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Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 1
Bob Cunningham
September 9, 2004

Thursday, Sept. 9

Indianapolis (12-4 in '03) at New England (14-2)

Line: Patriots favored by 3. ATS Records: Colts 9-6-1 in 2003, Patriots 14-2

Colts Status Report: Healthy and ready to avenge January's 24-14 loss at Foxboro in the AFC Title Game.

Patriots Status Report: Veteran WR Troy Brown will sit out the contest, pushing David Givens into the starting lineup opposite Deion Branch.

The Series: The Patriots have won 16 of the last 22 meetings dating back 12 years. The last regular season meeting was a 38-34 Patriots victory at Indy in 2003, a game that saw new England rally from a 31-10 deficit.

Stats Worth Noting: The Patriots are 17-5 ATS in those aforementioned 22 games.

Game Summary: Although I believe the Colts have a great shot at dethroning the Pats atop the conference, that process will have to begin next week. New England's defense is still superior, and the defending champs are at home on national TV. RB Corey Dillon enjoys a sterling debut, and the Patriots get it done... again.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 27-17

Sunday, Sept. 12

Cincinnati (8-8 in '03) at New York Jets (6-10)

Line: Jets favored by 4. ATS Records: Bengals 9-6-1 in 2003, Jets 5-8-3

Bengals Status Report: Coming off a season of significant improvement, the Bengals nevertheless will have a different look with second-year QB Carson Palmer at the controls and a backfield without Corey Dillon.

Jets Status Report: The Jets are expected to be much improved despite not a lot of changes in personnel.

The Series: The Jets have won the last four meetings, three of them at The Meadowlands.

Stats Worth Noting: In those four losses, the Bengals are 3-1 ATS and all four games were relatively low scoring.

Game Summary: Palmer will probably be a very good QB eventually, but he's the equivalent of a rookie in terms of playing experience. Still, I smell a little upset here. The Bengals expect to be able to run the ball with Rudi Johnson, to take the pressure off Palmer. I believe the Jets will eventually be a good team, and they obviously should win this one. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis coaxes a great effort from his club.

Prediction: BENGALS, 20-16

Jacksonville (5-11 in '03) at Buffalo (6-10)

Line: Bills favored by 3. ATS Records: Jaguars 7-8-1 in 2003, Bills 6-8-2

Jaguars Status Report: A lot has been made of the impending "arrival" of QB Byron Leftwich, but he endured a disappointing preseason.

Bills Status Report: The buzz in Buffalo is whether young RB Willis McGahee can steal carries away from incumbent Travis Henry.

The Series: Buffalo is 3-2 all-time against the Jaguars, including a 38-17 romp at Jacksonville in Week 2 last season.

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team is 4-1 ATS in this series.

Game Summary: There are too many factors pointing to a Buffalo victory here. The Bills have tended to get off to good starts the last few years, while the Jaguars were 0-4 and 1-7 in 2003. Also, the Bills' easy victory at Jax last year shouldn't be ignored. Buffalo is the pick.

Prediction: BILLS, 19-10

Tennessee (12-4 in '03) at Miami (10-6)

Line: Titans favored by 3. ATS Records: Titans 9-7 in 2003, Dolphins 7-9

Titans Status Report: The team is relatively healthy but is smarting from some key personnel losses.

Dolphins Status Report: The organization is a mess after the unexpected retirement of RB Ricky Williams, and the season-nullifying injury to WR David Boston.

The Series: Miami had won each of the five previous meetings before Tennessee routed the Dolphins last November, 31-7, at Nashville.

Stats Worth Noting: One of the most amazing ATS stats of 2003 -- the Dolphins were just 1-7 ATS at home.

Game Summary: Hey, I know the Dolphins have been through a lot of late. And I realize Travis Minor is a pretty poor replacement for Williams. But Miami's defense is still first-rate, and you can also factor in some payback on the minds of the Dolphins are that 24-point loss last season. I expect both these teams to be down a little this year, and from my standpoint getting the Dolphins as a home underdog is a heckuva good deal.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 16-13

Baltimore (10-6 in '03) at Cleveland (5-11)

Line: Ravens favored by 3. ATS Records: Ravens 8-6-2 in 2003, Browns 6-10

Ravens Status Report: The big story is Deion Sanders' arrival in the Ravens' secondary, but the questions mostly involve the offense.

Browns Status Report: None of the Cleveland receivers are complaining about QB Jeff Garcia's lack of arm strength... yet.

The Series: Baltimore swept the season series in 2003 by a combined score of 68-13. RB Jamal Lewis averaged about 240 yards rushing in those two games.

Stats Worth Noting: The Ravens are 4-1 straight-up and ATS in their last five at Cleveland.

Game Summary: Too much defense for Garcia and company to cope with. RB Lee Suggs is dinged, so it's to ascertain what production can be expected from either he or William Green. Think maybe the Ravens will pound Lewis a little?

Prediction: RAVENS, 20-6

Oakland (4-12 in '03) at Pittsburgh (6-10)

Line: Steelers favored by 4. ATS Records: Raiders 3-12-1 in 2003, Steelers 8-8

Raiders Status Report: The team is confident knowing there's virtually nowhere to go but up. Still, there are lots of questions.

Steelers Status Report: Plenty of reason for optimism, and for the first time in a while someone other than Jerome Bettis figures to be the main ballcarrier.

The Series: The Steelers rolled at home last season, 27-7, but lost to the Raiders at home in 2002, 30-17.

Stats Worth Noting: The Steelers are 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.

Game Summary: Pittsburgh is the pick from every conceivable angle. The offense could be excellent, and the Steelers always end up playing decent defense somewhere along the way. The Raiders will be better than last year... but maybe not much better.

Prediction: STEELERS, 31-17

San Diego (4-12 in '03) at Houston (5-11)

Line: Texans favored by 4 1/2. ATS Records: Chargers 6-10 in 2003, Texans 9-7

Chargers Status Report: Drew Brees will get the start at QB, but who will he throw to beyond star RB LaDainian Tomlinson?

Texans Status Report: This could be the year that the young guns on offense develop into studs.

The Series: The Chargers won the only previous meeting, 24-3 in 2002.

Stats Worth Noting: Houston was 6-2 ATS at home last season, and covered the only time it was favored.

Game Summary: Tomlinson is remarkable, but he can't do it all himself. The Texans are better balanced on offense, and arguably superior defensively as well. The city is ultra-excited over this home opener, and the team won't disappoint.

Prediction: TEXANS, 23-13

Tampa Bay (7-9 in '03) at Washington (5-11)

Line: Redskins favored by 2. ATS Records: Bucs 6-9-1 in 2003, Redskins 7-8-1

Bucs Status Report: Lots of changes, as conversion to "Raiders East" continues.

Redskins Status Report: Joe Gibbs is back in charge, bay-bee.

The Series: The Bucs won at Washington, 35-13, last season and have won six of the last nine meetings overall.

Stats Worth Noting: The Bucs were 4-4 ATS on the road, 2-1 as a 'dog while Washington was 1-6-1 ATS at home last year.

Game Summary: In my opinion, the alleged demise of the Bucs is overhyped. Yes, they pretty much stunk last year and, yes, Warren Sapp and John Lynch are gone, to name two. But head coach Jon Gruden is a proven winner and this is still a veteran-laden club. There's no question in my mind that Gibbs will get the Redskins back to prominence, probably sooner rather than later, but let's temper expectations and give the old man a chance to do his thing.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 24-20

Detroit (5-11 in '03) at Chicago (7-9)

Line: Bears favored by 3. ATS Records: Lions 9-7 in 2003, Bears 8-8

Lions Status Report: Young, younger... and pretty young.

Bears Status Report: To be honest, I have no clue how good this team can be, especially on defense.

The Series: The teams split last year, each home team winning. At Chicago, the Bears prevailed 24-16.

Stats Worth Noting: The Lions have lost 24 straight road games dating back to 2001, a league record.

Game Summary: This matchup probably represents Detroit's best chance this season to get a road victory, and ending the lengthy away-from-home skid in the opener would be a typically quirky NFL happening, so I'll pick the upset. Fact is, I believe the Lions' superior personnel on offense can and will be the difference.

Prediction: LIONS, 23-20

Seattle (10-6 in '03) at New Orleans (8-8)

Line: Seahawks favored by 2 1/2. ATS Records: Seahawks 9-6-1 in 2003, Saints 9-7

Seahawks Status Report: Division favorites, for the first time in a long, long while.

Saints Status Report: Offense will be there, so defense will determine '04 fortunes.

The Series: The Seahawks won at home last season, 27-10, but lost their only recent trip to the Superdome.

Stats Worth Noting: The Seahawks were 2-6 on the road last season, 8-0 at home.

Game Summary: Seattle is a legit NFC contender, but until coach Mike Holmgren's team proves it can win tough road tests, I won't pick the Seahawks. New Orleans represents a difficult challenge for the Seattle defense (okay, the flipside is also true). This one will be decided by how most games are determined. Turnovers.

Prediction: SAINTS, 27-21

Arizona (4-12 in '03) at St. Louis (12-4)

Line: Rams favored by 11. ATS Records: Cardinals 6-10 in 2003, Rams 9-6-1

Cardinals Status Report: New coach Denny Green brings instant credibility, but this is still the Cardinals.

Rams Status Report: Biggest question is offensive line, health/durability of RB Marshall Faulk.

The Series: The Rams have won the last four meetings including a 37-13 rout at home last season, but...

Stats Worth Noting: ... the teams are split ATS both home and away in those four games.

Game Summary: Certainly, this game is not as big a mismatch as last year's respective records would indicate. Green will have the Cardinals loose, and they might just exploit the Rams line and give QB Marc Bulger some trouble - not enough for an outright upset but enough to keep it close.

Prediction: RAMS, 30-24

New York Giants (4-12 in '03) at Philadelphia (12-4)

Line: Eagles favored by 9. ATS Records: Giants 3-11-2 in 2003, Eagles 11-5

Giants Status Report: Kurt Warner is the starting QB, but for how long?

Eagles Status Report: Offense should be better, defense nearly as good.

The Series: The Eagles swept the season series last year, including a 28-10 triumph at home.

Stats Worth Noting: The Giants have gone five straight meetings in this series without scoring more than 10 points.

Game Summary: Nine points is pretty large in this rivalry, although I can't envision the Giants offense doing much of anything with Philly, which should pressure Warner into mistakes. The Giants' best hope for an upset is for some big plays against a semi-untested secondary, but the call here is that they won't have enough of them.

Prediction: EAGLES, 17-9

Dallas (10-6 in '03) at Minnesota (9-7)

Line: Vikings favored by 4 1/2. ATS Records: Cowboys 9-6-1 in 2003, Vikings 8-8

Cowboys Status Report: Old, older and pretty old.

Vikings Status Report: If defense is improved at all, this team could dethrone Green Bay atop NFC Central.

The Series: The Vikings have won 5 of the last 7 meetings, but this is the first clash between these two since 1999.

Stats Worth Noting: The Cowboys won 3 of their first 4 road games last season, but finished 4-5 counting the playoffs lost at Carolina.

Game Summary: Even without injured RB Michael Bennett, the Vikings get the clear edge at home. Dallas' defense is solid, but it's likely to have trouble containing the Vikings passing game. On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys offense doesn't seem to pose much of a threat with 40-year-old QB Vinny Testaverde and company.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 28-17

Atlanta (5-11 in '03) at San Francisco (7-9)

Line: Falcons favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Falcons 6-10 in 2003, 49ers 7-7-2

Falcons Status Report: QB Michael Vick is back, which instantly makes this team a threat to make the playoffs.

49ers Status Report: On paper, this club is really hurting - on both sides of the ball.

The Series: The 49ers have won 11 straight home meetings with Atlanta, but the last one was in 1998.

Stats Worth Noting: The 49ers were 2-0 as home underdogs last season, winning straight-up by 17 and 20 points.

Game Summary: Vick is so huge for the Falcons, he'll probably win the league MVP if he simply stays healthy, even if his stats are nothing special, because the voters realize his value to the club. Still, even with San Francisco down, it's going to be tough for the Falcons to go in there and come out with a win. I'll stick with the home underdog philosophy here, but it's not an easy pick and it's far from my strongest.

Prediction: 49ERS, 20-17

Kansas City (13-3 in '03) at Denver (10-6)

Line: Broncos favored by 3. ATS Records: Chiefs 10-6 in 2003, Broncos 8-8

Chiefs Status Report: The questions all surround the defense and new coordinator/former head coach Gunther Cunningham (love that name).

Broncos Status Report: A new featured back, but it's the system that gets it done year after year.

The Series: The teams split the regular season series last year, with the Broncos winning easily at home, 45-27. Denver has won 4 of the last 5 meetings overall.

Stats Worth Noting: Despite winning the AFC West last season, the Chiefs were just 2-4 ATS in division games. The Broncos were a perfect 6-0.

Game Summary: Two good teams, two very good offenses, two creative head coaches, and two unpredictable defenses. Looks like another shootout in the Mile High City.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 34-27

Monday Night, Sept. 13

Green Bay (10-6 in '03) at Carolina (11-5)

Line: Panthers favored by 3. ATS Records: Packers 10-6 in 2003, Panthers 6-10

Packers Status Report: One of the NFC favorites, led by resilient QB Brett Favre.

Panthers Status Report: Defending conference champs want to prove '03 wasn't a fluke.

The Series: The Packers have won 5 of 7 meetings all-time, including the '96 NFC Title Game. Green Bay won the last meeting, at home in 2002.

Stats Worth Noting: Did you notice that ATS stat for the Panthers? Has a conference champion ever gone through the regular season with such a poor record against the number? The good news, though, is that Carolina was 4-0 ATS in the postseason.

Game Summary: With all due respect to the Panthers, I like Green Bay's superior attack to win this one. Carolina's D is better than that of the Packers, and the Panthers could win with ball control, but the explosiveness of Favre and RB Ahman Green is likely to be the difference.

Prediction: PACKERS, 23-17