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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Week 4
Bob Cunningham
September 28, 2006

As I begin this week’s column, I’m greeted by the news that Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens may have attempted to take his own life Tuesday night, being rushed to the hospital with a potential drug overdose and allegedly indicating to an emergency services worker that he did, indeed, try to harm himself.

But now I see there are conflicting reports, including Owens himself claiming it was all just a big misunderstanding.

It’s pretty obvious that T.O. has plenty to live for, and I’m assuming this isn’t a sick publicity stunt of some sort.  The man does have some unique ways of garnering attention.  Anyway, I will let this situation sort itself out.

This weekend doesn’t offer the number of marquee rivalry games that Week 3 sported… but there are some intriguing intra-conference clashes worth following.  Seattle at Chicago, San Diego at Baltimore, and New England at Cincinnati are all potential postseason previews.  Then again, so is Detroit at St. Louis and Arizona at Atlanta, even if we don’t really believe so.

The prognosticating is still a mixed bag, to this point – a break-even mark ATS last week still leaves me just below sea level… but it will get better.  On the positive side, my upset pick of the Rams over the Cardinals (I know, I know… picking Arizona to gag really isn’t much of a reach) leaves me two for three on my weekly upset specials so far this season.  Hey, everyone has to have a niche, right?

On to Week 4…

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 29-17 (63 percent); ATS – 21-23-2 (48 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 10-4; ATS – 6-6-2
OVER/UNDER: 26-19-1 for the season, 7-7 last week.


INDIANAPOLIS (3-0) at NEW YORK JETS (2-1)

Line:  Colts favored by 9 (total points line is 46)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Colts 2-0-1, Jets 2-1

Strongest Trend:  The Jets are 3-1-1 ATS in their last five against Indianapolis.

Last Meeting:  The Jets routed the Colts at Indy, 31-7, in August of 2004.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis held off Jacksonville at home Sunday, 21-14, and is alone atop the AFC South.

Jets Status Report:  New York triumphed at Buffalo Sunday, 28-20, and is tied with New England for top honors in the AFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, WRs Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS –TE Dallas Clark, Colts defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY JETS – QB Chad Pennington, WR Laveranues Coles. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY JETS – RB Kevan Barlow.

Game Summary:  Because the Jets were expected to struggle this year, the odds-makers have installed them as 9-point ‘dogs in this game, even at home.  But I told y’all they’d be better than expected, because of a feisty defense and the intangibles new head coach Eric Mangini and QB Chad Pennington brings to the table.  I’m actually tempted to predict the shocker, especially given the Colts’ recent struggles in this series.  But I’ll wimp out, and instead forecast that the Colts will be very, very thankful to leave town with a close win.

Prediction:  COLTS, 23-20


MIAMI (1-2) at HOUSTON (0-3)

Line:  Dolphins favored by 4 (total points line is 38½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Dolphins 0-3, Texans 0-3

Strongest Trend:  The road team has won both prior meetings.

Last Meeting:  Houston stunned the Dolphins at Miami in 2003, 21-20.

Dolphins Status Report:  The Dolphins managed to squeak out a 13-10 home victory over Tennessee last week.  Miami is tied for third in the AFC East, a game back of the Patriots and Jets.

Texans Status Report:  Houston was beaten at home by Washington, 31-15, Sunday.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown, WR Chris Chambers, K Olindo Mare, Dolphins defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – QB Daunte Culpepper, WR, Wes Welker, TE Randy McMichael. QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – Texans defense.

Game Summary:  Like with the Jets, I said that Houston would be better than expected this season, mainly because I thought the Texans defense would step up and that first overall pick Mario Williams would be motivated to silence the naysayers who would have preferred that Houston tab Reggie Bush with that first choice.  Unlike with the Jets, though, the Texans have proven me wrong, at least so far.  I have to go with Miami, although I don’t really know why.

Prediction:  DOLPHINS, 20-14


MINNESOTA (2-1) at BUFFALO (1-2)

Line:  Bills favored by 1 (total points line is 34½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Vikings 2-0-1, Bills 2-1

Strongest Trend:  Twelve of the last 16 games played at Buffalo have gone over the total.

Last Meeting:  The Bills won a wild one at Minnesota, 45-39, in September of 2002.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost a tough one last week, 19-16, at home to Chicago.  The Vikes trail the Bears by a game in the NFC North.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo was surprised at home by the New York Jets, 28-20, on Sunday.  The Bills are a game back of the Jets and New England in the AFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor, WR Troy Williamson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – QB Brad Johnson, WR Travis Taylor, K Ryan Longwell, Vikings defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee, WR Lee Evans.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – QB J.P. Losman, WRs Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish, K Rian Lindell, Bills defense.

Game Summary:  Minnesota came thisclose to beating the Bears and breaking out of the gates 3-0, but the bitter late setback could have a residual effect this week.  Buffalo is playing at home for the second week in a row, and I envision a rebound.  A big dose of Willis McGahee gets it done for the home team.

Prediction:  BILLS, 24-17


SAN DIEGO (2-0) at BALTIMORE (3-0)

Line:  Chargers favored by 2½  (total points line is 34)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Chargers 2-0, Ravens 2-1

Strongest Trend:  San Diego is 9-1 ATS in its past 10 played in October.

Last Meeting:  Baltimore prevailed at San Diego, 24-10, in 2003.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego was on a bye last week.  The Chargers hold a half-game lead over Denver in the AFC West.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore rallied Sunday to nip Cleveland on the road, 15-14.  The Ravens are tied with Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, Chargers defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – K Nate Kaeding. QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, WR Derrick Mason, TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, K Matt Stover.

Game Summary:  Wow, this is a tough call.  The trends favor San Diego, which is rested and has been strong after its bye in recent years.  On the other hand, an undefeated team is listed as a home underdog.  And, there’s my opinion that people are a little too impressed with the Bolts.  Sure, they’ve smoked their first two opponents.  But it could be argued that Oakland and Tennessee are two of the three worst teams in football at present.  Translation: The Chargers ain’t played nobody yet.  So what’s the tiebreaker?  I like veteran QB Steve McNair to make fewer mistakes, in the face of a tough defense, than Chargers youngster Phillip Rivers.  Baltimore leads the league in forcing turnovers, and that decides this one.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 20-17


DALLAS (1-1) at TENNESSEE (0-3)

Line:  Cowboys favored by 9½ (total points line is 37)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cowboys 1-1, Titans 1-2.

Strongest Trend:  Dallas has failed to cover ATS in its last four as a road favorite.

Last Meeting:  Dallas prevailed at home in 2002, 21-13.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas was on its bye last week after hammering Washington at home the prior week. The Cowboys trail Philadelphia by a half-game in the NFC East.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee played respectably, but was beaten at Miami, 13-10, last week.  Tennessee is tied with Houston at the bottom of the AFC South.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Drew Bledsoe, RB Julius Jones, WR Terry Glenn, TE Jason Witten, K Mike Vanderjagt, Dallas defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Marion Barber. QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Kerry Collins, WRs David Givens and Drew Bennett, TE Ben Troupe. 

Game Summary:  I have one of those nagging hunches that an upset is going to happen here – maybe the week off works against the Cowboys, they look ahead perhaps to next week’s showdown with Philadelphia, and the Terrell Owens situation is a distraction – but the numbers are extremely strong for Dallas.  So, as is my wont, I’ll split the difference.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 24-16


SAN FRANCISCO (1-2) at KANSAS CITY (0-2)

Line:  Chiefs favored by 7 (total points line is 39½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  49ers 2-1, Chiefs 1-1

Strongest Trend:  Kansas City is 7-1-1 ATS in its last nine home games, but 0-1 this year.

Last Meeting:  San Francisco won, 17-13, at home in 2002.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was soundly beaten at home by Philadelphia last weekend, 38-24.  The 49ers are tied with Arizona at the bottom of the NFC West.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City was off last week.  Two weeks ago, the Chiefs lost at Denver, 9-6.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – TE Eric Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, WR Antonio Bryant. QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – RB Larry Johnson, WR Eddie Kennison, TE Tony Gonzalez.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Damon Huard, Chiefs defense.

Game Summary:  It doesn’t get much better for a team, as far as schedule and circumstances, as it is for K.C. this week – at home, off a bye, against the 49ers.  Yeah, San Francisco is somewhat improved.  But the 49ers are not up to succeeding in a hostile environment like Kansas City just yet.  Look for a huge day from Johnson, and a resounding first victory for the host Chiefs.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 31-17


NEW ORLEANS (3-0) at CAROLINA (1-2)

Line:  Panthers favored by 7 (total points line is 42)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Saints 3-0, Panthers 0-3

Strongest Trend:  New Orleans has covered in each of the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  Carolina defeated New Orleans at San Antonio, 27-10, in Week 15 of 2005.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans played its first true home game since 2004 Monday night and rolled past Atlanta, 23-3, to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina rallied to edge Tampa Bay at home last week, 26-24.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – RBs Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush, K John Carney.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, WRs Joe Horn and Marques Colston, Saints defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – WR Steve Smith, K John Kasay, Panthers defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme, RB DeShaun Foster, WR Keyshawn Johnson.

Game Summary:  Is the Panthers’ utter desperation – if they lose they fall three games back in the division – enough to push them past a charged up Saints team playing quality football?  I dunno… but know this: New Orleans still isn’t getting any respect.  The return of Smith for Carolina certainly helped the Panthers last week, and I suspect the defense will clamp down just enough to get the victory for the home team.  But it won’t come easy.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 23-20


ARIZONA (1-2) at ATLANTA (2-1)

Line:  Falcons favored by 7½ (total points line is 40½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cardinals 0-3, Falcons 2-1

Strongest Trend:  Five of the last six meetings between the two went over the total.

Last Meeting:  Atlanta edged the Cardinals at home in 2004, 6-3.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona lost at home to St. Louis last week, 16-14, its second straight defeat.  The Cardinals trail Seattle by two games in the NFC West.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta was throttled at New Orleans Monday night, 23-3.  The Falcons are a game back of the Saints in the NFC South.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – RB Edgerrin James, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, K Neil Rackers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Kurt Warner.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler, Falcons defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – WR Michael Jenkins, K Morton Andersen.

Game Summary:  Although the short week could hamper the Falcons’ preparation for this one, the better bet is that they’ll rebound from Monday’s debacle utilizing the same traits that won them their first two games.  Arizona coach Denny Green threatened to bench veteran QB Kurt Warner in favor of rookie Matt Leinart, but will stick with Warner for at least another week.  It won’t matter.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 24-13


DETROIT (0-3) at ST. LOUIS (2-1)

Line:  Rams favored by 5½ (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Lions 1-2, Rams 2-1

Strongest Trend:  Detroit is 6-2 ATS in its last eight against St. Louis.

Last Meeting:  Detroit won at home, 30-20, in Week 16 of 2004.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit lost at home to Green Bay a week ago, 31-24, and is at the bottom of the NFC North.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis knocked off Arizona on the road, 16-14, last weekend and is in second place in the NFC West a game behind Seattle.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Kevin Jones, WR Roy Williams.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – TE Marcus Pollard, K Jason Hanson. QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, WR Torry Holt, K Jeff Wilkins. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS –WR Isaac Bruce, Rams defense. 

Game Summary:  If the Lions can continue to do a respectable job in run defense, as they have to date, they have a chance here because the Rams don’t throw effectively at will like they used to when Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz was patrolling the Rams’ sideline.  The Rams defense is much improved, however, and it will be fascinating to see if they can contain Martz’s attack.  I believe they will.

Prediction:  RAMS, 24-14


NEW ENGLAND (2-1) at CINCINNATI (3-0)

Line:  Bengals favored by 6 (total points line is 44)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bengals 3-0, Patriots 1-2

Strongest Trends:  Remarkably, Cincinnati has covered ATS in eight straight meetings between these two.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots won at home, 35-28, in December of 2004.

Patriots Status Report:  New England’s offense misfired repeatedly last
Sunday evening in a 17-7 home loss to Denver. The Patriots are tied with the New York Jets atop the AFC East.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati came from behind to win at Pittsburgh, 28-20, and tie Baltimore for first in the AFC North.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RB Laurence Maroney, TE Ben Watson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND –  K Stephen Gostkowski.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WRs Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry, K Shayne Graham. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – Bengals defense.

Game Summary:  It won’t surprise me a bit if, by regular season’s end, the Patriots are AFC East champs and legit Super Bowl contenders again.  But at present, they have issues.  For now, the Bengals are playing more consistently and, with homefield and the history of this non-rivalry, they’re the clear pick.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 28-17


CLEVELAND (0-3) at OAKLAND (0-2)

Line:  Browns favored by 3 (total points line is 33½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Browns 1-2, Raiders 0-2

Strongest Trend:  Cleveland has covered ATS in the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Browns won at Oakland, 9-7, in Week 15 of last season.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland came from ahead to lose to visiting Baltimore on Sunday, 15-14.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was mercifully on its bye last week.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – TE Kellen Winslow, Browns defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – RB Reuben Droughns, WR Braylon Edwards, K Phil Dawson.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Lamont Jordan.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss, K Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders defense.

Game Summary:  My upset special, in miniature form.  Not just because I’m predicting the Raiders to win, but because I believe they will do so handily.  Why?  The extra week to prepare will help, as will facing an opponent essentially almost as weak.  This team has undoubtedly been stewing since its 28-6 loss at Baltimore in Week 2.  I also believe the Raiders defense is better than it has played, and it will respond.  And a ball-control attack featuring Jordan combined with a home run ball or two to Moss (Andrew Walter can allegedly throw the ball).  Add in that Cleveland might come in on a downer after their last-second loss to Baltimore, and I’m forecasting that the Raiders will get off the schneid at home.

Prediction:  RAIDERS, 20-7


JACKSONVILLE (2-1) at WASHINGTON (1-2)

Line:  Jaguars favored by 3 (total points line is 34½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Jaguars 2-0-1, Redskins 1-2

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won three of the four meetings all-time.

Last Meeting:  The Jaguars rolled, 26-7, in November of 2002 at Jacksonville.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville lost at Indianapolis Sunday, 21-14, and trails the Colts by a game in the AFC South.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington snapped its two-game opening skid with a 31-15 victory at Houston last weekend.  The Redskins are a game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RB Fred Taylor, K Josh Scobee, Jaguars defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB Byron Leftwich.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – RB Clinton Portis, WR Santana Moss, K John Hall, Redskins defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Mark Brunell, TE Chris Cooley.

Game Summary:  Mini upset special number two… the return to health of Portis is a big lift for the offense, and the Redskins defense has been fairly steady.  Jacksonville has been great to this point, including last week’s loss, but this is its second straight on the road and the letdown of again failing to beat Indianapolis might have them a bit flat.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 16-13


SEATTLE (3-0) at CHICAGO (3-0)

Line:  Bears favored by 3 (total points line is 35½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Seahawks 2-1, Bears 2-0-1

Strongest Trend:  none.

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks won at home, 24-17, in 2003.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle rolled to a 42-30 victory over the New York Giants at home last week.  The Seahawks are alone in first place in the NFC West.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago rallied for a 19-16 triumph at Minnesota a week ago.  The Bears lead the NFC North by a game over the Vikings.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Darrell Jackson, Seahawks defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – Bears defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, RB Thomas Jones, WR Muhsin Muhammad, K Robbie Gould. 

Game Summary:  The Bears defense has been so stellar, it’s nearly impossible to pick against them at home… even against the defending conference champions.  I might have liked a Seattle upset with a healthy and productive Shaun Alexander, but without him the previously sporadic running game will probably be non-existent.  QB Matt Hasselbeck is good – heck, he threw for five touchdowns last week – but he’s not a guy who you want carrying your offense on a regular basis.  Chicago makes just enough plays to win it.

Prediction:  BEARS, 17-10


GREEN BAY (1-2) at PHILADELPHIA (2-1)

Line:  Eagles favored by 11 (total points line is 47)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Packers 1-2, Eagles 2-1

Strongest Trend:  Philadelphia is 6-1 ATS in its last seven against Green Bay.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles won at home, 19-14, in Week 12 of last season.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay gained its first victory of 2006, a 31-24 win at Detroit. The Packers are two games behind front-running Chicago in the NFC North.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia put a 38-24 whuppin’ on the 49ers at San Francisco a week ago, and are sitting atop the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green, WR Donald Driver.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – WR Greg Jennings.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, WR Donte’ Stallworth, TE L.J. Smith, K David Akers.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – WR Reggie Brown, Eagles defense. 

Game Summary:  I’d like to go all cuddly and pick Favre to put together this heroic effort and lead the Pack to the big upset. But as comedian Dana Carvey is fond of saying when impersonating the first President Bush, “not gonna do it.”  Even if Favre sees a thousand points of light, he won’t have enough help – especially from his club’s defense – to get the job done.  The host Eagles should win handily.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 34-17