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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Inside The Points - Divisional Week
Fritz Schlottman
January 14, 2005

NY JETS AT PITTSBURGH

Vegas Line

PIT -9 TOTAL 34.5

Predicted Outcome

PIT 17 NYJ 7

Records

NYJ

SU (11-6-0)

ATS (9-7-1), ATS AWAY (5-3-1)

OVER/UNDER (7-10-0), O/U AWAY (3-6-0)

PIT

SU (15-1-0)

ATS (10-5-1), ATS HOME (6-2-0)

OVER/UNDER (8-8-0), O/U HOME (4-4-0)

Recent Meetings

        NYJ     PIT  
Date Away Home TOTAL RUSH PASS TOTAL RUSH PASS
12/12/2004 NYJ 6 PIT 17 296 107 189 262 120 142
12/14/2003 PIT 0 NYJ 6 319 175 144 231 94 137
12/9/2001 NYJ 7 PIT 18 220 61 159 345 134 211

Commentary

The earlier game this season was a defensive scrum for the first three quarters. Neither team could string together first downs that week until late in the game and the touchdown that broke the game open was a half back pass…not exactly a shoot-out in any sense. With the earlier game staying close for so long that you’d think it would encourage each teams’ coaching staff to at least consider taking the same approach this week. Unless you like to watch three yards and a cloud of dust football, let’s hope they get a little more creative.

This is the Jets third straight road game, and more or less their third straight playoff game as going into St. Louis the Jets assumed they needed a win in Week 17 to make the post season. New York lost that game, but was pleasantly surprised to learn in the locker room they had backed into the playoffs. Asking a team to win three straight on the road (theoretically) isn’t reasonable. Moreover winning a game in Pittsburgh, who have one of the better home field advantages (in the regular season at least), would be tough in better circumstances, and is nearly impossible under these conditions.

I think this game sets up as another defensive battle for several reasons: first, neither quarterback is in good shape here. Pennington has a shoulder issues, and while it didn’t show up last week in warm weather, the game was played in Southern California. I would expect Pennington to be more limited in what should be a cold, rainy day. Pittsburgh will have a rookie quarterback starting his first playoff game, and I wouldn’t expect the team to ask him to win the ball game for them. Second, there’s the bad weather and a muddy track should limit each team’s footing. Third, each team has a strong defense, especially a tough rush defense and both teams want to run the ball. I don’t see either offense being able to grind out first downs with the running game.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this isn’t another rugby scrum as each team plays it close to the vest, takes care of the football in bad conditions, and plays for the turnover, good field position, and a field goal. If you can a proposition on field goals, the over in this game might be one of the more interesting bets this week.

I think the spot definitely favors Pittsburgh, I think they cover with the game going under the total.

ST LOUIS AT ATLANTA

Vegas Line

ATL -7 TOTAL 48.5

Predicted Outcome

ATL 27 STL 17

Records

STL

SU (9-8-0)

ATS (6-10-1), ATS AWAY (3-6-0)

OVER/UNDER (9-8-0), O/U AWAY (5-4-0)

ATL

SU (11-5-0)

ATS (7-8-1), ATS HOME (3-4-1)

OVER/UNDER (5-11-0), O/U HOME (2-6-0)

Recent Meetings

        STL     ATL  
Date Away Home TOTAL RUSH PASS TOTAL RUSH PASS
9/19/2004 STL 17 ATL 34 280 30 250 416 242 174
10/13/2003 ATL 0 STL 36 496 119 377 209 73 136
1/6/2002 ATL 13 STL 31 458 192 266 255 107 148
12/2/2001 STL 35 ATL 6 422 89 333 320 128 192

Commentary

I’ve been waiting all week to bet against the Rams and now I have my opportunity. As I wrote last week, if St. Louis hadn’t been matched-up against the Seahawks, I’d have played against them already. Atlanta isn’t the ideal team in this spot, but they’ll do for this week anyway.

Make no mistake, this St. Louis squad is every bit an 8-8 football team. The Rams offensive line can’t protect Bulger and the Rams -24 turnover margin proves it. St. Louis either can’t or won’t run the football consistently, so defenses don’t even bother to honor play action and instead pin their ears back and bury Bulger in the pocket. And do you really think HC Mike Martz can pull two road playoff upsets in a row? Even Rams fans have to admit it’s just a matter of time before Martz has another coaching “moment”, the inexplicable call that leaves you shaking your head or shaking your fist. France has a better chance of winning three straight wars.

Atlanta can run the ball at will against the Rams. While Martz was commenting on how his defense was finally understanding the team’s new defensive scheme this week (I’m not sure who should be more offended after that underhanded compliment: the players who were too stupid to learn it for the last year or the coaches who couldn’t explain it for 17 weeks of the regular season) the Falcons were busy getting a little healthier at runningback. St. Louis hasn’t stopped opposing offenses all season and I don’t think a win against the Seahawks (who catch the football as if it was a disease) proves this defense has suddenly improved. I look for the Rams defense to regress as they are unable to match-up physically with the Falcons if Atlanta pounds the ball at the center of that shaky defensive front seven.

I can see the Falcons running game grinding out first downs on St. Louis’ rush defense and Bulger dodging blitzers all afternoon easier than I can see Vick having to drop back and convert third and tens while Marshall Faulk gets 25 carries and over 100 yards rushing. Give me the Falcons and the under.

MINNESOTA AT PHILADELPHIA

Vegas Line

PHI -8.5 TOTAL 48

Predicted Outcome

PHI 24 MIN 17

Records

MIN

SU (9-8-0)

ATS (8-9-0), ATS AWAY (5-4-0)

OVER/UNDER (8-9-0), O/U AWAY (5-4-0)

PHI

SU (13-3-0)

ATS (9-7-0), ATS HOME (5-3-0)

OVER/UNDER (5-11-0), O/U HOME (3-5-0)

Recent Meetings

        MIN     PHI  
Date Away Home TOTAL RUSH PASS TOTAL RUSH PASS
9/20/2004 MIN 16 PHI 27 410 78 332 317 91 226
11/11/2001 MIN 17 PHI 48 301 56 245 487 272 215

Commentary

It’s been a month since the Eagles played a meaningful football game. The last time the Eagles’ offense played well was the Green Bay contest where everything clicked and Philly rolled. Since that game, Philadelphia has more or less stood down on offense.

Part of that loss of production is the injury to Terrell Owens, forcing Philly to look once again for a big play receiver. How Eagles HC Andy Reid shakes off the rust and finds a way of moving the ball through the air without a dominating run game and questions at receiver is a matter of great speculation in Nevada.

The best guess around town is that Philadelphia tries to play physically against the Vikings defense, runs the ball with Westbrook a little more than ususal, and sets up the play action pass. Now, no one is going to mistake the diminutive Westbrook for Jerome Bettis so asking him to carry the ball 30 times is probably isn’t in the cards, but you have to figure 20-25 touches isn’t out of the question. If the Eagles can force the Minnesota defense to stop the run first, the McNabb should be able to find those receivers down the field whereas, if Philly can’t get three yards a carry on first down, then the Eagles receivers should struggle to get open.

There won’t be any game plan changes on the Eagles defense: Philly will blitz and then blitz some more. The Packers had some success getting to Culpepper last week even with a porous secondary and a pretty mediocre pass rush. I would expect that the Eagles will pressure Culpepper to make decisions quickly, and with Moss hobbled, the easy answer to the questions posed by the Philadelphia pass rush may not be available.

The answer to the Eagles defense would seem to be running the ball. Minnesota’s offense line is huge and will outweigh the Eagles front seven significantly. You’d think the Viking would approach this game by pounding the ball straight at them between the tackles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as Tice’s quotes seem to indicate that the Vikings play mix will be passing 70% rushing 30%.

If the Viking drop back and throw 30 times, Culpepper is going to make mistakes. All the steam is coming in on the Vikings, but I think that may be a bet against the Eagles rather than for the Vikings. I think the play should be on the under, but I also think if the spread gets down to a touchdown, then there’s value with the Eagles as well.

INDIANAPOLIS AT NEW ENGLAND

Vegas Line

NE -2 TOTAL 51.5

Predicted Outcome

NE 31 IND 28

Records

IND

SU (13-4-0)

ATS (10-6-1), ATS AWAY (4-3-1)

OVER/UNDER (12-5-0), O/U AWAY (5-3-0)

NE

SU (14-2-0)

ATS (11-3-2), ATS HOME (5-1-2)

OVER/UNDER (8-7-1), O/U HOME (3-4-1)

Recent Meetings

        IND     NE  
Date Away Home TOTAL RUSH PASS TOTAL RUSH PASS
9/9/2004 IND 24 NE 27 446 202 244 402 82 320
1/18/2004 IND 14 NE 24 306 98 208 349 112 237
11/30/2003 NE 38 IND 34 370 98 272 282 56 226
10/21/2001 NE 38 IND 17 484 179 305 385 123 262
9/30/2001 IND 13 NE 44 322 82 240 336 177 159

Commentary

All New England does is win. They don’t look that great statistically, they’re always beaten up and injured, and despite a winning ATS margin each and every year, for some reason the Patriots have never gotten the respect they deserve from the betting public. So this week, the Pat’s opened up as three point favorites and all the steam has come in on the Colts. Listening to the public on the radio, the sentiment seems to be how in the world is the injured Patriots defense going to stop that Indianapolis offense? Listening to the same callers, you’d have no idea the Patriots, rather than the Colts, were the world champions.

One of the ways the Patriots win is they get a lead. For seventeen straight games, the Patriots have scored first. And once they get that lead, New England’s defense forces opposing teams to abandon the running game and throw into the teeth of that secondary. Getting a lead also sets up the Patriots ball control running game and clock management, so there’s connectivity between the two squads. The offense helps the defense and the defense helps the New England offense.

Part of that connectivity is the way New England wins is by playing tough run defense. Aside from the Colts’ 202 yards rushing in the opening game of the season, the Patriots have done a good job of limiting the damage done by opposing runningbacks. How Indy lost that opening game while gaining over 200 yards rushing is still a mystery to me. Suffice it to say that if RB Edgerrin James gets another 200 yards rushing the Colts will win this game. If Patriots RB Corey Dillon out rushes James, then the Patriots have an excellent chance of moving on.

The Colts also have connectivity. The Indianapolis has a risk-taking defense. The Colts aren’t that great against the run and they aren’t great against the pass, but they make big plays. The Colts hope that they can get a sack or a turnover to stop the opposing offense and give their offense good field position. Could Indianapolis play that way if they didn’t have an offense that can put up points fast and come from behind or get out in front early? Their talent says no, but they have the luxury of knowing the defense can give up 35 points and still win the game. As a result, the Colts defensive ends can go after the passer relentlessly without caring about the run and the ponies’ secondary can jump routes because if they get burned, they know the offense can quickly get those points back.

Looking at both teams, I asked myself with side is better right now, the Colts offense or the Patriots defense – the Patriots offense or the Colts defense? I think both teams’ offensive units are more talented and playing better right now. That would lead me to believe that this will be a higher scoring game.

The last team with the ball may win this game. New England doesn’t turn the ball over and neither does Peyton Manning which leads me to believe that both offenses will march up and down the field. Gun to my head, I like the Patriots here just because they know how to win these big games, but I think the betting play is on the over.

Best of luck this week.