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Bob's Breakdown - Week 13
Bob Cunningham
November 30, 2006

Coming off a festive but ineffective Thanksgiving weekend (6-10 ATS… ugh), I’d like to make a few observations before moving on to Week 13…

What ever happened to the “coffin corner” on punts?  At some point in the early 1990s, NFL teams stopped attempting to punt balls out of bounds inside the 10-yard line and began dropping them into the middle of the field hoping to down the ball.  I’m guessing the theory is that the punting team is looking for a muff and, ultimately, a golden scoring opportunity. But I contend that the field position routinely forfeited by punts bounding into the end zone for a touchback makes up for the rare gift fumble over the long haul.  And don’t forget that any time a returner is allowed to field a kick, there’s the chance he will take it the distance…

It’s still accepted football philosophy that teams which run the ball effectively tend to be successful, but proof that a decent passing game is also required can be found with Atlanta.  The Falcons are far and away the league leaders in rushing offense, but are under .500 and in danger of falling out of the playoff chase.  The primary reason?  Because QB Michael Vick, for all his tremendous physical gifts, is not an NFL-caliber passer from the pocket.  If I were coach Jim Mora Jr., I’d roll Vick out of the pocket on every pass play – even on 3rd-down-and-20.

It’s also a given that winning teams need strong run defenses, but try convincing the Indianapolis Colts of that.  The Colts are 10-1 despite ranking 31st in rushing defense, and they’ve been last in the league for most of the season until being displaced by St. Louis two weeks ago…

And finally, I want to go on record as saying I like Denver coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to go with rookie Jay Cutler in place of veteran Jake Plummer at QB.  Sure, it’s a risky move given Plummer’s winning percentage for the Broncos and the relatively late juncture of the season.  But if Shanahan didn’t feel his team could win a Super Bowl with Plummer, and there’s a lot of credibility to that argument, then making the move borders on no-brainer.  If Shanahan did anything wrong here, it was waiting too long to pull the trigger on this.  Even if Cutler struggles, Shanahan shouldn’t be criticized for the swap…

And on to Week 13 we go:

2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON:  Straight-Up – 109-67 (62 percent); ATS – 89-79-8 (53 percent)
LAST WEEK:  Straight-Up – 9-7; ATS – 6-10
OVER/UNDER: 89-85-2 for the season, 6-10 last week.


Line:  Bengals favored by 3 (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Ravens 7-4, Bengals 5-5-1

Strongest Trend:  Scores have gone over the total in seven of the last nine meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Ravens won at home, 26-20, less than a month ago.

Ravens Status Report:  Baltimore’s 27-0 rout of visiting Pittsburgh last Sunday was its fifth straight victory.  The Ravens remain three games ahead of the Bengals for top honors in the AFC North.

Bengals Status Report:  Cincinnati rolled to a 30-0 romp at Cleveland last week.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, TE Todd Heap.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, K Matt Stover, Ravens defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, WR Chad Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – RB Rudi Johnson, WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh, K Shayne Graham, Bengals defense.

Game Summary:  A tough call right out of the gate, because the Ravens are on a roll… but so are the Bengals, if not as lengthy a run.  Cincinnati certainly needs the game more, but that hasn’t helped a lot of teams this year.  Both are coming off shutout wins, but if defense decides this game, it will be the Ravens’ defense slowing Cincy’s vaunted attack that makes the difference.  A true pick ‘em game, and getting points with a 9-2 team is too good to pass up.  Now if I could just convince my cable operator to make the NFL Network available…

Prediction:  RAVENS, 24-21

SAN DIEGO (9-2) at BUFFALO (5-6)

Line:  Chargers favored by 6 (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Chargers 7-4, Bills 7-4

Strongest Trend:  The home team has won the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Chargers won in a rout at home, 48-10, in November of last year.

Chargers Status Report:  San Diego rallied past visiting Oakland last weekend, 21-14, and is two games up on both Kansas City and Denver atop the AFC West.

Bills Status Report:  Buffalo edged visiting Jacksonville Sunday, 27-24.  The Bills are tied with Miami for third in the AFC East, a game behind the New York Jets and three back of division-leading New England.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – Any San Diego WR, Chargers defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee, WR Lee Evans. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – K Rian Lindell.

Game Summary:  The Chargers really have to be careful here.  Sure, the records and stats say they are clearly the superior club.  But Buffalo is a different team at home, coming off a victory over a contending Jacksonville squad last week.  The weather will certainly favor the Bills, and San Diego must also avoid looking ahead to next weekend’s clash with Denver.  Tangibles say Chargers, intangibles say an upset is legitimately possible.  I’m trusting the numbers, but not comfortably so.

Prediction:  CHARGERS, 27-17

DETROIT (2-9) at NEW ENGLAND (8-3)

Line:  Patriots favored by 13½ (total points line is 41½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Lions 3-8, Patriots 6-4-1

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  New England won at Detroit, 20-12, on Thanksgiving in 2002.

Lions Status Report:  Detroit fell at home to Miami on Thanksgiving, 27-10, and remains last in the NFC North.

Patriots Status Report:  New England beat the visiting Chicago Bears Sunday, 17-13, to maintain a two-game lead in the AFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – WR Roy Williams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Kevin Jones.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RB Laurence Maroney, TE Ben Watson, Patriots defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – RB Corey Dillon, WR Reche Caldwell, K Stephen Gostkowski.

Game Summary:  The Patriots need only to stay sufficiently motivated, and they should have no real trouble against a Detroit team that has yet to win on the road this season.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 24-3

NEW YORK JETS (6-5) at GREEN BAY (4-7)

Line:  Jets favored by 1½ (total points line is 42½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Jets 7-4, Packers 4-7

Strongest Trend:  The Packers are 5-17 ATS in their last 22 home games.

Last Meeting:  The host Jets routed the Packers, 42-17, in December of 2002.

Jets Status Report:  New York whipped visiting Houston Sunday, 26-11, to retain second place in the AFC East.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay squandered a halftime lead at Seattle Monday and lost to Seahawks, 34-24.  The Pack is third in the NFC North, a game behind second-place Minnesota.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS – QB Chad Pennington, WR Laveranues Coles. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR THE N.Y. JETS –  RBs Leon Washington and Kevan Barlow, WR Jericho Cotchery, K Mike Nugent.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green, WR Donald Driver, TE David Martin.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – WR Greg Jennings, K David Rayner.

Game Summary:  A very close contest when factoring in Green Bay’s homefield advantage… except that the Packers don’t exploit that edge very often these days.  They’re only 1-4 at home this season and the magic that made the Packers virtually unbeatable at home in colder temperatures has disappeared like melted snow.  The Jets have the better defense, are in serious playoff contention, and have had the full week to prepare.  They get the edge in a close game.

Prediction:  JETS, 23-20


Line:  Chiefs favored by 5 (total points line is 36)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Chiefs 6-4-1, Browns 5-6

Strongest Trend:  The Chiefs have won five of six games overall, the Browns have dropped three of four.

Last Meeting:  Kansas City rolled at home in 2003, 41-20.

Chiefs Status Report:  Kansas City won an important home game over Denver on Thanksgiving Night, 19-10, and is tied with the Broncos for second place in the AFC West, two games behind San Diego.

Browns Status Report:  The Browns were blasted by arch-rival Cincinnati, at home, 30-0.  They are last in the AFC North, a game behind Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Trent Green, WR Eddie Kennison, K Laurence Tynes.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – TE Kellen Winslow.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – WR Braylon Edwards, Browns defense.

Game Summary:  Kansas City is playing too well, and the Browns too poorly, for both teams to endure a sudden reversal of fortunes – not that weirder things haven’t happened before.  Truth is, the Browns defense has no answers for Larry Johnson and the rugged Chiefs ground game.

Prediction:  CHIEFS, 27-13


Line:  Colts favored by 7½ (total points line is 47½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Colts 6-4-1, Titans 7-4

Strongest Trend:  A general trend – since 1990, home underdogs of a touchdown or more in divisional games have covered ATS more than 70 percent of the time according to

Last Meeting:  The Colts rallied to edge the Titans at home, 14-13, in October.

Colts Status Report:  Indy rolled to a 45-21 thumping of visiting Philadelphia Sunday night, and sports a four-game cushion over Jacksonville in the AFC South.

Titans Status Report:  Tennessee overcame a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit Sunday to shocking the visiting New York Giants, 24-21.  The Titans moved past Houston and into third place in the AFC South with their second straight victory.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, K Adam Vinatieri. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – RB Dominic Rhodes, Colts defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – RB Travis Henry.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, WR Drew Bennett, TE Bo Scaife, K Rob Bironas.

Game Summary:  In October, the Titans nearly pulled off the upset of the year at Indy, losing on a late TD by a point despite going in as 17-point underdogs.  Was it a case of the Colts taking the Titans lightly?  Perhaps, but maybe the Titans just match up respectably.  Coming off two wins over decent foes, there’s no reason to believe Tennessee won’t hang tough again.  But I can’t go so far as to predict the upset outright.

Prediction:  COLTS, 31-24


Line:  Redskins favored by 1½ (total points line is 38½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Falcons 5-6, Redskins 4-6-1

Strongest Trend:  Twenty-three of Atlanta’s last 33 road games have gone under the total.

Last Meeting:  Washington won at Atlanta, 33-31, in 2003.

Falcons Status Report:  Atlanta was dominated at home by New Orleans last weekend, falling 31-13 for its fourth consecutive defeat.  The Falcons are third in the NFC South, two games behind the Saints and one back of second-place Carolina.

Redskins Status Report:  Washington surprised visiting Carolina last week, 17-13, but remains last in the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – RB’s Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood, WR Michael Jenkins, K Morton Andersen, Falcons defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – TE Chris Cooley. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Jason Campbell, RB Ladell Betts, WR Santana Moss, K Nick Novak, Redskins defense.

Game Summary:  Another toss-up game, with one team sporting more explosive talent but the other playing better most recently and being at home.  Atlanta’s season is about to go kaput, so I’m giving the Falcons a very slight edge based on extra motivation from a maligned QB and coach.

Prediction:  FALCONS, 20-16

MINNESOTA (5-6) at CHICAGO (9-2)

Line:  Bears favored by 9½ (total points line is 36)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Vikings 4-6-1, Bears 7-3-1

Strongest Trend:  The underdog has covered ATS eight of the last 11 meetings including earlier this season.

Last Meeting:  Chicago won at Minnesota, 19-16, in Week 3.

Vikings Status Report:  Minnesota staved off visiting Arizona a week ago, 31-26, and is second in the NFC North.

Bears Status Report:  Chicago lost at New England Sunday, 17-13, and is four games in front of the Vikings in the NFC North.  A win in this game clinches the division title.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – TE Jermaine Wiggins (check injury status), Vikings defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – Bears defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, RB Thomas Jones, WR Muhsin Muhammad, TE Desmond Clark, K Robbie Gould.

Game Summary:  Strong trends point toward the underdog covering, but the home team winning, so I’ll stick with both.  The Bears have a chance to put the division away and are unlikely to squander that chance on their home field.  But Minnesota’s defense, a little spotty last week, has been solid and was especially so in the first meeting between the two at The Metrodome.  Expect a defensive tussle, especially if the weather is as nasty as Chicago in December can get.

Prediction:  BEARS, 16-10


Line:  Saints favored by 7 (total points line is 45)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  49ers 7-4, Saints 7-4

Strongest Trend:  San Francisco is 2-0 ATS on Astroturf this season, the Saints are 3-3 (all at home).

Last Meeting:  The Saints won at home, 30-27, in 2004.

49ers Status Report:  San Francisco lost at St. Louis on Sunday, 20-17, to fall into a second-place tie with the Rams in the NFC West – two games behind Seattle.

Saints Status Report:  New Orleans whipped Atlanta on the road, 31-13, and is alone atop the NFC South.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, WRs Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle, TE Eric Johnson, K Joe Nedney.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAlister, WRs Marques Colston (check injury status) and Joe Horn, K John Carney.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – WRs Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper, Saints defense.

Game Summary:  In most NFL weeks, there’s a shocker.  Last week, it was the Titans’ comeback win over the Giants (or, if you prefer, the Redskins conquest of Carolina).  Anyway, there are some stats to suggest an upset is in the cards here.  Allow me to explain:  The 49ers have the edge in rushing offense, rushing defense and turnover ratio.  They have played well in domes, and the Saints have been a bit fickle in the Superdome this year, actually performing better on the road.  The key is Frank Gore.  If he finds room to run, and gets 30 touches, the 49ers can pull the upset.  Last week, my numbers said Washington would knock off Carolina.  My gut said no.  I went with my gut.  I got it wrong.  This time, I’m trusting the numbers on what seems like an illogical pick.  And, thus, you have my upset special.

Prediction:  49ers, 23-17

ARIZONA (2-9) at ST. LOUIS (5-6)

Line:  Rams favored by 6½ (total points line is 46½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cardinals 4-7, Rams 5-5-1

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

Last Meeting:  The Rams won at Arizona, 16-14, in Week 3.

Cardinals Status Report:  Arizona lost at Minnesota Sunday, 31-26, and remains last in the NFC West.

Rams Status Report:  The Rams rallied past San Francisco at home, 20-17, and is tied with the 49ers for second in the NFC West, two games behind Seattle.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Matt Leinart, RB Edgerrin James, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – K Neil Rackers.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – WR Kevin Curtis, Rams defense. 

Game Summary:  The Rams may get spurred on toward a wild-card playoff run with last week’s survival against the 49ers.  Arizona has the offensive talent to post an upset and maintain the road team’s recent winning ways in this series, but its defense is porous and the Rams offense is due to break out.

Prediction:  RAMS, 34-17


Line:  Dolphins favored by 1½ (total points line is 36½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Jaguars 6-4-1, Dolphins 4-6-1

Strongest Trend:  Jacksonville is 8-0 ATS in its last eight Week 13 games.

Last Meeting:  Miami won at Jacksonville, 24-10, in 2003.

Jaguars Status Report:  The Jaguars lost at Buffalo a week ago, 27-24, to fall four games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South.

Dolphins Status Report:  Miami won at Detroit, 27-10, on Thanksgiving Day for its fourth consecutive victory.  The Dolphins are tied for third with Buffalo in the AFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Drew-Jones, Jaguars defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – WR Matt Jones, K Josh Scobee.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – WR Chris Chambers, Dolphins defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – QB Joey Harrington, RB Sammy Morris, WRs Wes Welker and Marty Booker, TE Randy McMichael, K Olindo Mare.

Game Summary:  I like Miami, but not by a lot.  The Jaguars have been awful on the road this season, except at Philadelphia, and the Dolphins are on a roll with four straight wins.  Also, Jacksonville is traveling for a second straight week while Miami has had 10 days to prepare for this one.

Prediction:  DOLPHINS, 17-14

HOUSTON (3-8) at OAKLAND (2-9)

Line:  Raiders favored by 3 (total points line is 36½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Texans 4-7, Raiders 6-4-1

Strongest Trend:  None.

Last Meeting:  Houston won the only previous meeting, 30-17, in 2004.

Texans Status Report:  Houston lost to the New York Jets at the New Jersey Meadowlands Sunday, 26-11, and dropped into last place in the AFC South.

Raiders Status Report:  Oakland squandered a late 14-7 lead at San Diego last weekend and lost, 21-14.  The Raiders are entrenched in last place in the AFC West.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – QB David Carr, RB Wali Lundy, Texans defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss (he’s due, isn’t he?).  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – QB Aaron Brooks, RB Justin Fargas. 

Game Summary:  Ugly match-up of the week, with the most difficult aspect of forecasting this game being that one is likely to win.  Because their defense has played decently for several weeks counting, the Raiders get the nod at home.

Prediction:  RAIDERS, 17-7


Line:  Steelers favored by 7½  (total points line is 41)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Buccaneers 4-6-1, Steelers 4-7

Strongest Trend:  The last three meetings have gone under the total.

Last Meeting:  The Steelers won at Tampa Bay, 17-7, in 2002.

Buccaneers Status Report:  Tampa Bay was dominated at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, losing 38-10 to remain in last place in the NFC South.

Steelers Status Report:  Defending champion Pittsburgh was ripped at Baltimore a week ago, 27-0, and is all but eliminated from AFC playoff contention.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – WR Joey Galloway.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Willie Parker, TE Heath Miller, K Jeff Reed, Steelers defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH –WRs Nate Washington, Cedrick Wilson and Santonio Holmes. 

Game Summary:  Between their poor play this season and the tragic news that retired RB Jerome Bettis’ father suffered a fatal heart attack this week, the Steelers will take out some frustrations on an under-manned club coming off a smackdown at the hands of Dallas.

Prediction:  STEELERS, 30-10


Line:  Cowboys favored by 3½ (total points line is 43½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Cowboys 7-4, Giants 5-6

Strongest Trend:  The Giants are 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Giants rolled at Dallas, 36-22, in October.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas routed visiting Tampa Bay on Thanksgiving, 38-10, and has won three in a row to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Giants Status Report:  The Giants came from ahead at Tennessee last week to lose, 24-21, on a last-second field goal.  New York has dropped three straight and is second in the NFC East, a game back of the Cowboys.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Tony Romo, WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, TE Jason Witten. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RBs Marion Barber and Julius Jones, WR Patrick Crayton, K Martin Gramatica, Cowboys defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – RB Tiki Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, K Jay Feely.

Game Summary:  If the Giants were playing with a full roster, I’d like them a lot as a home ‘dog in an important divisional clash.  Then again, if they were healthy, they most likely wouldn’t be underdogs.  Right now the Cowboys are playing much better, and they have the additional incentive of payback for the Giants’ win at Big D in October.  Still, I expect the game to go down to the end, with someone booting a GW field goal as time expires.

Prediction:  COWBOYS, 30-27

SEATTLE (7-4) at DENVER (7-4)

Line:  Broncos favored by 3 (total points line is 40)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Seahawks 4-7, Broncos 4-7

Strongest Trend:  The Broncos have won five of the last six meetings.

Last Meeting:  Denver rolled at Seattle, 31-9, in 2002.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle rallied from a halftime deficit to turn back visiting Green Bay Monday night, 34-24, and up its NFC West lead to two games over St. Louis and San Francisco.

Broncos Status Report:  Denver lost its second in a row, on Thanksgiving night, 19-10 at Kansas City to fall into a tie with the Chiefs for second place in the AFC West.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – WRs Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch, TE Jerramy Stevens, K Josh Brown, Seahawks defense.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – RB Tatum Bell, WR Javon Walker, Broncos defense.  MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jay Cutler, RB Mike Bell, WR Rod Smith, TE Stephen Alexander, K Jason Elam.

Game Summary:  My first instinct on this game was to strongly consider a Seattle upset because the Seahawks are a quality team getting healthy and Denver is in a slump and switching QBs.  But there’s a good possibility that Cutler’s presence will have the same type of positive effect that Tony Romo has had for Dallas, and the numbers point decisively toward the Broncos because of their first-rate defense.  So host Denver is the choice.  Sidenote:  How would you like to be the Broncos defense, and have to face LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander and then Tomlinson again over four consecutive weeks?  Brutal.

Prediction:  BRONCOS, 24-17


Line:  Panthers favored by 3 (total points line is 37½)

2006 Records Against-The-Spread:  Panthers 4-6-1, Eagles 5-6

Strongest Trend:  After six previous meetings all-time, the teams have alternated covering ATS, with Philadelphia covering in the last meeting.

Last Meeting:  The Eagles romped at home, 30-8, in 2004.

Panthers Status Report:  Carolina stumbled last week at Washington, losing 17-13, to fall a game behind New Orleans in the NFC South.

Eagles Status Report:  Philadelphia was shellacked at Indianapolis Sunday night, 45-21, and has lost five of six to fall into third place in the NFC East.

Fantasy Summary:  QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – WR Steve Smith, Panthers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme, RB DeShaun Foster (check injury status) or DeAngelo Williams, WR Keyshawn Johnson, K John Kasay.  QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – RB Brian Westbrook, TE L.J. Smith, K David Akers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Jeff Garcia, WR Donte’ Stallworth, Eagles defense.  

Game Summary:  The Panthers desperately need this game, while Philadelphia – though still in the hunt – must at least subconsciously be pointing toward next season.  Pressuring Garcia will lead to turnovers for the Panthers’ opportunistic defense and the passing game will make enough big plays.

Prediction:  PANTHERS, 21-17