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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 7
Bob Cunningham
October 18, 2007

Man, I called that one.  I was doing typically well picking upsets this season, and then I go and boast about it – just a little – in this space, and whammo!!... Patriots 48, Cowboys 27.

I don’t suppose it matters that Dallas had the lead with less than five minutes left in the third quarter before getting outscored 27-3 the rest of the way?  Didn’t think so.

Hey, it’s a new week.  Time for more laughs.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  58-31 (65 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  42-39-8 (52 percent)
Last Week:  7-6 SU, 5-6-2 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 7: 

NEW ENGLAND (6-0) at MIAMI (0-6)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 16½

Strongest Trends:  The home team is 12-3 ATS in the last 15 meetings.  Miami is 7-2 ATS in its last nine home games vs. New England.

Last Meeting:  Miami stunned the visiting Patriots, 21-0, last December.

Patriots Status Report:  In their toughest test to date, the Patriots overcame a three-point third quarter deficit to romp at Dallas, 48-27.  New England leads the AFC East by 4½ games over Buffalo.

Dolphins Status Report:  The Dolphins remained without a victory after falling at Cleveland, 41-31, on Sunday.

Fantasy Factors:  New England’s passing game, with QB Tom Brady throwing for what seems like seven touchdowns every weekend, is obviously a full-time go.  WRs Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth, and TE Ben Watson (check health status) are great plays.  The running game is a little more iffy, because the health of Laurence Maroney is in question, and Sammy Morris is out.  That makes veteran Kevin Faulk an intriguing guy this week.  For Miami, RB Ronnie Brown is the only certain start although despite the bad matchup, WRs Marty Booker and Ted Ginn Jr. get a bump in value due to the trade of Chris Chambers to San Diego.

Game Summary:  Obviously a mismatch, but there are other factors to consider here.  Miami has been a thorn in the Patriots’ sides many times over the last few years, especially at home.  I must be nuts, because the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results… i.e., picking underdogs against New England and actually expecting them to cover.  Here I go again, because I just can’t get myself to pass on a 2½-touchdown home divisional ‘dog… especially one which has had success in this series. Eventually, the Pats are going to fail to cover a spread and, by-golly, I’ll get it right when that happens.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 31-17

BALTIMORE (4-2) at BUFFALO (1-4)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Ravens favored by 3   

Strongest Trend:  The Ravens are 3-0 SU and ATS in the last three meetings, not counting preseason games.

Last Meeting:  Baltimore prevailed at home, 19-7, last New Year’s Eve.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore shut down visiting St. Louis Sunday for a 22-3 victory.  The Ravens trail front-running Pittsburgh by a game in the AFC North.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo was off last week after having suffered the cruel 25-24 Monday night loss to Dallas in Week 5.  The Bills are second in the AFC East – but couldn’t see first-place New England with a telescope.

Fantasy Factors:  Baltimore’s defense is starting to look again as if it is among the league’s stingiest, and on paper the Bills offense doesn’t figure to challenge it much.  Buffalo hasn’t determined its starting QB as I write this, but neither J.P. Losman nor Trent Edwards make smart starts.  Neither does RB Marshawn Lynch, unless you have no legitimate alternatives.  In short, bench all Bills except their defense.  For Baltimore, QB Kyle Boller gets another start but my recommendations are limited to RB Willis McGahee and WR Derrick Mason, the latter isn’t scoring but he’s getting a ton of looks every week.

Game Summary:  We’ve reached my Upset Special early this week.  I like the Bills to get it done because, a) the Ravens will again be without QB Steve McNair, b) the Bills are at home, c) the Bills are forcing turnovers at a solid rate and should do so again with Boller at Baltimore’s controls, d) the Ravens have been unimpressive, save for last week against a totally under-manned Rams squad.  Although the Dallas game ended up being a major downer for the Bills, I believe they were able to take something from it.  Their defense will get it done.

Prediction:  BILLS, 13-10

TENNESSEE (3-2) at HOUSTON (3-3)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 1½  

Strongest Trends:  The Titans have won the last four meetings, going 3-1 ATS.  They are 4-1 SU in their last five at Houston.

Last Meeting:  The Titans won at Houston, 26-20, last December.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee’s offense couldn’t muster much, especially after QB Vince Young left the game with a strained quadriceps, and the Titans lost at Tampa Bay, 13-10, last week.  They are third in the AFC South, two games back of Indianapolis.

Texans Status Report:   Houston got whupped at Jacksonville a week ago, 37-17, to fall to .500 and last place in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  Young’s status means everything.  If he plays, everyone else is more of a threat – but with that said, I don’t like any other Titan.  The best WR for Tennessee, Brandon Jones, is out of action. The running game has been stagnant of late, so neither Lendale White nor Chris Brown make compelling starts.  For Houston, RB Ahman Green is a fair start and WR Kevin Walter is a decent sleeper.  WR Andre Johnson may make an earlier-than-expected return to the lineup as well, but the smart move would be to avoid starting him and, if all goes well, resume utilizing him in Week 8. QB Matt Schaub is serviceable, but not recommended.

Game Summary:   If Young plays, the Titans make a strong pick.  If he doesn’t, and Tennessee is forced to opt for veteran QB Kerry Collins, the game becomes a virtual toss-up.  Defensively, the Titans continue to play well and my educated guess is that unit can carry the team here.

Prediction:  TITANS, 17-13

Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 8½   

Strongest Trend:  Washington has won seven of the last eight meetings, going 6-2 ATS. 

Last Meeting:  The Redskins won at Arizona, 17-13, in 2005.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona is on its third QB, after losing Matt Leinart two weeks ago and Kurt Warner last week.  The Cardinals were beaten at home by Carolina, 25-10, but remain tied for first with Seattle in the NFC West.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington lost at Green Bay Sunday, 17-14.  The Redskins are third in the NFC East, a half-game behind the New York Giants and 1½ back of first-place Dallas.

Fantasy Factors:  It’s tough to recommend any Cardinals, but RB Edgerrin James has been productive… and Arizona will certainly need him this week.  I’d recommend sitting the WRs, including Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin if he returns.  QB Kurt Warner might play, but it’s unlikely.  For Washington, the running game continues to separate the carries, but Clinton Portis remains its best option.  QB Jason Campbell and WR Santana Moss are fair plays, and TE Chris Cooley is a stud in leagues which use TE as a separate position.  The Redskins defense is a strong start.

Game Summary:  Washington’s defense continues to play well and the Cardinals seem overmatched with all their ailments.  When you also consider the Cardinals have rarely had success at Washington over the years, the Redskins to win by a couple of touchdowns would seem a straight-forward choice.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 20-7

Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 9½  

Strongest Trend:  The Giants have covered three in a row in this series.

Last Meeting:  The Giants won at San Francisco, 24-6, in 2005.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was off last week.  The 49ers are third in the NFC West, but just a half-game behind co-leaders Arizona and Seattle.

Giants Status Report:  New York’s 31-10 clubbing of host Atlanta Monday night was its fourth straight victory.  The Giants trail Dallas by a game in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Alex Smith reportedly resumed practicing this week, but Trent Dilfer will still probably get the start.  Doesn’t matter much, actually, because the 49ers’ attack has been non-existent either way.  RB Frank Gore continues to be a reasonable play, but otherwise the 49ers offense should be avoided.  For the Giants, the running game pecking order is unclear due to minor injuries – RBs Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Reuben Droughns have all seen significant action of late.  QB Eli Manning and WR Plaxico Burress are strong starts, TE Jeremy Shockey has to have a big game some time, and Amani Toomer still gets his share of looks.  Start the Giants defense as well.

Game Summary:  San Francisco’s defense could keep this one fairly close, but the 49ers just don’t have the meat with their offense to seriously threaten an upset here. The hot hand is the Giants, especially at home.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 23-13

TAMPA BAY (4-2) at DETROIT (3-2)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Lions favored by 2

Strongest Trends:  Tampa Bay has won the last four meetings, but Detroit covered ATS in all four.  The Bucs have won their last three trips to Detroit.

Last Meeting:  Tampa Bay won at home, 17-13, in 2005.

Bucs Status Report:  Tampa Bay held off Tennessee at home last week, 13-10.  The Buccaneers are tied with Carolina for top honors in the NFC South.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit was off last week.  The Lions are second in the NFC North, 1½ games behind Green Bay.

Fantasy Factors:  Tampa Bay’s banged-up running game may have gotten some help with the acquisition of Michael Bennett from Kansas City, but don’t expect much out of Bennett this week because he still needs to learn the system.  RB Earnest Graham is a fair play.  The Bucs’ passing game is a decent go here, meaning QB Jeff Garcia and WR Joey Galloway only.  For Detroit, QB Jon Kitna and WR Roy Williams are strong starts, but go with anyone else at your own risk.

Game Summary:  The Lions are rested and playing at home.  Tampa Bay is coming off a tough defensive struggle with Tennessee.  I like Detroit at home in a close game.

Prediction:   LIONS, 24-21

ATLANTA (1-5) at NEW ORLEANS (1-4)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 9

Strongest Trend:  The Saints are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  New Orleans triumphed at Atlanta last November, 31-13.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta got thumped at home on national TV by the New York Giants, 31-10.  The Falcons are last in the NFC South.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans snapped a season-opening four-game losing streak with a stunning 28-17 victory at Seattle Sunday night.  The Saints are third in the NFC South, a half-game ahead of the Falcons.

Fantasy Factor:  Atlanta RB Jerious Norwood showed a good burst Monday night – as he usually does whenever he gets a chance to play.  Coach Bobby Petrino looks as if he’s finally realizing Norwood is a weapon.  He’s a good sleeper play this week.  TE Alge Crumpler looks totally uninspired, but he’s still a decent option compared to other second-tier players at his position.  That’s right… I said second-tier.  The Saints offense came alive last week, and this is a juicy matchup.  QB Drew Brees and RB Reggie Bush are strong starts, and I believe WR Marques Colston is too despite the TD last week being his only catch.  Don’t get all weird about WR David Patten, just because he was the go-to guy last week.  He’s a start only in larger leagues as a third receiver.  Let him string together two or three worthy efforts, first. TE Eric Johnson is a decent play.  Even the Saints defense is OK this week, but there’s definitely risk with such an unpredictable unit.

Game Summary:  This is a rivalry game, and while I agree with the masses that New Orleans is a quality team which could go on a major roll after its poor start, this is still a team with some issues… such as inconsistent defensive play and an iffy ground game with Bush as the focus.  The Saints at home are the clear choice, but Atlanta keeps it respectable.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 28-20

Sunday, Oct. 21, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Bengals favored by 6   

Strongest Trends:  The Jets have won the last four meetings, but Cincinnati is 3-1 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Jets were victorious at home, 31-24, in 2004.

Jets Status Report:  New York was beaten at home by Philadelphia a week ago, 16-9, and is third in the AFC East.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati dropped its fourth in a row Sunday, 27-20 at Kansas City, and is last in the AFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  The Bengals have struggled on defense, but it’s still tough to show a lot of confidence in members of the Jets.  RB Thomas Jones ran well last week and is a reasonable start, but questions surrounding QB Chad Pennington lead to uncertainty with WRs Laveraues Coles and Jericho Cotchery.  TE Chris Baker was a non-factor last week. The Bengals passing game, with QB Carson Palmer and receivers Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmanzadeh, are no-brainer starts.  The running game is a problem – Rudi Johnson played last week but got only four carries.  He’s listed as probable, so do you start him or backup Kenny Watson?  Answer: avoid both if at all possible.

Game Summary:  Both teams desperately need the game, but only one of the clubs is playing at home and sports superior talent.   The Jets’ defense could lead an upset, but I doubt it.   Cincinnati’s high-powered offense will be more than enough this week.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 38-24

KANSAS CITY (3-3) at OAKLAND (2-3)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Raiders favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The Chiefs have won the last eight meetings.  The road team is 7-1 ATS in the last eight.

Last Meeting:  Kansas City won at Oakland, 20-9, in December.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City turned back visiting Cincinnati last week, 27-20.  The Chiefs are tied with San Diego atop the AFC West.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was whipped at San Diego a week ago, 28-14.  The Raiders are tied with Denver, a half-game behind the AFC West co-leaders.

Fantasy Factors:  The Kansas City running game looks as if it is making a return to prominence, at least against the league’s poorer rush defenses.  Oakland’s ranks 28th, so RB Larry Johnson is an obvious start.  The passing game isn’t as safe – QB Damon Huard hasn’t been very good away from home.  TE Tony Gonzalez is an always-start guy and rookie WR Dwayne Bowe is decent as well.  For the Raiders, RB Lamont Jordan looked good last week, and QB Daunte Culpepper has his moments.  The passing game isn’t doing much overall, however.  Both defenses are reasonable starts.

Game Summary:  Kansas City has owned this series the last several years, and aside from that a definite pattern has developed with the Chiefs.  They are 3-1 against teams with losing records when they face them, 0-1 against the only winner.  Oakland looked bad last week, and the Raiders’ good performances this season have come against struggling Denver (and the Raiders still lost) and winless Miami.  They also eeked out a home win over Cleveland, that 3-3 juggernaut.  I’m not impressed.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 21-16

MINNESOTA (2-3) at DALLAS (5-1)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 9½

Strongest Trend:  Minnesota has won the last five meetings, and covered ATS in all five.

Last Meeting:  The Vikings won at home, 35-17, in 2004.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota rallied to knock off the Bears at Chicago Sunday, 34-31.  The Vikes are third in the NFC North, 2½ games behind Green Bay.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas suffered its first defeat last week, losing 48-27 at home to New England after owning a 24-21 lead with less than 20 minutes to play. The Cowboys lead the NFC East by a game over the New York Giants.

Fantasy Factors:  The Vikings’ running game is now tops in the league, with rookie Adrian Peterson breaking off one long run after another.  Ignore the Minnesota passing game entirely until it shows something for more than one week in a row.  Dallas’ attack remains solid – the passing game is a go with QB Tony Romo, WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten.  WR Patrick Crayton is also a decent start.  RBs Marion Barber and Julius Jones have been inconsistent, and the Vikings’ rush defense is second in the league.  Play ‘em only if you have no other realistic options.

Game Summary:  Dallas is a prohibitive favorite, but a closer examination of the Vikings would indicate they are better than their 2-3 record indicates. The three defeats are all by a TD or less and to quality foes (Green Bay, Detroit, Kansas City), including the latter two on the road.  They destroyed Atlanta at home, and won at Chicago after the defending conference champion Bears had seemingly built some momentum by winning at Green Bay the previous week.  What I’m getting at is that an upset is not out of the question, and the line is definitely too large.  I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be a close game. 

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 24-20

Sunday, Oct. 21, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 5

Strongest Trends:  Philadelphia has won the last five meetings, but the teams have alternated covering ATS, and it’s Chicago’s turn.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles won at Chicago, 19-9, in 2004.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago squandered a lead and lost at home to Minnesota last week, 34-31. The Bears are in last in the NFC North.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia plodded out a 16-9 victory over the New York Jets on the road.  They are still last, however, in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Brian Griese played well in last week’s loss and is a reasonable start.  Ditto WR Bernard Berrian.  RB Cedric Benson had a strong first quarter last week, averaging more than five yards on nine carries, but got the ball only that many more times the rest of the way.  He’s a risky play at best.  For Philly, QB Donovan McNabb has been statistically unimpressive this season save for the TD orgy against Detroit last month.  This seems a good matchup, though, because Chicago’s defense is definitely struggling.  RB Brian Westbrook is a must-start.  WR Kevin Curtis is a decent play, but he hasn’t been valuable week-to-week.

Game Summary:  The Eagles are another club which I think is better than its record.  Philly evens things up with a convincing home win over an impossible-to-predict foe.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 27-17

ST. LOUIS (0-6) at SEATTLE (3-3)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Seahawks favored by 9   

Strongest Trends:  The Seahawks have won the last four meetings.  The underdog is 8-1 ATS in the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  Seattle won at home, 24-22, last November.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis dropped its sixth in a row to open the season, 22-3 at Baltimore.

Seahawks Status Report:  The Seahawks’ 28-17 home loss to New Orleans Sunday night was their second straight.  They are co-leaders with Arizona atop the NFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Marc Bulger returns to the lineup for the Rams, and I believe that will invigorate the attack to some extent… to the extent that the banged-up offensive line can give him time to throw.  WR Torry Holt is an OK start, but everyone else needs to be avoided until the team gets healthier.  For Seattle, play all the key regulars – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, WR Bobby Engram.  Check the health status of WR Deion Branch, and if he starts play him too. Rookie wideout Ben Obomanu is a decent sleeper, but only if Branch and D.J. Hackett each sit again.  The Seahawks defense is a strong play as well.

Game Summary:  After losing last week, the Seahawks figure to be fighting mad and not about to lose two in a row on their home field.  A rout is definitely a possibility.  But the pattern in this series leans overwhelmingly to the dogs, so here’s a very tepid olive branch pick for the Rams to stay within the number.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 24-17

PITTSBURGH (4-1) at DENVER (2-3)
Sunday, Oct. 21, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 3½   

Strongest Trends:  The road team has covered ATS the last four meetings.  Denver is 1-11 ATS in its last 12 home games.

Last Meeting:  Denver rolled at Pittsburgh, 31-20, last November.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh was off last week.  The Steelers lead the AFC North by a half-game over Baltimore.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver was off last week and has lost three straight.  The Broncos are tied with Oakland in the AFC West, a half-game out of first.

Fantasy Factors:  Pittsburgh runs the ball extremely well.  Denver is dead last in the NFL in rushing defense.  Hmm…okay, I’ll go out on a limb and recommend RB Willie Parker.  Najeh Davenport, too, but only in larger leagues.  The passing game is a fair play – QB Ben Roethlisberger is a starter in most formats, but the health of WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes must be determined.  For Denver, roll with RB Travis Henry, who is rested and at least a month away from having to deal with his legal issues.  Yeah, it’s a tough matchup but Denver must run the ball effectively to win.  I know it, and Denver head coach Mike Shanahan knows it.  QB Jay Cutler is a decent start at home, along with WR Brandon Marshall.  WR Javon Walker has been out – check his status, but consider avoiding him either way.  TE’s Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham cancel each other out.

Game Summary:  I’m a fan of Shanahan.  He’s a quality coach – the 41-3 home loss to San Diego two weeks ago notwithstanding.  And so, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he had his team ready to play and the Broncos rambled to a home victory.  But the numbers point decisively to the visitors, and so does the history of this series.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 27-20

Monday, Oct. 22, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  No discernible pattern to report, except both teams are on extended winning streaks.

Last Meeting:  The Jaguars routed the visiting Colts, 44-17, last December.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis was off last week.  The Colts lead the AFC South by a game and a half over the Jaguars.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville has won four straight after a season-opening loss, including last week’s 37-17 romp over visiting Houston.

Fantasy Factors:  Regardless of how good the opposing defense is, you have to start all the key Colts.  Put it this way, you only bench Peyton Manning if you also have Tom Brady or Carson Palmer.  And if that’s the case, why the hell haven’t you traded one by now to help your team elsewhere?  RB Joseph Addai is probable, and good to go according to reports.  Same for veteran WR Marvin Harrison.  Jacksonville’s ground game has been great of late, so RBs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor (if healthy, which is always a factor with this guy) are logical starts.  But that’s about it for the Jags, unless you’re bold enough to stick with their defense. 

Game Summary:  Technically, I’m about to forecast an upset here.  But I don’t see Jacksonville winning at home over the Colts as an upset.  It’s a classic clash of awesome offense against dominating defense, and I like the latter… especially at home.  Over the long haul, I still believe the Colts are the better team.  But come Monday night, the Jaguars will be the ones who want it more, and control the trenches where big games are usually decided.

Prediction:  JAGUARS, 27-20

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