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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 13
Bob Cunningham
December 2, 2004

SEASON RECORDS TO DATE
Straight-Up: 102-74 (58%)
Against-The-Spread: 84-88-4 (49%)

LAST WEEK
Straight-Up: 8-8
Against-The-Spread: 7-9

Comment: So much for my prediction last week that there would be plenty of upsets. Five underdogs did post victories, but only Buffalo's win at Seattle and Oakland's triumph at Denver could be considered as major upsets. Houston's win over Tennessee, Carolina's victory over Tampa Bay, and Miami's conquest at San Francisco were each considered virtual toss-ups. Of course, I missed four of the five games just mentioned... but (sigh) at least I got the Saints' game correct, SU and ATS. Incidentally, there were no narcotics in my turkey on Thanksgiving - one reader suggested there must have been after my ill-advised upset pick of Detroit over Indianapolis. Of course, I made the prediction well before the day of the game. But if it'll make you feel better, I upchucked some of my dinner after watching the Lions attempt to play defense against Peyton Manning and company. More information than you needed? My bad.


Buffalo (5-6) at Miami (2-9)

Line: Bills favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Bills 7-4, Dolphins 4-7.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo pulled off a 38-9 upset of Seattle on the road last week, the Bills' fourth win in five games.

Dolphins Status Report: Miami prevailed at San Francisco, 24-17, in the "battle" for the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Series: Buffalo won the first meeting this season at home, 20-13, but was swept by the Dolphins in 2003.

Stat Worth Noting: The last four season series have ended in sweeps - two for the Bills, and two for Miami. Miami is 0-4 ATS this season within the division.

Game Summary: Although both teams won last week, Buffalo's triumph was a lot more impressive than Miami's and it came against a first-place team. The Bills' defense has been excellent practically all season, and over the last month the offense has blossomed with the emergence of running back Willis McGahee, which in turn has taken pressure off QB Drew Bledsoe and the passing attack. While it's true that the Dolphins' defense remains respectable amidst this disaster of a season, the run defense is below average, LB Zach Thomas will be sidelined, and the offense... well, it's just completely overmatched.

Prediction: BILLS, 16-10


New England (10-1) at Cleveland (3-8)

Line: Patriots favored by 7 1/2. ATS Records: Patriots 8-1-2, Browns 4-7.

Patriots Status Report: New England has mounted another winning streak, which has reached four after its 24-3 home romp over Baltimore last week. The Patriots lead the AFC East Division by two games over the New York Jets.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland dropped its fifth in a row Sunday, a 58-48 setback at Cincinnati that was the second-highest scoring game in league history. The Browns are in last place in the AFC North.

The Series: The Patriots defeated Cleveland at home last season, 9-3, and has won four of the last seven decisions.

Stat Worth Noting: The home team is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings. The Browns are 4-2 ATS at home this season, but 0-2 since a 4-0 start.

Game Summary: With Butch Davis out as coach, it's tough to determine how the club might respond. The Browns were nasty to foes at home earlier in the season, including a tough OT loss to Philadelphia. They're arguably a better team offensively with Kelly Holcomb at QB instead of Jeff Garcia, but now both are hurt and youngster Luke McCown gets the call against the defending champs. Besides, what's happened to the Cleveland defense? Yikes. New England just rolls along, seemingly never fazed by the opponent or the circumstances. There's no reason to believe the Patriots won't be able to grind out yet another decisive victory.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 23-6


Houston (5-6) at New York Jets (8-3)

Line: Jets favored by 7*. ATS Records: Texans 5-5-1, Jets 6-4-1.

Texans Status Report: Houston rallied from a hefty early deficit to beat Tennessee, 31-21, and complete a season sweep. The Texans trail first-place Indianapolis by three games in the AFC South.

Jets Status Report: The Jets stymied Arizona on the road en route to a 13-3 victory Sunday, keeping them within two games of New England in the AFC East.

The Series: The Jets won the only previous meeting, 19-14 at Houston last season.

Stats Worth Noting: None.

Game Summary: The defense of the Jets has been impressive in its stepping up after QB Chad Pennington went down to injury three weeks ago, and now Pennington is likely to see action this week. The Quincy Carter-led offense hasn't scored much... and hasn't needed to because the D has allowed just 13 points total the last two weeks. I expect more of the same here against the fast-developing but inconsistent Texans offense, although Houston's D is decent as well. This one should be fairly close.

Prediction: JETS, 20-16


Cincinnati (5-6) at Baltimore (7-4)

Line: Ravens favored by 7. ATS Records: Bengals 4-7, Ravens 8-3.

Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati outslugged Cleveland, 58-48, for its third victory in four games.

Ravens Status Report: Baltimore was thumped at New England last week, 24-3, and now trails Pittsburgh by three games in the AFC North.

The Series: The Ravens have won seven of the last eight meetings - including a 23-9 victory at Cincinnati earlier this season - and six of those seven triumphs were by double-figure margins.

Stats Worth Noting: Baltimore is 4-1 ATS as a home favorite, Cincinnati 1-4 ATS as a road underdog. However, the Bengals are 6-2 ATS in their last eight when trying to avenge a same-season defeat.

Game Summary: What has made Baltimore especially tough in recent years has been its ability to avert prolonged slumps... i.e., they bounce back well from defeat. The Bengals are finally playing as they were expected to when the season began, but running up 58 points on Cleveland is one thing while facing an irritated Ravens D is something else.

Prediction: RAVENS, 24-13


Tennessee (4-7) at Indianapolis (8-3)

Line: Colts favored by 10 1/2. ATS Records: Titans 4-7, Colts 7-3-1.

Titans Status Report: Tennessee fell into last place in the AFC South with a 31-21 loss at Houston.

Colts Status Report: Indy posted 41 points on the road for the second week in a row, humbling Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, 41-9. The Colts, who have won three straight, lead Jacksonville by two games in the AFC South.

The Series: The Colts have won the last three meetings including a 31-17 verdict at Tennessee earlier this season and a 33-7 home rout in 2003. Tennessee won the previous three meetings at Indy.

Stat Worth Noting: The Colts are 3-1 ATS this season when favored by more than a touchdown.

Game Summary: In a cruel twist of scheduling fate, this game is the third straight on the road for the Titans -- all within the division. The defense is on its heels, and QB Steve McNair is hurting again. It's doubtful the Titans will have anything left in the tank. Meanwhile, the Colts are on a point-scoring run that's not like anything since Johnny Unitas was the QB. Actually, it's even more impressive. This was recently one of best emerging rivalries in the NFL, but this rematch won't be much of a match at all. Chalk up four more TD passes for Peyton Manning.

Prediction: COLTS, 38-21


Minnesota (7-4) at Chicago (4-7)

Line: Vikings favored by 7. ATS Records: Vikings 7-4, Bears 5-6.

Vikings Status Report: Minnesota pulled away from Jacksonville last week for a 27-16 home victory, allowing the Vikings to keep pace with Green Bay atop the NFC North.

Bears Status Report: Chicago was nothing short of awful on Thanksgiving Day in a 21-7 loss at Dallas.

The Series: The Bears have won four of the last five meetings at Chicago, and were underdogs in all but one of them. Last year, they upset the Vikings 13-10 in mid-December. The Vikings won the first meeting this season, 27-22 at home.

Stats Worth Noting: The home team is 8-2 SU but only 4-6 ATS in the last 10 meetings. Minnesota is 2-0 ATS as a road favorite this season, the Bears 0-2 as home 'dogs.

Game Summary: This is a tough one to forecast - because the Vikings usually struggle to score points at Chicago, and the Bears' defense continues to play relatively well. On the other hand, Minnesota has actually been fairly reliable on the road this season and the Bears have been shellacked in the two home games they've had against top foes. I can't pick an upset because of unproven Chad Hutchinson starting at quarterback for the Bears, but I believe their defense will turn in another solid effort, as has been the norm in this rivalry.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 20-17


Arizona (4-7) at Detroit (4-7)

Line: Lions favored by 6. ATS Records: Cardinals 6-5, Lions 5-6.

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona was beaten at home by the New York Jets last week, 13-3, and trails first-place Seattle by two games in the NFC West.

Lions Status Report: Detroit was run over by the Peyton Manning express on Thanksgiving Day, losing to the Indianapolis Colts at home, 41-9. The Lions have lost five in a row.

The Series: Arizona has captured five of the last eight meetings but Detroit prevailed at home a year ago, 42-24.

Stat Worth Noting: Arizona is 3-1 ATS in conference games outside its own division. The Lions are 1-4 ATS at home, and are 2-7 ATS as favorites dating back to last season.

Game Summary: Although six points is probably too many to lay, I can't envision an Arizona upset with a rookie QB starting his first-ever game and an unknown running back (Larry Croom) to go with him. And I'm straddling the fence on too many other games this week as it is. So I'll trust Lions coach Steve Mariucci to successfully regroup his squad against that rare outmanned foe.

Prediction: LIONS, 20-7


Atlanta (9-2) at Tampa Bay (4-7)

Line: Buccaneers favored by 1 1/2. ATS Records: Falcons 5-6, Buccaneers 4-6-1.

Falcons Status Report: Atlanta rallied past New Orleans Sunday, 24-21, and seized a five-game lead over all three other NFC South teams.

Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay lost at Carolina last week, 21-14.

The Series: The Falcons won the first meeting at home, 24-14, last month and also triumphed at Tampa Bay last season, 30-28. The Bucs had dominated the series the previous three years.

Stat Worth Noting: These two teams haven't split a season series since 1999.

Game Summary: Okay, maybe I'm a sucker. Perhaps the wise guy action will be on the Bucs, a fairly solid home favorite over the years. But here's my thinking - I can take a 9-2 team to beat a 4-7 team, and get a point-plus to boot. Don't gotta lay nuthin'. And it's on a team that has won the last two meetings. This series has gone in streaks. Yep, I'll bite. Gimme Atlanta and Michael Vick to clinch their division.

Prediction: FALCONS, 23-17


Carolina (4-7) at New Orleans (4-7)

Line: Saints favored by 1 1/2. ATS Records: Panthers 6-5, Saints 4-7.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina improved its winning streak to three with a 21-14 triumph over Tampa Bay last week at home.

Saints Status Report: New Orleans nearly pulled off the upset at Atlanta, but yielded a TD in the final minute and lost to the Falcons, 24-21.

The Series: Carolina has won three of the last four at New Orleans including a 23-20 decision last season, and has captured the last three meetings overall.

Stat Worth Noting: The road team has covered five straight ATS in this series.

Game Summary: A fairly even matchup - New Orleans is more explosive, but Carolina is superior defensively. I'll take the team that has played far better of late while also staying with the trends.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 28-25


San Francisco (1-10) at St. Louis (5-6)

Line: Rams favored by 10 1/2. ATS Records: 49ers 4-7, Rams 4-7.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco lost at home to Miami last week, 24-17, for its sixth straight defeat.

Rams Status Report: St. Louis was pummeled at Green Bay Monday night, 45-17, and has lost four of five. The Rams trail Seattle by a game in the NFC West.

The Series: The Rams won at San Francisco earlier this season, 24-14, and have won the last six meetings at St. Louis.

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has won eight of the last 10 meetings, going 7-3 ATS in that stretch, but the visiting Rams won and covered at San Francisco earlier this year.

Game Summary: Even for this rivalry game, the 49ers just don't have anything left. The Rams are still formidable at home and have a division title to play for. St. Louis rolls, even if it's incapable of playing decent defense.

Prediction: RAMS, 41-28


Denver (7-4) at San Diego (8-3)

Line: Chargers favored by 3. ATS Records: Broncos 4-5-2, Chargers 9-1-1.

Broncos Status Report: In a shocker, the Broncos lost at home to Oakland in the snow Sunday night, 25-24, to fall a game behind the Chargers in the AFC West.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego outlasted Kansas City on the road, 34-31... its first win at KC since 1996.

The Series: Denver has won four of the last five meetings, all by at least 10 points. That includes a 23-13 victory at Denver earlier this season. The last meeting at San Diego, in 2003, was a 37-13 Broncos romp.

Stat Worth Noting: San Diego is 3-0 ATS as a home favorite and 3-0-1 ATS in AFC West games this season.

Game Summary: Here's an odd observation: The Broncos got caught looking past Oakland last week in anticipation of a showdown with San Diego. Think about that. The Chargers have been electric (pun intended) at home this season, but have been calling the Broncos their collective daddies for most of the last decade. The two teams are similar - they both run the ball well, throw it decently and play solid but unspectacular defense. Good news for Broncos DB Champ Bailey - no snow is expected this week in San Diego. The treacherous footing last week at Mile High Stadium is the only explanation for Bailey getting torched repeatedly by Oakland wideout Jerry Porter. But do the Broncos have an answer to San Diego TE Antonio Gates? I don't believe so, and there's the difference in what should be a highly entertaining contest.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 35-27


Kansas City (3-8) at Oakland (4-7)

Line: Even. ATS Records: Chiefs 3-8, Raiders 4-7.

Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City was all but officially eliminated from playoff consideration with last week's 34-31 home loss to San Diego. The Chiefs are in last place in the AFC West, a game behind Oakland.

Raiders Status Report: Oakland pulled off one of the biggest upsets of 2004 last week at Denver, beating the Broncos in the snow, 25-24.

The Series: Kansas City swept the season series last season and has won four of the last five meetings. In their last trip to Oakland, the Chiefs prevailed, 17-10.

Stats Worth Noting: Kansas City is 17-7-1 ATS vs. the Raiders since 1991, including 8-4 at Oakland.

Game Summary: Oakland's defense was impressive at Denver Sunday night, and it's that unit which will scratch out a home victory this week. Kansas City's offense is explosive, even without RB Priest Holmes, but its defense usually implodes. And QB Trent Green might also sit this one out, replaced by Todd Collins. The Chiefs are where they're at, primarily, because they simply don't slow opposing offenses consistently.

Prediction: RAIDERS, 24-21


Green Bay (7-4) at Philadelphia (10-1)

Line: Eagles favored by 6. ATS Records: Packers 5-5-1, Eagles 8-3.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay's 45-17 thrashing of St. Louis Monday night was its sixth consecutive victory. The Packers are tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North.

Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia rolled at the Meadowlands, defeating the Giants 27-6 to clinch the NFC East Division title. The Eagles lead Atlanta by a game in the battle for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The Series: The Eagles won at home, 20-17, in a divisional playoff game last January. Philadelphia also won the previous meeting at Green Bay, 17-14 in 2002. Overall, Philadelphia has won four of the last five meetings.

Stat Worth Noting: Philadelphia is a perfect 8-0 ATS in conference games. Green Bay is 3-1-1 ATS on the road and 4-1 ATS in NFC games outside its own division.

Game Summary: Something has to give, because both teams are on a roll and both are dominating the opposition. I give the Eagles the edge -- but only a slight one -- because they're at home, and their defense is still a little better than the Pack's. Green Bay probably needs RB Ahman Green to have a realistic shot, but an upset would not shock me.

Prediction: EAGLES, 30-27


New York Giants (5-6) at Washington (3-8)

Line: Redskins favored by 2. ATS Records: Giants 5-6, Redskins 4-7.

Giants Status Report: The Giants played tough for a half before losing to Philadelphia at home, 27-6. It was their fourth straight defeat.

Redskins Status Report: Washington lost at Pittsburgh on Sunday, 16-7, and is in last place in the NFC East. The Redskins have dropped three in a row.

The Series: The Giants won the first meeting between the two this season, 20-14 in Week 2 at The Meadowlands. The Giants have won five of the last six meetings including the last two at Washington.

Stat Worth Noting: The visiting team had won the three previous meetings, and had covered five straight ATS, before the Giants held serve at home earlier this season.

Game Summary: This one will be ugly, and could go either way... so I'll take the team that the better, healthier defense.

Prediction: REDSKINS, 13-9


Pittsburgh (10-1) at Jacksonville (6-5)

Line: Steelers favored by 3. ATS Records: Steelers 8-3, Jaguars 6-5.

Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh improved its league-best winning streak to nine with a 16-7 home triumph over Washington last week.

Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville dropped its second in a row, 27-16 at Minnesota, and is now two games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South.

The Series: Pittsburgh won the last meeting, 25-23 at Jacksonville in 2002. However, the Jaguars are 6-2 lifetime at home against the Steelers.

Stat Worth Noting: At home, Jacksonville is 7-1 ATS vs. Pittsburgh.

Game Summary: This is one of those scenarios I look for... that have been failing me for most of this season. A quality home underdog, fighting for a playoff spot, on national TV against a division front-runner overdue to stumble. The Jaguars' run defense is respectable - if they can keep the Steelers' ground game in check, they can win it behind improving QB Byron Leftwich. The Steelers' QB, rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger, finally gets beat.

Prediction: JAGUARS, 21-17


Dallas (4-7) at Seattle (6-5)

Line: Seahawks favored by 7. ATS Records: Cowboys 4-7, Seahawks 4-7.

Cowboys Status Report: Dallas whipped Chicago at home on Thanksgiving, 21-7, and somehow remains in the thick of the NFC wild-card chase.

Seahawks Status Report: Seattle was embarrassed at home by Buffalo on Sunday, 38-9, but is still the NFC West leader, by a game over St. Louis.

The Series: Seattle won the last meeting, 17-14, at Dallas in 2002. The teams have split eight meetings all-time, and the Seahawks won the only matchup at Seattle dating back to 1990.

Stat Worth Noting: Dallas is 20-34 ATS as a road underdog over the last 12 years, including 1-4 this season. Seattle is 30-17 ATS in December games including 3-1 a year ago.

Game Summary: The victory over Chicago might give the Cowboys a jolt of confidence, while the Seahawks are reeling after getting blown out at home by Buffalo. An upset is certainly possible, but I like coach Mike Holmgren to get Seattle back in the right frame of mind just in time to hold off the less-talented Cowboys of Bill Parcells.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 27-21

* Estimated Line. Official Line Not Available At Presstime.