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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 14
Bob Cunningham
December 9, 2004

SEASON RECORDS TO DATE
Straight-Up: 112-80 (58%)
Against-The-Spread: 93-94-5 (49%)

LAST WEEK
Straight-Up: 10-6
Against-The-Spread: 9-6-1

Comment: This is going to be an odd week. One glance at the opening lines tells me that, because of the 16 scheduled games only one - Monday night's Kansas City-Tennessee contest - figures to have a pointspread of less than five. On the other hand, there are 10 games with spreads of a touchdown or more. Ten! Blowout City, my friends. So the challenge will be determining which three or four of those underdogs will play well enough to cover the number... and which one or two will pull off the outright upset. Fun stuff, indeed.


Cincinnati (6-6) at New England (11-1)

Line: Patriots favored by 11. ATS Records: Bengals 5-7, Patriots 9-1-2

Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati became the second team this season to rally from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit and win, defeating the Ravens at Baltimore, 27-26. The Bengals are just one game behind the Ravens and Denver for the AFC's final wild-card berth.

Patriots Status Report: As expected, New England easily won at Cleveland last week, 42-15, and remains two games up on the New York Jets in the AFC East.

The Series: The Patriots have won the last two meetings, the most recent in 2000.

Stat Worth Noting: Cincinnati has covered ATS vs. New England in each of the last five meetings. The Patriots, however, are 6-0 SU/4-0-2 ATS at home this season and 4-0 ATS when favored by more than a touchdown.

Game Summary: The schedule-maker can be brutal. How 'bout the Bengals... forced to play at Baltimore and then at New England in consecutive weeks? Man, that's tough on an offense. Then again, QB Carson Palmer and the Bengals reacted okay to the adversity last week with their improbable rally to beat the Ravens. The question is, can the Bengals maintain the momentum, or will they endure a letdown? New England never seems to have a problem in that area. And there's an intangible factor here, as well - RB Corey Dillon. The ex-Bengal will be sufficiently motivated but so, too, figures to be the Cincinnati defense. Bottom line - the Patriots are too good to let Cincinnati come into their house and win, and my gut instinct says the Patriots are the pick every week until their play indicates otherwise.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 30-17


Cleveland (3-9) at Buffalo (6-6)

Line: Bills favored by 8*. ATS Records: Browns 4-8, Bills 8-4.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland was walloped at home by New England, 42-15, last week and has lost six in a row.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo has won five of six after Sunday's 42-32 victory at Miami. The Bills are tied with Cincinnati and Jacksonville, a game out of the final AFC wild-card playoff slot.

The Series: Oddly, these teams have only played once in the last 13 years, and not recently, despite residing in the same conference.

Stat Worth Noting: Cleveland is 0-5 ATS on the road this season.

Game Summary: This is one of those stock market picks. The commonly accepted wisdom on Wall Street is to avoid bucking the trends. Buy stocks when they're going up, sell 'em when they're on the decline. I'm buying the Bills, and discarding the Browns.

Prediction: BILLS, 31-13


New York Giants (5-7) at Baltimore (7-5)

Line: Ravens favored by 9 1/2. ATS Records: Giants 5-7, Ravens 8-4.

Giants Status Report: The Giants dropped their fifth in a row Sunday, 31-7 at Washington, but are still just a game behind Seattle for the final NFC wild-card playoff berth.

Ravens Status Report: The Ravens inexplicably blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead at home, dropping a 27-26 decision to Cincinnati for their second straight defeat. Baltimore would be in the playoffs if the season had ended last week, as the fifth seed.

The Series: The last time these teams met was in Super Bowl XXXV, a 34-7 rout for Baltimore. The Giants haven't won a game in this series since they beat the former Cleveland Browns 12 years ago.

Stats Worth Noting: The Ravens are 4-2 ATS as home favorites and 3-0 against the NFC this season.

Game Summary: LB Ray Lewis and his Ravens' defensive teammates might be a bit testy this week after blowing that lead, and in their sights will be a struggling rookie QB with a bigtime name and college rep. For the Giants, the vultures are circling overhead. Gotta go with the Ravens to rebound big.

Prediction: RAVENS, 23-3


Indianapolis (9-3) at Houston (5-7)

Line: Colts favored by 10. ATS Records: Colts 8-3-1, Texans 5-6-1.

Colts Status Report: Indy has won five in a row, all in impressive fashion. Last week, the Colts overcame an early deficit at home against Tennessee to roll past the Titans, 51-24. They are atop the South Division by three games over Jacksonville and can, conceivably, clinch the crown this week.

Texans Status Report: Houston was beaten at The Meadowlands by the Jets Sunday, 29-7.

The Series: The Colts won the first meeting this season, 49-14, and have won all five previous meetings in Houston's short history. However, Indy eeked out a 20-17 win in the most recent meeting at Houston, last season.

Stat Worth Noting: Indianapolis is 4-1 ATS this season when favored by more than a TD, including 2-0 on the road.

Game Summary: Not much sense in over-emphasizing Houston's homefield advantage here, because the Colts have put up 41 points in each of their last two road games... which came before last week's 51-point explosion at home. In the brief history of this rivalry, Houston has held the Colts to 20 and 23 points in two meetings at Reliant Stadium, but those Colts weren't playing anywhere close to the level that this year's version has attained. On the other hand, a 10-point home underdog in a division game... Nope, the indications are too strong towards Indy. I'm taking another favorite to cover (gulp).

Prediction: COLTS, 38-24


Chicago (5-7) at Jacksonville (6-6)

Line: Jaguars favored by 7 1/2. ATS Records: Bears 6-6, Jaguars 7-5.

Bears Status Report: Chicago pulled off an upset at home last week, beating Minnesota, 24-14, for the third straight year. The Bears are among the glut of teams tied at a game behind Seattle for the final NFC playoff berth.

Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville lost a tough, emotional game at home to Pittsburgh Sunday night, 17-16. The Jags are tied with Buffalo and Cincinnati, a game out of the AFC's two wild-card playoff spots.

The Series: Chicago won two of the three previous matchups including the only contest at Jacksonville, in 1999.

Stat Worth Noting: The home team is 3-0 ATS in the three previous meetings.

Game Summary: The Jaguars played well enough to win against Pittsburgh, but ultimately didn't get it done. Is a letdown imminent, considering the lesser foe and the short week? Quite possible. QB Chad Hutchinson seems to have given the Bears' previously hibernating offense a boost. Both teams harbor playoff hopes, so this is an important matchup that should be tight.

Prediction: JAGUARS, 21-17


Oakland (4-8) at Atlanta (9-3)

Line: Falcons favored by 7 1/2. ATS Records: Raiders 4-8, Falcons 5-7.

Raiders Status Report: Oakland lost at home to Kansas City last week, 34-27, and is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

Falcons Status Report: Atlanta was awful in a 27-0 loss at Tampa Bay but can clinch the NFC South Division crown with a victory.

The Series: Atlanta hasn't defeated Oakland since the early 1980s, and has lost three meetings over the last decade including one at Atlanta in 1999.

Stats Worth Noting: The Raiders are 2-1 ATS against the NFC. Atlanta is 0-3 ATS when favored by a TD or more this season.

Game Summary: The Falcons should be fired up to rebound from the ugly loss at Tampa, while Oakland might coast the rest of the way without anything to play for. Oakland's defense wouldn't appear to have an answer to QB Michael Vick, who doesn't usually play poorly twice in a row. The stats noted above point to the Raiders, but the more relevant info pertains to this year only... and that means Atlanta.

Prediction: FALCONS, 27-14


New Orleans (4-8) at Dallas (5-7)

Line: Cowboys favored by 7. ATS Records: Saints 4-8, Cowboys 5-7.

Saints Status Report: New Orleans lost at home to Carolina last week, 32-21. The Saints have dropped three in a row and are 2-7 since a 2-1 start.

Cowboys Status Report: In a wild game as entertaining as the final score indicates, Dallas rallied at Seattle for a 43-39 victory Monday night. The Cowboys are tied with several teams one game behind the Seahawks for the final NFC wild-card playoff berth.

The Series: The Saints won the last meeting, 13-7, in last year's regular season finale, and won two of the three most recent meetings prior to that. But all four contests were at the Louisiana Superdome - the teams haven't played at Dallas since the 1980s.

Stats Worth Noting: New Orleans is 3-2 ATS on the road, Dallas is 3-2 ATS in conference game outside the East.

Game Summary: As impressive as RB Julius Jones has been for the Cowboys, the Saints have a decent runner themselves in Deuce McAlister... and both these clubs are having troubles playing defense. The only area where this is a mismatch is coaching - I like Bill Parcells a lot better than the should-have-already-been-axed Jim Haslett... so I'll go with Dallas to squeeze out a close win at home.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 31-28


Detroit (5-7) at Green Bay (7-5)

Line: Packers favored by 9 1/2. ATS Records: Lions 6-6, Packers 5-6-1.

Lions Status Report: Detroit rolled over Arizona at home last week, 26-12, to snap a five-game losing streak.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay's six-game winning streak was unceremoniously trashed at Philadelphia, the Packers getting whupped, 47-17. They remain tied atop the NFC North with Minnesota.

The Series: Green Bay romped in the first meeting this season at Detroit, 38-10. They have won the last four at Green Bay in this series by an average of 24 points.

Stat Worth Noting: Green Bay has won 16 straight against Detroit at home and has covered ATS in 10 of the last 11 meetings at Lambeau Field.

Game Summary: The Packers are likely to rebound from the thrashing at Philly, but Detroit could be a stern test after the Lions renewed their failing confidence with a convincing victory over Arizona. The Packers have been remarkably streaky this season... was last week's loss the beginning of something bad, or just a bump in the road to a division title? I dunno, but the trends are so strong toward the green and gold that I won't ignore them.

Prediction: PACKERS, 35-17


Seattle (6-6) at Minnesota (7-5)

Line: Vikings favored by 6. ATS Records: Seahawks 4-8, Vikings 7-5.

Seahawks Status Report: Seattle again blew a late lead, falling at home to Dallas Monday night, 43-39, to drop into second place in the NFC West.

Vikings Status Report: Minnesota lost at Chicago last week, 24-14, but still holds down the top wild-card berth in the NFC.

The Series: The Vikings routed Seattle at home a year ago, 34-7, to exact revenge for a 48-23 pasting the Seahawks handed the Vikes in 2002 at Seattle. The home team has won all but one meeting all-time in this series.

Stats Worth Noting: Seattle is 0-2 ATS as a road underdog this season, and 0-2 in conference games outside its own division.

Game Summary: This is the week we find out if Minnesota can avoid another December collapse. It's one thing to lose at Chicago - the Vikings do so just about every year. But if they can't muster a good effort at home against a struggling defense, there's something out of whack.

Prediction: VIKINGS, 34-24


New York Jets (9-3) at Pittsburgh (11-1)

Line: Steelers favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Jets 7-4-1, Steelers 8-4.

Jets Status Report: The Jets dominated Houston at home last week, 29-7, and are currently the top wild-card team in the AFC. The Jets can still win the AFC East, but they trail New England by two games.

Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh survived an upset bid by Jacksonville Sunday night for a 17-16 triumph, the Steelers' 10th in a row.

The Series: The Jets blanked the Steelers at home in a yawner at The Meadowlands last December, 6-0, but Pittsburgh won the three previous meetings including two at Pittsburgh.

Stats Worth Noting: The Jets are 4-1-1 ATS on the road and 4-1 in AFC games outside the East. In this series, the home team has covered five of the last six meetings.

Game Summary: You've found it... my upset special. Yes, I realize I also picked against the Steelers last week and they survived anyway (barely). Look, here's my logic -- the Jets' defense is playing incredibly well, and they pressure the passer as well as anyone. Pittsburgh has been surviving more than dominating in recent weeks... beating the Redskins by nine points, the Bengals by five and the Jaguars by a point. And, while I very much respect what rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger has accomplished, I like the Jets' Chad Pennington better. Still, defenses will rule the day.

Prediction: JETS, 16-13


Miami (2-10) at Denver (7-5)

Line: Broncos favored by 10 1/2. ATS Records: Dolphins 4-8, Broncos 4-5-3.

Dolphins Status Report: Miami lost to Buffalo at home last week, 42-32, and sports the AFC's worst mark.

Broncos Status Report: Denver dropped a tough division showdown game at San Diego, 20-17, and is tied with Baltimore for the last wild-card playoff berth in the AFC.

The Series: The Dolphins have won four of the last five meetings and is 2-1 at Denver during that span including a 24-22 victory over the Broncos at Mile High in 2002.

Stat Worth Noting: Miami is 0-8 SU, 1-7 ATS in conference games this season.

Game Summary: Nothing complicated here... a poor team which hails from Florida going into potentially snowy Mile High Stadium to face a legitimate contender fighting for its playoff life. Yeah, I like the Broncos big.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 41-14


Tampa Bay (5-7) at San Diego (9-3)

Line: Chargers favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Bucs 5-6-1, Chargers 9-1-2.

Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay routed Atlanta at home last week, 27-0, to remain in contention for an NFC wild-card playoff spot.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego held off Denver in the rain at home, 20-17, to seize a two-game lead over the Broncos in the AFC West.

The Series: San Diego has won two of the last three meetings, the most recent in 1998.

Stats Worth Noting: The Chargers haven't failed to cover ATS since Week 3 and are 3-0-1 ATS as home favorites. San Diego is 3-0 ATS against the NFC. Tampa Bay is 1-5 ATS on the road.

Game Summary: San Diego must use caution against a letdown following the huge win over Denver. The Chargers certainly won't take lightly a team coached by former Raiders field boss Jon Gruden, but the Bucs are coming off an inspiring rout of NFC South-leading Atlanta at home and must treat every remaining game as a playoff game. Ultimately, the difference should boil down to the Chargers' ability to run the ball and stop Tampa Bay's running game.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 27-20


St. Louis (6-6) at Carolina (5-7)

Line: Panthers favored by 6. ATS Records: Rams 4-8, Panthers 7-5.

Rams Status Report: St. Louis defeated San Francisco at home, 16-6, but lost QB Marc Bulger to a bruised throwing shoulder. Veteran Chris Chandler replaced him and starts this week. With the victory over the 49ers, the Rams tied Seattle for first in the NFC West. The Rams own the tiebreaker, having swept the season series from the Seahawks.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina made it four straight victories Sunday, 32-21, at New Orleans.

The Series: Carolina won the last meeting, 29-23, in overtime in last year's NFC divisional playoffs at St. Louis. In seven previous meetings at Carolina, the Rams won four. Overall, Carolina leads the series 8-7.

Stats Worth Noting: The Rams have dropped five of their last six ATS. The Panthers are just 1-4 ATS as home favorites.

Game Summary: Although Chandler did have a TD pass in the win over San Francisco last week, the offense didn't do much against a weak Niners defense at home. Using that logic, the Rams could easily struggle to muster an attack against a tougher Carolina defense on grass. The Panthers are winning behind QB Jake Delhomme's clutch play and toughness - he's playing with a broken finger on his throwing hand. The Panthers continuing their winning streak.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 30-20


San Francisco (1-11) at Arizona (4-8)

Line: Cardinals favored by 6 1/2. ATS Records: 49ers 5-7, Cardinals 6-6.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco dropped its seventh in a row, 16-6 at St. Louis last week.

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona's 26-12 loss at Detroit Sunday was its third straight and fifth in six games.

The Series: San Francisco's only win so far this year came in the first meeting as the 49ers rallied in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 victory. The 49ers have won four of the last five contests.

Stat Worth Noting: The home team has covered ATS in the last six meetings in this series.

Game Summary: Mainly because I'm leaning toward so many favorites this week, I'm being pulled toward the 49ers by an unknown force. But I will resist, because Arizona QB Joshua McCown has been restored to his rightful spot as the starter while the 49ers are forced to go with Ken Dorsey as a sub for ailing Tim Rattay. The Cardinals will be sufficiently motivated, not wanting to lose to the lowly Niners twice. To date, they are the only squad to do so once. The payback aspect exists here, too.

Prediction: CARDINALS, 22-14


Philadelphia (11-1) at Washington (4-8)

Line: Eagles favored by 9. ATS Records: Eagles 9-3, Redskins 5-7.

Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia routed Green Bay at home last week, 47-17, to remain firmly entrenched atop the NFC.

Redskins Status Report: Washington exploded from a scoring slump to romp over the New York Giants, 31-7, last weekend at home.

The Series: The Eagles won the first meeting this season at Washington, 28-6, and has won the last two meetings at Washington by scores of 31-7 and 37-7. Philly has won the last seven meetings overall.

Stat Worth Noting: Philadelphia is a perfect 9-0 SU and ATS in conference games this season including 4-0 in NFC East matchups.

Game Summary: While I acknowledge that their breakthrough came against the slumping New York Giants, the Redskins may be on to something with their big win. The defense has been playing relatively well all season, but now the passing attack had some life for a change on Sunday and RB Clinton Portis ran as well as he has all season. Then again there's every reason to predict another Eagles romp. But this is a national TV game at home, within the division. The Eagles are obviously the better team, but I'll play a hunch that this game is close enough to be entertaining.

Prediction: EAGLES, 20-13


Kansas City (4-8) at Tennessee (4-8)

Line: Even*. ATS Records: Chiefs 4-8, Titans 4-8.

Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City rallied to beat the Raiders at Oakland last week, 34-27.

Titans Status Report: Tennessee exploded for 24 first-quarter points at Indianapolis, but failed to score the rest of the way in a 51-24 loss.

The Series: No recent meetings. Kansas City has won four of the last seven meetings including one of three at Tennessee. The home team has won the last four clashes.

Stat Worth Noting: Tennessee is 1-4 SU and ATS at home this season.

Game Summary: Neither team plays good defense these days, but at least Kansas City can still light up the scoreboard. The last time KC was on the road on a Monday night, the Chiefs upset Baltimore for their first win of the campaign. With QB Steve McNair's status still up in the air, go with the Chiefs despite the continued absence of RB Priest Holmes.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 35-31

* Estimated Line. Official Line Not Available At Presstime.