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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 5
Bob Cunningham
October 4, 2007

As you may recall, I mentioned in this space last week that it looks like we’re in for another odd NFL season.

Okay, consider Week 4.  In 14 games, the underdog won outright nine times.

A couple of those may have been avoidable, though, if not for some truly dreadful coaching.  Culprit No. 1 is San Diego’s Norv Turner, who saw his star running back, LaDainian Tomlinson, get untracked to the tune of 16 carries for 114 yards in the first half, then let him carry the ball a whopping six more times the rest of the way as the Chargers squandered a 16-6 halftime lead and lost at home to Kansas City, 30-16.

That defies explanation.  Even my wife would have simply continued to fee L.T. the ball, mixing in a few passes (mostly to Antonio Gates) along the way to keep the Chiefs defense honest.

Turner’s explanation for the loss.  Lack of execution.  Sure… a coach should be executed for being so stupid.

Then there was Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, who watched for four quarters as his left tackle (some dude named Justice) continually got beat by the New York Giants’ defensive end not named Michael Strahan to the tune of six sacks by this individual, and 12 in all by the G-Men.  Did Reid adjust the protection scheme? Well, if he did, it wasn’t noticeable.  Did he put in a new tackle? Nope.  And with the game still winnable for the Eagles, and the offense facing a key third down late in the contest, Reid again failed to give his tackle some help.  Justice was beaten one-on-one, yet again, for the final sack which sewed up the Giants’ 16-3 victory Sunday night.

And it’s QB Donovan McNabb who has caught much of the crap this week for the performance – no more than a white QB would in the same situation – but more than what is fair, all the same.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  40-22 (65 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  32-25-5 (56 percent)
Last Week:  7-7 SU, 8-6 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 5: 


CLEVELAND (2-2) at NEW ENGLAND (4-0)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 16½

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

Last Meeting:  The Patriots won easily at Cleveland, 42-15, in 2004.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland improved to 2-0 at home against division foes, with a 27-13 triumph over Baltimore on Sunday.  The Browns are a game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Patriots Status Report:  New England traveled to Cincinnati Monday night and whipped the Bengals, 34-13.  The Patriots have a three-game AFC East lead already, over Buffalo and the New York Jets.

Fantasy Factors:  New England’s defense has been so tight, there simply are no Browns that should be recommended.  For the Patriots, check the status of RB Laurence Maroney.  Sammy Morris did an outstanding job filling in Monday, and either is a solid play in this matchup along with usual suspects Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Benjamin Watson.

Game Summary:  I think the Browns are obviously better than they’re given credit for, but the oddsmakers and public are so enamored with New England, the Patriots are made more than two-touchdown favorites.  The Pats will need to protect from looking ahead to next week clash at Dallas… and the Browns will be aggressive because they have nothing to lose.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 27-13


MIAMI (0-4) at HOUSTON (2-2)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Texans favored by 5½   

Strongest Trend:  Houston has won the last two meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Texans won at home, 17-15, a year ago Monday.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami dropped into sole possession of last place in the AFC with its 35-17 home loss to Oakland Sunday.

Texans Status Report:  After beginning the season with two victories, Houston dropped its second in a row last weekend, 26-16 at previously winless Atlanta.  The Texans fell to last in the AFC South, two games behind Indianapolis.

Fantasy Factors:  Miami RB Ronnie Brown had a strong game against the Raiders, and is a solid play this week although Houston rush defense ranks sixth in the league.  For Houston, QB Matt Schaub is a decent option as is burly running back Ron Dayne.

Game Summary:  Sooner or later, the Dolphins will break through.  The numbers for this one suggest later, though.  The Texans are superior defensively, and that will be the difference here as both offenses struggle.

Prediction:  TEXANS, 20-10


NEW YORK JETS at NEW YORK GIANTS
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 3½

Strongest Trend:  The Giants have won the last two meetings that counted.

Last Meeting:  The Giants won, 31-28, in 2003 (officially, as the visiting team).

Jets Status Report:  The Jets lost at Buffalo Sunday, 17-14.  They are tied with the Bills in the AFC East, three back of New England.

Giants Status Report:   After an 0-2 start, the Giants are back at break-even after a 16-3 whipping of visiting Philadelphia Sunday night.  The Giants are third in the NFC East, two behind Dallas and a half-game back of Washington.

Fantasy Factors:  Both teams will run, of course.  Early in the season, the Giants seemed to be easy fodder for opposing passing attacks.  But not last week.  The Jets’ receiving duo of Jericho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles are modest starts at best.  Giants QB Eli Manning and WR Plaxico Burress are pretty much every-week starters, but TE Jeremy Shockey has been disappointing so far.

Game Summary:   The Giants appear to be hitting their stride, as their defense has managed to reverse the early season misfortunes.  The Jets are running in place… there just isn’t anything special about that team.  As exciting as vanilla extract.  The boys in blue get it done.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 27-17


SEATTLE (3-1) at PITTSBURGH (3-1)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 5½  

Strongest Trends:  The home team is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, but excluding Super Bowl XL, the Seahawks have covered ATS in the last seven regular season meetings between these two. 

Last Meeting:  Pittsburgh won Super Bowl XL, 21-10.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle rolled at San Francisco on Sunday, 23-3, and is just a botched snap at Arizona away from being unbeaten.  The Seahawks lead the NFC West by a game over the Cardinals and 49ers.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh suffered its first loss of 2007, 21-14 at Arizona.  The Steelers remain atop the AFC North, a game ahead of Baltimore and Cleveland.

Fantasy Factor:  Tough matchup for the Seahawks, even though QB Matt Hasselbeck has been playing well.  The Steelers will do what they always do at home – run a lot and go for the big play.  Check the status of WR Hines Ward, and consider receiver Santonio Holmes, who probably won’t go 126 yards and two TDs again as he did against the Cardinals, but he can surely break another big play or three.

Game Summary:  It will be interesting to see how the Steelers respond to their first defeat, after having waxed their first three overmatched opponents.  The Seahawks are a solid club, and an upset is not out of the realm of reality… but I can’t and won’t pick against the Steelers at home at this point, primarily because they’re still in the top 10 leaguewide in rushing, offense, rushing defense, and turnover ratio – the big three.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 28-20


JACKSONVILLE (2-1) at KANSAS CITY (2-2)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Jaguars favored by 2  

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won at home, 35-30, last New Year’s Eve.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville was off last week.  The Jags are tied for second in the AFC South, 1½  games back of Indianapolis.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City has won two in a row including Sunday’s shocking come-from-behind 30-16 victory at San Diego.  The Chiefs are tied with Denver and Oakland for top honors in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  The Chiefs can be run on, so this could be the game that RBs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor get things working.  KC QB Damon Huard looked strong last week – but he’s not a legit fantasy starter just yet.  WR Dwayne Bowe is, however, to go along with RB Larry Johnson, who finally topped the century mark last week.

Game Summary:  Momentum is important, and getting rest during a bye week can be vital.  Kansas City has the former, the Jaguars the latter. This game comes down to homefield advantage – which the Chiefs have enjoyed in bad times and good.  But this game won’t be the shootout that last year’s clash became.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 20-17


ATLANTA (1-3) at TENNESSEE (2-1)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 8½

Strongest Trend:  The Titans have won and covered in the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  Tennessee won at Atlanta, 38-31, in 2003.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta captured its first win of the season Sunday, 26-16 over visiting Houston.  The Falcons are third in the NFC South, two games behind first-place Tampa Bay and a game back of Carolina.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee was on a bye last week.  The Titans are tied with Jacksonville for second in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Joey Harrington has played relatively well in two straight games, but this is tough matchup.  Any Falcons would be risky plays.  For the Titans, QB Vince Young and RB Lendale White are safe starts, with TE Bo Scaife a reasonable play, especially in larger formats.  Tennessee’s defense is worth a look, too.

Game Summary:  The Titans showed a lot in their last game, a Monday night whipping of the Saints at New Orleans.  Yes, the Saints have struggled.  But the Titans’ aggressive young defense had a lot to do with it.  And offensively, the Titans appear to be getting better each week.

Prediction:   TITANS, 31-14


DETROIT (3-1) at WASHINGTON (2-1)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 3½

Strongest Trend:  The home team is 10-1 SU, 9-2 ATS in the last 11 meetings.

Last Meeting:  Washington won at Detroit, 17-10, in 2004.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit defeated visiting Chicago Sunday, 37-27.  The Lions are second in the NFC North, a game behind Green Bay.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington was on its bye last week, and are sitting second in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  To have a shot, the Lions will have to throw successfully.  QB Jon Kitna and WR Roy Williams are solid starts.  Rookie wideout Calvin Williams was sidelined last week and would be a riskier play if he gets the medical go-ahead.  This is a sweet matchup for the Skins – QB Jason Campbell, TE Chris Cooley and WR Santana Moss (especially Moss) make sense, and RB Clinton Portis should be a go as well.

Game Summary:  The Redskins are at home, and rested… plus, during the bye they were able to savor their upset win at Philadelphia from Week 2 despite the loss to the Giants the next week.  There’s no chance they will take a 3-1 Lions club lightly.  For Detroit, there remains a lingering doubt that it is a playoff-caliber club that can go on the road and have consistent success.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 31-20


CAROLINA (2-2) at NEW ORLEANS (0-3)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Panthers favored by 3  

Strongest Trend:  Remarkably, the road team has covered ATS 10 straight times in this series.  Straight-up, the visitors won eight of those 10.  Carolina has won its last six trips to New Orleans.

Last Meeting:  The Panthers won at New Orleans, 31-21, last New Year’s Eve.

Panthers Status Report:  With QB Jake Delhomme sidelined, the Panthers offense repeatedly misfired in a 20-7 home loss to Tampa Bay last weekend.  Carolina trails the Bucs by a game in the NFC South.

Saints Status Report:  Last-place New Orleans was off last week.

Fantasy Factors:  New Orleans defense has struggled, but if the Panthers are forced to go with David Carr at QB again the expectations for guys like WR Steve Smith and TE Jeff King need to be modest.  The Saints’ attack, minus RB Deuce McAlister, might not necessarily rely more on Reggie Bush although Bush is obviously a good start.  RB Aaron Stecker may take a lot of McAlister’s former workload.  As for the passing game, if you have QB Drew Brees you probably have to start him.  But the ideal scenario would to be wait for Brees and WR Marques Colston to get one decent game under their belts before committing to them.

Game Summary:  It might be the dumbest thing in the world to go against such a strong trend as the one noted above regarding the Panthers’ success at The Superdome.  And normally, I wouldn’t.  But I believe in Saints coach Sean Payton…believe that he and his team benefited from the bye week and were able to make some major adjustments that will turn the team’s fortunes around.  Remember, this is the club many predicted would reach its first Super Bowl… a club that advanced to the NFC Title Game a year ago.  Speaking of belief systems, I don’t believe in Carr.  Without Delhomme at the controls, I don’t like the Panthers’ chances against anyone.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 24-17


ARIZONA (2-2) AT ST. LOUIS (0-4)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Cardinals favored by 3½  

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

Last Meeting:  The Cardinals won at St. Louis, 34-20, last December.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona rallied past visiting Pittsburgh last Sunday, 21-14.  The Cardinals are tied with San Francisco for second in the NFC West, a game behind Seattle.

Rams Status Report:  Injury-plagued St. Louis lost at Dallas, 35-7.

Fantasy Factors:  The Rams defense played well last week until the last 20 minutes or so.  Still, it’s a good matchup for the Cardinals.  Playing either of QBs Matt Leinart or Kurt Warner is risky, but RB Edgerrin James and WR Larry Fitzgerald are better than average.  Check on the health of WR Anquan Boldin, and if you know he’s starting, play him.  All Rams starters are poor options for the time being, with the iffy exception of WR Torry Holt.  Wow, never thought I’d write that about the Rams when they were facing the Cardinals at home.

Game Summary:  The Cardinals are brimming with confidence – they nearly beat Baltimore on the road and handled the vaunted Steelers at home – but they still have to prove they can win the games they’re supposed to win, on the road.  The trend in this series is for the visitors to have success, and I’ll stick with that because the Rams are so beaten up.  But a Rams win wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Prediction:  CARDINALS, 20-13


TAMPA BAY (3-1) at INDIANAPOLIS (4-0)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 10

Strongest Trends:  The road team is 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings, but the Colts are 3-1 in those four contests.

Last Meeting:  The Colts won at Tampa Bay, 38-35, in 2003.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay’s 20-7 conquest of the Panthers at Carolina last week was its third straight victory, and vaulted the Bucs into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Colts Status Report:  Indy overcame an early deficit to whip visiting Denver on Sunday, 38-20.  The Colts lead the AFC South by 1½ games over Tennessee and Jacksonville.

Fantasy Factors:  In my unique way of grasping the obvious, I can tell you with complete certainty that QB Peyton Manning is a must-start… but it’s gets unusually sketchy for the Colts after that.  RB Joseph Addai reportedly will start, but make sure you verify that if you can.  If he doesn’t, Kenton Keith makes a nice sleeper play.  Another babe in the woods could be rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez, who figures to get more looks if veteran Marvin Harrison can’t go.  Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark?  Yes, of course.  For the Bucs, the running game is confusing – do we like Earnest Graham or Michael Pittman?  In larger leagues, both have value… but truly, you’re better off using someone else.  Indy’s pass defense is playing well, so QB Jeff Garcia doesn’t warrant a thumbs up this week, but WR Joey Galloway is still a sensible start.

Game Summary:  I believe the Bucs are for real.  Reeling off three straight wins is enough on its own to reach that conclusion, but we’re talking about a franchise that won the Super Bowl only a few years and who has one of the brightest head coaches in the game.  All that said, the Colts are the clear choice at home even with their assorted ailments on offense.  Tampa Bay’s rejuvenated D is good enough to keep things interesting, however.

Prediction:  COLTS, 28-21


BALTIMORE (2-2) at SAN FRANCISCO (2-2)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Ravens favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last five meetings, including 4-1 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Ravens won in a rout at home, 44-6, in 2003.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore got manhandled at Cleveland last week, 27-13.  The Ravens are tied with the Browns for second in the AFC North, a game back of Pittsburgh.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was dominated at home by Seattle, falling 23-3.  The 49ers trail the Seahawks by a game in the NFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  The Ravens offense has been inconsistent, but the gameplan is unlikely to change – run the ball, especially against the league’s 25th-rated run defense.  If RB Willis McGahee is your No. 2 guy, you’re in OK shape.  Regarding TE Todd Heap, check his injury status closer to Sunday. He’s nursing a sore hamstring. For the 49ers, RB Frank Gore is an every-week type, but it’s a bad matchup made worse by the woes of the passing game.  Veteran Trent Dilfer starts at QB – so avoid anything relative to the 49ers through the air.

Game Summary:  This is a tough game to assess.  The Ravens are all over the map, the 49ers littered about the trainer’s room.  Dilfer will be fired up to do something against his former team and coach whom he QB’d to a Super Bowl victory several years back.  The game is a toss-up, but I have to go with the healthier club at this juncture.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 16-10


SAN DIEGO (1-3) at DENVER (2-2)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Broncos favored by 1½   

Strongest Trends:  The visiting team is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, but just 2-4 straight-up. Denver is 1-9 ATS in its last 10 home games overall.

Last Meeting:  The Chargers romped at home, 48-20, last December.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego squandered a 10-point halftime lead at home to Kansas City Sunday, losing its third straight, 30-16, to fall into last place in the AFC West.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver’s 38-20 loss at Indianapolis Sunday was its second in a row.  The Broncos are tied with Oakland and Kansas City for first in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  With head coach Norv Turner, there’s no telling what could transpire for the Chargers offense.  Logically, LaDainian Tomlinson figures to have a big day against a rushing defense ranked second-to-last in the league.  Undoubtedly, though, Denver will put, like, 12 guys in the box and challenged QB Phillip Rivers.  Look for Denver to do something weird – put their top cover corner, Champ Bailey, on a tight end.  San Diego’s Antonio Gates is that good, and is an every week play.  For Denver, check the health status of Travis Henry… and keep going with young WR Brandon Marshall. Also determine the status of WR Javon Walker, who missed last week.

Game Summary:  In this space last week, I essentially defended Turner’s 1-2 start. But after watching him forget about Tomlinson in the second half against the Chiefs after L.T. had a huge first two quarters, I retract any nice thing I might have said or implied.  The Broncos need this game as badly as the Chargers do and, well, it looks to me like Mike Shanahan vs. Turner is a coaching mismatch.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 21-17


CHICAGO (1-3) at GREEN BAY (4-0)
Sunday, Oct. 7, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Packers favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The visiting team is 5-1 SU and ATS in the last six meetings. The Bears have won their last three trips to Wisconsin.

Last Meeting:  The Packers won at Chicago, 26-7, in a meaningless (for the Bears) regular season finale last New Year’s Eve.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago yielded a league-record 34 fourth-quarter points a week ago and lost at Detroit, 37-27.  The Bears are tied with Minnesota at the bottom of the NFC North.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay triumphed at Minnesota, 23-16, and is alone atop the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  It’s not a good matchup for the Bears, with Green Bay’s defense playing so tough to date.  K Robbie Gould is the best option.  For the Packers, QB Brett Favre obviously has the Fountain of Youth bubbling in his backyard at home. He’s playing every bit as well as he did in his prime – and making fewer mistakes – and deserves a regular starting nod.  Forget the Green Bay running game, which is the worst in the league, but the receivers – Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, rookie James Jones, and tight ends Donald Lee and Bubba Franks – are all worth looks.  Driver is the only definite start, however. 

Game Summary:  My Upset Special, and I readily admit there’s not a lot of logic behind this selection.  I went against the Packers last week, believing that Minnesota at home in its dome and sporting a pretty decent defense would be enough to sidetrack the Packers express for the week.  But you have to have some offense to go with it.  Do the Bears have any?  Okay, not really.  Could be the same trap from a prognosticating perspective.  But the Bears have the defense to get it done, and they’re due to play like defending conference champs.  And they desperately need this game.  On the national stage, Favre usually comes up big.  But he also often does some really dumb stuff.  Chicago LB Brian Urlacher is Sunday night’s hero, and the NFC North will tighten up a little.

Prediction:  BEARS, 17-14


DALLAS (4-0) at BUFFALO (1-3)
Monday, Oct. 8, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 10

Strongest Trends:  The Bills are 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings.  All four meetings went under the total.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at home, 10-6, in 2003.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas routed visiting St. Louis Sunday, 35-7, and is alone atop the NFC East.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo snapped a season-opening three-game skid with a 17-14 home win over the New York Jets last week.  They are tied with the Jets for second in the AFC East – a distant three back of New England.

Fantasy Factors:  The Cowboys offensive mainstays are all solid starts, including both RBs – Marion Barber and Julius Jones.  WR Patrick Crayton will crash back to reality after his big game against the Rams, but he’s still a legit playa.  For Buffalo, rookie RB Marshawn Lynch is solid, but the passing game is tough to recommend – rookie QB Trent Edwards, under-achieving No. 1 receiver Lee Evans…  Avoid.

Game Summary:  It’d be a lot of fun to predict the shocking upset for the Bills.  But that would be my heart talking, and my head – plus all the stats and stuff strewn about my desk – says Dallas will get to 5-0.  Tell you what, though.  The numbers also say 10 points on the road is a bit much, and when you consider the Cowboys face New England next week, they might get caught sneaking a peak at the Patriots and losing just a little focus on the task at hand.  So the call here is that the Bills keep it close.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 27-21

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