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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 16
Bob Cunningham
December 23, 2004

SEASON RECORDS TO DATE
Straight-Up: 133-91 (59%)
Against-The-Spread: 112-107-5 (51%)

LAST WEEK
Straight-Up: 9-7
Against-The-Spread: 11-5

Comment: Hey, there may be something to that "system" I mentioned last week... except that it didn't recognize that a big intra-division home underdog is money. Congrats to the Dolphins for beating New England. And now, to the home stretch. Some major questions to be answered. Can Philadelphia continue its rampage toward the Super Bowl without Terrell Owens? Will the Patriots rebound from Monday night's disappointment? Is a 7-9 record going to win the NFC West? Just two weeks to go in the regular season. Enjoy.


Green Bay (8-6) at Minnesota (8-6)

Line: Vikings favored by 3. ATS Records: Packers 5-8-1, Vikings 7-7.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay was shocked at home by Jacksonville Sunday, 28-25, but clinched a playoff berth anyway and remains tied atop the NFC North with Minnesota.

Vikings Status Report: Minnesota survived at Detroit, 28-27, and is in position to take control of the NFC North with a win in this game. The Vikings will clinch a playoff berth with a victory.

The Series: Green Bay won the first meeting this season, 31-28 at Lambeau Field. The Packers also won the last meeting played at The Metrodome, 30-27 last season. But the teams have split the last 10 meetings overall.

Stat Worth Noting: The visiting team is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings, including 4-3 SU.

Game Summary: This is the showdown for the NFC North title... but in reality the only thing at stake is a home game in the first round of the playoffs. But between that and the rivalry factor, there will be a definitive playoff atmosphere to this one. That favors Green Bay and ageless QB Brett Favre, who played so poorly for the most part against the Jaguars last week that you wonder if he was bought off (just kidding, Brett). Favre has slumped a bit the last month, but going against the Vikings defense is a great tonic. Minnesota has not been particularly tough at home, losing its last game there against Seattle and also falling to the New York Giants there this season. Offensively, these teams are similarly potent. But on defense, the Pack gets a slight edge. In all likelihood, turnovers will decide this one.

Prediction: PACKERS, 30-24


Oakland (5-9) at Kansas City (6-8)

Line: Chiefs favored by 7 1/2. ATS Records: Raiders 5-9, Chiefs 6-8.

Raiders Status Report: Oakland got five TD passes from QB Kerry Collins in a 40-35 triumph over Tennessee at home last week.

Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City routed visiting Denver, 45-17, for its second straight victory.

The Series: Kansas City won the first meeting this season, 34-27 at Oakland earlier this month. The Chiefs have won the last five meetings between these two at home, and 9 of 12 overall.

Stats Worth Noting: The Chiefs are 17-6-1 ATS in this series dating back a dozen years, including 8-3-1 at home.

Game Summary: It's interesting that the Chiefs are playing well now that their playoff hopes are virtually non-existent. The offense doesn't really miss injured Priest Holmes, because second-year man Larry Johnson has looked strong as did Derrick Blaylock before him. Kansas City's defense is still suspect, although it played well last against Denver. Oakland is capable of scoring points, but its defense might be even worse than the Chiefs. This is a rivalry game, but I still believe KC is the pick at home.

Prediction: CHIEFS, 35-20


Denver (8-6) at Tennessee (4-10)

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

Broncos Status Report: Needing a win at Kansas City badly, the Broncos instead played horribly in a 45-17 loss. They are tied with four other clubs for the two wild-card playoff berths out of the AFC, but at this moment would be excluded. The Broncos have lost three of their last four.

Titans Status Report: Tennessee was beaten at Oakland last week, 40-35, and is playing out the string, with QB Steve McNair and RB Chris Brown sidelined for the duration.

The Series: These clubs have played only twice in the last 10 years, splitting home wins.

Stats Worth Noting: Tennessee is 1-5 ATS and SU at home this season.

Game Summary: QB Billy Volek and the Tennessee passing game has been impressive the last two weeks, but Denver's pass defense is solid and the Broncos offense should exploit the Titans' numerous injury-induced deficiencies.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 31-23


Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (13-1)

Line: Steelers favored by 5 1/2. ATS Records: Ravens 9-5, Steelers 9-5.

Ravens Status Report: Baltimore was defeated at Indianapolis Sunday night, 20-10, but remains in the thick of the chase for the two AFC wild-card berths.

Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh held off the New York Giants on the road Saturday, 33-30, for its 12th straight victory. The Steelers can clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win.

The Series: Baltimore handed the Steelers their only defeat so far in 2004, 30-13 in Week 2 at Baltimore. In the last game played at Pittsburgh, the Steelers rolled, 34-15, last season.

Stats Worth Noting: The home team has won the last five games in this series, but gone only 2-3 ATS. Pittsburgh is 17-4 ATS in its last 21 home division games, 2-0 this season. Eight of the last nine meetings have gone over the total.

Game Summary: Dare I predict that this game will be a defensive struggle? Historically, this rivalry has been relatively high-scoring despite both teams' penchant for boasting great defenses. The Steelers have plenty of motivation - avenging their only defeat in addition to clinching homefield throughout the playoffs. But so will the Ravens, who realize a loss might knock them out of the playoffs entirely in the ultra-competitive AFC. If you like grind-it-out, smashmouth football... this game is definitely your mug of beer.

Prediction: STEELERS, 24-17


New York Giants (5-9) at Cincinnati (6-8)

Line: Bengals favored by 6. ATS Records: Giants 6-8, Bengals 6-8.

Giants Status Report: The G-Men almost pulled off a big upset of Pittsburgh last week, but lost at home 33-30.

Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati was mowed down at home by surging Buffalo, 33-17, and assured of a non-winning season for the 14th straight year.

The Series: The Giants have won the last four meetings dating back 16 years. None were recent.

Stat Worth Noting: The Bengals are 2-0 SU and ATS against the NFC.

Game Summary: The big question here: Will either team really care? I believe the Bengals will be motivated by trying to finish with a non-losing record, although they go to Philadelphia next week so that ain't gonna happen. Still, just being the home team should be enough in this one. For the Giants, QB Eli Manning will be looking to build on last week's respectable performance against the Steelers.

Prediction: BENGALS, 23-20


Houston (6-8) at Jacksonville (8-6)

Line: Jaguars favored by 7. ATS Records: Texans 7-6-1, Jaguars 9-5.

Texans Status Report: Houston went on the road to frigid Chicago last week and whipped the Bears, 24-5.

Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville earned the biggest victory for the franchise since its 1996 run to the AFC Championship Game, upsetting the Packers at Green Bay, 28-25. If the playoffs began this week, the Jags would be in.

The Series: Houston whipped the Jaguars at home in the first contest this season, 20-6, and has won three of five meetings.

Stat Worth Noting: Houston is 4-1 ATS in divisional games this season.

Game Summary: Jacksonville has to avoid a letdown after the huge victory at Green Bay, and the playoff push the Jaguars are attempting will probably be enough to keep them emotionally fit. They should also be motivated by revenge - Houston thumped them handily in the first meeting. The Texans continue to improve, but beating the Bears is one thing... winning at streaking Jacksonville is something else altogether.

Prediction: JAGUARS, 27-17


San Diego (11-3) at Indianapolis (11-3)

Line: Colts favored by 7. ATS Records: Chargers 11-1-2, Colts 9-4-1.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego dominated Cleveland on the snowy road, 21-0, and has won eight straight games.

Packers Status Report: Indy beat Baltimore at home Sunday night, 20-10, and has won seven in a row.

The Series: San Diego has won six of the last nine meetings, including four of five at Indy. The most recent was four years ago.

Stats Worth Noting: The Chargers are 7-0-1 ATS during their winning streak, the Colts 5-2 during theirs. San Diego is 31-15 ATS in their last 46 games on artificial surfaces, including 15-5 in domes (1-0 this year).

Game Summary: This is the "Something's-Gotta-Give Bowl". Both teams are playing well, and both are doing it in similar fashion -- lots of points, and improving defense. The Colts get the edge, not only because they're at home, but also because they will exploit San Diego's average pass defense AND put a legitimate rush on Chargers QB Drew Brees. But the Chargers will play ball-control - I'm as sure of that as I am that Peyton Manning is a great passer - and that should keep the game close and a little lower-scoring than many expect. Colts win a close one on their homefield, because their defense has improved enough to beat quality teams.

Prediction: COLTS, 27-24


Chicago (5-9) at Detroit (5-9)

Line: Lions favored by 6. ATS Records: Bears 6-8, Lions 8-6.

Bears Status Report: Chicago lost at home to Houston, 24-5, last week and has been outscored a cumulative 46-8 in its last two contests.

Lions Status Report: Detroit lost a gut-wrencher to Minnesota at home, 28-27, when a potential game-tying PAT in the final minute was botched.

The Series: Detroit won the first meeting this season, 20-16 at Chicago. The last game played at Detroit was a 12-10 Lions win last season.

Stats Worth Noting: Eight of the last nine meetings have been decided by a TD or less, and the last four at Detroit by four points or fewer.

Game Summary: Despite the heart-breaking loss last week, the Lions enter this one with significantly more momentum than Chicago. The Bears offense is again at a stand-still. But, this is a rivalry game with last place... uh, on the line. Expect it to be close.

Prediction: LIONS, 20-13


Atlanta (11-3) at New Orleans (6-8)

Line: Saints favored by 2 1/2. ATS Records: Falcons 6-8, Saints 6-8.

Falcons Status Report: Atlanta edged Carolina in overtime at home on Saturday, 34-31, and is assured of the No. 2 seeding and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Saints Status Report: New Orleans upset Tampa Bay on the road, 21-17, and has won two straight to remain in the hunt for a wild-card playoff berth.

The Series: Atlanta won at home, 24-21, earlier this season. The road team has won six of the last nine meetings, however.

Stat Worth Noting: Atlanta is a mind-boggling 17-1-1 ATS at New Orleans since 1985. This is the strongest current long-term trend between two teams known to handicapping man (or woman).

Game Summary: This is a tricky game to forecast, because Atlanta is locked in as the NFC's second seed come playoff time. The Falcons can't catch Philadelphia for No. 1, and can't be caught by anyone else. So, the pointspread that opened with the Falcons as three-point favorites now shows them as underdogs by about the same amount. New Orleans must win this week and next week at Carolina to have any chance at the playoffs, and the Saints bring momentum into this game, having won two in a row on the road. The latest report is that Falcons QB Michael Vick and TE Alge Crumpler will sit this one out, and that's enough for me to go with the hosts.

Prediction: SAINTS, 27-20


Carolina (6-8) at Tampa Bay (5-9)

Line: Bucs favored by 3. ATS Records: Panthers 9-5, Bucs 5-8-1.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina's five-game winning streak ended with a 34-31 OT loss at Atlanta Saturday night, but the Panthers control their own destiny. If they beat the Bucs and the Saints next week, they're in the playoffs.

Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay lost at home to New Orleans, 21-17, and is all but officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Series: Carolina triumphed at home, 21-14, in the first meeting in late November. The Panthers have won the last three meetings overall, including a 12-9 victory at Tampa Bay last season.

Stats Worth Noting: Carolina is 6-1 ATS on the road, and 3-1 in divisional games. The Panthers are 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings with the Bucs.

Game Summary: Tampa Bay has essentially been reduced to the role of spoiler, but the Bucs will likely take it seriously at home, with a shot at seriously damaging the playoff hopes of the defending conference champs. Carolina is playing well, though, the loss at Atlanta last week not withstanding. And Carolina has had the best of it in this series recently. The Panthers get it done on the road... again.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 20-17


New England (12-2) at New York Jets (10-4)

Line: Patriots favored by 3. ATS Records: Patriots 9-3-2, Jets 8-5-1.

Patriots Status Report: New England lost for only the second time in its last 25 regular season games, 29-28 at Miami Monday night. The Patriots can clinch the No. 2 seeding in the AFC with a win and an Indy victory over San Diego, but need two victories and two Pittsburgh losses to get the top spot in the conference.

Jets Status Report: The Jets whipped Seattle at home last week, 37-14, and would clinch a playoff berth with a victory.

The Series: New England won the first meeting this season at home, 13-7, and has taken four of the last five overall. The last meeting at The Meadowlands was a 21-16 Patriots triumph last season.

Stat Worth Noting: The last three meetings have come within two points of the spread, including a push in the first meeting this season.

Game Summary: Predicting the Pats to lose two games in a row is unthinkable, right? Well, I'm very partial to home teams in division games, especially late in the season. A 10-4 team as a home underdog is appealing. The Patriots played on the road Monday night, and are on the road again, so preparation won't be as keen. Also, the Jets had their chances in the first meeting this season won by the Pats at Foxborough (when did they change the spelling?). Yep, it's going to happen. The Patriots actually lose two in a row.

Prediction: JETS, 19-16


Buffalo (8-6) at San Francisco (2-12)

Line: Bills favored by 11. ATS Records: Bills 10-4, 49ers 6-8.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo has now won five straight after last week's 33-17 triumph at Cincinnati. The Bills are among five teams tied for the two AFC wild-card playoff berths, but would not be in the field had the season ended last week.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco lost at home to Washington on Saturday, 26-16.

The Series: The teams have split the last four meetings dating back a dozen years. No recent meetings.

Stats Worth Noting: In the last four of those aforementioned Rams victories in this series, Arizona is 3-1 ATS.

Game Summary: On paper, the Bills should dominate. But RB Willis McGahee is likely to be sidelined and that's enough for me to predict a closer contest than the spread would indicate. After traveling to Cincinnati last week, turning around heading to the West Coast might take a toll on the favored Bills.

Prediction: BILLS, 24-14


Washington (5-9) at Dallas (5-9)

Line: Redskins favored by 2. ATS Records: Redskins 7-7, Cowboys 6-8.

Redskins Status Report: Washington whipped San Francisco on the road, 26-16, for its second win in three weeks.

Cowboys Status Report: Dallas lost at Philadelphia, 12-7, on Sunday.

The Series: Dallas won the first meeting this season, at Washington, 21-18, and has won the last 12 meetings in this rivalry.

Stat Worth Noting: The Cowboys are 11-1 SU, 9-3 ATS in their last dozen home games vs. Washington.

Game Summary: Dallas has been remarkably unpredictable, but the Cowboys played tough at Philly last week and coach Bill Parcells won't tolerate the team cashing it in. It will be easy to get up for an arch-rival anyway, especially one the Cowboys have so thoroughly dominated in recent years. The Redskins are playing better, but this is a hump they're not ready to overcome.

Prediction: COWBOYS, 23-16


Arizona (5-9) at Seattle (7-7)

Line: Seahawks favored by 7. ATS Records: Cardinals 7-7, Seahawks 5-9.

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona dominated the St. Louis Rams last week, 31-7, to keep alive fledgling playoff hopes.

Seahawks Status Report: Seattle was blown at the New York Jets Sunday, 37-14, but can clinch the NFC West title with a victory and a St. Louis loss to Philadelphia Monday night.

The Series: Arizona won the first meeting this season at home, 25-17, but Seattle won the three previous meetings by a combined score of 93-16.

Stat Worth Noting: Seattle is 1-5 ATS as a home favorite this season.

Game Summary: This is the chance for Seattle to truly establish itself as a legitimate playoff team, facing a lesser foe (allegedly) at home. There's also the revenge factor, for the Cardinals' 25-17 win in October. Because they should, I forecast the Seahawks to come out strong and take control early against one of the worst road franchises of the modern era.

Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 34-13


Cleveland (3-11) at Miami (3-11)

Line: Dolphins favored by 7*. ATS Records: Browns 4-10, Dolphins 6-8.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland was blanked at home in the snow, 21-0 by San Diego, for its eighth straight defeat.

Colts Status Report: Miami rallied to shock defending champion New England at home, 29-28, on Monday night.

The Series: The teams have only played twice since 1990, with Miami winning both handily.

Stats Worth Noting: Cleveland is 0-6 ATS on the road, and 0-4 in conference games outside the North Division. Miami is 0-2 ATS as a favorite.

Game Summary: Nothing personal to those involved, but does anyone really care? Talk about your need to let the TV people determine matchups as the season unfolds! Wow.

Prediction: DOLPHINS, 26-17


Philadelphia (13-1) at St. Louis (6-8)

Line: Eagles favored by 7*. ATS Records: Eagles 9-5, Rams 4-10.

Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia survived at home against Dallas Sunday, 12-7, but lost WR Terrell Owens for the balance of the season to a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments. The Eagles have clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Rams Status Report: St. Louis was embarrassed at Arizona, 31-7, and has dropped three in a row. Still, the Rams are in the thick of the NFC wild-card chase, and victories in their final two games could get them in.

The Series: The last meeting was a 10-3 victory for the Eagles at home in the 2002 season. Before that, the Rams won at home in the NFC Championship Game the previous season, 28-23.

Stat Worth Noting: Philadelphia is 5-0 ATS in its last five meetings with the Rams.

Game Summary: Another tough game to figure because the Eagles, like Atlanta, have their NFC seeding locked up. The team endured an emotional loss as well as a physical one with Terrell Owens' broken leg, and there's not much motivation for this one except that winning is always more fun than losing. The Rams, on the other hand, are desperate... at least they should be. But it would be easier to pick them if they had done anything positive the last three weeks. Not only have they lost, but they've been trashed. Still, I went against my usual grain last Monday night when Miami was a big home 'dog to the Patriots... and as predicted, I regret that. With QB Marc Bulger returning, the Rams should be able to suck it up rather than just... well, you know what I'm saying.

Prediction: RAMS, 24-17

* - estimated line, because official line was unavailable.