Looking to maintain the mo’ into the playoffs after finishing the regular season blazing at the end of a down year overall. We went 13-3 straight up to finish at .600, the Mendoza line for minimal respectability. Ended 10-5-1 against the spead — 22-8-2 the past two weeks — to lift up to a final .457. The big finish meant we avoided ending with our worst records in 23 years doing this — a dark possibility much of the season. Those low-water marks were .573 overall (2008) and .449 ATS (2006). On to the playoffs refreshed with a gust of tailwind!
|Final regular season||153-102-1||.600||110-132-14||.457|
CHIEFS (No. 5 seed, 11-5) at COLTS (No. 4, 11-5)
Line: IND by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: IND 24-20.
TV: Saturday 4:35 p.m., NBC.
The playoffs are about how you're playing going in. About momentum or lack thereof. Season records don't matter much, but it also isn't wise to play the clean-slate game and treat everybody like they're 0-0, with no baggage to bear. This Saturday kickoff to Wild Card Weekend is a good example — both teams 11-5, but not emitting the same vibe. These Chiefs are not the same squad that started 9-0. They've been mediocre at best since (2-5), and allowing 27.7 points over those past seven games. Oppositely, Colts ride in on a three-game win streak during which the defense has allowed 20 total points and forced eight turnovers. Two things worry me about liking Indy here, though, even as both factors ostensibly should make me confident. One is that these teams just met (Dec. 22) and Colts won 23-7. That makes Chiefs’ payback desire fresh. The other is that K-City has lost seven playoff games in a row, and such streaks are aching to find balance in the law of averages. Give me Andrew Luck and Robert Mathis at home, but KC’s upset shot is large.
CHARGERS (No. 6 seed, 9-7) at BENGALS (No. 3, 11-5)
Line: CIN by 7.
Cote’s pick: CIN 21-17.
TV: Sunday 1:05 p.m., CBS.
Sunday’s early game is your weekend Cinderella Bowl, I suppose. Every playoffs’ first round has to have one. San Diego is the long-shot lucky to be here, sneaking in only because the Chiefs missed a late field goal last week and because the Dolphins and Ravens both were kind enough to lose. Cincy’s glass-slipper cred is even better: The Bengals last won a playoff game almost a quarter century ago, on Jan. 6, 1991. The team is 0-4 in the postseason under Marvin Lewis. Wonder if Bengals fans even remember how to celebrate a playoff win? They'll need to. Cincy is a perfect 8-0 at home this year and should stay that way. I still don’t trust Andy Dalton much, but I do trust this defense. The Bengals’ pass defense limits home opponents to a 60.6 rating and has 15 interceptions. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger all lost games here this season. So should Philip Rivers. The betting line unduly disrespects Diego, though. Bengals edged Bolts 17-10 on Dec. 1 and I like this one as close or closer.
BRONCOS (No. 1 seed, 13-3; host Chiefs-Colts winner or Chargers following Sunday at 4:40 p.m.): Peyton Manning set all-time records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55), and helped Denver score the most points ever (606). Who did more to earn a week off?
PATRIOTS (No. 2, 12-4; host Chiefs-Colts winner or Bengals following Saturday at 8:15 p.m.): A key player indicted for murder, several other important Patriots lost to injuries, and yet here Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are come January anyway. Again.
SAINTS (No. 6 seed, 11-5) at EAGLES (No. 3, 10-6)
Line: PHI by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: PHI 31-27.
TV: Saturday 8:10 p.m., NBC.
I find it’s usually best to follow one’s gut, especially in buffet lines and in football predictions. My gut in this case, in Saturday’s nightcap, says N’Awlins in an upset. The Saints have more postseason pedigree to draw on, and the Eagles spent a lot of emotional capital in that winner-take-all finale in Dallas last week. So what happened? I let logic get in the way. Logic tells me the Saints have lost their past three roadies by a combined 78-36, and are 0-5 all-time in the playoffs when away from the home dome. Logic tells me Drew Brees was 8-0 and averaged 34 points at home this season, but away he was a mortal 3-5 and averaged 17.8. Still don't quite trust Philly’s defense, but Birds have won four consecutive home games, seven of the past eight overall, are the first team in NFL history with a 100-rated passer (Nick Foles), 1,600-yard rusher (LeSean McCoy) and 1,300-yard receiver (DeSean Jackson). That’s a lot for Brees to outscore. So make it a venue pick. But with some nervousness owing to that roiling in my gut.
49ERS (No. 5 seed, 12-4) at PACKERS (No. 4, 8-7-1)
Line: SF by 2 1/2.
Cote’s pick: GB 27-23.
TV: Sunday 4:40 p.m., Fox.
Green Bay’s worst-in-the playoffs overall record and nothing-great 4-3-1 mark at home are misleading, of course, because injured Aaron Rodgers was out for half the season. But now he’s back, and all of a sudden Lambeau Field in January feels a bit more impenetrable than it did. That’s why I’m hunching a home-’dog upset in the weekend’s cleanup game. I am summoning frozen tundra, the voice of John Facenda and the ghost of Vince Lombardi under a snow-frosted fedora. Which is to say, I can't trot out a lot of logic why the Pack will win, so I'm leaning on intangibles. The Niners edged the Pack 34-28 on Kickoff Weekend and have won the past three in the series, so Gee Bees are due. Also see Cheesers, even missing top defender Clay Matthews, finding a way to limit Colin Kaepernick better than in two previous meetings, when he totaled 895 combined yards and seven TDs. This game surprisingly did not sell out quickly, but I have a feeling Wisconsinites who are there will be glad they went. It’s a Lambeau Leap of Faith: Upset!
SEAHAWKS (No. 1 seed, 13-3; host 49ers-Packers winner or Saints following Saturday at 4:35 p.m.): Seattle has home-field throughout and Russell Wilson is 15-1 in his young career at home. No wonder the Seahawks and Broncos are co-Super Bowl favorites at 11-4 odds.
PANTHERS (No. 2, 12-4; host 49ers-Packers winner or Eagles following Sunday at 1:05 p.m.): Carolina is the first team since Philadelphia in 2003 to start a season 0-2 but still earn a first-round playoff bye. The Cats also are the betting long-shot to win it all, of the four bye teams, at 10-1odds.