In terms of how to properly end a regular season, my performance last week ranked somewhere down there with the Dolphins’ 28-0 fizzle at New England. I had put myself in a position to finish over .500 against the spread after a long, steep climb, but instead fell backward and went pinwheeling into a ravine. Had ’dog Lions and Rams with the points and hit a rare exact score with Steelers’ 24-10 win, but had too many misfires to offset what went right. The good news? Unlike the Dolphins, I get to move on to the playoffs!
|Final regular season||166-89-1||.651||114-120-22||.488|
BENGALS (10-6, No. 6 seed) at TEXANS (12-4, No. 3)
Line: HOU by 4 1/2.
Cote’s pick: HOU 24-21.
TV: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC.
The Texans enter these playoffs emitting a beeping sound like when garbage trucks back up, after ending the regular season with two consecutive losses that cost Houston a coveted first-round bye. Bengals arrive hotter, on the wing of three consecutive wins. That hot-vs.-not factor suggests to me a very close game — unlike Houston’s 31-10 rout of Cincy in last year’s playoffs — but it does not quite suggest to me an outright upset. Bengals are 0-3 in the postseason under Marvin Lewis and last won a playoff game in 1990. Texans are a solid home team and have a clear edge in overall talent as reflected in their eight Pro Bowl selections. Arian Foster should roll around a 150-spot to help control the clock, and that J.J. Watt-led pass rush could make it rough go for Andy Dalton.
COLTS (11-5, No. 5) at RAVENS (10-6, No. 4)
Line: BAL by 6 1/2.
Cote’s pick: BAL 27-23.
TV: 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Big and emotional story lines here, with future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis returning for Baltimore after a 10-game injury absence for what could be his final game (or at least home game) before retiring. And on the other side with coach Chuck Pagano, back from his leukemia battle, leading the Comeback Colts directed by super-rookie Andrew Luck. Pagano is a former Ravens assistant and knows that defense well, but that defense is healthier than it has been in a while, and I would not be surprised if Baltimore picked off Luck two or even three times. Indy is a trendy upset pick among the NFL prognosticating literati, but I’m not feeling it. Colts were only 4-4 away this year, and Joe Flacco is 34-7 as a home starter in a very tough place for anyone to visit, more so for a rookie.
BRONCOS (13-3, No. 1 seed): Denver enters postseason with an NFL-best 11-game winning streak, all by at least seven points. Last team to do that? The 2005 Colts, also led by Peyton Manning. Coincidence? Doubt it. (Denver would host Bengals if they beat Texans, otherwise the Colts-Ravens winner, at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 12.)
PATRIOTS (12-4, No. 2): If playoff experience matters, and if it matters most in a coach and quarterback, you could do worse than saddling up Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. (New England would host Texans if they beat Bengals, otherwise the Colts-Ravens winner, at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 13.)
VIKINGS (10-6, No. 6 seed) at PACKERS (11-5, No. 3)
Line: GB by 7 1/2.