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NFL Weekly Picks - Week 17
By Bob Cunningham
December 25, 2003

Last Week -- 9-7
Overall -- 141-99 (59%)

Last Week -- 9-6-1
Overall -- 121-109-10 (53%)

Last Week -- 1-0-1
Overall -- 16-10-2 (62%)

Another entertaining, perplexing NFL regular season is about to close. It's been fun, as always.

Okay, so my preseason pick of Miami to win the Super Bowl isn't going to happen... I can live with that. There have been some of my calls that have come to fruition, too. Gimme a minute or two, and I'll come up with one...

Ah, to heck with it. Let's get to the season finales:

PREVIEW - WEEK 17 (Dec. 27-29)

BUFFALO at NEW ENGLAND Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Patriots favored by 8 1/2

Records: Bills 6-9 (6-7-2 ATS); Patriots 13-2 (13-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Before Buffalo's surprising 31-0 romp in this year's season opener, the Pats had won the last four meetings including two at home by 10 points each.

Game Summary: Not only do the Patriots have homefield throughout the AFC playoffs to play for, but they also sport revenge as a motivator, because the Bills not only beat them in that opener... they spanked them like newborns. I keep waiting for New England to let down a bit, and it doesn't happen - the team is 13-2 ATS as well as SU. I can't foresee them not finishing the job behind their crushing defense.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 24-10


I'd bench everyone if feasible on your roster. Otherwise, RB Travis Henry is the only legit start.


RB Antowain Smith is getting on a roll as the playoffs approach - he could see plenty of action in this one, because the Buffalo pass defense is quite respectable. QB Tom Brady is a good but not great play, along with WR Troy Brown and TE Daniel Graham. The defense is on a roll and might even get another shutout in this one.


DE Keith McKenzie (ques)


WR David Patten (injured reserve)

LB Roosevelt Colvin (injured reserve)

SEATTLE at SAN FRANCISCO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Even

Records: Seahawks 9-6 (7-8 ATS); 49ers 7-8 (7-6-2 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: In the three meetings since becoming NFC West rivals, the 49ers have won two by seven points each and lost at Seattle earlier this season by one. Seattle is 1-6 SU on the road, San Francisco 6-1 at home.

Game Summary: I'm surprised the oddsmakers expect play on Seattle, because logic dictates the 49ers to be a slight home favorite. They have plenty to gain -- a win would square their season series with Seattle and achieve an 8-8 record, plus knock a division rival out of the playoff chase. And I'm not convinced the 49ers passing game will be that bad off minus Terrell Owens. Tai Streets suddenly becomes important, and I like Brandon Lloyd and Cedric Wilson.

Prediction: 49ERS, 27-17 (premium pick)


QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Darrell Jackson reportedly healthy and good to go. RB Shaun Alexander and WR Koren Robinson are also strong plays.


QB Jeff Garcia and RB Kevan Barlow have been playing great - no reason not to stick with them here. The WR situation is more dicey, but if Streets plays he's a fair option. I like the kid Lloyd, but Wilson might be the better fit as a sub for Owens. The defense is solid.


DL Chad Eaton (injured reserve)

DB Reggie Tongue (ques)


RB Garrison Hearst (ques)

WR Terrell Owens (out)

PHILADELPHIA at WASHINGTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Eagles favored by 6 1/2

Records: Eagles 11-4 (10-5 ATS); Redskins 5-10 (7-7-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Redskins covered ATS at Philadelphia earlier this season, losing 27-25. But, Philly is 6-1 ATS on the road and Washington is 1-5-1 ATS at home.

Game Summary: It seems logical that the Eagles will rebound from their home loss to San Francisco and play well in preparation for the postseason. But this might prove to be a testy matchup for them... Washington nearly pulled an upset at Philadelphia early this season. This looks like one of those split-the-difference games for me, because I like the Eagles to win but I also like divisional home underdogs in the TD range to cover.

Prediction: EAGLES, 19-14


RB Correll Buckhalter returns after a coach-imposed 1-game suspension. He's the favorite to be most productive among he and fellow RBs Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook. QB Donovan McNabb wasn't sharp against SF but he's still a play. Veteran WR James Thrash is the best of a mediocre bunch of receivers.


Sit all except WR Laveranues Coles, including RB Rock Cartwright.


LB Carlos Emmons (out)

DB Troy Vincent (doubt)


QB Patrick Ramsey (injured reserve)

RB Trung Canidate (doubt)

RB Ladell Betts (doubt)

DB Champ Bailey (ques)

NEW YORK JETS at MIAMI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Dolphins favored by 4

Records: Jets 6-9 (4-9-2 ATS); Dolphins 9-6 (7-8 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None, because games between these two have been unpredictable. The Jets are 1-5-1 ATS on the road, the Dolphins 1-6 ATS at home this season.

Game Summary: It's hard to say how Miami will respond to being officially eliminated from playoff consideration. RB Ricky Williams is expected to play despite a sore shoulder, but he may not get full duty. The Jets have had a fair amount of success in this series in recent years, and I like the current play of their defense. Miami's D is even better, true, but the Dolphins' offense isn't. Upset time.

Prediction: JETS, 16-13


RB Curtis Martin has been playing like a kid again, but will find the holes fewer and smaller in this one. QB Chad Pennington and WR Santana Moss are key weapons, and the defense is worthy.


Williams' numbers may be modest with his health a question. The passing game isn't much right now. WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael, along with the D, are the plays.


WR Wayne Chrebet (out)

KR Michael Bates (injured reserve)


WR James McKnight (out)

CLEVELAND at CINCINNATI Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Bengals favored by 7 1/2

Records: Browns 4-11 (5-10 ATS); Bengals 8-7 (9-5-1 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Cincinnati won the first meeting this season, 21-14, at Cleveland.

Game Summary: The Bengals will still have a shot at winning their division when this one is played, because Baltimore doesn't play until the evening. A victory would also give the Bengals a winning record, and that's a big deal for a franchise more often referred to as the Bungles. Cleveland has been up and down... especially down... but tends to play good teams tough, and this is a rivalry game.

Prediction: BENGALS, 28-24


The passing game might flourish, especially if the team falls behind. QB Tim Couch and WRs Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt are the best plays. Rookie RB Lee Suggs and RB Jamel White probably eliminate each other.


WR Chad Johnson is a regular play, but Peter Warrick may sit. The running game is shared, and the defense is risky.


RB William Green (out, suspended)

RB James Jackson (injured reserve)

TE Aaron Shea (out)


WR Peter Warrick (ques)

LB Adrian Ross (out)

INDIANAPOLIS at HOUSTON Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Colts favored by 7

Records: Colts 11-4 (9-5-1 ATS); Texans 5-10 (8-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Colts have won all three previous meetings by at least nine points, and won the only meeting at Houston, 23-3, a year ago Sept. 22.

Game Summary: On paper, the Colts should dominate. But normally, I like divisional home underdogs. The numbers say such 'dogs cover ATS more than 70 percent of the time. So what's the tiebreaker? Indy's attitude. I have a hunch that coach Tony Dungy will have them fired up following their home loss to Denver last Sunday night. The Colts can still win their division and get homefield throughout the playoffs. They'll come out firing.

Prediction: COLTS, 31-13


The passing game will rebound from last week's no-TD effort - you don't hold down QB Peyton Manning and WR Marvin Harrison two weeks in a row. RB Edgerrin James and TE Marcus Pollard are also good plays, as is WR Reggie Wayne in deeper leagues. Go with the defense, too.


Houston must run the ball to have a chance at the upset, so opting for RB Domanick Davis is wise. Pass on the passing game.


RB James Mungro (injured reserve)

TE Dallas Clark (injured reserve)


RB Stacey Mack (injured reserve)

TAMPA BAY at TENNESSEE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Titans favored by 6 1/2

Records: Buccaneers 7-8 (7-8 ATS); Titans 11-4 (8-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee has won all three previous meetings (the first two as the Houston Oilers).

Game Summary: Another team whose reaction to adverse circumstances is difficult to predict. The Bucs have nothing to gain in this one outside of avoiding a losing season, but I'm sure they consider 8-8 a losing year all the same. The Titans can win the AFC Central with a win and Indy loss, but they know the Colts losing to Houston is unlikely.

Prediction: TITANS, 23-13


QB Brad Johnson and WRs Charles Lee and Keenan McCardell will get work, as will RB Michael Pittman as a WR out of the backfield. RB Thomas Jones is decent as a play, and the defense is still worthwhile.


Like last week, look for McNair to be decent but not spectacular. RB Eddie George will run, but WR Derrick Mason is dinged, possibly elevating Justin McCareins.


RB Mike Alstott (injured reserve)

WR Joe Jurevicius (injured reserve)


WR Derrick Mason (ques)

WR Tyrone Calico (ques)

LB Rocky Calmus (injured reserve)

JACKSONVILLE at ATLANTA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Falcons favored by 3

Records: Jaguars 5-10 (7-7-1 ATS); Falcons 4-11 (5-10 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Atlanta is just 1-6 at home, SU and ATS.

Game Summary: Young Jax QB Byron Leftwich is quite promising, but Michael Vick of the Falcons is the real deal... and that's the difference in this one.

Prediction: FALCONS, 20-13


RB Fred Taylor is an easy choice, but Leftwich and

WR Jimmy Smith merit consideration, as does the Jaguars defense/ST.


Vick and RB T.J. Duckett are likely to put up solid numbers, with WR Peerless Price and TE Alge Crumpler also worth considering. WR Brian Finneran more of a longshot.


RB Chris Fuamatu-M'Afala (ques)

DL Tony Brackens (doubt)

DB James Trapp (injured reserve)


RB Warrick Dunn (injured reserve)

CHICAGO at KANSAS CITY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chiefs favored by 10

Records: Bears 7-8 (8-6-1 ATS); Chiefs 12-3 (9-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Chicago is 3-0 ATS against KC the last 10 years, but the teams haven't met since 1998.

Game Summary: The Bears are playing extremely well, but they're outgunned in this one. The Chiefs will be fired up after getting trounced at Minnesota, and their much-maligned defense is motivated to step up and help secure a first-round playoff bye.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 34-14


RB Anthony Thomas is a strong play, and WR Marty Booker is the only option among the receivers. Avoid everyone else.


Play the principles, forget the rest -- it's the last week, you don't want to get cute. The real decision here is the Chiefs defense - if combined with special teams, go for it. Otherwise, it's too stressful a choice.


WR Dez White (out)

WR Justin Gage (doubt)

DL Keith Traylor (ques)


WR Marc Boerigter (ques)

DALLAS at NEW ORLEANS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Cowboys favored by 1 1/2

Records: Cowboys 10-5 (9-5-1 ATS); Saints 7-8 (7-7-1 ATS);

Stats Worth Noting: New Orleans has covered the last three meetings ATS, but the teams haven't met since 1999.

Game Summary: Dallas can still win its division, but most likely it will finish as the No. 5 seed and travel to Minnesota or Green Bay for its first playoff game. The Saints are probably shell-shocked from last week's wild finish at Jacksonville, but wouldn't it be a feel-good story if John Carney kicked the winning field goal for the Saints a week after blowing a game-tying PAT? Yes it would, but this isn't a fairy tale. It's the NFL.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 21-14


No obvious plays other than the defense. QB Quincy Carter and WR Joey Galloway are pretty solid, and RB Troy Hambrick is OK.


RB Deuce McAlister is dinged - because the game is meaningless, the Saints may be cautious with him and limit his playing time. Beware. The passing game is hurting without WR Joe Horn and with WR Donte' Stallworth always ailing. Sit 'em all.


RB Aveion Cason (injured reserve)


RB Deuce McAlister (ques)

WR Joe Horn (out)

TE Ernie Conwell (injured reserve)

ST. LOUIS at DETROIT Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Rams favored by 8 1/2

Records: Rams 12-3 (9-5-1 ATS); Lions 4-11 (8-7 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Rams won the last meeting, at Detroit in 2001, 35-0.

Game Summary: As good as St. Louis is at home, its road track record is bumpy. The Rams are 4-3 on the road this season, which is solid, but only once did they dominate offensively. Detroit usually makes a tough home underdog, but didn't in the last meeting between these two. The Rams will make sure to find a way to win, pulling away late, to secure homefield throughout the NFC playoffs.

Prediction: RAMS, 28-16


I've seen a report that RB Marshall Faulk might get rested, although that's illogical based on what's at stake. Monitor this closely. The passing game is fine, except that WR Isaac Bruce may sit again. The defense is a good play.


Kicker Jason Hanson is the best I can do for a fantasy recommendation, and my heart's not really in that one, either.


WR Isaac Bruce (doubt)

LB Robert Thomas (ques)


DL Robert Porcher (ques)

CAROLINA at NEW YORK GIANTS Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Panthers favored by 5 1/2

Records: Panthers 10-5 (5-10 ATS); Giants 4-11 (3-12 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: Carolina's motivation is questionable - The Panthers appear entrenched as the third seed, can do no worse than the fourth, which means they're hosting a first-round playoff game no matter who it's against. The Giants have completely run out of steam... but if I were a Giants veteran player with some pride, I'd be shooting for a positive note to end a terrible season... to send my departing head coach out a winner and save a little face. Carolina is ripe. What the heck...

Prediction: GIANTS, 20-19


RB Stephen Davis may play, but at best he's likely to share duties with DeShaun Foster. QB Jake Delhomme and WR Steve Smith are good plays, as is the D.


If the Giants can pull the upset as I've predicted (gulp), they'll do it on defense. Play this group and reap the rewards. Offensively, RB
Tiki Barber is basically it, because WR Amani Toomer isn't much with Jesse Palmer as the QB.


RB Stephen Davis (ques)

TE Mike Seidman (injured reserve)

DL Mike Rucker (ques)


QB Kerry Collins (doubt)

WR Ike Hilliard (ques)

TE Jeremy Shockey (doubt)

MINNESOTA at ARIZONA Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Vikings favored by 7 1/2

Records: Vikings 9-6 (8-7 ATS); Cardinals 3-12 (5-10 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Minnesota has won and covered 5 of the last 6 meetings, including 2 of 3 at Arizona.

Game Summary: Both these teams are completely different depending on where they're playing -- and that's not good for the visiting Vikings. Minnesota should win if talent has anything to do with it, but the Cardinals will give them a major scare.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 24-20


Too many decent RBs to pick on for fantasy purposes. QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss are auto-plays, and WR Kelly Campbell is a decent longshot.


WR Anquan Boldin is amazing -- keep putting him in there. I like RB Marcel Shipp as well, but that's about it.


LB Chris Claiborne (ques)


WR Jason McAddley (injured reserve)

OAKLAND at SAN DIEGO Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Chargers favored by 4

Records: Raiders 4-11 (3-11-1 ATS); Chargers 3-12 (5-10 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: Not sure who's going to win or cover ATS, but I know that the score is likely to be low -- the last four at San Diego and 8 of 11 have stayed below the number.

Game Summary: The problem with the note from above is that neither of these teams can play any defense. In fact, forget the note above. The series doesn't usually feature teams with 23 combined defeats in 30 games. This one will be ugly, one way or the other, but I like the Chargers because they hate the Raiders so much that beating them at home will salvage a sliver of their season,

Prediction: CHARGERS, 28-20


RBs Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley are both worthy of consideration, as is WR Jerry Rice.


Nothing's automatic other than RB LaDainian Tomlinson, but QB Drew Brees is under pressure to perform. If you think he can handle it, stick him in there along with WR David Boston. Be advised, though, that TE Antonio Gates may not play.


WR Jerry Porter (ques)


WR Reche Caldwell (ques)

TE Antonio Gates (ques)


DENVER at GREEN BAY Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Packers favored by 6 1/2

Records: Broncos 10-5 (8-7 ATS); Packers 9-6 (9-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: The Broncos will have two more days to prepare for this game than Green Bay, and that could be significant. On the other hand, Denver has clinched a playoff berth but can't win its division, while the Packers might be playing for a division crown or even just a berth in the postseason. Although Denver could pull the upset, the Broncos will have nothing to play for if the Titans have their game won by the time this one kicks off.

Prediction: PACKERS, 30-20


RB Clinton Portis will go if he can, but if you have him and RB Mike Anderson, you're better off. Tough matchup/locale for QB Jake Plummer, although I like tough receivers Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe.


Favre at home is usually a lock, but Denver's D is first-rate. RB Ahman Green will have to carry the load. The receivers are too numerous to suggest any one or two.


RB Clinton Portis (ques)


DL Joe Johnson (injured reserve)

PITTSBURGH at BALTIMORE Fantasy Take Key Injuries

Line: Ravens favored by 7 1/2

Records: Steelers 6-9 (7-8 ATS); Ravens 9-6 (9-6 ATS)

Stats Worth Noting: The Steelers have dominated this series, winning the last five meetings including two at Baltimore. Pittsburgh rolled at home in the first meeting this season, 34-15.

Game Summary: More than likely, the Ravens will need to win this game to reach the playoffs. If Cincinnati beats Cleveland, that will be the scenario. At home, with the defense playing like it is, I suspect Pittsburgh's roll in this series will end. But it won't come easy. These teams tend to play high-scoring games despite their defensive prowess. Take the over.

Prediction: RAVENS, 27-21


WR Hines Ward is a play despite the tough matchup. QB Tommy Maddox? Only in larger leagues. RB Jerome Bettis and WR Plaxico Burress are fringe starts. The defense is a pass.


RB Jamal Lewis may not get the yards he needs to break the single-season rushing record, but he'll get the carries. WR Marcus Robinson, TE Todd Heap and the defense are the other solid plays.


RB Verron Haynes (injured reserve)

DB Chad Scott (injured reserve)


LB Peter Boulware (ques)