This launches our 22nd season of Friday Page NFL predictions, something we began as a lark in 1991 and never imagined carrying into a third decade. (Hey wasnt 91 around when the Dolphins last won a playoff game? Guess it only seems that long ago). We take our picks seriously but also have fun, which might help explain the return engagement of our ever-annoying yet somehow charmingly erudite sidekick, the Upset Bird. Now let the guesswork begin! [Note: We missed on Wednesdays game. Had Giants (-4) winning 27-20. Cowboys won 24-17].
This week's selections:
Time, TV: 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: HOU by 12
Cotes pick: HOU 30-10
Miami is Week 1s biggest underdog with good reason. Dolphins looked shades of bad to awful in the warmup month, and Houston presents an opponent plenty of sober folks see with Super Bowl potential. The combination makes a postgame smile unlikely for Joe Philbin, one of five rookie head coaches debuting this season. This game may have a homey feel for Ryan Tannehill one of five rookie quarterbacks starting this week because hes from Texas A&M and ended his college career with a bowl win in this very stadium. Alas, a blitz-heavy Texans defense of varied looks will strip those comforts of home and make Tannehill appear every bit the inexperienced QB he is. Miamis defense will face an equally tall challenge in Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, who are good as most any pass-run-catch troika in the league. Houston is 6-0 all-time in this series, but that trend doesnt shape this pick. The Texans outright superiority does. The Dolphins begin the year in that category of teams rattling around in the NFL basement until which time they enter into evidence some reasons to believe.
Time, TV: 8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: DEN by 1 1/2
Cotes pick: PIT 24-23
The Game of the Week committee was raging and brawling, but ultimately the slim majority raising hands for Peyton Mannings ballyhooed comeback shouted down the vocal minority incredulous that 49ers-Packers wasnt this weeks pick. Hey, bottom line: Manning returning from a year lost to neck surgeries, and in a different uniform, is the story of the year out the gate. Why do you think this one owns a prime-time stage? Whether Manning unveils himself heroically or is made to look old and rusty by Pittsburghs tough defense, his 2012 debut will be the talk-story Monday morning. Denver (and Tim Tebow) upset the Steelers in last years playoffs, but I like Pitt enjoying its revenge, even if RB Rashard Mendenhall sits out, and even though Denver is a league-best 38-13-1 (.745) in home openers. See, Manning might be the story of this game, but he isnt the best quarterback in this game. Ben Roethlisberger is. Upset!
Time: 1 p.m. Sunday
Line: ATL by 3
Cotes pick: KC 24-20
AAAWWWK! peals the Upset Bird, back for another season on the page despite popular demand. Jamaawwk Chaawwk! I suppose that would be Jamaal Charles, whose return from injury gives QB Matt Cassel the running-game help he desperately needs. KC is 3-0 all-time at Arrowhead vs. Atlanta, and I start this season thinking the Indians are being underestimated and could be a playoff team, and that Lanta (annually oversold) once again must prove it deserves the hype. In fact, Matt Ryan is 0-3 in playaawwk games and the Falcons last won in the postseason in 2004, notes U-Bird. If the drought were any longer theyd be the Miami Daaawwwk!