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Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 4
Bob Cunningham
September 30, 2004

Straight-Up: 25-21 (54%)
Against-The-Spread: 21-23-2 (48%)

Straight-Up: 9-5
Against-The-Spread: 7-6-1

Comment: A winning week... just barely. And then comes Week 4, which features no less than 10 games that could honestly go either way. The problem has been that previous patterns have for the most part not been maintained so far in 2004. But here's a trend I'll stick with - in each of the first three weeks, exactly five underdogs have won outright. And so, the following will reflect five underdogs picked to win straight-up.

New England (2-0) at Buffalo (0-2)

Line: Patriots favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Patriots 1-0-1, Bills 1-1.

Patriots Status Report: The defending champs are coming off their bye week, and are predictably rested and ready. They won at Arizona in their last game, in Week 2, and are tied for the AFC East lead with the New York Jets. New England has won 17 straight games, counting the 2003 postseason. Five teams share the league record of 18.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo also had last week off, after losing at Oakland in Week 2. The Bills are in third place in the AFC East, trailing the Patriots and Jets by two games. The Bills have lost five straight dating back to Week 13 of 2003.

The Series: The teams split last season, exchanging 31-0 spankings administered by the host clubs. The Patriots have won four of the last five meetings overall.

Stat Worth Noting: The Patriots are 3-10 ATS in their last 13 games as road favorites between 4 and 7 points.

Game Summary: The Patriots don't appear to have any real weaknesses, although their run defense hasn't been as formidable as it was a year ago. Buffalo may try to exploit that with RB Travis Henry, because the alternative would be leaning on QB Drew Bledsoe against one of the league's top pass defenses. Offensively, New England will keep doing what it has been doing -- throwing short and intermediate routes to set up some runs, with the occasional shot deep. I've always been fond of home underdogs in division games, but it's going to take a monumental effort by the Buffalo defense to pull the upset here. I don't like their chances.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 27-14

Cincinnati (1-2) at Pittsburgh (2-1)

Line: Steelers favored by 4. ATS Records: Bengals 0-3, Steelers 1-2.

Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing 23-9 home loss to Baltimore, and is playing a lot more like the Bungles of years gone by rather than the improved club that has been the norm under coach Marvin Lewis. They're tied with Cleveland in the AFC North, a game behind the Steelers and Ravens.

Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh's defense was impressive in a 13-3 victory at Miami Sunday night. The Steelers are tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North. QB Tommy Maddox remains sidelined. Rookie Ben Roethlisberger is the starter.

The Series: The teams split last season, with the visitors winning each time - Cincinnati by four points at Pittsburgh, and the Steelers by a TD at Cincinnati.

Stats Worth Noting: The road team has covered ATS in the last four meetings, including the Bengals' 24-20 win at Pittsburgh last Nov. 30.

Game Summary: One of the reasons my ATS record is under 50 percent is that trends have not been continuing into this season. So even though the trend here is that the road team should fare well, I don't like the Bengals' chances of coming into Pittsburgh and winning in consecutive seasons. The Steelers defense is good enough to keep Cincy's offensive funk going, and the Pittsburgh attack - even with the rookie at QB - has enough balance to get it done.

Prediction: STEELERS, 17-10

Washington (1-2) at Cleveland (1-2)

Line: Redskins favored by 3. ATS Records: Redskins 1-2, Browns 1-2.

Redskins Status Report: Washington lost at home to Dallas Monday night, 21-18, and is in last place in the NFC East, two games behind Philadelphia.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland lost at the New York Giants, 27-10, and is tied with the Bengals for third in the AFC North, one game behind co-leaders Baltimore and Pittsburgh. TE Kellen Winslow Jr. was officially lost for the season after undergoing a second surgery this past week. RB Lee Suggs is expected to return this week.

The Series: These teams haven't played since 1990.

Stats Worth Noting: This is the Browns' third straight game against the NFC East, having lost to Dallas and the Giants the last two weeks. However, the Browns are 1-0 at home this year, having defeated Baltimore 20-3 in the season opener. Washington is 7-14 ATS in its last 21 as road favorites dating back a dozen years.

Game Summary: I'm having a hard time figuring why the oddsmakers have installed the Skins as favorites at Cleveland. Both teams are 1-2. Both lost to Dallas in fairly close games. I can't believe the absence of Winslow is that big a factor. Maybe I'm getting suckered into this, but I like Cleveland at home. The Browns defense has been more good than bad (ask the Ravens), and the return of Suggs helps the running game. Should be close, but I'll take the Dawgs over the Hogs.

Prediction: BROWNS, 16-13

Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (3-0)

Line: Colts favored by 4. ATS Records: Colts 2-0-1, Jaguars 3-0.

Colts Status Report: Indy's offense was ultra-impressive in a 45-31 whipping of Green Bay at home last week. The Colts are in second place in the AFC South, a game behind Jacksonville.

Jaguars Status Report: The Jaguars stunned Tennessee on the road a week ago, 15-12, and are alone in first place in the AFC South. Their defense has allowed just 28 points in the first three games.

The Series: The Colts have won three of the last four meetings, but the Jags won the most recent clash at Jax, 28-23 last season.

Stats Worth Noting: In those aforementioned last four games, the Jaguars are 3-1 ATS including the last two at home. The Colts are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 October games.

Game Summary: The irresistible force (Indianapolis offense) against the immovable object (Jacksonville's D). So which should we like more, Indy's defense or the Jaguars' attack? This is a tough call, but I'm going with the Colts' experience. They've been strong in showdown games this year and last, and I just don't see the Jaguars offense keeping up.

Prediction: COLTS, 27-17

Oakland (2-1) at Houston (1-2)

Line: Raiders favored by 2. ATS Records: Raiders 2-1, Texans 1-2.

Raiders Status Report: Oakland won at home over Tampa Bay Sunday night, 30-20, and is tied with Denver for first in the AFC West. QB Rich Gannon is sidelined indefinitely, with Kerry Collins taking over as the starter.

Texans Status Report: Houston rallied for a 24-21 upset win at Kansas City last week, and is tied for third in the AFC South with Tennessee, two games back of Jacksonville. RB Domanick Davis has a bad ankle and may not play. Jonathan Wells would start in his place.

The Series: This will be the first meeting.

Stats Worth Noting: Houston is 8-4 ATS in its last 12 against teams with winning records, but 0-1 this year.

Game Summary: Kudos to the Raiders for apparently turning things around from last year's 4-12 debacle, but home wins over Buffalo and Tampa Bay don't exactly make a season. The Texans should be 0-3, except for the ill-advised pass into the endzone by KC's Trent Green last week. The team is improved on offense, but the defense isn't playing as well as expected. What the Texans haven't been able to do much in their short history is put together consecutive solid efforts. Is this when they break through? No. Instead, I prefer the offensive boost Collins gives the Silver and Black.

Prediction: RAIDERS, 24-20

Philadelphia (3-0) at Chicago (1-2)

Line: Eagles favored by 9. ATS Records: Eagles 3-0, Bears 2-1.

Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia is the league's hottest team, romping past Detroit, 30-13, on the road last week. The Eagles are alone in first place in the NFC East, a game ahead of Dallas and the New York Giants.

Bears Status Report: Chicago played tough but lost at Minnesota, 27-22. The Bears lost starting QB Rex Grossman indefinitely. Jonathan Quinn replaces him.

The Series: Philly won the last meeting, 19-13 at Chicago in 2002. The Eagles have won four of the last five meetings.

Stats Worth Noting: The Eagles are 11-3 ATS as road favorites since 2001.

Game Summary: I'm not of the notion that losing Grossman will greatly diminish Chicago's offense. It wasn't going that well to begin with aside from the running of Thomas Jones, and Quinn brings some things to the table that the kid has yet to prove he can duplicate. This game will stay close because the Bears usually play good defense at home, and they're coming off a respectable effort in the loss at Minnesota. A nine-point home 'dog? I can't resist.

Prediction: EAGLES, 20-12

New York Giants (2-1) at Green Bay (1-2)

Line: Packers favored by 7. ATS Records: Giants 2-1, Packers 1-2.

Giants Status Report: The Giants fashioned a complete effort to easily defeat Cleveland last week at home, 27-10. They trail Philadelphia by a game in the NFC East.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay has lost two straight including Sunday's 45-31 drubbing at the hands of Indianapolis. They're tied with Chicago for third place in the NFC North, a game behind co-leaders Detroit and Minnesota.

The Series: The Packers have won three of the last four meetings, all but one of those at the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: On paper, this game should be tight because the Giants have played well the last two weeks and the Pack hasn't. But I'm partial to the Packers at home, especially when they need a game as much as they need this one, and as long as they can formulate a pass rush on Kurt Warner, they can be successful. I'm taking Green Bay because I maintain that the Pack is the better club, records not withstanding.

Prediction: PACKERS, 28-16

Atlanta (3-0) at Carolina (1-1)

Line: Panthers favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Falcons 1-2, Panthers 1-1.

Falcons Status Report: The Falcons struggled past Arizona at home last week, 6-3, and is in sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina was on a bye last week after having beaten Kansas City on the road in Week 2.

The Series: The teams split last year, with Carolina rolling 23-3 at home but losing 20-14 at Atlanta.

Stats Worth Noting: Falcons QB Michael Vick is 3-0 lifetime against Carolina, and the Falcons outscored the Panthers in those three contests by a cumulative 91-14.

Game Summary: I realize that picking an unbeaten team to win isn't typically much of an upset, but the oddsmakers have installed the defending NFC champ Panthers as home favorites, so my pick of the road underdog Falcons qualifies. Vick has dominated Carolina in his brief career, and Atlanta now sports the defense to complement him. The Falcons' lackluster effort against Arizona last week could be characterized as a look-ahead effort.

Prediction: FALCONS, 23-20

New Orleans (2-1) at Arizona (0-3)

Line: Saints favored by 3. ATS Records: Saints 1-2, Cardinals 2-1.

Saints Status Report: The Saints edged St. Louis in OT last week on the road and are a game behind NFC South-leading Atlanta. RB Deuce McAlister is expected to remain sidelined, replaced by Aaron Stecker.

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona lost at Atlanta last week, 6-3, but has been competitive in every game under new coach Dennis Green.

The Series: New Orleans has won 4 of the last 6 meetings, including a 3-1 mark at Arizona during that span. The teams haven't met since 2000, however.

Stats Worth Noting: The Saints were 2-0 ATS as road favorites last season. The Cardinals are 6-3 ATS in their last nine as home underdogs, but 0-1 this season.

Game Summary: Last week, I had New Orleans as my "shocker of the week" to beat the Rams at St. Louis, and they got it done. So I'm turning trader on them this week. Arizona is ready to break through. The defense is playing inspired ball, and the offense has the potential to exploit New Orleans on defense. The Saints might let down after their emotional win last week. Yes, Arizona will probably end up 4-12 or something like that at the end of the year. But that's four victories. Numero uno comes Sunday.

Prediction: CARDINALS, 20-17

New York Jets (2-0) at Miami (0-3)

Line: Jets favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Jets 2-0, Dolphins 1-2.

Jets Status Report: The Jets had last week off after having won at San Diego in Week 2. They're tied for first in the AFC East with New England.

Dolphins Status Report: Miami lost at home to Pittsburgh in the mud and rain, 13-3. Jay Fiedler has been re-installed as the starting QB.

The Series: Miami swept the season series in 2003, winning at home 23-21, in the regular season finale.

Stats Worth Noting: The road team is 2-0-1 ATS in the last three meetings.

Game Summary: Just about everybody - including me - has built up the Jets as one of the league's most improved teams. And I believe they'll contend for a playoff berth. But their 2-0 record is not overly impressive, especially considering the amount of points they've allowed to average offenses in Cincinnati and San Diego. For Miami, its offensive struggles are obvious... but the re-inserting of Jay Fiedler as QB is a good move. A.J. Feeley doesn't seem to have a good "feeley" for the offense. Fielder is no Dan Marino, to be sure. But the guy has won more than he's lost in his career. Miami can play ball control, even with its mediocre group of backs. And the Dolphins' defense is still better than the Jets' D. I also like the rivalry angle here - that should even out these clubs for this meeting. This week's upset special - Miami at home.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 17-14

Tennessee (1-2) at San Diego (1-2)

Line: Titans favored by 3. ATS Records: Titans 1-2, Chargers 1-1-1.

Titans Status Report: Tennessee has lost consecutive home games for only the second time since the franchise moved from Houston... last week it was a 15-12 setback to Jacksonville. The Titans are two games behind the Jags in the AFC South. QB Steve McNair is expected to play after suffering a bruised sternum. Billy Volek is the backup.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego lost at Denver a week ago, 23-13. The Bolts are a game behind AFC West co-leaders Oakland and Denver.

The Series: The Chargers have won two of the last three meetings, the most recent in 1999.

Stats Worth Noting: The Chargers are 15-26 ATS since 1992 as home underdogs.

Game Summary: The matchup of QB Drew Brees against the Tennessee defense is not a good one for the Chargers. In fact, even the clash of RB LaDainian Tomlinson and the Titans' D isn't all that favorable. San Diego might make a game of it with a good run defense, but the more balanced Titans have a distinct advantage especially if McNair plays.

Prediction: TITANS, 28-15

Denver (2-1) at Tampa Bay (0-3)

Line: Broncos favored by 3. ATS Records: Broncos 1-1-1, Bucs 0-3.

Broncos Status Report: Whipped San Diego last week at home, 23-13, and is tied for first in the AFC West with Oakland.

Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay lost at Oakland Sunday night, 30-20, and is in the cellar of the NFC South. RB Charlie Garner is out indefinitely, to be replaced by Michael Pittman.

The Series: Tampa Bay has won two of the last three meetings, the last coming in 1998.

Stats Worth Noting: The Broncos have won and covered ATS their last four starts as road favorites.

Game Summary: Wow, it looks like an 0-4 start for the Bucs. Denver's balanced offense and improved defense have the edge over Tampa Bay. Even in the coaching department, I'll take Mike Shanahan over Jon Gruden for long-term excellence.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 23-14

St. Louis (1-2) at San Francisco (0-3)

Line: Rams favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Rams 0-3, 49ers 2-1.

Rams Status Report: St. Louis lost at home in OT to New Orleans, 28-25, and has dropped two in a row to fall two games behind NFC West-leading Seattle.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco was routed at Seattle, 34-0, halting a shutout-less streak that dated back to the 1970s.

The Series: The home team has won six of the last seven meetings, including both games last season. The 49ers won at home, 30-10. In 2002, the 49ers rolled at home, 37-13.

Stats Worth Noting: The 49ers were 2-0 as home underdogs a year ago and are 1-0 so far in 2004.

Game Summary: Is Seattle that good, or the 49ers that bad? Probably a little of both. Either way, bear in mind that this is a rivalry game. These teams are not fond of each other. The Rams offense has been inconsistent, and head coach Mike Martz is under a lot of heat (and rightfully so, in my opinion). San Francisco can pound away in this one with RB Kevan Barlow, like New Orleans did with Aaron Stecker down the stretch a week ago. If the Rams can pass protect, and get the ball to RB Marshall Faulk more often, they should win. But I'm predicting they won't.

Prediction: 49ERS, 24-21

Kansas City (0-3) at Baltimore (2-1)

Line: Ravens favored by 4 1/2. ATS Records: Chiefs 0-3, Ravens 2-1.

Chiefs Status Report: A year after getting off to a 9-0 start, KC remains winless three weeks into the campaign after coming from ahead to lose to Houston at home, 24-21.

Ravens Status Report: Baltimore thumped Cincinnati on the road, 23-9, and is tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North.

The Series: The Chiefs won at Baltimore last season, 17-10, and have won the last three meetings.

Stats Worth Noting: The Ravens have covered ATS six of their last seven as home favorites.

Game Summary: The Chiefs defense played better Sunday against Houston, but the overall performance was substandard, allowing a late red zone interception to decide the game. Baltimore is running the ball, and playing sound defense - a pretty reliable formula to beat anyone, especially a struggling team with a poor rushing defense.

Prediction: RAVENS, 30-17

ON BYES: Dallas (2-1), Detroit (2-1), Minnesota (2-1), Seattle (3-0).