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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 5
Bob Cunningham
October 7, 2004

SEASON RECORDS TO DATE
Straight-Up: 33-27 (55%)
Against-The-Spread: 27-30-2 (47%)

LAST WEEK
Straight-Up: 8-6
Against-The-Spread: 6-7-1

Comment: Got off to such a good start last week, but came a cropper in the late games including Sunday night and Monday night. That's why they play the games, instead of letting us determine the results in advance.


Miami (0-4) at New England (3-0)

Line: Patriots favored by 13. ATS Records: Dolphins 1-3, Patriots 2-0-1.

Dolphins Status Report: Miami lost at home to the New York Jets last week, 17-9.

Patriots Status Report: New England pulled away to win at Buffalo, 31-17, and is tied with the Jets for first in the AFC East. The Patriots tied an NFL record last week with their 18th consecutive victory.

The Series: New England swept last season, 19-13 at Miami and 12-0 at home. The Patriots have won four of the last five meetings including all three played at Foxboro.

Stat Worth Noting: The Dolphins are 7-2 ATS in their last nine road games.

Game Summary: On the surface, this is a big mismatch... okay, so it's a mismatch from underneath as well. The question here is by how much will New England win, because there's just no way the Dolphins can score enough points to prevail. In fact, I'm not convinced Miami will score at all. As much as I'd like to show that I respect Miami's D and pick the Dolphins to keep it close, I went with them to get the upset last week and QB Jay Fiedler let me down bigtime. With the spread less than two TDs, I have to take the champs to eclipse that winning streak record with authority.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 24-3


Cleveland (2-2) at Pittsburgh (3-1)

Line: Steelers favored by 6. ATS Records: Browns 2-2, Steelers 2-2.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland upended Washington at home last week, 17-13, and is tied with Baltimore for second place in the AFC North, a game back of the Steelers.

Steelers Status Report: A 28-17 triumph over visiting Cincinnati, combined with Baltimore's upset loss to Kansas City Monday night, has the Steelers alone in first in the AFC North.

The Series: The teams split last season, with the visitors winning each time - Cleveland by a 33-13 romp at Pittsburgh, and the Steelers, 13-6, at Cleveland.

Stats Worth Noting: The road team has covered ATS in the last six meetings, although the home team won half those games straight-up.

Game Summary: Who am I to buck such a strong trend? Cleveland has not played well on the road this season, but this is a rivalry game and the Browns are coming off a solid effort against Washington. The Steelers rallied past Cincinnati, and usually play well at home, so this is a split-the-difference game based on the trends... Steelers win, Browns cover.

Prediction: STEELERS, 20-17


Oakland (2-2) at Indianapolis (3-1)

Line: Colts favored by 9. ATS Records: Raiders 2-2, Colts 3-0-1

Raiders Status Report: Favored last week at Houston, the Raiders got thumped, 30-17, and are tied with San Diego a game behind first-place Denver in the AFC West. RB Tyrone Wheatley may be a gametime decision. If he sits, Amos Zereoue gets the start.

Colts Status Report: Indy picked up an important road victory at Jacksonville, 24-17, and is tied with the Jaguars atop the AFC South Division. The Colts have won three in a row after a season-opening loss at New England. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt has a strained hamstring and might not play Sunday.

The Series: The Raiders have won the last four meetings, including two at Indianapolis, but the most recent was in 1999.

Stats Worth Noting: The Colts are 3-8 ATS in October games going back three seasons.

Game Summary: Although the line is a little bloated, I believe the Colts are going to roll in this one. First off, Indy is playing extremely well on offense. Also, the Raiders are 2-2 against a decidedly soft schedule and were exposed bigtime last week at Houston. Also, it's tough to go into Houston and get whupped, and then get tangibly up for the prospect of facing Peyton Manning and that offense. And... the Colts are off next week so they'll let it all hang out, as it were. Indianapolis wins a laugher.

Prediction: COLTS, 42-17


Minnesota (2-1) at Houston (2-2)

Line: Vikings favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Vikings 1-2, Texans 2-2.

Vikings Status Report: Minnesota was off last week. The Vikes defeated Chicago at home two weeks ago, and are tied with Detroit atop the NFC North. RB Onterrio Smith begins serving a drug-related suspension, leaving Moe Williams as the likely featured ballcarrier.

Texans Status Report: Houston whipped Oakland last week at home, 30-17, to post consecutive wins for the first time in the club's brief history. The Texans trail co-leaders Indy and Jacksonville by a game in the AFC South. WR Cory Bradford is expected to return after missing last week, effectively reducing the playing time of Jabar Gaffney. RB Domanick Davis' status won't be known until the week. Jonathan Wells had a big game in his stead against Oakland.

The Series: This is the first meeting between the teams.

Stats Worth Noting: Minnesota has dropped its last four, straight-up, as road favorites.

Game Summary: Make it five, for no logical reason except that the Vikings have a terrible time winning on the road and the Texans are playing inspired football. Houston's defense is good enough to keep Minnesota under reasonable control, and its improved passing offense can exploit a mediocre secondary.

Prediction: TEXANS, 23-20


New York Giants (3-1) at Dallas (2-1)

Line: Cowboys favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Giants 3-1, Cowboys 2-1.

Giants Status Report: The Giants stunned Green Bay on the road last week, 14-7, and have won three straight since a season-opening defeat at Philadelphia. They are second in the NFC East, a game behind the Eagles.

Cowboys Status Report: Dallas had last week off, following its Monday Night conquest at Washington Sept. 27.

The Series: The Cowboys swept last year's season series, winning at home 19-3 and at the New Jersey Meadowlands, 35-32.

Stats Worth Noting: Dallas has won nine of the last 12 meetings between these teams at Texas Stadium.

Game Summary: I like the rested Cowboys here, because they're at home and they have the slightly better defense. Giants QB Kurt Warner has been stellar, but he hasn't faced such a potent blend of rushing the passer and strong secondary play since Week 1 against Philly. Defenses, on both sides, should rule the afternoon.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 16-10


Detroit (2-1) at Atlanta (4-0)

Line: Falcons favored by 7. ATS Records: Lions 2-1, Falcons 2-2

Lions Status Report: Detroit was idle last week, and lost at home to Philadelphia in Week 3. The Lions are tied with Minnesota for top honors in the NFC North. Rookie RB Kevin Jones is listed as questionable. Artose Pinner would be the featured rusher if Jones is held out.

Falcons Status Report: Atlanta romped past host Carolina, 27-10, and is alone atop the NFC South Division.

The Series: Atlanta won the last meeting, 36-15, in 2002 and hasn't lost at home to the Lions since the 1980s.

Stats Worth Noting: Detroit had lost a league-record 23 straight road games before opening 2004 with a win at Chicago.

Game Summary: With all due respect to its victory at Chicago in the season opener, the Lions aren't quite ready to go on the road and beat a quality foe just yet, especially considering their mounting injury issues. Take the Falcons and Michael Vick, at home, to make it a 5-0 start.

Prediction: FALCONS, 24-13


Tampa Bay (0-4) at New Orleans (2-2)

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

Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay lost a tough one at home last week to Denver, 16-13, and is alone in last place in the NFC South.

Saints Status Report: In a history full of embarrassing defeats, the Saints endured one of their worst last week, a 34-10 drubbing at Arizona. They are in second in the NFC South, two games behind Atlanta.

The Series: The teams split last season, with the road teams winning each time - the Bucs, 14-7 at New Orleans and the Saints 17-14 at Tampa.

Stats Worth Noting: The visiting team has won and covered four of the last five meetings.

Game Summary: I have found my upset special... and the victims are the Saints (again). Tampa Bay still has plenty of issues on offense, but QB Chris Simms is replacing Brad Johnson, and that combined with the energy brought by RB Michael Pittman last week is a plus for coach Jon Gruden's otherwise stagnant attack. The Bucs defense has played relatively well this season. New Orleans is going through a self-destructive phase following their upset win at St. Louis two weeks ago. A late defensive stand wins it for Tampa Bay.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 19-16


Buffalo (0-3) at New York Jets (3-0)

Line: Jets favored by 7. ATS Records: Bills 1-2, Jets 3-0.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo was beaten at home by New England last Sunday, 31-17.

Jets Status Report: The Jets prevailed at Miami, 17-9, and is tied atop the AFC East with the Patriots.

The Series: The squads split a year ago, the Jets winning big, 30-3, at home but losing a 17-6 decision at Buffalo.

Stats Worth Noting: The Jets have won the last two meetings at The Meadowlands by an average of more than three TDs.

Game Summary: I'm one of those who believe the Bills are better than their winless record would suggest, especially on defense. With that said, however, they have been dominated in their last two trips to the Meadowlands, and there's no apparent reason why that won't continue. I admit that my gut is telling me the Bills will keep it close, but everything else points the other direction.

Prediction: JETS, 24-10


Jacksonville (3-1) at San Diego (2-2)

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

Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville's season-opening three-game winning streak was halted at home against Indianapolis last week, 24-17, and the Jags are tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego romped past injury-plagued Tennessee last week and is a game behind AFC West-leading Denver.

The Series: Jacksonville triumphed at home last season, 27-21. The most recent prior meeting was six years ago.

Stats Worth Noting: In its only game as a road favorite last season, Jacksonville was defeated at Houston. The Chargers had failed to cover seven of its last nine as a home underdog before beating Tennessee last week.

Game Summary: It's fairly predictable that the Jaguars defense is likely to keep San Diego's attack relatively in check. So the test in this one is the Jacksonville offense against San Diego's scrappy, improving defense. Nah, scratch that. Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson is the difference in a mild upset.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 17-14


Carolina (1-2) at Denver (3-1)

Line: Broncos favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Panthers 1-2, Broncos 1-1-2.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina had a showdown game of sorts last week against Atlanta, and failed miserably in a 27-10 setback. The Panthers, in third place, trail the Falcons by 2 1/2 games in the NFC South.

Broncos Status Report: Denver survived a tough game at Tampa Bay, winning 16-13. The Broncos are alone atop the AFC West standings. RB Quentin Griffin is listed as questionable. If he sits, expect veteran Reuben Droughns to get most of the work in his place, with rookie Tatum Bell and veteran Garrison Hearst also in the mix.

The Series: The Broncos won the only previous meeting, in 1998.

Stats Worth Noting: The Panthers have won five straight road games dating back to last season, including the 2003 playoffs but excluding the Super Bowl, which was played at a neutral site. The Broncos have failed to cover ATS in their last four home games against NFC foes.

Game Summary: This one has that upset aroma. The Broncos were pretty uninspired last week at Tampa Bay despite eeking out the victory. Yes, the Panthers were dreadful against Atlanta. But their unpredictability has been... uh, predictable. When we think they'll win, they lose. When we expect them to lose, they win. Prevailing at Denver is a tall order, but the Panthers have the controlled offense and perimeter defense to do it. If it weren't for that doggone elevation change. Okay, I'll wimp out on the prediction of a shocker. But I'll be surprised if Carolina doesn't get close.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 24-22


St. Louis (2-2) at Seattle (3-0)

Line: Seahawks favored by 6 1/2. ATS Records: Rams 1-3, Seahawks 3-0.

Rams Status Report: Playing in what is normally unkind territory, the Rams went into San Francisco and dominated Sunday night, 24-14, in a game that wasn't as close as the score might suggest. St. Louis is in second in the NFC West, 1 1/2 back of Seattle.

Seahawks Status Report: Speaking of dominant, the Seahawks were exactly that two weeks ago in a 34-0 rout of San Francisco. They were off last week.

The Series: The teams split home victories last season. The home team has won each of the last five meetings.

Stats Worth Noting: The home team wins, but the visitors play tough - going 3-2 ATS in those five games including 2-0 last season.

Game Summary: I've never managed to prove what tangible effects rest and preparation have, but Seattle has a huge advantage here. The Rams played Sunday night, on the road. Seattle had last week off, meaning the Seahawks have had two weeks to prepare for a home game against their most important division rival, and were able to sit on that 34-0 performance to keep themselves feeling good. Seattle's defense is superior, and the offense is right there with the potent Rams.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 27-20


Arizona (1-3) at San Francisco (0-4)

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

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona got its first victory of the season last week, a 34-10 pasting of New Orleans.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco was beaten at home by St. Louis, 24-14, and is entrenched in last place in the NFC West.

The Series: The 49ers swept last season, but the two contests were remarkably different. At San Fran, the Niners rolled, 50-14. At Arizona, the tally was 17-14. San Francisco has won seven of the last eight meetings overall.

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has covered ATS in each of the last six meetings.

Game Summary: I admit that I've really struggled with this one. Unless you believe the 49ers are going to go 0-16, it's easy to pick this game as one of their rare victories. But Arizona has played consistently solid defense this season, and is arguably a lot better than its 1-3 record indicates. The combined record of the three teams which have beaten Arizona is 9-2. Coach Dennis Green has the Cardinals playing over their heads. Unless they suddenly play down to their opponent, the Cards should take their next step here in what would be a landmark victory for them.

Prediction: CARDINALS, 20-13


Baltimore (2-2) at Washington (1-3)

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

Ravens Status Report: Baltimore lost at home to previously winless Kansas City Monday night, and is tied with Cleveland a game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Redskins Status Report: Last week's 17-13 loss at Cleveland was Washington's third in a row after it opened the season with a victory over Tampa Bay at home. The Redskins are in last place in the NFC East.

The Series: The teams have split two meetings since Baltimore was the old Cleveland Browns, the last meeting was in 1999.

Stats Worth Noting: The Redskins have lost three straight to AFC teams. Their last interconference victory was also the last time New England lost, a year ago Sept. 28. The Ravens are 4-1 in their last five against the NFC.

Game Summary: I still like coach Joe Gibbs a lot, but I need to leap off the bandwagon for the time being. Washington is not a good club, especially on offense. I just don't see the Redskins exploiting a Baltimore defense that got thumped on national TV last Monday by KC. This is a Ravens bounce-back game. Washington needs more time to gel.

Prediction: RAVENS, 21-13


Tennessee (1-3) at Green Bay (1-3)

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

Titans Status Report: Tennessee lost its third in a row Sunday, at San Diego, and is in last place in the AFC South. QB Steve McNair was expected to practice Thursday, and if nothing goes wrong, he'll start Monday night.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay did the unthinkable - losing their second home game in as many tries, 14-7 to the New York Giants. The Pack is tied with Chicago at the bottom of the NFC North. QB Brett Favre has a concussion, which usually means a one-week vacation, but reports are that Favre will start. Backup Doug Pederson is sidelined, which makes it even more likely that Favre will play.

The Series: Green Bay is 2-1 against Tennessee/Houston Oilers franchise since 1990, including 1-0 at home.

Stats Worth Noting: The last time the Packers lost three straight home games? I dunno... but I betcha it's been a long time.

Game Summary: These two clubs are in remarkably identical predicaments -- each was expected to be a playoff contender but has instead hit rough times. Each has a star QB who is injured but is likely to play. I'm not going to take a rocket science approach here. I like Green Bay because the Packers are at home, RB Ahman Green has a history of big MNF performances, and Tennessee's run defense is unusually soft at this juncture.

Prediction: PACKERS, 24-16

ON BYES: Chicago (1-3), Cincinnati (1-3), Kansas City (1-3), Philadelphia (4-0).