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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 15
Bob Cunningham
December 13, 2007

It was at this time two years ago when the Indianapolis Colts took a 13-0 record into a home game with San Diego and got beat.  They lost again before the end of the regular season, and again in the playoffs.  From perfection to ruin in roughly a month.

Is the same thing in store for the unbeaten New England Patriots?  Well, to begin with, they play the Jets this week and are favored by a bazillion points.  I’ll go out on a limb and predict they match the 14-0 regular season mark achieved by Miami in 1972… I’ll even agree that they will also beat the Dolphins the following weekend and make it to 15-0.

But that 16th game is no gimme.  Will the Patriots win at The Meadowlands against the New York Giants in their regular finale?

Ask me in two weeks… of course, by then you won’t have to.  I will offer up my pick without request, as I always do.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  134-74 (64 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  99-100-9 (49 percent)
Last Week:  12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 15: 

DENVER (6-7) at HOUSTON (6-7)
Thursday, Dec. 13, 5 p.m. PT

Line:  Even   

Strongest Trends:  The Texans are 4-2 SU and ATS at home.  Denver is 2-4 and 1-5 on the road. The Broncos have won all five previous meetings, but four of those were preseason games.

Last Meeting:  Denver rolled at home, 31-13, in 2004.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver is coming off a 41-7 home rout of Kansas City Sunday.  The Broncos are second in the AFC West, two games behind San Diego, and are two games out of a wild-card playoff berth.

Texans Status Report:  Houston stuffed visiting Tampa Bay a week ago, 28-14.  The Texans are last in the AFC South, but just two games out of a playoff berth.

Fantasy Factors:  My advice is that you gamble on Denver’s running game only if you have to.  Sedrick Young had the big numbers last week but Travis Henry did have a TD.  That said, here’s my take: Coach Mike Shanahan chose to take it easy on Henry last week because of ongoing soreness in Henry’s knee, and with the Broncos way ahead pretty early.  Expect Henry to be the starter again this week and remain in the game throughout if it remains close and winnable.  QB Jay Cutler is a decent start, and WR Brandon Marshall has become essentially an every-week player.  For Houston, it’s my understanding that RB Darius Walker will get the bulk of the work in the absence of injured Ahman Green and Ron Dayne, but you’re better off just avoiding this scenario altogether, the Broncos’ suspect rush defense not withstanding. QB Sage Rosenfels is a good sleeper play, and WR Andre Johnson is a must-start.

Game Summary:  Houston is one of those teams who I continually play against, only to watch the Texans beat teams I felt going in were superior.  The Broncos are remarkably unpredictable, especially on the road.  With their first-ever winning season in range, Houston prevails at home.

Prediction:  TEXANS, 24-21

Saturday, Dec. 15, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Bengals favored by 8½    

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won five of the last six meetings.  Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Bengals held on at home in 2003 for a 41-38 victory.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati scored an unimpressive 19-10 home win over St. Louis last week.  The Bengals are in third place in the AFC North.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco lost at home to Minnesota Sunday, 27-7.  The 49ers are tied with St. Louis for last in the NFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  The Bengals passing game has been a disappointment from a TD standpoint, but QB Carson Palmer and WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh are too good to overlook in this matchup.  WR Chris Henry’s production has declined since he returned from his eight-game suspension.  Bench him.  Cincinnati’s defense, rarely recommended, gets the nod this week.  For San Francisco, which is starting third-string QB Shaun Hill, only RB Frank Gore has even a remote chance of having success. But don’t you think the Bengals will put, like, 11 guys in the box?

Game Summary:  The 49ers defense is actually respectable, but it buckles occasionally from all the pressure put on it by the inept offense.  This game is an upset candidate – Cincinnati long ago stopped impressing me – but the Bengals have so much more going for them on offense that it’s also a prospect for a blowout.

Prediction:  BENGALS, 20-13

NEW YORK JETS (3-10) at NEW ENGLAND (13-0)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 23½     

Strongest Trend:  New England is 10-3 ATS this season as well as 13-0 SU.  The Patriots have defeated the Jets 11 of the last 12 meetings.

Last Meeting:  New England won at The Meadowlands, 38-14, in the season opener.

Jets Status Report:  The Jets lost at home to Cleveland Sunday, 24-18.  New York is third in the AFC East.

Patriots Status Report:  New England dominated visiting Pittsburgh for a 34-14 win.  The Patriots are one victory away, or an Indianapolis loss, from clinching homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Fantasy Factors:  Bench all Jets.  Play all Patriots, including the conditioning coach and the water boys.  Next.

Game Summary:  Before this season, I found laying even 13 or 14 points most unsettling, but the Patriots have transformed me and now I give away three-plus touchdowns like it was nothing.  Sure, the Pats might come out completely flat and allow the Jets to give ‘em a game for a quarter or so.  And Coach Bill Belichick might smile and admit he’s been cheating since 2002.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 42-0

BUFFALO (7-6) at CLEVELAND (8-5)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Browns favored by 5½    

Strongest Trend:  The Browns are 5-1 at home SU and ATS this season.

Last Meeting:  Buffalo won in a romp, 37-7, at home in 2004.

Bills Status Report:  The Bills whipped winless Miami at home a week ago, 38-17, and is just a game out of the last AFC wild-card berth, currently held by the Browns.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland held off the host New York Jets on Sunday, 24-18, and remain second in the AFC North, a game behind Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Factors:  The one way the Browns could lose this game is by yielding big plays.  That makes WR Lee Evans a good risk/reward guy this week.  QB Trent Edwards? Only in the largest leagues.  RB Marshawn Lynch is a decent start, but bear in mind he will likely share the workload again with Fred Jackson.  For Cleveland, go with all the key offensive personnel.

Game Summary:  It wouldn’t be shocking to see a Buffalo upset, but the Browns appear to me to be a team of destiny… perhaps destined to get squashed by, say, the Steelers in the playoffs… but a team of destiny all the same.  They’re very tough at home, and should hold serve here and continue their run toward the postseason.

Prediction:  BROWNS, 28-20

BALTIMORE (4-9) at MIAMI (0-13)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Ravens favored by 3½    

Strongest Trend:  The Dolphins haven’t won a game this season.  Trends don’t get much stronger than that.

Last Meeting:  Baltimore won at home, 30-23, in 2005.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore has dropped seven in a row including last week’s 44-20 loss at home to Indianapolis.  The Ravens are last in the AFC North.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami was beat down at Buffalo, 38-17, on Sunday.

Fantasy Factors:  Baltimore may be looking to start Troy Smith at QB, but the Ravens probably would wait until next week – avoiding the embarrassment of losing to Miami would be top priority.  RB Willis McGahee, who played his college ball at Miami, is a good start.  So is WR Derrick Mason.  The Ravens defense/special teams, despite their horrid play of late, is a good start as well.  For Miami, I have no recommendations.

Game Summary:  My upset special has arrived.  A sympathetic pick?  Yeah, maybe.  But the system I utilize has Baltimore winning by only two points.  Close enough for me.  I’ve said all along that the Dolphins played too many close games to wind up 0-16… so I’m putting my already-questionable prognosticating reputation where my mouth is.  How will it happen?  Cleo Lemon to the rescue?  Perhaps.  But more likely, it will be due to turnovers.  The Ravens are giving the ball away at a record pace during their skid.  And make no mistake about it – the Dolphins will be flying all over the field.  If they lose, it won’t be due to lack of hustle.  If someone quits in this game, it will be the Ravens.

Prediction:  DOLPHINS, 19-16

Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 3½

Strongest Trends:  The visiting team has won three of the last four meetings.  Jacksonville is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings. The Steelers are unbeaten at home (7-0) this season.

Last Meeting:  The Jaguars blanked visiting Pittsburgh, 9-0, last season.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville posted a 37-6 home rout of Carolina last week.  The Jaguars are second in the AFC South, two games behind Indianapolis.  Jacksonville also leads the AFC wild-card chase.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh was whupped at New England Sunday, 34-14, but remains a game up on Cleveland in the AFC North.

Fantasy Factors:  There are no Jaguars who make good starts, because Pittsburgh’s defense is yielding fewer than 10 points per home game.  For the Steelers, QB Ben Roethlisberger is only a mediocre start this week.  Ditto for RB Willie Parker, WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and TE Heath Miller.  The Steelers’ D is, of course, a great play.

Game Summary:  The Jaguars are an excellent team, and one of the few with a legitimate shot to beat the Steelers on their own turf.  But Pittsburgh has been such money at Heinz Field, there’s no logical way to buck that trend until after it ends.

Prediction:   STEELERS, 23-16

Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 4  

Strongest Trends:  The Chiefs are 2-5 SU at home, 1-5-1 ATS, but have covered the last two meetings with Tennessee.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won a shootout at Tennessee in 2004, 49-38.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee squandered a 17-3 fourth quarter lead last week at home and lost in overtime to San Diego, 23-17.  The Titans are third in the NFC South, and a game behind Cleveland for the final AFC wild-card berth.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City’s 41-7 loss at Denver Sunday was its sixth in a row. The Chiefs are tied with Oakland at the bottom of the AFC West.

Fantasy Factors:  The Titans ground game, led by Lendale White but also featuring Chris Brown, is worth consideration.  Ignore the passing attack – it’s too inconsistent, and this is fantasy playoff time.  Tennessee’s defense is a nice start.  For the Chiefs, RB Kolby Smith and TE Tony Gonzalez are about it… unless your league features 14 or more teams, in which WR Dwayne Bowe is a decent sleeper start despite the QB mess.

Game Summary:  Titans halt their skidding ways, and extend Kansas City’s.  But either way, it won’t be pretty.

Prediction:  TITANS, 17-10

GREEN BAY (11-2) at ST. LOUIS (3-10)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Packers favored by 9½  

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won 10 of the last 12 meetings, going 8-4 ATS.  The Packers are 5-1 ATS on the road, the Rams 2-4 at home (1-5 SU).

Last Meeting:  The Rams posted a 23-20 victory at Green Bay last season.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay routed the visiting Oakland Raiders last Sunday, 38-7, to clinch the NFC North.

Rams Status Report:  Playing without starting QB Marc Bulger and backup Gus Frerotte, the Rams lost at Cincinnati, 19-10.

Fantasy Factors:  All the primary Packers are great starts, but a tepid vote for the Packers defense (unless Bulger sits out again, in which case the unit is a strong start).  If Bulger is back to form, the Rams can do some damage with their skill guys.  Stephen Jackson is a strong start, with Bulger and Torry Holt more risky guys with upside.  Kicker Jeff Wilkins is a decent start this week, too.

Game Summary:  The Packers are on such a roll, and the veteran Favre will keep the team focused and not looking past anyone. He frequently struggles in domes, but he’s been pretty great everywhere this season. St. Louis’ year is lost, though, so the Rams will play with abandon.  Green Bay, beware.

Prediction:  PACKERS, 30-17

ATLANTA (3-10) at TAMPA BAY (8-5)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Buccaneers favored by 11

Strongest Trends:  Atlanta is 1-5 SU, but 4-2 ATS on the road this season.  The visitors have won the last two meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Bucs won at The Georgia Dome, 31-7, last month.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta was ripped at home by New Orleans Monday night, 34-14, and is last in the NFC South.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay lost at Houston Sunday, 28-14, but can still clinch the NFC South with a victory or New Orleans loss.

Fantasy Factors:  Only WR Roddy White is worth a look, especially with a new coach coming in, for the Falcons.  Who knows who else will start?  New coach might bench RB Warrick Dunn for Jerious Norwood.  For the Bucs, QB Jeff Garcia returns and he’s a good play along with RB Earnest Graham and WR Joey Galloway. Also love the Bucs defense/special teams.

Game Summary:  Garcia’s return will spark Tampa Bay to a decisive win and its first division title since winning the Super Bowl in 2003.

Prediction:  BUCCANEERS, 24-3

ARIZONA (6-7) at NEW ORLEANS (6-7)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 3½   

Strongest Trends:  The two teams have alternated winning over the last six meetings.  It’s the Saints’ turn.  The Cardinals are 4-3 ATS on the road, the Saints 1-5 ATS at home.

Last Meeting:  Arizona won in a rout, 34-10, at Sun Devil Stadium in 2004.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona was spanked at Seattle on Sunday, 42-21.  The Cardinals are second in the NFC West and a game behind Minnesota for the final NFC playoff berth.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans roughed up host Atlanta Monday night, 34-14, and is tied with the Cardinals, Detroit, and Washington in the NFC wild-card race.

Fantasy Factors:  The Cardinals attack is reasonable this week – QB Kurt Warner, RB Edgerrin James and WR Larry Fitzgerald, primarily.  WR Anquan Boldin is likely to sit, and TE Leonard Pope is out for the season.  I like K Neil Rackers as well. For the Saints, QB Drew Brees and WR Marques Colston are no-brainers, and I also like both RB Aaron Stecker and WR David Patten.  Bench both defenses.  Note: Saints kicker Olindo Mare is out for the season, replaced by Martin Gramatica.

Game Summary:  New Orleans has been far from a sure thing at home this season, going 2-4 at The Superdome compared to 4-3 on the road.  This is essentially a playoff game, because the winner will remain in contention and the loser almost definitely will be toast.  The Saints’ offense is the pick in a shootout.

Prediction:  SAINTS, 38-28

SEATTLE (9-4) at CAROLINA (5-8)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Seahawks favored by 8  

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won all three previous meetings, by an average margin of more than 16 points.

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks triumphed at home, 34-14, in the 2005 NFC Championship Game (played Jan. 22, 2006).

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle’s 42-21 home romp over Arizona last week was its fifth straight victory and clinched the NFC West crown.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina was hammered at Jacksonville last week, 37-6, for its six loss in seven weeks.  The Panthers are third in the NFC South, two games out of a playoff berth.

Fantasy Factors:  The Seattle passing game has been stellar led by QB Matt Hasselbeck and WRs Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch.  TE Marcus Pollard was also a factor last week for the first time since September.  The running game is confusing, because Shaun Alexander continues to start but Maurice Morris continues to end up with better stats.  Bench ‘em both.  Start the Seahawks defense, but beware that the unit isn’t nearly as effective on the road as it is at home.  For Carolina, WR Steve Smith is the only recommended start, because of his upside. However, if you think the Panthers have a shot at the upset, give RBs DeShaun Foster and/or DeAngelo Williams a chance.

Game Summary:  Seattle is red-hot… Carolina is really-not.  The Seahawks are trying to chase down a first-round playoff berth.  The Panthers are trying to avoid being chased down by Atlanta (hardly a challenge).  Since QB Jake Delhomme went down, the Panthers offense has been feeble.  No reason to believe that changes this week, but I also believe the Carolina defense will show up and keep things interesting against a relatively inconsistent road foe.

Prediction:  SEAHAWKS, 20-14

Sunday, Dec. 16, 1:05 p.m. PT

Line:   Colts favored by 10½

Strongest Trends:  The Colts are 6-1 SU and 4-3 ATS on the road, Oakland is 1-5 ATS at home.

Last Meeting:  The Colts rolled at home, 35-14, in 2004.

Colts Status Report:  Indy romped past host Baltimore Sunday night, 44-20, and has a two-game lead over Jacksonville in the AFC South.  A win by the Colts or loss by the Jaguars clinches the division.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was routed at Green Bay last week, 38-7, and is tied for last with Kansas City in the AFC West.
Fantasy Factors:  The Colts offense is again on a roll.  Start all primaries, including Anthony Gonzalez but not Marvin Harrison.  Even if Harrison returns for the first time in two months, this isn’t a good matchup.  I like Indianapolis’ defense, too, except that the Colts’ special teams have been horrible of late.  Insert at your own risk.  For Oakland, RB Justin Fargas is OK only in larger leagues or as a flex guy.  WR Jerry Porter has the same status.

Game Summary:  In a week decidedly leaning toward favorites, the Colts are just too good for the Raiders in virtually all aspects.  The homefield advantage won’t help Oakland enough.

Prediction:  COLTS, 27-13

DETROIT (6-7) at SAN DIEGO (8-5)
Sunday, Dec. 16, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 11    

Strongest Trends:  San Diego has won the last four meetings going back 15 years.  The Chargers have won three in a row at present, the Lions have dropped five straight. The Chargers are 4-1 ATS in their last five, Detroit 1-4.

Last Meeting:  The Chargers prevailed at Detroit, 14-7, in 2003.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit came from ahead to lose at home to Dallas Sunday, 28-27.  Despite their aforementioned skid, the Lions are still just a game out of the final NFC playoff spot.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego won its third in a row last week, rallying past host Tennessee in OT, 23-17.  The Chargers can clinch the AFC West with a victory or a Denver loss.

Fantasy Factors:  On paper, it looks bad for the Lions and great for the Bolts.  For fantasy purposes, trust that.  Because it’s playoff time, it’s not a time for hunches.  Sit your Lions, start your Chargers.

Game Summary:  I certainly won’t go so far as to pick a Lions upset, but I believe this game will be closer than most expect.  Here’s why.  San Diego has some key people out – DE Shawn Merriman and FB Lorenzo Neal (ask LaDainian Tomlinson if the loss of O’Neal is important to his chances of finding daylight), and TE Antonio Gates has a sore back, which could remove him from the game at anytime.  Also, QB Philip Rivers still turns the ball over too much and Detroit is among the league leaders in take-aways. The Lions may be bitterly disappointed over the loss to Dallas, but they at least proved to themselves that they are postseason worthy… and knowing they’re big underdogs could relax them.  San Diego survives a tight tussle.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 24-17

Sunday, Dec. 16, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 10½  

Strongest Trend:  Dallas has won seven straight overall, the Eagles have dropped three in a row.  Road team has won three of last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at Philadelphia, 38-17, in November.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia lost at home to the New York Giants last week, 16-13.  The Eagles are last in the NFC East.
Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas rallied to clip Detroit on the road, 28-27, and maintain their hold on homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Brian Westbrook is the only definite start for the Eagles.  Go with QB Donovan McNabb or WR Kevin Curtis if you’re feeling lucky, punk (just a little Clint Eastwood humor).  All the main Cowboys are quality starts including WR Patrick Crayton but not RB Julius Jones, except in larger leagues.  Marion Barber is clearly the man when it counts for Big D.

Game Summary:  I’m not convinced that beating Dallas, in and of itself, is enough motivation for an Eagles team all but officially eliminated from postseason contention.  Cowboys roll to a season sweep.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 34-10

Sunday, Dec. 16, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Giants favored by 4½    

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

Last Meeting:  New York rallied for a 24-17 win at Washington in Week 3.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington held off visiting Chicago for a 24-16 victory last Thursday.  The Redskins are third in the NFC East, but just a game out of the final NFC wild-card playoff berth.

Giants Status Report:  New York came from behind to beat the Eagles at Philadelphia, 16-13.  The Giants lead the NFC wild-card race by two games.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Todd Collins played well in relief of injured Jason Campbell last week, and is actually a fair sleeper in this contest along with WRs Santana Moss and Antuan Randle El.  TE Chris Cooley is a definite start.  RB Clinton Portis (check health status) is a fair start.  For the Giants, the primary offensive starters are good to go… but this isn’t a fantastic matchup.  Start the Giants defense.

Game Summary:  With all due respect to Collins, the Giants defense has a clear edge here.  And the G-Men are playing well after a brief midseason hiccup.  NY pulls away late.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 23-13

CHICAGO (5-8) at MINNESOTA (7-6)
Monday, Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Vikings favored by 10

Strongest Trends:  Home team has won 9 of the last 11 meetings, but visitors have taken two of three including the first meeting this season.  Chicago is 0-3 ATS on artificial turf.

Last Meeting:  Minnesota rallied to win at Chicago, 34-31, in October.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago is on the verge of elimination after losing last week to Washington, 24-16.  Da Bears are last in the NFC North, and two games back of the Vikings, who currently hold the last playoff berth.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota’s 27-7 clobbering of host San Francisco last week was its fifth win in six weeks.

Fantasy Factors:  Chicago will start Kyle Orton at QB.  That news has caused a national wave of eye-rolls, but I figure Orton won’t be any worse than Rex Grossman or Brian Griese, and he might surprise like Washington’s Collins did in beating the Bears last week.  RB Adrian Peterson should be benched – the Bears’ AP, that is.  WR Bernard Berrian and TE Greg Olson are decent starts.  For Minnesota, the rookie stud “AP” is a good start despite his struggles last week.  I still don’t recommend any Vikings receivers, especially in a fantasy playoff week, nor would I start QB Tavaris Jackson.  I’m all over the Vikings teams, however.

Game Summary:  I believe Orton will perform better than most expect.  He’s started in the NFL before, and his results have been respectable though certainly not spectacular.  If the Bears’ defense can dial it up a notch, they can keep this game close.  As it is, the line is too much for a “Norris Division” rivalry game.

Prediction:  VIKINGS, 23-17

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