Bears:
RB Anthony Thomas is the only worthwhile play, other than the D. WR Marty Booker's value is reduced by the presence of rookie QB Rex Grossman.

Redskins:
QB Patrick Ramsey (injured reserve)
RB Trung Canidate (doubt)
RB Ladell Betts (doubt)

Bears:
TE Desmond Clark (ques)
TE Dustin Lyman (injured reserve)

DETROIT at CAROLINA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 10

Records: Lions 4-10 (7-7 ATS); Panthers 9-5 (5-9 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Carolina won the last meeting at home, 31-7, in 2002.

Game Summary: If the Lions lose, they'll set an NFL record with their 24th straight road defeat. Carolina is the superior team of course, but because the Panthers have clinched the NFC South, coach John Fox might rest ailing players he considers key. As mentioned in the lead to this column, that might mean RB Stephen Davis among others. I'm not sure Carolina could beat anyone by 10 points right now, either way.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 23-20

Lions:
Still no fantasy recommendations. The closest would be WR Az Hakim, because of his big-play potential, or RB Artose Pinner as a sleeper.

Panthers:
If you can confirm his starting status, RB DeShaun Foster is an excellent play. If Davis goes, he might be limited. WRs Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad are solid plays, as is the defense/ST.

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

Panthers:
RB Stephen Davis (ques)
TE Mike Seidman (injured reserve)

SAN DIEGO at PITTSBURGH Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Steelers favored by 6

Records: Chargers 3-11 (5-9 ATS); Steelers 5-9 (6-8 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Pittsburgh has won and covered six of the last seven meetings, but the teams haven't played since 1998.

Game Summary: The Steelers might be the closest AFC version of the Giants - a decent team that has under-achieved woefully and now might simply be playing out the string. The difference, though, is that Bill Cowher remains mostly beloved in SteelTown. The Steelers passing game should be able to exploit San Diego's anemic secondary for some big plays. If LaDainian Tomlinson doesn't beat them by himself, the Steelers should have their way.

Prediction: STEELERS, 27-16

Chargers:
QB Drew Brees isn't a bad option - he put up good numbers against Green Bay last week and will probably have to throw a lot again. Tomlinson is red-hot and a must, and WR David Boston is just productive enough to merit regular play.

Steelers:
Look for QB Tommy Maddox and WRs Hines Ward and/or Plaxico Burress to have big days. RB Amos Zereoue is a decent darkhorse start, because Jerome Bettis has a sore knee.

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

Steelers:
RB Jerome Bettis (ques)
RB Verron Haynes (injured reserve)
DB Chad Scott (injured reserve)

SAN FRANCISCO at PHILADELPHIA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 7 1/2

Records: 49ers 6-8 (6-6-2 ATS); Eagles 11-3 (10-4 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Philadelphia won the last meeting, 38-17 at San Francisco last season. The teams haven't met at Philadelphia since the mid-1990s.

Game Summary: The Eagles are rolling along... pretty tough to envision a stumble here with homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs within their grasp. The 49ers played tough at Cincinnati last week but they're otherwise pitiful away from home. QB Jeff Garcia is playing well, but he hasn't encountered a defense as good as Philly's since his return to the lineup.

Prediction: EAGLES, 24-13

49ers:
Garcia and WR Terrell Owens are risky plays because of the matchup. RB Kevan Barlow, on the other hand, is a solid start. Ignore everyone and everything else.

Eagles:
QB Donovan McNabb has re-emerged as an MVP candidate. On the ground, it's still take-your-pick among three backs. The best receiver might be TE Chad Lewis. The defense is a no-brainer -- play it.

49ers:
RB Garrison Hearst (doubt)

Eagles:
none

ARIZONA at SEATTLE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Seahawks favored by 13 1/2

Records: Cardinals 3-11 (5-9 ATS); Seahawks 8-6 (6-8 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Arizona is 0-7 SU and ATS on the road, Seattle is 7-0 SU at home. However, the visiting team has won each of the three meetings since these teams became division rivals.

Game Summary: It's easy, obviously, to say Seattle should win. But what makes this matchup stand out is the Seahawks' desire to make a statement on defense. Coordinator Ray Rhodes has them thinking they're playoff caliber, so they need to show as much. As much as I hate laying such a hefty total, the numbers and the circumstances point directly to a Seahawks romp.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 31-7

Cardinals:
Rookie WR Anquan Boldin would prefer veteran Jeff Blake to remain the QB, but he's still a decent play. QB Joshua McCown is not. RBs Marcel Shipp and Emmitt Smith may cancel each other out... and you don't want either anyway.

Seahawks:
QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander and WRs Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson are all must-plays. And as indicated, I heartily recommend the Seattle defense.

Cardinals:
WR Jason McAddley (injured reserve)

Seahawks:
DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)
DB Reggie Tongue (ques)

DENVER at INDIANAPOLIS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 6*

Records: Broncos 9-5 (7-7 ATS); Colts 11-3 (9-4-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Colts have won the last two meetings - at Denver during the '02 regular season and at home handily in the '01 AFC divisional playoffs.

Game Summary: This was going to be upset biggie... but that was before RB Clinton Portis got dinged. The injury he has usually requires a week off. He might gut it out, because the Broncos need the game badly, but he could start and then not finish. Anyway, I'm making this pick based on anticipating his absence. With Mike Anderson or whomever, it's just not the same.

Prediction: COLTS, 27-17

* Estimated spread. Official line unavailable.

Broncos:
Portis' status is huge -- with him, the rest of the offense is better. Without him, the run game is fair at best. K Jason Elam is a great play in the dome. The passing game might be good, especially if Denver falls behind.

Colts:
All of the primary offensive weapons must be in the lineup, and I'd strongly consider the defense as well especially if Portis sits. Tony Dungy is a fine coach.

Broncos:
RB Clinton Portis (ques)
LB Ian Gold (injured reserve)
LB John Mobley (injured reserve)
KR Chris Cole (injured reserve)

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

GREEN BAY at OAKLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 5

Records: Packers 8-6 (8-6 ATS); Raiders 4-10 (3-10-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Can the Packers prevail on the Left Coast twice in consecutive weeks? I say yes, because QB Brett Favre is healthy again and the Raiders won't have an answer for Ahman Green amid Favre's constant threat. Offensively, Oakland deserves credit for hanging 20 points on Baltimore last week, but they'll need a lot more to win again.

Prediction: PACKERS, 30-17

Packers:
Because he scored last week, WR Donald Driver might be back in business as the Pack's top WR. Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson are legit, too, especially for TDs.

Raiders:
RB Tyrone Wheatley is a decent option, and WRs Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter are OK... if you're willing to gamble.

Packers:
DL Joe Johnson (injured reserve)

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