I was due. Our 25th season of Friday Page picks had begun so dreamily that an off-week had to be lurking, right? We weathered it OK at 9-5 overall and 6-7-1 against the spread. Nailed two more outright upsets with wins by Dolphins and 49ers, and also had a pair of ’dogs-with-points in Browns and Panthers. Our season mark straight up still is better than all 14 members of ESPN’s experts panel — yeah, that’s a blatant brag — and 13 games over .500 vs. the betting line isn’t too bad a place to be, either. (Note: Thursday-game pick was Seahawks (-6) over 49ers, 20-13.)
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
TEXANS (2-4) AT DOLPHINS (2-3)
Line: MIA by 4.
Cote’s pick: MIA 23-20.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS (airing in South Florida).
Warning: Difficult Game Ahead. Houston is better than Tennessee. Forget records. The Texans have more players that are a challenge to defend. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is a fantasy monster. Arian Foster is becoming himself again. Brian Hoyer’s passer rating the past three games is 113.6. Oh, almost forgot: I hear J.J. Watt’s pretty good, too. Toss in Houston’s 7-0 all-time record vs. Miami and Ryan Tannehill’s 3-10 career mark against the spread as a home favorite of three-plus points and Dolfans face all the ingredients of an anxious afternoon. Manly Dan Campbell is trying to do what only four of 25 interim coaches have done since 2000: win their first two games. And he’d better. After this Miami faces three consecutive tough road games starting with New England four days later, Thursday night. Clearly, then, home vs. the Texans is a game you circle as a win if you are optimistically plotting how the Fins might still make the playoffs. This will be the team’s first time back at Dolphins stadium in 28 days, and it absolutely needs to be the season’s first home victory as well. It will be — but barely.
GAME OF THE WEEK
JETS (4-1) AT PATRIOTS (5-0)
Line: NE by 8 1/2.
Cote’s pick: NE 27-23.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Why is this our Game of the Week? Let me count the ways. Only once (in 2004) have these rivals met this deep into a season with a better combined record. It’s for first place in the AFC East. And it’s Tom Brady’s high-scoring Pats vs. Darrelle Revis’ excellent defense. The rivalry misses Rex Ryan tweaking and needling Bill Belichick, but, hey, you can’t have everything! New England’s track record is too strong to pick against. Pats have NFL’s best division record (25-6) since 2010 and are on an 8-1 series roll vs. Planes. Even with all that, though, the bet-line feels big. NYJ barely lost twice last season and will make this a four-quarter battle as well.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
COWBOYS (2-3) AT GIANTS (3-3)
Line: NYG by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: DAL 24-20.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox (airing in South Florida).
“AAAWWWK!” trills the soaring Upset Bird. “Dallas Cowbaawwk!” Tony Romo is out at least another month or so. Dez Bryant is closer but not back yet. But ’Boys should get a lift from veteran QB Matt Cassel (72 career starts) stepping in for Brandon Weeden, who was 0-3 subbing for Romo. Dallas also enjoys the edge of coming in off a bye here, while the Giants played (and badly) Monday night. Cowboys have beaten Biggies five in a row, including Week 1 this year, have won seven consecutive division road games and are 4-1 at NYG under Jason Garrett. “Also, Giants can’t cover Jason Witten,” notes U-Bird. “Jason Wittaaawwwk!”
DOG OF THE WEEK
BROWNS (2-4) AT RAMS (2-3)
Line: STL by 5 1/2.
Cote’s pick: STL 19-17.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
The Canine committee met only briefly to pick Week 7’s worst game, needing no more than to hear the case-closing evidence: these teams have the NFL’s longest active streaks of losing seasons, with St. Lose at eight and Clevers at seven. As for this game, I love STL’s Todd Gurley (305 yards rushing past two games) vs. a really bad Earthtones run defense, but I am also doubting that the Rammed should be favored by this much over anybody.
BILLS (3-3) VS. JAGUARS (1-5), IN LONDON
Line: BUF by 6.
Cote’s pick: BUF 27-16.
TV: 9:30 a.m., CBS/Yahoo (airing in South Florida).
Is it just me or are we exporting some pretty bad games to our friends in the United Kingdom? Wembley Stadium isn’t seeing a lot of Super Bowl previews, let’s put it that way. (Quick aside: On behalf of America, we do apologize for Rex Ryan, England.) Game will be live-streamed by Yahoo, meeting a non-existent demand to see more of the Jaguars. Buffalo is banged up and will have E.J. Manuel at QB again but still should win comfortably.
BUCCANEERS (2-3) AT REDSKINS (2-4)
Line: WAS by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: WAS 23-17.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Pick Bowl! Jameis Winston vs. Kirk Cousins all but guarantees happy cornerbacks. The combined interceptions over/under would be, what, 4 1/2? Tampa Bay is coming off a bye and beat the Skins 27-7 last year, and D.C. has a lousy track record of covering as a home favorite. But, more on hunch than logic, I still like the homies here.
FALCONS (5-1) AT TITANS (1-4)
Line: ATL by 4 1/2.
Cote’s pick: ATL 31-16.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
The Falcons being typically not nearly as good on the road would worry me more if the Titans weren’t 1-10 at home under Ken Whisenhunt, including eight losses in a row. Marcus Mariota might play with a knee brace after enduring last week’s low hit by the Dolphins’ Olivier Vernon. If he can’t go it’ll be Zach Mettenberger. Neither option will outscore Atlanta.
SAINTS (2-4) AT COLTS (3-3)
Line: IND by 4.
Cote’s pick: IND 34-27.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Game of the Week runner-up? Yes, if you like passing and scoring. Both teams have fallen since they met in the 2009-season Super Bowl, but they’re still entertaining. I’d bet Drew Brees for a fourth consecutive 300-yard game. I’d bet Andrew Luck for even more against a sorry Saints air-D. New Orleans beat Atlanta last week and is capable of winning this game, but Luck, healthy and home, is the safer option.
VIKINGS (3-2) AT LIONS (1-5)
Line: MIN by 3.
Cote’s pick: DET 24-20.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
Upset! Give me the home-’dog Lions and Matthew Stafford, who is 16-5 on TDs/picks in 11 career starts vs. Minny. Key will be keeping that up, because turnovers kill Detroit. Vikes beat Motown 26-16 in Week 2, but Purples have lost eight consecutive (and 15 of past 16) division road games. And Detroit has won four of past five home meetings.
STEELERS (4-2) AT CHIEFS (1-5)
Line: Off board.
Cote’s pick: PIT 20-10.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
Speculation Ben Roethlisberger might be ready for his comeback kept game off bet-boards for much of week. He’s close, but not yet. For now it’s third-stringer Landry Jones replacing injured Mike Vick, but that’s a plus. His arm will take better advantage of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Jamaal Charles-less KC has lost five in a row and is spiraling down the gridiron commode.
RAIDERS (2-3) AT CHARGERS (2-4)
Line: SD by 4.
Cote’s pick: SD 30-20.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.
Here are two of the franchises (along with St. Louis) plotting a possible move to the Los Angeles area. Back in the present tense, the Chargers have won six of the past seven in this division series, and Philip Rivers has a 104.5 passer rating in that stretch. Bolts have also beaten Oakies three in a row at home. Which was still in San Diego when last we checked.
EAGLES (3-3) AT PANTHERS (5-0)
Line: CAR by 3.
Cote’s pick: CAR 26-21.
TV: 8:30 p.m., NBC (airing in South Florida).
Another Game of the Week contender, with Carolina 5-0 for first time since its 2003 Super Bowl season, and Philly lately starting to play in a manner that might get Chip Kelly his genius card back. Eagles have won five of past six in series, including 45-21 last year, but I like Cats here without much hesitation. Really like that Panthers defense vs. pick-prone Sam Bradford.
RAVENS (1-5) AT CARDINALS (4-2)
Line: ARI by 8 1/2.
Cote’s pick: ARI 27-23.
TV: 8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN (airing in South Florida).
Uh oh. The Upset Bird is overhead, staring at this game, and rather salaciously. Set aside the records. Baltimore is beyond desperate and has won three in a row on the Monday stage. Arizona is sitting pretty but is 7-15-1 all-time on Mondays. Hmm. I’m still siding with Carson Palmer and big numbers vs. a bad Ravens secondary. But give me Crows with the points, and a major outright upset would not surprise.
Off this week
Bears (2-4; next vs. Vikings): The injury-wracked Pandas are headed for a fifth consecutive non-playoff season and are now 15-23 since dubiously moving on from coach Lovie Smith.
Bengals (6-0; next at Steelers): One of three unbeaten bye teams. Three Cincy wins have been by five, four and three points. ’Gals face biggest test yet next week at rival Pitt.
Broncos (6-0; next vs. Packers): A narrow escape at Cleveland and Peyton Manning’s picks mean all is not as perfect as the record as Denver prepares to host Green Bay.
Packers (6-0; next at Broncos): Maestro Aaron Rodgers vs. Denver’s very strong defense in a battle of unbeaten teams is about as good as it gets, children.