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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Bob's Breakdown - Divisional Week
Bob Cunningham
January 11, 2007

It’s funny to consider that the only thing that kept me from a perfect prognosticating performance during the wild-card round is Tony Romo’s inability to get a hold down for his kicker from chip-shot range.  Ah… whatever.

What is also interesting is that, while everyone was talking about Romo’s botched hold and the shocking end to Dallas’ season, the only thing that prevented Romo from scampering into the end zone with a game-winning touchdown was the hustle of Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineau.  Babineau was coming wide on the field goal attempt when he swept past the predictably lame block attempt of Cowboys kicker Martin Gramatica, ran down Romo, and tripped him up from behind with a diving tackle just a yard-and-half short of the goal line – and a half-yard shy of a first-down.

An awesome play that reminded me of Mike Jones’ championship-saving tackle of Kevin Dyson to preserve St. Louis’ 23-16 triumph over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.

This is a new week, however, and with that will come new stories.  I can’t wait.

On to the divisional playoffs…

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 155-105 (60 percent); ATS – 133-119-8 (53 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 3-1; ATS – 4-0
OVER/UNDER: 129-125-6 for the season, 2-2 last week


INDIANAPOLIS (13-4) at BALTIMORE (13-3)

Line:  Ravens favored by 4 (total points line is 41½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Colts 8-8-1, Ravens 10-6

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won seven of the last nine meetings, and the Ravens are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 home games dating back to last season.

Last Meeting:  The Colts won at Baltimore, 24-7, in September of 2005.

Colts Status Report:  Third-seeded Indianapolis’ defense was ultra-impressive in last week’s 23-8 home victory over Kansas City in the wild-card round.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore, the AFC’s No. 2 seed, was idle last week.  The Ravens won their last four regular season games including a 19-7 home win over Buffalo in their finale. They have won nine of 10.

Fantasy Summary:  Immovable object vs. Irresistible force… Ravens defense against the Colts’ attack. Both will have their day.  On paper, RB Jamal Lewis looks like a good play for Baltimore, but only if All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden plays. Of course, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson was an easy choice last week and the Colts held him to less than 40 yards and no scores.  QB Steve McNair reports that his hand is fine, so the Baltimore passing game is also worth a look, with younger Mark Clayton the preferred target over veteran Derrick Mason.

Game Summary:  Those of you who have read my prognostications the last few years may think you know where I’m going with this one… because I’ve been on the Colts-are-due-to-make-it-to-the-Super Bowl kick for a few years now.  But even more of a base philosophy for me is the idea that a good defense will beat a good offense much more often than not, especially in the playoffs.  New England has made a postseason habit of besting the Colts with the formula of a superior defense to go with homefield advantage, and I believe the Ravens will do likewise.  And I also like time-tested veteran McNair in big games.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 28-17


PHILADELPHIA (11-6) at NEW ORLEANS (10-6)

Line:  Saints favored by 5½ (total points line is 49)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Eagles 9-8, Saints 10-6

Strongest Trend:  The Eagles had won the last six meetings before New Orleans rallied to win at home earlier this season; Philly is 5-3 ATS on the road this year, the Saints 3-5 at home.

Last Meeting:  New Orleans won at home, 27-24, in Week 6.

Eagles Status Report:  David Akers’ last-second field goal propelled the third-seeded Eagles to a 23-20 home win over the New York Giants in the wild-card round, Philadelphia’s sixth straight victory.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans, seeded second in the NFC, was on a bye last week.  The Saints finished the regular season losing a meaningless contest to Carolina but won four of their previous five before that.

Fantasy Summary:  Things get tougher in the playoffs, so banking on huge numbers from the New Orleans passing attack is probably a mistake.  With that said, however, how can you not play Saints QB Drew Brees and rookie WR Marques Colston?  RBs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAlister both look decent against Philly’s inconsistent run defense.  For the Eagles, RB Brian Westbrook is money in the bank and the passing attack of QB Jeff Garcia and WRs Reggie Brown and Donte’ Stallworth is solid.  Neither defense makes sense this week, even though both are likely to perform better than in the first meeting between these teams.

Game Summary:  My M.O., as it pertains to forecasting playoff games, is to find which underdog in each round I like the most and jump aboard.  For this season’s divisional round, that’s definitely the Eagles.  However, there’s one key injury that concerns me from Philly’s point of view – cornerback Lito Sheppard’s status is in doubt, and when you consider that the Saints might also reap the return of veteran wideout Joe Horn, the Saints’ advantage in the passing game may be pronounced.  Ultimately, the game is likely to come down to which club makes the fewest mistakes (most games do), and in that event the comparatively inexperienced Saints, even at home, are the most likely to flinch.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 23-16


SEATTLE (10-7) at CHICAGO (14-2)

Line:  Bears favored by 8½ (total points line is 37)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Seahawks 7-10, Bears 9-7

Strongest Trend:  The Seahawks are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 road games.

Last Meeting:  The Bears won in a rout, 37-6, at home in Week 4.

Seahawks Status Report:  Fourth-seeded Seattle escaped with a 21-20 home victory over Dallas in the wild-card round when Cowboys QB/holder Tony Romo fumbled the snap on a chip-shot field goal attempt that would have won the game.

Bears Status Report:  The top-seeded Bears had the week off after finishing the regular season with a meaningless 26-7 home loss to Green Bay.  The Bears had won their previous four contests.

Fantasy Summary:  None of the Seahawks are recommended plays, including RB Shaun Alexander.  In addition to the brutal matchup for the 2005 MVP, Alexander also may be hobbled in this game after again injuring his foot near the end of the win over Dallas.  For the Bears, the ground game is the safe play with RB Thomas Jones, who I suspect will return to prominence as the go-to guy with the games important again.  Cedric Benson will get some work, but Jones’ upside for this game is better.  Tough to tell which Rex Grossman we might see… would you feel comfortable putting your fantasy season hopes on the kid?  Me, neither.  Instead, gimme the Bears defense.

Game Summary:  The Bears completely dominated the first meeting between the two (albeit Seattle was without Alexander), and are rested and ready for the sequel.  I’m still not convinced Chicago can hold serve and reach the Super Bowl with Grossman at the controls, but their defense and special teams alone are more than enough to dethrone the NFC champs.

Prediction:  BEARS, 24-10


NEW ENGLAND (13-4) at SAN DIEGO (14-2)

Line:  Chargers favored by 5 (total points line is 46½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Patriots 10-6-1, Chargers 9-7

Strongest Trend:  There are five distinct trends favoring the overs in this matchup.

Last Meeting:  San Diego routed the host Patriots, 41-17, in Week 5 last season.

Patriots Status Report:  New England, the fourth seed in the AFC, pulled away to a 37-16 home victory over the visiting New York Jets in last week’s wild-card round.  The Pats have four in a row overall, and seven of eight.

Chargers Status Report:  The top-seeded Chargers were on a bye last week.  They have won 10 straight going in, including a 27-20 home win over Arizona in the regular season finale.

Fantasy Summary:  Assuming the usual San Diego quality weather, this game could be a fantasy candy store.  Although the Chargers defense has been first-rate virtually all season, no one in their right mind (or left) can comfortably forecast a sub-par performance from Patriots QB Tom Brady.  And the running game spearheaded by rookie Lawrence Maroney is surely a threat.  The Chargers offense has been nothing short of awesome, and MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson is an easy choice.  Ditto TE Antonio Gates.  But is young QB Philip Rivers a good choice against the nasty, savvy Patriots defense?  Indeed, that is likely to decide the outcome of this contest.

Game Summary:  Easily the toughest pick of this week’s four games in my opinion.  The Chargers are unbeaten at home, but New England is a robust 7-1 on the road.  The Patriots’ extensive playoff experience is at least an equalizer.  And if this game evolves into a battle of QBs, it’s not a leap to favor Brady over Rivers.  Okay, enough beating around the bush.  There are plenty of compelling reasons to go with the Patriots, but I like San Diego because the Chargers have earned the top seeding with consistently outstanding play.  Their two losses were close road affairs.  They’ve beaten some quality clubs, and thoroughly whipped some on their home field as well.  Anticipate a highly entertaining contest.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 27-20