DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (6-8) at CHIEFS (8-6)
LINE: KC by 10 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: KC 34-16.
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TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
’Tis the season for the head to explode with NFL playoff scenarios, but it ain’t that difficult, folks. Three things must happen Sunday for Miami to remain alive in wild-card contention: The Dolphins must win, and the Titans and Bills both must lose. That’s it. (Yes, it would also benefit Miami if the Raiders and Chargers both lost, but that isn’t absolutely essential in Week 16.) A problem for Fins’ chances and hope is that Kansas City also needs this game. The Chiefs clinch a playoff spot with a win here (or an unlikely loss by the Chargers), but a KC loss could create a very precarious spot, so the home team has much to play for here. A computer model I saw gave Miami a 3.1 percent likelihood of reaching the postseason so keep those hopes reined in, Dolfans! Unfamiliarity is at play in this game. This is only these teams’ seventh meeting in the past 20 years, lending a shade of unpredictability to what might happen. But Miami has not been great traveling this season (2-5 away) and the Chiefs have been stout at Arrowhead (5-2), and there are other reasons to clearly favor K-City beyond the fact there is very little about the Dolphins I trust and can rely on starting with erratic Jay Cutler. Alex Smith has a ton of dangerous weapons led by RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, and it would not surprise me to see the Dolphins defense overwhelmed. I hate to play Grinch. I really do. Wish I could leave an upset win under the tree with a bow on it. But I’m afraid a victory by Miami here feels decidedly less likely than a blowout loss.
GAME OF THE WEEK
FALCONS (9-5) at SAINTS (10-4)
LINE: NO by 5 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: NO 38-24.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
The winner in this NFC South rivalry clinches a playoff spot and remains alive for the division crown. The loser won’t be out of it, although a loss by the Falcons would be an especially major blow. N’Awlins has been a strong home team (6-1) and should take care of business on the Bayou again. The Saints are the first team in 42 years to have two running backs (Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara) make the Pro Bowl, but I like Drew Brees for the big game here. He was the goat in the Saints’ 20-17 loss in Atlanta on Dec. 7 with a late end-zone INT, and I think he will make amends with a performance big enough to make a league champion of some of his fantasy owners.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
RAMS (10-4) at TITANS (8-6)
LINE: LAR by 6 1/2.
COTE’S PICK: TEN 27-24.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la laaawwwk!” The Rams clinch NFC West title with a win or a Seattle loss, and L.A. is 6-1 on the road this year. But the Titans’ playoff standing is more precarious; they need a win more urgently, and are 5-1 at home. Tennessee must win out to assure itself a postseason ticket without relying on other results, and I see a big bounce-back performance at home following consecutive dispiriting road losses to the Cards and Niners. “Yes, Tennessee should be able to run on the Rams,” concurs U-Bird. “Merry Christmas and happy holidays. Happy holidaaawwwk!”
@Ravens (8-6, -13 1/2) over Colts (3-11), 41-14: Saturday’s first game holds big stakes for Baltimore, which is vitally alive in the AFC playoff chase but cannot clinch even by winning here. Ravens are only 3-8 vs. team that jilted Baltimore, but these Colts, Luck-less in every way, stink and are 1-6 on the road as Chuck Pagano fights to save his job.
Vikings (11-3, -9) over @Packers (7-7), 31-24: It’s Saturday night live in freezing weather for division rivals as Vikes work to wrap up first-round bye. Packers are out of playoffs for first time since 2008, and have shut down Aaron Rodgers, but still hunch Gee Bees cover getting almost double-digit points at Lambeau in conditions that should keep score low.
@Bears (4-10, -6 1/2) over Browns (0-14), 20-17: Chicago fans should not have to pay but rather be paid to attend this game. It’s rookie QBs Mitch Trubisky vs. DeShone Kizer as Earthtones hurtle toward only second 0-16 season in NFL history. But like Clevers to cover against a bad opponent in points-shy game.
Lions (8-6, -4 1/2) over @Bengals (5-9), 24-16: Motown has been stout on the road (5-2) and remains in playoff hunt, although needing much help. All you need know about Cincy’s year is that Marvin Lewis and the Gals have agreed to part ways after their season is, like a writhing horse, put out of its misery.
@Patriots (11-3, -12 1/2) over Bills (8-6), 30-20: Pats are sitting pretty but still after first-round bye and home-field throughout. Buffs hold No. 6 and last AFC playoff ticket to end 17-year postseason drought but cannot clinch here even by winning. A New England win would eliminate Miami from playoff contention. Sorry, Fins, but Bison have never won in Foxborough when Tom Brady played full game.
Chargers (7-7, -6 1/2) over @Jets (5-9), 23-20: Bolts are alive but must win here and enjoy additional charity from other results. Like Planes as a home dog to cover, at least. Bryce Petty hasn’t shown enough to indicate he will outscore Philip Rivers, but NYJ has been stout at home this season.
@Redskins (6-8, -3) over Broncos (5-9), 27-13: Two disappointing teams playing out the string, as one of only three Week 16 matchups with zero playoff weight. Could be Kirk Cousins’ last home game as a Redskin, with Denver a possible destination. Make this a pure venue pick. Denver (1-6 on road) travels about as well as a suitcase full of raw chicken left in the trunk of a car.
@Panthers (10-4, -10) over Buccaneers (4-10), 37-20: Panthers are in good shape but need a win to clinch a playoff spot. Bucs are 1-6 on the road and not playing for anything except start of the offseason. Carolina deals with controversy over owner Jerry Richardson and suspension of LB Thomas Davis, but on the field, the Cats are purring.
Jaguars (10-4, -4) over @49ers (4-10), 24-13: Jax has earned its first playoff ticket since 2007 and doesn’t have a lot at stake here, making Jags ripe for an upset — and the Frans, since Jimmy Garoppolo’s deployment, are capable of it. But Garoppolo faces his first really tough test against a superb defense.
@Cowboys (8-6, -5) over Seahawks (8-6), 27-23: Huge NFC fringe playoff battle will find the winner still in it, though unable to clinch here, and the loser in dire straits. This is not the Seattle of past years, its defense turned mortal, while Dak Prescott gets back his security blanket in Ezekiel Elliott, who’s finally off his six-game suspension. Still, a Seattle bounce-back win, after last week’s embarrassment, would not surprise.
@Cardinals (6-8, -3 1/2) over Giants (2-12), 19-13: Zero-impact game feels like a tossup that we will swing to the Cacti as a venue pick. Four of Arizona’s wins have come in the desert, and downsized Giants, playing through a rare in-season coaching change, are 1-6 on road. Cardbirds hope having QB Drew Stanton back will goose a struggling defense, but Zona’s D is playing great.
Steelers (11-3, -8 1/2) over @Texans (4-10), 35-14: First of two Monday Christmas Day games finds Steelers already locked into playoffs but still trying to tie down first-round bye, and a nifty 6-1 away from home. Pitt is missing Antonio Brown to a calf injury in what could be a letdown game after last week’s biggie against Patriots, but even on autopilot the Steelers are decisively better than Houston.
@Eagles (12-2, -9) over Raiders (6-8), 30-20: Monday’s prime-time Christmas wrapup game has Birds able to clinch home-field throughout with a win (or Vikings loss), while Oakland is in the leaking boat with Miami, alive, barely, but needing mucho help. Philly is really good, even with capable Nick Foles filling in for injured Carson Wentz, and should roll, although, beware: A Minnesota loss Sunday might mean Phils rest starters.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Rolled to a nice 13-3 mark overall last week and a just OK 6-7-3 against the spread, with wins by the Patriots, 49ers and Cowboys all pushing. We called the Chiefs’ mini-upset of Chargers and also had a pair of dogs-with-points in Jets and Giants. It has been a tough season for us but we’re finishing on the upbeat. We’re finally up over Mendoza line of .600 straight-up — and also now comfortably above our low-water season mark of .573 in 2008. Against the Evil Betting Line we’re up to .449, equaling our career low set in 2006, so we have given ourselves a good chance to avoid that ignominy. Roll on, big finish! [Note: There was no Thursday night game this week].
▪ Week 15 13-3 .813 (overall); 6-7-3 .469 (vs. spread)
▪ Season 135-89 .603 (overall); 93-116-15 .449 (vs. spread)
▪ Final 2016 159-95-2 .626 (overall); 139-109-8 .560 (vs. spread)