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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Week 17
Bob Cunningham
December 28, 2006

Talk about your pointless pursuits…

If you recall, I used this space last week to put together a potential season-ending scenario for the NFL playoff spot battles, assuming an “if form holds” angle.

Well, the only thing that held last week was the NFL’s continued unpredictability.  Consider that 12 of 16 road teams triumphed in Week 16.  Also, ten underdogs won outright, with only three of 16 favorites covering against the point spread – and one of those did so only after winning in overtime.

So what could be more a waste of time than last week’s write-up?  Attempting the same thing again this week, of course.

Hey, I’ve never claimed to be all that cerebral.  And in my opinion, laying out how things figure to go – even when I know it probably won’t come close to going to form – is more fun than a cage full of spider monkeys.  So here goes:

The AFC seems pretty straight-forward.  San Diego certainly won’t blow it at home against Arizona, and should finish the regular season as the No. 1 seed and on a 10-game winning streak.  Baltimore will get the other first-round bye, because the Ravens are at home against Buffalo this week.  Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy has said his team will play all out to win against Miami because finishing strong – as well as ahead of East winner New England – is important.  The Colts get it done and are No. 3, with the Patriots the fourth seeds regardless of whether or not they prevail at Tennessee.

And the AFC wild-cards seem set, too, because Denver and the New York Jets are situated nicely.  Both are 9-6 and host Bay Area bums this weekend – the Broncos facing San Francisco, and the Jets playing the woeful Oakland Raiders.  If the Broncos and Jets win, as expected, the other wild-card contenders are ousted.

The NFC isn’t quite so simple.  Yes, Chicago has long locked up the No. 1 seeding and New Orleans has already clinched the other bye.  Also, West champ Seattle is locked in at No. 4.  Only the East has yet to be decided, although both Dallas and Philadelphia are in the playoffs either way – one will be the East champ and No. 3 seed (Philly if it beats Atlanta) and the other the fifth seed.

It is conceivable that the last NFC playoff qualifier will have a losing record.  Currently, the Giants, Falcons, Panthers, Rams and Packers are locked up at 7-8.  Of those five, only the Giants and Rams are favored – and both are on the road and could easily stumble.  The bad thing about all this, however, is that the Giants play at Washington Saturday and if they win convincingly (it has to do with the strength of victory tiebreaker), they lock it up.  That would render all the Sunday games involving 7-8 teams as meaningless.

Go, Redskins!

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 142-98 (59 percent); ATS – 119-113-8 (51 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 5-11 (how embarrassing…); ATS – 7-9
OVER/UNDER: 117-117-6 for the season, 3-13 last week (almost as embarrassing)


NEW YORK GIANTS (7-8) at WASHINGTON (5-10)

Line:  Giants favored by 2½ (total points line is 42½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Giants 6-9, Redskins 5-9-1

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won and covered ATS in each of the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Giants won easily, 19-3, in October at The Meadowlands.

Giants Status Report:  In position to nail down a playoff berth at home, the Giants were humbled by New Orleans, 30-7, for their sixth loss in seven games.  Despite the slump, they lead the race for the last NFC wild-card berth by tiebreaker over four other clubs.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington lost at St. Louis in overtime, 37-31, last Sunday.  The Redskins are last in the NFC East.

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 WASHINGTON – RB Ladell Betts, TE Chris Cooley.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Jason Campbell, WR Santana Moss, Redskins defense. 

Game Summary:  If the Giants lose, it will be RB Tiki Barber’s last game.  The Giants have to feel fortunate that they’re still in position to make the playoffs despite the extended slide.  Washington has been woeful more often than not this season, but the Redskins will definitely be fired up to finish with a win and ruin the Giants’ season.  Ultimately, the Giants have enough playmakers and Washington enough injuries on defense to qualify for a tepid-at-best selection.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 23-20


NEW ENGLAND (10-5) at TENNESSEE (8-7)

Line:  Titans favored by 3 (total points line is 42½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Patriots 8-6-1, Titans 11-4

Strongest Trend:  The Titans have covered ATS in 10 of their last 11 games.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots won at home, 17-14, in the 2003 AFC wild-card playoffs.

Patriots Status Report:  Last Sunday, New England returned to the site of its most recent Super Bowl win (24-21 over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX) and beat the host Jacksonville Jaguars by the exact same score.  The Patriots have clinched the AFC East and are locked in as the conference’s fourth seed.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee won its sixth in a row Sunday, 30-29 at Buffalo.  The Titans are still alive in the wild-card playoff chase, but must win and get either Denver or the New York Jets to lose.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – none (because coach Bill Belichick may choose to rest some regulars).  MARGINAL STARTERS – QB Tom Brady, RB Laurence Maroney, Patriots defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, RB Travis Henry, K Rob Bironas.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – WRs Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade, Titans defense.

Game Summary:  New England’s playoff fate is set, so the Patriots might opt to rest some key regulars.  Typically, coach Bill Belichick likes to keep his team sharp.  So an all-out attempt to win the game could happen.  Tennessee has the big winning streak, but I just can’t get myself to lay a field goal against the Patriots in good conscience.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 24-17


OAKLAND (2-13) at NEW YORK JETS (9-6)

Line:  Jets favored by 12½ (total points line is 34)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Raiders 6-8-1, Jets 10-5

Strongest Trend:  Ten of the last 11 Oakland games have gone under the total.

Last Meeting:  The Jets won at home, 26-10, just more than a year ago.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was beaten at home by Kansas City Saturday night, 20-9, and has lost eight in a row.

Jets Status Report:  The Jets won at Miami Monday night, 13-10, and currently hold one of the two AFC wild-card slots.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Justin Fargas, Raiders defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – Jets defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – QB Chad Pennington, RB Leon Washington, WRs Laveranues Coles and Jericho Cotchery, Jets defense.

Game Summary:  Although the Raiders have been totally without function from the offensive side of the ball all season, the defense has been respectable most of the time and the Jets offense doesn’t offer much of a threat.  No way New York blows this game, but I like the Raiders to keep it low-scoring and cover the gaudy spread.

Prediction:  JETS, 17-6


PITTSBURGH (7-8) at CINCINNATI (8-7)

Line:  Bengals favored by 6 (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Steelers 7-8, Bengals 8-6-1

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

Last Meeting:  The Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 28-20, in Week 3.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh entered last week’s home game with Baltimore having won five of six, but the Steelers were dominated in a 31-7 loss that eliminated the defending champions from playoff consideration.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati lost at Denver Sunday, 24-23, on a botched snap during the point-after attempt following the Bengals’ potential tying touchdown.  The Bengals trail Denver and the New York Jets by a game and have to have at least one of those teams lose to have a shot at a wild-card playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, WR Hines Ward. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Santonio Holmes, K Jeff Reed.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WR Chad Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry, TE Reggie Kelly, K Shayne Graham, Bengals defense. 

Game Summary:  Both clubs are coming off devastating defeats, albeit by different routes.  The question is which club will rebound and play well in the regular season finale.  If trends mean anything, the visiting Steelers are the pick.  But they have nothing to play for except pride and a .500 record.  Cincinnati can still make the playoffs with a victory and a break.  Bengals win a close one.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 31-28


CLEVELAND (4-11) at HOUSTON (5-10)

Line:  Texans favored by 4 (total points line is 37½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Browns 7-8, Texans 6-9

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  Houston won at home, 19-16, in 2005.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland was whupped on by Tampa Bay at home last week, 22-7, and is last in the AFC North.

Texans Status Report:  Houston stunned Indianapolis at home Sunday, 27-24, but remains entrenched in last in the AFC South.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – WR Braylon Edwards. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – QB Ken Dorsey, RB Reuben Droughns, WR Joe Jurevicius, TE Kellen Winslow, K Phil Dawson, Browns defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – RB Ron Dayne, WR Andre Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – QB David Carr, TE Owen Daniels, K Kris Brown, Texans defense.   

Game Summary:  My first instinct for this game is Cleveland in an upset, because that’s the way the league has gone this season.  But the numbers and momentum say that the host Texans should build off last week’s big win over the Colts, so I’ll stick with that and forecast a home holding of serve for the Texans.

Prediction:  TEXANS, 21-16


JACKSONVILLE (8-7) at KANSAS CITY (8-7)

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

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

Strongest Trend:  The Chiefs are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 home games, the Jaguars 2-6 ATS in their last eight on the road.

Last Meeting:  Jacksonville won at home, 22-16, in 2004.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville lost at home to New England, 24-21, on Sunday.  The Jaguars are still in the hunt for a playoff berth, but must get help in the form of a loss by any two among Denver, the Jets, and Cincinnati to go with a win over the Chiefs.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City won at Oakland Saturday night, 20-9, and is in the same position as Jacksonville in terms of needing to win and get help.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RB Maurice Drew-Jones, WR Matt Jones. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – TE Marcedes Lewis, K Josh Scobee, Jaguars defense.  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:  Seemingly, what I call a “formula” pick – two fairly even teams, but one a great team at home and the other less than great on the road.  Again, it’s tempting to go against the grain being that so many NFL games are doing just that this season – but I have to go with the Chiefs at home.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 20-13


DETROIT (2-13) at DALLAS (9-6)

Line:  Cowboys favored by 12½ (total points line is 44½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Lions 4-11, Cowboys 9-6

Strongest Trend:  At least a half-dozen different stats indicate the game is more likely to go over the total.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at home, 20-7, in 2005.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit nearly upset the visiting Chicago Bears last weekend, but came up short, 26-21.  The Lions are last in the NFC North and have dropped seven in a row.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas was whipped at home on Christmas Day, 23-7 by Philadelphia.  The Cowboys can still win the NFC East and have already clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, WR Roy Williams, K Jason Hanson.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Tony Romo, RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber, WRs Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens, TE Jason Witten, Cowboys defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – K Martin Gramatica.

Game Summary:  Dallas has been outscored a combined 65-24 in its last two home games, but still can win a division title if the Eagles lose to Atlanta.  A win over Detroit should, realistically, come in a big way.  Coach Bill Parcells undoubtedly will stress to his club the importance on establishing some positive vibes going into the postseason.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 31-14


ST. LOUIS (7-8) at MINNESOTA (6-9)

Line:  Rams favored by 2½ (total points line is 43½)

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

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last four meetings, the smallest margin of victory being 11 points.

Last Meeting:  The Vikings won at home, 27-13, last December.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis’ 37-31 home victory over Washington in overtime Sunday kept the Rams’ slim postseason hopes alive.  They must win at Minnesota and get a lot of help.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost at Green Bay last Thursday night, 9-7, for its seventh loss in the last nine games.  The Vikings have been eliminated from contention.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson, WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – Rams defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – WR Travis Taylor, TE Jermaine Wiggins, Vikings defense.

Game Summary:  The home team has had its way most of the time in this series, way back when both played on grass and met multiple times in the playoffs, and now that both play in domes and the Rams are in St. Louis instead of Southern California.  To pick a Rams win, I’d need to be impressed with them.  I’m not.  Too many defensive and special teams problems.  I like the host Vikings to keep both clubs losers this year.

Prediction:  VIKINGS, 24-16


CAROLINA (7-8) at NEW ORLEANS (10-5)

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

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Panthers 5-9-1, Saints 10-5

Strongest Trend:  The road team is 11-1 ATS in the last 12 meetings.

Last Meeting: The Panthers edged the Saints, 21-18, at Carolina in October.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina has slim playoff hopes, but after last week’s 10-3 victory at Atlanta, anything can happen.  The Panthers need to win and have about three other clubs stumble.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans routed the New York Giants at The Meadowlands, 30-7, on Sunday to clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seeding.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – RB DeShaun Foster, WR Steve Smith, K John Kasay. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Keyshawn Johnson, Panthers defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – unknown (Saints have nothing to play for, but coach Sean Payton may go all out with starters anyway).  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RBs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAlister, WR Marques Colston, K John Carney, Saints defense.

Game Summary:  It certainly would make sense for the Saints to take it easy and rest for the playoffs, but there’s two reasons why I don’t believe that will happen:  1) Payton is a gambler, 2) Payton undoubtedly respects the competitive integrity of the game. If he doesn’t play to win, he’s giving a break to the Panthers at the expense of those competing against Carolina for a playoff berth.  The oddsmakers seem to believe New Orleans will mail it in. I do not, and if I can have the Saints as a home underdog in a division game, I can’t resist.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 28-24


SEATTLE (8-7) at TAMPA BAY (4-11)

Line:  Buccaneers favored by 3½ (total points line is 36½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Seahawks 6-9, Buccaneers 6-8-1

Strongest Trends:  The road team has won the last three meetings.

Last Meeting:  Seattle won at Tampa Bay, 10-6, in 2004.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle has clinched the NFC West and is locked in as the No. 4 seed.  Last week, the Seahawks lost at home to San Diego, 20-17.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay snapped a four-game skid Sunday with a 22-7 triumph at Cleveland.  The Bucs are last in the NFC South.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – unknown (coach Mike Holmgren is expected to play his starters, but it’s not confirmed at this writing.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, WRs Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett, TE Jerramy Stevens, Seahawks defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams (check injury status) or RB Michael Pittman, WR Joey Galloway.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – QB Tim Rattay, Bucs defense. 

Game Summary:  Without a bye week to work with, it’s my educated guess that Seattle will play to win (that means starting all regulars) in an attempt to establish some momentum for the playoffs.  No team wants to go into the postseason on a losing streak, and the Seahawks have dropped three in a row going into this one. Thus, the spread of Tampa Bay as field goal favorites would seem to be a gift.  Division winner gets points versus a 4-11 team.  Hmmm… I’ll bite.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 20-14


BUFFALO (7-8) at BALTIMORE (12-3)

Line:  Ravens favored by 9 (total points line is 34)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Bills 10-5, Ravens 9-6

Strongest Trend:  Eleven of the last 12 Buffalo games in December have gone over the total.

Last Meeting:  The Ravens won at home, 20-6, in 2004.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo lost a heartbreaker to Tennessee at home Sunday, 30-29, ending its playoff hopes.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore routed the Steelers at Pittsburgh on Sunday, 31-7, for its eighth victory in nine games.  The Ravens, who have clinched the AFC North title, can still gain homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Bills and a San Diego loss.  But, the Ravens can also lose the first-round bye with a loss and an Indianapolis win.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee, WR Lee Evans, TE Robert Royal.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, WR Mark Clayton, TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, WR Derrick Mason, K Matt Stover.

Game Summary:  It would be interesting to know if Ravens coach Brian Billick would be willing to concede the top seeding to San Diego and instead focus on keeping his players healthy.  The Chargers host Arizona – an unlikely upset.  Still, Baltimore will likely go all out, on the off chance the Bolts do stumble.  That probably means another solid victory for the hosts.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 24-13


MIAMI (6-9) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-4)

Line:  Colts favored by 9 (total points line is 42)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Dolphins 5-10, Colts 7-7-1

Strongest Trend:  The underdog is 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Colts won at Miami, 23-17, in 2003.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami lost at home to the New York Jets Monday night, 13-10, and were officially ousted from postseason contention the previous week.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis suffered a 27-24 upset loss at Houston Sunday, and is situation as the AFC’s third seed.  The Colts, who long ago clinched the AFC South crown, can be the second seed – and get the associated first-round bye -- with a win over the Dolphins to go with a Baltimore loss.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – WRs Chris Chambers, Derek Hagan and Wes Welker, TE Randy McMichael, K Olindo Mare.  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. 

Game Summary:  My gut says the Colts are going to go crazy in this one, after coach Tony Dungy said that his team would go all-out to win this one and try to acquire the second seeding in the AFC.  Miami is likely down after the tough home loss Monday night. But history says the visitors always play it tough in this series, so I’m going with a prideful Dolphins club to keep things competitive.

Prediction:  COLTS, 24-20


ARIZONA (5-10) at SAN DIEGO (13-2)

Line:  Chargers favored by 13½  (total points line is 44)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cardinals 7-8, Chargers 9-6

Strongest Trend:  San Diego is 7-0 at home SU, 5-2 ATS this season.

Last Meeting:  San Diego won at home, 23-15, in 2002.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona knocked off the 49ers at San Francisco a week ago, 26-20, and has won three of its last four games but is still in last in the NFC West.

Chargers Status Report:  A late TD pass gave San Diego a 20-17 road win over Seattle Sunday, pulling the Chargers to within one win (or Baltimore loss) of the AFC’s top seeding and homefield edge throughout the playoffs.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Kurt Warner, RB Edgerrin James, K Neil Rackers.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding, Chargers defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB Michael Turner, Any WR.

Game Summary:  The Chargers won’t want to do anything differently to rock the currently successful boat.  Other than a few more touches for RB Michael Turner and a few less for LaDainian Tomlinson, expect the status quo – which should mean their 10th straight victory, in solid fashion.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 31-17


SAN FRANCISCO (6-9) at DENVER (9-6)

Line:  Broncos favored by 10½ (total points line is 41)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  49ers 8-7, Broncos 5-10

Strongest Trend:  The Broncos are 1-6 ATS at home this season.

Last Meeting:  The Broncos won at San Francisco, 24-14, in 2002.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was eliminated from playoff consideration with last week’s 26-20 home loss to Arizona.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver can secure the fifth seeding in the AFC with a victory, after Sunday’s 24-23 triumph over visiting Cincinnati.  The Broncos can lose and still get into the playoffs, but they would need a Kansas City loss.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, WR Arnaz Battle.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jay Cutler, WR Javon Walker, Broncos defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER –RBs Mike Bell and Tatum Bell, WR Rod Smith, TE Tony Scheffler, K Jason Elam. 

Game Summary:  The Broncos are in good shape after surviving at home against Cincinnati, and I certainly can’t envision them breaking down enough to allow the 49ers an upset victory.  But keep in mind that San Francisco spanked the Seahawks in Seattle in its last road contest.  Denver has struggled at home for consistency, so I’ll stick with the trend of the Broncos winning and the opponent covering the number.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 28-20


ATLANTA (7-8) at PHILADELPHIA (9-6)

Line:  Eagles favored by 7½ (total points line is 43)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Falcons 7-8, Eagles 9-6

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won six of the last seven meetings.

Last Meeting:  Atlanta prevailed at home in 2005, 14-10.

Falcons Status Report:  Playing for a wild-card playoff berth, the Falcons were putrid last week in a 10-3 home loss to Carolina.  Now they must win at Philly and get some help.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia won its third straight division road game Monday, 23-7 at Dallas, and will win the NFC East with a victory or a Cowboys loss.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – RB Jerious Norwood, K Morton Andersen.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Jeff Garcia, RB Brian Westbrook, WRs Donte’ Stallworth and Reggie Brown, K David Akers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – RB Correll Buckhalter, TE L.J. Smith, Eagles defense. 

Game Summary:  Believe it or not, I considered an upset pick here.  The Eagles have had all kinds of difficulties stopping the run and the Falcons rush the ball better than anyone.  But Philly made some great adjustments at Dallas Monday, and stifled the Cowboys.  They are a team on a roll and, at home, I like them to complete their run to the NFC East crown.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 24-17


GREEN BAY (7-8) at CHICAGO (13-2)

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

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Packers 6-9, Bears 10-4-1

Strongest Trend:  The last eight home games for Chicago have gone over the total.

Last Meeting:  The Bears opened this season with a 26-0 shutout win at Green Bay.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay’s 9-7 home victory over Minnesota last Thursday night kept the Packers’ playoff hopes alive… but just barely.  The Pack needs a win over the Bears and a lot of help.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago rallied to win at Detroit Sunday, 26-21, and is locked in as the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – none.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green, WR Donald Driver.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RBs Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson, WRs Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, TE Desmond Howard, K Robbie Gould, Bears defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QBs Rex Grossman and Brian Griese.

Game Summary:  The Bears played last week’s game at Detroit with their starters, true to coach Lovie Smith’s word, and there appears that there’s every reason to expect the same thing in what might be Packers QB Brett Favre’s last game (I believe Favre will return).  Smith is bent on the Bears staying sharp.  I’m going along with that, and taking advantage of the generously small number of points to lay.

Prediction:  BEARS, 27-13