Let’s get this out of the way. I predicted the Texans to upset the Chiefs last week, OK?. The Chiefs won 30-0. It may have been my single worst prediction since the early ’90s when I said, “This Internet thing will never catch on.” To compound my disappointing week, I had the chance Wednesday night to win $1.5 billion but failed to do so. But do I hang my head and wallow? Am I the kind of guy to be defeated by a losing Powerball ticket or a 1-3 mark against the spread on Wild-Card Weekend? You know me better by now. My personal lottery is still in play. My jackpot, if all the numbers fall right, will be matching 4-0 records this weekend. So let’s go nail the Divisional Round!
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CHIEFS (12-5, No. 5 seed) at PATRIOTS (12-4, No. 2)
Line: NE by 5.
Cote’s pick: NE 24-17.
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, CBS.
This is the only Divisional Round matchup in which the teams did not play during the regular season and are meeting for the first time in the playoffs. Kansas City last week pocketed its first playoff victory in 22 years and enters this game surfing an 11-game winning streak. Further, the matchup of Chiefs sackmen vs. a tattered Patriots offensive line favors the visitors and could throw chaos into Tom Brady’s pocket. And yet! (You knew this was coming). I just trust Bill Belichick and Brady, who have coached and quarterbacked the most postseason wins in NFL history, that’s all. I also note that defending-champion New England gets Julian Edelman back from injury (that’s big), that the Pats are 17-4 at home in the playoffs, and that KC has lost five straight trips to Foxborough. Yes, the Pats are 2-4 since a 10-0 start. But this is New England’s time of season. You’ve had a nice run, Chiefs. It ends here.
STEELERS (11-6, No. 6 seed) at BRONCOS (12-4, No. 1)
Line: DEN by 7.
Cote’s pick: DEN 23-20.
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Peyton Manning starting again for Denver is big news here. But no bigger than the major injury questions facing Pittsburgh, namely, will Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Antonio Brown (concussion) be playing — both injuries courtesy dirty Bengal Vontaze Burfict, who was suspended three games for his mayhem. I have not much doubt on tough-guy Ben playing, but Brown’s status is in the doctors’ hands. Steelers already likely will be missing RB DeAngelo Williams again. Pitt rallied furiously to beat Denver 34-27 in late December, but the Steelers are not as healthy now, while Broncos’ secondary, banged up then, is healthy. That’s why I like these teams’ eighth postseason meeting going to the home team. Since 1990, AFC No. 1 seeds are a modest 15-10 in this round, but most haven’t enjoyed the home-field advantage reflected in Denver’s all-time 15-5 postseason mark at Mile High.
PACKERS (11-6, No. 5 seed) at CARDINALS (13-3, No. 2)
Line: ARI by 7.
Cote’s pick: ARI 30-20.
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NBC.
These teams’ third playoff duel follows a recent Week 16 regular-season meeting won by Arizona in a 38-8 rout that was Green Bay’s worst loss of the season and saw Aaron Rodgers sacked eight times. That’s the reason the Cardbirds are so comfortable a favorite here, though obviously a much tighter game may be expected. Rodgers’ offense came alive last week at Washington but could struggle again against a pick-oriented ’Zona secondary. Cards’ big-play offense also is well-suited to the shootout this game could become. Hard to believe Carson Palmer (0-2) is the only final-eight starting QB this weekend who has yet to win a postseason game, but that’s ripe for change. I still trust Rodgers, but he has had a mediocre (for him) season, the Gee Bees are not as dominant away from Lambeau, and Bruce Arians’ Arizonans are a bona fide threat to get all the way to the Super Bowl.
SEAHAWKS (11-6, No. 6) at PANTHERS (15-1, No. 1)
Line: CAR by 2 ½.
Cote’s pick: SEA 24-20.
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
“AAWWK!” heralds the Upset Bird. “Wait. Shoot. Keep forgetting I only appear in the regular season. Sorry. Soraawwk!” Carolina is 15-1, home and coming off a bye, while Seattle only advanced last week by the dumb luck of Minnesota’s Blair Witch sorry Blair Walsh missing a 27-yard field goal. So I may be crazy here; NFC No. 1 seeds are 21-4 all-time in this round. It isn’t disrespect toward Carolina. I just think the Seahawks’ defense is a small bit better overall than the Panthers’ and I think Russell Wilson is a small bit better overall than Cam Newton. Experience also colors my pick for these teams’ third playoff meeting. Seattle aims to be only the fourth team ever to make three straight Super Bowl trips, after Green Bay 1965-67, Miami 1971-73 and Buffalo 1991-93. Carolina doesn’t know this stage as well, and Newton has seven turnovers in three career playoff games. “Seahaaawwwk!”