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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Wildcard Week
Bob Cunningham
January 4, 2007

I know this is supposed to be a pro football write-up, but was that Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl the best game ever or what?

Way to go, Broncos!

Funny thing is the same thing could be heard after Denver’s shocking overtime home loss to San Francisco on Sunday that cost coach Mike Shanahan’s team a trip to the playoffs.

Way to go, Broncos.

Of course, the latter phrase was uttered with disdain and sarcasm, the former with outright glee.  But that’s simply semantics.

On to the task at hand.  It’s playoff time, bay-bee.  The top seeds in the AFC and NFC are the Chargers and Bears, respectively, but they’re nowhere to be found this week.  They get a welcomed bye (as do second-seeds Baltimore in the AFC and New Orleans in the NFC).  Instead, the playoff qualifiers who weren’t quite so impressive in doing so are stuck fighting it out in this week’s wild-card round.  Should be a ton o’ fun.

Note the variation to my fantasy summary section for the playoffs.  Those of you who are involved in postseason fantasy “tournaments” essentially need to figure out who might advance to the divisional round and who won’t, depending on your rules.  Some of you have to use different players each week, and some have to try to utilize the same players all the way through. I’ll attempt to share some insight rather than simply acknowledging players who are quality or marginal starters.

Incidentally, my predicting finished the regular season respectably, including a 10-6 mark ATS.  It’s been a pretty ho-hum year overall, however, so it’s my latest mission in life to streak through the postseason (so to speak) with a plethora of palatable prognostications.

On to Wild-card Weekend…

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 152-104 (59 percent); ATS – 129-119-8 (52 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 10-6; ATS – 10-6
OVER/UNDER: 127-123-6 for the season, 10-6 last week


KANSAS CITY (9-7) at INDIANAPOLIS (12-4)

Line:  Colts favored by 6½ (total points line is 51)

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

Strongest Trend:  Indianapolis is a perfect 8-0 SU at home this season.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won a shootout at Kansas City, 45-35, in 2004.  Earlier that calendar year, in the 2003 AFC playoffs, the Colts won at KC, 38-31.

Chiefs Status Report:  Likely expecting to be left out of the playoffs, the Chiefs nonetheless did their part to sneak in by besting Jacksonville at home Sunday, 35-30, then stood by as Denver gagged at home against San Francisco, boosting the Chiefs into the postseason party.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis tuned up for the playoffs with a 27-22 home triumph over Miami.  The Colts have won only twice in their last five games.

Fantasy Summary:  The Chiefs have the defense to make things interesting, but I certainly wouldn’t count on the upset. If your fantasy postseason contest divides the weeks individually, or requires different players each week, Kansas City RB Larry Johnson is a no-brainer against the Colts’ league-worst rushing defense.  For the Colts, you might be able to draft their entire offense and win your contest.  For this week, the Peyton Manning-led passing game is as close as you can get to a sure thing at home.

Game Summary:  The Colts are still fighting the tag of postseason choke specialists, but ask the Denver Broncos if going to Indy in January is an easy task.  The Broncos have done so twice in the last three years and were embarrassed both times.  If Indy does stumble, it’s much more likely to happen at San Diego or Baltimore than at home against decent-but-nothing-special Chiefs.

Prediction:  COLTS, 35-20


DALLAS (9-7) at SEATTLE (9-7)

Line:  Seahawks favored by 3 (total points line is 46½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cowboys 9-7, Seahawks 7-9

Strongest Trend:  Both teams lost three of their last four regular season games.

Last Meeting:  Seattle won at home, 13-10, in 2005.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas turned its third consecutive rotten performance at home Sunday, losing to the lowly Detroit Lions, 39-31.  That followed a 16-point loss to Philadelphia and a 25-point blowout at the hands of New Orleans a month ago.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle snapped a three-game skid by finishing the regular season Sunday with a 23-7 victory at Tampa Bay.

Fantasy Summary:  The weather forecast calls for rain – what a shock it would be to see precipitation in Seattle – and that means the running games of both teams could come to the forefront.  Dallas’ run defense has ranked among the leaders most of the season, but they’ve been giving up large chunks of yardage in recent games.  For Seattle, RB Shaun Alexander is the only full-speed recommendation.  The passing game needs a healthy Darrell Jackson, but his status remains in doubt.  Dallas’ primary offensive weapons, including RB Marion Barber but not Julius Jones, are solid starts.

Game Summary:  If recent exploits are any indication, the Cowboys are in a heap of trouble.  The problem for Seattle is that the Seahawks really haven’t played much better than the ‘Boys, save for last week’s cruise at Tampa Bay.  A month ago, we were looking at Dallas as a serious Super Bowl contender and I can’t believe that much has changed.  In the second postseason meeting between Bill Parcells and Mike Holmgren (Super Bowl XXXI – Packers 35, Patriots 21), The Tuna gets his revenge.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 24-17


NEW YORK JETS (10-6) at NEW ENGLAND (12-4)

Line:  Patriots favored by 8½ (total points line is 37½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Jets 11-5, Patriots 9-6-1

Strongest Trend:  The road team is 14-4 ATS in the last 18 meetings, including 2-0 this season.

Last Meeting:  The Jets shocked the Patriots at Foxborough, 17-14, on Nov. 12.

Jets Status Report:  New York closed the season with a solid 23-3 victory over the visiting Oakland Raiders.  It was the Jets’ third straight victory and fifth in six games to close the regular season.

Patriots Status Report:  New England rolled to a 40-24 triumph at Tennessee in its regular season finale.  Like the Jets, New England has won three straight.  And the Patriots went 6-1 over their last seven contests.

Fantasy Summary:  The only truly worthy fantasy player on either team is Patriots QB Tom Brady… and he isn’t that good from a fantasy perspective.  Too many different targets, and the Pats have revitalized their running game.  Counting on young Lawrence Maroney is risky, because veterans tend to step up at playoff time and that might mean a little more of Corey Dillon.  For the Jets, WR Laveranues Coles comes to play every week, but this is not a very good matchup and the odds are the Jets will be one and done.  The Patriots defense will be without secondary leader Rodney Harrison, but New England has been mixing and matching parts all season and coach Bill Belichick still makes it work.

Game Summary:  It’s remarkable how the visiting team has fared so well in this rivalry in recent years.  Make you think the Jets might have a chance.  But this is the postseason, friends.  It’s a whole new ballgame, if you can forgive the cliché.  Picking against Belichick at home is like putting chocolate frosting on a baloney sandwich – there’s no law against it, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 23-10


NEW YORK GIANTS (8-8) at PHILADELPHIA (10-6)

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

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Giants 7-9, Eagles 9-7

Strongest Trend:  The visiting team has won four of the last five meetings including both contests this season.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles rolled to a 36-22 whipping of the Giants at The Meadowlands less than three weeks ago.

Giants Status Report:  Needing a victory at Washington Saturday night to make the playoffs, the Giants came through with a 34-28 win keyed by Tiki Barber’s huge numbers. It was only the second victory for the Giants in their last eight games.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia had already wrapped up the NFC East title when it took the field at home against Atlanta Sunday, but the Eagles won anyway, 24-17, to finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak.

Fantasy Summary:  Unless the weather turns extremely ugly, I’m expecting enough scoring to have value for several fantasy players, although I’m guessing the defenses will step up a little more in a playoff game.  Barber will be a major factor again but, of course, don’t expect a repeat of his performance against the Redskins.  New York’s passing game will probably continue to be hit-and-miss.  TE Jeremy Shockey is expected to play, and he’s an easy start in leagues that use tight ends.  WR Plaxico Burress is also a decent start.  For the Eagles, RB Brian Westbrook has been on a roll and QB Jeff Garcia has been as reliable as any signal-caller not named Peyton over the season’s final month.

Game Summary:  It appears as if the only real concern for the Eagles is whether they’ve peaked too soon – having won their last five games entering the playoffs.  Tough to win eight straight to get to the Super Bowl, although their in-state brothers in Pittsburgh put such a run together last season en route to a championship.  The spread of a full touchdown is begging folks to consider the Giants for an upset… and I believe it’s a real possibility.  Sure, New York has been pretty bad over the second half of the season.  But 8-8 doesn’t mean awful, it means streaky.  The Giants have been cold for a while now, but last week’s clutch win could start another winning skein.  And they certainly have the talent to get it done.  I believe this one comes down to a late turnover and a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 24-21