A quarter of the season is in the books, and we can get our first read on how the division races are shaping up… which, in turn, can help us analyze fantasy prospects on the fly as well.
We’ve learned that the New Orleans Saints appear to be for real, as do their myriad of fantasy options. We also know that the Oaland Raiders are abysmal, and that WR Randy Moss is mid-tier at best – no longer even close to being an elite receiver.
Although I admittedly haven’t done specific research on this, it feels like significant injuries are down this year. There’s Trent Green’s concussion and Shaun Alexander’s foot problem, and undoubtedly a few others, but not the rash of season-altering ailments that seemed to be the norm in recent years.
Anyway, I hope I’m right because it makes for a better brand of football.
On the prognosticating front, Week 4 was a good one – 10 of 14 correct plus a push against the spread. Okay, so I was due for a decent week. On the downer side, I had a hard time with the over/unders… but that, of course, isn’t unusual for me. For better or worse, I stake my reputation on determining winners.
On to Week 5…
2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON: Straight-Up – 40-20 (67 percent); ATS – 31-26-3 (54 percent)
LAST WEEK: Straight-Up – 11-3; ATS – 10-3-1
OVER/UNDER: 30-29-1 for the season, 4-10 last week.
MIAMI (1-3) at NEW ENGLAND (3-1)
Line: Patriots favored by 10 (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Dolphins 0-4, Patriots 2-2
Strongest Trend: The Patriots are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings at home.
Last Meeting: Miami stunned the host Patriots in the final week of the ’05 regular season, 28-26.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami was knocked off at Houston a week ago, 17-15. The Dolphins are last in the AFC East.
Patriots Status Report: New England scored a surprisingly easy 38-13 triumph at Cincinnati on Sunday. The Patriots are alone atop the AFC East, a game up on Buffalo and the New York Jets.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown, WR Chris Chambers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – TE Randy McMichael, K Olindo Mare. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RB Laurence Maroney, Patriots defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – WR Doug Gabriel, TE Ben Watson, K Stephen Gostkowski.
Game Summary: The Patriots defense was terrific against the Bengals last week, and the Dolphins offense has been a mess from the get-go. I’m having a hard time understanding how an attack that features Daunte Culpepper, Ronnie Brown, Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael can misfire so consistently. Still, this is a rivalry game… and 10 points seem like a lot. Gimme the Pats, but not by that much.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 23-14
BUFFALO (2-2) at CHICAGO (4-0)
Line: Bears favored by 11 (total points line is 34)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Bills 3-1, Bears 3-0-1
Strongest Trend: Chicago has won and covered each of the last three meetings between the two at home.
Last Meeting: Buffalo won a wild 33-27 decision over the visiting Bears in 2002.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo’s defense was impressive in a 17-12 home victory over Minnesota last weekend. The Bills are a game out of first in the AFC East.
Bears Status Report: Before a national, primetime TV audience, the Bears routed visiting Seattle, 37-6, on Sunday night. They own a two-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – Bills defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RB Thomas Jones, Bears defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, K Robbie Gould.
Game Summary: A mismatch when Buffalo’s offense is on the field against the vaunted Chicago defense. Especially at home in Soldier Field, the Bears just don’t yield points. They won’t give up many this Sunday, either.
Prediction: BEARS, 27-10
CLEVELAND (1-3) at CAROLINA (2-2)
Line: Panthers favored by 8 (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Browns 1-2-1, Panthers 0-4
Strongest Trend: The Panthers have failed to cover ATS in any of their first four games this season.
Last Meeting: The Panthers defeated the host Browns, 13-6, in December of 2002.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland overcame an early 21-3 deficit to prevail at Oakland last week, 24-21.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina held off New Orleans at home, 21-18. The Panthers trail the Saints and Atlanta Falcons by a game in the NFC South.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – TE Kellen Winslow. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – RB Reuben Droughns, WR Braylon Edwards, Browns defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme, RB DeShaun Foster, WR Steve Smith, K John Kasay, Panthers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – WR Keyshawn Johnson.
Game Summary: Cleveland’s rally at Oakland was nice, but going back out on the road a second straight week – against a much better foe – will be too much. Panthers are on a mini-roll now, with a chance to get over .500 and into the mix in the NFC South. They win it fairly easily.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 30-13
TENNESSEE (0-4) at INDIANAPOLIS (4-0)
Line: Colts favored by 18½ (total points line is 48)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Titans 1-3, Colts 2-1-1
Strongest Trend: The Colts have won the last six meetings – and covered ATS in all six.
Last Meeting: The Colts won at home last December, 35-3.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee was drubbed at home by Dallas, 45-14, Sunday.
Colts Status Report: Indy rallied to edge the host New York Jets, 31-28. The Colts lead Jacksonville by two games in the AFC South.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – WR Drew Bennett. QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, RBs Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, WRs Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Colts defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS –TEs Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher.
Game Summary: Of the last six meetings, all Colts wins, only one was decided by less than two touchdowns. The last three have all been Indy victories by at least 21-point margins. Despite the huge-mongous spread, the numbers strongly point to taking the Colts anyway.
Prediction: COLTS, 38-14
WASHINGTON (2-2) at NEW YORK GIANTS (1-2)
Line: Giants favored by 4 (total points line is 44½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Redskins 2-2, Giants 1-2
Strongest Trend: The Giants are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games following a bye.
Last Meeting: The Redskins won at home, 35-20, in Week 16 of last season.
Redskins Status Report: Washington won a thriller over Jacksonville at home, 36-30 in overtime. They are a game behind Philadelphia and a half-game back of Dallas in the NFC East.
Giants Status Report: The G-Men were off last week, after falling at Seattle 42-30 in Week 3. They’re in the NFC East cellar, 1½ games behind Philly.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis, WR Santana Moss, K John Hall. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON –TE Chris Cooley. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, RB Tiki Barber, WR Amani Toomer, TE Jeremy Shockey. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – WR Plaxico Burress, K Jay Feeley, Giants defense.
Game Summary: We have arrived at my upset special, although I’m not overly confident with it. Still, the Redskins will enter with a lot of momentum after their fun conquest of Jacksonville, and the Giants have a fair amount of in-fighting going on which threatens their season. I suspect the Giants will either play extremely well or very poorly, rather than somewhere in between. Statistically, it’s a favorable match-up for the underdogs… and that’s the play.
Prediction: REDSKINS, 27-20
DETROIT (0-4) at MINNESOTA (2-2)
Line: Vikings favored by 6½ (total points line is 40)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Lions 1-3, Vikings 2-1-1
Strongest Trend: The Vikings have won the last eight meetings.
Last Meeting: Minnesota won at Detroit last December, 21-16.
Lions Status Report: Detroit came from ahead to lose at St. Louis last Sunday, 41-34.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota’s offense never got untracked in a 17-12 loss at Buffalo last week. The Vikings trail Chicago by two games in the NFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Kevin Jones, WR Roy Williams, K Jason Hanson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – WR Mike Furrey, TE Marcus Pollard. QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor, WRs Marcus Robinson and Troy Williamson, K Ryan Longwell. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – QB Brad Johnson, Vikings defense.
Game Summary: Last week’s loss at St. Louis was a tough one for the winless Lions, and Minnesota at home has been money in the bank recently. An upset is always legitimately possible in a division rivalry game, but the Vikings defense is playing too well to let it happen here. Detroit will eventually win, but not this weekend.
Prediction: VIKINGS, 28-17
ST. LOUIS (3-1) at GREEN BAY (1-3)
Line: Rams favored by 3 (total points line is 46)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Rams 3-1, Packers 1-3
Strongest Trend: The home team has won 10 of the last 11 meetings in this series.
Last Meeting: The Packers routed the visiting Rams, 45-17, in November of 2004.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis rallied past Detroit at home, 41-34, on Sunday and moved into a first-place tie with Seattle in the NFC West.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay was buried at Philadelphia Monday night, 31-9.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – none. QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green (check injury status), WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, K David Rayner. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – TE Bubba Franks.
Game Summary: I’m not a true believer in the Rams just yet. At home, they’re obviously very tough and squeezing past an incompetent Arizona club on the road is probably worth something, but this is also a team that lost to San Francisco. Going into Green Bay and winning is a tough task, even with the current state of the Packers. The history of this series points decisively to the home team, probably because playing at Lambeau Field as opposed to the Rams’ cozy dome home is a comparison of the apples-and-oranges variety. For me, the trend is too strong to ignore. The host Pack wins it in a slight upset.
Prediction: PACKERS, 27-24
TAMPA BAY (0-3) at NEW ORLEANS (3-1)
Line: Saints favored by 6 (total points line is 35)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Bucs 1-2, Saints 4-0
Strongest Trend: The road team has won five of the last six meetings.
Last Meeting: The Bucs won at home, 27-13, in last year’s regular season finale.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay was off last week, after having dropped a 26-24 decision to Carolina the previous week.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans lost at Carolina a week ago, 21-18, and is tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – WRs Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway, Buccaneers defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RBs Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush, WR Marques Colston, K John Carney, Saints defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – WR Joe Horn.
Game Summary: The Bucs will get off the schneid soon, but New Orleans is playing well on both sides of the ball and has the benefit of the extra energy provided by playing at home for only the second time since 2004. It was huge in the whipping of Atlanta a week ago last Monday, and will be at least somewhat of a factor Sunday.
Prediction: SAINTS, 23-7
NEW YORK JETS (2-2) at JACKSONVILLE (2-2)
Line: Jaguars favored by 7 (total points line is 38)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Jets 3-1, Jaguars 2-1-1
Strongest Trend: Jacksonville is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings.
Last Meeting: The Jaguars won, 26-20, at the Meadowlands in Week 3 of last season.
Jets Status Report: New York lost a tough 31-28 home decision to Indianapolis last week. They are tied for second in the AFC East with Buffalo, a game back of New England.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville was beaten at Washington in overtime, 36-30. The Jags are two games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY JETS – QB Chad Pennington, WR Laveranues Coles. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY JETS – RB Kevan Barlow. QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB Byron Leftwich, RB Fred Taylor, WR Reggie Williams, K Josh Scobee, Jaguars defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – WRs Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford.
Game Summary: The Jets have been playing virtually everyone tough, and I see no reason to believe otherwise here. The Jags might endure somewhat of a letdown after the bitter OT loss to Washington, but then again so might the Jets. Jacksonville wins, but it’s close.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 23-20
KANSAS CITY (1-2) at ARIZONA (1-3)
Line: Chiefs favored by 3 (total points line is 39)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Chiefs 2-1, Cardinals 0-4
Strongest Trends: The Cardinals are 5-1 ATS in their last six October home games.
Last Meeting: The Chiefs won in a rout, 49-0, at home in 2002.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City rolled to a 41-0 demolition of visiting San Francisco last week. The Chiefs trail AFC West co-leaders San Diego and Denver by a game.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona dropped its third in a row Sunday, 32-10 at Atlanta. The Cardinals are tied with San Francisco at the bottom of the NFC West.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – RB Larry Johnson, WR Eddie Kennison, TE Tony Gonzalez. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Damon Huard, Chiefs defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – RB Edgerrin James, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, K Neil Rackers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Matt Leinart.
Game Summary: I know that Kurt Warner has struggled, but it seems rash and panicky to throw Matt Leinart into the fire in Week 5. Perhaps not – we’ll see. Long-term, I love Leinart’s potential. The Cardinals must turn things around immediately, or it will be yet another disappointing, losing campaign. The Chiefs are a pretty good team, forgotten to a degree because their starting QB is hurt. Damon Huard is a suitable replacement for now, and the improved Chiefs defense will get it done again.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 24-19
OAKLAND (0-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (1-3)
Line: 49ers favored by 3½ (total points line is 41)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Raiders 0-2-1, 49ers 2-2
Strongest Trend: The Raiders are 1-7 ATS in their last eight October road games.
Last Meeting: The 49ers won at Oakland in 2002, 23-20.
Raiders Status Report: The Raiders blew an 18-point lead and lost at home to Cleveland, 24-21, last Sunday.
49ers Status Report: The 49ers just blew… losing, 41-0, at Kansas City.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Lamont Jordan. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss, K Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore, TE Eric Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, WR Antonio Bryant, 49ers defense.
Game Summary: Bay Bowl… Bridge Bowl… Toilet Bowl… by any name, it’s a clash of two really bad teams who happen to be next-door neighbors. The 49ers looked early in the season as if they’d be much improved, but lopsided losses the last two weeks to Philadelphia and Kansas City have essentially dispelled that notion. Oakland was in control of their game with Cleveland last week – up, 21-3 – when the Raiders inexplicably forgot to continue utilizing the few weapons they have. That was a stroke of genius, Mr. Davis, bringing Art Shell back for a second stint as head coach.
Prediction: 49ERS, 20-14
DALLAS (2-1) at PHILADELPHIA (3-1)
Line: Eagles favored by 2½ (total points line is 43)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Cowboys 2-1, Eagles 3-1
Strongest Trend: Dallas has covered ATS in each of its last three trips to Philadelphia.
Last Meeting: Dallas won, 21-20, at Philadelphia last November.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas romped at Tennessee last week, 45-14. The Cowboys are half-game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.
Eagles Status Report: The Eagles smoked Green Bay at home on Monday night, 31-9.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Drew Bledsoe, RB Julius Jones, WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – TE Jason Witten, K Mike Vanderjagt, Cowboys defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook (check injury status), TE L.J. Smith, K David Akers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – WR Reggie Brown, Eagles defense.
Game Summary: The Cowboys have had a lot of success in recent years here, and the only statistical edge I give to Philly is being at home. Dallas gets the nod in running the ball, stopping the run, and the turnover ratios are roughly even. Philly QB Donovan McNabb is playing great, but so is the Cowboys pass defense. A great snobber-knocker NFC East tilt… with Terrell Owens’ flare for the dramatic perhaps being the difference.
Prediction: COWBOYS, 27-24
PITTSBURGH (1-2) at SAN DIEGO (2-1)
Line: Chargers favored by 3 (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Steelers 1-2, Chargers 2-1
Strongest Trend: The Steelers have won and covered ATS each of the last five meetings.
Last Meeting: Pittsburgh won at San Diego last season, 24-22.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh has lost two in a row but was off last week. Two weeks ago, the Steelers were beaten at home by Cincinnati. They trail Baltimore by 2½ games in the AFC North.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego fell at Baltimore last weekend, 16-13. The Chargers are tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, WR Hines Ward, TE Heath Miller. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, Chargers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, WR Eric Parker, K Nate Kaeding.
Game Summary: My first instinct was to strongly consider the upset, because the defending champion Steelers need the game more at this point and they’re rested following their bye. But after breaking down the matchup statistically, the Chargers get a major nod in virtually every significant category. There’s also the revenge factor after San Diego was beaten at home by the Steelers last season. The host So Cal boys are the pick.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 24-17
BALTIMORE (4-0) at DENVER (2-1)
Line: Broncos favored by 4 (total points line is 33)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Broncos 1-2, Ravens 3-1
Strongest Trend: The home team has won six of the last seven meetings.
Last Meeting: The Broncos escaped with a 12-10 victory at home last December.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore rallied to edge visiting San Diego last weekend, 16-13. The Ravens’ AFC North lead is one over Cincinnati.
Broncos Status Report: Denver was on a bye last week, after having upset New England on the road in Week 3.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, RB Jamal Lewis, WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – K Jason Elam, Broncos defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jake Plummer, RB Tatum Bell, WRs Javon Walker and Rod Smith.
Game Summary: Just how “for real” is Baltimore? Wins over the Raiders, Bucs and Browns don’t particularly impress… and the team was outplayed by its first quality foe, San Diego, before rallying late. Going to Denver is a whole other mountain, pun intended. My numbers point to the Ravens, but one thing I need to somehow incorporate into my formula is strength of schedule. I can’t pick against Denver at home, but the Ravens might get within one Jake Plummer mistake of cashing in.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 20-17