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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 13
Bob Cunningham
November 29, 2007

The second major showdown game of the season takes place this week, with Green Bay’s visit to Big D Thursday night to take on the Cowboys.

It’s a battle for NFC supremacy between two 10-1 teams.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you’re a football fan.  And it’s a crucial game in determining the pecking order for the conference come playoff time, because the winner would likely host a rematch between the two in the NFC Championship Game if both get that far, as now expected.

The only bad thing is that the telecast belongs to the NFL Network.  Fortunately, as and of two months ago, I now get the NFL network.  But more than 60 percent of the nation doesn’t, which is why I believe the network should have waited until they were in more homes before beginning to heist games from CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN.

Anyway, back to Packers-Cowboys.  Being the home team in this series means something.  The host has won the last 13 meetings between the two.  Most of those were played at Dallas, i.e. the Cowboys won most of those contests.

But this has been a season of halting trends.  Green Bay’s victory at Denver earlier this year was, I believe, its first ever there.  And last week, Oakland halted a nine-game losing streak against Kansas City and even more against AFC West foes with a single upset win over the Chiefs (and I hope you noted that was my Upset Special).

Shoot, I might even have another winning week prognosticating, like I did last week for the first time in a month.  See? Anything truly can happen.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  109-67 (62 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  79-87-9 (47 percent)
Last Week:  11-5 SU, 10-6 ATS

Here’s how I see lucky Week 13: 

GREEN BAY (10-1) at DALLAS (10-1)
Thursday, Nov. 29, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 6½   

Strongest Trends:  In addition to winning the last 13 meetings, the home team is 11-1-1 ATS over that stretch.  Also, 12 of those meetings went over the points total.

Last Meeting:  Green Bay won big at home, 41-20, in 2004.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay rallied from an early deficit on Thanksgiving morning to beat the Lions at Detroit, 37-26.  The Packers have a four-game lead in the NFC North and will clinch the division title with a victory, and a Detroit loss at Minnesota.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas easily beat the visiting New York Jets on Thanksgiving, 34-3.  The Cowboys lead the New York Giants by three games in the NFC East.  Dallas can clinch the division crown with a victory, and a Giants loss at Chicago.

Fantasy Factors:  Although both defenses are solid, I expect both attacks to be successful and for a shootout to be the result.  Play all the key personnel for both offenses, and bench both defenses.  Check the health status of Dallas WR Patrick Crayton, who is expected to return to the lineup.

Game Summary:  Considering all the history surrounding the home team’s success in this pseudo-rivalry, it’s not much of a reach to go with Dallas at home.  But I respect the Packers too much to be convinced of an easy Cowboys win – that spread is too many.  The Packers’ excellent secondary might come up big and trigger an upset… as it is, I like Dallas’ to outscore the Packers but for the result to be in doubt until very late.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 27-24

NEW YORK JETS (2-9) at MIAMI (0-11)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Dolphins favored by 1    

Strongest Trends:  The Jets are 6-1 SU in the last seven meetings and 7-1 ATS in the last eight.

Last Meeting:  The Jets held on at home in Week 3 for a 31-28 victory.

Jets Status Report:  The Jets were drubbed at Dallas on Thanksgiving, 34-3, and are third in the AFC East.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami lost at Pittsburgh Monday night, 3-0, on a drenched field.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Thomas Jones didn’t do much at Dallas, but he was strong the week before and the Dolphins run defense is the league’s worst.  Expect a solid effort.  The passing game is not such a good play, although if Laveranues Coles plays he’s worth a start.  For Miami, the RB situation is in limbo.  Jesse Chatman has a neck injury and Ricky Williams is out for the season.  If it comes down to Patrick Cobbs as their featured back, you should look elsewhere.  TE David Martin is a decent sleeper play.  Avoid all others.

Game Summary:  How bad are you when you’re an underdog to a winless team this late in the season? As much as I’d like to forecast the Dolphins’ first victory – and it obviously could happen – the numbers point to the Jets grinding out an ugly win.

Prediction:  JETS, 20-14

Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 5½     

Strongest Trend:  Buffalo has won and covered ATS each of the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Bills prevailed at home, 24-7, in 2003.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo lost at Jacksonville last week, 36-14.  The Bills are second in the AFC East and currently two games out of a playoff berth.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington was beaten at Tampa Bay Sunday, 19-13, for its third straight loss.  The Redskins are tied with Philadelphia for third in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  The Bills are going back to rookie QB Trent Edwards, but this isn’t a particularly good matchup.  Even with the tragic death of Sean Taylor, the Redskins secondary is formidable.  If RB Marshawn Lynch returns to the lineup, he would make a solid start, but the odds are against it at this writing.  Anthony Thomas is not a particularly good play. Because of his big-play potential, WR Lee Evans is a tentative start. For the Redskins, QB Jason Campbell is a decent sleeper start this week, with RB Clinton Portis and TE Chris Cooley also set to produce.  WR Santana Moss is hit-or-miss.  Both defenses are mediocre starts at best.

Game Summary:  If Lynch were returning, I’d be leaning toward the upset here, especially with the unpredictability of how Washington will be emotionally in the wake of the loss of Taylor.  But Lynch is likely to sit out again, and a journeyman back combined with a rookie QB just doesn’t inspire confidence.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 28-14

Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 7   

Strongest Trend:  The total score has alternated over/under over that last eight meetings, with the over due this time.

Last Meeting:  Indianapolis rolled at Jacksonville, 29-7, in Week 7.

Jaguars Status Report:  The Jaguars routed visiting Buffalo last week, 36-14, for their third straight win.  They’re second in the AFC South, a game behind the Colts.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis whipped host Atlanta Thanksgiving night, 31-13.  The Colts lead the AFC South and are ranked second overall in the conference.

Fantasy Factors:  Jacksonville’s attack has come alive in recent weeks, with heady QB David Garrard to play mistake-free football.  Fantasy-wise, however, there are a lot better options.  RBs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor are both decent starts.  For the Colts, WR Marvin Harrison is tentatively expected to return and that could help open up the passing attack, but RB Joseph Addai has a sore neck.  If he sits, Kenton Keith is a good start  Play all the other key regulars, including the defense.

Game Summary:  As good as the Jaguars are, they’re out of their element in domes against high-powered passing attacks.  Consider their 41-24 loss at New Orleans less than a month ago.  They were owned by the Colts the first time around on their home turf.  It’s doubtful they can keep up this time, especially considering their history of averaging barely more than two TD over their last half-dozen visits.

Prediction:  COLTS, 31-17

HOUSTON (5-6) at TENNESSEE (6-5)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 3½   

Strongest Trend:  Tennessee has dominated this series, winning the last five meetings and posting a 4-1 ATS mark in that stretch.

Last Meeting:  The Titans survived a furious comeback by host Houston back in Week 7 and netted a 38-36 triumph.

Texans Status Report:  Houston lost at Cleveland a week ago, 27-17, and is last in the AFC South.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee was routed at Cincinnati Sunday, 35-6, for its third straight defeat.  The Titans are third in the AFC South, three back of front-running Indianapolis and two behind Jacksonville.

Fantasy Factors:  The Houston passing game has been productive since the return of WR Andre Johnson. Start him, and QB Matt Schaub is a decent sleeper-level guy.  Ignore the running game.  For Tennessee, RB Lendale White is a strong start and WR Justin Gage seems to be emerging as the go-to… when QB Vince Young goes to anyone other than himself.  Bench both defenses.

Game Summary:  The Titans are slumping but a home game against a team they have already beaten (and usually do) may be just the tonic.  Look for the team to put together its best effort in a month.

Prediction:  TITANS, 27-20

SAN DIEGO (6-5) at KANSAS CITY (4-7)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 4½

Strongest Trend:  The Chiefs have won three of the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  Kansas City shocked the Chargers at San Diego in Week 4, 30-16.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego routed visiting Baltimore Sunday, 32-14, to seize a 1-game lead in the AFC West.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City lost at home to Oakland, 20-17.  It was the Chiefs’ fourth straight defeat.  They are third in the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  Nothing unusual for San Diego – you have to start RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates, but it’s too risky to start anyone else.  For Kansas City, RB Kolby Smith was huge last week and will get plenty of work again.  Considering what Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson did to the Chargers barely a month ago, give Smith another shot.  TE Tony Gonzalez is the only other obvious start.

Game Summary:  This is just the sort of game the Chargers have been failing to win this season, which has featured only one road victory.  Historically, KC has been nasty at home.  But this year, the Chiefs are 2-4.  Their offense is injury-plagued.  San Diego has to step up at some point, with all its talent.

Prediction:   CHARGERS, 20-13

Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 3

Strongest Trends:  The road team has won the last four meetings.  Seattle has won each of its last two trips to Philadelphia, and both by shutouts.

Last Meeting:  Seattle routed the Eagles at Philly in 2005, 42-0.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle won its third straight last week, 24-19 at St. Louis after trailing 19-7 in the third quarter.  The Seahawks have a two-game lead over Arizona in the NFC West.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia was the toughest foe yet for unbeaten New England Sunday night, but eventually lost at Foxborough, 31-28.  The Eagles are tied for third with Washington in the NFC East.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Deion Branch are good starts, but WR D. J. Hackett is out and Bobby Engram and/or Nate Burleson are mediocre plays.  RB Maurice Morris is OK in deeper leagues.  For the Eagles, the QB situation is iffy – Donovan McNabb may return even though A.J. Feeley was excellent against the Patriots.  Either way, the only sure start for the Eagles is RB Brian Westbrook.  TE L.J. Smith is coming on, however.

Game Summary:  Seattle is putting things together at the right time, and the ambiguity with the Eagles offense – even in light of its performance at New England – is enough to sour me on the home team. It should be close and entertaining, however.  Although admittedly not a shocker, this does qualify as my Upset Special.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 21-20

DETROIT (6-5) at MINNESOTA (5-6)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Vikings favored by 3½

Strongest Trends:  Minnesota had won 10 straight in the series before the Lions beat them in Week 2 at Detroit, 20-17.

Last Meeting:  See above.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit lost its third in a row lat Thursday, 37-26 to visiting Green Bay.  The Lions remain second in the NFC North.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota ran three interceptions back for touchdowns Sunday en route to a 41-17 rout of the host New York Giants.  The Vikings are tied with Chicago for third place in the NFC North, a game back of the Lions.

Fantasy Factors:  You have to assume Detroit QB Jon Kitna will play better than Eli Manning did last week, and start him along with WRs Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson.  RB Kevin Jones, health permitting, is a fair start.  For the Vikings, RB Adrian Peterson returns to the fold – he is the lone Vikings player worth starting.  The Minnesota defense is a decent start, too, but don’t expect a repeat of last week.

Game Summary:  The Vikings are playing well these days, and get the game’s best young offensive player back in the lineup.  Detroit has lost three straight and is on the road.  Two weeks ago, the Giants beat the Lions fairly easily.  Last week, the Vikes manhandled those same Giants on the road.  I’ll take the host Vikings, please.

Prediction:  VIKINGS, 24-16

Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Panthers favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  Carolina is 9-1 ATS in the last 10 meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Panthers prevailed at San Francisco, 37-27, in 2004.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco stunned host Arizona last week, 37-31 in OT, to escape a last-place tie with St. Louis in the NFC West.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina’s 31-6 loss to visiting New Orleans last week was its fifth in a row.  The Panthers are just a game out of last place in the NFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  The 49ers offense awoke last week, and Frank Gore is certainly a candidate to put together another big week as he enjoyed in the desert.  I still won’t recommend the 49ers passing game, however.  For Carolina, they must play ball-control… and it’s sad sign for David Carr that the prevailing opinion is Vinny Testaverde giving the Panthers a better chance of success.  I’d sit all Panthers except for WR Steve Smith, only because Smith is so talented he can explode at any time.

Game Summary:  Higher-scoring than everyone expects, and my reasoning for picking the home team is simple – they still have playmakers on defense, and they’re unlikely to go 0-8 at home this year.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 24-20

ATLANTA (3-8) at ST. LOUIS (2-9)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Rams favored by 4  

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won and covered ATS in the last four meetings.  Each of the last nine meetings have been lopsided – all decided by more than two touchdowns.

Last Meeting:  The Falcons won a 2004 NFC playoff game at home, 47-17.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta lost at home to Indianapolis, 31-13, on Thanksgiving night. The Falcons are last in the NFC South.

Rams Status Report:  The Rams came from ahead Sunday to lost to visiting Seattle, 24-19.  They are last in the NFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  For the Falcons, I like both RBs – Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood – to be productive but starting either is risky.  I never like the Atlanta passing attack, but WR Roddy White has upside.  For the Rams, QB Marc Bulger is expected to start and the attack should be in full swing at home against a relatively soft foe.  I expect RB Stephen Jackson to have his best game of the campaign to date.

Game Summary:  One thing is clear based on history – these teams don’t play close games.  Nine in a row have been decided by 17 or more points.  I believe the Rams will come through at home, but I wanted to note early the logic behind the lopsided prediction.

Prediction:  RAMS, 38-20

CLEVELAND (7-4) at ARIZONA (5-6)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:  Cardinals favored by 1

Strongest Trend:  The home team won both the previous meetings (since the Browns were discontinued, then re-born after the old group moved to Baltimore).

Last Meeting:  The Browns won in a romp, 44-6, at home in 2003.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland defeated visiting Houston on Sunday, 27-17, to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the NFC North.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona stumbled at home last week, losing to San Francisco in OT, 37-31, to fall two games back of Seattle in the NFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  Both offenses should enjoy success.  Go with all the key skill-position players on both teams, and ignore the defenses.

Game Summary:  This game has the earmarks of a shootout, but it’s a tough game to analyze.  What do we make of the Cardinals’ loss to the 49ers?  A stumble, or a precursor to typical Cardinals happenings?  Cleveland just motors right along, but the Browns are only 2-3 on the road this season and Arizona – before last week – was pretty tough at home, with wins over Pittsburgh, Detroit and Seattle.  Because the Cardinals need the game more, they get the nod.

Prediction:  CARDINALS, 34-27

DENVER (5-6) at OAKLAND (3-8)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:   Broncos favored by 3½

Strongest Trends:  The Broncos have won the last five meetings, and eight of nine, but Oakland has covered ATS in three straight.

Last Meeting:  The Broncos won in OT at home, 23-20, in Week 2.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver squandered a late lead and lost at Chicago in overtime Sunday, 37-34.  The Broncos are a game behind San Diego in the AFC West.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland ended a nine-game losing streak to Kansas City last week with a 20-17 road victory.  The Raiders remain last in the AFC West, however.
Fantasy Factors:  Oakland still has trouble slowing the run, so whichever RB starts for the Broncos will make a good start.  But if you can’t figure out whom it is, Andre Hall makes a decent sleeper play because he figures to get some work even if he doesn’t start.  I like WR Brandon Marshall, but that’s about it in the passing game for Denver.  RB Justin Fargas is an excellent start for the Raiders, and either defense is decent.

Game Summary:  Denver’s defense and special teams have to be real concerns for coach Mike Shanahan.  Sure, Chicago’s Devin Hester is special.  So why are you kicking it to him? And that defense wasn’t in shutdown mode even with Rex Grossman at the controls.  Oakland has played respectable defense for most of the season, and will sport renewed confidence after last week.

Prediction:  RAIDERS, 16-14

Sunday, Dec. 2, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 1½    

Strongest Trends:  The road team has won the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Bears rolled at The Meadowlands last November, 38-20.

Giants Status Report:  New York’s shocking 41-17 home loss to Minnesota last week was its second defeat in three weeks.  The Giants are second in the NFC East, but have fallen a hefty three games behind Dallas.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago rallied to clip visiting Denver in OT on Sunday, 37-34, and is tied with Minnesota for third in the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Eli Manning was brutal last week.  While I believe he will bounce back, the frigid weather at Chicago makes it less likely he has a huge day.  He’s a decent start, but not a great one.  Play his receivers (but check the status of WR Plaxico Burress), and bypass the running game unless Brandon Jacobs is announced as fit to play.  For the Bears, RB Adrian Peterson is a solid start with Cedric Benson sidelined for the balance of the season.  WR Bernard Berrian is also a solid start because QB Rex Grossman does one thing pretty well – throw the deep ball.  Both defenses are OK starts, but not ideal.

Game Summary:  The Giants remain the better team but when the numbers are crunched, but the homefield advantage combined with the unknown health of Burress pushes me toward Chicago.

Prediction:  BEARS, 23-20

TAMPA BAY (7-4) at NEW ORLEANS (5-6)
Sunday, Dec. 2, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 3

Strongest Trend:  The Bucs are 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  Tampa Bay won at home, 31-14, in Week 2.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay held off visiting Washington last week, 19-13, and remains two games up in the NFC South.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans routed host Carolina Sunday, 31-6, to take over second place in the NFC South.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Jeff Garcia is listed as questionable, but my bet is he’ll play because he’s that kind of player.  He knows the implications of the game and gut it out for his club.  That means WR Joey Galloway is a must-start, and RBs Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman (check health status) are also worthy lineup members.  For the Saints, start the regulars – QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush (because you never know when he going to explode statistically) and WR Marques Colston – but forget the rest of the offense.  Need a defense for the week?  You could do worse than the Saints.

Game Summary:  So often, important games like this one are decided on the defensive side of the ball.  That’s why I like the Bucs… that and because I believe Garcia will play.  Also, the Saints have been ridiculously unpredictable this season.  They’re coming off a stellar performance, which means based on their ’07 track record that they’ll take a huge step backwards when, on paper, they have no reason to.  With all this said, if Garcia sits the Saints are the clear pick.  So on this game, and because I have to turn this into my editor by Wednesday night, I’m going with conditional picks:

Prediction:  If Garcia plays - BUCCANEERS, 24-21
                     If Garcia sits -    SAINTS, 21-10 

Sunday, Dec. 2, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 7   

Strongest Trend:  The road team has won seven straight and nine of 10.  Also, the road team is 10-1-1 ATS in the last 12.

Last Meeting:  Pittsburgh won at Cincinnati in Week 8, 24-13.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati ripped visiting Tennessee last week, 35-6, and is tied with Baltimore for last in the NFC North.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh clipped visiting Miami on a rain-soaked field Monday night, 3-0, to retain its one-game cushion atop the NFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  The Bengals attack appears to be somewhat revitalized, but the Steelers are averaging fewer than 10 points scored against at home, so fantasy regulars Carson Palmer and his receivers won’t likely reach regular levels of production.  RB Rudi Johnson is in the same category, but worse because he’s been lousy for most of the season anyway.  Pittsburgh’s offense has had problems lately because the line has been failing QB Ben Roethlisberger.  The Bengals aren’t known for their pass rush, however, so expect the leak to be plugged.  Play all the regular Steelers, including the defense.  Oh, and bench the kickers because of field conditions.

Game Summary:  It’s uncanny how the visitors have owned this rivalry in recent years, but as previously mentioned this has been a season of halting trends.  Count this one in, too, because while an upset is certainly possible given how explosive the Bengals can be, there’s no logical recourse to pick against the Steelers on their drenched home turf.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 28-17

Monday, Dec. 3, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 20½

Strongest Trend:  The unbeaten Patriots are 9-2 ATS and have won nine times by at least 17 points.  The Ravens are 1-10 ATS this season.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots won at home, 24-3, in 2004.

Patriots Status Report:  New England looked merely human Sunday night, holding off visiting Philadelphia, 31-28.  The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title and could sew-up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs as soon as next week.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore’s 32-14 loss a week ago at San Diego was its fifth in a row.  The Ravens are tied for last in the AFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  Yes, the Ravens are notorious for having a quality defense.  No, it won’t help much this week.  If you gave even a passing thought to benching any Pats, slap yourself across the cheek and snap out of it.  For Baltimore, the only player I’d consider is WR Derrick Mason.

Game Summary:  Not sure why I bother trying to forecast Patriots games vs. the point spread.  I believe I’m 1-10 ATS in games involving New England.  Seriously.  This week, my usual logic would be to jump all over a 20+ home underdog on national TV.  I mean, there are all sorts of reason to predict the Ravens covering that gaudy number.  Gimme the Pats.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 31-7

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