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Week 4

Our tribute to Matthew Schiff (FFToday’s freshly retired Last Man Standing guru) continues this week. The eight participants who remain in the contest to replace Schiff are (in alphabetical order): Michael Bode, Anthony Catalano, Spencer Coffey, Jeff DuBransky, Walt Kindelberger, Doug Lecorchick, Marc Mondry, and Scott Morrison.

LMS picks for the Week 4 games from all eight participants appear at the bottom of this column. Readers who care only about the picks themselves should scroll down to the final section of the column, but those who are interested in the men behind the picks will want to see how our contestants responded to the “Spotlight Questionnaire” I submitted to them earlier this week.

This week’s column features the responses of our first four contestants (Bode, Catalano, Coffey, and DuBransky) to the questionnaire. Next week’s column will feature the responses of the remaining participants (Kindelberger, Lecorchick, Mondry, and Morrison).

Question #1: Who the heck are you, and what experience/qualifications do you have to suggest that readers should pay any attention to you anyway?

Spotlight on Michael Bode:

First off, I am a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns, so there should be no doubt that I truly love football to have endured the past 28 years with this franchise and still be as obsessed as I am with football. In fact, the sad state of the Cleveland franchise the past 10 years has led me to spend most of my time trying to figure out what is wrong with the team. This careful studying has also led me to a greater understanding of the game than fans who just enjoy a win. Also, I am a computer design engineer, and my life revolves around the methodical analysis of strengths and weaknesses of a system. This work directly applies to picking football games because it greatly increasing your odds for being able to pick a winner if you can analyze the strategic advantages of each team.

Spotlight on Anthony Catalano:

I can't really say I have any experience as to why readers should pay attention to me except I love football. I have the Direct TV NFL package, so I get to watch as many games as possible. I don't just concentrate on one team; I like to see how all the teams are performing. I am also an avid fantasy football player, so not am I only concentrating on the players I have but I like to see how that particular team is doing. I am constantly checking on updates on players and team injures (mostly though the FF Today website) as they may affect my picks.

Spotlight on Spencer Coffey:

For several years I had a service business that required working on Sundays. Seeing very few games live meant that ESPN’s “Prime Time Tommy” became my primary source of game action. Mondays involved more than a casual look at all the box scores. These game recaps were, for the most part, unfiltered and without commentary or deep theory as to any game’s outcome, just the actual results.

Although I’m now watching all the games I want, the box score review is still part of my weekly ritual. Like an analyst who studies and reports on a specific industry, I like to look at the NFL as an industry (and it is) with each team providing a balance sheet on a weekly basis. Those balance sheets should always be a starting point when making an assessment of next week’s winners.

Spotlight on Jeff DuBransky:

We have an Eight-is-Great Pool at work in which you have to pick eight teams to win each week. If you lose one game, you're done. Needless to say, it's tough—and the money carries over pretty often. I'm in the running most weeks, and a couple years ago, I won three times and took home almost $2300 (which translated into new carpet for my house and a Playstation for my enjoyment). After the third win, I told the guys that I'd make it easier on them by just setting up direct deposit and eliminating the middle man. They were not amused.

Question #2: Matthew Schiff and Mike Krueger will be the judges of this contest. You may address them both in this space as sycophantically as you like. Alternatively, you can take the high road by reviewing the Week 3 column and explaining which of your competitors seems to you to be the strongest candidate.

Spotlight on Michael Bode:

Since both Matthew Schiff and Mike Krueger are truly noble football people who undoubtedly take more satisfaction and pleasure in reading football analysis than sycophantic rants, I will take the high road.

As far as my opponents, I am sure that they are all well-mannered men of grace who enjoy rich lives filled with enjoyment of all that befalls them. However, none of that makes them the hardened unbiased judge required to even approach the standards set by Mr. Schiff.

Spotlight on Anthony Catalano:

I would have to say my strongest competitor is Walt Kindelberger. He is the only one in the week 3 column who had all 3 picks correct. So as the saying goes, “To be the man, you have to beat the man,” and right now Kindelberger is the man—with the rest of us playing catch up.I would like to say thank you to Mr. Krueger for providing an up-to-date website with accurate information as I have been using FFToday since I starting playing fantasy football about 10 years ago. I think I owe some thanks to FFToday for helping me prepare for my drafts, setting my lineups and winning several championships over the years.Mr. Schiff I would read your picks and use your suggestions as a guideline for my LMS pool that I participate in, so I would like to thank you for helping me out with your insights.

Spotlight on Spencer Coffey:

I don’t have a long reply to this question. [The LMS section of the column consists of] four paragraphs of commentary that should leave the reader feeling informed and not disappointed in spending the five minutes to read it.

Spotlight on Jeff DuBransky

Walt Kindleberger had a big game tryout—like Daunte Culpepper must wish he could have had at any of the team facilities he visited. Walt had a perfect week; he correctly recommended avoiding the Patriots—and had good reasoning for doing so. His use of the word "bevy" caught me a little off guard, but that wasn't near enough to keep him from the top spot this week.

Question 3: The two strategy points that Mike Davis stresses in the LMS portion of the column are 1) to avoid divisional matchups; and 2) to concentrate on favorites playing at home. Do you buy into those guidelines, or are they misleading oversimplifications?

Spotlight on Michael Bode:

The first point of avoiding divisional matchups is based on the solid reasoning that teams and coaches that play in the same division will be able to gameplan better for their opponent, making the games more unpredictable. However, by completely dismissing these games from consideration, one would be passing up on teams with glaring mismatches. For instance, it is unfortunately not a coincidence that Pittsburgh has beaten the Browns 10 consecutive times. In fact, Mike Davis himself often ignores this point and takes the divisional matchup when he sees fit.

The second point is a good indicator as long as it is used properly. One must start off by only considering home teams favored by more than 3 points. Then, analyze which of these teams have the best strategic advantages over their opponents. If a home team is a favorite and has a glaring strategic advantage over the opponent, you have a great candidate for a pick.

Spotlight on Anthony Catalano:

I definitely buy into the strategy of picking non-division matchups as well as favorites at home in most cases. This week, for example, we have 6 teams on byes—which leaves 13 games to pick from, and 7 of those are division match-ups. I am leaning towards taking 3 division matchups this week because I don't feel confident in any of the non-division matchups.

Spotlight on Spencer Coffey:

Avoiding division games and picking home favorites should not be a hard-and-fast rule when picking games. Out of the thirteen games this weekend, six are divisional games. Take those out, and you are down to three teams listed as home favorites New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. New Orleans and Tennessee will be facing teams that won the previous week. Looking ahead, Tennessee plays the NY Jets on November 23, which is probably a better time to focus on the Titans.

Spotlight on Jeff DuBransky

The philosophy of avoiding divisional matchups because of familiarity isn't one I follow. Leaving divisional games alone on principle leaves out great options like Broncos/ Chiefs, Chargers/ Chiefs, and even Raiders/ Chiefs. This week, two of my picks are divisional matchups, and either Mike or myself will soon be proven right. I also think that the unfamiliarity of the non-divisional opponents leaves as much if not more unpredictability because the teams have so little knowledge of each other.

As far as favorites at home, I use this strategy much more frequently. I don’t know if it's the comfortable bed, the short drive home, or the home-cooked meals, but teams sure do like being at home, and I sure like choosing them. As long as you can avoid the complacency factor that sometimes comes into play (really good versus really bad, uncommon storylines or variables on either side, or teams on a long winning streak or playing), home favorites are definitely a good bet.

Question #4: Is there another strategy point (aside from the divisional matchups/home-field advantage points discussed above) that you would want to stress in your LMS projections?

Spotlight on Michael Bode:

Strategic advantages need to be understood and used to your advantage. For example, if Pittsburgh is letting Ben Roethlisberger get sacked and pressured by teams like Houston and Cleveland that do not generate a good pass rush, then it is a good indicator that the Steelers are in trouble when they face sack-happy Philadelphia . The key is balancing this strategic advantage with the other factors in the game. Using the same example of Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (in hindsight no less), it would be important to then decide if this strategic advantage is enough to compensate for Pittsburgh’s formidable defense, which was too close of a call for me to have chosen this game.

Spotlight on Anthony Catalano:

The other thing I would stress is I like to try and avoid teams that are traveling across the country. There are many games in which good teams have traveled a long distance and lost to bad teams, so I try and stay away from those matchups as well. I also like to look at injuries and weather. When I know a team is missing a good player or players, I will try to avoid picking that team even if it is very good. For example, a lot people liked Seattle a couple weeks ago against San Francisco, but I would have stayed away from that game because Hasselbeck was struggling with a back injury in addition to missing missing his top 3 receivers. Weather is a little harder to deal with due to deadlines, but if you know in advance that a game is going to be affected by severe weather conditions, you should try to steer clear of that contest.

Spotlight on Spencer Coffey:

As noted above, I’m no different from most in realizing that you must not ignore the basic tenets of what gives one team an edge over another. For me, injuries to or the depth of a specific team cannot be ignored. Injuries also go to a team’s psyche. Don’t just look at a team’s performance the first week they lose a playmaker; follow their games and see how they make adjustments as the season progresses. As an example, Green Bay primarily works in man-to-man coverage on defense. How will they adjust or change strategy now that CB Al Harris is out for the season?

Spotlight on Jeff DuBransky:

Aside from what I mentioned above, I have only one unbreakable rule:I will never pick the Vikings to win ever again. It seems like yesterday, but it was actually Week 9 of 1998 when the 7-0 Vikings (en route to their 15-1 season) went into 3-4 Tampa on Monday night to face a Buccaneer team they had already beaten handily earlier in the year. I had already won seven of my eight games (in the Eight-is-Great pool mentioned above), and all the Vikings had to do was beat the Bucs for me to win a six-week carryover of almost $1100. Needless to say, they lost (27-24), and the big payout went back into the pot and was won the next week by another guy. It’s not like it still haunts me or anything ten years later.

Question #5: Pick your soapbox. Get up on the soapbox of your choosing (as long as it relates to football in some way), and give us an insightful or entertaining taste of your writing style and reasoning process.

Spotlight on Michael Bode:

Football is a sport that is built around energy and aggression. However, many coaches are passive in their play-calling, which can compromise the aggression from their players. The most obvious passive coaching calls are punting the ball in the opponent’s territory, kicking a field goal when a touchdown is needed to tie or win late in a game, or setting up a play for an easier field goal on a 3rd-and-long play deep in the opponent’s territory. However, there are many other passive calls that happen throughout the game that are often overlooked.

One type of passiveness that is often lauded by announcers and accepted by fans is purposely running out the clock to end the first half. The benefits of running out the clock are claimed to be so that the other team does not have a chance at gaining momentum by creating a turnover and possibly scoring themselves. The practice has become so accepted that even teams trailing will run out the clock so that they can get into the locker room and make halftime adjustments. However, football coaches claim to not want to leave points on the field, and that is exactly what they are doing when they send their team into the locker room instead of aggressively attempting to score before the half. If a team has a slight lead, then the team should try to extend that lead. If a team is trailing, then the team should be fighting for any points they can get to cut the deficit. Plus, a coach should show confidence in his team’s ability to score as this confidence will carry over to his players. Therefore, we need to end the needless passive running out of the clock at the end of the first half.

Spotlight on Anthony Catalano:

Every Monday morning I am already looking at the matchups for the following week. I narrow my possible selections down to about 5 or 6 games that I like. By the end of the day Monday I will have already picked at least 2 of my games. On Tuesday I will pick the last team that I like out of the group. When I am writing my picks I look at what I believe each team can do well and what they won't be able to do well. When I start writing about the picks, things will pop up in my head about those teams, and I will just add those details in the hope that I am providing enough information for the readers to pick their team or teams in their LMS pool.

Spotlight on Spencer Coffey:

My writing style can be described as “just the facts ma’am.” The great columnist Chuck Klosterman recently noted that most of the information we receive is “manufactured filler”. He says that actual events have become meaningless as compared to the endless assessment of the events—sports and politics being the primary examples of this phenomenon.

We have more information available to us on more aspects of the game than at any time in NFL history, yet picking a winning team from week to week is no easier than it was thirty years ago. How many LMS participants went with Chicago over Indy or Miami over New England? Of course those are extreme examples. The hard part is to look out for those extremes so that when upsets do happen you’re still standing. I could add something about more beef and less filler, but I think all five answers cover what I believe and what I think I can convey in my LMS picks.

Spotlight on Jeff DuBransky:

Sports radio DJs who are lame and get to talk a lot annoy me. Colin Cowherd of ESPN radio is practically worshipped where I work. I just don’t get it. He usually has only two or three actual opinions each show and simply repeats each one in about four or five different phrasings (listen next time… you'll never hear him the same way again, I promise). Sometimes I'll actually yell at the radio before hitting the button to change the station. I think what I'm most annoyed about is the fact that he's hit on such a gold mine. Because of his "strategy," Colin only has to come up with about 1/3 of a show while his co-workers must actually fill a full time slot. Pure genius.

Stay tuned next week as we shine the spotlight on our other four contestants. In the meantime, however, take what you can from the projections of all eight contestants concerning the Week 4 games.

Last Man Standing

Michael Bode's Picks:

Trap Game: San Francisco over New Orleans
New Orleans lost both Jeremy Shockey and David Patten from their passing game after losing Colston earlier this season. While Drew Brees is very good at using any wide receiver available, these losses will impact the Saints’ passing game as the 49ers will be able to focus more of their defensive gameplan on stopping Reggie Bush. The 49ers already have a formidable defense against the pass (allowing just 160 yards per game and an NFL 3rd-best 5.5 yards per pass attempt). The Saints will also have difficulties against the Mike Martz offense as they rank 29th in both pass defense and rushing yards per carry (5.3 yards per carry).

Eagles over Chicago – (Past Pick: minnesota)
The Chicago rush defense is only allowing 3.4 yards per carry, and Westbrook may not be available for this game. However, I still feel completely confident that the Eagles will be able to handle the Bears in Chicago. The Chicago offense has used Matt Forte as the catalyst for everything they do. But, he will have to go against an unyielding Philadelphia defense this week that is only allowing 2.4 yards per carry and 45.7 rushing yards per game despite facing Marion Barber and Willie Parker. In addition, Kyle Orton will have to face a relentless pass rush. On offense, the way to beat Chicago is through the air as they are yielding 249 yards per game (28th in the NFL). Not only is passing the Eagles specialty, but Chicago was unable to manage a single sack last week against a Tampa Bay team that threw the ball on 29 consecutive snaps. Giving McNabb time in the pocket is virtually guaranteeing an Eagle victory.

Jacksonville over Houston – (Past pick: BUFFALO)
The Texans football team looked lost before Hurricane Ike hit the area, and now the players are dealing with the 2nd straight week of their families not having electricity. Even without those off the field worries, the Texans would have their hands full with a Jaguar team that finally remembered their rush-first identity against the Colts. While Houston seemingly has been good against the pass, it is mostly because Pittsburgh and Tennessee both built big leads by running the ball. Expect Jacksonville to have a similar gameplan this week. Houston ’s offense has not been capable of sustaining run or pass against two stout defenses and, even though the Jaguars defense is not as good as it has been the past couple of seasons, the Texans should continue to struggle to move the ball this week.

Denver over Kansas City (Past pick: NYG)
The only chance the Chiefs have of keeping this game close would be to keep Jay Cutler off the field by controlling the ball on offense. However, the team that beats the Broncos will beat them through the air as they are last in the NFL in pass defense. That team will not be the Chiefs—as Tyler Thigpen looked completely lost in his first NFL start. The Chiefs’ pass defense has been respectable in the opening weeks, but they have not faced an offense with anywhere near the firepower of the Broncos. This also might be the game that the Bronco running game makes an impact as the Chiefs are giving up 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, which is 3rd worst in the NFL.

Anthony Catalano’s Picks

Trap Game: Atlanta over Carolina
If Atlanta can get Michael Turner going again, he could be in for another good day. Carolina is giving up over 100 yards rushing so far. Carolina is struggling on offense especially in the passing game. They couldn't get anything going against Minnesota’s suspect pass defense last week—even with Steve Smith back. If Atlanta can control the clock and the line of scrimmage, I can see this as an upset.

#3: Denver over Kansas City (past picks: new england)
I believe Denver will have its way with Kansas City. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are unstoppable right now. If the passing game is working, the running game will open up as well. Kansas City will not be able to keep up with the scoring. Other than Larry Johnson and Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs have no real threat. It looks like Damon Huard will be back at QB, but it shouldn't matter as Denver should be able to put up plenty of points once again.

#2: San Diego over Oakland (past picks: BUFFALO)
San Diego should win this in a rout. After watching Monday night's game they looked very impressive and they could easily be 3-0 instead of 1-2. LT looked pretty healthy this week and I expect a big came from him. Phillip Rivers is finally emerging as a top quarterback in this league and he should be able to find Chambers (4 tds in 3 games) as well as Gates for big scores this week. Oakland is a mess all kind of rumors Kiffin is going to be fired. Jamarcus Russell has not been that good and don't see him doing much this week.

#1: Dallas over Washington (past picks: NYG)
Marion Barber is hot, and I expect his success to continue this week, particularly with Felix Jones getting better every week to complement him. I see Dallas running the ball more this week, and if the Redskins can't stop the run they will be forced to commit a safety to rush defense, which will open things up for Romo, T.O., and Jason Witten. The Redskins will have to find Santana Moss who has a TD in each of the first 3 games, and Portis will have to find some holes to keep up with Dallas, but in the end the Cowboys will find themselves 4-0.

Spencer Coffey’s Picks:

Trap Game: Arizona over New York Jets
The Jets come off a Monday night game in San Diego to face a Cardinal team that stayed on the East Coast this week. The Cardinals are 3-7 in their last ten road games, but six of those seven losses have been by a touchdown or less.

#3: Tampa Bay over Green Bay (Past Pick: DENVER)
It may take the Packers' defense a few games to adjust to the season-ending loss of Al Harris. Jon Gruden's switch to Brian Griese has worked well. Griese led two late
scoring drives to tie Chicago in regulation and connected with Antonio Bryant on a 38-yard pass to set up the winning field goal in OT.

#2: Buffalo over St. Louis (Past Pick: kansas city)
I picked a team with 11 straight losses in this spot last week. I may have underestimated Atlanta, but is it possible to underestimate the Rams? The quarterback position seems to be the least of the Rams' problems, but this week they turn to Trent Green whose last start
was over a year ago.

#1 Carolina over Atlanta (Past Pick: SF)
Despite the return of Steve Smith, I see the Panthers having a big day running the ball. The Falcons’ run defense ranks 23rd—and that includes two home games in which they had 3+TD leads very early.

Jeff DuBransky’s Picks

Trap Game: Houston over Jacksonville
This game has all the symptoms of a classic case of the overlookings. The Jaguars are home after a huge win (correctly predicted right here last week as a trap game, by the way). After Week 4, they face the Steelers and then the Broncos before their bye, so the Texans are merely a road bump. Even so, the Texans still have weapons, and they've got nothing to lose against a Jacksonville team that's still hurting pretty badly.

#3: Buffalo over St. Louis (Past Pick: ATLANTA)
For the Rams, Week 4 is simply 7 days in between Week 3 and a very tantalizing bye week during which they can forget about the following facts: 1) they have lost three games by an average of 29 points; 2) Trent Green can't play defense; 3) they've given up 11 sacks; and 4) they've scored only two touchdowns. As for the Bills, they're too young to know this is the perfect spot to overlook an opponent. However, they do know that with Arizona next week, a 5-0 record heading into the break is very realistic, and they won't let the chance slip away this week.

#2: Dallas over Washington (Past pick: Carolina)
Jason Campbell has turned it around the past two weeks … at home against New Orleans and Arizona. Welcome back to the world of Big League defense on the road. The Cowboys got a scare from the Packers while T.O. got no love, so those two things combined should be more than enough to keep them from getting complacent. And there's no way the Redskins can exchange offensive blows with Dallas like the Eagles did two weeks ago.

#1: Denver over Kansas City (Past Pick: NYG)
The mantra for 2008 may well be "the opponent of the Chiefs is an excellent pick in LMS pools.” The Broncos may drop 50 or 60 on the Chiefs this week, since their sorry defense allows them to pull a Belichek without criticism. The only fear you should have is if you've got a Denver homer in your fantasy league like we have in ours. He left the draft with seven Broncos on his team out of 21 players, but who's laughing now?

Walt Kindelberger’s Picks:

This is a very tough week for LMS/Eliminator players. The combination of a lot of division games along with plenty of byes really narrows the slate. I thought Week #3 offered many attractive picks, but Week #4 looks like a wasteland where good picks go to die.

Trap Game: Houston over Jacksonville
Everyone is back on the Jags’ bandwagon after their win in Indy. I am still skeptical. Their offensive line is still ravaged by injury, and the Colts team they beat is not yet playing like themselves. The loss of Bob Sanders leaves a huge gap in that defense. Houston also has the "hunger factor" in their favor. The Texans need a win here; Matt Schaub desperately needs a win here. Look for either the upset or at least a very competitive game.

#3: Dallas over Washington (past pick: ATLANTA)
I liked San Diego over Oakland in this spot as well, but Dallas is at home so I will go with them. Washington certainly has improved since getting beat up physically in week #1 by the Giants, but I still don't think they are ready to go into Dallas and steal this one. Dallas has a comeuppance game coming their way soon. They are starting to feel brash and overconfident, but I still like them to take care of business here. The current spread on this match-up feels too big though.

#2: Cincinnati over Cleveland (past pick: BUFFALO)
Someone has to win this one, and Cincinnati is at home and showed considerably more spunk last week than Cleveland did. There are rumblings that Brady Quinn may replace Derek Anderson this week at QB for Cleveland. If he does, I will feel even more confident in this pick. Before last week's game, I thought Cincy had quit on Marvin Lewis, but clearly they haven't, and what's more I am sensing an "us against the world" attitude starting to develop for them. Cleveland is a team that simply looks shell-shocked at this point and the road is generally not the place to regroup.

#1: Denver over Kansas City (past pick: NYG)
I know Denver is on the road in a divisional matchup, but honestly I think I may take the University of Colorado against Kansas City right now. I haven't seen anything from the Chiefs to make me believe they have a chance in this one. Kansas City is short on talent, short on experience, and short on any real hope of being competitive this year, which makes for an ugly combination. Tony Gonzalez has to be as unhappy as a Seattle sports fan right now.

Doug Lecorchick’s Picks

Trap Game: Cleveland over Cincinnati
The Brownies may open up the passing attack with Brady Quinn. I am always hesitant to pick any team that is going up against a fresh QB. Even though Cincy played the Giants tough last week, I think this game will be decided by a field goal either way. Flip a coin.

#3: New Orleans over San Francisco (Past Pick: TENNESSEE)
The 49ers are playing adequately right now, and Frank Gore will probably throw up fantastic stats in this game. Even so, the Saints’ passing attack (yeah, even without Shockey) will be way too much for the 49er defense. I see the Saints putting points on the board 80% of the time, which easily means victory.

#2: San Diego over Oakland (Past Pick: cleveland)
The chargers will probably rest LT after the first half. By then the score should be 31-6 or something along those lines. Darren Sproles and the Chargers should have some fun again the Raider defense. This contest has all the makings of a huge blow out. The only hope for the Raiders will be if they can get a whole lot of turnovers in Charger territory and capitalize on each possession. I don’t see that happening.

#1: Denver over Kansas City (Past Pick: DALLAS)
This is another blow-out prospect. The Broncos should establish an early lead and put the rock in the hands of Young and Hall for the rest of the contest. Even though this could be one of Denver’s lower-scoring games this year, the Broncos should be on top the whole way.

Marc Mondry’s Picks

Trap Game: Baltimore over Pittsburgh
The Raven defense looks just as dominating as it did back in 2001 when Baltimore won it all—well, almost. Admittedly, they haven’t really been tested yet, holding the frail offenses of Cincinnati and Cleveland to 10 points each, but do you really expect Pittsburgh, sans Willie Parker and with a banged up Big Ben to be effective? Just think about fumble machine Rashard Mendenhall toting the ball all game. Aside from a rout of Houston in Week 1, the Pittsburgh offense has looked sad. Philadelphia absolutely tore them up last week, and they gained only 281 total yards against the lowly Browns. Ouch. Even Baltimore, with rookie QB Joe Flacco at the helm, put up 28 points on Cleveland. I am puzzled as to how the Steelers are 7.5 point favorites, even at home.

3. Jacksonville over Houston (Past Pick: SEATTLE)
Behind a decimated offensive line, the Jacksonville RBs had an absolute field day against the Colts (without Bob Sanders) last Sunday, gaining an astounding 296 yards from scrimmage. The Texans are allowing even more fantasy points per game to opposing RBs than Indy. The phrase I used when predicting the Titans’ win last week was “track meet”. This week, it might be a marathon. The Texans have one bright spot: rookie Steve Slaton. And what does the Jaguar defense do best? – Stop the run. The Texans will have to try to beat Jacksonville through the air, but Matt Schaub has been awful, and may soon even be replaced by the perhaps slightly less awful Sage Rosenfels.

2. Dallas over Washington (Past Pick: TENNESSEE)
Dallas is unstoppable. The Cowboys have too many weapons for calm, cool, and collected Tony Romo to work with. How can you possibly cover Marion Barber, Jason Witten, and Terrell Owens? These four skill players are all stars at their respective positions, piling up 1300 total yards on offense through 3 games, two of which were played against the very capable defenses of Philadelphia and Green Bay. Washington has looked decent, with Jason Campbell showing signs of maturity and the defense effectively containing the high-powered offenses of the Giants, the Saints, and Cardinals. That being said, the Cowboys would mop the floor with those teams, probably even my beloved G-Men. The Skins are simply outclassed in this matchup, and in Dallas, they have little chance of even staying competitive.

1. Denver over Kansas City (Past Pick: BUFFALO)
The NFL’s highest scoring offense now gets to face the team that allowed an average of 24 points per game against the Patriots, Raiders, and Falcons. A recipe for a blowout? I think so. Larry Johnson should still have a solid game, as Denver is susceptible to the run, but he will have to put up some astronomical numbers to keep this one close. I generally won’t pick as the top team for the week a team that depends so much on the passing attack for success, and more importantly, needs to put up 30+ points to ensure a win. However, this week’s matchup against Pig Pen and the Chiefs just presents too good a matchup.

Scott Morrison’s Picks:

Trap Game: 49ers over Saints
After a disastrous season last year, the Niners have grabbed a couple of consecutive early season wins with solid efforts - especially the week 2 road win at Seattle. 'Martz Madness' has propelled the offense to score 30+ in the last two games. In this matchup against the porous Saints defense, offensive cog Frank Gore should continue eating up ground yards, which will set the table for "JT the QB" to put forth another effective passing display. The world realizes that New Orleans was one Martin 'Kazoo' Grammatica FG short of knocking off Denver last week at Mile High through a classic Brees air raid, but I would contend that the 49er pass defense is no worse than that of the Broncos. This one likely comes down to the last offensive possession.

#3: Green Bay over Tampa Bay (past picks: BILLS)
Green Bay comes off of a Sunday Night loss to the explosive Cowboys in which a couple of big plays did them in. Still this is a top-tier team loaded with talent at the skill positions which generally plays solid team defense. The Buccaneer offense is far from explosive (especially minus Joey Galloway)—last week's 400 passing yards from historically inconsistent QB Brian Griese notwithstanding. Although the Packers on the road, I think they are playing at a level above Tampa. Look for the Packers' defense to force the erratic Griese into turnovers and for Ryan Grant to get the Pack's running game on track.

#2: Jacksonville over Houston (past picks: new england)
It sure did look like Jack Del Rio's offense was cooked like a Christmas goose for the first two weeks of the season, didn't it? A sluggish running game, interceptions, and lots of sacks dominated the Jags' offensive series until last week's turnaround against hated Indy. Dual 100-yard games from Fred Taylor and MoJo Drew controlled the clock like it was 2007 all over again. I like the matchup here versus 0-2 Houston, which had trouble scoring TDs against the Titans last week. With Rashean Mathis leading a solid secondary, I see the Jags keeping the Texans' receivers in check.

#1: Carolina over Atlanta (past picks: NYG)
Atlanta has looked pretty solid for two of the first three weeks of this young NFL season, but that's what scheduling the Lions and Chiefs will do for you. Unfortunately for the Falcons, the Rams don't come around until the final week of the year, and there are some tough customers in between. The key for the Falcons is turning loose RB Michael Turner to limit what rookie QB Matt Ryan is asked to do. That's unlikely be the case at Carolina -- which is coming off a fairly solid defensive run-stuffing effort during a loss to the Vikings (in which they allowed 3.7 yards per carry). On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers should run the ball with great success -- 200 rushing yards and a Jonathan Stewart breakout game are quite possible here. WR Steve Smith, now back in the offensive flow after a 4-catch effort last week, should make a strong impact as well.

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