Oh the indignity! It isn’t easy going 0-4 against the spread to open the playoffs. It really isn’t. Even if you tried, the odds would be against you. Yet that was my record vs. the betting line on Wild-Card Weekend and, in the trendy parlance of coach-speak, I must “own it.” It is now officially the ugliest thing I own, which, if you’ve ever looked in my closet, is saying something. (Couldn’t somebody have please stopped me from picking the Bengals? Saved me from myself?) Anyway, enough wallowing over the past. No time for pointless regret. Let’s rally!
Final regular season
RAVENS (11-6, No. 6 seed) at PATRIOTS (12-4, No. 1)
Line: NE by 7
Cote’s pick: NE 27-23
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, NBC
The Ravens, postseason road warriors, have won two of past three playoff trips to New England including the AFC Championship Game two years, which is some of why the Patriots (though they’d not admit it) would much rather have drawn Indy as a Divisional Round opponent. Clearly, Baltimore won’t arrive properly awed by the mystique of wintry Foxboro, Tom Brady or the Darth Vader visage of Bill Belichick sideline-peering from the shadowed cowl of a hoodie. The thing is, I like Pats here as the better all-round team, not just because they’re home. I know that Joe Flacco has built his rep on the postseason and is 17-1 on TDs/picks in his past seven playoff games. I also heard his coach, John Harbaugh, this week call Flacco “the best quarterback in the NFL.” Hey, whoa now, John Boy. Tap the brakes. Flacco won’t even be the best quarterback in this game as he sees his streak of 166 straight playoff passes without an interception come to an end. It’ll be Brady moving on to his fourth straight AFC title game, although the travel-tough Crows should keep it inside the bet-line.
COLTS (12-5, No. 4) at BRONCOS (12-4, No. 2)
Line: DEN by 7
Cote’s pick: DEN 34-24
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Peyton Manning vs. his former team and Andrew Luck with a shot at the Super Bowl at stake. Delicioso! “It was my hope and dream that this sort of situation would occur,” said Colts owner Jim Irsay – and ratings-minded CBS executives surely would agree. Manning is 1-1 against his ex’s after Denver’s 31-24 win in Week 1. Oddly, the greater pressure here will be on the Manning, at home and favored, not Luck. That’s especially true because Sir Peyton has been very mortal lately, with a 76.8 passer rating, three TDs and six picks over the past four games. It won’t be all on him, though, by design. Broncos RB C.J. Anderson – whose 648 rushing yards led the NFL over the last six weeks of the season – should have a big game vs. a very mediocre Colts run-D. Bonus fact: Indy WR T.Y. Hilton, out of FIU, has 496 catch-yards in his first four career playoff games – second all-time to Larry Fitzgerald’s 546. Luck-to-Hilton aside, the venue drives this pick. The Broncos were 8-0 at home this season, have won 17 of past 18 overall at Mile High, and are 15-4 at home in the postseason.
PANTHERS (8-8-1, No. 4 seed) at SEAHAWKS (12-4, No. 1)
Line: SEA by 10 ½
Cote’s pick: SEA 21-13
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, FOX
It’s the least interesting of the four Divisional games if only because the favorite winning seems least in doubt. But make no mistake: That isn’t because Carolina plays the playoff interloper at .500 or because Seattle is reigning Super Bowl champion. That’s because Seattle is pretty awesome – especially at home. I don’t disrespect the Panthers, who got here by winning five games in a row and whose defense has allowed only 11.8 points on average in those five. Carolina can run the ball, too, and when somewhat-erratic Cam Newton is on, he’s good. The difference is, while the Cats’ defense is good, the Seahawks’ D is great – the first since the 1969-71 Vikings to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed three straight years. Seattle has won six straight while giving up 39 total points, a feat last done by the ’76 Steelers. Having said all that, the double-digit point spread maligns Carolina. Recall that, in late October, Seattle needed a last-minute TD pass to edge the Cats, 13-9. And if you believe in motivational intangibles of the chip-on-shoulder variety, Carolina comes with a lot of that right now.
COWBOYS (13-4, No. 3) at PACKERS (12-4, No. 2)
Line: GB by 6
Cote’s pick: GB 31-24
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Let it be this one if the TV gods would only allow me only one game this weekend. This is first time since the 1978 advent of the 16-game schedule that an 8-0 road team has faced an 8-0 home team in the playoffs. (Pre-’78, it last happened with Dolphins-Steelers in ’72, and before that only in 1948). So something’s gotta give! Also, Tony Romo vs. Aaron Rodgers portends a shootout that could get a little bit spectacular. (Both QBs are banged up but of course will play). This matchup also enjoys the historical echo of the famed 1967 “Ice Bowl,” which was the last time these two storied franchises met in the postseason at Lambeau Field. (Yes, they are selling “Ice Bowl II” shirts, although the tundra won’t be as frozen this time). Dallas needed some help from the officiating to get by Detroit 24-20 last week but five straight victories have the ’Boys here on merit. I give Dallas the best upset shot of these four games, but still wouldn’t bet on it. Pack averages 39.8 points at home, and the Gees Bees will present to DeMarco Murray a run defense much, much improved since midseason.