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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Week 16
Bob Cunningham
December 21, 2006

Something I like to do this time of year is look at how the final standings in the NFL might end up if everything goes to form over the balance of the regular season.

With only two weeks remaining, it doesn’t take that much effort to plot it out. So here it is, for your amusement as well as mine:

In the AFC – San Diego will be favored in its last two games, so a pair of victories would give the Chargers a 14-2 mark and the top seeding.  Indianapolis would get the other first-round bye because the Colts should win at Houston and beat Miami at home to finish 13-3.

Baltimore is an underdog this week at Pittsburgh, so let’s chalk up a loss for them to go with a season-ending home victory over Buffalo.  The Ravens finish 12-4 and get the third seed, with AFC East champ New England ending up 11-5 and positioned fourth.

The wild-card scenario is a lot more complex. Currently, four teams are tied at 8-6 for the two available berths.  Denver finishes at home with Cincinnati and San Francisco, so using our “form holding” procedure, the Broncos win out and get one spot.  Cincinnati, Jacksonville and the New York Jets all figure to finish 9-7, along with Kansas City.  If those four teams end up tied for the final spot, the berth would go to the Bengals based on a superior conference record.

In the NFC, Chicago has already clinched homefield throughout the playoffs.  New Orleans is currently sitting in the second position, but if form holds the Saints would lose to the Giants this week and Dallas would sweep Philadelphia and Detroit at home.  That would give the Cowboys the first-round bye and put New Orleans in the No. 3 position.  Seattle, which figures to split its last two games, will win the NFC West and gain the fourth slot.

If form holds, both wild-cards will come from the East. Philadelphia, currently 8-6, should split its final two while the Giants should sweep New Orleans at home and Washington on the road – they’d be favored to win both, but either one (or both) could go against them. 

Still, if form holds, three NFC East teams will make the playoffs. Those two clubs would end up 9-7, and no one else would be better than 8-8.

It will be interesting to see “if form holds.”  I can tell you right now, with reasonable certainty, that it won’t.  And that’s what makes it fun.

On to Week 16 we go…

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 137-87 (61 percent); ATS – 112-104-8 (52 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 11-5; ATS – 9-7
OVER/UNDER: 114-104-6 for the season, 7-7-2 last week.


MINNESOTA (6-8) at GREEN BAY (6-8)

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

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Vikings 5-8-1, Packers 6-8

Strongest Trend:  The visiting team has covered ATS in eight of the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Pack won at Minnesota, 23-17, in early November.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost at home to the New York Jets last week, 26-13, and trails Atlanta and the New York Giants by one game for the last wild-card playoff berth.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay defeated Detroit at home a week ago, 17-9, and is tied with the Vikings and three other clubs.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor (check injury status). MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – WR Marcus Robinson (check injury status), TE Jermaine Wiggins.   QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, WR Donald Driver.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – RB Ahman Green, WR Greg Jennings, TE Bubba Franks, K David Rayner, Packers defense.

Game Summary:  It’s a tough assignment for a rookie QB to make his starting debut at Lambeau Field, even if the Packers defense isn’t all that good.  Vikings rookie Tavaris Jackson will be doing that Thursday night.  Green Bay’s D has been pretty solid lately, and the Vikings’ weapons are limited especially if RB Chester Taylor isn’t at full strength.  The gig is up for Minnesota in 2006.

Prediction:  PACKERS, 24-14


KANSAS CITY (7-7) at OAKLAND (2-12)

Line:  Chiefs favored by 6½ (total points line is 36)

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

Strongest Trend:  Nine of Oakland’s last 10 games have gone under the total.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won at home, 17-13, in mid-November.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City was beaten at San Diego Sunday night, 20-9, and is a game back of four teams in the battle for two wild-card berths.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was blanked at home for the third time this season Sunday, 20-0 by St. Louis.

Fantasy Summary:  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.   QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Justin Fargas, Raiders defense.

Game Summary:  If there was any game, at this point, that the Raiders should get geeked up about it would be this one – hosting an arch-rival trying to make the playoffs.  But Oakland showed with its performance last week, and in several ones before that, that it has cashed it in for this year.  Randy Moss certainly has.  Chiefs win easily as Larry Johnson gets, like, 55 carries.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 24-7


NEW ENGLAND (10-4) at JACKSONVILLE (8-6)

Line:  Jaguars favored by 2½ (total points line is 37)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Patriots 7-6-1, Jaguars 8-5-1

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots routed the visiting Jaguars, 28-3, in the 2005 AFC Wild-Card playoffs (actually played January of 2006).

Patriots Status Report:  The Patriots all but clinched the AFC East with last week’s 40-7 home rout of Houston – they lead the Jets by two games with two to play – and are currently perched in the fourth slot in the conference.  They trail Indianapolis and Baltimore by a game in search of the second seeding and a bye/guaranteed home game.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville stumbled at Tennessee, yielding three defensive touchdowns in a 24-17 loss.  The Jaguars are tied with Cincinnati, Denver and the New York Jets for two available wild-card berths.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, Patriots defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS – RB Corey Dillon, TE Daniel Graham.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RB Maurice Drew-Jones, Jaguars defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – WR Matt Jones, TE Marcedes Lewis, K Josh Scobee.

Game Summary:  QB David Garrard is becoming more and more mistake-prone, it seems, and that won’t mix well with an opportunistic Patriots defense.  In big, late-season games, I like to look at the battle of QBs – Tom Brady vs. Garrard.  Hmmm… that’s a toughie.  Brady has won three Super Bowls, Garrard watched them on TV…

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 20-13


TENNESSEE (7-7) at BUFFALO (7-7)

Line:  Bills favored by 4½ (total points line is 36½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Titans 10-4, Bills 10-4

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Titans won at home, 28-26, in 2003.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee knocked off Jacksonville at home last week, 24-17, for its fifth consecutive victory.  The Titans are tied with three other clubs, including Buffalo, one game out of a playoff berth.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo whitewashed visiting Miami a week ago, 21-0.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, RB Travis Henry (check health status), WR Drew Bennett, Titans defense.   QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee, WR Lee Evans, Bills defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – QB J.P. Losman, WRs Peerless Price and Josh Reed, TE Robert Royal, K Rian Lindell.

Game Summary:  Tennessee’s winning streak is impressive, but I can’t picture Texas native Vince Young having much fun in the frigid Northeast.  This is a game the defenses should control, and I like Buffalo’s at home a little better.  Still, the Titans have had such a penchant for forcing mistakes that I’m calling this contest close.

Prediction:  BILLS, 16-13


BALTIMORE (11-3) at PITTSBURGH (7-7)

Line:  Steelers favored by 3 (total points line is 36)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Ravens 8-6, Steelers 7-7

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last eight meetings.

Last Meeting:  Baltimore rolled at home, 27-0, less than a month ago.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore held off Cleveland at home Sunday, 27-17, to clinch the AFC North title.  The Ravens are a game behind San Diego for the top seeding, and own the tiebreaker over the Chargers.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh hammered host Carolina on Sunday, 37-3, for its fourth straight win.  The Steelers need help, but are still mathematically in the hunt for a wild-card playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.   QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, WR Hines Ward, Steelers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Santonio Holmes, K Jeff Reed.

Game Summary:  QB Steve McNair’s status is in doubt, although my prediction is that he will play despite a sore passing hand that was stepped on last week.  This game is a tough call, because on the one hand you have an 11-3 club labeled as an underdog, and on the other a streaking defending champion with payback on their collective brains, in addition to the chance at a wild-card spot.  At home, the Steelers get their revenge in as hard-hitting a game as will be played all year.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 17-13


TAMPA BAY (3-11) at CLEVELAND (4-10)

Line:  Browns favored by 3 (total points line is 36)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Buccaneers 5-8-1, Browns 7-7

Strongest Trend:  Both teams have gone under the total in 12 of their last 16 games.

Last Meeting:  Tampa Bay won, 17-3, at home in 2002.

Bucs Status Report:  Tampa Bay enjoyed an impressive rally at Chicago last week, but came up short in a 34-31 overtime loss.  The Bucs are last in the NFC South.

Browns Status Report:  The Browns also played well as big underdogs Sunday, losing at Baltimore, 27-17, but playing it close most of the way.  Cleveland is last in the AFC North.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – QB Tim Rattay, WR Joey Galloway, Bucs defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – WR Braylon Edwards, TE Kellen Winslow.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – QB Derek Anderson, RB Reuben Droughns, WR Joe Jurevicius, Browns defense.

Game Summary:  A true yawner.  If this wasn’t the Bucs’ second game in a row on the road in cold conditions, I might like them for the upset.  They should be inspired by their effort at Chicago.  But the Browns have been getting noteworthy play from QB Derek Anderson – it’s time he gets his first victory as a starter.

Prediction:  BROWNS, 23-16


INDIANAPOLIS (11-3) at HOUSTON (4-10)

Line:  Colts favored by 9½ (total points line is 47)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Colts 7-6-1, Texans 5-9

Strongest Trend:  The Colts are 9-0 all-time SU vs. Houston but only 5-4 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Colts pulled away to a 43-24 victory in September at home.

Colts Status Report:  Indy won for only the second time in five weeks, whipping visiting Cincinnati on Monday night, 34-16. The Colts are tied with Baltimore, a game behind San Diego for best record in the AFC.  Indianapolis has clinched the AFC South Division title.

Texans Status Report:  Houston was throttled at New England a week ago, 40-7, and is last in the AFC South.

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, TE Ben Utecht, Colts defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – QB David Carr, RB Ron Dayne, TE Owen Daniels, K Kris Brown.   

Game Summary:  What true insight can I bring to this game?  The Colts are clearly the superior team and should win easily.  But divisional home underdogs by a touchdown or more are sound picks two-thirds of the time, so I’m playing the percentages that the Colts may again struggle on the road against an inferior foe.

Prediction:  COLTS, 24-17


NEW ORLEANS (9-5) at NEW YORK GIANTS (7-7)

Line:  Giants favored by 3 (total points line is 47½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Saints 9-5, Giants 6-8

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won seven of the last eight meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Giants triumphed at home, 27-10, in September of 2005.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans stumbled at home last week, losing to Washington, 16-10, but clinching the AFC South anyway when both Atlanta and Carolina lost.  The Saints are currently the No. 2 team in the NFC.

Giants Status Report:  The Giants lost at home to Philadelphia Sunday, 36-22, and are tied with Atlanta for the final wild-card playoff berth in the NFC.  New York has lost five of six.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAlister, WR Marques Colston.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – RB Reggie Bush, WRs Joe Horn (check injury status) or Devery Henderson, K John Carney.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, RB Tiki Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – K Jay Feely. 

Game Summary:  New Orleans has been a solid road team this season and with the Giants, well, you’re never sure what you’re going to get.  So going strictly on what I consider to be the key stats, the Giants have a clear edge.  In a crucial game on their home turf, the G-Men get it done.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 31-24


WASHINGTON (5-9) at ST. LOUIS (6-8)

Line:  Rams favored by 2 (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Redskins 5-8-1, Rams 6-7-1

Strongest Trend:  The Redskins have won three of four at St. Louis since the Rams moved from Anaheim, Calif. in the mid-1990s.

Last Meeting: The Redskins rolled at St. Louis, 24-9, in December of 2005.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington pulled off last week’s biggest upset, beating the Saints at New Orleans, 16-10.  The Redskins are last in the NFC East and out of contention for a playoff berth.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis posted a 20-0 shutout at Oakland Sunday.  The Rams are one game out of the last NFC wild-card berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – RB Ladell Betts, WR Santana Moss, TE Chris Cooley.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Jason Campbell, WR Antuan Randle-El, K Shane Suisham, Redskins defense.  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:  Mini-upset time.  The Redskins run the ball well, even with Ladell Betts doing the work instead of the injured Clinton Portis, and I like how QB Jason Campbell handles varied schemes in passing downs.  If Washington can sustain a pass rush, which it did with some success against New Orleans last week, the Redskins will put an end to the Rams’ ultra-slim playoff hopes by containing the passing game as they did successfully against the high-powered Saints.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 24-17


CHICAGO (12-2) at DETROIT (2-12)

Line:  Bears favored by 4½ (total points line is 42)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bears 9-4-1, Lions 4-10

Strongest Trends:  Last five meetings at Detroit have all been decided by a TD or less.

Last Meeting:  Chicago won in a rout at home, 34-7, in September.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago’s 34-31 overtime win at home over Tampa Bay Sunday clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.  There is literally nothing for the Bears to play for over the final two regular season games.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit lost at Green Bay, 17-9, and has the worst record in the NFC.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – none (no way of knowing for sure who might not play or play only a half).  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RB Cedric Benson, Bears defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – WR Roy Williams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Arlen Harris, WR Mike Furrey, Lions defense.

Game Summary:  Even if Bears coach Lovie Smith comes out this week and says his team will play to win, I’d be suspect.  Why risk injury to key guys in a game that literally doesn’t matter?  And an extra incentive for the Bears to take it easy is that Detroit is out of it anyway, so competitive integrity isn’t a factor as it might be when Chicago hosts Green Bay in Week 17.  What I would do if I were the Bears is play my backups this week, then play the starters for the first half in the regular season finale.  Key guys like Thomas Jones and Brian Urlacher who are nursing minor injuries might not see the field in either game.  Even with all of this, the Lions probably aren’t good enough to get a win… but I’m picking them anyway.

Prediction:  LIONS, 20-16


CAROLINA (6-8) at ATLANTA (7-7)

Line:  Falcons favored by 6 (total points line is 40)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Panthers 4-9-1, Falcons 7-7

Strongest Trend:  Ten of the last 13 meetings have gone under the total.

Last Meeting:  Atlanta won at Carolina, 20-6, in September’s season-opener.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina’s 37-3 thrashing at the hands of visiting Pittsburgh Sunday was its fourth straight loss.  The Panthers are a game out of the final wild-card playoff berth in the NFC.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta lost at home to Dallas Saturday night, 38-28.  The Falcons are tied with the New York Giants for the final playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – RB DeShaun Foster (check injury status) WR Steve Smith, K John Kasay.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick (check injury status), TE Alge Crumpler, Falcons defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – RB Warrick Dunn, Any starting WR.
 
Game Summary:  Anybody questioning the importance of QB Jake Delhomme to the Panthers?  The team has been a shell of its usual self since Delhomme injured his hand in Week 13.  He must return for the Panthers to have a chance, and as of Wednesday it didn’t appear as if he’d be able to make the start.  The Falcons are the clear choice if Chris Weinke is running the Carolina offense, even if backup Matt Schaub is in charge of Atlanta’s attack.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 27-14


ARIZONA (4-10) at SAN FRANCISCO (6-8)

Line:  49ers favored by 4 (total points line is 45)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cardinals 6-8, 49ers 8-6

Strongest Trend:  The home team is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Cardinals edged the 49ers at home in the season opener, 34-27.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona was whipped at home by Denver Sunday, 37-20.  The Cardinals are last in the NFC West.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco shocked host Seattle a week ago Thursday night, 24-14, to keep its slim NFC West title hopes alive.  The 49ers trail Seattle by two games.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Matt Leinart, RB Edgerrin James, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – K Neil Rackers.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, WRs Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle, K Joe Nedney, 49ers defense.
 
Game Summary:  The question here is whether the 49ers are ready to be in the role of favorites, winning games they actually should win.  I’m not so sure.  The Cardinals should be looser, and they have more offensive talent.  But, they’re the Cardinals.  Defensively, San Francisco has the clear edge.  The prediction is that this one is decided by a late field goal.

Prediction:  49ERS, 23-20


CINCINNATI (8-6) at DENVER (8-6)

Line:  Broncos favored by 3 (total points line is 44½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bengals 7-6-1, Broncos 5-9

Strongest Trend:  The Bengals have lost their last six trips to Denver.

Last Meeting:  Cincinnati won at home, 23-10, in 2004.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati was thumped Monday night at Indianapolis, 34-16, but still tenuously holds one of the two AFC wild-card playoff berths.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver rolled at Arizona Sunday, 37-20, and is the other team currently in control of its own fate.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WR Chad Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – WRs T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry, TE Reggie Kelly, K Shayne Graham.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – RB Tatum Bell, WR Javon Walker (check injury status). MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jay Cutler, RB Mike Bell, WR Rod Smith, TE Tony Scheffler, K Jason Elam, Broncos defense. 

Game Summary:  A huge game in the AFC playoff picture.  Broncos WR Javon Walker, who was injured at Arizona last week, is a key to the outcome of this one.  Without him, the Broncos don’t sport a true No. 1 threat outside and that would allow the Bengals to “pack the box” and minimize Denver’s running game.  For Cincinnati, the challenge is facing another tough foe, on the road, with a day’s less preparation than normal.  This contest is one of those proverbial could-go-either-way affairs.  I’m going with Denver because I like Coach Mike Shanahan in big games like this… and, of course, because the Broncos are home.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 28-24


SAN DIEGO (12-2) at SEATTLE (8-6)

Line:  Chargers favored by 4½ (total points line is 46½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Chargers 9-5, Seahawks 5-9

Strongest Trend:  The Seahawks have won the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  Seattle won at San Diego, 31-28, in 2002.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego has won eight in a row, including last Sunday night’s 20-9 victory over visiting Kansas City.  The Chargers determine their own fate – win their last two and they’re the AFC No. 1 seed.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle lost at home Thursday night, 24-14, to San Francisco.  The Seahawks could have clinched the NFC West, but still sport a two-game lead with two games remaining.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Philip Rivers, K Nate Kaeding, Chargers defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, K Josh Brown.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – WRs Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett, TE Jerramy Stevens.

Game Summary:  After not making a true “Upset Special” selection last week (the Rams over Oakland hardly counts), it’s about time I do so.  Host Seattle, probably in rainy and cold conditions, gets the nod.  Believe it or not, I think the Seahawks looked past San Francisco last week to this game.  They didn’t take the 49ers’ challenge to their divisional stranglehold seriously, and instead were eager to measure themselves against the AFC’s best team.  Now that they choked against the Niners, they can still salvage the division title and a huge measure of dignity with a quality win in this one.  They’ve had the extra time to prepare, and motivation certainly won’t be a question this time.  Seattle’s offense also is likely to get fired up over the idea of having last season’s top running back, Shaun Alexander, out-perform this year’s best back, LaDainian Tomlinson.  Seattle halts the Chargers’ winning streak.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 24-21


PHILADELPHIA (8-6) at DALLAS (9-5)

Line:  Cowboys favored by 7 (total points line is 46½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Eagles 8-6, Cowboys 9-5

Strongest Trends:  The over is 7-3-1 in the last 11 meetings.

Last Meeting:  Philadelphia rolled at home, 38-24, in October.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia rallied past the New York Giants on the road Sunday, 36-22, and are leading the NFC’s wild-card chase.  If the Eagles win out, they would capture the NFC East.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas triumphed at Atlanta Saturday, 38-28, and lead the NFC East by a game over the Eagles.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Jeff Garcia, RB Brian Westbrook, WRs Donte’ Stallworth and Reggie Brown, TE L.J. Smith. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – K David Akers.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber, WR Terrell Owens, TE Jason Witten.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Julius Jones, WR Terry Glenn, K Martin Gramatica, Cowboys defense. 

Game Summary:  These teams appear to match up fairly evenly, except for one important department – ability to stop the run.  Dallas is near the top of the league, Philly closer to the bottom.  The Cowboys may be putting too much responsibility on QB Tony Romo’s shoulders, and instead probably will bang away with Julius Jones and Marion Barber in an attempt to control the tempo.  I like the Cowboys at home against an Eagles club playing its third consecutive divisional road game.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 35-21


NEW YORK JETS (8-6) at MIAMI (6-8)

Line:  Dolphins favored by 2½ (total points line is 36½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Jets 9-5, Dolphins 5-9

Strongest Trend:  The Jets are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games at Miami.

Last Meeting:  The Jets won at home, 20-17, in October.

Jets Status Report:  The Jets were impressive in their 26-13 pasting of the Vikings at Minnesota Sunday.  New York is tied with three other teams in the battle for two AFC wild-card berths, and they still have a mathematical shot at wresting the AFC East title from New England.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami’s recent run of success was abruptly halted Sunday with a 21-0 loss at Buffalo that eliminated the Dolphins from contention.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – WR Laveranues Coles. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – QB Chad Pennington, RB Cedric Houston, WR Jericho Cotchery, Jets defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – QB Joey Harrington, WR Chris Chambers and Wes Welker, TE Randy McMichael.
 
Game Summary:  At home and on national TV, the just-eliminated Dolphins will bring everything at their division rivals.  But the Jets have played better at Miami than anyone else who goes there regularly, and this is another must-win game for them.

Prediction:  JETS, 23-17