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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 3
Bob Cunningham
September 20, 2007

I’m not sure what all the confusion is about.  The New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick are cheaters.  They got caught blatantly breaking the rules.  Their punishment should have included a forfeit of the Jets game, but being docked a first round pick is also pretty nasty.  Good for the NFL that they didn’t go the slap-on-the-wrist route.

As for last week’s action on the field, there were some shocking developments.  The Saints are 0-2 and scoring only 17 offensive points in two games?  Houston is 2-0 including a romp at Carolina during which they scored 31 points in a row before Carolina countered?  Cleveland scored 51 points, and didn’t need five games combined to do it?  Remarkable.

One thing was predictable, though.  The Raiders kicked a field goal successfully in overtime at Denver… and still lost.  That’s rich.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  21-11 (66 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  16-13-3 (55 percent)
Last Week:  12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 3: 

BUFFALO (0-2) at NEW ENGLAND (2-0)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 16½

Strongest Trends:  New England is 8-2 SU, 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.  The road team has covered ATS in each of the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots rolled at Buffalo, 28-6, last October.

Bills Status Report:  The Bills were dominated at Pittsburgh last week, losing 26-3.  Fortunately for them, however, they are tied for second in the AFC East with fellow winless clubs Miami and the New York Jets.

Patriots Status Report:  The Patriots were impressive Sunday night, whipping visiting San Diego, 38-14.  Not only is New England unbeaten, but it already owns a two-game lead in the AFC East.

Fantasy Factor:  There are no Bills worth a look, while for New England every primary offensive player is a good start, and the Pats defense is even better.

Game Summary:  I hate huge spreads… because while there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Patriots will get it done at home, it’s awfully tough to lay more than two TDs, especially in a division game.  So I won’t.  New England was very much up for its game with the Chargers.  There could be a small letdown here.  But understand, there was a movie featuring Robert Downey Jr. from about 20 years ago that has a title which describes Buffalo’s chance for an upset.  It’s called “Less Than Zero.”

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 27-13

MIAMI (0-2) at NEW YORK JETS (0-2)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Jets favored by 3  

Strongest Trend:  The Jets have covered ATS in seven straight meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Jets won at Miami, 13-10, on Christmas Day in ’06.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami was thumped at home by Dallas last week, 37-20, and is tied for last in the AFC East with the Jets and Buffalo.

Jets Status Report:  New York fell behind 20-3 then staged an impressive rally at Baltimore Sunday before losing, 20-13.

Fantasy Factor:  For the Jets, Chad Pennington is the starting QB but you shouldn’t care.  WRs Laveranues Coles and Jericho Cotchery are good plays even with the QB issues, but make sure you check the latter’s status before gametime.  For the Dolphins, the only recommendation is WR Chris Chambers, and maybe RB Ronnie Brown in larger leagues.

Game Summary:  Although both teams are winless, there’s a lot that separates the two.  The Jets have opened with a nasty schedule, facing two division winners from 2006.  Miami lost to a mediocre Washington team in its opener and was whipped by Dallas on its homefield last week.  The Jets have owned this series in recent years – nothing here to indicate a reverse in the trend is imminent.

Prediction:  JETS, 20-14

Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 9

Strongest Trend:  The Steelers are 2-7-1 ATS in their last 10 against teams with winning records.  San Francisco has won four of the last five meetings straight-up.

Last Meeting:  The 49ers won at home in 2003, 30-14.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco held on for a 17-16 victory at St. Louis a week ago, and is alone atop the NFC West.

Steelers Status Report:   Pittsburgh mauled visiting Buffalo on Sunday, 26-3, and has outscored its first two foes by a combined 60-10.  The Steelers are alone in first place in the AFC North.

Fantasy Factor:  The San Francisco passing game has been non-existent through two weeks, and Pittsburgh is always a tough place for opposing running backs, so temper your enthusiasm for Frank Gore.  The Steelers are comfortable at home, so expect plenty of RB Willie Parker and decent games from QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.  The Steelers defense is also an elite play.

Game Summary:  I predicted the 49ers to win the NFC West and I like how they’ve won back-to-back divisional games while the offense has been so-so.  But going to Pittsburgh is a whole other task… the Steelers have played extremely well the first two weeks against weaker opposition, and the momentum should carry them to another quality home performance.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 24-10

ARIZONA (1-1) at BALTIMORE (1-1)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Ravens favored by 8

Strongest Trend:  The road team has won five of the last six meetings. 

Last Meeting:  The Ravens won at Arizona, 26-18, in 2003.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona edged Seattle at home last week, 23-20, and is tied with the Seahawks for second in the NFC West.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore held off the visiting New York Jets, 20-13, and trails Pittsburgh by a game in the AFC North.

Fantasy Factor:  Anytime a team plays at Baltimore against the vaunted Ravens defense, it’s a bad matchup.  But Cardinals RB Edgerrin James is off to a solid start on the young season and is essentially an every-week starter. WR Larry Fitzgerald used to be in that category, and he was much better last week after a poor season opener, but against the Ravens, it should be pine time for him and Anquan Boldin unless you’re thin in that department.  For the Ravens, the running game might have some difficulty with Arizona’s improved rush defense, but the primary WRs and TE Todd Heap are good starts.  However, with QB Steve McNair’s groin injury still a factor, he should be avoided even if he gets the start.

Game Summary:  This is no gimme game for the Ravens, by any stretch.  Expect a close game throughout, with the Ravens defense making enough big plays to secure a home win.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 23-17

Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 6½

Strongest Trend:  The home team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Texans upset the visiting Colts last Christmas Eve, 27-24.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis survived at Tennessee a week ago, winning 22-20.

Texans Status Report:  Houston routed the Panthers at Carolina a week ago, 34-21, and is tied for first place with the Colts in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factor:  The Colts have offensive players who should always be in the lineup – Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Adam Vinatieri.  For Houston, QB Matt Schaub would seem to make sense.  But WR Andre Johnson is out, and that’s a big loss.  RB Ahman Green has done well through the first two weeks, so stick with him even against the Colts’ improved run D.

Game Summary:  This could have been my upset special had Johnson not gotten injured last week.  But his loss severely affects the Houston passing game… and I can’t pick against the awesome Indy aerial unit when the opposition is missing a key component.  Houston keeps this one close, anyway, because of its defense.

Prediction:  COLTS, 24-21

SAN DIEGO (1-1) at GREEN BAY (2-0)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 4½

Strongest Trends:  Green Bay has won the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Packers won at San Diego, 38-21, in 2003.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego was manhandled Sunday night at New England, falling 38-14.  The Chargers trail Denver by a game in the AFC West.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay pulled away in the second half to a 35-13 romp over the New York Giants at The Meadowlands.  The Packers are knotted up with Detroit atop the NFC North.

Fantasy Factor:  It would take more… uh, guts than I have to bench LaDainian Tomlinson.  In fact, that would be pretty dumb.  But this is another unfavorable matchup for the Chargers rushing attack.  TE Antonio Gates remains the only reliable scoring
option at present.  For the Packers, QB Brett Favre is good in deeper leagues and WR Donald Driver is usually money.  Also, TE Bubba Franks is re-emerging as a favorite Favre target.  Don’t look for much from the Pack’s running game.  Rookie DeShawn Wynn is the hot fantasy free agent talent of the week, but he doesn’t figure to do a whole lot against the staunch San Diego front.

Game Summary:  My Upset Special for the week.  The Packers’ defense is playing excellent football, and like San Diego’s first two foes, look for them to pack the box and force QB Phillip Rivers to beat them.  Rivers has been unable to do so through two weeks, struggling with both his accuracy and his decision-making.  The stoic yet frisky veteran, Favre, will make just enough plays in a game mostly controlled by the defenses.  Afterward, the catcalls for Chargers coach Norv Turner will begin with his team’s 1-2 start.

Prediction:   PACKERS, 20-17

Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Chiefs favored by 2½

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won five of the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Vikings routed the visiting Chiefs, 45-20, in 2003.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota just missed starting the year 2-0, losing at Detroit in OT last week.  The Vikings are tied with Chicago for third in the NFC North.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City improved its overall play but still lost at Chicago, 20-10.  The Chiefs are tied with Oakland at the bottom of the AFC West.

Fantasy Factor:  Still not an ideal fantasy matchup for Chiefs RB Larry Johnson, but just being in front of the home folks will make a difference.  You should feel comfortable with him in your lineup.  Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson is the only other decent start, other than the two defenses.

Game Summary:  The stats give Minnesota a decided advantage, but I don’t care.  Sometimes, the intangible factors are more important.  Kansas City is a strong home team, and this is its home opener.  The Chiefs dominate NFC teams on their home field, and mostly on emotion – with a bit of desperation mixed in – the Chiefs will take care of business as every aspect of the club will dial it up a notch from the first two weeks.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 17-10

Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 6½

Strongest Trend:  Philadelphia has won the last four meetings and covered ATS in all four.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles won at Detroit, 30-13, in 2004.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit ended an 11-game losing streak to Minnesota last week with a 20-17 OT win over the visiting Vikings.  The Lions are tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia came out flat Monday night against Washington at home, and lost a 20-12 decision.  The Eagles are tied with the New York Giants at the bottom of the NFC East.

Fantasy Factor:  Eagles QB Donovan McNabb was mostly bad Monday night, save for a few flashes of brilliance in the fourth quarter. His mobility seemed to improve as the game went on, however.  Philly problems rest with him – if he turns it around, so will the team.  I’d start him this week, unless Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer was on my roster.  For Detroit, stay with the passing game of QB Jon Kitna and WRs Roy Williams and rookie Calvin Williams, but be sure to verify Kitna will start. He left last week’s game with a mild concussion but returned later on in the Lions’ OT win.

Game Summary:  Detroit gets no respect from the odds-makers and betting public, as evidenced that it is a 2-0 team that is a TD underdog against an 0-2 club.  That’s the lure to take the Lions.  Don’t fall for it.  The Eagles will make a statement in this game, primarily because they have to.  The Lions have the ingredients to add to Philly’s misery, but the Eagles are simply unlikely to lose two in a row at home to non-Super Bowl caliber clubs.  The Lions are improved, sure.  But not that much.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 31-17

ST. LOUIS (0-2) at TAMPA BAY (1-1)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Buccaneers favored by 3½

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won six of the last seven meetings straight-up.

Last Meeting:  The Rams won at home, 28-21, in 2004.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis nearly won last week on a late, long field goal but Jeff Wilkins’ dead-on kick was just short and the Rams lost to visiting San Francisco, 17-16, to fall into last place in the NFC West.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay overwhelmed visiting New Orleans a week ago, 31-14. The Bucs are tied for first place in the NFC South with Carolina.

Fantasy Factor:  Tampa Bay might have another week of big plays in the passing game against the Rams, but don’t expect the explosion QB Jeff Garcia and WR Joey Galloway provided against the Saints.  Attention, Stephen Jackson owners:  Stick with the Big Guy.  He will get 30-35 touches this week as the Rams will be facing the 20th-ranked run defense while trying to keep the pressure off the Orlando Pace-less offensive line, QB Marc Bulger, and the passing attack.

Game Summary:  I don’t know… I guess I have something for the state of Missouri this week, because the Bucs get the edge on paper… are playing at home… and I like the Rams for a mild upset (not really much of an upset, but they are underdogs) behind a heavy dose of Jackson.  The former Greatest Show On Turf will smash-mouth its way to a much-needed victory on the road.

Prediction:  RAMS, 20-17

CLEVELAND (1-1) at OAKLAND (0-2)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Raiders favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The Browns have won the last three meetings.

Last Meeting:  Cleveland won at Oakland, 24-21, last November.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland exploded offensively to outslug arch-rival Cincinnati at home a week ago, 51-45.  The Browns are a game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland nearly pulled off a shocker at Denver – and even made a field goal in OT (sort of) – before eventually losing, 23-20.  The Raiders are tied with Kansas City for last in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factor:  If you just landed Cleveland QB Derek Anderson off your league’s waiver wire and you’re ready to plug him in and get another five TD passes, you’ll have to wait at least three games – cumulative - before he’ll compile that many.  The Raiders pass defense is solid.  If you have to play a Brown, go with RB Jamal Lewis to put up a decent encore to his 200+ yards a week ago.  For Oakland, Daunte Culpepper gets the start at QB but RB Lamont Jordan is the Raiders’ fantasy stud.

Game Summary:  So which was the biggest fluke last week, the Browns’ 51 points or the Raiders pushing Denver to overtime on the road?  It doesn’t matter, because both came out of nowhere and shouldn’t be expected again anytime soon.  This is a tough call, because I believe the Browns are just a little better at this moment in time, but the Raiders are at home.  ATS, this one is likely to be a push.

Prediction:  RAIDERS, 21-16

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Seahawks favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last three meetings.  Cincinnati is 7-2-1 ATS in its last 10 September games.

Last Meeting:  The Bengals won at home, 27-24, in 2003.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle lost at Arizona a week ago, 23-20, and is tied with the Cardinals in the NFC West, a game back of San Francisco.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati lost an inexplicable 51-45 decision at Cleveland.  The Bengals are a game back of Pittsburgh and tied with the AFC North’s other two clubs.

Fantasy Factor:  Should be plenty of offense on both sides – not 96 points, mind you – but plenty.  All the studs are a go and fringe guys like Seahawks WR Bobby Engram are reasonable starts as well.

Game Summary:  The Bengals are more explosive, but Seattle is playing at home and has the better defense.  The host Seahawks get a slight edge.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 31-24

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Broncos favored by 3 

Strongest Trends:  The Broncos are 4-1 SU and ATS in the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  Denver prevailed at Jacksonville, 20-7, in 2005.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville held off Atlanta at home last week, 13-7.  The Jaguars trail AFC South co-leaders Indianapolis and Houston by a game.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver averted a home upset at the hands of Oakland, scoring a 23-20 OT win after watching the Raiders kick a field goal to seemingly win the game. Denver managed to get a timeout called just before the boot, and the ensuing second attempt hit the upright.  Denver is alone atop the AFC West.

Fantasy Factor:  Defense, defense.  Jacksonville’s two big-game RBs, Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, have been disappointments so far.  This isn’t the ideal match-up to reverse that trend.  For Denver, RB Travis Henry will be the man again with the passing game providing average numbers for QB Jay Cutler, WR Javon Walker and young wideout Brandon Marshall.

Game Summary:  It will be interesting to see if the Broncos are fired up after almost letting the Raiders beat them on their home grass last week.  I think they will be, and I also believe that Jacksonville’s inept offense against Denver’s D is a mismatch in favor of the hosts.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 21-7

CAROLINA (1-1) at ATLANTA (0-2)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Panthers favored by 4

Strongest Trend:  The visiting team has won five of the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Panthers won at Atlanta, 10-3, last Christmas Eve.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina was embarrassed at home, yielding 34 unanswered points in a 34-21 loss to Houston.  The Panthers have a share of first place in the NFC South.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta lost at Jacksonville a week ago, 13-7, and has managed just 10 points over its first two weeks.

Fantasy Factor:  Expect the Falcons offense to improve on the first two weeks, but not by a lot.  RB Warrick Dunn is a decent play.  For Carolina, the passing game has enjoyed a bounty in each of the first two weeks.  That should continue.  The Panthers defense is also a solid start.  Steer clear of RBs DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams because they continue to share the workload fairly evenly.

Game Summary:  Will the real Carolina Panthers please rise?  The actual Panthers are probably closer to the group that whipped the Rams in St. Louis in Week 1 instead of last week’s victims at home to Houston.  Atlanta simply can’t sustain an attack because it has no passing game.  That spells too much pressure on the defense.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 19-13

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 4

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won five of the last six meetings, SU and ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Giants won on the road, 34-28, last Dec. 30.

Giants Status Report:  New York got whupped on at home by Green Bay last week, 35-13, and is tied for last place with Philadelphia in the NFC East.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington knocked off the Eagles at Philadelphia Monday night, 20-12, and is tied with Dallas on top of the NFC East.

Fantasy Factor:  I still like the Giants passing game, with QB Eli Manning and WR Plaxico Burress – as long as the latter is physically right. Don’t expect much from Derrick Ward and the G-Men’s running attack.  For Washington, RB Clinton Portis ran hard and often a week ago, but his stats weren’t impressive (he did score once).  The Redskins passing game is better off ignored, even in what looks like a favorable match-up, because of its inconsistency.  For instance, WR Santana Moss can be electrifying but he drops balls and disappears for extended periods.

Game Summary:  Uh oh… another Upset Special.  Why?  Well, because I’m not convinced the Giants are really that bad – their defense is playing poorly, but Washington doesn’t have the attack to truly exploit it.  Nor do I believe the Redskins are the best thing since the invention of ATMs.  The Eagles played poorly Monday night but were still in position to win that game.  Because of the records, a Giants win would be considered a shocker to some.  But I believe these clubs are relatively evenly-matched when you consider the Giants have a more potent offense, the Redskins a better D.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 24-23

DALLAS (2-0) at CHICAGO (1-1)
Sunday, Sept. 23, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Bears favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last five meetings, and covered ATS in all five.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at home, 21-7, on Thanksgiving Day in 2004.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas stayed unbeaten with a 37-20 pasting of the Dolphins at Miami Sunday.  The Cowboys are co-leaders of the NFC East with Washington.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago turned back visiting Kansas City last week, 20-10.  The Bears trail Green Bay and Detroit by a game each in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factor:  A fun clash of titans featuring Dallas’ No. 1-rated scoring offense against a Bears defense which has allowed just 24 points in two weeks.  Against the Chicago D, any Cowboys player is somewhat of a risk save for WR Terrell Owens, who you have to start.  For the Bears, look for the passing game to air it out against Dallas’ so-so secondary.  That could mean a lot of aerials to WR Bernard Berrian and perhaps TE Desmond Clark.  Both defenses are worthy as well – the Cowboys because Chicago’s offense is pedestrian, and the Bears’ D because… it’s the Bears’ D.

Game Summary:  This is a tough call, because defense usually trumps offense and yet I believe the Cowboys are a better overall team at this juncture.  The tiebreaker for me is the decisive homefield edge enjoyed in this series by both teams going back several years.  But a Dallas win certainly wouldn’t be shocking.

Prediction:  BEARS, 24-17

Monday, Sept. 24, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 4½

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  The Titans triumphed at home, 27-12, in 2003.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans was whipped decisively at Tampa Bay last week, 31-14, and is at the bottom of the NFC South (along with Atlanta).

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee played tough as expected but eventually succumbed to defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis at home, 22-20.  The Titans are tied with Jacksonville in the AFC South, a game back of the Colts and Houston.

Fantasy Factor:  It’s primarily a hunch because the numbers suggest otherwise after two weeks, but expect the New Orleans passing attack to right itself and put up some nice numbers in front of the home folks.  QB Drew Brees and WR Marques Colston should excel under the lights.  For the Titans, both Lendale White and Chris Brown are OK plays despite negating each other’s full value.  The passing game could be good, too, although the Titans’ crew of receivers is nothing to get worked up about.  Even against New Orleans’ suspect secondary, the ball could be spread to several sources and QB Vince Young is never a fantasy lock to throw for substantial yardage.  With that said, I expect the Saints defense to be better this week too.

Game Summary:  We will find out if the Saints are truly a quality team and if so many pundits were justified predicting them to make their first Super Bowl trip.  It’s one thing to get your collective butts handed to you at Indianapolis, and another still to lose outside on the grass of Tampa’s Sombrero.  But in the Saints’ home opener, against a mid-level foe, and before a national TV Monday night audience, the Saints should come marching home with a big victory.  If not, a new NFC favorite will have to be anointed.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 38-20

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