HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Another solid week has us looking pretty good at the NFL season’s quarter mark. Bull’s-eyed Cowboys beating Saints to make us 4-0 on Upset of the Week picks (“Aawwk!”), which explains the Upset Bird preening around insufferably in a red-velvet smoking jacket like a latter-day Hugh Hefner. We also nailed Giants’ upset of Skins and had Chiefs-with-points over Pats on Monday night. So I say it again: Stay, momentum. Be mine! [Note: Thursday-game pick was Packers (-9.5) over Vikings, 27-20].
GAME OF THE WEEK
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BENGALS (3-0) at PATRIOTS (2-2)
Line: CIN by 1.
Cote’s pick: NE 23-20.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
NFL decided to go ahead with Week 5 despite the Dolphins being off. The temerity! Tough call for our GOTW panel, with much support for Cards at Broncos, but this one gets the nod as the expected more competitive game and also because of the drama and pathos surrounding Tom Brady. It merits the prime-time stage. Brady is 60 yards Sunday from being the sixth man to 50,000, but his career obituary is now being drafted as the Bill Belichick/Brady era supposedly ebbs. Hmm. Not so sure about all of these easy storylines. Too soon? Betting line swung wildly from Pats opening as favored by three to Bengals favored by 1. I get it. Makes sense if only because unbeaten ’Gals are coming off a bye and Pats off a short week after being embarrassed in KC on Monday night. Little doubt Cincy is a better all-around team right now. But I’m not quitting yet on Pats, or on Brady. New England enjoys one of league’s strongest home-field advantages — can’t recall last time Pats were a home ’dog — and Belichick rarely loses two games in a row.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
BEARS (2-2) at PANTHERS (2-2)
Line: CAR by 21/2.
Cote’s pick: CHI 24-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
“AAAWWWK!” booms the Upset Bird, pausing roadside from a quick bite of possum entrails. “Chicaawwk!” Cam Newton and Jay Cutler top this game’s marquee, but my pick is based on each team’s ground game. Carolina is decimated by injuries at running back, which could heap pressure on Newton. Chicago finally got Matt Forte untracked last week, he has 623 scrimmage yards in past four meetings with Carolina and should stay hot against a generous Cats’ run-D giving up 141 yards per game. Grizzlies are 2-0 on road, and if Forte is going good Cutler could have a field day. “Valid point. Touche’ on Forte,” notes a sated U-Bird. “The feeling here also is that Carolina’s modest offense simply won’t do enough to outscore Cutler. Outscore Cutlaaawwwk!”
DOG OF THE WEEK
BROWNS (1-2) at TITANS (1-3)
Line: TEN by 2.
Cote’s pick: CLE 21-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Picking Cleveland here could as easily have qualified as our Upset of the Week, for this simple reason: Browns have lost seven road games in a row dating to last season and 22 of the past 24 away from the Dawg Pound. Picking Cleveland to win a road game is sort of like picking Adam Sandler to win an Oscar. Like Jim Croce sang, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t pick Cleveland on the road.” Nevertheless! The Earthtones are plucky. Both of their losses have been by a last-minute field goal, they’re coming off a bye, and the opponent is lousy. Titans expect to have Jake Locker back from injury, but the way he’s been playing … is that a good thing?
RAMS (1-2) at EAGLES (3-1)
Line: PHI by 7.
Cote’s pick: PHI 30-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
LeSean McCoy fantasy owners, rejoice! Your nightmare may be over. Birds need to get McCoy untracked, and it seems St. Louis (allowing 155 rush-yards per game) may be the right opponent at the perfect time. Nick Foles, 6-0 as a home starter, also has been subpar thus far but, even with an injury-wracked O-line, Philly should be able to outscore a Rams offense averaging a meager 18.7 points per game.
FALCONS (2-2) at GIANTS (2-2)
Line: NYG by 4.
Cote’s pick: NYG 27-24.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
Matt Ryan will be missing at least two starting linemen and facing a defense that leads NFL with seven INTs. Calamity could ensue. I’d also note Falcons are 1-9 on road since start of last season, and that Biggies have had extra prep time after playing last Thursday. Despite all that, bet-line feels fat, so give me ATL with points if not outright. Bonus fact: Falcon Osi Umenyiora, nine-year Giant, faces his ex’s.
BUCCANEERS (1-3) at SAINTS (1-3)
Line: NO by 101/2.
Cote’s pick: NO 41-13.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
N’Awlins has been season’s biggest disappointment so far while T-Bay is coming off year’s biggest upset, winning at Pittsburgh. Pressure all on Saints here. I like their chances. Cajuns have won nine consecutive home games by average of 17.6 points and five in a row over Bucs by average of 17.2. I expect from Drew Brees and his team a big performance that feeds off the frustration of the slow start.
TEXANS (3-1) at COWBOYS (3-1)
Line: DAL by 4.
Cote’s pick: DAL 31-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Game of the Week committee gave this one a quick glance. Natural rivals last met in 2010. ’Boys RB DeMarco Murray has 100-plus yards and a TD in all four games. Only better streaks to start a season were by Jim Brown in 1958 and by O.J. Simpson in ’75. Murray could stay hot vs. a HOU run-D allowing 130 yards per game. Meanwhile, Texans RB Arian Foster (hamstring) is iffy. I still don’t quite trust the Cowboys (bet Jerry Jones doesn’t, either), but we’ll take a leap of faith here.
BILLS (2-2) at LIONS (3-1)
Line: DET by 7.
Cote’s pick: DET 24-13.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Bills panicked, benched QB EJ Manuel and are hauling Kyle Orton out of career mothballs, but a road dome and Lions’ terrific pass defense should combine to make it a rough welcome-back. Tempted to like ’dogs getting seven, but can’t see Buffs’ struggling offense doing much against a very good D. Bonus fact: Detroit TE Joseph Fauria is questionable after spraining an ankle chasing his puppy down a flight of stairs.
RAVENS (3-1) at COLTS (2-2)
Line: IND by 31/2.
Cote’s pick: IND 28-24.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
It’s the Carpetbagger Bowl, with Colts having left Baltimore for Indy in 1984, and Ravens having jilted Cleveland for Baltimore in ’96. Colts have won their past two games by combined 51-point margin, with Andrew Luck the hottest arm in league. Crows are for real, playoff-good, and that dangling half-point on the bet-line tempts, but I must ride Luck’s hot hand at home.
STEELERS (2-2) at JAGUARS (0-4)
Line: PIT by 61/2.
Cote’s pick: PIT 27-16.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Looks like J-ville and Oakland are jousting for the No.1 draft pick. Jags have lost seven in a row dating to last season and have been outscored 152-41 this year since halftime of the opener. Pitt won’t lose again after being tripped up at home by Tampa last week, and I can envision Ben Roethlisberger feasting on a Jax secondary giving up 320 air-yards per game and a 115 opponent passer rating.
CARDINALS (3-0) at BRONCOS (2-1)
Line: DEN by 7.
Cote’s pick: DEN 31-23.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
This lost Game of the Week points when I considered I could picture a Denver rout more than I could picture an outright upset. That’s not disrespecting ’Zona, which is on a 10-2 run dating to last year. That’s much-respecting Peyton Manning (one TD pass from 500) and Denver — especially at Mile High. Cardinals are 0-4 there, by a 106-32 margin. Both teams coming off byes but looking like Carson Palmer remains out for Cardbirds, meaning Drew Stanton again. You imagine Stanton outscoring Manning? Yeah, me neither.
CHIEFS (2-2) at 49ERS (2-2)
Line: SF by 61/2.
Cote’s pick: SF 23-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS.
Alex Smith faces the former team that dumped him in favor of Colin Kaepernick. Both teams are a bit inscrutable, but for me the outcome turns thusly: San Fran has the run defense to limit Jamaal Charles, which could force Smith to win with his arm. Not ideal. Chiefs have lost last four trips to SF. Make it five, although look for KC to keep it inside the betting number.
JETS (1-3) at CHARGERS (3-1)
Line: SD by 61/2.
Cote’s pick: SD 30-17.
TV: 4:25 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Start by contrasting the two QBs. Philip Rivers looks great, league-MVP-great so far. Geno Smith is already hearing chants for his replacement and lost his cool last week by yelling an expletive at a heckling fan. Who is your money on in this game? Something else: Rivers is facing a Planes secondary that has allowed nine TD passes and has zero picks.
SEAHAWKS (2-1) at REDSKINS (1-3)
Line: SEA by 7.
Cote’s pick: SEA 27-16.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
We all know the word on Seattle: Almost unbeatable at home but vulnerable on the road. Right? OK, but I might counter that with a couple of other trends: Seahawks have won eight consecutive Monday nighters, while the Unmentionable Nicknames have dropped six prime-time starts in a row. Russell Wilson has a 122 rating in three MNF starts, and Pete Carroll had a bye week to prepare for this.
OFF THIS WEEK
▪ DOLPHINS (2-2; next vs. Packers): Resting after its big win in London, Miami prepares to snap out of vacation mode with a visit by Joe Philbin’s ex’s, Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. Then it’s on to Chicago and Jay Cutler at Soldier Field. Get plenty of rest, defensive backs, because there’s an air raid coming. Fins need at least a split of next two games to keep momentum and plausible playoff thoughts.
▪ RAIDERS (0-4; next vs. Chargers): The 38-14 spanking at Wembley cost coach Dennis Allen his job and in comes ex-Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as the interim guy. Sorry, Tony. Oakland will only have a few realistic shots at avoiding 0-16, and San Diego up next probably isn’t one of them.