HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Can’t brag about our effort last week – not when we had Miami losing and it won 37-0 – but there were a few highlights. Nailed another Upset of the Week pick with Pats over Broncos (“Aawwk!”), making us 7-2 overall and 8-1 vs. the line on Bird calls. Cashed a seventh straight winning week against the spread, albeit barely. And also hit three ’dogs-with-points in Bucs, Jags and Raiders. Got unlucky on Dallas; thought Tony Romo would play when I made the pick, but them’s the breaks. Remarkably, still no pushes against the spread entering Week 10. Eight more chances this week. (Note: Thursday-game pick was Bengals (-6 ½) over Browns, 23-20).
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
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UPSET OF THE WEEK
DOLPHINS (5-3) at LIONS (6-2)
Line: DET by 3
Cote’s pick: MIA 23-20
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida)
“AAAWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird. “Ryan Tannehaawwk!” This game nearly pulled off the big double: an Upset of the Week that also got a long look by Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the Game of the Week selection committee. These may be the two best defenses in the NFL on display as the season’s second half begins. Miami has entered that conversation. This will be a huge test for Fins’ pass-D in particular because Calvin Johnson returns from injury (following a bye last week) and Golden Tate is also dangerous. Then again, a couple of picks by erratic Matthew Stafford would hardly surprise, especially if MIA pressures him as I think it will. Motown is a sneaky 6-2 and I’m not convinced the Lions are better than just pretty good. Last time I watched them they were really lucky to beat awful Atlanta by a point in London. Bottom line: Two equally strong defenses here, but Miami – averaging 30.6 points since Week 4 – is better-balanced and brings a bit more pop offensively, even with Megatron’s return narrowing that advantage. “A dangerous upset pick,” offers U-Bird, even though nobody asked him. “I like Brent Grimes covering Megatraawwk. The key will be Cortland Finnegan on Golden Tate. Golden Taaawwwk!”
GAME OF THE WEEK
49ERS (4-4) at SAINTS (4-4)
Line: NO by 4 ½
Cote’s pick: NO 31-24
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
I cannot recall ever before anointing a Game of the Week between two .500 teams, but these aren’t your average “average” squads. They also are not in the same situation, with Saints leading the weak NFC South while the same record has 49ers in third place out West. That puts the Frans in greater jeopardy and more desperate here, so an upset by Jim Harbaugh’s guys would not be a huge surprise. Safer to not go there, though. Drew Brees at home is one of the great reliables in the NFL. Not only has N’Awlins won seven of past eight vs. SF, but Brees is on an 11-0 run at home, with a 119.8 passer rating along the way. Tough as it is to imagine Niners slipping to 4-5, Cajuns on the bayou are money.
DOG OF THE WEEK
FALCONS (2-6) at BUCCANEERS (1-7)
Line: ATL by 1
Cote’s pick: TB 19-17
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Let me count the ways this is the Mutt matchup of Week 10. Atlanta has lost five games in a row and Tampa has dropped four straight. How’s that? Or this: Falcons are 0-4 on road, and Bucs are 0-4 at home. Hey, something’s gotta give! A tie game, perhaps? ATL swamped the Tee Bees 56-14 back in September, but, even with that, it’s strange to see a team that has lost 17 consecutive road games be favored on the road – even by one point. Give me the home ’dog on a hunch here. Not sure how much going back to QB Josh McCown over Mike Glennon will help rouse the Bucs’ drowsing offense. But I figure it couldn’t hurt.
CHIEFS (5-3) at BILLS (5-3)
Line: KC by 2
Cote’s pick: BUF 21-20
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
This is Sunday’s biggest game in terms of the crowded field of AFC teams (including Miami) that are jockeying for playoff (probably wild-card) position. Give me the Buffs in a home-’dog upset coming off a bye week. Kyle Orton, of all people, has really given the Williams a spark since being handed the ball four games ago. That decision alone could elevate Doug Marrone into coach of the year contention if Buffs can somehow make playoffs for first time since 1999. A win here would be huge to that end. Watch Bison run defense make the yards tough for Jamaal Charles.
COWBOYS (6-3) vs. JAGUARS (1-8) IN LONDON
Cote’s pick: DAL 34-16
TV: 1 p.m., Fox
Game stayed off betting boards into late in week for season’s third of three London games at Wembley Stadium because of QB Tony Romo’s injury status for Dallas, although as the weekend drew near it seemed he’d be ready to go. (Coach Jason Garrett seemed less certain than Dr. Jerry Jones). If Romo does play he’d better be mobile, because rushing the passer is one of few things Jags do well. Can see DeMarco Murray nearing 200 ground yards vs. Jax’s sorry run stoppers.
TITANS (2-5) at RAVENS (5-4)
Line: BAL by 9 ½
Cote’s pick: BAL 27-10
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
Baltimore’s pass defense was strafed, scorched and shredded by Ben Roethlisberger last week, but the Crows will find this week’s ’berger more palatable. Tennessee rookie Zach Mettenberger does not present the talent, experience or weapons to similarly bedevil a defense. BAL needs this win to keep up in a tough division, and shall have it. Joe Flacco has averaged a 114.4 rating in three straight home wins, and BAL’s run defense will smother the Titans.
STEELERS (6-3) at JETS (1-8)
Line: PIT by 5
Cote’s pick: PIT 24-21
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
My gut sensed a major upset here – no, seriously! – but I talked myself out of it. Could have been the bourbon I smelled on the Upset Bird’s breath. (Old Crow, of course). Or it could have been that a Jets pass defense that has allowed an NFL-high 24 touchdown throws is now facing a Steelers QB who has 12 of those in the past two games alone. Might Big Ben go for another six-pack? Still think Planes have a legit shot to shock here if Mike Vick limits the turnovers to one and can take advantage of Pitt missing key defenders Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier. See a letdown/sleepwalk game from Steelers.
BRONCOS (6-2) at RAIDERS (0-8)
Line: DEN by 11 ½
Cote’s pick: DEN 28-20
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS
Denver got spanked by Patriots last week and Peyton Manning isn’t about to lose two in a row – reason enough to feel sure the Raiders will remain the NFL’s lone winless team. Broncos will top 20 points for 30th consecutive game; old record was 28 straight by the 1999-2000 Rams. Raiders can’t run, and DEN pass rush will harass and hector Derek Carr. Having said all that, hunch OAK-with-points. Black & Silver have been competitive (at least) since Tony Sparano took over.
RAMS (3-5) at CARDINALS (7-1)
Line: ARI by 7
Cote’s pick: ARI 27-17
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox
The Cards played in St. Louis in 1960-87 before moving to Arizona. The Rams played in Los Angeles in 1946-94 before moving to St. Louis. Now St. Louis reportedly may lose its team … back to L.A! Got that? Quiz in the morning! Cardbirds were last 7-1 in 1974, and last had the best record in league outright in November in ’66. Heady stuff, especially with this season’s Super Bowl scheduled for Cards’ home stadium. Rams tend to play tough within their division, but ’Zona is a strong home team on a roll.
GIANTS (3-5) at SEAHAWKS (5-3)
Line: SEA by 9
Cote’s pick: SEA 24-20
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida)
NYG has lost three straight games by a combined margin of 53 points, and travels with a disheveled defense into a stadium where the home team has won 20 of the past 22 games. Even with all that, the bet-line for me feels too large. Eli Manning is having a pretty nice season, and Russell Wilson has been pretty ordinary lately, rating a 76.4 over his past four games.
BEARS (3-5) at PACKERS (5-3)
Line: GB by 7
Cote’s pick: GB 34-23
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida)
Records aside, the rivalry alone – this is team’s 190th meeting – always seems to make Bears-Packers prime time-worthy. Both teams coming off byes, but Gee Bees are home and 7-1 after byes under coach Mike McCarthy. Cheesers also have won seven of past eight in this series including 38-17 on Sept. 28, when Aaron Rodgers rolled out 302 yards and four TDs. Chitown’s pass-D hasn’t magically improved since then. Oh, and Jay Cutler is 1-9 all-time vs. Pack with 19 interceptions.
PANTHERS (3-5-1) at EAGLES (6-2)
Line: PHI by 6
Cote’s pick: PHI 37-17
TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN (airing in South Florida)
The national reintroduction of quarterback Mark Sanchez should by itself be plenty to chew on for Monday night booth-mates Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico. The former Jet reject turns up in his first NFL start since December 2012 subbing for injured Eagle Nick Foles and proving (presumably) that even a chimp trained to take snaps could move the ball in a Chip Kelly offense. Birds are 4-0 at home, and Carolina is allowing 30.7 points per game in its 1-5-1 tailspin. Sanchez might not even need to do much, because Panthers’ turnstile run defense should have LeSean McCoy’s fantasy owners dancing all night.
OFF THIS WEEK
▪ CHARGERS (5-4; next vs. Raiders): The 37-0 spanking by Miami was Bolts’ third straight loss. SD better beat Oakland and St. Louis next, because schedule ends with brutal five-game stretch after that.
▪ COLTS (6-3; next vs. Patriots): Next week’s QB duel will shape MVP race, with Andrew Luck (3-1 odds) and Tom Brady (4-1) the current front-runners along with Peyton Manning (7-2).
▪ PATRIOTS (7-2; next at Colts): Denver was Pats’ league-best fifth straight win. Healthy TE Rob Gronkowski has been key, reaching 50 TD catches in 59th game. Only Lance Alworth (54) was quicker.
▪ REDSKINS (3-6; next vs. Buccaneers): Robert Griffin III is back from injury, but he’ll need to engineer a small miracle to make the Unmentionable Nicknames a factor in the playoff chase.
▪ TEXANS (4-5; next at Browns): Houston is rotating its Ryans, using bye week to make a QB change from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Ryan Mallett. One was a stopgap. Let’s see if the other is the future.
▪ VIKINGS (4-5; next at Bears): Speculation swirls about Adrian Peterson’s possible return from his legal abyss, but Minnesota (averaging 119.3 yards, 4.5 per) has bigger problems than its ground game.