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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 9
Bob Cunningham
November 1, 2007

Welcome to the Halloween edition of my weekly write-up.  I’m going to do something a little different this week (yeah, yeah… I hear you, yelling something like “you mean you’re going to make good predictions?”).  Well, who do you think I am… David Dorey?  I just give it my best shot, man, every week.

Scary, huh?

No, what’s going to be different is that I’m going to use this space to focus on a single NFL game.  Usually, I try to be broad… preview what’s coming up and touch on what took place the prior week before getting into the specific matchups at hand.

But this time… I’m using this lead-in space to focus solely on the NFL Game of the Year – Cincinnati at Buffalo.

OK, do I still have your attention?  Of course I’m kidding.  Guess I’m a little punchy in anticipation of the Patriots-Colts clash.  Being a big admirer of QBs who aren’t overly athletic but instead are superb because they are incredibly intelligent, a showdown featuring Tom Brady and Peyton Manning when both teams are undefeated and dominating opponents is a enjoyable bounty.  Like standing in front of the Victoria Secret store. And as a bonus, CBS-TV’s Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are calling the game.  I like both.  I’m thankful not to have to endure John Madden’s remarkably over-rated quasi-analysis during The GOY.

So… who’s going to win this Clash of the Titans that doesn’t feature the Titans?  To borrow a football cliché, it will be the team that has the ball last.  While both defenses are first-rate – you can’t remain undefeated this deep into the season, as both these squads have, unless you have the ability to stop the other guy – the two QBs are too good in the clutch, and both have such a large assortment of weapons at their disposal, that a big play made in the passing game late is more likely to decide the outcome.

And I’m opting for the team that has the most weapons going in… New England.  Home field advantage won’t mean much, but this game will live up to the hype whomever emerges victorious.  And it will be close.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  77-39 (66 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  56-52-8 (52 percent)
Last Week:  8-5 SU, 7-6 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 9: 

Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Bengals favored by 1

Strongest Trend:  The Bills have won the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  Buffalo won at Cincinnati, 37-27, on Christmas Eve in 2005.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati lost at home to Pittsburgh a week ago, 24-13, and is last in the AFC North.  The Bengals have lost five of six.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo’s 13-3 victory over the New York Jets at the Meadowlands Sunday was its second in a row and third in four weeks.  The Bills are second in the AFC East, but 4½ games behind first-place New England.

Fantasy Factors:  Buffalo’s pass defense was stout last week but remains ranked in the lower third of the league, so expect Bengals QB Carson Palmer to put up good numbers.  WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh are strong starts.  The running game is less obvious – Rudi Johnson is practicing but remains hampered by a hamstring injury, which possibly means another start for Kenny Watson.  Watson is trying overcome a concussion suffered last week. P.J. Losman gets the start at QB for the Bills, and he is a nice sleeper play.  WR Lee Evans is a strong start, and RB Marshawn Lynch should flourish.  Ignore both defenses.

Game Summary:  The Bills would be on a four-game winning streak if not for their late collapse against Dallas at home three weeks ago.  At home, the Bills would seem the logical choice.  So why I am predicting a Bengals victory? Two reasons.  First, desperation.  The Bengals have to have this game… have to.  And second, in the battle of QBs, I like Palmer a whole lot more than Losman.  Note:  If the weather happens to be really ugly… like Buffalo is known to have… I lean toward the host Bills.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 27-20

Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 3½    

Strongest Trend:  Washington has won four of the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Redskins won at home, 16-13, in 2003.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington was crushed at New England last week, 52-7.  The Redskins are third in the NFC East, two games behind Dallas.

Jets Status Report:  New York lost at home to Buffalo, 13-3, and is third in the AFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  Nothing special emerges from this matchup. QB Jason Campbell, RB Clinton Portis and WR Santana Moss are decent starts in larger leagues, but TE Chris Cooley is the only no-brainer.  I’m not enamored with the shell-shocked Redskins defense.  For NY, RB Thomas Jones is the only recommendation.  QB Kellen Clemens gets his first start, but don’t be tempted. Check the health status of Laveranues Coles, although he doesn’t make a good start this week anyway unless you believe that he will be extra fired up facing a former team of his.

Game Summary:  How ‘bout an upset right out of the gate?  Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about Clemens.  But I know the team’s fans are universally pleased with coach Eric Mangini’s decision to bench Chad Pennington.  The team could be ultra-inspired by this, and I just don’t believe gang green is as bad as its record.  Factor in the Redskins being scalped (political correctness? this is football), and the stage is set for another Clemens to be a hero in New York.

Prediction:  JETS, 21-17

Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 4  

Strongest Trend:  The road team has won both of the only previous meetings, and both were lopsided scores.

Last Meeting:  The Titans won at Carolina, 37-17, in 2003.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina took an early 7-0 lead at home against Indianapolis Sunday before eventually getting whipped, 31-7.  The Panthers are in first in the NFC South, a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay.

Titans Status Report:   Tennessee held off Oakland at home, 13-9, and is tied with Jacksonville for second in the AFC South, two games behind Indianapolis.

Fantasy Factors:  The Panthers were unable to sustain anything after the first quarter against the Colts, and it won’t come any easier against Tennessee, especially on the ground.  RBs DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams should both be pined.  WR Steve Smith, who is hit-or-miss bigtime, is simply too good to risk benching unless you’re immensely deep in talented wideouts.  RB Lendale White is the only solid start for the Titans, although their defense makes sense, too.  Play both kickers, because this game wreaks of a battle of field goals.

Game Summary:   It’s Upset Special time.  The Panthers are undefeated on the road this year, and have been adept at coming off losses with quality efforts the next time out.  Kudos to head coach John Fox for that.  The Titans offense is a little out of sorts… QB Vince Young struggled against the Raiders last week, and Carolina’s run defense is better than Oakland’s.  The Panthers’ pass rush has been poor, but that’s not a huge factor in this game because Young eludes most rushers anyway.  This is the type of game that will be decided on a late turnover.  I’ll take the ‘dogs, even with David Carr starting under center.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 19-16

Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 3½   

Strongest Trends:  The Jaguars are 3-0 SU and ATS on the road, the Saints 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS at home.

Last Meeting:  The Jaguars prevailed at home, 20-19, in 2003.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville won at Tampa Bay last week, 24-23. The Jaguars, who have won five of six, are tied for second in the AFC South.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans routed San Francisco on the road, 31-10, and has won three in a row.  The Saints are third in the NFC South, trailing Carolina by a game and Tampa Bay by a half-game.

Fantasy Factors:  The Jaguars will rely primarily on their running game and defense.  RBs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor are good starts, the defense a fair option.  New Orleans QB Drew Brees is coming off a four-TD game – three of them hauled in by WR Marques Colston – and is a good start at home even against a top defense such as the Jaguars.  RB Reggie Bush and Colston are decent options as well, and the Saints defense deserves a nod.

Game Summary:  Wow… in a game that I deem a toss-up, that 3½-point spread keeps jumping out at me.  But this is the second straight tough road game for the Jaguars, and the Saints are on a roll and playing the like the NFC favorites many had them pegged as at the season’s outset.   I’m straddling the fence on this one (sorry).

Prediction:  SAINTS, 20-17

SAN DIEGO (4-3) at MINNESOTA (2-5)
Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 7  

Strongest Trend:  The Vikings are 1-7 ATS in their last eight home games.

Last Meeting:  The Chargers won at home, 42-28, in 2003.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego’s 35-10 clubbing of visiting Houston a week ago was its third straight triumph.  The Chargers are tied with Kansas City atop the AFC West.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota lost at home to Philadelphia Sunday, 23-16.  The Vikings are last in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  San Diego won’t change anything up… coach Norv Turner surely has learned his lesson by now.  The Chargers will run the ball, even against the league top-rated rushing defense.  Don’t even remotely consider benching LaDainian Tomlinson.  TE Antonio Gates is an every-week start. QB Philip Rivers and WR Chris Chambers are good starts here as well.  For Minnesota, RB Adrian Peterson is it… and don’t expect a great deal from him.

Game Summary:  The Chargers must be careful, but this one has all the earmarks of a trap game. San Diego hosts Indianapolis next week, and obviously cannot get caught looking ahead.  The Vikings may be a worse team than their record when you consider they are 2-5 despite leading the league in rushing defense.  Team throws effectively against them.  San Diego gets the nod, simply because the Chargers have better players on both sides of the ball.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 24-14

GREEN BAY (6-1) at KANSAS CITY (4-3)
Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Chiefs favored by 2

Strongest Trend:  The Chiefs have won the last five meetings, and covered ATS in all five.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won a shootout, 40-34 at Green Bay, in 2003.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay triumphed at Denver in OT Monday night, 19-13, and is tied with Dallas for the NFC’s best record.  The Packers lead Detroit by a game in the NFC North.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City was off last week.  The Chiefs are tied with San Diego for first place in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  There’s a new star in Green Bay – RB Ryan Grant.  The kid went over 100 yards at Denver and will get the rock plenty again, especially with DeShawn Wynn done for the season.  QB Brett Favre and WRs Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones are all solid starters, as is TE Donald Lee.  For the Chiefs, QB Damon Huard has been productive at home this season.  RB Larry Johnson is hitting his stride, and TE Tony Gonzalez is a must-start.  WR Dwayne Bowe is only a sleeper-level start this week against the tenacious Packers secondary.

Game Summary:  Picking against the Packers hasn’t worked often this season (once, to be precise), but I can’t get past that the Chiefs have had an extra week to prepare and the Pack is operating on a short week while also playing on the road for the second week in a row.  Who decides this sort of scheduling?  Small edge to the Chiefs.

Prediction:   CHIEFS, 23-16

DENVER (3-4) at DETROIT (5-2)
Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Lions favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  The Broncos are 0-2 ATS on the road, the Lions 2-0-1 ATS at home.

Last Meeting:  The Broncos won at home, 20-16, in 2003.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver lost at home to Green Bay in overtime Monday night, 19-13.  Denver is third in the AFC West, a game behind co-leaders San Diego and Kansas City.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit won at Chicago Sunday, 16-7, and is second in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  Denver’s RB situation is cloudy – Travis Henry missed Monday’s game and Selvin Young played well in his stead.  Still, it’s Henry’s job if he can go… at least until he’s suspended for his drug problems.  QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall are fair starts.  K Jason Elam is a good play.  For the Lions, RB Kevin Jones should produce against Denver’s woeful run defense.  QB Jon Kitna is a good start, but the Lions’ WRs are a crapshoot.  I can’t recommend any, except in the largest leagues.  Avoid both defenses.

Game Summary:  The Broncos are a 1-6 team in 3-4 clothing.  Consider they beat Buffalo and Oakland both by late field goals.  Only their home win over Pittsburgh could be considered a quality victory.  Detroit proved to me that it’s the real deal by going into Chicago and stifling the Bears.  The Lions will continue to build on their momentum..

Prediction:  LIONS, 31-17

ARIZONA (3-4) at TAMPA BAY (4-4)
Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Buccaneers favored by 3½  

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last three.  Arizona has covered ATS in the last three.

Last Meeting:  The Cardinals won at home, 12-7, in the 2004 regular season finale.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona was off last week.  The Cardinals, who have lost two in a row, are second in the NFC West – a game behind Seattle.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay lost at home to Jacksonville a week ago, 24-23.  The Bucs, who have also dropped two in a row, are second in the NFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Kurt Warner and WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have difficult tasks this week.  Start any/all at your own risk.  RB Edgerrin James is a safer start, but not much safer.  QB Jeff Garcia suffered his first two interceptions last week, so he’ll be looking to rebound.  I like him in this game, along with big-play WR Joey Galloway.  The running game is still risky, but Earnest Graham has provided adequate if unspectacular numbers.  Go with the Bucs’ defense.

Game Summary:  This is one of those games I frequently coin as “routine.”  Intra-conference game, home team favored, home team with superior defense, road team with no track record of road success.  Gimme the Bucs, please.

Prediction:  BUCCANEERS, 24-17

Sunday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Falcons favored by 3  

Strongest Trend:  Road team has won last two meetings, after home team won prior 10 contests.

Last Meeting:  Atlanta won at San Francisco, 21-19, in 2004.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco was whipped at home by New Orleans on Sunday, 31-10, for its fifth straight loss after a 2-0 start.  The 49ers are third in the NFC West.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta was on its bye last week.  The Falcons are last in the NFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  Not a lot to report.  RB Frank Gore has disappeared recently for SF.  The passing game is non-existent.  For Atlanta, RB Jerious Norwood has looked good of late.  The passing game isn’t worthwhile, with either Byron Leftwich or Joey Harrington at the controls.  Both TEs are intriguing for their under-achieving ways to date – Vernon Davis for the 49ers, Alge Crumpler for Atlanta.  Check the health status of both.

Game Summary:  I have a gut feeling that the 49ers, who were my preseason pick to win the NFC West, will snap their skid behind an inspired performance by Alex Smith.  But reality creeps back in… and the host Falcons seem the safer choice.  OK, I’ll go safe.  Should be close, either way.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 20-16

SEATTLE (4-3) at CLEVELAND (4-3)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Browns favored by 1½  

Strongest Trend:  The Browns are 6-2 ATS in their last eight against teams with winning records.

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks romped at home, 34-7, in 2003.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle was off last week.  The Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West, a game ahead of Arizona.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland came from behind to win at St. Louis Sunday, 27-20.  The Browns, who have won three of four, are tied for second with Baltimore in the AFC North, a game behind Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Factors:  Both teams should score plenty.  For Seattle, QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Bobby Engram are good starts, and I expect a decent effort from RB Shaun Alexander as well.  Check the health status on WR Deion Branch, due back from injury, and consider starting him if you confirm he has returned.  Cleveland QB Derek Anderson is a steady stats contributor, and WR Braylon Edwards is an emerging stud.  TE Kellen Winslow is a good start, and RB Jamal Lewis is also a decent play.

Game Summary:  Although I tip my cap to the Browns for their improvement, they still have too many defensive issues to be considered a legitimate playoff contender – yet.  Seattle will expose some of those, and win an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 34-24

Sunday, Nov. 4, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 6

Strongest Trends:  The Colts are 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings and have won the last three outright.  The underdog is 9-3 ATS in the last 12 clashes.

Last Meeting:  Indianapolis came from behind in the 2006 AFC Championship Game to beat the visiting Patriots, 38-34, before going on to defeat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.

Patriots Status Report:  New England routed visiting Washington Sunday, 52-7.  The Patriots have a 4½-game lead in the AFC East.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis cruised past Carolina on the road, 31-7.  The Colts have a two-game lead in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  Start every key player on both teams, including Colts WR Marvin Harrison (sat last week with an injury), and sit both defenses.  Don’t over-analyze.

Game Summary:  (See lead-in).

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 27-24

HOUSTON (3-5) at OAKLAND (2-5)
Sunday, Nov. 4, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Raiders favored by 3    

Strongest Trends:  Houston has won and covered both previous meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Texans won at Oakland, 23-14, last December.

Texans Status Report:  Houston’s 35-10 loss at San Diego a week ago was its third in a row and fifth in the last six games.  The Texans are last in the AFC South.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland fell at Tennessee Sunday, 13-9.  The Raiders are last in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  It’s likely that defenses will prevail in this one.  You’d probably be fine if you completely ignored this game entirely.  But if you must include it, the recommendations are RB Lamont Jordan of the Raiders, WR Ronald Curry of Oakland and Kevin Walter of the Texans, and both defenses.  Monitor the progress of Houston WR Andre Johnson and RB Ahman Green.

Game Summary:  It’s amusing to me that the Raiders have never beaten Houston, in two regular season meetings and a preseason game as well.  That trend ends this week, because the Texans are simply too banged up.

Prediction:  RAIDERS, 16-10

Sunday, Nov. 4, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 3   

Strongest Trends:  The Eagles have won 11 of the last 14 meetings including a sweep of the two games in 2006.

Last Meeting:  Philadelphia won at Dallas, 23-7, last Christmas Day.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas was off last week.  The Cowboys lead the NFC East by a half-game over the New York Giants.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia won at Minnesota on Sunday, 23-16.  The Eagles remain last in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  Expect a fair share of fireworks.  Dallas’ potent offensive studs are all solid plays (Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Nick Folk).  And I continue to like WR Patrick Clayton as a weekly sleeper-type.  For Philly, QB Donovan McNabb is a fair play.  RB Brian Westbrook is an every-week guy as long as he’s healthy.  WRs Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis are also decent, second-level starters.  Neither defense is recommended.

Game Summary:  I like a mild upset pick here, because the Eagles seem to be getting things together (finally), and Dallas has not fared well in this series in recent years, winning only once at Philly in its last six trips.  This game will say a lot about the Cowboys as a Super Bowl contender. If they can win convincingly at a place that has mostly been a hellhole for them, it would speak volumes.  As it is, any win for them at this stadium would be welcome.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 28-24

Monday, Nov. 5, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 9½  

Strongest Trends:  Baltimore has won the last three meetings.  The Ravens have covered ATS in the last four meetings.  Also, five of the last six meetings at Pittsburgh have gone over the point total.

Last Meeting:  The Ravens routed the host Steelers, 31-7, last Christmas Eve.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore was on a bye last week.  The Ravens are tied for second in the AFC North with Cleveland, a game back of the Steelers.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh whipped host Cincinnati, 24-13, on Sunday.

Fantasy Factors:  Expect both defenses to rise to the occasion.  Offensively, I can’t enthusiastically recommend any Ravens including RB Willis McGahee.  WR Derrick Mason is a go, however, if points are awarded for receptions.  For the Steelers, a timid “start ‘em” for RB Willie Parker.  QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are OK starts, and TE Heath Miller is fine in leagues with tight end as a separate category.  Both kickers are recommended, in a contest that very well could end up a battle of the field goals.

Game Summary:  This is a tough call for me, because there are strong numbers pointing contrasting directions.  Pittsburgh has been lights out at home this year, and the Steelers will be hungry to avenge last year’s 24-point home loss.  But Baltimore always plays well when these two get together, and the Ravens have had the extra week to prepare and get healthier.  The verdict:  Steelers win, but it’s relatively close.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 23-17

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