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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Week 17
Bob Cunningham
December 27, 2007

The tricky thing about attempting to analyze regular season finales is figuring out which coaches will go all out to win, and which will be more interested in resting starters in preparation for the postseason.

I will attempt to do just that this week… but as always, I make no promises.  Some coaches do things that make little sense.  I am a big fan of Colts coach Tony Dungy.  But if I were him, my regulars would have rested last week and then played a little more this week, rather than the reverse.  Spread out the break time… and focus on a more important game (important because of what’s on the line for the opponent).

I can make one promise – The Patriots will go all out in pursuit of perfection.  Wish I could make the same claim for the Giants, but to be honest, I just don’t know.

Anyway, a quick glance at the remaining NFL playoff scenarios:  In the AFC, only two things remain undecided – who will be the higher seed between North Division champion Pittsburgh and West titlist San Diego, and who will secure the final wild-card berth – Tennessee or Cleveland.

To give you a quick advance to below, I like the Chargers and Browns.

In the NFC, only the last wild-card berth is on the line.  Minnesota, Washington or New Orleans could claim the spot.  I like the Redskins, and will explain why below.

NOTE REGARDING MY “FANTASY FACTORS”:  I will go ahead and provide my usual suggestions for your lineups, but if your league is still in action this weekend, you’ve asked for any unusual/unfair results you endure.  Don’t blame me (unless it truly makes you feel better, in which case go ahead – I can take it).

Enjoy the games, friends.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  155-85 (65 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  119-112-9 (51 percent)
Last Week:  10-6 SU, 10-6 ATS

Here’s how I see Week 17: 

Saturday, Dec. 29, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 14½    

Strongest Trends:  The Patriots win every week.  Other than that, no particular trends worth mentioning.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots prevailed at home, 17-6, in 2003.

Patriots Status Report:  New England became the first team ever to win its first 15 regular season games, easily defeating visiting Miami Sunday, 28-7.  The Patriots will be the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

Giants Status Report:  The Giants rallied down 14-0 to beat host Buffalo on Sunday, 38-21, and clinch an NFC playoff berth.  New York will be the fifth seed and open the playoffs at Tampa Bay next weekend.

Fantasy Factors:  All the primary Patriots are good to go.  There’s no way New England takes it easy when it can make history.  As for the Giants, head coach Tom Coughlin has been non-committal about how he will approach this game, but my guess is he will go all-out for the first half or maybe three quarters.  If the game is winnable at that point, he’ll go for it.  But if his team is down more than, say, 14 points, he’ll sit his regulars the rest of the way.  With that theory in mind, I can’t recommend any Giants.  RB Brandon Jacobs, because he hobbled out of last week’s game with a sore ankle, should be benched.  Rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw is a strong sleeper start.

Game Summary:  The Pats have come this far, but I don’t believe the host Giants will make it easy.  They have a defensive line that can pressure QB Tom Brady better than most, and perhaps reduce his effectiveness.  I see this game as similar to the bad-weather win for the Pats over the New York Jets two weeks ago.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 23-13

CINCINNATI (6-9) at MIAMI (1-14)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Bengals favored by 2½    

Strongest Trends:  Miami is 7-1 SU and ATS in the last eight meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Bengals won at home, 16-13, in 2004.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati dealt a serious blow to arch-rival Cleveland’s playoff chances Sunday, upsetting the Browns at home, 19-14.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami outscored New England 7-0 in the second half of their game Sunday.  Unfortunately, the Patriots had a 28-0 lead at halftime – thus, the Dolphins lost, 28-7.

Fantasy Factors:  Nothing wrong with utilizing the Cincinnati passing game, as well as RB Kenny Watson and Rudi Johnson (check health status).  For Miami, RB Jesse Chatman is a decent start.

Game Summary:  In terms of motivation, I have to believe the Dolphins will want this more.  With only one victory, they will view this home game as realistically winnable.  The Bengals have nothing to play for.  They’re destined for a losing season regardless of the result.  So I’m giving this one to the team that I believe will want it more.

Prediction:  DOLPHINS, 24-21

Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Eagles favored by 7½    

Strongest Trends:  Buffalo had won four in a row in this series before the Eagles won the last meeting in 2003.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles won at Buffalo, 23-13, in 2003.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo surrendered a 14-0 lead at home to the New York Giants last week and lost, 38-21.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia won on the road for the second week in a row, handling New Orleans, 38-23.

Fantasy Factors:  The Bills will try to control the clock with RB Marshawn Lynch.  He’s a decent start, but don’t expect huge numbers.  For Philly, QB Donovan McNabb is unpredictable but figures to be a good start along with RB Brian Westbrook and WRs Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown.  I also like the Eagles defense.

Game Summary:  Philadelphia is enjoying another of what has become a typical strong finish.  Avoiding a losing season is decent motivation for both teams, but only the Eagles will actually act on it sufficiently.

Prediction:  EAGLES, 27-10

Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Browns favored by 10½    

Strongest Trend:  The Browns are 6-1 SU and ATS at home this season.

Last Meeting:  Cleveland won at San Francisco, 13-12, in 2003.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco won its second in a row at home, 21-19 over Tampa Bay.

Browns Status Report:  Cleveland blew a chance to secure the final AFC wild-card berth, losing at Cincinnati on Sunday, 19-14.  The Browns no longer control their fate.  They’re out if Tennessee beats Indianapolis, and in if the Titans lose.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Frank Gore is the only logical play for the 49ers at frigid Cleveland.  For the Browns RB Jamal Lewis is a lock.  QB Derek Anderson, WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow are must-starts, unless…

Game Summary:  … the Browns do something a little odd.  Might coach Romeo Crennel rest his regulars?  They don’t have to win this game to make the playoffs.  It’s all about what Tennessee does against Indianapolis.  Give his key guys the week off?  Nah, won’t happen.  Teams want to be sharp going into the playoffs.  Beware, however, that if Cleveland gets up by enough the starters will likely get early exits.

Prediction:  BROWNS, 16-6

Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Texans favored by 6½     

Strongest Trend:  Houston is 7-3 ATS in 10 meetings.

Last Meeting:  Jacksonville rolled at home, 37-17, in October.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville clinched the fifth seeding in the AFC playoffs with a 49-11 rout of Oakland at home Sunday.

Texans Status Report:  Houston was whipped at Indianapolis last week, 38-15.

Fantasy Factors:  Logically, the Jaguars may choose to rest their regulars.  But as fiery as coach Jack Del Rio is, and with the prevailing theory of wanting to stay sharp for the playoffs, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jaguars play their starters for three quarters. Still, I can’t recommend anyone for Jacksonville.  For Houston, RB Darius Walker and WR Andre Johnson are good starters.

Game Summary:  The oddsmakers are convinced Jacksonville is going to play its scrubs.  I’m not.  My research has found nothing to that end.  I like the Jaguars to play all-out for most of the contest in an attempt to maintain their current momentum.  I do believe, however, that Houston will be just a little more motivated.  It’ll be close, one way or the other.

Prediction:  TEXANS, 23-20

DETROIT (7-8) at GREEN BAY (12-3)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Packers favored by 3½

Strongest Trend:  Green Bay has won nine of the last 11 meetings, including the last seven played at Lambeau Field.

Last Meeting:  The Packers won at Detroit, 37-26, on Thanksgiving Day.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit snapped a six-game losing streak with a 25-20 home victory over Kansas City on Sunday.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay was routed at Chicago Sunday, 35-7, and lost a shot at the NFC’s No. 1 seeding.  The Packers will be second, though, and still get a first round bye.

Fantasy Factors:  Assuming cold weather, I don’t expect a lot of scoring.  For Detroit, RB T.J. Duckett might be the Lions’ top weapon.  Anyone in the passing game is a risky play at best.  For the Pack, don’t expect wholesale resting.  The primary starters will go at least a half, maybe the whole game.  QB Brett Favre, RB Ryan Grant, and WRs Greg Jennings (check health status) and Donald Driver should be decent starts.

Game Summary:  Had Green Bay performed well at Chicago last week, coach Mike McCarthy might be tempted to go easy on the visiting Lions and rest some regulars. But after the Pack was trounced in the Windy City, I’m thinking he will want to go into the postseason coming off a quality performance.  They can use their bye week to rest.

Prediction:   PACKERS, 24-13

NEW ORLEANS (7-8) at CHICAGO (6-9)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Saints favored by 2   

Strongest Trends:  The Bears have won the last two meetings, including a 39-14 thrashing of the Saints in last January’s NFC Championship Game.

Last Meeting:  See above.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans’ already-thin playoff hopes got even skinnier after a 38-23 home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.  To go to the playoffs, the Saints must beat Chicago and have both Minnesota and Washington lose.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago salvaged a great deal of pride in a disappointing season with a 35-7 romp over visiting Green Bay.

Fantasy Factors:  Any Saints are risky plays in the outdoors of Chicago.  RB Adrian Peterson is a decent start for the Bears.

Game Summary:  The Saints are favored?  Yeah, New Orleans features a more explosive attack.  And if the game were being played at The Superdome, they’d be a logical choice… by a lot more than two points, in fact. But at Soldier Field with the Bears trying to spoil their season?  Plus, the Bears dominated at home less than a year ago.  All signs point to the home team.  By the way, I said back in September that Kyle Orton was probably the Bears’ best QB.  Nothing has changed in my mind.

Prediction:  BEARS, 20-13

CAROLINA (6-9) at TAMPA BAY (9-6)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Panthers favored by 2½   

Strongest Trends:  The underdog is 8-1 ATS in the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  Tampa Bay won at Carolina, 20-7, in September.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina lost at home to Dallas Saturday night, 20-13.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay was knocked off at San Francisco, 21-19, and is the fourth seed for the NFC playoffs.  The Bucs will host the New York Giants during wild-card weekend.

Fantasy Factors:  WR Steve Smith… that’s it for Carolina.  OK, maybe RB DeAngelo Williams, if you’re in a gambling mood. For the Bucs, expect the starters (except dinged WR Joey Galloway) to play the first half.  None can be recommended under that scenario, but I do still like the Tampa defense/special teams.

Game Summary:  Will the Bucs mail this one in?  Coach Jon Gruden certainly has a decision to make.  Is he willing to risk injury to key players in the attempt to avoid a two-game skid going into the postseason?  I say yes… to a point.

Prediction:  BUCCANEERS, 17-10

SEATTLE (10-5) at ATLANTA (3-12)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Falcons favored by 2½

Strongest Trends:  Seattle has won the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks won at home, 21-18, in 2005.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle clinched the NFC’s No. 3 seeding with a 27-6 rout of visiting Baltimore Sunday.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta’s 30-27 OT loss at Arizona was its sixth straight.

Fantasy Factors:  No recommendations for the Seahawks.  For Atlanta, I like RB Jerious Norwood and WR Roddy White.

Game Summary:  Unlike some of the other playoff qualifiers with nothing to play for, Seattle has been playing well down the stretch is coming off a solid win.  I believe coach Mike Holmgren will rest his key players for much if not all of the game.  And hey… the Seahawks aren’t that good on the road even when they play their regulars.  Falcons salvage a little pride to end the campaign.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 21-13

Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Steelers favored by 3½

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won 11 of the last 12 meetings.

Last Meeting:  Pittsburgh embarrassed the visiting Ravens, 38-7, in November.

Steelers Status Report:  Pittsburgh won at St. Louis last Thursday night, 41-24, and clinched the AFC North title Sunday when Cleveland lost at Cincinnati.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore’s 27-6 loss at Seattle Sunday was its ninth in a row.

Fantasy Factors:  RB Willie Parker is out for the season, and other key Steelers likely will be rested Sunday according to coach Mike Tomlin.  Therefore, no Pittsburgh recommendations.  For the Ravens, RB Musa Smith is a nice sleeper play in place of injured Willis McGahee, and veteran WR Derrick Mason keeps producing even amidst this disaster of a season.

Game Summary:  Even with all the unusual circumstances, this is a rivalry game – but one that will mean a lot more to the Ravens, I suspect.  Tomlin seems content to prepare for the playoffs rather than go all-out in this one hoping his team can end up as the third seed.  He’s probably assuming San Diego will beat Oakland.  Probably a good call.

Prediction:  RAVENS, 23-16

KANSAS CITY (4-11) at NEW YORK JETS (3-12)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Jets favored by 6½  

Strongest Trends:  Kansas City has won the last two meetings, and is 5-2 ATS on the road this season. The Jets are 2-5 ATS at home.

Last Meeting:  The Chiefs won at home, 27-7, in 2005.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City lost Sunday at Detroit, 25-20, for its eighth consecutive defeat.

Jets Status Report:  New York lost at Tennessee, 10-6, and has dropped three in a row.

Fantasy Factors:  QB Damon Huard looked good last week and is a decent start (check the health status of Brodie Croyle).  RB Kolby Smith, TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Dwayne Bowe are all good to go.  For the Jets, RB Thomas Jones and WR Jericho Cotchery are okay plays.  Both defenses are worth considering as well.

Game Summary:  The good news is that there’s no reason to believe both teams won’t go all out to win. The bad news… does anyone care about this game?

Prediction:  JETS, 17-14

SAN DIEGO (10-5) at OAKLAND (4-11)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Chargers favored by 8  

Strongest Trends:  The Chargers have won the last eight meetings, six of those by at least two touchdowns.

Last Meeting:  San Diego triumphed at home, 28-14, in October.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego cruised past visiting Denver Monday night, 23-3, for its fifth straight victory.  A win against Oakland (or a loss by Pittsburgh) gives the Chargers the No. 3 seeding in the AFC playoffs.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland was annihilated at Jacksonville Sunday, 49-11.  The Raiders have dropped their last three.
Fantasy Factors:  The Chargers will treat this game as they the Denver contest last week – they will go all out to win until the game is relatively in hand, then go with second-stringers.  RB LaDainian Tomlinson can be used with confidence, but understand you won’t get four quarters worth of class-A production.  TE Antonio Gates and WR Chris Chambers are decent starts.  I’m not keen on QB Philip Rivers.  Yes on the Chargers defense.  For Oakland, RB Dominic Rhodes is worth a shot (how often does a guy rush for more than 100 yards and his team lose by 38 as what happened at Jacksonville?).  Use any other Raiders at your own risk – because rookie JaMarcus Russell is the starting QB.

Game Summary:  San Diego will roll.  If the game was absolutely meaningless, a closer game would probably go down.  But the Chargers need to win, and coach Norv Turner probably enjoys sticking it to the Raiders, as all their former coaches do (refer: Mike Shanahan).  All that said, however, I’m a little nervous about the gaudy line.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 27-14

MINNESOTA (8-7) at DENVER (6-9)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Vikings favored by 3     

Strongest Trends:  Minnesota has won six of the last eight meetings including their last two visits to Denver.

Last Meeting:  Minnesota won at home, 28-20, in 2003.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota was outplayed at home by Washington in virtually all facets Sunday night, losing 32-21.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver was drilled at San Diego Monday night, 23-3.

Fantasy Factors:  This appears to be a great matchup for rookie RB Adrian Peterson.  By all means, start him.  I’m still soft on Minnesota’s pass attack, however.  For Denver, WR Brandon Marshall is only surefire producer.  But of course, you can try either Travis Henry and/or Selvin (not Sedrick – my apologies) Young and take your chances.

Game Summary:  Denver is in the perfect position to play spoiler and I believe the Broncos will get it done on their home field.  Sure, there are a lot of reasons to go with the Vikings here.  But I remain a critic of there’s because of a one-dimensional offense.  The Broncos will play hard – that’s a given – and the passing game can have some success against an inconsistent Minnesota secondary.  A mild upset special here.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 24-20

DALLAS (13-3) at WASHINGTON (8-7)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Redskins favored by 9

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last four meetings.  The underdog has covered ATS in 17 of last 21 meetings.  Washington is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at home, 28-23, in November.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas beat Carolina on the road Saturday night, 20-13, and clinched the No. 1 seeding in the NFC when Green Bay lost at Chicago Sunday.
Redskins Status Report:  Washington whipped host Minnesota Sunday night, 32-21, and will reach the playoffs with a victory in this game or losses by the Vikings and New Orleans.

Fantasy Factors:  The Cowboys are expected to take it easy with their primary people.  Still nursing a sore thumb, QB Tony Romo will probably play no more than a half.  WR Terrell Owens definitely will not play.  WR Terry Glenn may return, but his time will be very limited. If there are any decent plays for Dallas, they might be RB Julius Jones and WR Patrick Crayton.  The Redskins, of course, will go all the way.  QB Todd Collins, RB Clinton Portis, WRs Santana Moss and Antuan Randle El and TE Chris Cooley are all good starts (especially Portis and Cooley).

Game Summary:  Rivalry game or not, Dallas simply has nothing to gain by playing all-out here, and with next week to rest, the momentum thing probably won’t be a big factor either.  I expect the Cowboys to mail this one in, and for Washington to secure the final NFC playoff berth.

Prediction:  REDSKINS, 31-13

ST. LOUIS (3-12) at ARIZONA (7-8)
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Cardinals favored by 6   

Strongest Trend:  The visiting team has won the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  Arizona held on for a 34-31 win at St. Louis in October.

Rams Status Report:  St. Louis lost at home Thursday night to Pittsburgh, 41-24.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona held off Atlanta for a 30-27 OT victory Sunday at home.

Fantasy Factors:  The primary Rams make solid starts this week, and I have a hunch that REC Torry Holt could have a huge finale after airing out some concerns to coach Scott Linehan on the bench last week for all to witness.  Of course, that could have the reverse effect.  Arizona also should be good to go fantasy-wise.  QB Kurt Warner particularly enjoys facing the Rams, I imagine. 

Game Summary:  A shootout in the desert?  Looks that way.  But do the Rams have anything to play for?  Pride?  A record of 4-12 really doesn’t accomplish that, so 3-13 isn’t much worse.  The Cardinals at least can avert a losing season.  But beware – the Cardinals are horrible ATS as favorites by more than a field goal.

Prediction:  CARDINALS, 38-31

Sunday, Dec. 30, 5:15 p.m. PT

Line:  Titans favored by 6½  

Strongest Trends:  The last five contests have gone under the points total.

Last Meeting:  Indy held on for a 22-20 victory at Tennessee in September.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee edged the visiting New York Jets, 10-6, on Sunday.  The Titans must win to make the playoffs (or a tie combined with a Cleveland loss would also suffice).

Colts Status Report:  Indy is set as the AFC’s No. 2 seed.  The Colts routed visiting Houston last Sunday, 38-15.  The Colts have won six in a row.

Fantasy Factors:  The Tennessee running game is a strong play.  RB Lendale White, and perhaps even Chris Brown, are recommended.  I’m not confident in the unpredictable Tennessee passing attack.  For the Colts, there are some backups to like – RB Kenton Keith, REC Craphonso Thorpe, and TE Ben Utecht.  The primary regulars will be rested for at least half of this one.  Still, one half of QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, WR Reggie Wayne, and TE Dallas Clark may be better than your alternatives.

Game Summary:  I know it sounds odd, but see if you feel me here (my best Manning impression).  An offense with QB Jim Sorgi, Keith, Thorpe, Utecht… with most of the regular offensive line… can get it done at home with the Colts’ philosophy.  I was very unimpressed with Tennessee’s offense last week.  Even against a bunch of backups, the Titans offense doesn’t figure to pile on the points.  They will have to win it on defense, and that’s a tall order at Indianapolis regardless of who gets the PT.  I just can’t pick against the Colts… even half of the Colts.  Based on the odds, I guess this qualifies as my Upset Special.

Prediction:  COLTS, 24-17

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