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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Week 14
Bob Cunningham
December 7, 2006

I’m bummed.

It looked for a while there that I had worked out a “formula” that was steadily reliable for producing winning weeks.  Not a perfect system, mind you – that most certainly doesn’t exist – but a method of statistical analysis that when applied seems to forecast a game’s result successfully more often than not.

I’ve known all along that my formula was fraught with flaws, but the results have been relatively consistent from week to week since I put this together in the middle of last season.  More often than not, negative results happened when I strayed from my own analysis.

But last week, I steadfastly stayed with the numbers.  And my picks against the spread were disappointing for the second time in a row.  And this time, I didn’t even manage to so much as break-even straight-up.

What gives?

I’ll tell you what gives… believing that human performance can be mathematically predicted with any consistency.  Truth be told, my gut is right (and wrong) just about as often as the numbers.  I will continue to toil… because even as we endure individual sub-par weeks, the season record is still respectable though admittedly far from outstanding.

Then again, five games above break-even 13 weeks into the season means I probably could have flipped a coin on each game since the season-opener and done just about as well.  But hey… monkeys have been known to pick stocks, and I prognosticate pro football.

And of course, I do all this strictly for informational and entertainment purposes anyway.

On to Week 14 we go…

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 116-76 (60 percent); ATS – 94-90-8 (51 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 7-9; ATS – 5-11
OVER/UNDER: 99-90-3 for the season, 10-5-1 last week.


CLEVELAND (4-8) at PITTSBURGH (5-7)

Line:  Steelers favored by 7½ (total points line is 34)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Browns 6-6, Steelers 5-7

Strongest Trend:  The Steelers have won and covered ATS each of the last six meetings, four of those at Cleveland.

Last Meeting:  Pittsburgh rallied to win at Cleveland, 24-20, in Week 11.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland upset visiting Kansas City in overtime last weekend, 31-28, but lost starting QB Charlie Frye to a hand injury.  Unknown Derek Anderson, who played well in relief, replaces Frye.

Steelers Status Report:  Host Pittsburgh shut down Tampa Bay Sunday, 20-3, to remain a game out of last place in the AFC North.  The Steelers are two games out of a potential wild-card playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – WR Braylon Edwards, TE Kellen Winslow.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Willie Parker, TE Heath Miller, K Jeff Reed, Steelers defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH –WRs Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes. 

Game Summary:  Even in a tough season such as this, the Steelers have been reliable when playing as favorites at home, posting a 4-2 mark to this point and covering handily in most of those wins.  Add in the Steelers’ recent dominance in this rivalry, and their defense going up against a rookie QB making his first NFL start, and the result seems more predictable.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 27-10


NEW ENGLAND (9-3) at MIAMI (5-7)

Line:  Patriots favored by 3½ (total points line is 37)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Patriots 6-5-1, Dolphins 4-7-1

Strongest Trend:  New England is unbeaten this season on the road.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots won at home, 23-16, in Week 5.

Patriots Status Report:  New England struggled at home against lowly Detroit Sunday, but game away with a 28-21 victory that maintained its two-game lead in the AFC East.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami’s four-game winning streak was snapped at home by Jacksonville last weekend, 24-10.  The Dolphins are third in the AFC East, two games behind the second-place New York Jets.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, WR Reche Caldwell, TE Ben Watson, Patriots defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS – K Stephen Gostkowski.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – QB Joey Harrington, RB Sammy Morris, WRs Chris Chambers and Marty Booker, TE Randy McMichael, Dolphins defense.

Game Summary:  I usually like divisional home underdogs, and Miami is 6-2 ATS in its last eight home games with the Patriots.  But this is New England’s time of year, and no team is better at overcoming hostile conditions than the Pats, who are 5-0 on the road.  Miami QB Joey Harrington has played decently, but the Patriots defense will be looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort against the Lions.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 24-14


BALTIMORE (9-3) at KANSAS CITY (7-5)

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

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Ravens 7-5, Chiefs 6-5-1

Strongest Trend:  The Chiefs have and covered each of the last three meetings, all at Baltimore.

Last Meeting:  Kansas City won at Baltimore, 27-24, in 2004.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore was beaten last Thursday at Cincinnati, 13-7, and saw its AFC North Division lead over the Bengals cut to two games.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City lost in overtime at Cleveland, 31-28, but remains tied for second with Denver in the AFC West, three games behind San Diego.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, K Matt Stover.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Trent Green, WR Eddie Kennison, K Laurence Tynes.

Game Summary:  There are a few things working against Baltimore this week.  Kansas City is a tough place to come away victorious, and this is the Ravens’ second road game in as many weeks, although the extra preparation time could come in handy.  KC needs the game more, because the Ravens are still in strong position to win their division.  At home, the Chiefs are the pick in a defensive struggle similar to KC’s win over Denver two weeks ago.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 17-13


OAKLAND (2-10) at CINCINNATI (7-5)

Line:  Bengals favored by 11 (total points line is 40)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Raiders 6-5-1, Bengals 6-5-1

Strongest Trend:  Oakland is 0-6 (but 3-3 ATS) on the road this season.

Last Meeting:  The Raiders won at home, 23-20, in 2003.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland may have hit a new low last weekend, losing at home to Houston, 23-14, for its fifth straight defeat.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati beat visiting Baltimore last Thursday night, 13-7, to pull within two games of the Ravens in the AFC North and tie for the current wild-card lead in the AFC with four other clubs.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss (he’s overdue, isn’t he?).  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – QB Aaron Brooks, RB Justin Fargas.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, K Shayne Graham, Bengals defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – RB Kenny Watson, WR Chris Henry.

Game Summary:  After last week’s debacle against Houston (I can’t believe I was duped into laying points with the Raiders – doh!), I’m thinking the Raiders might just up and quit the rest of the way.  Mail it in, as it were.  The Bengals are at home, playing well, and in a dogfight to get in the playoffs.  Even though the Raiders actually have a winning record ATS, this one smells of a major romp.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 42-7


INDIANAPOLIS (10-2) at JACKSONVILLE (7-5)

Line:  Colts favored by 2 (total points line is 44)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Colts 6-5-1, Jaguars 7-4-1

Strongest Trend:  The Colts are 4-1 SU, 3-2 ATS in five trips to Jacksonville.

Last Meeting:  The Colts prevailed at home, 21-14, in Week 3.

Colts Status Report:  Perhaps looking ahead to this week, the Colts lost at Tennessee Sunday, 20-17, on Rob Bironas’ 60-yard field goal as time expired.  Indy’s lead in the AFC South is three games, and the Colts are tied with San Diego’s for the conference’s best record.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville rolled at Miami a week ago, 24-10, and is the team three games back of the Colts and in a five-team tie for a wild-card spot.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, K Adam Vinatieri. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – RBs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, Colts defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Drew-Jones, K Josh Scobee. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB David Garrard, WR Matt Jones, Jaguars defense. 

Game Summary:  The Colts are going through a bit of a lull… they have lost two of three, both on the road.  They’re still an elite team, of course, but Jacksonville has made a habit of playing to the opponent’s level.  This is a huge game for the Jags, who have the defense to slow Peyton Manning and company.  A tough call, but the host Jags have the edge.

Prediction:  JAGUARS, 24-21


TENNESSEE (5-7) at HOUSTON (4-8)

Line:  Texans favored by 1½ (total points line is 42)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Titans 8-4, Texans 5-7

Strongest Trend:  Houston is 7-1 ATS in its last eight December games.

Last Meeting:  The Titans won at home, 28-22, in Week 8.

Titans Status Report:  The Titans have suddenly won three straight, the latest a 20-17 upset of Indianapolis at home.  Tennessee is third in the AFC South, and only two games out of a potential wild-card playoff berth.

Texans Status Report:  Houston disposed of host Oakland a week ago, 23-14, and is a game behind the Titans.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, RB Travis Henry, WR Drew Bennett, K Rob Bironas.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – WRs Brandon Jones and Bobby Wade, TE Bo Scaife, Titans defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson, TE Owen Daniels.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – QB David Carr, RB Wali Lundy, Texans defense.  

Game Summary:  A pat on the back to Houston for winning at Oakland, but it was the Raiders.  Not a big deal, guys.  The Titans, on the other hand, have beaten Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Indianapolis in consecutive weeks.  Impressive.  And, for this week, the Titans have two things going for them – a desire to stay out of last place, and the return to the state of Texas of QB Vince Young.  As prognosticating goes, this is an easier call than most.  Tennessee wins and completes a season series sweep.

Prediction:  TITANS, 23-13


PHILADELPHIA (6-6) at WASHINGTON (4-8)

Line:  Eagles favored by 1½ (total points line is 39)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Eagles 6-6, Redskins 4-7-1

Strongest Trend:  none.

Last Meeting:  Philadelphia won easily at home, 27-3, in Week 10.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia came from behind in the fourth quarter Monday night to edge visiting Carolina, 27-24, and become part of a 6-6 logjam fighting for two NFC wild-card berths.  The Eagles are tied for second with the New York Giants in the NFC East, two games behind Dallas.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington squandered an early lead at home over Atlanta and lost to the Falcons last week, 24-14.  The Redskins are last in the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Jeff Garcia, RB Brian Westbrook, WR Donte’ Stallworth, TE L.J. Smith, K David Akers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – Eagles defense.   QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – TE Chris Cooley.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Jason Campbell, RB Ladell Betts, WR Santana Moss.

Game Summary:  The Eagles won the first meeting easily, and even though QB Donovan McNabb is sidelined for this rematch the play of Jeff Garcia Monday night inspires confidence that the Eagles might not miss McNabb as much as we first thought.  Washington has become a huge disappointment, and after being dominated by the Eagles earlier in the season, it’s too much of a reach to expect a drastic reversal just because the Skins are at home.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 24-20


NEW YORK GIANTS (6-6) at CAROLINA (6-6)

Line:  Panthers favored by 3 (total points line is 41)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Giants 5-7, Panthers 4-7-1

Strongest Trend:  The Giants have never beaten Carolina in a game that counted (0-3).

Last Meeting:  Carolina romped at The Meadowlands, 23-0, in last season’s wild-card playoffs.

Giants Status Report:  New York has lost four in a row, including last Sunday’s 23-20 home loss to Dallas.  The Giants are two back of the Cowboys in the NFC East.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina yielded a late lead for the fifth time this season and lost at Philadelphia Monday night, 27-24.  The Panthers are tied with Atlanta for the second in the NFC South, two games behind New Orleans.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – RB Tiki Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, K Jay Feely, Giants defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – WR Steve Smith. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme (check injury status), RB DeShaun Foster (check injury status) or RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Keyshawn Johnson, K John Kasay, Panthers defense.

Game Summary:  I can envision this contest going either way, but while the Panthers have struggled with inconsistency of late the Giants have mostly been consistently bad the last month.  Carolina’s defense is not the one for a struggling QB like Eli Manning to get right against.  And at home, the Panthers defense seems to be even more menacing.  The Panthers get the nod, but not by a lot and only if QB Jake Delhomme starts.  If his sore thumb forces him to the bench, the starter would be Chris Weinke and my pick would be the Giants.  I’m forecasting that Delhomme will play, because he finished the game last week after injuring his thumb.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 20-14


MINNESOTA (5-7) at DETROIT (2-10)

Line:  Lions favored by 2½ (total points line is 38)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Vikings 4-7-1, Lions 4-8

Strongest Trend:  The Vikings have won the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  Minnesota won at home, 26-17, in Week .5

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost at Chicago, 23-13, last week.  The Vikings are one game behind a plethora of teams in the battle for two NFC wild-card playoff berths.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit played well, but lost at New England a week ago, 28-21.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor (check injury status), Vikings defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – WR Marcus Robinson, TE Jermaine Wiggins.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – WR Roy Williams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Kevin Jones, WR Mike Furrey, K Jason Hanson, Lions defense.

Game Summary:  Minnesota’s offense may be short-handed – the status of QB Brad Johnson and RB Chester Taylor are both in doubt.  But I like the Vikings anyway because of their defense.  The difference between these two clubs is that the Vikings haven’t played well for a while now, but Detroit is just plain bad – or, as Roy Williams put it, “we’re 2-10 but it’s a good 2-10.”  Sure, Roy, whatever you say Big Guy.

Prediction:  VIKINGS, 20-17


ATLANTA (6-6) at TAMPA BAY (3-9)

Line:  Falcons favored by 3 (total points line is 38)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Falcons 6-6, Buccaneers 4-7-1

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won four of the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Falcons won at home in Week 2, 14-3.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta snapped a four-game slide Sunday with a 24-14 victory at Washington.  The Falcons are one of several teams in the NFC fighting for two wild-card playoff spots.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay lost at Pittsburgh, 20-3, choosing to kick a field goal on the game’s final play in order to avert a shutout.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – RB’s Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood, WR Michael Jenkins, Falcons defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – WR Joey Galloway.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams, Buccaneers defense.

Game Summary:  Have the Falcons righted the ship?  We will find out this week, because a loss or uninspired win would fail to alleviate the concerns, but a decisive triumph would put Atlanta back on the postseason map.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 24-13


GREEN BAY (4-8) at SAN FRANCISCO (5-7)

Line:  49ers favored by 4½ (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Packers 4-8, 49ers 7-5

Strongest Trend:  Green Bay has won nine of the last 10 meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Packers won at home, 20-10, in 2003.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay was humbled at home by the New York Jets last week, 38-10, and remains a game behind second-place Minnesota in the NFC North.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was whipped at New Orleans, 34-10, on Sunday but is just a game out of a potential wild-card playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – RB Ahman Green, WR Donald Driver.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Bertt Favre, WR Greg Jennings, TE Bubba Franks, K David Rayner, Packers defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, WRs Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle, K Joe Nedney, 49ers defense. 

Game Summary:  I’m tempted to go with the upset here, and not just as payback to the 49ers for making me look so bad when I picked them as my upset special last week (I certainly don’t need the 49ers in order to be embarrassed) but because the Packers have owned this series since Steve Young retired and I’m not yet convinced that San Francisco is close to “arriving.” Last week’s upset pick was based on some specific numbers, which obviously shouldn’t have been relied on.  At QB, Brett Favre vs. Alex Smith still strikes me as a mismatch.  Sitting the fence on this one – 49ers win, Packers keep it tight.

Prediction:  49ers, 23-20


SEATTLE (8-4) at ARIZONA (3-9)

Line:  Seahawks favored by 3½ (total points line is 45)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Seahawks 5-7, Cardinals 5-7

Strongest Trend:  Seattle has won seven of the last eight meetings (6-2 ATS).

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks won at home in Week 2, 21-10.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle won an emotional showdown at Denver Sunday night, 23-20, on a last-second Kris Brown field goal, his fifth game-winner of the season.  The Seahawks have opened a three-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco in the NFC West.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona came away with a surprisingly easy 34-20 victory at St. Louis last week.  It was the Cardinals’ second win in three weeks after an eight-game losing streak.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck (check injury status), RB Shaun Alexander, WR Darrell Jackson, K Josh Brown.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – WR Deion Branch, TE Jerramy Stevens, Seahawks defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Matt Leinart, RB Edgerrin James, K Neil Rackers.

Game Summary:  My upset special… but I’m admittedly not sold on it.  Oh, I like the numbers and the circumstances enough to warrant this pick, but it seems that every time I pick the Cardinals to win, it’s an upset pick and they fail me.  Every time.  But here’s why I’m taking another shot with them:  Seattle may suffer somewhat of a letdown after the big win at Denver, and having to go back out on the road again.  QB Matt Hasselbeck’s health is a concern.  Arizona is at home, and coming off a big victory at St. Louis.  Seattle’s defense can be had.

Prediction:  CARDINALS, 24-17


BUFFALO (5-7) at NEW YORK JETS (7-5)

Line:  Jets favored by 3½ (total points line is 37)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bills 8-4, Jets 8-4

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won seven of the last eight meetings (6-2 ATS).

Last Meeting:  The Jets triumphed at Buffalo, 28-20, in Week 3.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo fell at home to San Diego last week, 24-21.  The Bills are tied with Miami for third in the AFC East, and are two games behind the wild-card front-runners (which include the Jets).

Jets Status Report:  New York routed Green Bay at Lambeau Field last week, 38-10.  The Jets trail New England by two games in the AFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee, WR Lee Evans. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – QB J.P. Losman, WRs Josh Reed and Peerless Price, K Rian Lindell, Bills defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – QB Chad Pennington, WR Laveranues Coles, Jets defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS –  RB Cedric Houston, WR Jericho Cotchery, K Mike Nugent. 

Game Summary:  Buffalo could certainly cause some trouble in this rivalry game, but the Jets have been going too well to pick against at home.  QB Chad Pennington isn’t a stats monster, but he’s a winner.  He doesn’t make mistakes to get his team beaten, and the defense has been top-notch in recent weeks.

Prediction:  JETS, 28-20


DENVER (7-5) at SAN DIEGO (10-2)

Line:  Chargers favored by 7½ (total points line is 42½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Broncos 4-8, Chargers 7-5

Strongest Trends:  San Diego is winning regularly, Denver is slumping.

Last Meeting:  San Diego came from 17 points back to win at Denver, 35-27, in Week 11.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver’s 23-20 home loss to Seattle Sunday night was its third in a row, but they’re still in the thick of the wild-card chase.

Chargers Status Report:  Sunday’s 24-21 victory at Buffalo was San Diego’s sixth in a row.  They lead the AFC West by three games and can virtually sew up the division with a win.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jay Cutler, RB Tatum Bell, WRs Javon Walker and Rod Smith, TE Stephen Alexander.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – Chargers defense.

Game Summary:  The consensus is that San Diego is going to win this in a walk-over, but Denver’s defense is still pretty good and this is a key divisional match-up.  The Chargers get the nod at home, but Denver’s defense will come to play and hold the Chargers well below their home scoring average of about 36 points per game.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 27-21


NEW ORLEANS (8-4) at DALLAS (8-4)

Line:  Cowboys favored by 6½ (total points line is 48)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Saints 8-4, Cowboys 8-4

Strongest Trend:  The Saints have won the last four regular season meetings.

Last Meeting:  New Orleans won at Dallas, 27-13, in 2004.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans routed visiting San Francisco last week, 34-10, to seize a two-game lead in the NFC South.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas edged the New York Giants, 23-20, on the road to take a two-game lead in the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAlister, K John Carney.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – WRs Marques Colston (check injury status) or Devery Henderson.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber, WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, TE Jason Witten. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Julius Jones, K Martin Gramatica, Cowboys defense.
 
Game Summary:  Remember those stats I frequently refer to?  Well, despite what appears to be a fairly close match-up pitting a pair of division leaders, the numbers are pointing decisively to Big D.  Okay, I’ll bite (although I understand that continuing to disrespect the Saints is a bad idea).

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 31-20


CHICAGO (10-2) at ST. LOUIS (5-7)

Line:  Bears favored by 6½ (total points line is 40½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bears 8-3-1, Rams 5-6-1

Strongest Trend:  The Rams have won the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  St. Louis won at Chicago, 23-21, in 2003.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago bested visiting Minnesota last weekend, 23-13, to clinch the NFC North title.  The Bears lead three clubs by two games in the battle for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis was embarrassed at home by Arizona on Sunday, 34-20, and remains tied with San Francisco in the NFC West, three games behind Seattle and one back in the wild-card picture.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RB Thomas Jones, WR Muhsin Muhammad, K Robbie Gould, Bears defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, RB Cedric Benson, TE Desmond Clark.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – RB Stephen Jackson, WR Torry Holt, K Jeff Wilkins.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, WR Isaac Bruce. 

Game Summary:  As long as QB Rex Grossman continues his erratic ways, I’m going to give home underdogs against the Bears a fair shot at the upset.  Chicago’s defense should control the game, as it usually does, but the Rams are a dangerous team inside their home dome and they’re likely to be a little feisty, being on national TV and coming off a poor performance against Arizona.  Expect a close game, with Chicago’s D and special teams again the difference.

Prediction:  BEARS, 21-16