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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 11
Bob Cunningham
November 15, 2007

Okay, enough is enough.  For the second time in four seasons, I am at a loss (literally) when it comes to prognosticating the National Football League.

Maybe I’m flat out just missing things regularly… because I have no explanation for how New Orleans can lose at home to St. Louis – falling behind 34-7 in the process – or how Atlanta can beat the Panthers at Carolina, or why Baltimore’s defense is suddenly sub-par, or why the Chiefs couldn’t beat the slumping Denver Broncos on their home field.

Yes, there are some specific factors here – the Panthers have struggled at home all year, the Ravens’ secondary is riddled with injuries, QB Damon Huard got hurt for the Chiefs – but there’s still a lot of oddities taking place.

Well, I know this – my usual routine for analyzing NFL games ain’t getting’ it done.  I mean, it’s obvious that forecasting football games is not an exact science.  Weird things happen, and sometimes it’s impossible to see them coming.  But I take pride in my ability to sift through the meaningless tidbits of information and extract what really matters.  I have been prognosticating the NFL for the last 14 years, and only thrice before this season have I finished under 50 percent ATS.   I like to think I know what I’m doing.

But apparently not (wow, could I possibly give my critics any more to feast on?).

When it comes to determining a weekly upset special, I’m still pretty effective.  A mark of 5-5 straight-up (7-3 ATS) on these picks is respectable – and, hey, the Raiders led for much of last week’s eventual loss to Chicago before gagging – but the straight-forward picking of game-winners – never mind the against-the-spread part – has for some inexplicable reason become overly daunting.

Ah, but this week, we’re going to have a little fun.  I’ve adjusted my approach a bit, and when applied to last week’s results, the changes would have netted a winning record.  So I’ll apply this new technique to the Week 11 games. In addition, just for the heck of it, I will also flip a coin for each game (visitors are heads every time), and list the coin-flip pick as well.  Then after the weekend, we’ll compare the results…

Hey, it’s only my reputation at stake, right?

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  89-55 (62 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  66-70-8 (48 percent)
Last Week:  6-8 SU, 5-9 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 11: 

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 10  

Strongest Trend:  The Eagles have won and covered ATS in the last three meetings.

Last Meeting:  Philadelphia won at Miami, 34-27, in 2003.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami came from ahead to lose at home to Buffalo Sunday, 13-10.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia rallied past Washington on the road last week, 33-25.  Philly is last in the NFC East, but trails the Redskins by only a game.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Jesse Chatman has been very productive, although not finding the end zone.  Expect more of the same.  Lay off the passing game, except perhaps for TE David Martin, who’s an OK sleeper start.  For the Eagles, QB Donovan McNabb, RB  Brian Westbrook, TE L.J. Smith, and WRs Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are all strong plays.

Game Summary:  If Philadelphia is going to make a run at an NFC wild-card playoff berth, it can ill-afford to endure a home loss to the winless Dolphins.  The fact is, the Eagles’ win at Washington was just as due to the Redskins’ mistakes as any other reason.  Miami is continuing to play hard in its bid to avoid a winless season.  Philly has enough to win it, but I don’t see an outright rout.  Note:  The Eagles will win and cover if Miami opts for rookie QB John Beck to start instead of Cleo Lemon.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 27-20  (coin toss: Dolphins +10)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Browns favored by 2½    

Strongest Trends:  The Ravens have won the last four meetings played at Baltimore.  Cleveland has covered ATS in the last four meetings overall.  The home team is 6-1 SU in the last seven meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Browns won at home, 27-13, back in Week 4.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland blew a 21-6 lead and lost at Pittsburgh Sunday, 31-28.  The Browns are second in the AFC North, two games behind the Steelers.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore lost at home to Cincinnati, 21-7.  The Ravens have dropped three in a row and are third in the AFC North, three back of the Steelers and a game behind Cleveland.

Fantasy Factors:  The Cleveland offense has been consistently productive, but this is not a good matchup.  QB Derek Anderson still rates a start, because of Baltimore’s recent secondary woes, as does TE Kellen Winslow and WR Braylon Edwards.  RB Jamal Lewis should be benched.  For Baltimore, RB Willis McGahee and WR Derrick Mason are solid starts.  Kyle Boller will be the starter at QB (should be the case regardless of McNair’s shoulder) but he’s a risky start even considering the solid matchup.  I like the Ravens defense to bounce back this week.

Game Summary:  The Browns are vastly improved, and the fact they are favored on the road – especially within the division – is evidence of their rise.  But they still give up too many big plays and too many points, and even Baltimore’s pedestrian offense can exploit that to some degree.  The Ravens’ vaunted D has been pushed around the last two weeks, but I expect that to end here.  I like Baltimore at home to resume a wild-card push that will ultimately come up short.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 23-17  (coin toss: Browns -2½)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Bengals favored by 3    

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won every meeting dating back at least 20 years.

Last Meeting:  The Cardinals won at home, 17-14, in 2003.

Cardinals Status Report:  Host Arizona whipped a very good Detroit team last week, 31-21.  The Cardinals are second in the NFC West, a game behind Seattle.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati knocked off the Ravens at Baltimore, 21-7, on seven Shayne Graham field goals.  The Bengals are last in the AFC North, a game behind Baltimore.

Fantasy Factors:  Unless cold weather intervenes, there will probably be plenty of points here to go around. The main weapons on both offenses are good starts, and avoid the defenses.

Game Summary:  It’s just a hunch, but I like the Bengals to go on a mini-roll and make themselves factors in the wild-card race.  They have only two teams over .500 remaining on their schedule, with Tennessee coming to Cincinnati in two weeks before the Bengals go to Pittsburgh the following Sunday.  A 9-7 record is not out of their reach, if last week’s defensive performance against Baltimore is any indication.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 31-24  (coin toss: Cardinals +3)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 14½   

Strongest Trend:  The Colts are 7-1 straight-up and ATS in the last eight meetings.

Last Meeting:  Indianapolis won at home, 23-8, in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs last season.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City lost at home to Denver, 27-11, on Sunday.  It was the Chiefs’ second home defeat in as many weeks and dropped them into a second-place tie with the Broncos in the AFC West.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis was beaten at San Diego Sunday night, 23-21, the Colts’ second loss in a row after seven wins to open the season.  Indy leads the AFC South by a game over both Jacksonville and Tennessee.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Damon Huard probably won’t play for the Chiefs, replaced by Brodie Croyle.  RB Larry Johnson is also still out.  Neither Croyle nor RB Priest Holmes are good starts.  In fact, I’d skip all Chiefs – with TE Tony Gonzalez the only realistic start.  For Indy, all offensive weapons are recommended – including WR Marvin Harrison (double-check his status).  I like the Colts defense/special teams as well.

Game Summary:  This will be a mismatch, because the Chiefs are missing key people and because the Colts will be eager to put two straight losses behind them with a big home effort.

Prediction:  COLTS, 38-7  (coin toss: Chiefs +14½)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Jaguars favored by 3   

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the only two previous meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Chargers won at home, 34-21, in 2004.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego held off visiting Indianapolis Sunday night, 23-21, to take over sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville whipped Tennessee on the road Sunday, 28-13, to catch the Titans for second place in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  Tough matchup for the Chargers.  Only RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates, the team’s two every-week stars, are start-worthy.  For Jacksonville, RB Maurice Jones-Drew is a go – he could break some runs the way Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson did two weeks ago en route to a single-game rushing record.  Avoid the passing game for either team, and consider both defenses.

Game Summary:  My Upset Special, but not an easy call at all.  The Chargers have more offensive firepower, but the Jaguars defense is more consistent.  And homefield advantage is big in this one.  Game will likely come down to a late break, and San Diego’s secondary has been so good of late I give the Bolts the nod for a big-time turnover that leads to a victory.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 20-17  (coin toss:  Chargers +3)

NEW ORLEANS (4-5) at HOUSTON (4-5)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Even

Strongest Trend:  none.

Last Meeting:  New Orleans won at home, 31-10, in 2003.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans entered last week’s home game with winless St. Louis on a four-game winning streak, but the Rams busted it up, 37-29.  The Saints are tied for second with Carolina in the NFC South, a game back of Tampa Bay.

Texans Status Report:  Houston was off last week.  The Texans are last in the AFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  Look for QB Drew Brees to bounce back, and for WR Marques Colston to keep piling up the receptions.  Check RB Reggie Bush’s status after he endured a minor concussion last week.  TE Eric Johnson is an OK start.  For Houston, confirm the starting QB and whomever it is – Matt Schaub or Sage Rosenfels – makes a decent sleeper play.  Check the status of both RB Ahman Green and WR Andre Johnson.  Ignore the defenses.

Game Summary:  More than likely, the Saints were caught mentally flat last week because they subconsciously figured a home game against a winless foe would be a walkover.  By the time they figured out the Rams came to play, it was too late.  Look for the Saints to rebound this week… they’re the team with the superior talent.

Prediction:   SAINTS, 24-20  (coin toss:  Saints)

OAKLAND (2-7) at MINNESOTA (3-6)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Vikings favored by 5½

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

Last Meeting:  Oakland won at home, 28-18, in 2003.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland’s 17-6 loss to visiting Chicago Sunday was its fifth in a row.  The Raiders are last in the AFC West.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota was routed at Green Bay last weekend, 34-0.  The Vikes are last in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Justin Fargas should be benched against the stiff Vikings run defense.  There are not any obvious Raiders fantasy starters, but I do like their defense this week.  For Minnesota, RB Chester Taylor is a good start in larger leagues with Adrian Peterson sidelined.  I recommended against anyone in the passing game.  The Vikings’ D/ST units are a go.

Game Summary:  Minnesota will definitely miss Peterson – Taylor just isn’t as explosive or dangerous, and the Vikings can’t throw the ball much at present.  Oakland isn’t much of an offensive threat, either, but I envision QB Daunte Culpepper having something to do with this one, whether he comes off the bench or gets the start.  His former home will welcome him cheerfully (yeah, right).  Down to the wire here, with the home team escaping.

Prediction:  VIKINGS, 17-16  (coin toss:  Vikings -5½)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 2½

Strongest Trends:  The road team has won and covered ATS in each of the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Lions won at The Meadowlands, 28-13, in 2004.

Giants Status Report:  New York’s six-game winning streak came to an end last week, as the Giants lost to visiting Dallas, 31-20, to fall two games behind the first-place Cowboys in the NFC East.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit got spanked at Arizona on Sunday, 31-21.  The Lions are second in the NFC North, two games behind Green Bay.

Fantasy Factors:  The Giants will likely have some success throwing the ball, with QB Eli Manning and TE Jeremy Shockey being decent starts.  Check the health status of WR Plaxico Burress as well.  RB Brandon Jacobs is an okay start as well.  Detroit QB Jon Kitna has been enduring back spasms.  He’s a risky start because that kind of condition can flare up anytime.  WR Roy Williams is good to go.  WRs Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald and Calvin Johnson (check health status) are all reasonable starts if Kitna goes, but not all will be productive either way. RB Kevin Jones is a fair start if you can confirm his health – he’s bothered by a sore foot and managed a mighty negative-4 yards last week but did have a TD.  Avoid both defenses.

Game Summary:  So are the Lions for real, or not?  I picked them to make a statement at Arizona last week and instead they did their best impression of the old Lions… the team that could never win on the road.  Now enters a quality Giants team, but the game is at Detroit.  If Kitna and Jones were at 100 percent, the hosts would be the choice.  But either or both could sit.  A reluctant pick of the visitors.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 23-20  (coin toss:  Lions +2½)

CAROLINA (4-5) at GREEN BAY (8-1)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Packers favored by 10

Strongest Trends:  The road team has is 5-3 ATS in the last eight meetings.  Green Bay is 3-1 in the last four clashes.

Last Meeting:  The Panthers edged the visiting Packers, 32-29, in 2005.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina lost at home to Atlanta Sunday, 20-13, for its third straight defeat. The Panthers are tied for second in the NFC South, a game off Tampa Bay’s pace.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay romped over the visiting Minnesota Vikings Sunday, 34-0, and has built a two-game lead in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  The Panthers offense is banged up.  All the QBs except rookie Matt Moore are injured… it’s a mess.  RB DeShaun Foster should be benched and, yes, even WR Steve Smith should be on the pine except in the largest of leagues.  The Carolina defense is playing relatively well, but shouldn’t be considered here.  For the Pack, QB Brett Favre and WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are good starts.  Ditto TE Donald Lee and RB Ryan Grant (check health status).  I like the D as well.

Game Summary:  I keep expecting a Packers’ stumble, but except for that one loss (at home to Chicago), Green Bay keeps on playing well.  However, this is a classic letdown scenario – with a game at Dallas on the schedule next week for the Packers.  You’ve heard the term, “trap game.”  This is the epitome of one.  No, I can’t envision the Pack tripping up badly enough to get beat, but I do like Carolina to keep it competitive.

Prediction:  PACKERS, 21-13  (coin toss: Panthers +10)

TAMPA BAY (5-4) at ATLANTA (3-6)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Bucs favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  The Falcons have won the last two meetings, and are 3-0 ATS in the last three.

Last Meeting:  Atlanta prevailed at Tampa Bay, 17-6, last December.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay was off last week.  The Bucs are a game up on the pack in the NFC South.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta’s 20-13 win at Carolina a week ago was the Falcons’ second in a row.  They are just two games behind the Bucs.

Fantasy Factors:  Nothing special expected from this game, although Tampa Bay might get RB Michael Pittman back.  He’s still not worthy of a start.  WR Joey Galloway is the only offensive recommendation for the Bucs.  For Atlanta, RB Warrick Dunn has been hot and TE Alge Crumpler had the game-winning TD last week – he might get hot.  Both defenses are solid starts.

Game Summary:  Tampa Bay’s attack has had a tough time on the road this season, averaging just 14 points per game.  Atlanta has won two in a row, primarily on the strength of the defense.  And QB Joey Harrington actually looks gutsy out there.  It’s possible, however, that Byron Leftwich could return this week.  Either way, give the home team its third W in a row as the NFC South snuggles up.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 17-13  (coin toss: Falcons +3)

Sunday, Nov. 18, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 9½  

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Steelers won at home, 20-17, in the 2004 AFC Divisional playoffs.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to beat visiting Cleveland Sunday, 31-28.  The Steelers lead the AFC North by two games.

Jets Status Report:  New York was on a bye last week.  The Jets are a distant third in the AFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Ben Roethlisberger has been red-hot – go with him until he cools down.  On second thought, just stick with him the rest of the way. RB Willie Parker and WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are must-starts.  TE Heath Miller, K Jeff Reed and the Steelers defense are all recommended plays.  For NY, there are no obvious starts… but in larger leagues RB Thomas Jones and WR Jericho Cotchery are worth consideration.

Game Summary:  The Steelers have been inconsistent on the road – their two losses have both been to sub-.500 teams away from home.  The Jets will undoubtedly let it all hang out amidst this forgettable campaign, but the Steelers have too much on both sides of the ball… don’t they?

Prediction:  STEELERS, 27-13  (coin toss: Steelers -9½)

WASHINGTON (5-4) at DALLAS (8-1)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 10    

Strongest Trends:  The Redskins have won three of the last four meetings overall, but Dallas has won four of the last five played at Big D.

Last Meeting:  The Redskins won at home, 22-19, a year ago Nov. 5.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington was beaten at home by Philadelphia last week, 33-25.  The Skins are third in the NFC East, three back of Dallas and one behind the New York Giants.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas rolled over the host New York Giants Sunday, 31-20, to seize the two-game lead in the division.
Fantasy Factors:  RB Clinton Portis and TE Chris Cooley are steady starts, but although QB Jason Campbell is coming off a career-best three TD passes, he’s not a recommended start here.  Why?  Too many injuries among Redskins wide receivers.  For Dallas, start all the key people and the defense as well.

Game Summary:  Although it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Redskins play tough in this rivalry game, Dallas is on such a roll that the numbers point to a decisive win on the Cowboys’ home turf.  The ‘Pokes have too many big-time players for Washington to keep up.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 31-17  (coin toss: Cowboys -10)

CHICAGO (4-5) at SEATTLE (5-4)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Seahawks favored by 5½    

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won four of the last five straight-up (3-2 ATS).

Last Meeting:  The Bears held on for a 27-24 home victory in last year’s NFC divisional playoffs.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago rallied in the fourth quarter to pull away at Oakland for a 17-6 win.  The Bears are third in the NFC North.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle whipped visiting San Francisco Monday night, 24-0, and is alone atop the NFC West, a game ahead of Arizona.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Brian Griese will likely be sidelined for the Bears, replaced by erratic Rex Grossman.  My recommendation is to bench all Bears, across the board. For Seattle, QB Matt Hasselbeck and WRs Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett played well Monday.  They’re decent starts again.  RB Shaun Alexander will probably make his return, but if so I still don’t recommend starting him because Maurice Morris has eaten into his carries significantly the last two games Alexander played and last week, while Alexander sat out, Morris had a TD and was productive both as a runner and receiver.

Game Summary:  The Seahawks seem to enjoy a more pronounced homefield advantage than most, and the Bears have yet to win back-to-back games this season.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 20-10  (coin toss: Seahawks -5½)

ST. LOUIS (1-8) at SAN FRANCISCO (2-7)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:    Rams favored by 2½

Strongest Trend:  The 49ers are 8-1 ATS in the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  The 49ers won at St. Louis, 17-16, in Week 2.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis snapped their eight-game, season-opening losing streak with a 37-29 triumph at New Orleans Sunday.  The Rams are still last in the NFC West, but trail San Francisco by just a game.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco lost at Seattle, 24-0, Monday night.

Fantasy Factors:  The Rams’ attack revived at New Orleans, but there’s no guarantee it will be maintained on the natural grass of rival San Francisco.  QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, and WR Torry Holt are reasonable starts.  Hold off on the rest.  If there’s ever a week to try the Rams defense/special teams, this is it.  For San Francisco, RB Frank Gore is the only worthy starter.

Game Summary:  If all we’re considering here is momentum, the Rams would be the clear choice.  And they are definitely a different offense with Jackson at his rambling best.  But San Francisco is capable of playing ball-control with Gore, which loosens the pass defense eventually, and the 49ers defense is likely to provide more problems for the Rams artificial turf-inclined attack.  A very tough call… but when in doubt, go with talent.  The Rams have more of it.

Prediction:  RAMS, 23-16  (coin toss: 49ers +2½) 

NEW ENGLAND (9-0) at BUFFALO (5-4)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 15½   

Strongest Trends:  The Patriots have won the last eight meetings, going 6-2 ATS.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots rolled at home, 38-7, in Week 3.

Patriots Status Report:  New England was off last week.  The Pats lead the AFC East by four games over the Bills.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo won at Miami last week, 13-10, and has won five of six games.

Fantasy Factors:  Nothing unusual where the Patriots are concerned.  Play all starting skill players, including the defense.  For Buffalo, RB Marshawn Lynch may be sidelined – doesn’t matter who starts in his place (Anthony Thomas, most likely) because you’d better bench him anyway.  WR Lee Evans is an OK start.  Coach Dick Jauron is opting for J.P. Losman over Trent Edwards at QB – a mistake in my opinion because Losman is more inclined toward mistakes and the Patriots’ D forces more than their share.  Avoid either one.

Game Summary:  About the only question to be answered is whether the Patriots can maintain their amazing momentum after their bye week.  I’m thinking they can.  They will prevail here because they’ve owned the Bills the last several years, and this is a team unfazed by playing in hostile territory.  Still, the break (a bye when you’ve won nine in a row isn’t necessarily welcome) and a red-hot home underdog are enough for me to pick against the Patriots ATS one final time.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 30-17  (coin toss: Bills +15½)

TENNESSEE (6-3) at DENVER (4-5)
Monday, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Broncos favored by 2 

Strongest Trends:  Denver had dropped 10 in a row at home ATS before covering in its victory over Pittsburgh three weeks ago.  The home team has won six of the last seven meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Broncos romped at Tennessee, 37-16, on Christmas Day, 2004.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee lost at home to Jacksonville last week, 28-13, to drop into a tie with the Jaguars for second place in the AFC South.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver rolled at Kansas City, 27-11, and is tied with the Chiefs for second in the AFC West, a game back of San Diego.

Fantasy Factors:  The Titans like to run.  The Broncos don’t stop the run very well.  Start RB Lendale White (check health status).  QB Vince Young seems to be at his best in front of the national TV stage, so I consider him a decent sleeper starter this week.  WR Brandon Jones, health permitting, and fellow wideout Justin Gage are fair starts.  For Denver, the starting RB (Travis Henry or Selvin Young) is a decent start – even against the Titans’ sturdy run defense - provided you can determine before kickoff who will go.  It’s possible that by Saturday, Henry will be suspended by the team if not the league.  WR Brandon Marshall is dinged, but remains a viable start if healthy enough to play.

Game Summary:  The pro-Denver line seems to be influenced heavily by last week’s results – but both were aberrations to an extent.  The Titans fell because, well, Jacksonville has a pretty decent team.  It doesn’t mean Tennessee isn’t still a quality club.  And Denver’s win over KC came to pass due in large part to the injury to Chiefs QB Damon Huard as well as scoring two TDs within 17 seconds to break a tight game open.  The Broncos are no longer a reliable home team (last month’s win over Pittsburgh not withstanding).  Tennessee’s superior defense and Young’s play-making are the difference.

Prediction:  TITANS, 20-14  (coin toss: Titans +2)

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