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Pickin' and Grinnin' - Week 15
Bob Cunningham
December 16, 2004

Straight-Up: 124-84 (60%)
Against-The-Spread: 101-102-5 (49%)

Straight-Up: 12-4
Against-The-Spread: 8-8

Comment: There's more predictability this time of year, but it still hasn't equated into good pick results against the spread. Still, I've been working on a "system" the last few weeks - I use rushing yards, sacks and turnover ratio as primary components - and the results have been encouraging. This week, the "system" gets a live test. Let's see what happens, because on the picks below I'm bucking my new format only once. Essentially, I'll sink or swim with my newfound formula.

Pittsburgh (12-1) at New York Giants (5-8)

Line: Steelers favored by 10. ATS Records: Steelers 9-4, Giants 5-8

Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh defeated the New York Jets at home last week, 17-6, to clinch the AFC North Division title. The Steelers are tied with New England in the battle for homefield advantage throughout the conference playoffs, and would win a tiebreaker over the Patriots based on their victory head-to-head earlier this season.

Giants Status Report: The Giants were roasted at Baltimore Sunday, 37-14, for their sixth straight defeat.

The Series: The teams have split the last two meetings, both at The Meadowlands and the only two since 1990.

Stat Worth Noting: Pittsburgh is 5-13 ATS in its last 18 games when favored by 10 or more points.

Game Summary: Sandwiched between their emotional win over the Jets last week and an anticipated rematch with Baltimore a week from Sunday is this formality of a contest. I keep picking the Steelers to stumble, and they don't... so I certainly won't pick another upset here. That would be far-fetched. I do believe, however, that the Giants will be motivated to prove they haven't cashed in the season. Also, coach Tom Coughlin is accustomed to facing Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher. There's familiarity there, and that should benefit the underdogs. I believe this one stays fairly close.

Prediction: STEELERS, 17-10

Washington (4-9) at San Francisco (2-11)

Line: Redskins favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Redskins 6-7, 49ers 6-7.

Redskins Status Report: Washington played well Sunday night but lost at home to Philadelphia, 17-14, to remain in last place in the NFC East.

49ers Status Report: San Francisco nearly blew a 28-3 lead at Arizona, managing to escape with a 31-28 overtime victory. Both of the 49ers' wins this season have come against the Cardinals by 31-28 tallies.

The Series: The 49ers won the last meeting, 20-10 at home in 2002, and have won five of the last six encounters overall.

Stat Worth Noting: The Redskins are 3-1 ATS in NFC games outside their own division this season.

Game Summary: Washington's defense has been good all year, and its offense has shown signs the last two weeks of perhaps turning the corner under young QB Patrick Ramsey, and Clinton Portis is running with more conviction. The 49ers apparently can't beat anyone except Arizona... and they can barely do that.

Prediction: REDSKINS, 20-9

Carolina (6-7) at Atlanta (10-3)

Line: Falcons favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Panthers 8-5, Falcons 6-7.

Panthers Status Report: Carolina whipped St. Louis at home last weekend, 20-7, and has won five in a row to seize the sixth and final wild-card playoff berth in the NFC (were the season to have ended last week).

Falcons Status Report: Atlanta routed Oakland at home, 35-10, to clinch the NFC South Division title. The Falcons are closing in on securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Series: Atlanta has dominated this rivalry, going 8-1 at home and 4-1 over the last five overall. The Falcons won at Carolina earlier this season, 27-10.

Stats Worth Noting: The Falcons are four games better than Carolina in the standings but trail by two games ATS. The Panthers are 5-1 ATS on the road this season but just 1-7-1 ATS at Atlanta lifetime.

Game Summary: Last year, the Panthers went into Atlanta on a Sunday night as QB Michael Vick returned from an injury and led the Falcons to a 20-14 victory. Deja vu time? Could be. But the Panthers are the 'dogs this time, and are on an inspired roll. Atlanta is inconsistent -- winning by 25 points a week after losing by 27. This is a truly difficult pick, because the historical stats strongly point to the Falcons while most of the pertinent stats and intangibles of this season - with the significant exception of win-loss record - actually lean toward Carolina.

Prediction: PANTHERS, 23-21

Buffalo (7-6) at Cincinnati (6-7)

Line: Bills favored by 1. ATS Records: Bills 9-4, Bengals 6-7.

Bills Status Report: Buffalo started slowly before pulling away from Cleveland for a 37-7 triumph last week. The Bills have won four in a row and six of seven to pull within a game of Baltimore and Denver for a wild-card playoff spot.

Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati lost at New England, 35-28, but is just two games out of a postseason berth.

The Series: Buffalo has won the last five meetings, but only one of those was played at Cincinnati. The Bills beat the Bengals at home last season, 22-16.

Stat Worth Noting: The Bills are 4-1 ATS as favorites this season. Cincinnati is 2-6 ATS in its last eight as a home underdog by three points or less.

Game Summary: While Cincinnati has certainly played well of late, the Bills are on a roll surpassed only by the likes of Pittsburgh, New England and Carolina. The defense is playing well, the running game is controlling the line of scrimmage on offense, and the special teams may be the best in the entire league. If the Bengals were better at stopping the run, they'd have a better shot because offensively there's no drop-off from QB Carson Palmer to Jon Kitna. But the Bengals are 28th in rushing defense. Buffalo wins again in an entertaining clash.

Prediction: BILLS, 27-24

Seattle (7-6) at New York Jets (9-4)

Line: Jets favored by 6. ATS Records: Seahawks 5-8, Jets 7-5-1.

Seahawks Status Report: Seattle raillied for a crucial victory at Minnesota last week, 27-23, and is alone atop the NFC West.

Jets Status Report: The Jets played respectably at Pittsburgh before succumbing, 17-6. They remain entrenched as the first wild-card team in the AFC.

The Series: The Jets have won the last four meetings, including two at home. In 1999, the Jets rallied late on a touchdown run by QB Vinny Testaverde, that wasn't. Replays showed clearly that Testaverde was tackled short of the goal line. The loss eliminated Seattle from playoff contention that year.

Stat Worth Noting: Seattle is 0-2 SU and ATS vs. the AFC East. Overall this season, the AFC East is 10-2 SU against the NFC West.

Game Summary: Nothing that happened last week at Pittsburgh will or should dampen the Jets' confidence. Their defense is still playing as well as anyone's (except Pittsburgh, I guess), and the offense figures to rebound against a Seahawks defense that can be run on. Seattle has been respectable on the road this season, but the Jets are the play here.

Prediction: JETS, 24-17

San Diego (10-3) at Cleveland (3-10)

Line: Chargers favored by 9 1/2. ATS Records: Chargers 10-1-2, Browns 4-9.

Chargers Status Report: San Diego held off Tampa Bay at home last week, 31-24, and remains two games up on Denver in the AFC West. The Chargers have won seven in a row.

Browns Status Report: Cleveland was humbled at Buffalo, 37-7, and has dropped seven straight.

The Series: The Chargers have won four of the last five meetings, two of three at Cleveland including last year's 26-20 victory.

Stats Worth Noting: San Diego's 10-1-2 ATS mark leads the NFL. The Chargers are 5-0-1 ATS on the road. Cleveland started the season 4-0 ATS at home but has dropped its last three. The Browns are 0-3 ATS in conference games outside the North Division.

Game Summary: What the Chargers must do is guard against looking ahead to next week's potentially fun-filled frolick with Indianapolis. The Browns will again go with Luke McCown at quarterback, and it's apparent that many of the Browns players are mailing it in. However, the Dawg Pound is a place that is known for its unwavering loyalty to the home team, in good times and bad. They will do their best to fire up their team, even if it won't be nearly enough.

Prediction: CHARGERS, 34-17

Jacksonville (7-6) at Green Bay (8-5)

Line: Packers favored by 3 1/2. ATS Records: Jaguars 8-5, Packers 5-7-1.

Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville looked like a playoff team last week, dispatching visiting Chicago, 22-3, to remain within a game of a wild-card berth.

Packers Status Report: Green Bay recovered from a 13-0 halftime deficit to edge Detroit at home, 16-13, and take over sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

The Series: Green Bay won both the previous meetings, the most recent in 2000, with both wins coming at Jacksonville. The two have never met at Lambeau Field.

Stats Worth Noting: Green Bay virtually never loses at home when the temperature is below 40 degrees at kickoff (specific stats unavailable). The Packers are 2-5 ATS at home and 0-2-1 against the AFC in 2004.

Game Summary: This is the Packers' home finale, and after the lethargic effort they turned in against Detroit, I expect them to perform better. It will be cold, and the Jaguars hail from Florida. Also, Favre has turned in consecutive subpar efforts. Look for a strong bounce-back game from him, even against a very solid Jacksonville defense.

Prediction: PACKERS, 20-13

Houston (5-8) at Chicago (5-8)

Line: Bears favored by 1. ATS Records: Texans 6-6-1, Bears 6-7.

Texans Status Report: Houston played well, especially on defense, but lost to Indianapolis at home, 23-14.

Bears Status Report: A week after its offense stepped it up, Chicago went back to its struggles at Jacksonville and was dominated, 22-3.

The Series: First meeting.

Stat Worth Noting: Houston is 0-2-1 ATS vs. the NFC North.

Game Summary: The difference in this game will be injuries... Chicago has a bunch of them, including defensive leader Brian Urlacher. Houston is relatively healthy.

Prediction: TEXANS, 21-16

Dallas (5-8) at Philadelphia (12-1)

Line: Eagles favored by 12 1/2. ATS Records: Cowboys 5-8, Eagles 9-4.

Cowboys Status Report: Looking as if they had the necessary momentum to make a serious push for the playoffs, the Cowboys instead were trashed by New Orleans at home on Sunday, 27-13.

Eagles Status Report: Philly escaped a tough game at Washington, winning 17-14 for its fifth straight victory.

The Series: The Eagles have won seven of the last eight meetings including a 49-21 romp at Dallas on a Monday night earlier this season.

Stats Worth Noting: The Eagles are 5-1 ATS as home favorites, and 4-1 ATS in division games. When favored by more than a TD, the Eagles are 8-0 SU and 5--3 ATS this year.

Game Summary: This one has a chance to be closer than the first meeting because of Dallas' renewed commitment to, and success with, running the ball behind rookie Julius Jones. But it's still a mismatch that can be best exploited by the Eagles passing game.

Prediction: EAGLES, 30-14

Minnesota (7-6) at Detroit (5-8)

Line: Vikings favored by 3. ATS Records: Vikings 7-6, Lions 7-6.

Vikings Status Report: Minnesota lost at home to Seattle, 27-23, and is 2-5 after a 5-1 start.

Lions Status Report: Detroit nearly accomplished the unimaginable last week, but instead squandered a 13-point halftime lead and lost at Green Bay, 16-13.

The Series: Minnesota has won the last six in this series, but all were decided by 10 points or less including this year's 22-19 Vikings victory at home.

Stats Worth Noting: Minnesota is 4-2 ATS on the road and 2-1 ATS as a road favorite this season. Detroit is 0-2 ATS as a home underdog, but 3-1 ATS in division games.

Game Summary: Another tough one to gauge. The Vikes are on the verge of another of those mini-collapses they've become synonymous with in recent seasons, while the Lions have actually played better on the road than at home. Detroit's defense is improved, and sport a big edge over the Vikings in turnover ratio - Detroit is at a plus-8 for the season, the Vikings a minus-4. Turnovers usually decide games. At home, the Lions are the choice for a mild upset.

Prediction: LIONS, 24-20

New Orleans (5-8) at Tampa Bay (5-8)

Line: Bucs favored by 8. ATS Records: Saints 5-8, Bucs 5-7-1.

Saints Status Report: New Orleans pulled off another road upset last week, shocking Dallas, 27-13.

Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay played relatively well but lost at San Diego, 31-24.

The Series: Tampa Bay won the first meeting this season, at New Orleans, 20-17. The road team has won five of the last six meetings, including the Saints' 17-14 triumph at Tampa Bay last season.

Stat Worth Noting: The visiting team has covered ATS in the last seven meetings.

Game Summary: Apparently, there's not much homefield advantage in this series. But I still expect the Bucs to find a way to get it done at home, especially with a playoff berth still attainable in the watered-down NFC. New Orleans, which has played better on the road than at home for most of the last several seasons, will likely keep it close.

Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 23-16

St. Louis (6-7) at Arizona (4-9)

Line: Rams favored by 1 1/2. ATS Records: Rams 4-9, Cardinals 6-7.

Rams Status Report: St. Louis was dumped at Carolina last week, 20-7, but remains tied for the final NFC playopff berth (although they lose a tiebreaker with Carolina based on last week's defeat).

Cardinals Status Report: Arizona's losing streak reached four after the 31-28 overtime home loss to San Francisco.

The Series: The Rams won the first meeting this season, 17-10 at St. Louis in Week 1. St. Louis has won the last five meetings overall, including a 30-27 victory at Tempe, Ariz. last season.

Stats Worth Noting: In the last four of those aforementioned Rams victories in this series, Arizona is 3-1 ATS.

Game Summary: The Rams weren't playing particularly well when healthy. But now, with QB Marc Bulger sidelined and both RBs Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson ailing, they fail to resemble the "best show on turf" claims. Needing last week's game at Carolina badly, the Rams instead were woeful. Arizona is enduring yet another tough season, but the Cardinals are usually fairly feisty at home and are capable of harassing immobile backup St. Louis QB Chris Chandler. I like the home team over a banged up Rams squad that rarely plays well on the road and turns the ball over too much.

Prediction: CARDINALS, 27-21

Tennessee (4-9) at Oakland (4-9)

Line: Raiders favored by 2. ATS Records: Titans 4-9, Raiders 4-9.

Titans Status Report: Tennessee lost a tough one at home to Kansas City on Monday night, 49-38.

Raiders Status Report: Oakland was dominated at Atlanta Sunday, 35-10.

The Series: The home team has won the last four meetings, including the Titans' 25-20 victory last season and two Oakland blowouts during the Raiders' 2002 Super Bowl run.

Stat Worth Noting: Oakland is 1-5 ATS at home this season.

Game Summary: In my opinion, Tennessee hasn't lost much offensively with QB Steve McNair hurt and replaced by unheralded Billy Volek. Volek makes good decisions, and is more vertical with his willingness to throw down the field. The Raiders have been hurt by big plays all season, and Tennessee has the guys to make 'em. Neither team is worth a crud on defense at this stage.

Prediction: TITANS, 31-24

Denver (8-5) at Kansas City (5-8)

Line: Even. ATS Records: Broncos 4-6-3, Chiefs 5-8.

Broncos Status Report: Denver survived a sloppy showing at home against Miami last week, prevailing 20-17 to remain in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase.

Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City won a slugfest at Tennessee Monday night, 49-38, but is playing for nothing more than pride at this point.

The Series: Denver won at home in September, 34-24, and has won five of the last six meetings. Last season, the Chiefs managed a 24-23 home victory.

Stat Worth Noting: Denver is 5-0-1 ATS in the last six against KC.

Game Summary: What it comes down to is necessity for the Broncos, and ego for Kansas City. Denver will be forced to go back to fumble-prone Reuben Droughns as its featured back because even if rookie Tatum Bell plays, he won't be at anything close to full strength. The difference in this game should be the Broncos' defense... specifically, their ability to slow the Chiefs' aerial assault. Pass defense, and ball control will get it done for the visitors in a tight, entertaining battle.

Prediction: BRONCOS, 31-28

Baltimore (8-5) at Indianapolis (10-3)

Line: Colts favored by 7 1/2. ATS Records: Ravens 9-4, Colts 8-4-1.

Ravens Status Report: Baltimore rebounded from consecutive losses to rout the New York Giants at home Sunday, 37-14, and stay among those contending for an AFC wild-card playoff spot.

Colts Status Report: Indy bumped its winning streak to six with a 23-14 victory at Houston, clinching the AFC South title in the process.

The Series: The most recent meeting was in 2002, a 22-20 Colts triumph at Indianapolis. The home team also won the three previous engagements.

Stat Worth Noting: Baltimore is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings with the Colts. Indianapolis is 4-2 ATS this season when favored by a TD or more.

Game Summary: Many times, a prognosticator will point out the conventional wisdom that good defense beats good offense. Sort of like good pitching overcoming good hitting, I suppose, except Colts QB Peyton Manning would appear capable of defying regular thinking. The Colts offense finally was slowed a bit last week, in a division road game, and there's no question that Baltimore's defense has the manpower to do likewise. What may be the difference in this game is the improving defense of the Colts, which has enabled the offense to get the ball more frequently and, thus, score more points. Bottom line, I like the Colts at home over just about anybody not from New England.

Prediction: COLTS, 34-21

New England (12-1) at Miami (2-11)

Line: Patriots favored by 9. ATS Records: Patriots 9-2-2, Dolphins 5-8.

Patriots Status Report: New England held off Cincinnati last week at home, 35-28, to clinch the AFC East title.

Dolphins Status Report: Miami played tough but lost at Denver, 20-17.

The Series: The Patriots have won the last four meetings including a 24-10 home victory in October and a 19-13 victory at Miami last season.

Stat Worth Noting: New England is 5-1 ATS on the road, Miami is 1-5 ATS at home.

Game Summary: With any other coach, I'd be wary of the Patriots perhaps looking ahead to a clash with the Jets next week. But Bill Bellichick's teams seem to avoid such bumps in the road. We've got a 9-point home underdog, in a rivalry game, on national TV. This pick will show how progressive my thinking has become, and I'll probably get burned for it. Actually, it's my new "system" that indicates the Patriots will win handily.

Prediction: PATRIOTS, 27-13