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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 8
Bob Cunningham
October 25, 2007

Happy birthday wishes to my oldest son, who turned 17 Wednesday.  Despite being my son, he’s not into football much this year… which I can understand, because his two favorite teams are the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons.  They of the combined 2-12 mark.

Of course, I’m a longtime Rams fan. The Jets and Falcons suddenly don’t look so bad.

On the prognosticating front, I got back on the winning side with my weekly upset specials, nailing Buffalo’s home win over Baltimore.  I realize just about every other pundit on the planet had that one, too, but hey – a win is a win is a win.  Still, my ATS picks have been mediocre for two weeks in a row, so it’s time to tighten things up.  As always, I’ll give it my best shot.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  69-34 (67 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  49-46-8 (52 percent)
Last Week:  11-3 SU, 7-7 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 8: 

NEW YORK GIANTS (5-2) vs. MIAMI (0-7) at London, England
Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 9½

Strongest Trend:  The Giants are 3-1 SU and ATS in the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Dolphins won at The Meadowlands, 23-10, in 2003.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami lost at home Sunday to New England, 49-28, and is one of two remaining winless teams.

Giants Status Report:  The Giants routed visiting San Francisco last week, 33-15, for their fifth consecutive victory and are second in the NFC East, a game behind Dallas.

Fantasy Factors:  Miami lost RB Ronnie Brown for the duration of the season with a knee injury, and the biggest benefactor would appear to be Jesse Chatman, but expect a fall-off in the Miami running attack.  The Cleo Lemon-led passing game isn’t recommended either.  For the Giants, all the key offensive starters – QB Eli Manning, RB Brandon Jacobs, WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, and TE Jeremy Shockey – are all solid starts, as is the Giants defense.

Game Summary:  If the weather is typical for Great Britain in October, the conditions will be damp and chilly… more like what you might find at The Meadowlands than in South Florida.  The Giants have the edge in every conceivable category.  Don’t overthink this one. I’m not.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 31-14

Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 3½    

Strongest Trend:  The road team has won the last six meetings, and eight of nine.  During that stretch, the visitors have posted a 7-1-1 mark ATS.

Last Meeting:  Pittsburgh won at Cincinnati, 23-17, last New Year’s Eve.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh lost Sunday night at Denver, 31-28, but continues to lead the AFC North, by a half-game over Baltimore.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a come-from-behind 38-31 victory over the visiting New York Jets.  The Bengals are last in the AFC North, but just two back of the Steelers.

Fantasy Factors:  The contest is likely to be higher scoring, meaning that the key offensive players on both teams are recommended, and the usually reliable Steelers defense might be worth a benching, especially considering their effort at Denver.

Game Summary:  Pittsburgh hasn’t been particularly impressive on the road, whipping Cleveland to open the season but since dropping games at Arizona and Denver.  The Bengals are probably better than their 2-4 record, but yielding 31 points to the Jets?  You must be joking.  The strong trend in this rivalry, for reasons unknown, has been for the visiting team to have the upper hand.  Who am I to buck that?

Prediction:  STEELERS, 35-27

CLEVELAND (3-3) at ST. LOUIS (0-7)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Browns favored by 3  

Strongest Trend:  None of note.

Last Meeting:  The Rams won at Cleveland, 26-20, in 2003.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland was off last week.  The Browns are third in the AFC North, a game behind first-place Pittsburgh.

Rams Status Report:   The winless Rams were hammered at Seattle, 33-6.

Fantasy Factors:  Cleveland QB Derek Anderson has been consistently productive, and should remain so in this game.  WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow are strong starts, too.  The Browns running game is not so recommended – the Rams did a good job limiting Seattle RB Shaun Alexander last week and assuming the return of RB Jamal Lewis, there are as many questions as answers.  For the Rams, I can’t recommend QB Marc Bulger even with a seemingly juicy home matchup although I’m rolling the dice with him on my personal team…so why don’t ya c’mon and join me.  WR Torry Holt is a solid start, and I like kicker Jeff Wilkins as well.  This game might mark the return of RB Stephen Jackson, who is a worthwhile start if you can somehow verify he’s going to get a relatively full workload.

Game Summary:   Two schools of thought here.  The most obvious is that Cleveland, at 3-3, is a better team than the winless Rams and therefore will probably find a way to win.  The other notion is that the Rams are bad but not bad enough to 0-16, and therefore a look at their schedule would reveal this game to be about as winnable as any they have remaining.  Fact is, if Bulger can cut down his mistakes – he was rusty last week after sitting out two games – the Rams are a good bet to get off the schneid on their home turf.

Prediction:  RAMS, 24-21

OAKLAND (2-4) at TENNESSEE (4-2)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 7½   

Strongest Trends:  The favorite is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings.  The home team has won six of the last eight.  Oakland is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Raiders won at Tennessee, 34-25, in 2005.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland lost at home to Kansas City a week ago, 12-10.  The Raiders are last in the AFC West, 1½  games behind the Chiefs.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee prevailed at Houston, 38-36, on the eighth field goal of the game by Rob Bironas.  The Titans had a 32-7 lead early in the fourth quarter before falling behind, 36-35.  Tennessee is tied for second in the AFC South, two games behind unbeaten Indianapolis.

Fantasy Factors:  The Raiders rely heavily on the run, but Tennessee is tops in the league in rushing defense.  So is RB Lamont Jordan recommended?  Yeah, because the Raiders will continue to feed him the rock.  I can’t recommend any other Raiders, however.  For Tennessee, QB Vince Young is expected back.  He’s a solid start, and you’d start RB Lendale White either way against Oakland’s sub-standard run defense.  I like the Titans defense, at home, to bounce back from the near disastrous fourth quarter at Houston last week.

Game Summary:  As long as Young returns as expected, Tennessee has the edge just about everywhere that counts.  The Titans are a legitimate playoff contender, well-coached and pretty balanced.  Oakland has improved under rookie head coach Lance Kiffin, and I expect them to play just tough enough to keep this one within a TD.

Prediction:  TITANS, 20-13

Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 6½  

Strongest Trend:  The Panthers have defeated the Colts in all three previous meetings.

Last Meeting:  Carolina won at Indianapolis, 23-20, in 2003.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis romped at Jacksonville, 29-7, on Monday night.  The Colts lead the AFC South by two games.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina was off last week.  The Panthers are atop the NFC South, by a half-game over Tampa Bay.

Fantasy Factors:  Same ol’, same ‘ol for the Colts.  But in addition to regulars Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Adam Vinatieri, you can also consider rookie RB Kenton Keith if your league is a larger one or if you’re plagued by the fact that six teams are on byes this week.  For the Panthers, the only clear-cut starter is WR Steve Smith.  RBs Deshaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams are nearing the point they cancel out each other, primarily because Foster is slowly yielding the featured role due to his propensity for coughing up the ball.

Game Summary:  A tempting upset special?  To be honest, yes.  Whenever a first-place team gets a touchdown to work with on its home field, I take notice.  But the Colts are like the Patriots in that they appear unfazed by any obstacles.  I believed Jacksonville was going to be a stern test for the Colts last Monday, but Indy cruised… and would have done so even if Jax QB David Garrard had played the whole game.  The Colts’ balance will likely be too much, and when you factor in their excellent pass rush pursuing either limited David Carr or 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde, it becomes very difficult to envision the shocker.

Prediction:  COLTS, 27-20

Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 1

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won nine straight in this series, going 7-2 ATS.

Last Meeting:  Philadelphia won at home, 27-14, in the 2004 NFC playoffs (game was played in January of 2005).

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia lost a heartbreaker at home last week, 19-16 to Chicago.  The Eagles are bringing up the rear of the NFC East.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost at Dallas Sunday, 24-14.  The Vikings are last in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  Who knows?  Philly’s running game, led by Brian Westbrook, faces Minnesota’s fourth-ranked rushing defense.  Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has been totally unreliable as a fantasy option this season, but Minnesota’s pass defense has holes so he and WR Kevin Curtis are intriguing.  For the Vikings, rookie RB Adrian Peterson is the only surefire start. Ignore the passing game altogether.

Game Summary:  I’m a little surprised the Eagles are slight favorites on the road… a sucker play to go with Minnesota, perhaps?  Maybe, but I’ll bite… because the stats lean fairly significantly to the guys in purple.

Prediction:   VIKINGS, 20-14

DETROIT (4-2) at CHICAGO (3-4)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Bears favored by 5

Strongest Trends:  The Bears have won four of the last five meetings, and have captured the last two played at Chicago by more than 30 points apiece.

Last Meeting:  Detroit won at home, 37-27, in Week 4.  In that game, the Lions scored a franchise-record 34 points in the fourth quarter.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit won at home over Tampa Bay on Sunday, 23-16.  The Lions trail Green Bay by a game in the NFC North.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago rallied for a 19-16 road win at Philadelphia.  The Bears are third in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  Difficult to gauge how the Lions offense will perform at Chicago, where it rarely has success.  The Bears’ defense has been inconsistent, though, and Detroit’s passing game is usually productive.  Still, start any Lions at your own risk.  For the Bears, QB Brian Griese and veteran WR Muhsin Muhammad are clicking, and WR Bernard Berrian makes sense as well.  RB Cedric Benson has a good matchup, but hasn’t done anything with previous good matchups, so my first instinct is to recommend benching him until he produces something worthwhile.  On the other hand, if you need a No. 1 RB to fill out your lineup, he’s a decent gamble.

Game Summary:  The Lions are having a solid campaign, but still haven’t proven they can win away from home against tough competition – getting blown out by Philadelphia and Washington in their last two road games.  Chicago hasn’t put together consecutive strong efforts yet this season, but at home the Bears have a definite edge.  And then there’s the revenge factor for what the Lions did to them at Detroit a month ago.

Prediction:  BEARS, 27-17

BUFFALO (2-4) at NEW YORK JETS (1-6)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Jets favored by 3   

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won eight of the last 10 meetings, going 7-3 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Bills won at home, 17-14, in Week 4.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo turned back visiting Baltimore last week, 19-14.  The Bills are second in the AFC East, but are a distant four games behind New England.

Jets Status Report:  New York lost at Cincinnati, 38-31, squandering a two-TD, second-half lead.  The Jets are third in the AFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  Buffalo’s running attack keyed by rookie Marshawn Lynch is a good play.  With rookie QB Trent Edwards again the starter, he and WR Lee Evans are modest starts.  The Jets offense faired well against Cincinnati’s soft defense a week ago, and the passing game in particular is a good play against the Bills’ low-ranked pass defense.  QB Chad Pennington is still the man, for now, and WRs Laveranues Coles and Jericho Cotchery are productive.  RB Thomas Jones is also a worthwhile start.

Game Summary:  The Jets are arguably the AFC’s biggest under-achievers, considering their successful 2006 season under then first-year head coach Eric Mangini.  This is a contest which could go either way, and home field shouldn’t be substantial in this intra-state clash, and yet the stats and trends point to the Jets mainly because the game is at The Meadowlands.  Okay, then.

Prediction:  JETS, 24-17

HOUSTON (3-4) vs. SAN DIEGO (3-3) at a site TBD
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 11½  

Strongest Trend:  The Chargers have won the only two previous meetings, and covered ATS in both.

Last Meeting:  San Diego won at Houston, 27-20, in 2004.

Texans Status Report:  Houston nearly pulled off a shocking comeback behind backup QB Sage Rosenfels, but lost at Tennessee, 38-36, and is last in the AFC South.  The Texans have lost four of five after a 2-0 start.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego was off last week.  The Chargers are tied for second with Denver in the AFC West, a half-game behind Kansas City.

Fantasy Factors:  Houston’s QB situation is probably irrelevant – neither Rosenfels nor starter Matt Schaub are particularly good plays, and neither is RB Ahman Green.  WR Kevin Walter, who has been productive virtually every week since the injury to Andre Johnson, is probably the only decent start for the Texans.  For San Diego, RB LaDainian Tomlinson is obvious… but the passing game of QB Phillip Rivers and newly-acquired WR Chris Chambers is risky, but with good upside. TE Antonio Gates is a must-start, as always.  And the Chargers defense is recommended for the first time in a few weeks.

Game Summary:  San Diego appears to have the poor start turned around, and Houston is going the wrong direction after a promising start.  This has the makings of a runaway for the Chargers, even on a neutral field.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 38-10

Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Buccaneers favored by 4½

Strongest Trend:  It’s probably not important, but the Jaguars have owned this series in annual preseason meetings, winning four straight.

Last Meeting:  The Jaguars won at home, 17-10, in 2003.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville lost at home to Indianapolis on Monday night, 29-7, and is tied for second with Tennessee in the AFC South.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay lost at Detroit, 23-16, and is second in the NFC South, a half-game behind Carolina.

Fantasy Factors:  Jacksonville will be playing with backup QB Quinn Gray at the controls.  Think the Jags might try to run a little?  RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are worthwhile starts, if for no other reason than because you know they’re going to get a ton of touches.  Forget the Jax passing game – it’s the unknown with the Kid at the helm.  For Tampa Bay, QB Jeff Garcia is playing solidly, but overall the defenses should control this game.

Game Summary:  My Upset Special, because of one word – defense.  Tampa’s is good, Jacksonville’s is better.  Gray looked lousy against the Colts Monday, but with a week to practice with the first unit and prepare, he’s got to be better.  Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the scouting reports harp on his athleticism and, well, if the Jags have him as their No. 2 QB they must think he can play.  He’ll be coached the same as injured starter David Garrard – don’t make mistakes.  Tampa Bay’s run defense has been spotty, and the Bucs’ own running game will struggle against a unit that is allowing only 40 yards per game after getting blown up by Tennessee in its opener.  I know, I know…  I picked the Jaguars last week, too.  But that was the Colts, this is the Bucs.  Jacksonville wins a smash-mouth affair.

Prediction:  JAGUARS, 13-10

Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 16

Strongest Trends:  New England is 7-0 ATS this year and won all seven games by at least 17 points.  Washington has won the last two meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Redskins won at home, 20-17, in 2003.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington edged visiting Arizona, 21-19, on Sunday.  The Redskins are third in the NFC East, 1½ games behind Dallas and half-game back of the New York Giants.

Patriots Status Report:  New England routed host Miami, 49-28, scoring 42 points in the first half.  The Patriots own a four-game cushion in the AFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  Bench all Redskins, play all Patriots.  Yada, yada.  All right, just kidding.  Go ahead and start Redskins RB Clinton Portis if you must.  Check the health status of Ben Watson for the Pats. If he sits, Kyle Brady is a solid TE start.  That better?

Game Summary:  Patriots will cover.  I’m dumb, but not stupid.  Maybe by finally laying all those points, I’ll give the Skins a helping hand.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 35-14

Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 2½    

Strongest Trends:  The Saints have won the last four meetings, and eight of 10.  They’re 3-1/7-3 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Saints rolled at home, 34-10, last December.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans has won two in a row, including last Sunday’s 22-16 home victory over Atlanta.  The Saints are third in the NFC South, two games behind first-place Carolina.

49ers Status Report:  The 49ers dropped their fourth straight, 33-15 to the host New York Giants.  San Francisco is third in the NFC West, a game and a half behind front-running Seattle.

Fantasy Factors:  The Saints offense is finally on track… maybe.  QB Drew Brees and RB Reggie Bush are good starts, but the receiving corps is still suspect.  WR Marques Colston and TE Eric Johnson are so-so starts.  For San Francisco, the matchup for RB Frank Gore is great but he’s not 100 percent.  Still, if you can verify he will start, go with him.  If Gore sits, RB Michael Robinson is an OK sleeper play.  The passing game, whether the QB is Alex Smith or Trent Dilfer, isn’t worth much of a look at this time.

Game Summary:  These clubs are headed in opposite directions, and although the Saints still have issues (didn’t I say that about them last week?), they’re the club with the better upside for a successful campaign at this point.  That’s why I’m bucking the home-team trend of this series.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 24-16

GREEN BAY (5-1) at DENVER (3-3)
Monday, Oct. 29, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Broncos favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last 13 meetings dating back to the 1970s.  Green Bay has won at Denver only once, all-time.

Last Meeting:  The Packers won in a rout at home in December of 2003, 31-3.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay was off last week.  The Packers lead the NFC North by a game over Detroit.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver knocked off visiting Pittsburgh Sunday night, 31-28.  The Broncos are tied for second in the AFC West, a half-game behind Kansas City.

Fantasy Factors:  Unless the weather is poor, expect plenty of points put up in this one.  For Green Bay, QB Brett Favre and WR Donald Driver are good starts, with WRs Greg Jennings and James Jones decent starts as well.  TE Donald Lee is a great start if Bubba Franks is sidelined again.  Although Denver’s run defense is ranked last in the league, it played a lot better against the Steelers last week and Green Bay has issues on playing time and health with Verand Morency and DeShawn Wynn.  The Broncos will rely on RB Travis Henry moreso in this game than they did against the Steelers.  QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall are OK starts, and TE Tony Scheffler is a sleeper play. 

Game Summary:  The home team has won 13 in a row?  Wow. I don’t have the guts to go against that strong of a trend even though the numbers point toward the Packers.  Denver has struggled early this season, but the win over Pittsburgh is the type of game that could spur a nice run for the Broncos.  If the pass rush can interfere with Favre, the hosts will maintain their edge in this series.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 31-24 (remember Super Bowl XXXI?)

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